Monday, October 27, 2008

GRAPHIC: Who is redistributing wealth?

The latest right wing talking point is that Barack Obama wants to redistribute wealth.

You would think the right would want to steer away from that issue since for the last thirty years at least, they have done everything possible to redistribute wealth UPWARD.

While worker productivity and corporate profits have gone up, and CEO salaries have gone up exponentially, wages for most of us have remained flat or even declined.

Conservatives try to squirm away from a basic economic truth: it's not just capital that creates wealth, but labor does too. And one of the ways a business makes a profit is paying you less for your labor than it is worth (if they paid you exactly what it was worth, they would break even).

It seems like basic fairness that wages would at least keep pace with productivity and profits.

As it says in the Bible,

For it is written in the Law of Moses: "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain." Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn't he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest.
I guess this is a part of the Bible "God's Own Party" missed.

click to see full-sized:

From The New York Times based on Federal Reserve data:

In 1984, George Orwell had a creepy explanation for why this income inequality persists.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Meaning of US troops attack in Syria

Bush is still president, and still trying to spread his war from Iraq to neighboring Syria. The excuse is that insurgents are coming from Syria into Iraq. Even if true, that does not necessarily mean Syria is trying to jam us up--millions of refugees who fled Iraq ended up in Syria, so it's not surprising that some go back with violent intentions. The Syrian government had actually HELPED Bush earlier on in "War on Terror" by letting Bush send prisoners to Syria to be tortured. That stopped when Bush started talking about invading Syria too.

Oddly, Bush never seems to pursue foreign fighters and insurgents into Saudi Arabia even though Israeli, Saudi, and even Pentagon studies say more foreign fighters come into Iraq from Saudi than any other country. And Congress found that it was not Iraq, Iran, or Syria whose intelligence agencies helped the 9/11 hijackers but Saudi. It makes you wonder if terrorism is the excuse not the cause of the war, and the Saudis are helpfully providing the excuse when needed, and dialing it down when it's not (like during and after the surge).

As this attack on Syria shows, we are still in the ironic position of relying on "rogue nations" like Syria and Iran acting with more restraint and foresight than Bush to prevent a wider or even world war.

We had an uneasy peace for decades with two world superpowers with opposing ideologies. Now that Russia and China are capitalist (if not entirely democratic) how hard could it be to come up with a new balance of power arrangement that could preserve the peace even longer than the Cold War?

I guess we won't know until Bush is out of office. If he succeeds in inciting another war or McCain follows him in office, we may never know.


26 October 2008

'US troops' strike inside Syria

"American soldiers" emerged from helicopters and "attacked a civilian building under construction and opened fire on workers inside - including the wife of the building guard - leading to [the deaths] of eight civilians", it added.

"The helicopters then left Syrian territory towards Iraqi territory," Sana said.

The dead include a man, his four children and a married couple, the Syrian report said, without giving details of the children's ages.


The area is near the Iraqi border city of Qaim, a major crossing point for fighters, weapons and money travelling into Iraq to fuel the Sunni insurgency.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Are we the nation of Martin Luther King or Bull Connor?

While flipping through the pages of a photography book, I was stopped cold by this picture: a cop trying to wrestle an American flag away from a little black boy back during the Civil Rights struggle. I thought that summed up the era better than any other photo. It was like the cop telling him this wasn't his country, America didn't belong to him, even though his ancestors might have been here longer than the white cops.

As John McCain's election prospects dim, and his campaign relies on fear-mongering and name-calling bordering on inciting violence, and even voter suppression tactics borrowed from the Jim Crow era, it is clear we are back to the cultural crossroads we faced in the early 1960s: do we choose to be the nation of Bull Connor, who became the symbol of the stand against Civil Rights, or the object of his wrath, Martin Luther King?

Bull Connor's America was much like the right today. There was chest-thumping patriotism (or at least regional pride) and loud claims to be superior to every other races and culture while at the same time committing the most brutal acts of violence against those simply demanding that we live up to our own stated ideals. But to the Bull Connors, equality, due process, and democracy were the rights of only a certain tribe not all who were born or live here. Even the sanctity of one's own body and right to life belonged only to the tribe, and the people outside the tribe could be used for labor, sex, or even killed at the whim of the tribe.

That same hypocrisy at home led to even worse hypocrisy abroad--if our businesses needed something a country had, the government of that country damn well better give it to them on terms the business dictates, or we will take it by force and install a government that knows who's the boss. "They" are not part of "us," so they have no rights we need to worry about.

Bull Connor's America is how the world had worked for most of human history: those who had an edge in population, technology, or wealth used it to crush others and take what they pleased.

It is how the Bush administration worked as well. The rich and powerful took what they pleased, our jobs, our houses, our pensions, our tax dollars to bailout their cronies after their Wall Street scams collapsed, the lives of our children in a war to take from the Iraqis. All the while they claimed poverty when we asked for money for our schools, health care for everyone, or at least decent treatment for our injured troops.

Those who dissented too loudly weren't met with fire hoses and dogs (those were saved for Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib), but we were watched, wiretapped, infiltrated, placed on lists to be stopped at the airport, corralled in "free speech zones," and if we had a high enough profile that people would listen to what we said, retaliated against and fired from our jobs.

Most of us suddenly found that we were outside of the tribe. We had become black in Bull Connor's America.

On the other side of the divide back then was Martin Luther King's America that thought the ideals in our Constitution and Declaration of Independence should be applied to all, and that our tribe is mankind, and that those ideas could triumph not by force but by stepping forward and claiming what was promised, and trusting that enough people believed the ideals that they would see the hypocrisy when the Bull Connors tried to take it back by force.

And MLK's America won.

At least at home. When he tried to extend his dream to what we did in the rest of the world, he was shot.

Today we have descended back to that primal conflict: are we a nation of ideals or a nation where the strong take what they want from the weak, where we mouth platitudes about democracy then enforce conformity with rubber bullets and tasers?

The saddest thing about this divide is that many of those who have chosen the Bull Connor side think they are part of the privileged tribe.

They are not.

At best, they are like the slaves the master appoints as overseer of other slaves, maybe given a nicer cabin, better food, and a shot of whiskey, but once the master's gambling debts get too high (or these days their last Wall Street scam collapses), they will be sold down the river with the rest of the slaves.

In the same way, those who go to Palin rallies shouting that they ought to kill the blue-lipped socialist terrorist monkey, go home to read their credit card and medical bills they can't possibly pay, wonder how they are going to avoid foreclosure now that that balloon payment on their mortgage has kicked in, and how they will ever be able to get out from under all of it when the only job they can find is selling corn dogs at the mall food court. But they will never wonder why their POW action figure and Caribou Barbie won't fix it because those slaves think they belong to the masters family.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Oliver Stone's W: Forrest Gump goes to the White House instead of the Crawford Caligula

I saw the movie last night. It was surreally sympathetic to the Tard King.

It showed him as a dimwit, but not as a cruel, sociopathic liar and con artist.

One scene near the end was really disturbing because I remember the real life version. A reporter asks Bush if there's anything he would do differently as president after he's been in office a few years and his approval is slipping. Bush can't come up with anything.

In the film, Bush seems chastened and struggles for words as if overcome with regret, confusion, and guilt.

In real life when Bush was asked that, he looked like he couldn't even entertain the thought that he had made a mistake. If he was upset at all, it was at the questioner for being less than fawning and deferential. Stone got the words right, but the demeanor wrong.

That is an inexplicably inaccurate to the point of being dishonest choice on Oliver Stone's part.

Another very odd choice he made was having Cheney give a speech about the real purpose of the Iraq War: controlling Iraq's oil, being in a position to attack Iran, and therefore controlling the bulk of the world's oil supply and thereby the world--and everybody else in the meeting reacts by going back to talking about terrorist and protecting America as if they gave a shit.

There was a satiric and historically accurate opportunity missed by not exploring Karl Rove's role in Bush's rise more, like the sliming of John McCain in the 2000 election and how Bush reacted when McCain confronted him about it on Larry King. Stone even had a scene of Bush being out-slimed and out-Good-Ol'Boyed in a debate during his first failed congressional run that would have been an excellent bookend to his later effective ruthlessness. Rove looks at most like a wormy aide, not a Machiavellian king-maker and uber-dirty trickster.

A couple of the casting choices were just odd.

Having Scott Glenn play Rumsfeld was an undeserved compliment. Glenn has made his career playing laconic cowboys and their equivalents, men who would never say ''Goodness gracious'' even they were threatened with a hot branding iron. Kurtwood Smith of That 70's Show could do Rummy's combination of smarmy prissiness and impatience with the opinions and concerns of others in his sleep.

Jeffrey Wright, a great actor in any number of other parts, chose to do Colin Powell in a gravelly monotone voice. He did good work here, but Dennis Haysbert who played the president on 24, looks and acts like Colin Powell's twin brother (just a shade darker). I always think of Wright as a young guy too, whereas Powell and Haysbert both act like they aren't now and never were young.

Thandie Newton is also a great actress, but her performance here was at the level of a Saturday Night Live skit. Her Condi was little more than awkward posture and vocal tics.

Oscar winner Ellen Burstyn barely turned in a note and a half performance as Barbara Bush, as loud but ultimately concerned about her wayward son. A great, bitter real life moment was missed when they didn't have her callous comment about Hurricane Katrina victims being better off in a stadium than they were before the storm.

That is probably the heart of what is wrong with the movie. There were so many moments like that in Bush's presidency that were missed:
  • the already mentioned smearing of McCain in 2000

  • his appearance on televangelists' TV shows as seen in The World According to Bush

  • the phone call when Gore retracted his concession

  • contrasting his redneck public image with telling a black tie and tails crowd that they were his base, "the haves and have mores"

  • Flying all the way to California just to refuse the Democratic governor's plea to make federal regulators do their jobs when the state was being blackmailed out of billions by energy traders who jacked up the price of electricity, and created artificial scarcity that led to rolling blackouts.

  • getting the ''Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US'' memo and telling the briefer he'd covered his ass and could go

  • standing on the rubble of the World Trade Center yelling through a megaphone

  • saying he would get bin Laden ''dead or alive''
  • Desperately classifying and trying to diffuse the Joint Congressional Inquiry into 9/11's finding that his friends the Saudi government had a major role in the 9/11 attacks, and appearing with a Saudi prince to reassure him of our friendship (contrasted with the belligerence toward Iraq and later Iran, both of whom had nothing to do with 9/11).

  • the WMD skit juxtaposed with his serious speeches before the war about ''the threat'' from Iraq

  • calling critics unpatriotic and retaliating against them from Dan Rather to Joe Wilson

  • ignoring laws passed by congress or adding signing statements that contradict the plain sense of the law, setting up a constitutional showdown where Congress blinked and he didn't

  • the scripted press conferences staged to the point of having a male prostitute pose as a reporter and lob softball questions

  • the use of terror alerts and bin Laden tapes at politically convenient times

  • being unconcerned about Hurricane Katrina apart from how his cronies could capitalize on the disaster, and his aides being so afraid of him that they didn't tell him he wasn't doing enough until days later.

  • and on and on...
Like the events Stone showed, those are all in the public record and undisputed. But unlike Stone's choices they tell the true story of the tragedy for America and the World.

Any film biography has to make a choice: either it can zero in on a film-sized chunk of the subjects life, a period or two that symbolize the whole, or it can do the cliff notes version of their whole life. The latter is rarely successful, and Stone fell into that trap.

There is a great story to be told about Baby Bush and the family that spawned him, something combining Shakespeare's scheming hunchback, Richard III with the wastrel Prince Hal from Henry IV Part I. Instead of making that movie, he made Forrest Gump Goes to the White House.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

PHOTO: Is a right wing website fantasizing about killing McCain?

Is it just me or is there some other way of interpreting this combination of text and photo?

This is a real page, not a photoshop. You can see it HERE.

click pic to see full-sized

What is really sad about this is that as dyspeptic, volatile, and erratic as John McCain is lately, and as dangerous as he would be as president, I don't think any of us on the left are wishing the guy an unnatural death.

However, it looks like members of his own party are --and it's because he is not violent and ignorant enough for their tastes.

Maybe the Secret Service needs to help them work through their feelings.

UPDATE: Maybe they saw this post and felt guilty. By the next morning, the photo and caption had beeen changed to this:

click pic to see full-sized


UPDATE II: One of the comments pointed out that they rotate images with their fundraising ads. I took another look, and the Palin aiming a rifle is still in the mix.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

If Wall St. execs run scams like this, what do health insurance ones do?

I and most people were concerned that if we gave bailouts to Wall Street that they would squirrel that money away in their secret off-shore accounts, never to be seen again. They blatantly partied with it here in the US. AIG execs went on a weeklong retreat to a spa to the tune of $440,000.

As I was writing this, I heard a similar story on the radio about George Herbert Walker, cousin of the Bush family, who worked for Lehman and sent out a memo saying their bailout would NOT affect executive bonuses.

I was opposed to the Patriot Act at the time it was passed, but maybe we should use it to go after these Wall Street parasites who have done more damage to our economy and reputation in the world than bin Laden could have done if he had crashed a plane into Wall St.

The other thing implication of this is if you oppose or know someone who opposes single payer health insurance, this is exactly what insurance company execs are doing with your premiums you are paying while simultaneously denying you treatment you need to stay alive because NOT giving you the service you paid for is how they keep their spa trips and bonuses rolling in.

A study by the New England Journal of Medicine found that Canada spent half as much on medical administrative costs than us, their single-payer system had overhead of 1.3 percent . Medicare averages 3.6 percent, but private U.S. insurers was 11.7 percent . The difference goes into profits, those operators you have to call to be denied care, and of course executive salaries, bonuses, and spa trips.

If health insurance were government run, at least we could have some input on executive salaries. To change what private insurance companies pay their execs, you would have to be a major shareholder. So our choice is between one person one vote and one dollar one vote (or more like a couple of million dollars).


For some people at AIG, the insurance giant rescued last month with an $85 billion federal bailout, the good times keep rolling.

And just last week, about 70 of the company's top performers were rewarded with a week-long stay at the luxury St. Regis Resort in Monarch Beach, Calif., where they ran up a tab of $440,000.

At a House committee hearing yesterday, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) showed a photograph of the resort, which overlooks the Pacific Ocean, and reported expenses for AIG personnel including $200,000 for rooms, $150,000 for meals and $23,000 for the spa.

Joseph Cassano, the financial products manager whose complex investments led to American International Group's near collapse, is receiving $1 million a month in consulting fees.

As for Cassano, the executive in charge of the company's troubled financial products division, he received more than $280 million over the past eight years. Even after he was terminated in February as his investments turned sour, the company allowed him to keep as much as $34 million in unvested bonuses and put him on a $1 million-a-month retainer.