Protecting Social Security: It's a Flat Tax, Stupid!

Let me make a postulate: In a democracy, if there is a legislative proposal that would significantly benefit 80 percent of the population and cost them nothing, and that would be paid for by a insignificant tax on the richest 20 percent of the population, who themselves would receive some benefit from the added tax, that proposal would be overwhelmingly approved.

If you accept that postulate, you would have to conclude that the US is no longer a functioning democracy.

Slippery Talk: Obama Has Learned Nothing from the BP Blowout

President Obama claims to have learned a lesson from the disastrous blowout of British Petroleum drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico: a “cozy relationship” between the agency that regulates oil drilling, the Minerals Management Service, and the oil industry, he charges, allowed companies to drill in vulnerable offshore areas without properly assessing the risks to the ocean and its ecology.

He’s only just figuring this out?

May 13, 1985: Philly Bombs Literally!

Philadelphia loves to brag about it’s ‘Firsts,’ citing such notable things as the nation’s first capital (1774), America’s first zoo (1874) and the birthplace of the world’s first digital computer ENIAC (1946).

There is one ‘First’ that will never appear in slick tourist handouts from the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau though, and that’s the city’s first air raid on May 13, 1985, when the city deliberately bombed an occupied house containing children, sparking a deadly firestorm.

A bomb dropped on an American city by that city’s own police force?

Mister Obama's War hits a speed bump

Mister Obama’s War has hit a speed bump in Times Square. The question is will the President and members of Congress pay any attention to it and slow down, or will they floor the accelerator and race into Pakistan?

The speed bump is a nobody named Faisal Shahzad, a 30-year-old, westernized Pakistani, highly educated, and a naturalized American citizen with a wife and two kids. A casualty of the US financial meltdown, a career in the finance industry fizzled and his $285,000 home went underwater and was foreclosed.

Shahzad then trekked to North Waziristan in Pakistan along the Afghan border, where someone allegedly taught him how to make a car bomb. Fortunately, that training was either inadequate or he was a lousy student.

Following on the bloody Fort Hood shooting and the failed underpants bomber, Shahzad’s action has become leverage for greater US military intervention into the rugged Pashtun areas of northwest Pakistan.

Gambling With Our Future

When I lived in Hong Kong back in the ‘90s, I was surrounded by gamblers. Everyone, from wealthy bankers to stuggling street vendors, bet on everything from the horses to the stock market–and they were all well aware that there was not much difference between the two. Horse-racing was a guessing game for the masses, and a rigged deal for those in the know. But so was the stock market, with the prices of key stocks controlled by oligarchs who could pass inside information to key associates, and, increasingly, by Chinese government authorities who could make decisions that would pump up the shares of Chinese firms listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange–the so-called “Red Chips.”

Americans are learning that our vaunted  financial markets are no different.

Look at what happened on May 6, when the equities markets plunged by 10 percent in minutes, and some big companies, including Procter & Gamble, one of the companies in the 30-stock Dow Industrials Index, fell by over 30 percent briefly.

More Cynicism

That famous definition of a cynic as someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing has come to define this present moment of American politics.
–Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

I know that I criticize you [Bernie Goldberg] and Fox News a lot, but only because you’re truly a terrible, cynical, disingenuous news organization.
–Jon Stewart

To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism–it is a recognition of history, the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.
–Barack Obama

This is an old argument, one that The Nation’s Benjamin DeMott examined in “Seduced by civility,” a 1996 essay subtitled, “Political manners and the crisis of democratic values.” The line back then, which hasn’t changed much in fourteen years, was that progressive politics was caught in a stranglehold of cynicism, meanness and counterproductive finger-pointing.
–Katrina vanden Heuvel

* * *

When I was in tenth grade, I had a habit of making disparaging comments about politicians in my world history class. The teacher got exasperated with me one day and said, “Oh Chuck, you’re just a cynic.” Other kids started calling me a cynic as well. It seemed to make me a little bit dangerous, and for a few weeks I swaggered around with my new identity until it occurred to me that I had no idea what a cynic actually was. So I looked it up in the dictionary and it said, as I recall, “a person who attributes base motives to others.”

That described me accurately enough, but there was also a second definition, something to the effect of, “an adherent of the Cynic philosophy.”

“Wow,” I thought. “There’s a whole philosophy of attributing base motives to others? Why have I not heard of this?”

I charged off to the philosophy section of the library, looked for “cynic” in every index, and discovered a man named Diogenes, who lived in Greece from about 404 B.C.E. to 323 B.C.E. All the anecdotes about his life as the most famous Cynic, all the translations of his sayings, all the assumptions about his meaning were wildly contradictory from source to source–and still are–but somehow I knew I had discovered one of the great human beings ever. I now suspect that all the contradictions occurred because so many of the writers were fans of Plato and Socrates, the two patron saints of bad college professors everywhere, and Diogenes made a point of humiliating them in ancient Athens. A good rule of academic thumb: If your teacher is walking up and down the aisle trying to engage you in Socratic dialogue, the next hour is going to suck the mop.

(The best text I have found on Diogenes and his philosophical descendants is The Cynics: The Cynic Movement in Antiquity and Its Legacy, edited by R. Bracht Branham and Marie-Odile Goulet-Caze.)

Anyway, Diogenes came from a town called Sinope. His father was some kind of banker, and Diogenes started his career as a cynic by either defacing or debasing money. That’s the first big contradiction in different sources. Debasing money means adding base metal to precious metal for the purpose of creating more coins than you could get just from the precious metal. It is an act of greed. Since Diogenes spent the rest of his life with almost no possessions, did nothing for money except beg and was conceded to be ruthlessly honest even by his enemies, I’m guessing that he wasn’t debasing coins.

No, almost certainly, he was defacing coins. There is even archeological evidence for this around Sinope, where coins with the face chiseled off have been discovered. The people of Sinope and, one must assume, Diogenes’ father were outraged, and Diogenes went into exile, eventually taking up residence in an old wine jar outside of Athens.

It is worth digressing at this point to consider one of Diogenes’ most famous contemporaries, namely Buddha, whose life was following almost the exact same plot line in northern India. A prince, Buddha was living a life of luxury when he had some chance encounters with old age, sickness and death on a hunting trip. He had a sudden realization that he didn’t understand anything and had to leave the the big, comfortable, insulating lie that was the royal compound, so he abandoned his wife and child and went to live in the forest and eat dirt. After six years, he decided that extreme asceticism wasn’t the way to live either, and he sat under the Bodhi Tree until he had his moment of enlightenment.

Diogenes went to the marketplace in downtown Athens and jerked off.

Prejudice Pervades Arizona's Immigration Crackdown

Arizona in 2010 is the new Alabama.

Equating anti-Mexican sentiment in Arizona today with segregationist sentiment in Alabama during 1960s-era civil rights struggles is becoming commonplace in the wake of recently adopted Arizona legislation authorizing police to crack down on illegal immigrants.

However, Dan Pochoda, Legal Director of the ACLU in Arizona, saw this parallel long before the recent uproar over targeting Mexicans for intensified immigration enforcement in that Southwest border state.

Pochoda is one of the lawyers pressing a class action federal lawsuit charging the Sheriff’s Department in Maricopa County – the area that includes the state capital of Phoenix – with racial profiling of Mexicans during high-profile immigration sweeps through Latino communities.

“Defendants’ pattern and practice of racial profiling goes beyond these sweeps to include widespread, day-to-day targeting and mistreatment of persons who appear to be Latino,” states one document in that lawsuit filed in mid-2008.

Joe Arpaio, the controversial and colorful Maricopa County Sheriff – noted for making prisoners wear pink underwear and housing them under tents in searing desert sun – proudly defends using physical appearance alone as the trigger for immigration enforcement.

Initial plaintiffs in that federal lawsuit included persons who are lawful U.S. citizens but who were stopped, detained, interrogated or searched during Arpaio’s sweeps.

Sheriff Arapaio

Those sweeps by Maricopa County deputies, over a dozen since early 2008, include the use of volunteer ‘posse’ members who are untrained yet carry guns, Pochoda said. Posse members range from elderly retirees to motorcyclists who portray themselves as “patriots” protecting America.

Saving Face in Afghanistan

In the documentary film “The Most Dangerous Man In America,” Daniel Ellsberg tells about a fellow Rand Corporation war planner circa 1968 who described the US commitment to the war in Vietnam this way:

“We are 10 percent concerned about the Vietnamese; we are 20 percent concerned about the Chinese; and we are 70 percent concerned about saving face.”

The United States has now clearly arrived at the same insidious predicament in Afghanistan.

US soldier overlooking the land we have decided to tameUS soldier overlooking the land we have decided to tame

Sure, we are concerned about al Qaeda and other violent elements hostile to the United States. The threat from al Qaeda is real – as is the fact that a history of foreign, and especially US, intervention in Muslim lands is at the root of this hostility. This backstory, of course, is embargoed from mainstream American minds — as our military policies rely on yet more intervention in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Last week an Americanized Pakistani who had lost his job as a financial analyst and whose $285,000 home had been foreclosed failed in a bumbling attempt to bomb Times Square. Already, demagogues like Senator Joe Lieberman are working the incident as a means of emasculating the Constitution, calling among other things for revocation of the man’s US citizenship.

Former CIA operative Bob Baer told MSNBC that Americans should not be surprised at attacks like this, given the killing of dozens of Pakistanis by remotely piloted drones each week in the Pashtun areas of northwest Pakistan. Former CIA European station chief Tyler Drumheller added this: “We cannot think that we’re going to attack them and they won’t attack us.”

Sure, the nations of the Middle East and South Asia have problems, and many people there are hostile to the US and its ally Israel. Sure, the Taliban are far from free-market westerners. But none of this justifies a military occupation of Afghanistan. The Taliban, at least up to this Time Square incident, have never attacked us and had shown no interest in doing so; and al Qaeda has reportedly moved on from Afghanistan.

Besides having no impact on the effort to defeat al Qaeda, supporting 100,000 very expensive US troops and a massive military infrastructure in Afghanistan is actually playing into al Qaeda’s hands, since the tremendous cost of supporting this military bootprint in such an inaccessible, rugged place furthers Osama bin Laden’s clearly expressed desire to drive the US to bankruptcy.

We can quibble about the percentages, but it’s clear the US government and the US military are, again, in the costly face-saving business. The face they are saving has to do with US military prestige and the policy, at a time of great domestic economic stress and need at home, of escalating war in Afghanistan and Pakistan instead of doing everything possible to ratchet hostilities down and pull the troops out.

SECRECY AND PUBLIC RELATIONS

Forget the PR. The decision to escalate has to do with the fact that the war is not going well and the hope that if they just keep it going long enough, a combination of our immense power and determination will somehow wear the insurgency down and disprove the old notion of Afghanistan as the “graveyard of empires.”

Meanwhile, it is difficult for critics to get at the truth about Afghanistan thanks to the incredible secrecy of our military operations and our wars. This is one side of a two-sided monster. The other side is the military’s powerful public relations capacity. There’s the secret world of managing the wars, and there’s the PR world of explaining them to the tax-paying public. And never the twain shall meet.

Back in 1971, Daniel Ellsberg blew the lid off this monster when he xeroxed and released the so-called Pentagon Papers. Unfortunately, what the government and the military learned was not to let such a thing happen again. The Obama administration is currently going after one New York Times reporter, James Risen, in court and is working in other areas to plug other leaks.

Exxon Mobil’s Forked Tongue: Watch What Big Oil Does, Not What It Pays to Have Said

With British Petroleum spewing more than 200,000 gallons of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico in what could be an ecological cataclysm,  it is useful to look at the hypocrisy of the energy companies when it comes to an even worse crisis threatening life itself on the planet–rapid climate change due to increasing carbon in the atmosphere.

For years, the oil industry, and especially its largest company, Exxon Mobil, has been funding foundations and scientists that seek to refute the mounting evidence of global warming.  A recent Greenpeace study, released in March, found that Exxon Mobil was second only to Koch Industries in offering financial backing for these climate change deniers.  Between 2005 and 2008, Koch Industries, a privately held oil firm based in Texas, gave $24.9 million to anti-global warming scientists and foundations. Exxon Mobil, over the same period, gave $8.9 million.
 
Shrinking polar cap opens new oil drilling opportunities

Shrinking polar cap opens new oil drilling opportunities

Heavily criticized for its climate denial propaganda and lobbying, Exxon Mobil claimed in 2006 that it would no longer fund such activities. It has continued to do so, however, though a stealth campaign of funding foundations like the Atlas Economic Research Foundation and International Policy Network in the UK and the Cato and Heritage Foundations in the US, all of which themselves give money to the climate change deniers.

Other oil companies, like Shell, Chevron and others, do the same thing but at a lower level and with a lower profile than Exxon Mobil.

But here’s where the hypocrisy and lying become chutzpah.