An intellectual freedom blog with an emphasis on libraries and technology

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Rich Don't Need the Rest Anymore

By Steven.

Economist Michael Lind has an op-ed in this morning that set my teeth on edge. This happens when someone writes something that I have been trying to tell people for years. In Are the American People Obsolete? he writes that the rich no longer depend on U.S. citizens for their wealth or protection nor to provide them services anymore. Immigrants without voting rights serve as maids and cooks, and perform other service tasks.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently revealed the plutocratic perspective on immigration when he defended illegal immigration by asking, "Who takes care of the greens and the fairways in your golf course?"

Offshoring has done wonders to free the rich from dealing with the U.S. workers' demands for a living wage, as Lind explains:

A member of the elite can make money from factories in China that sell to consumers in India, while relying entirely or almost entirely on immigrant servants at one of several homes around the country.

Lind mentions the growing use of mercenaries (called "Contractors" since the start of the Iraq War) as the final reason rich people do not need ordinary citizens of the U.S. anymore. He also speculate about a foreign, immigrant police force of the future.

My favorite part of Lind's piece comes from his tying this all to the hatred for taxes:

If the American rich increasingly do not depend for their wealth on American workers and American consumers or for their safety on American soldiers or police officers, then it is hardly surprising that so many of them should be so hostile to paying taxes to support the infrastructure and the social programs that help the majority of the American people. The rich don't need the rest anymore.

For many years, in conversations with friends and acquaintances, I have brought up this idea. Always I have received either uncomprehending stares or condescending responses. Silly doom-crier, they need us as consumers. Or, where else does the wealth come but from the rest of us? Well, now it's coming in from elsewhere, they have taken away retirement for most of us and have Social Security in the cross-hairs now. Does anyone think that the wealthiest 2 percent of the U.S. has need of the other 98% as anything more than sheep to be fleeced?

Footnote: For a body of empirical supporting data take a look at Middle Class in America Is Radically Shrinking. Here Are the Stats to Prove it from Yahoo finance.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Paper of record? Not so much.

By AR.

I gave up reading the NY Times years ago after their disastrous coverage of the lead up to the war in Iraq and several other internal scandals. I do not consider them "the paper of record". Sadly, lots of the media still take them as such. I have been getting more news from McClatchy, since an analysis of the media in the aftermath of the Iraq war showed that they actually got the story right. They had no Judith Miller that they had to apologize for. So that covers much of my news needs. As to opinion, I'm not much of a fan of the Times either. God knows that their opinion people get plenty of coverage on the Sunday morning blabfests, as well as on NPR. So it’s not like I don’t get to hear their opinions over and over. I used to read the Times for the “Circuits” computer section, but that has long since been folded into another section. Not a great loss as it had gotten pretty thin. The main contributor to it is a total Mac fan boy and I just reached a point of exhaustion and boredom with his work. The only section of the Times I will occasionally look at and still consider worthwhile is the Arts section. They still do have some of the best reviewers in the country, especially Holland Cotter.

Can someone be informed without the Grey Lady? I think so. I got a much better sense of the lead up to the Iraq war with Air America's coverage at the time. I got a much deeper understanding of the current financial crisis via Planet Money on PRI. I got a good understanding of what we are currently doing in Afghanistan due to Rachel Maddow's recent great work. I get a much better sense of what happens in the rest of the world thanks to the BBC. Then there is the solid day in day out reporting in McClatchy. Note that most of those sources were not in the form of text on paper, but radio and video over the Web. It just seems to me that the Times is far from indispensable. Frankly, I don't feel that the Times matters very much, except that their endorsements for local & state judges races here in NY are definitively consequential. I think that as you move out of that local range into larger state and national races they have much less of an impact. Culturally, they are also losing ground. They may be the be-all in terms of classical music reviews, but for most other kinds of music, they really don’t carry much weight. They are important for Broadway. But how important are Broadway plays and musicals to most people under 50? The Times is important to people’s grandparents and some middle-aged parents. If you are in your twenties or thirties, the opinions and recommendations of Time Out NY will be way more important. There is a kind of official culture that the Times can still be said to represent. Actually, I think that it’s more a culture of officials, like the judges that get their endorsements, or the college presidents that want nice articles about their latest educational initiatives, or the arts administrators who really want to get a nice write up about a current show or upcoming performance. If you aren’t part of that culture of officialdom does the Times really serve your interests? That is up to you to decide. For myself, the answer has increasingly been no. I think that they have come to believe their own ads, which is always a bad sign.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

You can't put the toothpaste back in the tube

By Steven.

How long has internet been a household word? Who does not know about the Google cache? For all the fear that information would become ephemeral as we make the transition from print to electronic, some have learned - the hard way - that once you post something really awful, to paraphrase Shakespeare: the evil men do doesn't just live after them, it goes viral.

Tea Party Express organizer Mark Williams reacted to the NAACP's resolution denouncing racist elements within the Tea Party movement with a blog post which attempted to characterize the resolution as somehow "against freedom."

Bear in mind this is an old trick that political operatives have used since forever: Re-frame the "debate" in terms that favor your position, ignore any information that you can not argue over, try to position your opponent as somehow standing "against" something "good" or "in favor" of something "bad." Thus, Williams' blog post had to characterize the Tea Party as not racist (good luck) and the NAACP as against freedom.

He attempted to accomplish these goals with a faux letter from Benjamin Jealous, the president of the NAACP, to Abraham Lincoln, asking for the repeal of the 13th and 14th amendments, repeated characterized African-Americans as not wanting to work, then (as if those pearls of eloquence were not enough) signed the "letter" with phrases: "Tom's Nephew" and "Head Colored Person."

Strangely, some silly people saw this as overtly racist, clueless in the extreme and astonishingly ugly. To me, it reads like something one of my bigoted classmates from High School would have written. What does Williams do after revealing himself as "brain-dead to the underlying realities of how this world works?" He takes down the post, then takes down his whole blog *. What does this accomplish? You can still read the letter as originally posted. If he does shoot himself in the foot again by claiming the reproductions of his post are fabrications, there's always the old friend to memory, the Google cache.

The overt racism of the "letter" has not stopped CNN from presenting him as a pundit and representative of the tea party movement. As Justin Elliott at has noted none of the CNN commentators asked Williams about his "letter to Abraham Lincoln" during any of the segments in which he appears.

Nor have I seen any other "tea partiers" denounce his racism. How do you do that without antagonizing your base?

If you do not care to click through to the letter, here are some highlights. Racist self-revelatory screeds don't get much better than this:

Freedom means having to work for real, think for ourselves, and take consequences along with the rewards. That is just far too much to ask of us Colored People and we demand that it stop!
Bailouts are just big money welfare and isn't that what we want all Coloreds to strive for?
How will we Colored People ever get a wide screen TV in every room if non-coloreds get to keep what they earn?

Had enough? I know I have.

Footnote: I tried a link to the letter on Williams' blog "Marktalk" ( this morning and receive a "server not responding" message. The post itself first re-written to remove references to "Massa" then the post taken down appeared in the Elliott article above.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Truth and Consequences and Secrecy

By Steven

So far three psychologists who allegedly aided in the torture of detainees have found their licenses to practice coming under review. The state licensing boards in New York, Ohio and Texas have received complaints about Army psychologists as a result of evidence mostly found in a 2008 Senate Committee report (a large .PDF may take a long time to download). Democracy Now has the best report on this I can find, and the article in contains some interesting quotes. In particular, this statement in the complaint filed with the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists by Northwestern University law professor Joseph Margulies:

"Regardless of what legal categories these techniques fall within, one conclusion is clear: a psychologist who helps inflict such cruel and shocking abuse on a defenseless human being would appear to have violated basic standards of conduct of the profession,"

Let that sink in for a moment. "Regardless of what legal categories these techniques fall within ... " This constitutes the first explicit rejection of what an administration and Congress chose to make legal. Just because some fools and maniacs made this legal does not make it right.

Another observation pertains to secrecy. Dr. James Mitchell, facing a complaint filed in Texas, had this to say (from the article):

"Obviously, I'm not free to discuss any work I may have done for the CIA," Mitchell told the AP. He called the complaint libelous and said it is "riddled throughout with fabricated details, lies, distortions and inaccuracies."

Let me see if I understand this correctly: Mitchell claims that the U.S. Senate report is "riddled throughout with fabricated details, lies, distortions and inaccuracies." He may have directed his remarks to the complaint, but the source of the information comes from the Senate report. Best of luck with that defense, Dr. Mitchell. And secondly, for once secrecy does not necessarily afford protection. Once the cat is out of the bag, poor Dr. Mitchell is not able to provide any additional context to support his defense because of secrecy rules when one works for the CIA. I hope I am not getting ahead of myself when I say "hoist on your own petard?" Maybe you should not get mixed up in torture in the first place?

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Absentee landlords from hell

By Steven

Alex forwarded to me this Rachel Maddow segment on how our tax money works in Afghanistan.

Nice neighborhood. Now take a look at what other people in Afghanistan live in:

(Image from the RAWA web site)

Does anyone remember that the so-called "Norther Alliance" the Bush Administration recruited to kick out the Taliban are actually a bunch of warlords who have committed numerous crimes against, well, pretty much everyone? (see Our Scary New Best Friends from from right after the beginning of the war).

Can we really afford to keep throwing money at people who are already insanely rich?

Update: I had trouble making the video play just now. I case this happens to your here's the link:

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Bill the Galactic Hero works for the FBI?

by Steven.

In Harry Harrison's satirical Science Fiction book one of the chapters has the hero, Bill, infiltrating a terrorist organization. At the end, during a stand-off with police (they have the "terrorists" surrounded in their "headquarters"), two competing law enforcement agencies call for their informers to come out. One by one every one of the members of the big bad terrorist group leaves the building and runs to his handler. Only one man is left in the building, the Big Boss. The Big Boss begs and pleads with his handler, but to no avail. Someone has to be the terrorist, or the operation will be all for nothing. The last informer, the one who founded the terrorist organization in the first place, perishes in a hail of gunfire. Someone had to be sacrificed for "justice to prevail."

Silly SciFi right? Guess again! In Salon today I read Stage-Managing the War on Terror by Stephan Salisbury in Tom's Dispatch. The "terrorist" attacks averted since 2001 include "the Liberty City Seven, the Fort Dix Six, the Detroit Ummah Conspiracy, the Newburgh Four." In each case an FBI informer supplied the money, the plan, the rhetoric and the "explosives." Even a federal judge, Colleen McMahon who presides over the Newburgh case, calls it the "un-terrorism case."

Especially the Newburgh case looks more like a horrible con perpetrated on desperate, unemployed (and in one case mentally ill) black men. A Pakistani shows up at a mosque flashing lots of money and making extravagant offers. The more astute members of the congregation smelled a rat. As Salisbury reports:

In fact, more substantial members of the mosque had pegged Shaheed Hussain as an informer almost the moment he arrived, but had no idea what to do about him. “Maybe the mistake we made was that we didn’t report him,” Salahuddin Mustafa Muhammad, imam at Masjid al-Ikhlas, told congregants shortly after the May 2009 arrests. “But how are we going to report the government agent to the government?”
In the Liberty City case, one of the defendants had actually called the Philadelphia police "in mid-plot" to complain that "he was being pressured to commit radical acts by what turned out to be an FBI informer." The FBI paid the informer $230,000. Nice work if you can get it. The article details the "Bill the Galactic Hero" conduct of the FBI in each of the other cases listed above.

Aside from these cases what do we have? The shoe bomber (brilliant, telling everyone what he's doing before failing to light the fuse), the underwear bomber (need I say more) and the pathetic Times Square bomber. Either incompetent idiots who could barely blow their own noses or poor, pathetic, men who could not do anything without the money, supplies and leadership the FBI supplied. The re-printing of this article has the best tag line for the whole astonishing waste of everyone's times and resources, "The FBI : foiling its own plots since 2001."

Saturday, July 03, 2010

The albatross called the South

My friend AR and I exchanged e-mails about this piece by Glenn Greenwald of We both respect and admire Greenwald - he has always called attention to the misdeeds and hypocrisies that take place all across the political spectrum, and for that we commend him. After reading Greenwald's take on the recent (June 8, 2010) primary AR had this to say:

I hope Greenwald is NOT asking for a third party, like the redoubtable Ralph Nader. Progressives have a very shallow time line. It will take at least a generation to move this country to the left again, if it can even be done.

In national electoral politics in America we are dealing with the albatross called the South. Most of the Blue Dogs that Greenwald laments come from the old confederacy. The Dixiecrats still exist and Lincoln is one of them. They never cared for or served their poor white constituents, but only those who always had the money in the agricultural economy of the old South. Her being a corporatist is the modern incarnation of the same thing. The poor people of the South needed single-payer health care as much as any poor person in the North, Midwest or West Coast. Yet this group of people can be counted on to vote constantly against their own interests. The ugly truth is that as long as the majority of Southerners hold their conservative values there is a limit to what can be achieved on a national level. The great idea of Howard Dean was to realize that one could pull support from progressives even in that part of the country. I honestly wish that Dean was being listened to by Obama, rather than Emmanuel.

One bright spot is that Lincoln is the sponsor of anti-derivative legislation. I hope that she is serious about that legislation because it would force a fundamental change in the structure of American banks. I suspect that Greenwald would be happy about that change. I still smell the left-over late 60s in Greenwald's writing. I think that there is way too much personalization in his attacks on her. She is useful if she can get the anti-derivative legislation passed. (BTW, Barney Frank is said to be against that legislation. WTF?) I think that Greenwald is confused about what a political "cost" is. He shouldn't be happy to maim her. He should be trying to work with her on what they agree on, like the anti-derivative legislation. If you are trying to show an exercise of real political power, coming a close second is not enough. We all laugh at how the tea-baggers come in second to many on the right. What is the difference? Working with someone like Blanche Lincoln is a long run strategy. You may hate her guts about some issues, but hold your nose and get out of her what you can. Some people feel the same way about Barney Frank.

On some level I think that Greenwald needs to grow up and realize that he doesn't have all that much power. I think that his group needs to develop soft power as well as what they think was hard power, which really didn't work. I think that Obama will break the hearts of the left as much as 30 years of supposedly pro-life Republicans have broken the hearts of many truly committed right-wingers. These folks are still horrified that Abortion is legal and that they have only reduced it at the margins and mainly on the state & local level. Reagan was right when he said that if someone agrees with you 80% of the time he is your friend and worth working with. Larry Wilmore was right when he said that America thought that Obama was a "magic negro" and that, of course, Obama is not a "magic negro." Look at this clip from the Daily Show:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The First 364 Days 23 Hours
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

And for no other reason than I can't help myself, while we're talking about an albatross, let's see the classic albatross skit, via YouTube:

The behavior of voters may look this absurd, but nobody does absurd better than Monty Python.