Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for November 2009

Is Likud an enemy of the Jewish people?

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Ben Armbruster at ThinkProgress:

Part of the Obama administration’s plan to get the Israelis and the Palestinians to the negotiating table has been to call on the Israeli government to freeze all settlement building and expansion throughout the occupied West Bank.

Yet despite agreeing to freeze all settlement activity in the 2003 Road Map, the Israelis have continued expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. However, last week, Israeli government ministers approved a measure calling for a 10-month freeze on new building permits and construction of new residential buildings in the West Bank (but exempts East Jerusalem), a move top U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell said “falls short of a full settlement freeze, but it is more than any Israeli government has done before, and can help move toward agreement between the parties.”

This weekend, members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party attacked President Obama for the Israeli settlement decision:

[Member of the Knesset] Dani Danon organized the meeting after Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat (Likud) launched a verbal attack over the matter on U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration, which she branded “terrible.” […]

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately distanced himself from her comments, the activists at Saturday’s conference leveled further criticism at Obama over the moratorium, which Israel undertook to carry out in the wake of tremendous U.S. pressure.

The Obama administration is an enemy of the Jews and the worst regime there ever was for the State of Israel,” said Yossi Naim, the head of the Beit Aryeh regional council, at the Ra’ana meeting. “I announce to Obama: You won’t be able to stop us.”

Ron Nahman, mayor of the West Bank settlement of Ariel, applauded Livnat’s comments. “You had the public courage to say what most of the public feels ever since Obama came to power,” he said, repeatedly referring to the U.S. President as “Hussein Obama.”

The New York Times argued in a recent editorial that, despite the settlement dispute and mishaps, Obama should continue to move forward:

The president has no choice but to keep trying. At some point extremists will try to provoke another war…and the absence of a dialogue will only make things worse. Advancing his own final-status plan for a two-state solution is one high-risk way forward that we think is worth the gamble. Stalemate is unsustainable.

The Wonk Room’s Matt Duss notes that Netanyahu’s refusal to comply with a full settlement freeze “is a huge part of the problem here” and that the Obama administration may have to “stop pretending that Netanyahu is a partner for peace.”

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2009 at 3:59 pm

New GOP tactic, totally contemptible

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Lee Fang at ThinkProgress:

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) is a vocal opponent of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act who not only voted against the stimulus, but goes out of his way to mock it as “going nowhere” and doing “nothing to encourage growth.” Using the “failed” stimulus as his evidence, Shuster has been claiming that the government is incapable of reforming healthcare. But while Shuster tries to gain political points by bashing the stimulus, he has been quietly claiming credit for its benefits in his district, as well as advocating for an expanded role for Recovery Act money in his community:

– Last week, Shuster attended the groundbreaking ceremony for a sewage treatment plant for the Blairsville Municipal Authority. Republican State Senator Don White noted that the project was only possible because of the stimulus, which allowed the state Infrastructure Investment Authority (PENNVEST) to provide a $10.4 million grant and a $3 million low interest loan for construction.

– On November 4, Shuster asked Gov. Ed Rendell (D-PA) to use some of the state’s stimulus money to reopen the Scotland School for Veterans’ Children. Shuster noted that using the Recovery Act money for the school would save 134 full-time jobs.

– In July, Shuster joined 14 Pennsylvania lawmakers — including fellow stimulus-opponents Reps. Glenn Thompson (R-PA), Charlie Dent (R-PA), Jim Gerlach (R-PA), and Todd Platts (R-PA) — in writing a letter asking that stimulus money be used towards public universities.

– In June, Shuster hailed the stimulus-funded initiative to build a high-speed rail line between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. The Post-Gazette quoted Shuster praising the project: “I believe we are about to experience a new era in passenger rail in this country. I want Western Pennsylvania to participate in this new era and to enjoy the benefits of increased and expanded passenger rail service.”

Today, Roll Call reports that Republican lawmakers are planning this week to announce the GOP’s new “December Attack Plan,” which will focus on denigrating President Obama’s stimulus. Presumably, rank-in-file members like Shuster will participate in the attack, even though they have taken credit for the stimulus’ success. And to add to the irony, the attack is being led by Republican Whip Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), who has now hosted multiple job fairs in his district filled with employers hiring directly because of the stimulus.

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2009 at 3:57 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP

Condemning others for what you yourself do

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It’s very tempting to condemn others for something while excusing ourselves for the same thing—because we understand fully our own reasons, but feel free to impute base motives to other people. I mentioned before that this often happens in the case of abortion: some person opposes abortion over and over, and then a family member (a wife or a daughter, typically) becomes pregnant and the family agrees that, in this case, an abortion is fully warranted. Not a problem unless the abortion opponent has managed to make abortion illegal.

Here’s a wonderful example from the upsurge in food-stamp use and more and more people find that they cannot find any job that pays enough to support themselves. Jason DeParle and Robert Gebeloff have a lengthy article in the NY Times on the increase in the use of food stamps.

Jill, at the blog Feministe, points out those who continue to condemn food-stamp users while they themselves are also using food stamps: their own reasons are perfectly good, of course, unlike those shiftless other people. It’s interesting but also sad to see the degree to which some people always see themselves apart from (and better than) their fellows.

Her post begins:

This article on increasing rates of reliance on food stamps illustrates pretty clearly the right-wing mentality when it comes to social programs — any sort of government aid is a hand-out to the lazy until I need it. Then it’s still a hand-out to the lazy, just not for me.

While Mr. Dawson, the electrician, has kept his job, the drive to distant work sites has doubled his gas bill, food prices rose sharply last year and his health insurance premiums have soared. His monthly expenses have risen by about $400, and the elimination of overtime has cost him $200 a month. Food stamps help fill the gap.

Like many new beneficiaries here, Mr. Dawson argues that people often abuse the program and is quick to say he is different. While some people “choose not to get married, just so they can apply for benefits,” he is a married, churchgoing man who works and owns his home. While “some people put piles of steaks in their carts,” he will not use the government’s money for luxuries like coffee or soda. “To me, that’s just morally wrong,” he said.

He has noticed crowds of midnight shoppers once a month when benefits get renewed. While policy analysts, spotting similar crowds nationwide, have called them a sign of increased hunger, he sees idleness. “Generally, if you’re up at that hour and not working, what are you into?” he said.

I don’t know, sir — but since you’re there too, why don’t you tell us?

Almost as precious is the suggestion that food stamps should come with work requirements, akin to cash welfare benefits: …

Continue reading. And thanks to Jack in Amsterdam for the pointer.

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2009 at 3:54 pm

Posted in Daily life

Structures of religious violence

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Michael Bond reviews Radical, Religious and Violent by Eli Berman in the New Scientist:

Not only did the 9/11 attacks undermine global security and transform the world view of millions, they also spawned an entire publishing genre dedicated to understanding the minds of terrorists. Almost all these books are built on false premises and conjecture, but here is one based on solid evidence.

In Radical, Religious and Violent, economist Eli Berman uses extensive sociological and economic data to examine the operations and internal dynamics of the few effective and resilient groups that mount attacks on civilians, and what they have in common. Whereas other authors have focused on the obvious but peripheral issue of how religion inspires individual attackers – it is rarely the primary motivation, as many studies have shown – Berman tackles the pertinent question of what makes radical religious organisations so much more deadly than other groups.

His empirical approach leads to some surprising findings. For example, one key measure of the potential effectiveness or lethality of a group – Berman’s examples include Hamas and Hezbollah – is the extent to which it provides social services within its community. It’s worth reading the book just to find out why that is. The only downside is that his focus on organisational structure causes him to skate over some difficult questions about personal motivation, such as how some suicide bombers have become radicalised almost entirely online.

Those whose job is to protect citizens from such attacks should note his conclusion: that the groups behind them are rational operators whose tactics are best countered socially, economically and politically, not with violence.

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2009 at 3:42 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Religion

Attributing to God our own beliefs

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Interesting article in New Scientist by Andy Coghlan:

God may have created man in his image, but it seems we return the favour. Believers subconsciously endow God with their own beliefs on controversial issues.

"Intuiting God’s beliefs on important issues may not produce an independent guide, but may instead serve as an echo chamber to validate and justify one’s own beliefs," writes a team led by Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers started by asking volunteers who said they believe in God to give their own views on controversial topics, such as abortion and the death penalty. They also asked what the volunteers thought were the views of God, average Americans and public figures such as Bill Gates. Volunteers’ own beliefs corresponded most strongly with those they attributed to God.

Next, the team asked another group of volunteers to undertake tasks designed to soften their existing views, such as preparing speeches on the death penalty in which they had to take the opposite view to their own. They found that this led to shifts in the beliefs attributed to God, but not in those attributed to other people.

"People may use religious agents as a moral compass, forming impressions and making decisions based on what they presume God as the ultimate moral authority would believe or want," the team write. "The central feature of a compass, however, is that it points north no matter what direction a person is facing. This research suggests that, unlike an actual compass, inferences about God’s beliefs may instead point people further in whatever direction they are already facing."

"The experiments in which we manipulate people’s own beliefs are the most compelling evidence we have to show that people’s own beliefs influence what they think God believes more substantially than it influences what they think other people believe," says Epley.

Finally, the team used fMRI ..

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2009 at 3:37 pm

Posted in Daily life, Religion

Outing report

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Good outing: All holiday packages and gifts now mailed. Warm coat donated to homeless. Groceries stocked up. Time for  a nap.

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2009 at 2:37 pm

Posted in Daily life

Chemistry sets

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One of the glorious presents of Christmases past, speaking from my own childhood, was the Chemistry Set. It was always wonderful. First there was a little box of chemicals, test tubes, alcohol lamp, and book of experiments. The next year a bigger one: two shelf units, hinged in the middle to stand free, with more chemicals, more test tubes, litmus paper, and I don’t know what all. Then the big boy: a very wide back shelf unit, and two thick shelf units that were hinged to it and could be folded shut to make a locked box. I believe this guy had an Erlenmeyer flask.

They are still available, as Cool Tools notes. Take a look, for example, at this wonderful set.

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2009 at 12:30 pm

Nice walk

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To the clock tower and back, 51 min 50 sec: 3.0 mph. Slight improvement.

I think I would have cut the walk short, but I wanted to be able to click “Yes” to tomorrow’s email from

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2009 at 12:16 pm

Posted in Daily life, Fitness, Health

Interesting finding from the UK inquiry

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From the Center for American Progress in an email:

Former British ambassador to the United Nations Jeremy Greenstock "told an inquiry Friday that attempts to win international authorization for the invasion [of Iraq] were deliberately undermined by the United States." The inquiry, which began last Tuesday at the behest of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, is to be the "the most thorough investigation yet into the decisions that led up to the [Iraq] war and governed Britain’s involvement." Greenstock — who later served as envoy to Iraq — said that while he was trying to gain U.N. approval for the war, the Bush administration was "decidedly unhelpful to what I was trying to do." "The United States was little troubled by Britain’s hopes of forming an international consensus to justify military action," Greenstock testified. Echoing earlier testimony from former UK Ambassador to Washington Sir Christopher Meyer, Greenstock "said that serious preparations for the war had begun in early 2002" and Blair and President Bush had agreed "in blood" to the military adventure in April of that year, a year before Parliament approved Britain’s involvement. He added that the U.S. was unwilling even to consider delaying the Iraq invasion until October 2003, which would have allowed U.N. weapons inspectors more time to search for evidence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Greenstock’s testimony is the latest in a series of disturbing issues brought to light by the hearings. The UK’s intelligence chief at the time told the inquiry that his country’s intelligence services concluded 10 days prior to the beginning of the war that Saddam Hussein did not have access to WMD, contradicting what British and American officials said publicly. Testimony from the former British attorney general Lord Goldsmith also showed that Blair was informed in a July 2002 letter that the Iraq War would be illegal under international law. Blair responded by banning Goldsmith from future cabinet meetings and ignoring his verdict on the legality of the war.

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2009 at 11:18 am

More deception on healthcare reform, this time from a Harvard Medical School dean

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DougJ at Balloon Juice:

One thing that’s quite striking in the health care debate is the lack of detailed analysis opponents are presenting in their arguments. Compare Ron Brownstein’s positive analysis of the Senate bill for example, with David Broder’s meandering, senility ramblings against it. Or this MIT economist’s favorable analysis of its impact on premiums with Krauthammer’s latest vague, error riddled column on the subject.

The anti-health care reform piece that I found most disappointing was this one, by Jeffrey S. Flier, a dean at the Harvard Medical School.

In discussions with dozens of health-care leaders and economists, I find near unanimity of opinion that, whatever its shape, the final legislation that will emerge from Congress will markedly accelerate national health-care spending rather than restrain it. Likewise, nearly all agree that the legislation would do little or nothing to improve quality or change health-care’s dysfunctional delivery system. The system we have now promotes fragmented care and makes it more difficult than it should be to assess outcomes and patient satisfaction. The true costs of health care are disguised, competition based on price and quality are almost impossible, and patients lose their ability to be the ultimate judges of value.

Remarkably, he doesn’t name even one of these health-care leaders or economists! And it turns out this guy also produced some kind of glibertarian nonsense opposing health care in 1994.

I understand why the WSJ published the piece: they’re right-wing sociopaths with no journalistic integrity. But I wonder if the Harvard Medical School is happy to have this kind of fact-free garbage go out under their name. And It’s remarkable the extent to which wingers are happy to abuse their positions to forward the political agenda they favor.

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2009 at 10:50 am

Looks like Blair is in trouble

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In the UK, they seem to take the law quite seriously, even when it affects the rich and powerful. How unlike the US! Zaid Jilani writes at ThinkProgress:

Last Tuesday, the United Kingdom began “the most thorough investigation yet into the decisions that led up to the war and governed Britain’s involvement” through a series of Iraq war hearings in which numerous high-level British officials — including key war supporter and Bush ally ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair — are expected to testify about their role in bringing their country to war.

The hearings, chaired by privy council member John Chilcot, have brought to light a number of explosive facts which unveil the level of chicanery practiced by the Blair government in taking the country to war over the opposition of the vast majority of British citizens:

Blair was told prior to the war by his intelligence services that Iraq did not have access to weapons of mass destruction. Sir William Ehrman, the director-general of defense and intelligence at the Foreign Office at the time, told the inquiry that British intelligence services had concluded ten days prior to the beginning of the war that Saddam Hussein did not have access to weapons of mass destruction and that he also likely lacked warheads capable of delivering such weapons. The Blair government ignored the advice of their intelligence services and supported the war anyway. [11/25/09]

The Blair government had decided to support the US-led war up to a year before the invasion. Sir Christopher Meyer, the ambassador to Washington at the time, told the inquiry that the Blair government had decided that it was “a complete waste of time” to resist Bush’s efforts to go to war and had instead opted to offer advice about how to invade. Meyer also told the inquiry that former US national security adviser Condoleezza Rice had called the Meyer on the day of the 9/11 attacks and told him, “We are just looking to see whether there could possibly be a connection with Saddam Hussein.” Meyer also reiterated that both the American and British government were constantly looking for a “smoking gun” to justify the upcoming war. [11/26/09, 11/26/09]

Blair was told the Iraq War would be illegal under international law by his attorney general. In a July 2002 letter, former British attorney general Lord Goldsmith warned Blair that the UN charter only permits military intervention “on the basis of self-defence” or for “humanitarian intervention” and that neither case applied to Iraq. Blair responded by banning Goldsmith from future cabinet meetings and ignoring his verdict on the legality of the war. [11/29/09]

The Iraq war Inquiry will continue through 2010 and is expected to release its conclusions in a formal report at the end of that year. Although few expect there to ever be prosecutions as a result of the deception or illegality of the invasion of Iraq — despite the fact, as one of the last surviving judges of the Nuremburg Tribunal has said, the leaders who launched the invasion should be held accountable — there are other important reasons to investigate the drive to war. As Chilcot said at the opening of the hearings Tuesday, the inquiry was set up not only to “identify the lessons that should be learned from the UK’s involvement in Iraq,” but also to “help future governments who may face future situations.”

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2009 at 10:45 am

Interview with Carlene Bauer: writer, former evangelical

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More Intelligent Life does the interview:

There is such ease in the language of Not That Kind of Girl, Carlene Bauer’s memoir, that readers may be lulled into underestimating the alchemy that is taking place. Bauer has managed to transform the raw, melancholic, alienating challenges of religious scepticism and literary ambition into a readable story of one woman’s messy struggle for authenticity.

Like all coming-of-age tales, this one mixes the painfully familiar ("we were exhilarated by our loneliness because it meant we were being tested, or destined, or chosen") with the exotic ("my heart would flutter and whirr like a hummingbird until I said it: God"). Bauer describes an awkward youth of evangelical Christian schools and camps against a soundtrack of unbelievers (the Smiths, the Cure, the Replacements, the Pixies). Having looked to such models as Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf for a sense of how to live, Bauer moves to New York City and waits patiently for her life to start. She yearns for a way to be both coolly intellectual and cosily devotional—to both love God and love the world. For a while she quietly keeps both her virginity and her piety. Ultimately (but not until time) she loses both.

This is a gentle, insightful memoir—one that balances painful introspection with quite a bit of clever cultural analysis. It is with deceptive breeziness that Bauer flits from describing her adolescent body ("ovoid and white like a peeled potato, rooted and thick") to the essence of Walker Percy and Graham Greene ("These two men wrote for God by writing against God… They hated the world, hated its trouble, but they were not wishing for the next one to come. You had to love being in the world to write, they knew.").

Here Carlene Bauer talks to us about what inspired her to write this book, what makes her cringe when looking back, and what life feels like when you take God away.

More Intelligent Life: Given your cerebral preoccupations with faith and restraint, what drew you to New York City, that hotbed of iniquity?

Carlene Bauer:  While the message from churches I grew up in was that the city was to be avoided—unless you were ministering to the poor—the message I got from my parents was that the city was a place that kids needed to experience. My dad used to tell this story about how in the early seventies he and my mother took a carriage ride in Central Park and how they narrowly missed having their heads split open by a bottle some random passer-by chucked at their ride. Whenever my father told this story, he told it with clear relish at the high craziness of the city. As a kid [the story] made me think, well, you’ll go into the city and you might almost bleed to death, but hey! You’ll get a story out of it. It’s comedy, not tragedy, whatever almost clocks you there.

Also, I seemed to have a predilection for the urban from birth. Apartments over storefronts on main streets—not a feature of the suburban cul-de-sacs I was raised in—were fascinating to me. Who lived in those lighted windows? I wanted a lighted window. I thought if you had a lighted window, rather than a whole big house, you were living an anonymous, autonomous life. Finally, I wanted to write. Once I figured out that New York was where you lived if you wanted to write, I decided that’s where I would live when I grew up.

MIL: What inspired this compulsion to write? …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2009 at 10:40 am

The need for jobs—and Congress & the Obama Administration

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Paul Krugman in the NY Times:

f you’re looking for a job right now, your prospects are terrible. There are six times as many Americans seeking work as there are job openings, and the average duration of unemployment — the time the average job-seeker has spent looking for work — is more than six months, the highest level since the 1930s.

You might think, then, that doing something about the employment situation would be a top policy priority. But now that total financial collapse has been averted, all the urgency seems to have vanished from policy discussion, replaced by a strange passivity. There’s a pervasive sense in Washington that nothing more can or should be done, that we should just wait for the economic recovery to trickle down to workers.

This is wrong and unacceptable.

Yes, the recession is probably over in a technical sense, but that doesn’t mean that full employment is just around the corner. Historically, financial crises have typically been followed not just by severe recessions but by anemic recoveries; it’s usually years before unemployment declines to anything like normal levels. And all indications are that the aftermath of the latest financial crisis is following the usual script. The Federal Reserve, for example, expects unemployment, currently 10.2 percent, to stay above 8 percent — a number that would have been considered disastrous not long ago — until sometime in 2012.

And the damage from sustained high unemployment will last much longer. The long-term unemployed can lose their skills, and even when the economy recovers they tend to have difficulty finding a job, because they’re regarded as poor risks by potential employers. Meanwhile, students who graduate into a poor labor market start their careers at a huge disadvantage — and pay a price in lower earnings for their whole working lives. Failure to act on unemployment isn’t just cruel, it’s short-sighted.

So it’s time for an emergency jobs program.

How is a jobs program different from a second stimulus? …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2009 at 10:35 am

Authoritarianism and Polarization

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Interesting post by Paul Rosenberg, which begins:

This week, I’m going to be participating in a discussion of Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics at TPM Cafe.  I previously highlighted the following chart from the book in a pair of diaries, "Health Care, Racism & The Authoritarian Divide-Part 1" and "Hissy Fits In Historical Context–Health Care, Racism & The Authoritarian Divide-Part 2":


That chart certainly caught my attention, in no uncertain terms.

In the book, the authors, Marc J. Hetherington and Jonathan D. Weiler, explain:

Of course, we do not argue that preferences for disciplining children are causally related to individuals’ vote choice. It is absurd to think that spanking children led people to vote Republican in 2004. Indeed, if favoring corporal punishment actually caused people to vote for the more conservative candidate, liberals never would have been elected president. It is only very recently that alternatives to spanking children have been widely employed. Instead, support for spanking likely emanates from a particular worldview which that has a range of ramifications, including political ones.

By worldview, we mean a set of connected beliefs animated by some fundamental, underlying value orientation that is itself, connected to a visceral sense of right and wrong. Politics cleaved by a worldview has the potential for fiery disagreements because considerations about the correct way to lead a good life lie in the balance. Specifically, we demonstrate that American public opinion is increasingly divided along a cleavage that things like parenting styles and "manliness" map onto. We will call that cleavage authoritarianism.

Although authoritarianism in general has long been associated with the right, the authors refine their definition and their argument to such an extent that they capture a distinct phenomena that’s noticeably different from the broader race- and gender-based culture wars first set in motion in the 60s.  They focus on using the NES (National Election Study) four-item authoritarianism index introduced in 1992.  It asks people to choose between desired pairs of attributes in children:

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2009 at 10:33 am

Posted in Daily life, Politics

Interesting view of who holds power in the US

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This site was linked to in the previous post, but I wanted to draw your attention:

The Class-Domination Theory of Power by G. William Domhoff 

NOTE: is largely based on my book,Who Rules America?, first published in 1967 and now in its 6th edition. This on-line document is presented as a summary of some of the main ideas in that book.

Who has predominant power in the United States? The short answer, from 1776 to the present, is: Those who have the money have the power. George Washington was one of the biggest landowners of his day; presidents in the late 19th century were close to the railroad interests; for George W. Bush, it is oil and other natural resources, agribusiness, and finance. But to be more exact, those who own income-producing property — corporations, real estate, and agribusinesses — set the rules within which policy battles are waged.

While this may seem simple and/or obvious, the reasons behind it are complex. They involve an understanding of social classes, the role of experts, the two-party system, and the history of the country, especially Southern slavery. In terms of the big world-historical picture, and the Four Networks theory of power advocated on this site, money rules in America because there are no rival networks that grew up over a long and complex history:

  • No big church, as in many countries in Europe
  • No big government, as it took to survive as a nation-state in Europe
  • No big military until after 1940 (which is not very long ago) to threaten to take over the government

So, the only power network of any consequence in the history of the United States has been the economic one, which under capitalism generates a business-owning class that hires workers and a working class, along with small businesses and skilled artisans who are self-employed, and a relatively small number of independent professionals like physicians. In this context, the key reason why gold can rule, i.e., why the business owners who hire workers can rule, is that the people who work in the factories and fields were divided from the outset into free and slave, white and black, and later into numerous immigrant ethnic groups as well, making it difficult for workers as a whole to unite politically to battle for higher wages and better social benefits. This important point is elaborated on toward the end of this document in a section entitled "The Weaknesses of the Working Class."

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2009 at 10:18 am

The Establishment loves the status quo

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Very interesting post by Massacio at Firedoglake:

How did Planned Parenthood Federation of America blow it on the Stupak Amendment? Maybe Jane’s explanation about the Veal Pen is a starting point. That possibility gets support from G. William Domhoff’s article, an article for the American Behavioral Scientist titled The Power Elite and Their Challengers: The Role of Nonprofits in American Social Conflict (only the abstract is available free on-line). Domhoff has been writing about class in America since the mid-60s. His book, Who rules America, is described in detail here.

Domhoff points to the interlocking relations among the social upper class, giant corporations, and policy planning networks. The last category includes large non-profit entities, like Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

The upper class and the closely related corporate community do not stand alone at the top of the power structure. They are supplemented by a wide range of nonprofit organizations that play an important role in framing debates over public policy and in shaping public opinion. These organizations are often called “nonpartisan” or “bipartisan” because they are not identified with politics or with either of the two major political parties. But they are the real “political party” of the upper class in terms of insuring the stability of the society and the compliance of government.

Tax-free foundations receive their money from wealthy families and corporations. Their primary purpose is to provide money for education, research, and policy discussion. They thus have the power to encourage those ideas and researchers they find compatible with their values and goals, and to withhold funds from others.

Domhoff’s article provides case studies of foundation activity that brought about changes acceptable to the large donors. His conclusion is exactly like Jane’s:

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2009 at 10:11 am

The myth of Ellis Island name changes

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Immigrants’ surnames were changed thousands of times, but professional researchers have found that name changes were rare at Ellis Island (or at Castle Island, which was the New York port of entry prior to Ellis Island’s opening). The myth of name changes usually revolves around the concept that the immigrant was unable to communicate properly with the English-speaking officials at Ellis Island. However, this ignores the fact that Ellis Island employed hundreds of translators who could speak, read, and write the immigrants’ native tongues. It also ignores all the documentation that an immigrant needed to have in order to be admitted into the U.S.

In order to be admitted into the United States as an immigrant in the late nineteenth century or later, one had to have paperwork. Each immigrant had to have proof of identity. This would be a piece of paperwork filled out in "the old country" by a clerk who knew the language, and the paperwork would be filled out in the local language, not in English (unless the "old country" was an English-speaking country). The spelling of names on these documents generally conformed to local spellings within the immigrant’s place of origin. Even if the person traveling was illiterate and did not know how to spell his or her own name, the clerks filling out the paperwork knew the spelling of that name in the local language or could sound it out properly according to the conventions of the language used. Also, in many countries one had to obtain an exit visa in order to leave. Again, exit visas had to be filled out by local clerks who knew the language, and exit visas were written in the local language.

A ship’s passenger list had to be prepared by the captain of the ship or his representatives before the ship left the old country. This list was created from the travelers’ documents. These documents were created when the immigrant purchased his or her ticket. It is unlikely that anyone at the local steamship office was unable to communicate with this man. Even when the clerk selling the ticket did not speak the language of the would-be emigrant, someone had to be called in to interpret. Also, required exit visas and other paperwork had to be examined by ticket agents before a ticket would be sold. The name was most likely recorded with a high degree of accuracy at that time.

Next, the ship’s captain or designated representative would …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2009 at 10:02 am

Posted in Daily life

Will auditing the Fed reduce the trade deficit?

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Robert Samuleson of the Washington Post thinks so, though he apparently doesn’t realize it. (I get the strong impression that Robert Samuleson is often out of his depth in his writing about economics.) Dean Baker writes:

Robert Samuelson Argues that Auditing the Fed Could Reduce the Trade Deficit

That is what his column implies, even if Robert Samuelson doesn’t know it. Samuelson warned that a Fed audit could led to a "rapid fall in the dollar’s foreign exchange value."

Of course the over-valuation of the dollar is the main reason that the United States has a large trade deficit. If the dollar fell in value then imports to the United States become more expensive. People who took econ 101 know that if imports become more expensive, we will buy fewer imports.

A lower-valued dollar will cause U.S. exports to become cheaper to people living abroad. People who took econ 101 know that if exports become more cheaper, foreigners will buy more exports. If the U.S. imports less and exports more, then our trade deficit falls. It sounds like a good reason to audit the Fed.

Samuelson is also appalled that people would blame the Fed for downturn. Of course the Fed bears primary responsibility for the downturn in the same way that a drunken school bus driver bears responsibility for the death of his passengers.

The downturn could have been easily prevented if the Fed had targeted the $8 trillion housing bubble before it grew to such dangerous levels, as some of us advocated since 2002. It could have targeted the bubble first and foremost by providing investors and the general public information, using its staff of hundreds of economists to carefully document the evidence for a housing bubble and using its enormous public platform to transmit this information at every opportunity. It could have also cracked down the on the garbage loans that fueled the bubble, which were quite apparent to any remotely observant analyst.

Finally, if necessary, it could have used interest rates to prick the bubble. This would have been easiest if interest rate hikes were explicitly tied to bursting the bubble (e.g. the Fed commits to raising interest rates until the real Case-Shiller index falls back to its 1996 level).

There was absolutely nothing more important that the Fed could have been doing during this period than combating the housing bubble. The fact that it did nothing was an astounding failure for which it deserves to be held responsible.

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2009 at 9:59 am

Prohibition of what many people want: It never works

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As noted in a previous post, prohibition didn’t work even when the forces of prohibition were omnipotent and omniscient: God famously prohibited Adam and Eve from eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and that prohibition didn’t work, even though it was God Himself and there were only two people to keep an eye on. So how can mere humans expect to enforce prohibition of something many people want. It’s been tried and failed many times, and the failure is not merely that people can readily obtain the prohibited thing, but that the business of supplying it is a financial boon to criminals and quickly results in strong and prosperous criminal organizations—something that I think people in general do not want.

So instead of prohibiting things that many people want, the rational approach would be to regulate access to the prohibited thing, making it possible to legally obtain the thing at a competitive price, but with restrictions on who can purchase the thing, who can sell it, and where it may be used.

Alcohol is one famous example, tobacco another (even just overtaxing tobacco products leads to smuggling). Marijuana is another famous example, with the forces of prohibition stubbornly ignoring the total failure of the effort and its enormous cost (in human lives ruined and in public money wasted). Religion is another: when the Soviet Union tried to stamp out religion, it failed. Sex is another: the Catholic church forbids sexual activity for its priests and nuns, yet obviously that has failed and the church’s efforts to conceal the failure has stripped it of its moral authority (IMO).

And abortion: Those who wish to make all abortions illegal fail to recognize that enough people want—and feel that they need—abortions that any prohibition will fail: abortions will continue as a criminal activity. That’s not just a supposition, that’s how it has always worked in the past. It’s far better to face the fact that some things are not amenable to prohibition. (So this effort in Alaska to define the fœtus as a person in order to outlaw abortion is going to fail, one way or the other.)

Robbery is also prohibited, of course, and yet we have robberies. Yet the number of people who believe robbery should be legal is zero or close to it: we (as a people) do not want robbery, so when that prohibition is broken, we have the police go after those responsible. And because people in general don’t want robbery, robbers don’t have the tacit support of a major part of the populace, and so they are generally caught.

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2009 at 9:56 am

Back to badger for a while

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I am going to stick with badger brushes for a couple of weeks at least, so I started today with my favorite, the Rooney Style 2 Finest, which created a luscious lather from the Kell’s Original Energy shave stick—still a tantalizing fragrance, though this time I definitely caught a citrus note. The Merkur Slant Bar with a Swedish Gillette did a fine job, though I think it’s time to move on to a new blade in that razor. And Blenheim Bouquet was a fine finish.

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2009 at 9:23 am

Posted in Shaving

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