Saturday, December 29, 2012

Humbug and Hogwash: Human Rights Watch Expels “racist and enemy of human rights” Richard Falk

I just learned that my former colleague and longtime friend, Richard Falk, has been pushed out of Human Rights Watch (HRW).  Here’s how it went down, as I understand it: Kenneth Roth of HRW received a letter from Hillel Neuer, the Executive Director of an organization called UN Watch, dated December 17th, attacking Richard as a “racist and enemy of human rights,” and, of course, an anti-Semite1 (since – surprise! – UN Watch is an offshoot of the neocon American Jewish Committee and part of the uber-Zionist watchdog network).

Friday, December 21, 2012

Personal Note

The death of a close family member, compounded by the annual holiday confusion, has kept me from posting for the past month.  I will return soon to the ongoing chronicle of strangeness and villainy.  In the meantime, Happy Holidays to all.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The United Grapes of America

What's red and blue, and purple all over?  The United Grapes of America.
(For those of you who remember the "Alexander the Grape" jokes.)

The electoral map (cartogram, actually) that is much more reflective of the reality of the American populace than the silly and misleading Mercator-projection (?) geographical map they show us all the time.  Check out the link.  Many other interesting variations. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Long Con: Social Security and Medicare in the “Grand Bargain”

Update below.

“Social Security and Medicare have absolutely nothing to do with the short-term U.S. fiscal problem.”

And, no, not “long-term,” either, in any way that requires what’s being proposed.   Please, read the article by William Lind, which contains the chart and quote linked above.  It’s a clear, short analysis that I hope will put an end for you to the mendacious tropes constantly peddled throughout the media that suggest the opposite.  Let it sink in, once and for all: absolutely nothing.  (You might also want to take a look to my previous post on Social Security, to see that this program is one of the United States government’s biggest creditors.) 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Election Choices: What to Do Instead

[Escape from New York delayed completion of this post this until after election night. All the better. Now that the great danger has been dodged, let’s look to the future.  Advisories: 1) I’m talking here about presidential elections.  2) You really have to see the videos.]

Having made the case against voting for Obama in a previous post, it’s only fair for me to suggest the alternative. 

I value the right to vote as fundamental.  I have seen how people who don’t have that right fight for it, and how people who get it for the first time eagerly embrace it, and go to extraordinary lengths to use it.  Although I consider electoral politics only one aspect of a thoroughgoing democratic polity and of individual democratic engagement, it would be hard to conceive of a democratic schema, no matter how revolutionary, in which a transparent, trusted voting process was not important.  It may be one among many, but a vote is an important political tool/weapon, and a terrible thing to waste.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

As I was saying...

Update on previous post, "Social Security in the Great Jambalaya,":  Dean Baker, in The Guardian, "Cutting back benefits could mean delays in repaying the government bonds held by the Trust Fund. The money to repay these bonds would come primarily from a relatively progressive income tax revenue,,,,Politicians, especially Democrats, who speak up for cuts to social security can count on lavish praise from the media." 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Escape from New York

No power or water in our downtown Manhattan apartment. Won't be for many days. (A few blocks from the Con Ed plant that exploded). Fought our way uptown through the zombie zone to my nephew's apartment on the upper west side, where everything is copasetic, and all folks are worried about is whether they can get the sushi delivered. 

Worst thing I've seen in the city in my long life as a native New Yorker. Fleeing to wife's homestead in western PA, where her father tends a lovely garden in the shadows of the cooling towers of a power plant that's still fully functional.

So, a chunk of the city without electrical power, running water, public transportation, neighborhood businesses, and the other part with crowded pubs and Starbucks. Hmm...a little hint of first world/third world dichotomy right here in River City (impinging somewhat more obviously on the cool kids of Manhattan than, say, Camden, does). A wet run, perhaps, for more to come?

Second post on Election Choices will be late.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Election Choices: Obama or Not?

We’re up against it now.  Less than two weeks left.  Those on the left confront their quadrennial quandary, and the inescapable debate: to vote for the Democratic presidential nominee or not.  “The lesser evil is still evil.”  “Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.” “The Supreme Court!”  ‘Round and ‘round we go.  It is a frustrating, enervating ritual, a passionate argument between speakers who are not going to change each other’s minds, but do hope to influence those who overhear. In other words, politics.  Inescapable.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

If Joe can embrace his Code Pink…

Yeah, I know what a creep Romney is, and I know a lot of folks are fighting what they feel is the good fight against reactionary Republican horseshit, often in hostile family, school, neighborhood, and work environments.  I certainly would like to support and not demoralize them.  I also know our political and media universe is structured to make it seem that fighting that fight requires one to support Obama.  Still, I am one of many who do not agree to be constrained within that narrow paradigm, and think it’s important to recognize that it steers us into a self-defeating race-to-the-bottom-right. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

No-Win Situation

Update below.

This Alternet article by Alex Kane, entitled, "5 Ways Romney and Obama Will Shamelessly Pander to Israel Tonight" is one of many reasons it would be hard for me to watch tonight's "foreign policy" debate without throwing up.  Though, for sure, as the article says, "The Israeli leader will be pleased by watching this debate."  The Israeli leader, that is, who boasted to a settler family of his ability to control America: "I know what America is. America is something that can easily be moved. Moved to the right direction.”

This is not OK.  Not something we can pretend not to notice.  Not something we have to be quiet about.  It is destroying the world.

For this, and for many other reasons, there will be nothing to celebrate about the debate tonight, no matter which of the candidates, along with Israel, "wins."


Another question that will never be asked.  Because heaven forbid Americans would actually ever be prompted to think such unavoidable thoughts.
(As tweeted by Glenn Greenwald)

Esquire's @TomJunod also proposes a question for President Obama tonight:

"Your administration has not just employed targeted killing; it has made the case for targeted killing to the rest of the world. What would you tell the leader of another country who wants to make use not only of technology pioneered by America but also of legal arguments pioneered by America? Do those arguments only count for America, or do they count also for Russia, China, and well, North Korea and Hezbollah?"

Links Cited:
Alex Kane, "5 Ways Romney and Obama Will Shamelessly Pander to Israel Tonight,"

‘The world won’t say a thing’– Netanyahu on ongoing Israeli expansion,"
by Dena Shunra and Phil Weiss on July 17, 2010,

Tom Junod, "The Lethal Debate: Questions About Killing." 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Act of Terrible

Update below.

Today, self-identified liberals and progressives are all a-twitter and high-fivin’ each other because in yesterday’s debate their guy “proved” that he actually and immediately did use, and does embrace, the term “act of terror” to describe the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi.  Thus have Obama, and, following him, the bulk of the liberal caste, demonstrated their complete acceptance of the vapid, self-serving, hypocritical, obfuscatory, and dangerous language of “terror” as a touchstone of foreign policy credibility.  That this has happened, and that nobody notices or cares that it has happened, is one of the more shameful facts about this debate, and the whole discourse of this sham campaign.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Republican Arithmetrick

For all those who have been upset because I’ve been so mean to the most powerful man in the world, and for all those whose “likes” of Mitt Romney keep appearing on my Facebook page, it is worth taking a moment to emphasize that no critique of Barack Obama and the Democratic party can or should be used to suggest that it is acceptable to support Romney, Ryan, or the Republicans.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Debate Question for Joe Biden

Can Americans trust Mitt Romney with a Kill List?

(If you’re not familiar with the “Kill List,” see here.)

Sure, ask Paul Ryan, too, but we know the answer he’ll give. It’s the answer we expect.  On the other hand, this question instantly and dramatically reveals that you’re never going to get from the Democrats what you are led to expect.

What can Biden (and Democratic supporters of Obama) say?  It’s a done deal.  Mitt has a kill list, because Obama handed it to him.  He can put anybody he wants on it, and kill them at any time, and the Democrats can have nothing to say in objection.  This is what Obama has wrought.

Hunting 250s: “We’re going to go out there, and we’re going to violate some rights.”

This video, published by The Nation, captures one incident of a kind that occurs about 700,000 times a year to New Yorkers.  Except if you're white.  The young man in this video, the son of a cop, was stopped multiple times in one day, for the “suspicious” behavior of wearing a hoodie and a backpack, and “looking” at the police.  In other words, walking while black.

Know any white people this happened to?  Anyone on the Upper West Side?  According to a New York Civil Liberties Union report (see here and here), 90% of those stopped are black (23% of the population) and Latino (29% of the population).  In fact, more young black men were stopped by the NYPD in 2011 than there are young black men in New York City.  Really, let that sink in.  Who’s running the NYPD, Mike Bloomberg and Ray Kelly, or George Zimmerman and Geraldo?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Flipping the Bird

Or, Let's find something to get all righteous about.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Debate Debacle

The MSNBC meltdown after Wednesday’s Presidential debate was certainly more passionate, entertaining, and instructive than the debate itself.

Chris Matthews was apoplectic: "There's a hot debate going on in this country, and you know where it's being held? Here, on this network, is where we're having this debate. We have our knives out. We go after the people and the facts. What was he doing tonight? He went in disarmed!" 

Ed Schultz was “absolutely stunned.” The president, he proclaimed, made a “deal with the devil" by saying he agreed with Mitt Romney on Social Security. (“A somewhat similar position” is how Obama put it.)  Ed was not brooking any of Rachel Maddow’s excuses about how Romney muscled in for time: “The president needs to go in there and fight for that time.  There’s people out there who expect him to fight for that time.”  (Another ideological illusion: According to one analyst, Obama actually got 11% more microphone time than Romney, while saying 9% fewer words. The problem wasn’t time. It was energy.)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

As I Was Saying...

“You know, I suspect that, on Social Security, we’ve got a somewhat similar position.”

And on a lot of other things, too.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Dimples on the Ass of American Justice

I’ve come across two horrifying stories that everyone interested in civil liberties, equality before the law, freedom from persecution, and other trivial little “dimples on the imperial derriere” should consider. (“Dimples” is Rebecca Solnit’s term for the various faults/delicts/crimes of Obama, in her linked article excoriating his critics.)

The first, as told by Glenn Greenwald, concerns Dr. Shakir Hamoodi, an Iraqi-American professor of nuclear engineering who came to the US in 1985 to study for his Ph.D. at the University of Missouri (MU) School of Medicine.  Loathe to return to Saddam’s repression, he stayed here, was hired by the university as a research professor, became a citizen, and raised five American-born children. 

Dr. Shakir Hamoodi, with his four sons Photograph: Hamoodi family (as posted by Greenwald)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Politics Upside-Down:
Fictional Campaigns, Invisible Issues, and Disappearing Jobs

The fictive nature of American presidential electoral campaigns never ceases to amaze. 

“Fictive,” of course, does not mean simply “false.” It’s not a word that describes some internal flaw of a discourse, but that describes a specific relation between a discourse and its audience.  The difference between non-fiction and fiction is not exactly that the former is true and the latter false, but that the audience is expected to fault the former, but not the latter, for describing a world in which werewolves roam London and Russian nationalists nuke Baltimore, when they don’t.  (Everybody knows it’s vampires, and they’re in Louisiana.  Or is it Seattle?)

During this presidential campaign, liberals and progressives have, rightly, been busy excoriating Romney, Ryan, and the Republicans for their blatant falsity, their proclivity to make assertions and accusations that, it is easy to demonstrate, are contrary to fact.  Romney is also, correctly, charged with constantly taking positions that are contrary to his own previous statements and actions.  These charges can, and should, persuade those citizens whose capacity for intellectually-honest critical thought is not overwhelmed by other, captivating, non-rational identifications to reject Romney-Ryan-Republicanism as false and dishonest.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Teaching Moment

The Chicago teachers’ strike is another fine example of how “reform” becomes an instrument of class warfare.  There are certainly any number of serious problems with the public school system in Chicago and elsewhere that need to be “reformed,” but the current offensive is using the concern for those problems to do something else entirely – undermine the public school system as a whole, and place it increasingly under the domain of private capital.  The goal is not to get better schools, but profitable ones.  The goal is not to create a better school system as a whole, but a system of different classes of schools that includes a class of schools which, although still state-subsidized, is also a field of profit maximization.  Correspondingly, the goal is not to create better teachers, but cheaper ones.
Anyone who doubts this should reflect on what Greg Palast recounts:

This is a true story.

CHICAGO.  In a school with some of the poorest kids in Chicago, one English teacher–I won't use her name–who'd been cemented into the school system for over a decade, wouldn't do a damn thing to lift test scores, yet had an annual salary level of close to $70,000 a year.  Under Chicago's new rules holding teachers accountable and allowing charter schools to compete, this seniority-bloated teacher was finally fired by the principal.

In a nearby neighborhood, a charter school, part of the city system, had complete freedom to hire.  No teachers' union interference. The charter school was able to bring in an innovative English teacher with advanced degrees and a national reputation in her field - for $29,000 a year less than was paid to the fired teacher.

You've guessed it by now:  It's the same teacher.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Sound Right to You?


US Taxpayers Spend More on Israeli Defense Than Israeli Taxpayers, Says Former IDF Official

John Glaser, September 12, 2012
Jerusalem Post: 
In an apparent reference to the public spat between the United States and Israel, former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi told the Calcalist conference on Tuesday that preserving strong ties with the United States is an Israeli security necessity“We must preserve ties with the United States. I believe this is a security necessity,” he said. In the past three years, he noted, US taxpayers have contributed more to the Israeli defense budget than Israeli taxpayers.
Since 2009, that amount is more than $11 billion. Explaining why money needs to be stolen from US taxpayers and given to the only nuclear state in the Middle East, despite the fact that Israeli leaders work directly against US interests – especially when they try to pressure us to launch discretionary wars – is getting harder even for hawks to do.
Two points:
1) We are responsible for everything the IDF does.  There can be no settlement enterprise, no attack on Lebanon, or Gaza, or Iran that is not fully the responsibility of the United States government (and its citizens, if it is truly a democratic country).  Whether we like to talk about it or not, we are in it.  And those who are the targets and victims of the IDF are not going to let us forget that.
2)  This is another issue that, short of very radical change in American politics, will never be debated at the Democratic or Republican party convention.  What was that about "democracy"?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Blog Notes:
Comment System

I'm aware that the comment protocols on this platform (Blogger) are awkward, and discourage participation.  I've provisionally opened up comments for anyone.  I'll see how that works out while I look into other comment systems.  I'm considering DIsqus, Intense Debate, and Livefyre.  If you have any experience with, or thoughts on, these comment systems,  please share them with me -- in a comment, or by email (contact form on right of page). 

The Ayn Rand Cruise

The logic of capitalism, illustrated.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Everybody Knows:
The Jerusalem Amendment and American Celebrity Politics

As The New York Times reported last week: “President Obama, seeking to quell a storm of criticism from Republicans and pro-Israel groups, directed the Democratic Party on Wednesday to amend its platform to restore language declaring Jerusalem the Israeli capital.”

A neat little paragraph that reveals a number of the fundamental, and seemingly intractable, problems with American politics in general and the Democratic Party in particular. 

First of all, Obama “directed” the party to amend its platform. This describes a political party that is the epitome of undemocratic, one that is, in fact, nothing more than a vehicle to serve as an instrument of the Great Leader’s will.  We may be inured to that condition of the Democratic Party, but we should nonetheless take a moment to register its significance.  The major political party that claims to act as the tribune of the people, the one party into which our political and media system relentlessly channels all constituents interested in working-class, progressive, and secular democratic policies, is what we would call anywhere else a Stalinist party.

Can anyone with a semblance of intellectual honesty, whatever else s/he thinks of the Democratic Party, deny this?  Keeping in mind what Mark Landler’s Times article neglected to mention, namely that the revised amendment required a two-thirds vote of approval, please watch what happened: 


Friday, August 31, 2012

Social Security in the Great Jambalaya

Further thoughts on the program in peril.

Is there a Social Security crisis or not?  To hear some tell it, the Social Security Trust Fund* is insolvent, nothing but a collection of “worthless pieces of paper.”  To hear others tell it, the Social Security Trust Fund has a surplus of 2.5 trillion dollars (and growing), composed of “good as gold” US-government issued securities.   

These positions are usually associated with “conservative” and “liberal” camps, respectively, although, as usual in American politics, these labels are not particularly helpful.  Whether one supports or opposes Social Security is a matter of principle, and does not depend on the value of the securities presently in the Trust Fund.  Those who oppose Social Security will do so if the securities are “good as gold,” and those who support it will, or should, do so even if those securities are “worthless.” Whatever political challenge it might pose for the side we favor (and here, that is definitely supporting Social Security), an honest evaluation of these securities is necessary in its own right, in order to help us prepare effectively for whatever political challenge we face.  Politics is not the art of making people think it will be easier to achieve their goals than it actually will be.

Since it is the value of these “securities” about which the two positions on the Social Security “crisis” so vehemently disagree, in order to understand how they are both right, and all wrong, one must take a careful look at the specific economic and political characteristics of the securities in question.  It is also necessary to understand the hijinks that have been happening with the Trust Fund over the past 30 years.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

No Account:
The Social Security Hope-a-Dope

There’s an email petition appeal going around from firedoglake (FDL), encouraging us to “Hold The Obama Campaign To Its Guarantee of 'No Changes' to Social Security". It lays out very nicely how, on the one hand, “Joe Biden 'guaranteed' the president would not touch Social Security if re-elected,” and, on the other, “the president again voiced support for ‘tough spending cuts’ to programs like Social Security and Medicare... and complains he doesn't get enough credit for his own willingness to cut benefits.” [FDL’s emphasis]

FDL has been good on a lot of issues, especially healthcare reform, where they campaigned for single-payer relentlessly.  But how, exactly, are they going to “make sure the Obama administration honors this commitment”?  With a petition?  Really?  Isn’t it obvious, from their own experience, that Obama is going to talk out of both sides of his mouth during the campaign, and do whatever he wants after the election?  And what he wants is to be remembered as the fiscally-responsible Democrat who cut Social Security.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Too Many Cooks: The Syrian Demise

With Syria at full boil, it’s becoming clearer who exactly will be burned once this pot finally explodes: everybody.

The Assad/Alawite regime is cooking in a stew of its own penchant for brutality, which has been folded into the cleverness of the United States and Saudi Arabia in crafting a strategy for hijacking “Arab Spring” anti-authoritarian uprisings for counterrevolutionary purposes. 

To be clear: This is not a critique based on some notion of pacifism or national purity.  Non-violent resistance is a powerful tactic that can be quite effective in broadening political support, but revolutionary movements do not have to abjure the use of force to maintain their ethical legitimacy.  It is virtually impossible to imagine a successful revolution that does not use force to defend its gains and to advance its objectives.  Nor are revolutionary movements (or besieged governments) obliged to abjure foreign support in order to maintain national legitimacy.  Whether foreign support undermines a movement’s national legitimacy depends on the political content and consequences of that support – for our purposes, whether it advances or derails the purported objective of creating a renewed national polity that radically increases the democratic power, social well-being, and fundamental rights of the people.  This, in turn, depends on whether foreign allies accept the limits of their supporting role, and refrain from taking over or directing the course of the movement they claim to support.  Seen from the outside, in the course of frantic struggle, how this is unfolding can only be a judgement call, based on what one knows about the relative power, political cohesion, and the actual consequences of past and present actions, of the various players.

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