Monthly Archive: May 2013

May 31 2013

SNAP Multiplier 1.7

From the Mouths of Babes

By PAUL KRUGMAN, The New York Times

Published: May 30, 2013

Food stamps have played an especially useful – indeed, almost heroic – role in recent years. In fact, they have done triple duty.



Indeed, estimates from the consulting firm Moody’s Analytics suggest that each dollar spent on food stamps in a depressed economy raises G.D.P. by about $1.70 – which means, by the way, that much of the money laid out to help families in need actually comes right back to the government in the form of higher revenue.

Wait, we’re not done yet. Food stamps greatly reduce food insecurity among low-income children, which, in turn, greatly enhances their chances of doing well in school and growing up to be successful, productive adults. So food stamps are in a very real sense an investment in the nation’s future – an investment that in the long run almost surely reduces the budget deficit, because tomorrow’s adults will also be tomorrow’s taxpayers.

So what do Republicans want to do with this paragon of programs? First, shrink it; then, effectively kill it.



Look, I understand the supposed rationale: We’re becoming a nation of takers, and doing stuff like feeding poor children and giving them adequate health care are just creating a culture of dependency – and that culture of dependency, not runaway bankers, somehow caused our economic crisis.

But I wonder whether even Republicans really believe that story – or at least are confident enough in their diagnosis to justify policies that more or less literally take food from the mouths of hungry children. As I said, there are times when cynicism just doesn’t cut it; this is a time to get really, really angry.

May 31 2013

I have been thinking about the 1960’s lately, for some strange reason(s).

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the 1960’s (I was a teenager back then, and I attended a rather large public high school in suburban Boston, MA during those years.  The 1960’s, imho, were a mixed bag;  It was a wonderful time to grow up, especially being a teenager, and the music was really great back then.  The fact that I missed out on dancing to that music due to my social isolation from the other kids bothered me a great deal back then, even though my doctors and my parents pointedly told me (albeit correctly) that I was too emotionally immature to go out with boys.  Yet my lack of emotional maturity also precluded my getting involved in the high-flown, lofty, noble causes of the day;  the Civil Rights Movement (although I was a bit young for that–I was only in Junior High school at the time), the student revolts and the anti-war movement against our involvement in Indo-China, and a whole host of other things that were happening at the time.  

I would frequently cry to my family about my social aridity and isolation, and they’d alternate between being very consoling and having this sort of a “well, it’s your own fault–you have to change.’ attitude, the latter of which I didn’t like.  I look back on it now, and I realize that I never knew what would happen when I got older, and my parents constantly worried about my future, due to my poor grades and poor social skills (although they considered the latter secondary, because I think they probably thought that becoming involved in the various movements back then would help me realize that there are other people in this world who had it tougher, and that I’d become not so turned onto myself all the time.

Yet, I’m discovering a lot of other things about myself, also;  I didn’t really give a shit about academics and getting top grades.  (I basically got a C Average, with afew B’s and even some D’s along the way!)  The only reason that I worked at all was to keep afloat so that I wouldn’t end up graduating with the class below me, something I didn’t want for at least two reasons:

A)  Since I was born early in the year, I was already one of the oldest kids in my grade, and I didn’t want to stick out like a sore thumb any more than I already did.

B)  The class below mine was a much more hostile, nasty bunch of kids (that particular class had a bad, bad reputation  for that!), and I don’t think I would’ve been able to handle it.  

As much as I love listening to the music that was played back in the 1960’s, many of the older songs now bring tears to my eyes, partly out of the sweetness of them, and partly due to the fact that, crazy as this sounds, make me tear up due to what I didn’t have back then and what I missed:  Having more of a social life, and more friends.  

May 31 2013

On This Day In History May 31

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

Click on image to enlarge

May 31 is the 151st day of the year (152nd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 214 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1859, Big Ben goes into operation in London

The famous tower clock known as Big Ben, located at the top of the 320-foot-high St. Stephen’s Tower, rings out over the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London, for the first time on this day in 1859.

After a fire destroyed much of the Palace of Westminster–the headquarters of the British Parliament–in October 1834, a standout feature of the design for the new palace was a large clock atop a tower. The royal astronomer, Sir George Airy, wanted the clock to have pinpoint accuracy, including twice-a-day checks with the Royal Greenwich Observatory. While many clockmakers dismissed this goal as impossible, Airy counted on the help of Edmund Beckett Denison, a formidable barrister known for his expertise in horology, or the science of measuring time.

Denison’s design, built by the company E.J. Dent & Co., was completed in 1854; five years later, St. Stephen’s Tower itself was finished. Weighing in at more than 13 tons, its massive bell was dragged to the tower through the streets of London by a team of 16 horses, to the cheers of onlookers. Once it was installed, Big Ben struck its first chimes on May 31, 1859. Just two months later, however, the heavy striker designed by Denison cracked the bell. Three more years passed before a lighter hammer was added and the clock went into service again. The bell was rotated so that the hammer would strike another surface, but the crack was never repaired.

Great Bell

The main bell, officially known as the Great Bell, is the largest bell in the tower and part of the Great Clock of Westminster. The bell is better known by the nickname Big Ben.

The original bell was a 16.3-tonne (16 ton) hour bell, cast on 6 August 1856 in Stockton-on-Tees by John Warner & Sons. The bell was named in honour of Sir Benjamin Hall, and his name is inscribed on it. However, another theory for the origin of the name is that the bell may have been named after a contemporary heavyweight boxer Benjamin Caunt. It is thought that the bell was originally to be called Victoria or Royal Victoria in honour of Queen Victoria, but that an MP suggested the nickname during a Parliamentary debate; the comment is not recorded in Hansard.

Since the tower was not yet finished, the bell was mounted in New Palace Yard. Cast in 1856, the first bell was transported to the tower on a trolley drawn by sixteen horses, with crowds cheering its progress. Unfortunately, it cracked beyond repair while being tested and a replacement had to be made. The bell was recast at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry as a 13.76-tonne (13 1/2 ton) bell. This was pulled 200 ft up to the Clock Tower’s belfry, a feat that took 18 hours. It is 2.2 metres tall and 2.9 metres wide. This new bell first chimed in July 1859. In September it too cracked under the hammer, a mere two months after it officially went into service. According to the foundry’s manager, George Mears, Denison had used a hammer more than twice the maximum weight specified. For three years Big Ben was taken out of commission and the hours were struck on the lowest of the quarter bells until it was reinstalled. To make the repair, a square piece of metal was chipped out from the rim around the crack, and the bell given an eighth of a turn so the new hammer struck in a different place. Big Ben has chimed with an odd twang ever since and is still in use today complete with the crack. At the time of its casting, Big Ben was the largest bell in the British Isles until “Great Paul”, a 17 tonne (16 3/4 ton) bell currently hung in St Paul’s Cathedral, was cast in 1881.

May 31 2013

Civility is just another club…

To beat those you disagree with.

I am not responsible for your perceptions.

You are!

Fair Warning

Posted by John Cole

12:49 am 5/31/13

I fucking give up. If you want to be offended by everything I write and police my language, please fuck off and go somewhere else.

I try to be as minimally offensive as possible, but you know what, you motherfuckers keep shifting the rules. I’m to the point that I have no idea what is going to upset the delicate flowers any more.



At some point, you language police have got to come up with a coherent dictionary for all of us to use, or just shut the fuck up. And then, maybe you should look into intent, take the message for what it was, because if I am public enemy number one, then you losers are going to shit the bed if you ever bust out of your bubble and watch or hear anything outside your little world you have constructed. My goodness, the Marcellus Wallace scenes in Pulp Fiction would probably stroke you out.

So put up or shut up. Give me your PC dictionary so I can be cool and sensitive, or just eat a bag of salted dicks and recognize that not everything said is out of bigotry or malice. Or at least fucking cut me some slack and recognize that should I offend your delicate sensibilities, it was not out of malice. Kapiche?

My god, rap and hip-hop must put you all in the fetal position.

And I don’t even like this dog.

If you post here get used to it.  I don’t care about your pwecious fee fees.  Grow up.

ps. Obama has no balls is just another way of saying he’s a gutless wonder.  I don’t believe it for a minute.  He’s a Neoliberal Republican who gets exactly what he wants.

May 31 2013

Friday Night at the Movies

The Hunger Games Economy

Transcript

Democrats’ Vision for Economy is GOP-Lite

Transcript

May 31 2013

Around the Blogosphere

 photo Winter_solstice.gifThe main purpose our blogging is to communicate our ideas, opinions, and stories both fact and fiction. The best part about the the blogs is information that we might not find in our local news, even if we read it online. Sharing that information is important, especially if it educates, sparks conversation and new ideas. We have all found places that are our favorites that we read everyday, not everyone’s are the same. The Internet is a vast place. Unlike Punting the Pundits which focuses on opinion pieces mostly from the mainstream media and the larger news web sites, “Around the Blogosphere” will focus more on the medium to smaller blogs and articles written by some of the anonymous and not so anonymous writers and links to some of the smaller pieces that don’t make it to “Pundits” by Krugman, Baker, etc.

We encourage you to share your finds with us. It is important that we all stay as well informed as we can.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

This is an Open Thread.

Summer has arrived in the Northeast with temperatures in New York City topping out in the low 90’s with humidity to match and about the same from Washington, DC to Portland, ME. If you think there is relief out doors, nope, no breeze, not even here, right on the ocean.

At Americablog, John Aravosis tells us just how bizarre the weather may be for the Summer of’13:

Also, another Americablog friend, Gaius Publius tells us more about David Koch & PBS self-censorship.

From RH Reality Check comes some welcome news for a 22 year old Salvadoran woman who was denied her request for a life saving abortion just yesterday by the Salvadoran Supreme Court. Let’s hope they abide by the ruling.:

Trevor Timm, at Electronic Frontier Foundation, points out a very important issue in President Obama’s national security speech that was missed by the media:

Why does this article from Jim White, at emptywheel, on Rep. Dana Rohrbacher’s trip to Russia with fellow House Republicans Michelle Bachmann and Steve King to investigate Boston Marathon bombing, sound like a future movie script for Stephen Spielberg?

At FDL’s News Desk, DSWright keeps us informed about AG Eric Holder’s “off the records” meeting with news bureau heads over his policies on journalism, that he may be having in an empty room; and a great video interview with Julian Assange about the possible prosecution of Holder.

Over at naked capitalism, economics and law professor, Bill Black asks:

and Barbara Parramore Speaks About Her Arrest in “Moral Monday Protests” Against Republican Railroading of Extreme Right-Wing Agenda in North Carolina

And the last snarky words go to nemesis‘s post at Voices on the Square about Pres. Obama’s nomination of James Comey, a former hedge fund executive and a former senior Justice Department official under President George W. Bush, to replace Robert S. Mueller III as the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation:

Why not just bring back George to the Oval Office?

May 30 2013

One in Six Americans Are Hungry

As more and more Americans fall into or near poverty income level, congress is debating a new Farm Bill which will impact on the ability of people to feed themselves and their families:

While the legislation will set farm policy and impact food prices for the next five years, many forget that roughly 80 percent of the funding in the bill goes to providing food for the country’s less fortunate. At the end of 2012, according to the USDA, there were nearly 48 million people on food stamps.

In the Senate Agriculture Committee Tuesday, lawmakers passed its version of the bill, while the House Agriculture Committee will begin marking up its bill Wednesday. The versions of the key legislation remain vastly different in how they handle the country’s food assistance program, and will need to be reconciled before current regulations expire in September.

The Senate’s legislation would make about $4 billion in reductions to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, during the next decade. The House version would cut five times as much – $20 billion through the same time period.

According to a new report from the International Human Rights Clinic at NYU’s School of Law, one in six Americans are facing food insecurity (pdf):

The united states is facing a food security crisis:

One in six Americans lives in a household that cannot afford adequate food. Of these 50 million individuals, nearly 17 million are children. Food insecurity has skyrocketed since the economic downturn, with an additional 14 million people classified as food insecure in 2011 than in 2007. For these individuals, being food insecure means living with trade-offs that no one should have to face,  like choosing between buying food and receiving medical care or paying the bills. Many food insecure people also face tough choices about the quality of food they eat, since low-quality processed foods are often more affordable and accessible than fresh and nutritious foods. Food insecurity takes a serious toll on individuals, families, and communities and has significant consequences for health and educational outcomes, especially for children. Food insecurity is also enormously expensive for society. According to one estimate, the cost of hunger and food insecurity in the United States amounted to $167.5 billion in 2010.

Additionally, the report shows that the existing program a fail. as Aviv Shen notes in her article at Think Progress:

(T)he four biggest food assistance programs fall short for as many as 50 million food insecure households. Eligibility requirements are already so strict that one in four households classified as food insecure were still considered too high-income to receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Even families considered poor enough for food aid only get a pittance that runs out quickly; for instance, the maximum benefit for a family of four is $668 a month, or a little under $2 per meal for each family member.

To demonstrate the impossibility of surviving on food stamps, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) recently spent a week eating on $4.80 a day, mainly consuming ramen noodles, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and a banana. “I’m hungry for five days…I lost six pounds in four days,” Murphy said upon concluding the experiment. He also realized that nutritious food and produce was far, far out of reach for people living on SNAP benefits. Indeed, obesity and related diseases are common among SNAP recipients who simply can’t afford nutritious food.

Co-author and faculty director of the International Human Rights Clinic at NYU’s School of Law, Smita Narula was a guest on Democracy Now with hosts Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez.

Transcript can be read here

May 30 2013

Ian Welsh on Ethics

The Moral Calculus of the Woolwich Murder, 2013 May 27

You should read a transcript of the Woolwich murderer’s reasons.  It seems that he was offended by the fact that other Muslim civilians were routinely being murdered.  Having been taught, by the state, that murdering is acceptable, he proceeded to do so.

He, however, proved himself superior to the contemporary American and British States by murdering a military man and not a civilian.  He took far more care in choosing his victim than Obama does his.

So spare me the hand-wringing and condemnation.  He’s a bad man, to be sure, but he’s not as bad a man as the men we put in office.

When Tony Blair and George W. Bush are put in front of war crimes trials, along with Rumsfeld and many others, we can talk.  Till then, our “justice’ isn’t, it’s just tribalism dressed up in the name of justice, because it picks and chooses amongst murderers, letting the greatest of them, the ones with the most blood on their hands, walk free.

Ethical Degradation, 2013 May 28

We make distinctions between crimes, even the same crimes.  Unintentional killing is ranked lower than intentional killing, and pre-meditated (planned) killing is ranked higher than crimes of passion (finding your husband in bed with another woman and killing him.)

We also make distinctions between people who kill one person, two people, three people and so on.  A person who has killed more people, gets a longer sentence.

This is known as proportionality. All murders are not the same, nor are all thefts, nor are all acts of fraud.  The amount of harm they cause varies, and the amount of punishment they are due varies by reason: we punish the woman who kills her cheating husband when she finds him in bed with another woman a lot less harshly than we do a cold calculating murder to get the life insurance reward.



The inability to make these sort of ethical distinctions, to say ‘well Fred killed one man, a military man, and that’s just as bad as Stalin killing millions” is an ethical failure.  It is an abominable ethical failure.  Scale matters and crime and justice are not boolean.  More to the point, it is far more important to stop the mass murderers of this world, whether they are Stalin, Mao or lesser mass murderers (note the distinction!) like George Bush and Barack Obama.



To use one of the phrases of the day “this is why we can’t have nice things.”  Specifically, this is why we cant have a justice system that works, a just foreign policy, politicians who aren’t monsters and citizens who aren’t complicit in mass murder. If you think what the Woolwich murderer did is anywhere close to as bad as what George Bush or Tony Blair did you are unable to make even gross ethical distinctions, and are unsuited to exercise the responsibilities of citizenship.

Tens of thousands of murders are worse than one murder.  Understand this.  If you can’t, recuse yourself from the public sphere, please.

Ethics 101, Part 3: Forseeable Consequences, 2013 May 28

Since we’re on basic ethics, let’s take another basic ethical principle.  It is impossible to have a good society if you do not punish and reward people for the forseeable consequences of their actions.



The idea of forseeable consequences is fundamental to reasoning about ethics and morality.  It is especially important in reasoning about public policy.



Entire countries have gone in to permanent depression as a result of the forseeable consequences of their actions.  Then various countries, especially in Europe, doubled down on austerity. Austerity has never worked to bring an economy out of a financial crisis or depression, and it never will.  It does not work, and this is well known.  Engaging in austerity has forseeable consequences of impoverishing the country, reducing the size of the middle class and grinding the poor even further into misery.  It also has the forseeable consequence of making it possible to privatize parts of the economy the oligarchs want to buy.

It is done, it has been done and it will be done because of those forseeable consequences.  They are all either desirable to your masters or, if not desirable, irrelevant compared to the advantages austerity offers them.

These are, if not criminal acts, then unjust and evil acts, done to enrich a few at the expense of the many, with disregard for the consequences to the many, including death, hunger and violence.

One of the reasons I write so little these days, is that there is so little point.  Basic ethical principles are routinely ignored even on the so-called left.  Basic principles of causation are ignored.  Basic economic reality is ignored.  And virtually everyone in the so-called democracies is scrambling to pretend that they have no responsibility for anything that has happened.

If someone does something with forseeable consequences they are responsible for those forseeable consequences.  Just because an act has bad forseeable consequences doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taken, the alternatives may be worse, but whether the action should be taken or not, the decision has consequences.



As a society we have in the last few decades and are today making decisions with entirely forseeable consequences (as with climate change) that will kill a few hundred million people to well over a billion people.  We know it will happen, and we’re doing it.

Ethics 101: The difference between ethics and morals, 2013 May 30

The best short definition I’ve heard, courtesy of my friend Stirling, is that morals are how you treat people you know.  Ethics are how you treat people you don’t know.

Your morality is what makes you a good wife or husband, dad or mother.  A good daughter or son.  A good friend.  Even a good employee or boss to the people you know personally in the company.

Your ethics is what makes you a good politicians.  It is what makes you a statesman.  It is also what makes you a good, humane CEO of any large company (and yes, you can make money and pay your employees well as Costco proves.)

When you’re a politicians or a CEO, most of what you do will effect people you don’t know, people you can’t know, people who are just statistics to you.  You have no personal connection to them, and you never will.  This is at the heart of Stalin’s comment that “a single death is a tragedy, a million deaths a  statistic.”  Change the welfare rules, people will live or die, suffer or prosper.  Change the tax structure, healthcare mandates, trade laws, transit spending-virtually everything you do means someone will will, and someone will lose.  Sometimes fatally.



We call the family the building block of society, but this is nonsense except in the broadest sense.  The structure of the family is entirely socially based, generally on how we make our living.  A hundred years ago in America and Canada the extended family was the norm, today the nuclear family is, with single parent families coming on strong.  In China this transition, from extended to nuclear family, took place in living memory, many adults still in their prime can remember extended families, and were raised in them.  The wealthy often have their children raised by servants (I was for my first five years), tribal societies often put all male children in to the same tent or tents at puberty, and so on. A hundred and fifty years ago children were taught at home, by the extended family, and not by professional teachers.  They spent much more time with family until they were apprenticed out, if they were.



For a large society, a society where you can’t know everyone, to work ethics must come before morality, or ethics and morality must have a great deal of overlaps.  By acting morally, you must be able to act ethically.

Our current ethical system requires politicians to act unethically, to do great harm to people they don’t know, while protecting those they do.  This can hardly be denied, and was on display in the 2007/8 financial collapse and the bailout after.  The millions of homeowners and employees politicians and central bankers did not know were not helped, and and the people the politicians and central bankers and treasury officials did know, were bailed out.  Austerity, likewise, has hurt people politicians don’t know, while enriching the corporate officers and rich they do know.

The structure of our economy is designed to impoverish people we don’t know.  For developed nations citizens this means people in undeveloped nations.  For the rich this means cutting the wages of the middle class.  For the middle class it means screwing over the poor (yes, the middle class does the day to day enforcement, don’t pretend otherwise.)  We are obsessed with “lowering costs” and making loans, and both of those are meant to extract maximum value from people while giving them as little as they can in return.

We likewise ignore the future, refusing to build or repair infrastructure, to invest properly in basic science, and refusing to deal with global warming.  These decisions will overwhelmingly effect people we don’t know: any individual infrastructure collapse won’t hit us, odds are, and global warming will kill most of its victims in the future.  The rich and powerful, in particular, believe that they will avoid the consequences of these things.  It will effect people other than them.

To put the needs of the few before the needs of the many, in public life, is to be a monster.  But even in private life if we all act selfishly, as our reigning ideology indicates we should, we destroy ourselves. If we all put only ourselves and those we love first, and damn the cost to everyone else, our societies cannot and will not be prosperous, safe, or kind.

The war of all against all is just as nasty when it is waged by small kin groups as when it is waged by individuals.

May 30 2013

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Jonathan Turley: The rise of the fourth branch of government

There were times this past week when it seemed like the 19th-century Know-Nothing Party had returned to Washington. President Obama insisted he knew nothing about major decisions in the State Department, or the Justice Department, or the Internal Revenue Service. The heads of those agencies, in turn, insisted they knew nothing about major decisions by their subordinates. It was as if the government functioned by some hidden hand.

Clearly, there was a degree of willful blindness in these claims. However, the suggestion that someone, even the president, is in control of today’s government may be an illusion.

The growing dominance of the federal government over the states has obscured more fundamental changes within the federal government itself: It is not just bigger, it is dangerously off kilter. Our carefully constructed system of checks and balances is being negated by the rise of a fourth branch, an administrative state of sprawling departments and agencies that govern with increasing autonomy and decreasing transparency.

Robert Reich: A Time for Harry Reid’s Backbone

Senate Republicans under the cynical direction of Mitch McConnell have abused the filibuster system, preventing votes on almost everything the president has wanted.

Harry Reid punted on changing the filibuster rules, but he could — and in my view now should — propose changing them for judicial appointments, which he can accomplish with the votes of 51 senators.

A president’s court picks shouldn’t require 60 Senate votes. The Constitution is quite specific about when “super-majorities” are needed, and makes no mention of super-majorities for court appointments.

Reid is not known for his strong backbone, but here’s an instance where he owes his backbone to posterity. You might even write to him and tell him so.

Richard (RJ) Esjow; A Vision for Social Security

Is our country losing the vision and values which gave rise to Social Security?

Social Security benefits lag far behind those of other developed countries. A new analysis of census data shows that elder poverty is much higher than we first realized. And yet the discussion in Washington is of cutting, not expanding, it. The number of impoverished seniors would rise sharply if that happened, or if the Medicare cuts currently under discussion became law.

The numbers say that Social Security should be increased, not cut, and most Americans agree.

But the Social Security cutters, financed by billions and aided by their network of powerful friends in government and the media, are appealing to the human heart. That’s a bitter irony for a policy prescription that even their own consciences must recognize is heartless.

Robert Sheer: Congress Still Puts Out for Wall Street

What does it take to make a Wall Street banker squirm with shame? Not content with having swindled tens of millions of Americans out of their homes and life savings, the very bankers who caused the biggest economic catastrophe since the Great Depression are now subverting government regulations designed to prevent comparable disasters in the future.

Top of the list of those responsible are the hustlers at Citigroup, once the world’s largest financial conglomerate, and a leading practitioner of the sordid behavior that caused the housing meltdown. Indeed, Citigroup was allowed to form as a merger of the investment banking of Travelers and the federal insured commercial banking of Citicorp only because lobbyists for those institutions successfully engineered the reversal of the Depression-era Glass-Steagall law that had banned such combinations.

Dave Murphy: The March to Stop Monsanto: Taking Back Our Food, Our Farms, Our Democracy and Our Planet

The march to stop Monsanto is one of the most pressing issues of our time. As a single company, Monsanto is the tip of the iceberg representing the threat that unchecked corporate power has in corrupting our democratic institutions, driving family farmers off the land, threatening human health and contaminating our environment.

The problem with Monsanto is not just their corrosive lobbying practices, but the fact that the products they produce, genetically engineered foods and chemical weed killers, are in more than 70% of the processed foods that we eat and feed our families everyday. [..]

Monsanto’s unchecked power is corrosive to the health of our democracy, our well-being and our planet and it must be stopped. As free citizens, it is our right and our duty to protest their unlawful encroachment into the most basic and fundamental aspect of our lives, the food that we eat and the laws that govern our lives.

Sadhbh Walshe: We Can’t Let Monsanto Win on Genetically Modified Food

Monsanto has been victorious in court, Congress and the White House. Protests will need to grow to stop them.

Last weekend, 2 million people around the world took to the streets to protest genetically modified food, drawing attention to its dangers and the environmental harm caused by its production. Two million people is a pretty good showing by any standard, but especially so when event organizers said they would have considered 3,000 a success. According to Andrew Kimbrell, the executive director of the Center for Food Safety, the turnout was a welcome sign of a growing safe food movement:

   A decade ago we would have been happy if 10 people showed up at a march about food safety, now if we get less than a million people signing a petition we are disappointed.

Sadly for Kimbrell and other food safety activists, a million signatures on a petition or majority support for food labeling does not guarantee the government will submit to the public will.

May 30 2013

A Critque of Neoliberalism

New Economic Perspectives continues to produce outstanding work.  This particular piece is a 2 part study (so far) by Michael Hoexter of Neoliberal economic philosophy and its apologia for what is nothing more than rank Class Warfare of the .1% against the 99.9%.

While I am highlighting what I consider the most salient points I strongly urge you to read the original which is not as wonky or hard to grasp as you might expect from an econo-blog.

Like a Wasting Disease, Neoliberals, Libertarians & the Right are Eating Away Society’s "Connective Tissue&quot – Part 1

By Michael Hoexter, New Economic Perspectives

May 29, 2013

In an industrial or post-industrial society, a civilization with a complex division of labor dispersed throughout a network of metropolitan regions connected with each other and with smaller cities and rural areas, a class of connecting goods and services is required to keep the society and economy cohesive and functioning.  Unlike the goods bought and sold on markets, these mediating or connecting goods are not themselves often objects of desire for purchase by those who use or otherwise benefit from them. In the hypotheses of social theorists and politicians influenced by neoclassical economic ideals, these goods, they think, ought to be delivered via markets and people ought to pay directly for them in market-like cash transactions. As it has turned out in reality, without a social and political commitment and social pressure to fund these goods and services, individuals in isolation and businesses as a group tend to want to “free ride” and not pay for connective goods and services that are usually the frame but not the focus of everyday consciousness in a modern society. Despite the lack of consistent private markets for most connective goods and services, these “in-between” goods and services are vital and fundamental to the existence and maintenance of something like a civilization, a livable complex society with a strong economy.



If such connections were owned and controlled entirely by profit-minded corporations as has been flirted with over the past few decades, they could easily strangle the economy via the exertion of monopoly power and pricing.  The resulting “tollbooth economy” would be a neofeudal outcome, with owners of infrastructure exacting tolls on commerce and on society as a whole as did the feudal lords a millennium ago.  This is why government has been, in the successful mixed economy model that emerged during the 20th Century, the most common supplier, owner and operator of critical portions of the society’s infrastructure, the “in-between” places that connect people’s and corporations’ private properties.  The strong mixed economy model, typified by the European social democracies, Australia, the mid-20th Century US, and Canada, with a government regulating the private sector and providing many vital services, is actually the only successful model of a complex industrial or post-industrial society and economy.  Departures from a strong mixed-economy model are in the developed world necessarily speculative social experiments on a grand scale, even though these departures from what has worked in the past are almost never announced as such.



Contemporary political disputes about the nature of government and its role in the economy can, in part, be boiled down to whether the parties involved believe that empathy is at all important to the functioning of society and, for that matter, is even worthy of attention.  The traditional Right sees empathy, except in certain extraordinary circumstances, as a sign of weakness or as a phenomenon of the “private sphere”, traditionally organized around the household and considered to be “feminized”, linked to the (misogynistic) notion of the feminine as being inferior in value to the masculine. Movements identified with the Left have tended to fight for the role of a generalized empathy with basic human needs and human solidarity within the public sphere, focusing for the most part on equal rights and “treating others as you would want to be treated”.   By contrast, the Right has often celebrated cruelty as a sign of toughness or loyalty to a cause, making room for empathy only in the context of mystical bonding rituals between for the most part men or between a leader and his followers.



The Hidden Utopia of Neoliberalism



There emerged various economic theories, which formed the “business end” of neoliberal policy recommendations that suggested that cutting taxes on the wealthy and loosening regulations would spur economic growth and also, in the wishful thinking of early supply-side theory, paradoxically increase tax collections because of that growth.  The model-individual within neoliberal political and economic theory was the entrepreneur or investor who needed to be given the maximal “freedom” from government intervention or influence to make judicious business or investing decisions.  The institution that should rule society according to neoliberalism was “the market”, the social area in which self-interested economic actors interacted, which should be likewise “freed” from government support or intervention.



Neoliberalism’s worldview is utopian in this regard because neoliberals, as well as the extreme libertarian version of neoliberalism, have for the most part assumed as “givens” the already-existing benefits (to them) offered by a very substantial government and generated by the complex internetworked society it enables, yet wishing government itself would disappear or diminish, leaving its effects behind.  Thus in a form of magical thinking or “splitting“, neoliberals have come to believe as if it were accomplished fact that they can create a society that  is “purified” of government but leaves what they value from government, its products and services or their positive effects, behind, very much like Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat.  Neoliberals and libertarians do not for the most part want to return to a society that is composed entirely of extended family networks, a tribal society in fact, or at least most of the Right’s mainstream does not have a taste for the likely emergence of  a Mad Max style world.

Neoliberalism, like traditional reactionary conservatism, also shuns the role of empathy in the public sphere, seeing in it a weakness or a trap, from which the “clean” purity of the market and competition would free us.  In the neoliberal worldview, everybody is almost entirely self-interested and no one, including political leaders, is doing anything out of a sense of human solidarity or obligation to humanity as a whole but rather out of a self-interested calculus. The ultimate neoliberal theory of politics, James Buchanan’s public choice theory, marginalizes or rules out the role of altruistic or public-spirited motivation in the actions of political leaders.  One wonders whether or when this theory based on neoclassical economics becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, once the assumption of self-interest as a sole motivation in politics is made.  More altruistically minded people are certainly discouraged from entering government service within the current system of legalized corruption in American government.

Like a Wasting Disease, Neoliberals, Libertarians & the Right are Eating Away Society’s "Connective Tissue&quot – Part 2

By Michael Hoexter, New Economic Perspectives

May 29, 2013

Corporatocracy/Plutocracy:  The Neoliberal Compromise with Reality

While there are a certain number of “true believers” in the neoliberal ideal that tend to congregate around the banner of libertarianism or related concepts, a vast swath of the political class and ruling elite has been pulled to the right by neoliberalism without openly embracing its hidden utopia.  These political and economic “realists” or “pragmatists” tend to see the true believers in neoliberal ideology as either an ideological “fig-leaf” that can provide a more appealing cover for the agenda of existing large private interests or, occasionally, as a fanatical embarrassment if they show too strong a belief in libertarian ideals. The notion of defunding public services and reducing public regulation of the private sector has a powerful appeal to many corporate and wealthy interests.  So powerful is this appeal in fact that the label and concept of “libertarianism,”  which is now adopted by the most other-worldly, some would say “idealistic”, individuals in the neoliberal spectrum, was coined by a US business lobbyist in the late 1940’s.  

The potentially “messy” idealistic part of what now is called “libertarianism”, tends then in practice to be sidelined or filtered out of actual neoliberal politics and policy.  Monopolies and oligopolies are not confronted or broken up.  Government support and favorable treatment for large corporations are not cut but are often increased or rebranded and enhanced.  The neoliberal ideal is realized only insofar as the interests of the more vulnerable and less wealthy are shunted aside within the policies of government while the interests of the powerful and wealthy are promoted under the cover of the neoliberal ideal of a “streamlined” and “fiscally responsible” government. Tax burdens are cut for the wealthiest while the tax burdens of the middle and lower classes are increased.



The seemingly universalizing philosophy of neoliberalism which bases its intellectual appeal and moral authority on the notion that it is about defending liberty, particularly liberty of the individual, then encounters a substantial inconsistency when confronted with the actions of neoliberals once they achieve political power.  The central raison d’etre of neoliberalism, defense of liberty, then appears to be more of a “belief of convenience” for most neoliberals, as the attractions of using political and military power to further their own personal agendas or the economic agendas of political patrons becomes paramount.  Even libertarians, who decry “coercion” by government, spend an inordinate amount of their energy criticizing taxation while often ignoring or minimizing the use and abuse of military force as well as infringements of human rights and civil liberties at home and abroad.  The primary liberty which concerns both them and more mainstream neoliberals is the freedom to own and exercise private property rights in as expansive a manner as possible.  It can be reasonably asserted that most libertarians are "propertarians", focused primarily on real and imagined threats to the private ownership of property.  “Freedom” becomes an ideological excuse for personal acquisitiveness and greed.



Neoliberalism has seen some of its greatest triumphs in spreading its ideology throughout society by temporarily peeling away the traditional reactionary-Right envelope from which its original leaders emerged.  The early neoliberal leaders, Reagan, Pinochet, and Thatcher had some or all of the marks of the traditional authoritarian Right in their style of speech and the cultural preferences they expressed and represented.  Entirely different in appearance and mannerisms were the leaders of the more leftward parties that accommodated themselves to or adopted wholesale the neoliberal political-economic ideological framework.  Bill Clinton and Tony Blair in the 1990’s provided a younger “cooler” image, the image of the Baby Boom generation, while at the same time supporting a greater “marketization” of the economy and holding out the private financial and corporate economy as the model for all social organization.  Clinton, but also Blair to some degree, was known for his ability to “feel your pain”, to express a theatrical-seeming empathy for others that did not question the fundamentals of the neoliberal vision of society.



The current US President, Obama, has functioned almost perfectly as an ersatz “Left” for media and political consumption, despite his for the most part right-of-center neoliberal policy initiatives and political philosophy.  During his tenure the sham conflict between Right and pseudo-Left has reached a fever pitch that obscures the advancing development and entrenchment of the plutocratic-corporatocratic class as the de facto rulers of the United States.  The neoliberal Right in America has become so ideologically extreme that Obama’s timid forays into corporate-friendly reform are treated as if they represent the cutting edge of progressivism by a media focused largely on politics as a series of culture and personality clashes or a “horse-race”.



Obama’s solid support for corporate- and bank-friendly policy is hidden from the view of many behind his occasional soaring rhetoric and limp efforts at reform which to supporters, so far, have been treated as either progressive or a form of pragmatic progressivism that is the only “realistic” alternative.  A reformer more than Bush his predecessor, Obama is fundamentally a rationalizer of neoliberalism, solidly evincing the belief in the notion that government must remain a handmaiden of corporate interests and beholden to the rich for its supply of money, either for campaigns or via the notion that government acquires its money by taxation.  A generation of progressives that can remember only “identity politics” and neoliberal Presidencies of the Right and pseudo-Left  have been to date adequately fooled or cowed by Obama’s relatively sympathetic personality and cultural identity as the first African-American President to criticize him as openly and roundly as is needed.  The reticence to criticize Obama is as much an expression of racism as is the Right’s tendency to demonize him as a “Kenyan socialist”.



Fundamentally the movement to create a better world is based on human empathy and caring for each other and for future generations.  “Left” neoliberal leaders like Clinton, Blair and now Obama attempt to consciously or unconsciously siphon off people’s empathic impulses to ends that are harmless to the neoliberal oligarchy, the dominance of the large financial institutions, multinational corporations, and very wealthy individuals.  More than even Clinton before him, Obama is a master of temporarily capturing the impulse to do good and turning it to ends that fundamentally will not change the basis of the current corrupt social-economic order.



As I am finishing the writing of this long piece, we have had as clear a demonstration as any of the decades long attack on the connective function of government works in the collapse of the fifty year old I-5 bridge over Washington’s Skagit river.  This bridge and Interstate 5 tie the North America’s Pacific Coast more closely together.  That, in an earlier era, government, a government led by the more conservative American political party, the Republicans, bound Americans closer together via the building of the Interstate system and related infrastructure is an achievement that seems alien in the neoliberal era.  That the existing, outdated infrastructure of the US is now in dangerous disrepair is a tribute to the thirty year dominance of neoliberalism in American politics as well as the faulty, dominant ideas about government’s role and government finance that spring from it.



After toying with climate change as an issue a number of times during his Administration, Obama is now flirting with the issue once again, calling out the extreme Right in Congress on their denial of human-caused global warming.  Obama could attempt to yoke the issue once again to his neoliberal vision of a government and society beholden to large private interests, while suggesting that it is an impossibility that we would have a government that steers independently of, for instance, the economic interests of the fossil fuel industry, as well as other incumbent industries.  He is capable of perverting this issue as he has others or flirting with and exhausting well intentioned people.  We will need to persist in viewing the world as it is, and resist the pull of leaders who attempt to hijack our better impulses for their own or their patrons’ purposes.

We will need in too short an order, to repair much of the damage that has been inflicted by neoliberal political actors upon our societies’ cohesiveness and ability to coordinate action.  All this needs to happen before it is too late for a recognizable human civilization to thrive on this planet.

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