Friday, July 31, 2009
Monday, July 27, 2009
July 27, 2009
Science Is in the Details
By SAM HARRIS
PRESIDENT OBAMA has nominated Francis Collins to be the next director of the National Institutes of Health. It would seem a brilliant choice. Dr. Collins’s credentials are impeccable: he is a physical chemist, a medical geneticist and the former head of the Human Genome Project. He is also, by his own account, living proof that there is no conflict between science and religion. In 2006, he published “The Language of God,” in which he claimed to demonstrate “a consistent and profoundly satisfying harmony” between 21st-century science and evangelical Christianity.
Dr. Collins is regularly praised by secular scientists for what he is not: he is not a “young earth creationist,” nor is he a proponent of “intelligent design.” Given the state of the evidence for evolution, these are both very good things for a scientist not to be.
But as director of the institutes, Dr. Collins will have more responsibility for biomedical and health-related research than any person on earth, controlling an annual budget of more than $30 billion. He will also be one of the foremost representatives of science in the United States. For this reason, it is important that we understand Dr. Collins and his faith as they relate to scientific inquiry.
What follows are a series of slides, presented in order, from a lecture on science and belief that Dr. Collins gave at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2008:
Slide 1: “Almighty God, who is not limited in space or time, created a universe 13.7 billion years ago with its parameters precisely tuned to allow the development of complexity over long periods of time.”
Slide 2: “God’s plan included the mechanism of evolution to create the marvelous diversity of living things on our planet. Most especially, that creative plan included human beings.”
Slide 3: “After evolution had prepared a sufficiently advanced ‘house’ (the human brain), God gifted humanity with the knowledge of good and evil (the moral law), with free will, and with an immortal soul.”
Slide 4: “We humans used our free will to break the moral law, leading to our estrangement from God. For Christians, Jesus is the solution to that estrangement.”
Slide 5: “If the moral law is just a side effect of evolution, then there is no such thing as good or evil. It’s all an illusion. We’ve been hoodwinked. Are any of us, especially the strong atheists, really prepared to live our lives within that worldview?”
Why should Dr. Collins’s beliefs be of concern?
There is an epidemic of scientific ignorance in the United States. This isn’t surprising, as very few scientific truths are self-evident, and many are counterintuitive. It is by no means obvious that empty space has structure or that we share a common ancestor with both the housefly and the banana. It can be difficult to think like a scientist. But few things make thinking like a scientist more difficult than religion.
Dr. Collins has written that science makes belief in God “intensely plausible” — the Big Bang, the fine-tuning of nature’s constants, the emergence of complex life, the effectiveness of mathematics, all suggest the existence of a “loving, logical and consistent” God.
But when challenged with alternative accounts of these phenomena — or with evidence that suggests that God might be unloving, illogical, inconsistent or, indeed, absent — Dr. Collins will say that God stands outside of Nature, and thus science cannot address the question of his existence at all.
Similarly, Dr. Collins insists that our moral intuitions attest to God’s existence, to his perfectly moral character and to his desire to have fellowship with every member of our species. But when our moral intuitions recoil at the casual destruction of innocents by, say, a tidal wave or earthquake, Dr. Collins assures us that our time-bound notions of good and evil can’t be trusted and that God’s will is a mystery.
Most scientists who study the human mind are convinced that minds are the products of brains, and brains are the products of evolution. Dr. Collins takes a different approach: he insists that at some moment in the development of our species God inserted crucial components — including an immortal soul, free will, the moral law, spiritual hunger, genuine altruism, etc.
As someone who believes that our understanding of human nature can be derived from neuroscience, psychology, cognitive science and behavioral economics, among others, I am troubled by Dr. Collins’s line of thinking. I also believe it would seriously undercut fields like neuroscience and our growing understanding of the human mind. If we must look to religion to explain our moral sense, what should we make of the deficits of moral reasoning associated with conditions like frontal lobe syndrome and psychopathy? Are these disorders best addressed by theology?
Dr. Collins has written that “science offers no answers to the most pressing questions of human existence” and that “the claims of atheistic materialism must be steadfastly resisted.”
One can only hope that these convictions will not affect his judgment at the institutes of health. After all, understanding human well-being at the level of the brain might very well offer some “answers to the most pressing questions of human existence” — questions like, Why do we suffer? Or, indeed, is it possible to love one’s neighbor as oneself? And wouldn’t any effort to explain human nature without reference to a soul, and to explain morality without reference to God, necessarily constitute “atheistic materialism”?
Francis Collins is an accomplished scientist and a man who is sincere in his beliefs. And that is precisely what makes me so uncomfortable about his nomination. Must we really entrust the future of biomedical research in the United States to a man who sincerely believes that a scientific understanding of human nature is impossible?
Sam Harris is the author of “The End of Faith” and co-founder of the Reason Project, which promotes scientific knowledge and secular values.
July 27, 2009
An Incoherent Truth
By PAUL KRUGMAN
Right now the fate of health care reform seems to rest in the hands of relatively conservative Democrats — mainly members of the Blue Dog Coalition, created in 1995. And you might be tempted to say that President Obama needs to give those Democrats what they want.
But he can’t — because the Blue Dogs aren’t making sense.
To grasp the problem, you need to understand the outline of the proposed reform (all of the Democratic plans on the table agree on the essentials.)
Reform, if it happens, will rest on four main pillars: regulation, mandates, subsidies and competition.
By regulation I mean the nationwide imposition of rules that would prevent insurance companies from denying coverage based on your medical history, or dropping your coverage when you get sick. This would stop insurers from gaming the system by covering only healthy people.
On the other side, individuals would also be prevented from gaming the system: Americans would be required to buy insurance even if they’re currently healthy, rather than signing up only when they need care. And all but the smallest businesses would be required either to provide their employees with insurance, or to pay fees that help cover the cost of subsidies — subsidies that would make insurance affordable for lower-income American families.
Finally, there would be a public option: a government-run insurance plan competing with private insurers, which would help hold down costs.
The subsidy portion of health reform would cost around a trillion dollars over the next decade. In all the plans currently on the table, this expense would be offset with a combination of cost savings elsewhere and additional taxes, so that there would be no overall effect on the federal deficit.
So what are the objections of the Blue Dogs?
Well, they talk a lot about fiscal responsibility, which basically boils down to worrying about the cost of those subsidies. And it’s tempting to stop right there, and cry foul. After all, where were those concerns about fiscal responsibility back in 2001, when most conservative Democrats voted enthusiastically for that year’s big Bush tax cut — a tax cut that added $1.35 trillion to the deficit?
But it’s actually much worse than that — because even as they complain about the plan’s cost, the Blue Dogs are making demands that would greatly increase that cost.
There has been a lot of publicity about Blue Dog opposition to the public option, and rightly so: a plan without a public option to hold down insurance premiums would cost taxpayers more than a plan with such an option.
But Blue Dogs have also been complaining about the employer mandate, which is even more at odds with their supposed concern about spending. The Congressional Budget Office has already weighed in on this issue: without an employer mandate, health care reform would be undermined as many companies dropped their existing insurance plans, forcing workers to seek federal aid — and causing the cost of subsidies to balloon. It makes no sense at all to complain about the cost of subsidies and at the same time oppose an employer mandate.
So what do the Blue Dogs want?
Maybe they’re just being complete hypocrites. It’s worth remembering the history of one of the Blue Dog Coalition’s founders: former Representative Billy Tauzin of Louisiana. Mr. Tauzin switched to the Republicans soon after the group’s creation; eight years later he pushed through the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act, a deeply irresponsible bill that included huge giveaways to drug and insurance companies. And then he left Congress to become, yes, the lavishly paid president of PhRMA, the pharmaceutical industry lobby.
One interpretation, then, is that the Blue Dogs are basically following in Mr. Tauzin’s footsteps: if their position is incoherent, it’s because they’re nothing but corporate tools, defending special interests. And as the Center for Responsive Politics pointed out in a recent report, drug and insurance companies have lately been pouring money into Blue Dog coffers.
But I guess I’m not quite that cynical. After all, today’s Blue Dogs are politicians who didn’t go the Tauzin route — they didn’t switch parties even when the G.O.P. seemed to hold all the cards and pundits were declaring the Republican majority permanent. So these are Democrats who, despite their relative conservatism, have shown some commitment to their party and its values.
Now, however, they face their moment of truth. For they can’t extract major concessions on the shape of health care reform without dooming the whole project: knock away any of the four main pillars of reform, and the whole thing will collapse — and probably take the Obama presidency down with it.
Is that what the Blue Dogs really want to see happen? We’ll soon find out.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
“Just to mention something that is obvious, but hopefully not overlooked, i.e., if this country cannot pass a bill which insures that every citizen has access to medical care, which every developed country has managed to do (and got done many many years ago), there is something very fundamentally and structurally wrong with this country.
Such an event, in my mind, would confirm that we live with a completely corrupt and dysfunctional form of government. Forty nine states, each with bicameral legislative bodies, some of which have distinguished themselves recently with unabashed levels of incompetency and cluelessness. Then, graft a federal government over that, which is also bicameral, the non-representative portion of it being filled with officials who are certifiable morons and/or who are bought and sold like whores by wealthy contributors.
Talk about a Waterloo.
This is a defining moment in our history. Do we fulfill our supposed status as a "shining city on a hill" or continue our long slow decline into a second rate oligarchy?
I am not one prone to hyperbole.
I believe this to the depths of my soul.”
Monday, July 20, 2009
I, THE REPUB PARTY AM THE LORD THY GOD, (OR AT LEAST I AM ON GOOD TERMS WITH HIM) AND THOU SHALT NOT PUT FALSE GODS OR PARTIES BEFORE ME.
WHATEVER YOU DO, ITS ALL RIGHT WITH ME, JUST DO NOT GET CAUGHT.
IF YOU DO GET CAUGHT, STAY AWAY FROM ME FOR AWHILE UNTIL YOU ARE REBORN.
IF YOU GIVE A SPEECH, APPEAR AT A CAMPAIGN RALLY, OR WIN A GOLF TOURNAMENT, ALWAYS THANK ME FIRST.
ONLY THROUGH ME CAN YOU REACH TRUE HEAVEN ON EARTH.
WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT GET CAUGHT.
THOU SHALT NOT STEAL, OR LIE, OR COVET BUT WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT GET CAUGHT.
THE MORE MONEY YOU HAVE THE MORE MONEY YOU SHOULD EARN AND THE MORE MONEY YOU EARN THE MORE YOU CAN PAY ME AND THE POOL BOY IF YOU SO DESIRE; and remember, all contributions to my financial committees are tax deductible.
IMMIGRATION IS A BAD THING NORMALLY, BUT HISPANICS MAKE THE BEST GARDENERS.
EVOLUTION IS BAD AS A CONCEPT OR THEORY. THE EARTH CANNOT BE THAT OLD, IF IT WERE, ALL MY MEMBERS WOULD HAVE A WHOLE HELL OF A LOT MORE MONEY.
THE PEASANTS ARE REVOLTING.
TRY TO KEEP THE PEASANTS FROM REVOLTING BUT BASICALLY ALWAYS REMEMBER, THE PEASANTS ARE REVOLTING ANYWAY
FEAR OF THE LORD IS ALWAYS IMPORTANT BUT FOR VOTES THOU MUST INSTILL FEAR IN THE ELECTORATE: FEAR OF COMMUNISM, SOCIALISM, LIBERALISM, HOMOSEXUALISM, TERRORISM, MUSLIMISM, ATHEISM, AND PEOPLE WHO DO NOT LOOK LIKE US WILL GET YOU ELECTED EVERY TIME.
REMEMBER, ONLY THROUGH ME WILL YOU SEE THE KINGDOM OF GOD ON EARTH
THOU SHALT NOT SHIT WHERE YOU EAT. TRY NOT TO STEAL, DIRECTLY ANYWAY, FROM ANOTHER MEMBER OF MY PARTY--WHATEVER THOU DOEST, DO NOT GET CAUGHT.
ALWAYS GET YOUR MONEY UP FRONT AND COLLECT ENOUGH INFORMATION SO THAT IF NOTHING ELSE WORKS AT LEAST YOU GOT THE GOODS ON THE OTHER GUY.
WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, BLAME SOMEBODY ELSE, BUT THOU SHALL TRY TO BLAME THE CLOSEST DEM.
PAY MINORITIES WHO WORK FOR MY COMMITTEES A LOT MORE THAN WHITES SO THAT MY COUNTENANCE SHALL HAVE THE PROPER FACE; EVEN SOME MINORITIES WILL DO ANYTHING FOR MONEY. (OH AND FIND OUT WHAT THEY PUT IN JUSTICE THOMAS' TEA AND ATTEMPT TO MASS PRODUCE AND PUT IT IN THE FOODS OF THOSE WHO RESIDE IN THE INNER CITY)
DO NOT, EVER, BEAR FALSE WITNESS AGAINST ANYONE IN THE PRESENCE OF A FEDERAL PROSECUTOR OR HIS HENCHMEN. IF YOU DO NOT BELIEVE ME JUST ASK SCOOTER.
Vows Of Silence -- Marcial Maciel, the Legion of Christ, and Regnum Christi
Friday, July 17, 2009
By Guy T. Saperstein, AlterNet
Posted on July 17, 2009, Printed on July 17, 2009
Yesterday, on MSNBC, Pat Buchanan attacked Sonia Sotomayor, specifically, and affirmative action, in general. Included in his attack were such claims as "this has been a country built basically by white folks," that Sonia Sotomayor was purely an affirmative action candidate who lacks real credentials and his suggestion that we need more white-male Supreme Court nominees -- like Robert Bork -- despite the fact that 108 of the 110 United Supreme Court Justices in our nation's history have been white.
What opponents of affirmative action like Pat Buchanan fail to grapple with is that this country was built on affirmative action -- for white males -- and you don't have to go back to the Founding Fathers to see this in action. If you go back to the 1950s, which Buchanan apparently wants to do, and look at the major private universities, you would find that 20-30% of the admissions were "legacies," people who got there not on merit but because they were the sons of alumni and donors. George Bush, of course, is the poster-child for this generation of affirmative action babies. I'd like to see Buchanan, or any conservative, defend Bush's admission to Yale on the basis of merit. And I'd like to stack Bush's credentials up next to Sonia Sotomayor 's and ask which one was more deserving of admission to a major university, or the bench, or the Presidency, or anything.
The white-male affirmative action which bozos like George Bush benefited from and want to protect was a monopoly of opportunities; monopolies work to undermine healthy competition and produce bad results. The affirmative action which emerged from the 1960s civil rights movement was an effort not only to promote diversity of people and opportunities, but to democratize opportunities so that white-male hierarchies did not automatically get all the perks. This has been healthy for America, not only because society has become more diverse, but also because it now is less likely that the truly unqualified, the frat boys like GWB with no academic credentials and problems with excessive alcohol consumption [but a connected family] are not automatically passed on to graduate schools, and then on to unsuccessful business careers, not to mention catastrophic political careers.
I prosecuted employment discrimination class actions for 25 years, in the process forcing many major corporations to hire and promote women, minorities, older people and the disabled. In every single case I had, when the case was over and the workforce was integrated, no matter how bitter the litigation had been, the companies would confide in me that their workforces after "affirmative action" were stronger, more competitive, more productive. Affirmative action has been good for American business and good for America. Indeed, corporate America, which has seen the benefits of fair employment practices first-hand, long ago abandoned opposition to it. Too bad racists like Buchanan have failed to pay attention to what really has happened in the American workforce, and in America, over the past 40 years.
Guy T. Saperstein is a past president of the Sierra Club Foundation; previously, he was one of the National Law Journal’s "100 Most Influential Lawyers in America."
© 2009 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/141408/
July 17, 2009
The Joy of Sachs
By PAUL KRUGMAN
The American economy remains in dire straits, with one worker in six unemployed or underemployed. Yet Goldman Sachs just reported record quarterly profits — and it’s preparing to hand out huge bonuses, comparable to what it was paying before the crisis. What does this contrast tell us?
First, it tells us that Goldman is very good at what it does. Unfortunately, what it does is bad for America.
Second, it shows that Wall Street’s bad habits — above all, the system of compensation that helped cause the financial crisis — have not gone away.
Third, it shows that by rescuing the financial system without reforming it, Washington has done nothing to protect us from a new crisis, and, in fact, has made another crisis more likely.
Let’s start by talking about how Goldman makes money.
Over the past generation — ever since the banking deregulation of the Reagan years — the U.S. economy has been “financialized.” The business of moving money around, of slicing, dicing and repackaging financial claims, has soared in importance compared with the actual production of useful stuff. The sector officially labeled “securities, commodity contracts and investments” has grown especially fast, from only 0.3 percent of G.D.P. in the late 1970s to 1.7 percent of G.D.P. in 2007.
Such growth would be fine if financialization really delivered on its promises — if financial firms made money by directing capital to its most productive uses, by developing innovative ways to spread and reduce risk. But can anyone, at this point, make those claims with a straight face? Financial firms, we now know, directed vast quantities of capital into the construction of unsellable houses and empty shopping malls. They increased risk rather than reducing it, and concentrated risk rather than spreading it. In effect, the industry was selling dangerous patent medicine to gullible consumers.
Goldman’s role in the financialization of America was similar to that of other players, except for one thing: Goldman didn’t believe its own hype. Other banks invested heavily in the same toxic waste they were selling to the public at large. Goldman, famously, made a lot of money selling securities backed by subprime mortgages — then made a lot more money by selling mortgage-backed securities short, just before their value crashed. All of this was perfectly legal, but the net effect was that Goldman made profits by playing the rest of us for suckers.
And Wall Streeters have every incentive to keep playing that kind of game.
The huge bonuses Goldman will soon hand out show that financial-industry highfliers are still operating under a system of heads they win, tails other people lose. If you’re a banker, and you generate big short-term profits, you get lavishly rewarded — and you don’t have to give the money back if and when those profits turn out to have been a mirage. You have every reason, then, to steer investors into taking risks they don’t understand.
And the events of the past year have skewed those incentives even more, by putting taxpayers as well as investors on the hook if things go wrong.
I won’t try to parse the competing claims about how much direct benefit Goldman received from recent financial bailouts, especially the government’s assumption of A.I.G.’s liabilities. What’s clear is that Wall Street in general, Goldman very much included, benefited hugely from the government’s provision of a financial backstop — an assurance that it will rescue major financial players whenever things go wrong.
You can argue that such rescues are necessary if we’re to avoid a replay of the Great Depression. In fact, I agree. But the result is that the financial system’s liabilities are now backed by an implicit government guarantee.
Now the last time there was a comparable expansion of the financial safety net, the creation of federal deposit insurance in the 1930s, it was accompanied by much tighter regulation, to ensure that banks didn’t abuse their privileges. This time, new regulations are still in the drawing-board stage — and the finance lobby is already fighting against even the most basic protections for consumers.
If these lobbying efforts succeed, we’ll have set the stage for an even bigger financial disaster a few years down the road. The next crisis could look something like the savings-and-loan mess of the 1980s, in which deregulated banks gambled with, or in some cases stole, taxpayers’ money — except that it would involve the financial industry as a whole.
The bottom line is that Goldman’s blowout quarter is good news for Goldman and the people who work there. It’s good news for financial superstars in general, whose paychecks are rapidly climbing back to precrisis levels. But it’s bad news for almost everyone else.
Monday, July 13, 2009
'The Select Few' Are Cashing in: Shocking Corruption at the Washington Post
By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship, AlterNet
Posted on July 12, 2009, Printed on July 13, 2009
If you want to know what really matters in Washington, don't go to Capitol Hill for one of those hearings, or pay attention to those staged White House "town meetings." They're just for show. What really happens -- the serious business of Washington -- happens in the shadows, out of sight, off the record. Only occasionally -- and usually only because someone high up stumbles -- do we get a glimpse of just how pervasive the corruption has become.
Case in point: Katharine Weymouth, the publisher of The Washington Post -- one of the most powerful people in DC -- invited top officials from the White House, the Cabinet and Congress to her home for an intimate, off-the-record dinner to discuss health care reform with some of her reporters and editors covering the story.
But CEOs and lobbyists from the health care industry were invited, too, provided they forked over $25,000 a head -- or up to a quarter of a million if they want to sponsor a whole series of these cozy get-togethers. And what is the inducement offered? Nothing less, the invitation read, than "an exclusive opportunity to participate in the health-care reform debate among the select few who will get it done."
The invitation reminds the CEO's and lobbyists that they will be buying access to "those powerful few in business and policy making who are forwarding, legislating and reporting on the issues...
"Spirited? Yes. Confrontational? No." The invitation promises this private, intimate and off-the-record dinner is an extension "of The Washington Post brand of journalistic inquiry into the issues, a unique opportunity for stakeholders to hear and be heard."
Let that sink in. In this case, the "stakeholders" in health care reform do not include the rabble -- the folks across the country who actually need quality health care but can't afford it. If any of them showed up at the kitchen door on the night of this little soiree, the bouncer would drop kick them beyond the Beltway.
No, before you can cross the threshold to reach "the select few who will actually get it done," you must first cross the palm of some outstretched hand. The Washington Post dinner was canceled after a copy of the invite was leaked to the web site Politico.com, by a health care lobbyist, of all people. The paper said it was a misunderstanding -- the document was a draft that had been mailed out prematurely by its marketing department. There's noblesse oblige for you -- blame it on the hired help.
In any case, it was enough to give us a glimpse into how things really work in Washington -- a clear insight into why there is such a great disconnect between democracy and government today, between Washington and the rest of the country.
According to one poll after another, a majority of Americans not only want a public option in health care, they also think that growing inequality is bad for the country, that corporations have too much power over policy, that money in politics is the root of all evil, that working families and poor communities need and deserve public support if the market system fails to generate shared prosperity.
But when the insiders in Washington have finished tearing worthy intentions apart and devouring flesh from bone, none of these reforms happen. "Oh," they say, "it's all about compromise. All in the nature of the give-and-take-negotiating of a representative democracy."
That, people, is bull -- the basic nutrient of Washington's high and mighty.
It's not about compromise. It's not about what the public wants. It's about money -- the golden ticket to "the select few who actually get it done."
When Congress passed the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act, "the select few" made sure it no longer contained the cramdown provision that would have allowed judges to readjust mortgages. The one provision that would have helped homeowners the most was removed in favor of an industry that pours hundreds of millions into political campaigns.
So, too, with a bill designed to protect us from terrorist attacks on chemical plants. With "the select few" dictating marching orders, hundreds of factories are being exempted from measures that would make them spend money to prevent the release of toxic clouds that could kill hundreds of thousands.
Everyone knows the credit ratings agencies were co-conspirators with Wall Street in the shameful wilding that brought on the financial meltdown. But when the Obama administration came up with new reforms to prevent another crisis, the credit ratings agencies were given a pass. They'd been excused by "the select few who actually get it done."
And by the time an energy bill emerged from the House of Representatives the other day, "the select few who actually get it done" had given away billions of dollars worth of emission permits and offsets. As The New York Times reported, while the legislation worked its way to the House floor, "It grew fat with compromises, carve-outs, concessions and out-and-out gifts," expanding from 648 pages to 1400 as it spread its largesse among big oil and gas, utility companies and agribusiness.
This week, the public interest groups Common Cause and the Center for Responsive Politics reported that, "According to lobby disclosure reports, 34 energy companies registered in the first quarter of 2009 to lobby Congress around the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. This group of companies spent a total of $23.7 million -- or $260,000 a day -- lobbying members of Congress in January, February and March.
"Many of these same companies also made large contributions to the members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which has jurisdiction over the legislation and held a hearing this week on the proposed 'cap and trade' system energy companies are fighting. Data shows oil and gas companies, mining companies and electric utilities combined have given more than $2 million just to the 19 members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee since 2007, the start of the last full election cycle."
It's happening to health care as well. Even the pro-business magazine The Economist says America has the worst system in the developed world, controlled by executives who are not held to account and investors whose primary goal is raising share price and increasing profit -- while wasting $450 billion dollars in redundant administrative costs and leaving nearly 50 million uninsured.
Enter "the select few who actually get it done." Three out of four of the big health care firms lobbying on Capitol Hill have former members of Congress or government staff members on the payroll -- more than 350 of them -- and they're all fighting hard to prevent a public option, at a rate in excess of $1.4 million a day.
Health care policy has become insider heaven. Even Nancy-Ann DeParle, the White House health reform director, served on the boards of several major health care corporations.
President Obama has pushed hard for a public option but many fear he's wavering, and just this week his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel -- the insider di tutti insiders -- indicated that a public plan just might be negotiable, ready for reengineering, no doubt, by "the select few who actually get it done."
That's how it works. And it works that way because we let it. The game goes on and the insiders keep dealing themselves winning hands. Nothing will change -- nothing -- until the money lenders are tossed out of the temple, the ATM's are wrested from the marble halls, and we tear down the sign they've placed on government -- the one that reads, "For Sale."
Bill Moyers is president of the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy.
© 2009 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/141258/
BILL MOYERS JOURNAL | Preview: Wendell Potter pt 2 | PBS
Op-Ed Columnist - Boiling the Frog - Creeping Disasters for the Economy and the Planet - NYTimes.com
July 13, 2009
Boiling the Frog
By PAUL KRUGMAN
Is America on its way to becoming a boiled frog?
I’m referring, of course, to the proverbial frog that, placed in a pot of cold water that is gradually heated, never realizes the danger it’s in and is boiled alive. Real frogs will, in fact, jump out of the pot — but never mind. The hypothetical boiled frog is a useful metaphor for a very real problem: the difficulty of responding to disasters that creep up on you a bit at a time.
And creeping disasters are what we mostly face these days.
I started thinking about boiled frogs recently as I watched the depressing state of debate over both economic and environmental policy. These are both areas in which there is a substantial lag before policy actions have their full effect — a year or more in the case of the economy, decades in the case of the planet — yet in which it’s very hard to get people to do what it takes to head off a catastrophe foretold.
And right now, both the economic and the environmental frogs are sitting still while the water gets hotter.
Start with economics: last winter the economy was in acute crisis, with a replay of the Great Depression seeming all too possible. And there was a fairly strong policy response in the form of the Obama stimulus plan, even if that plan wasn’t as strong as some of us thought it should have been.
At this point, however, the acute crisis has given way to a much more insidious threat. Most economic forecasters now expect gross domestic product to start growing soon, if it hasn’t already. But all the signs point to a “jobless recovery”: on average, forecasters surveyed by The Wall Street Journal believe that the unemployment rate will keep rising into next year, and that it will be as high at the end of 2010 as it is now.
Now, it’s bad enough to be jobless for a few weeks; it’s much worse being unemployed for months or years. Yet that’s exactly what will happen to millions of Americans if the average forecast is right — which means that many of the unemployed will lose their savings, their homes and more.
To head off this outcome — and remember, this isn’t what economic Cassandras are saying; it’s the forecasting consensus — we’d need to get another round of fiscal stimulus under way very soon. But neither Congress nor, alas, the Obama administration is showing any inclination to act. Now that the free fall is over, all sense of urgency seems to have vanished.
This will probably change once the reality of the jobless recovery becomes all too apparent. But by then it will be too late to avoid a slow-motion human and social disaster.
Still, the boiled-frog problem on the economy is nothing compared with the problem of getting action on climate change.
Put it this way: if the consensus of the economic experts is grim, the consensus of the climate experts is utterly terrifying. At this point, the central forecast of leading climate models — not the worst-case scenario but the most likely outcome — is utter catastrophe, a rise in temperatures that will totally disrupt life as we know it, if we continue along our present path. How to head off that catastrophe should be the dominant policy issue of our time.
But it isn’t, because climate change is a creeping threat rather than an attention-grabbing crisis. The full dimensions of the catastrophe won’t be apparent for decades, perhaps generations. In fact, it will probably be many years before the upward trend in temperatures is so obvious to casual observers that it silences the skeptics. Unfortunately, if we wait to act until the climate crisis is that obvious, catastrophe will already have become inevitable.
And while a major environmental bill has passed the House, which was an amazing and inspiring political achievement, the bill fell well short of what the planet really needs — and despite this faces steep odds in the Senate.
What makes the apparent paralysis of policy especially alarming is that so little is happening when the political situation seems, on the surface, to be so favorable to action.
After all, supply-siders and climate-change-deniers no longer control the White House and key Congressional committees. Democrats have a popular president to lead them, a large majority in the House of Representatives and 60 votes in the Senate. And this isn’t the old Democratic majority, which was an awkward coalition between Northern liberals and Southern conservatives; this is, by historical standards, a relatively solid progressive bloc.
And let’s be clear: both the president and the party’s Congressional leadership understand the economic and environmental issues perfectly well. So if we can’t get action to head off disaster now, what would it take?
I don’t know the answer. And that’s why I keep thinking about boiling frogs.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
07.12.09 -- 11:43AM // RECOMMEND RECOMMEND (70)
In case you're wondering, ground zero of the current round of Sarah Palin supplication is this article by Carl Cannon in AOL's Politics Daily, the upshot of which is that the true villain of the almost-year-long Sarah Palin train-wreck is the media itself, whose collective liberal bias led them to have it in for Palin from the beginning and strive from the beginning to take her down.
How soon we forget how hard reporters worked at first at grading Palin on a curve and talking around her manifest disqualifications for high office. My only question on reading the piece is whether Cannon actually believes this malarkey or whether he's like all those other conservative talking heads who talk Palin to the stars on camera and then more or less lavishly concede she's manifestly unqualified for high office.
Certainly, the press in collective scandal mode is often an unpretty thing. But the reasons for what eventually became Palin's titanic bad press stemmed from three causes -- 1) her rapidly demonstrated lack of grounding or familiarity with almost every major policy question facing the country, 2) the fact -- which took reporters a bit longer to get a handle on -- that her governance of Alaska had amounted almost to one string of ethics violations and possibly illegal behavior. Time and again she showed a signal inability to grasp that executive power was not to be used to pursue personal vendettas or enrichment. And then 3), growing from the recognition of items #1 and #2, that Palin was simply a liar, even judged against the frightfully generous standard customarily applied to the truth-telling abilities of elected officials.
We must apparently resign ourselves to the fact that special-pleading for this deceptively talented political huckster will simply never cease.
Friday, July 10, 2009
Dave Zweifel — 7/10/2009 12:22 pm
Republicans in Congress think they've got the issue to bring down President Obama: the federal deficit.
If the deficit does indeed negatively impact Obama and the Democrats, it will be testimony to why the rest of the world perceives that we Americans have very short memories.
While it's true that the stimulus packages and the bank and automobile bailouts are adding to the national debt that our grandkids and their kids will have to pay someday, let's not forget how we got into this mess.
Truth be told, all of Obama's spending so far hasn't added as much to the national debt as did George W. Bush's $1.3 trillion tax cut for our country's wealthiest people -- and that's not counting the contrived war that he started.
When Bush left office he left the country with a $10.6 trillion national debt and an economy that was falling off the cliff. In fact, he began the bank bailouts several weeks before the end of his term and demanded no oversight of what they were getting.
That $10.6 trillion was more than two and a half times the debt that Bill Clinton had left him in 1993. The $4 trillion debt at the time was being whittled down by a federal budget that was actually in the black. Then along came Bush, who like Ronald Reagan before him thought he could fix the economy by spending tons on the military and cutting taxes at the same time.
Funny, but the Mitch McConnells and John Boehners of the Republican hierarchy in Congress weren't complaining a bit about all that red ink back then.
The national debt stands at about $11.4 trillion today and unless the economy turns around quickly, which is highly doubtful, it will grown substantially larger in the coming years. Obama thinks the deficit will start coming down in a couple of years; others fear it will take much longer.
Such a huge national debt is not good, but it wasn't good at $10.6 trillion either, especially when it was brought about by foolish tax cuts and spending close to a trillion dollars on a war in Iraq.
Today's deficits are necessary to save the economy from plummeting even further and hurting millions more people than the millions who have already been hurt.
Perhaps the GOP thinks it can blame Obama, but the American people hopefully have longer memories.
Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times.
Dave Zweifel — 7/10/2009 12:22 pm
Saturday, July 4, 2009
Democratic Congressional candidate Francine Busby (CA-50) and her allies have been embarking on an extensive public relations campaign in the wake of a raid on a campaign house party by the San Diego Sheriff's Department -- due to a noise complaint that is believed to have come from a person who heckled the event -- which ended in multiple people being pepper-sprayed and the full complement of deputies, including a dog unit and helicopter, coming in to arrest one of the hostesses and a guest. On Monday, three of the women held a press conference, blasting the arresting officer, Deputy Marshall G. Abbott. "He had a raged look in his eyes and his head was bobbing from side to side," said Kimberley Beatty, who said that she had called 911 to report that he "appeared to be out of control." And last night, the San Diego ACLU put out a press release, which was forwarded to us by Busby herself, lambasting the Sheriff's Department for all manner of improper behavior here, and calling for greater transparency as the process of investigating this whole mess goes forward. The opening paragraph of the press release is essentially a dry narration of the reported events -- ending with an extraordinary closing sentence, emphasis ours: On Friday, June 26, 2009, according to press reports and witness statements, a San Diego County Sheriff's deputy, responding to a noise complaint, entered the home of Shari Barman who was hosting a political gathering to support Francine Busby, a candidate for Congress. When the homeowner questioned why she had to provide her date of birth, the deputy grabbed her arm, put it behind her back, and brought her to the ground. Feeling intimidated by a group of mostly middle-aged women, he pepper-sprayed a number of guests and arrested Barman. The San Diego Sheriff's Department has launched an internal investigation into the matter, and as a result they are not publicly commenting. The District Attorney's office is also examining the matter as it has been put before them, as it weighs whether to actually press charges against the two women who were arrested. In an interview with TPM on Monday, Busby said that the original noise complaint clearly had a political motivation. "The deputies were telling people that they were taking statements from, that the call came in about noise from a Democratic rally, or Democratic demonstration," she said. She also lambasted Abbott's performance: "He was not listening; there was no controlling this person. The people who asked him to stop hurting this woman were pepper-sprayed without warning, there was no talking to this man." And Busby also immediately set out to parlay this development into some good for her campaign, putting out a fundraising e-mail about the incident. "I am going to fight even harder to stop this hateful intimidation," she wrote. "I hope that I can count on you to fight this battle with me." Shari Barman, the homeowner who was arrested, also released a statement Monday night: "He told me I was under arrest, grabbed my right arm, twisted it behind me and threw me on the ground. Some of the 25 or so people who were still in attendance observed what was happening and started asking the deputy what was going on. My partner, Jane Stratton, asked him to please be careful as I had recently had right shoulder surgery. His response was to knock her to the ground.