Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Health care, the Republican Party and the non-functional Senate

We are seeing groundbreaking Legislation finally drag through the Senate. Because of the nature of the Senate, it's far from an ideal bill, but considering how dysfunctional the Senate is, this is the best we'll get.

Lindsay Graham complained to NPR about how Nebraska was getting the federal government to cover the state portion of Medicaid while South Carolina was not. Somehow that seems unfair to Sen. Graham, but he could have worked his own deal by agreeing to vote for the bill and replace Sen. Nelson. Really, all Graham and the Republicans want to do is complain. The irrational aspects of the Senate bill are the responsibility of the Republicans.

That's because the Republicans have created the dysfunctional Senate using its small state bias (which magnifies the numbers of Republicans elected), its arcane rules, and the tradition of the filibuster.

The Republicans lost control of the Senate because they can't govern. Now they are making the Senate itself unworkable because they believe that short-sighted voters and the conservative media will blame the Democrats for the results of the Republican scorched earth policies and refusal to deal with the deep problems America currently faced. The Republican effort to Filibuster the defense appropriations bill in hopes they can delay passage of health care is unacceptable and irresponsible.

Consider what the Republicans have done to the Senate. They are demanding a 60 vote super majority in order to pass any significant legislation, and they are refusing to even present legislative actions to work with. The Republican Senators have abdicated their duty to the American nation in favor of somehow damaging the Democrats. The result it that the Senate now can only function by unanimous vote of all 60 Democrats. That's the reason for all the political deals to pass health care. With the requirement of a unanimous vote each Democratic Senator can block all Senate legislation unless he or she is effectively bought off.

The Republicans could stop this overnight. They just need a few Republican Senators to vote for the health care bill and replace the Democratic Senators who are holding up the Democratic Party. But the Republicans refuse to do anything for the American nation because they want to political advantage.

If the Democrats do not hang this action around the necks of the Republicans running for election in 2010 then they deserve to be voted out of office. Only the American people do not deserve the return of the Republican Party to Senate power.

In the meantime we get maybe half the health care bill that we could have if the Republicans had the interests of the American public in mind instead of the hope for return to power.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

America as the new land of media-centered scams

Time Magazine has chosen Ben Bernanke to be its "Man of the Year" this year. Frank Rich of the New York Times disagrees.. Rich is on to something, I think. Tiger is more representative of what America has become over the last half century than Ben Bernanke is. We live in a new, media-created America that has gotten out of control.

Here's Rich's argument, followed by what I think the Tiger Woods scandal tells us about America today:
If there’s been a consistent narrative to this year and every other in this decade, it’s that most of us, Bernanke included, have been so easily bamboozled. The men who played us for suckers, whether at Citigroup or Fannie Mae, at the White House or Ted Haggard’s megachurch, are the real movers and shakers of this century’s history so far. That’s why the obvious person of the year is Tiger Woods. His sham beatific image, questioned by almost no one until it collapsed, is nothing if not the farcical reductio ad absurdum of the decade’s flimflams, from the cancerous (the subprime mortgage) to the inane (balloon boy).
America today is a creation of a mostly centralized and homogeneous media. This has been obvious since about 1960. That year was when TV first was blamed for influencing who was elected President. Since TV has become central to who we as Americans think we are. Regionalism is now a thing of the past. People who have become adults since 1960 will not understand just how central being from the South or from the Midwest or from New York or from Texas used to be. Go back and watch some WW II movies, and take note of how much the characters are dominated by where they came from. New York. Texas. The Midwest. Wyoming. The name of the regions was central to establishing the nature of the character and the regional accent built much of the rest. No more. TV, and especially color TV, changed that perception. Now we are all pretty much the same kinds of Americans. I emphasize TV because TV is the central media which sets the media agenda. All Americans are pretty much in the same media pool now. There is very little regionalism left, even less as the big city newspapers cease to be influential. Instead of regional Americans like we had in WW II, we now have a new media-created America.

This media-created America created room for Public Relations experts and Advertising experts to create what we think we are. Both our cultural and our political life are now dominated by media celebrities. These people - media celebrities - are the images after which we shape much of our lives and personal images. We as individuals are now influenced and manipulated en mass by a mixture of celebrity and sloganeering through this massive media-created American image. Think about the advertisements for Viagra by retired Senator Bob Dole. Before he was paid to go on TV with those advertisements most Americans did not discuss sex the same way. Today we get advertisements for K-Y Jelly on TV. This really is not what America used to be like. And who benefits? Obviously, the people paying to manipulate the attitudes of the new, modern media-created America.

Our personal reality is shaped by those images and by the experts who manipulate those images. Public relations - Advertising - Propaganda - those are all different names for the body of techniques used to manipulate the media-created reality.

It doesn't seem to be recognized how much we are systematically manipulated by the media, though the constant influence is certainly obvious. One of the propaganda memes that is threaded through the media onslaught is that we are each individuals making our own individual decisions and that we are not members of a manipulated group. The selling of this meme makes much of the rest of the manipulation more effective. It's an easy meme to buy because if we can believe that these techniques do not work on each of us then we do not have to feel helpless before the onslaught. It's much easier to believe what we want to believe instead of fighting to find the real truth behind the media propaganda.
Rich points out that Enron was a media-created scam inflicted on America. It was not caught by the media. " That energy company convinced financial titans, the press and countless investors that it was a business deity. It did so even though very few of its worshipers knew what its business was. Enron is the template for the decade of successful ruses that followed, Tiger’s included.
[…]
Fortune magazine named Enron as America’s 'most innovative company” 'six years in a row."

Tiger Woods is another media-created scam on America. He has become the first ever billion dollar athlete by creation of an image in that media-created America.

The War in Iraq was a creation of that propaganda effort in politics through the TV-created America. But Bush, Cheney and the Neocons used that new, media-created America to start a war for their own purposes. Tiger Woods has used that same media-crated America to build his fortune out of chasing a tiny white ball with a stick. The celebrity-creation propaganda techniques are different only in the end goals, power or personal wealth.

That's my argument, based on what Frank Rich wrote. M. J. Rosenberg disagrees with Rich. He states that the problem isn't Tiger Woods. Rosenberg writes that although Tiger is another fraud, he isn't to blame for America's current mess. This far I agree with Rosenberg. But I disagree when he goes on to say
"The kid has pretty broad shoulders for a golfer, but they won't carry the weight of America's current mess. Nor should they. Not even as metaphor."
Tiger does work as a metaphor, I think, because the only way to look at the new media-created America with its pantheon of celebrities and its constant behavior-changing slogans is through metaphors like Tiger Woods, Enron, Bernie Maddox, and the many representatives of evangelical religion like Pat Roberts and Mark Sanford.

This is the new form America has taken. It is only about 50 years old and it is a wild and woolly frontier, mostly unexplored and inhabited by heroes and villains. Perhaps World of Warcraft or the movie The Matrix might be more accurate metaphors but they are not constantly inflicted on us all through every form of media the way the image of Tiger Woods has been.

One last point to consider. This takeover of the American image by a single media-created America and the submerging of regional American identities is very likely a source of the distress that has created the modern American conservative movement. That is a problem for a lot of people as their old regional identities are down graded and considered less important. But that's not the big problem. The big problem is that there seems to be little understanding of this new media-created America, and so we are subject to a series of scams and frauds by various tricksters who gain control of parts of it and use it against the rest of us for their own personal gain.

For a man like Tiger Woods to somehow convert chasing a tiny white ball with a stick into a billion dollar media image that is bit of a problem. For men like Bush, Cheney and the Neocons to use that same ability to manipulate the media and drive America into a senseless war in Iraq, then run that war as a form of media manipulation to build their party power while ignoring the real problems in Afghanistan and letting them fester to be solved by someone else is a real problem. But it does come back to the fact that we do not yet understand or have control of this new wild frontier that is America in the media.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Health care reform: Maybe it'll look better in hindsight

I am very dissatisfied with the compromise piece of garbage the Senate has created and tried to call health care reform. I am also highly dissatisfied with the behavior of the White House and President Obama during the last six months. Howard Dean's recent announcement that the bill has gotten so bad that we should just kill it and come back for another try frankly resonates strongly with me.

Only, I recall the effort in 1993, and now 2009 is the next try. Sixteen years delay. That's a lot of insurance company unearned profits and quite a few Americans dead, sicker than they should be for much longer than they should be and many, many unnecessary bankruptcies.

I've got a list of some of the flaws in the Senate HCR bill as it was last night which I won't even bother to post. But the big one that I hear is the problem of the mandates demanding that people pay up to 17% of their annual income to private insurers for health insurance that will still stick them with annual and lifetime caps and shift a lot of the expense from the insurance to the sick people. But of the 47 million estimated uninsured, this bill still insured 31 million more.

It's a step. A big one. And while is has a lot of flaws, it moves the correct direction in a large jump and in a reasonable (if slow) period of time. This needs to be done regardless of how bad the bill is. Get this done now, and then fix what doesn't work, because this is still fixing a whole lot of what does not work today. Except for the piece of crap that was Part D of Medicare (the unfinanced drug bill with the doughnut hole to save money) there has been no major positive improvement in the health care system since the Medicare bill in 1965.

So for anyone who thinks that Howard Dean's call to kill the bill and start over, take a look at the history of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation as presented by TPM Reader PT.

This health care reform bill is massively significant for the nation. It can be moved towards right now, or it can be killed now, to someday in the far future be again resurrected - at massive cost to the nation. The really big flaws in the current bill and feeding the massive egos of Senators Nelson and Lieberman notwithstanding, it is still time to pass the damned bill they allow us. It will be fixed afterwards. It will have to be. But that will be much easier than this initial restructuring of the system.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Dredd discusses dementia, personal and social

Is America suffering through a period of social dementia? Have we all lost contact with reality as a group? That is an implication of Max Blumenthal's discussion of Secular Salvation Narratives. Dredd discusses this. Dredd's discussion goes further than Blumenthal's by suggesting that America as a society has culturally lost contact with reality. If that's true, then it goes to the very core of our culture, and that hinges on the nature of narratives. So first let's briefly look at what Dredd suggests.

Dredd is describing America as a society in which certain elites wanted to take control of the population, but instead of using the brute force techniques of government (which they concluded would not work) they developed a set of propaganda narratives to control how Americans think. Go read Dredd's article. Propaganda that works does so by creating a preferred narrative that shifts the culture. "Preferred?" Well, "Propaganda" naturally means that the narrative desired by the propagandists is the goal.

The psychologists say that the human memory is physically laid down in a narrative framework. That, it seems to me, is the basis for the way culture is passed on from one generation to another and probably the way information used to be transmitted between families and communities before humans developed technologies to transmit information. In other words, we learn what is important about how society is ordered through the stories we are told.

So exactly what is a narrative? Well, it's a story. That is, it is a set of characters who undergo a series of events, and the events are connected through the means of cause-and-effect. Narratives fit into an overall pattern of beginning, middle and end, and each of those categories has different characteristics and different purposes. I speculate that the human capacity to think in narrative may be the origin of the human ability to recognize time. (The discipline of General Semantics calls this Time Binding.)

The difference between history and a fable is that when one is telling history the details of the events are verified by sources other than just trust in the veracity, memory and accuracy of the story-teller. The tales told by minstrels when they passed from one community to another were generally dependent on the memory of the minstrel. Minstrels seem to have developed poetic techniques as memory aids so that they could remember the details well enough so that when they told the same tale several times, they actually did tell roughly the same story. Remember those poetic techniques. They were methods of using quirks of the brain to better remember details.

Those same narrative techniques that transmit culture also transmit propaganda. The two American business disciplines most closely associated with creating propaganda are Public Relations and Advertising. Both say to the public that they don't change anything, and yet they both sell their services to many businesses and individuals who are investing good money in what they do with the intent of making a profit. Is it reasonable to believe that those businesses exist but do nothing effective? Nope.

I wouldn't dismiss Dredd's description of modern America as a culture that has lost contact with reality. His proposal regarding how it might have happened is missing only a good description of who the culprits who did it are. The social mechanics are certainly in place, and the evidence for the sanity of American culture is weak at best.

Max Blumenthal's description of a secular narrative built up by Obama in order to win the election as President and now dashed in the chaos of the health care reform legislation in the Senate looks like a good explanation for the mass depression currently being felt by disappointed liberals and progressives.

Anyway, these are my current thoughts on the subject.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Notes on the current stage of the Health Care Reform bill.

The political effort towards passing health care reform is approaching the climax. This is going to be a time we all look back at and ask "What happened?" Well, here are a few notes to try to catch a bit of the zeitgeist. A lot of stuff has actually been settled and everyone agrees on it. The questions remain about only a rather small number of things that are not settled. For several weeks the largest of those things was the fate of the public option, but it appears that Joe Lieberman's ego (and maybe his retirement plan) have settled that one for us.

From TPM Reader JM It looks like killing the public option in any form is more important to Joe Lieberman than is getting the HCR bill at all.

My question: Does the U.S. Senate create narcissists or just attract, hold and maintain them?

Why is it that the Republicans under Bush could pass what the wanted through Congress and the Democrats can't? TPM Reader JM also suggests a reason for this. The Republicans wanted only one thing - tax cuts and more tax cuts. As long as they all agreed on what they wanted, they could ram it through Congress. It's quite clear that the Democrats do not suffer from such a lack of thought and imagination.

Evan McMorris-Santoro reports that House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer says the House will accept a health care reform bill without the government-run insurance. I guess the House Democrats agree with me that what is left if the HCR bill is worth saving. What's left includes ending screening for preexisting conditions and subsidies to allow more Americans to buy coverage.

Brian Beutler reports that Obama is encouraging Senate Democrats to "get this done." Obama was speaking to a gathering of roughly 12 Democratic Senators and, according to Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) was giving them the big picture as well as motivational advice. This was rather obviously intended to counter the tendency of individuals in the thick of the battle inside the Senate to fixate on one or two aspects of the bill, like the public option, and forget what the overall goal is.

Josh Marshall writes that the chorus of frustrated Democrats who complain that the Senate HCR bill has been so watered down as to be worse than useless is not matched by the attitudes of the hard core policy wonks who understand and closely follow health care reform. The hard core wonks are disappointed, but they still generally want to keep what is left rather than just throw the whole thing out and start over. Personally I agree that there remains a lot of improvement in the system that should not be abandoned in a fit of pique just because so many very important things (like effective cost containment) have been blocked. I think that if the "It's not enough! Throw everything out and start over!" crowd get their way, the will to get even this far will not be there for a decade or more and that cost is way to high. Throwing out what is left would also be politically disastrous for the Democratic Party, and the Republicans who would replace Democrats are NOT going to even address this set of problems in any realistic manner. Nor would they do anything else except steal from the government and cut taxes on the rich. No. I don't think much of the incompetents, hacks, thieves and religious bigots who make up the current Republican Party.

Steve Benen addresses the question - How is it that the Republicans under Bush could get legislation through Congress without a 60 vote minimum and for some reason the wimp Democrats can't?

AARP has announced that it supports the health care reform bill. They point out that it will
  • Give the uninsured and small businesses access to quality affordable plans
  • Close the Medicare Part D coverage gap or “doughnut hole” by 2019
  • Eliminate cost barriers to preventive care
  • Reform Medicare's payment and delivery system to promote care coordination
  • Reduce hospital infections and preventable readmissions
  • Strengthen home and community-based care and assist individuals in saving to meet future long-term care needs
It is my opinion that scrapping the current piece of crap coming out of the Senate in a fit of angry pique and anti-Lieberman emotion will prevent these things from happening for at least a decade. The last time (1993) it was 16 years before the issue could even be brought up.

Kevin Drum thinks that what's left of the Senate Healthcare Bill is worth saving. He points out among other things that we still get community rating You have to be an in-depth insurance policy wonk to realize it, but that is really big and in my opinion is worth passing all by itself! But right now we can get it along with laws preventing insurance companies from refusing to provide insurance because of preexisting conditions and also ending the insurance company practice of cancelling the policies of those who get sick (Recissions.)

Here's the final paragraph of Kevin's article:
"Ten years ago this bill would have seemed a godsend. The fact that it doesn't now is a reflection of higher aspirations from the left, and that's great. It demonstrates a resurgence of liberalism that's long overdue. But this is still a huge achievement that will benefits tens of millions of people in very concrete ways and will do it without expanding our long-term deficit. Either with or without a public option, this is more than Bill Clinton ever did, more than Teddy Kennedy did, more than LBJ did, more than Truman did, and more than FDR did. There won't be many other times in our lives any of us will be able to say that. So pass the bill. The longer we wait, the worse it will get. Pass it now."
I'm sure it comes as no surprise that I very much agree with Kevin on this.


Addendum 11:35 pm
Well, well. Apparently there is a reason for Joe Lieberman to pull the plug on the Medicare buy-in even though he supported it himself three months ago. The Washington Post reports that before the Medicare buy-in was killed the influential hospital and physician lobbyists were furiously contacting Democratic Senators to get the plan killed. The details of the lobbying effort provided in the story are quite interesting and tell us why we are getting the Rube Goldberg legislation that is currently being discussed.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Bad as it already appears, the Banking system may be even worse than we knew

We know that the Wall Street financial companies let their greed and stupidity very nearly bring the U.S. and the world economy fall into the second Great Depression in the Fall of 2008. But what did they do to save themselves? The Guardian has just published the story from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
Drugs money worth billions of dollars kept the financial system afloat at the height of the global crisis, the United Nations' drugs and crime tsar has told the Observer.

Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, said he has seen evidence that the proceeds of organised crime were "the only liquid investment capital" available to some banks on the brink of collapse last year. He said that a majority of the $352bn (£216bn) of drugs profits was absorbed into the economic system as a result.

This will raise questions about crime's influence on the economic system at times of crisis. It will also prompt further examination of the banking sector as world leaders, including Barack Obama and Gordon Brown, call for new International Monetary Fund regulations. Speaking from his office in Vienna, Costa said evidence that illegal money was being absorbed into the financial system was first drawn to his attention by intelligence agencies and prosecutors around 18 months ago. "In many instances, the money from drugs was the only liquid investment capital. In the second half of 2008, liquidity was the banking system's main problem and hence liquid capital became an important factor," he said.

Some of the evidence put before his office indicated that gang money was used to save some banks from collapse when lending seized up, he said.
So it's not just the people in third world countries who died when the global economy froze up. It's not just the businesses and governments around the world who lost massive amounts of money. It's not just retirees who suddenly found they don't have the money they planned on for their retirement. It's also the people who have died because of the drug trade.

That is going to include people who have died because drug dealers are financing the Taliban in Afghanistan or the rebels in Colombia. This will almost certainly have exacerbated the Mexican war on drugs.

Hooray for the power of the uncontrolled Wall Street financial people. And they are paying off the Republicans and conservative Democrats in Congress to prevent the passage of laws that would reregulate Wall Street.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A murkey view of the coming 12 months in politics

When Obama was elected in November 2008 I was thinking that we had been saved from the Bush/Cheney administration. And we had. Just not as dramatically as I had hoped. But now Obama is facing the perennial political question "What have you done for me lately?" 2010 is not going to be a pretty year politically.

It's a year after the 2008 Presidential election. Even Al Franken has finally been sworn in as Senator. Yet we aren't out of Iraq and Afghanistan (unrealistic dream, but not close to being true yet.) Don't Ask Don't Tell is still law in the military. The military budget has gone up, not down. And health care reform which was promised to be on Obama's desk by August is still bouncing around through the Senate and being cut down to something only the conservatives can love.

Recently the London Review of Books published Obama's Delusion by David Bromwich in which David takes Obama to task for having misled the voters in order to get elected, but now has gone back on everything he promised in the campaign. For a number of critics on the left, Obama is already a failed President and those who defend him are as irrational as the defenders of George Bush as he pushed his incompetence onto the American people. Glenn Greenwald provides a somewhat nuanced description of how critics of Obama from the left should be basing their criticism on his failures to enact left wing policies, not on his defenders who simply assume that his personality is so outstanding that nothing he can do is going to be wrong. Glenn is right that the hard left Obama defenders are no better than the Republicans who attack everything Obama does simply because he isn't their man. But for all his nuance, Glenn does not get down to the core of what liberals and progressives need to do to prepare for the 2010 election.

Josh Marshall this morning addressed the threat that 2010 is going to be another 1994 in which the Republicans take back the House and begin another ascent back to power. It's a good article, well worth reading, but in essence it says that 1994 was a direct result of the slow loss of the Solid South to the Republicans beginning with Nixon's Southern Strategy, and delayed only because the incumbent Democrats in the South were able to play off the 12 years of Republican Presidency after 1980 to hold onto their offices, but with the accession of a Democratic President in 1992 they lost that lever. Mostly the incumbent Southern Democrats retired or were defeated in 1994, but the problem was a structural one. It was not a fact that somehow Clinton lost the House to the Republicans in 1994. Those structural weaknesses do not exist in 2010. But Josh does point out that if his theory is correct "2010 is fundamentally different. The key problem for Dems isn't unpopularity. It's a highly apathetic Democratic electorate facing an extremely energized Tea Party GOP" Also, he says "Two factors -- whether Health Care passes and whether there's significant improvement in the economy by next summer -- will decide things, not any amount of strategery and messaging."

I think that is the core of the problem presented by the 2010 election. The core problem that I see is the Democratic apathy. So Steve Benen, riffing off a discussion by Matt Yglesias of the problems of institutional responsibilities faced by Obama explains why the Democrats are currently so apathetic.
Post-election governing tends to feature a familiar pattern. Presidents take office with high hopes, governing proves difficult, the policymaking process gets bogged down, and supporters get discouraged and start to walk away. It can be pretty disheartening.

Invariably, the new president gets blamed for failing to deliver. Matt Yglesias offers a helpful reminder about the nature of institutional responsibilities.
Matt adds to that Democrats thought that when Bush was replaced by Obama, then the Democratic agenda would be pushed through Congress. But all that happened was that the previous roadblock to getting progressive election - the Bush veto - was removed. It was replaced by the new roadblocks of a unified 40 member Republican Party of the Senate able to use the veto to block legislation. This has made the new roadblocks Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman.
...need to correctly identify the obstacles to change. If members of Congress are replaced by less-liberal members in the midterms, then the prospects for changing the status quo will be diminished. By contrast, if members are replaced by more-liberal members (either via primaries or general elections) the prospects for changing the status will be improved. Back before the 2008 election, it would frequently happen that good bills passed Congress and got vetoed by the president. Since Obama got elected, that doesn't happen anymore. Now instead Obama proposes things that get watered down or killed in Congress. That means focus needs to shift.
It seems to me that the apathy that is currently afflicting the Democratic electorate will be somewhat alleviated by passing health care. Something will have to pass. The future of the Democratic Party rides on it, and the two real threats (Nelson and Lieberman) will not want to be blamed for the total failure of the bill. They cannot now escape blame if it fails. But they are both demanding a very high price for whatever they finally permit. I am concerned that the banker-oriented Obama Treasury Department will do too much to fight the deficit before the 2010 election, though, resulting in a second dip in the economy. The resulting job loss is the real electoral threat. If the administration can actually do something about jobs, that will remove that threat from the election. Naturally, that means that the Republicans will fight hard against every possible job bill.

In any case, though, I do not expect the Republicans to take back the House in 2010. This next 12 months will continue to be very politically interesting.


Addendum 7:55 pm
Well, well. Steve Benen Reports that this morning Larry Summers said that the White House is shifting its goals from deficit reduction to job creation and economic growth. No surprise, actually. They are bright people and see the same things I do. The difference is that they see more than I do and that they don't have to tell the media what they are planning. So the surprise that this morning's announcement contains is that they decided to let the media in on their planning.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The U.S. economy is not really improving. Nor will it for a while.

The stock market and retail sales are up primarily because of all the money the fed is flooding the economy with. The continued low interest rates are fueling home sales, but that's just delaying the drop in value of overvalued real estate. Foreclosures are rising again, and commercial loans are being foreclosed also. Those trends will continue and they are depressing the economy.

Consumption to support a market that would make the current real estate values realistic simply does not exist. Real estate values will continue dropping, but slowly as banks refuse to take reductions in what they are owed because that hurts their bottom line and their capital base.

Employment, however, is still dropping. That drop in employment means that consumption spending based on anything outside government supplied funds does not exist. There is not the slightest hint that the economy is really going to turn around.

As for the stock market, that's a monetary reaction. More money to invest and prices will rise. But again, it's government supplied money. Wait until the government starts reducing the deficit and the fed allows the interest rates to rise. Krugman pointed out recently that Japan has had a struggling market much like ours for the last two decade, and their stock market has also seen some rallies. None stuck, though.

This isn't a cyclical recession will bounce back. This is a recession built on the attempt to run our economy on borrowed money while exporting jobs and making education more expensive for the work force. The real economy has been replaced by a false banking economy since 1970. The term is that our economy has been financialized.

I have no real idea when our economy will begin to recover, but I can remember when Paul Volker created the recession in the early 80's to destroy inflationary expectations, and just getting everyone to realize how big the changes were going to be took him four years. It'll probably take that long for people to get over the idea that the economy is going to "bounce-back" on its own like it "normally" does.

After that, it will take at least a decade of intense rebuilding of the economy and especially of the trained and experienced workforce before we begin to see a real recovery. America hasn't done anything like that since the Depression and the post WW II era.

Japan's experience is quite instructive.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The amazing Republican health care lie machine

About the health care reform plan in the Senate Steve Benen points out "Senate Republicans now have a detailed obstructionism plan, but not a detailed health care reform plan." Of course, all the Senators have a Cadillac health care plan from a selection of carefully vetted and government approved plans, provided to them free of charge and paid for by the very taxpayers they would deny similar benefits to. They also have as well as a fully staffed health clinic sitting in the basement of the capital.

And as long as I'm talking about Republican health care plan obstructionism, the Republicans have been mouthing off to the clueless media about the Medicare cuts that are supposed to help fund the HCR. What they will never say is that those Medicare payments are subsidies to private insurers so that they will offer slightly tweaked competing versions of Medicare, but those subsidies mostly go directly to the profit line of the insurance companies. AARP backs the Democrats in taking those unearned benefits away from the health insurers. Medicare recipients are better off in basic Medicare in the first place. "'...the legislation does not reduce any guaranteed Medicare benefits,' A. Barry Rand, the AARP's CEO, said in a letter to senators."

Friday, November 27, 2009

Here's an excellent explanation of the coup in Honduras

Honduras. Why was there a coup against President Zelaya?

Charles II has an excellent series explaining the problems there.

Whom the gods would destroy, part 1: the crisis in Honduras.

A big part of the problem in Honduras is the irrational and disorganized Constitution. It is widely recognized that the Constituion of Honduras must be changed. The powers of the status quo. Chiquita, the descendant of United Fruit; the military, a number of oil companies and mining companies and some sweatshop operators do not want this to happen. There are 12 families in Honduras who control almost all business. Ten of them were behind this coup.
Whom the gods would destroy, part 2: The crisis in Honduras.
The following were the reasons given for the coup:
  • Zelaya was trying to succeed himself in office, either by re-election or by seizing power, specifically by having a referendum (note the term) on whether to hold a Constitutional Convention
  • Zelaya was mentally ill
  • Zelaya had broken one or more "set-in-stone" articles of the Constitution, whose punishment is immediate removal from office
  • Zelaya had committed numerous civil crimes and had to be removed from office
  • Zelaya was a communist or, at least, an acolyte of Hugo Chavez, who wanted to turn Honduras into a new Venezuela or a new Cuba.


The following were the explanations for why the coup was wrong:
• Zelaya had raised the minimum wage from about $1.20 per hour to $1.70 per hour, angering sweatshop owners, the restaurant owners, Chiquita, and others who rely on low wages (Honduran minimum wage laws are complex, and beyond the scope of the present work.)
  • Zelaya had refused to illegalize the "morning after" pill, angering the Roman Catholic hierarchy, as well as most evangelicals
  • Zelaya had resisted privatization of the electrical an phone companies, angering those who hoped to profit from privatization
  • Zelaya had ended the Byzantine regulation of gasoline, which had boosted prices, obtaining cheap gas through Petrocaribe, and angering international oil companies and those who profited from the existing system
  • Zelaya had joined the Bolivaran organization ALBA, which includes Cuba and Venezuela, providing a pretext to anti-communists to accuse him of communist sympathies
  • Zelaya wanted to convert Palmerola airbase to civilian use (the runway at Toncontin airport is too short for civilian aircraft to safely land), angering the US military
  • Zelaya wanted to fulfill the campaign rhetoric on an Asamblea Nacional Constituyente (Constitutional Convention), and was laying the framework by holding a non-binding poll to put political pressure on Congress to act. Since the power of the oligarchy requires that the political system frustrate any possible reform, this threatened their interests


Part III is yet to be published.

Needless to say, Charles II provides good explanations of what I have written here.

It is my opinion that this political battle is another in the interminable war between the social forces of tradition, the social forces of global trade, and the social forces of the even more recent Industrialization.

I suspect they are all connected in the French Revolution, U.S. Civil War, the Great War and WW II, the Cold War, and the current battles in America between the conservatives and the liberal/progressives. A lot of it is carried by global trade, while more of it is involved in both the advances in communications technology, the growth of populations, and the movement of the growing populations off the farms and into the cities - something that passed 50% of the World population about half a century ago.

As the urban technological societies expand they demand oil and raw materials, so they create and manipulate local elites in third world societies. All of these social changes are being fought against by the forces of the status quo who will lose because of them. Khadaffy took over Libya because of this dynamic. The Iranians kicked out the Shah because of it. The Saudi royal family runs scared of the religious elites because of it. The Muslim Brotherhood grew up in Egypt because of it.

The difference between the voters in America for the Democrats and those for the Republicans also reflect this urban - rural split. You will notice that in 2008 Democrats overwhelmingly carried the metropolitan areas, and the Republicans carried the rural counties.

When people who grew up in a rural farming family are forced to move to cities to support their families, the city dwellers and the rural elites both lose power. The new urban residents are not, in fact, urban culturally. That takes a generation.

Another problem occurs when rural herders are forced to live inside fenced land. They do not adapt well to the societies of farmers or to city societies. We are seeing this dynamic occur world wide.

Honduras is just one more example of these problems of various societies adapting to the new economic, demographic and social changes. Zelaya tried to change government and the powers of the status quo conducted a coup to remove him. Charles II also alludes to a similar problem which hamstrung Clinton when he was elected President. I suggest that the same dynamic is behind teh desperate battle by the powers of the status quo to stop Obama from reforming the disastrous American health insurance system.

Honduras and the coup against Zelaya is another example of the battle between the forces of the status quo and those demanding change to meet new economic and social conditions.


Addendum 12/13/09 12:54 pm
Here is Part III of Charles II's diary on the Honduran Coup. This part of the diary covers the responses of the various players to whom the coup has been important.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

What makes Palin popular with the right?

Palin is a right-wing populist. That's Dave Neiwert's story.

Palin is a right wing populist in the tradition of the Ku Klux Klan of 1915 - 1920 and of the militia movements of the 1990's. One of those movements what the Alaska Independence Party which supported Palin for Governor the first time she ran. The AIP and the militia movements of the 1990's were fringe movements, but the KKK of the early 20th century was a powerful force in American politics in many states for the first half of the century. So why isn't Palin just another fringe right-winger? Here is
Dave Niewert's description of that right-wing fronge movement in the twentieth century:
This Klan crumbled in the late 1920s under the weight of internal political warfare and corruption; many of its field organizers later turned up in William Dudley Pelley’s overtly fascist Silver Shirts organization of the 1930s. After World War II, most of these groups – as well as the renowned anti-Semite radio preacher Father Charles Coughlin, and lingering American fascist groups like George Lincoln Rockwell’s American Nazi Party – were fully relegated to fringe status. So, too, were subsequent attempts at reviving right-wing populism, embodied by Willis Carto and his Populist Party, as well as other forms of right-wing populism that cropped up in the latter half of the century, from Robert DePugh’s vigilante/domestic terrorist organization The Minutemen in the 1960s, to the Posse Comitatus and “constitutionalist” tax protesters in the 1970s and ‘80s, to the “militia”/Patriot movement of the 1990s. As it had been since at least the 1920s, this brand of populism was riddled with conspiracist paranoia, xenophobic white tribalism, and a propensity for extreme violence.

Yet beginning in the 1990s, as mainstream conservatives built more and more ideological bridges with this sector – reflected in the increasing adoption of far-right rhetoric within the mainstream – the strands of populism became more and more imbedded in mainstream-conservative dogma, particularly the deep, visceral, and often irrational hatred of the federal government. One of the more popular "mainstream" figure among this bloc in the 1990s was Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. And so when he created something of a sensation with is campaign for the Republican nomination in 2008, it meant that these ideas and agendas started receiving widespread circulation among the mainstream Right -- and with it, an increasing number of conservatives who called themselves "libertarians", when what they really meant was "populists."
So Niewert points to George W. Bush, to Rep. Ron Paul, and to John McCain as the culprits for creating Sarah Palin as the new face of the modern Republican Party. The Republicans have flirted with the the fringe right-wingers, but they didn't invite them in to take over. But then came the collapse of mainstream and Wall Street Republicanism in the wake of the disaster of the Bush years. Ron Paul had run for President on the mildly sanitized right-wing fringe ideas and had introduced those ideas to mainstream Republicans in 2008 even as those Republicans recognized the disaster that mainstream Republicanism was facing in the next election. When John McCain ran for President he was rather soundly rejected by even most of the Republicans. So he reached out and pulled in the right-wing fringe cult figure from Alaska, Sarah Palin.

Palin probably saved the Republican national campaign from a Goldwater-level disaster. She didn't win the campaign, but she helped it avoid total electoral ignominy. In the process, she became the right-wing celebrity superstar of the moment. She did nothing, however, for mainstream Republicanism or for John McCain. They are down the tubes because the entire Republican - Wall Street message has been discredited. So Sarah Palin has stepped in to fill the vacuum.

The actual takeover of the Republican Party occurred on April 15th, 2009 with the beginning of the tea-Bagger mob actions. Since that time, as though by magic, the mainstream Republican politicians have been dancing to the tune called by the spokespeople for the tea-baggers, and Sarah Palin is the celebrity face of the tea-baggers.


What Niewert has not discussed in this article is the association/alliance of the Dominionists with the right-wing extremist groups. These are the extremist fundamentalist christians who are behind the political effort to teach creationism in the public schools. This is one step in their effort to change America into a nation that is governed under their understanding of Biblical law.

A few of the better known Dominionists are "James Dobson and Focus on the Family, Tony Perkins and the Family Research Council, Louis Sheldon and the Traditional Values Coalition, Don Wildmon and the American Family Association." Pat Robertson is another. There are a number of others, especially TV evangelists.

The Dominionist anti-science anti-Gay religious extremists appear to me to be a separate thread of right-wing fringe group. But it appears that Sarah Palin represents them also, as did Florida's Katherine Harris. Theocracy Watch keeps track of the Dominionists.

The connection of these groups to The Family AKA the Fellowship is also not clear to me. The Fellowship is the secretive fundamentalist organization currently led by Douglas Coe, the owners and sponsor of the C Street house for "Christian" politicians and the reputedly most politically powerful evangelical group in America. This connection is another question that needs to be answered. Sen. Ensign, Sen. Coburn, Sen. Inhofe, Rep. Pitts, Rep. Stupak, and Governor of South Carolina Mark Sanford are all members of The Fellowship. There are others.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Last Night the House passed Health Care Reform

Now that the House Democrats have passed a health care reform bill, it is going to resonate with the majority of Americans who want both health care reform and the public option. Even if the Senate were to successfully kill the bill now, the majority of American voters have a clear idea of what health care reform can look like, and who is for and against the reform.

This will carry over to the 2010 election, either as proof that the Democrats are taking action against America's problems or that the Republican's refuse to act against America's problems.

The other 2010 election problem for the Democrats is the economy. They have nearly a year now to position themselves as being in support of the American people and to further paint the Republican Party as the Party of No.

I'd say that last night Nancy Pelosi pulled out a really big win for both America and for the Democratic Party. All the Republicans have left is bluster and some ability to tie up the Senate. Neither of those are going to go over too well in an economy that isn't doing well, as is almost certainly going to be the case in November 2010.

Lieberman is also in a weaker position now. How would you like to be a Democratic Senator how could be blamed for killing the HCR bill now? And if Joe were to block a vote and kill the Senate bill, do you think the real Democratic Senators would look on his actions kindly?

The rest of the Senators in the Democratic Caucus would gain a lot of street cred by getting rid of Joe. And at that point, his only choice would be to become a Republican when the Republicans are a powerless minority. And how much seniority are the Republican Senators going to give up to donate to a traitor Democrat? Would he even become a ranking member on some committee?

Yesterday's House vote has a lot of resonance. This is going to be even more interesting from here on out, and I'd say that health care reform is in a good position to be passed. We watched history being made last night.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Wondering why Major Hasan attacked the US Army at Fort Hood

I don't think there is much doubt now that Major Nidal Malik Hasan killed 13 US soldiers and wounded 30 others at Fort Hood Thursday. There have clearly been a lot of reports about the event in the news since then, many inaccurate. But it is not at all clear what happened yet.

I am a retired Army Reserve Major who has spent quite a bit of time at Fort Hood. I also love the Army. It is my family, as much as is my real family. Major Hassan killed my brothers-in-arms. The emphasis is on brothers (or sisters.) But Major Hasan was also one of us. How could he do this? I know he is only a doctor and not a real soldier, but I'm an Ordnance officer and a REMF. Neither of us are (were) combat arms. We were both technicians supporting the guys at the tip of the spear. It's still my family. I need to know what the fuck happened.

The LA Times offers an early report that seems to me to get to some of the answers. But first we need to look at how he got where he is. Major Hasan was a graduate of Virginia Tech. The reports I have seen say that he graduated in 1997. He must have been a damned good student, because he convinced the Army to send him to Medical School. It's one of the Army programs designed to train Army Doctors. He obtained a degree in Osteopathic Medicine and was further trained as a psychiatrist. The training required a commitment to serve in the Army for a number of years. I think it is very important that the commitment was made well before 9/11.

There appears to be no question that Major Hasan was born in the U.S. He is a native born American. He is also a devout Muslim. Is he an eldest child? I'd bet he is. His parents are Muslim, so he has to be in order to please them. And since he is native born American, he is especially devout. He is pleasing his parents. (OK. Pop psychology. But I'll bet it is true.)But it makes him very different from his peers and it makes it very difficult for him to find a wife. He is very demanding that she be devout and practicing Muslim. The important thing is that it means that at age 39 he is still alone and without anyone to support him emotionally. He is a lonely man. Since Muslims consider dogs unclean, he probably doesn't even have a dog.

9/11 was clearly a major event in Major Hasan's life. He was a devout Muslim in the Army after Muslims had attacked America in a big way. Many "Americans" have considered the battles since then to be wars between Christian America and Islam. Then Captain Hasan clearly was questioned regarding his loyalty, even if not officially.

He as already a loner. The questions regarding his loyalty would have driven him even further into distrust of those around him. It doesn't really matter if the questions come from only one in fifty of those around him, the questions are what he would have taken to bed with him at night before falling asleep. It sounds like his profession was his social life.

But his profession was psychiatrist in the Army when the Army was at war with Muslims. And he was a Muslim. Major Hasan's job since the invasion of Iraq has been to listen to and deal with the confessions of American soldiers who very often were confessing war crimes against Muslims.

Major Hasan's identity seems to have been very much wrapped up in his religion. He is at his core a Muslim. How does he feel listening to people who have killed Muslims, often for no better reason than the fact that they were Muslim?

There is a known psychological disorder called Compassion Fatigue. It is common among individuals that work directly with victims of trauma. as they hear more from the victims they themselves literally shut down.

So here we have a man whose profession is to help the enemies of his people deal with the stresses of killing his people. He is also a man who is a loner, one who cannot find a wife who is sufficiently devout.

But he is committed to serving in the Army because they sent him to Medical School and to the advanced training. He asked to leave, but was denied. Then they tell him he is not doing his job satisfactorily because (apparently) he was professing his religion. Then they reassign him and inform him that he is going to be sent to Afghanistan, a war he does not believe should be fought.

So he broke. And he committed a violent suicide, by killing others and expecting to be killed in the process.

He was defending both himself and his religion. His experiences listening to individual American who came back from Iraq will have clearly demonstrated both that Muslims were being killed, war crimes were being committed, and that for many of the American soldiers it was considered a war between Christianity and Islam - a crusade. This would have built into a case of Compassion Fatigue.at the very least. But it would have been more for Major Hasan, since it was his coreligionists who were being killed.

The fact that Major Hasan broke is, in retrospect, no real surprise. The failure to predict is was a clear failure in the Army Medical system. Every psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker should have a personal counselor to help the individual deal with their job, and major Hasan either had none or the individual was too influenced by the needs of the Army to deal properly with the Major.

Why was Major Hasan pushed into this position? The current military was never designed to fight a war this long without calling up the reserves or a draft. The American military has been pushed to the breaking point, and this is another of the cracks it has demonstrated. It is a surprise and a credit to the American military that this kind of event has not happened more often. As it is, the increase in suicides, murders and PTSD demonstrates just how much we Americans are demanding from our military. It is too much and long past too much.

Major Hasan is only another example of the idiocy of the Bush administration. The invasion of Iraq should never have been undertaken unless the Reserves were called up and then the draft were activated. But that was not something the Bush administration felt they could have sold to the America people. They knew how obviously idiotic it was. Iraq is not a war that should have been fought. Then, Afghanistan may have been reasonable, but it simply has not been fought. The resources it required were sent to Iraq, and there was no rational strategy for winning there. Again, it is an example of Bush administration incompetence. Afghanistan couldn't be fought with Iraq and without the draft. The result has been that the American ground military has been destroyed. Major Hasan's actions in Fort Hood are merely one more example of a broken military.

This evaluation of what Major Hasan did is, of course, speculation based on news reports. Someone familiar with Major Hasan's career and file might find a very different time line and situation. But I'll bet based on what I have seen in the last two days this is pretty close.

ABC News has a good story on Sgt. Kimberly Munley who was the civilian police officer who stopped Major Hasan. She saved a lot of lives.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Here's how stupid/ignorant Republican Representative Joe Wilson is.

Rep. Joe Wilson (R - SC) has told WorldNetDaily radio that he agrees with Dick Cheney's complaint that Obama is dithering on the decision about how to deal with failed Bush/Cheney war in Afghanistan. Here's what Wilson admitted:
You know, I’m really disappointed, and I actually agree with Vice President Cheney that the President is dithering. And I actually had to look up what “dithering” meant, and it’s “indecisive.” And that’s what the President is being.
Someone with a modicum of education should know what "dithering" means, but at least he bothered to look it up or had a staffer explain it to him. That's only ignorant. But stupid?

What kind of intelligent Congressman admits on radio that he had to look up the word "dithering" in the first place?

Here's the radio statement:



According to Wikipedia this ignorant fool is an attorney and a Colonel in the South Carolina National Guard. This is not a man who favorably represents his constituents. But I guess that's what what the hillbillies of South Carolina think they deserve.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Wall Street got it wrong and very nearly threw the world into Great Depression II

Now we are traveling through the Great Bush Recession with no real economic road map to get us out of it. The free market in investment banking failed and there is no alternative yet. To compound the problem the media is spreading happy talk again about how the recession is over, and the economists have been touting the fact that for the first time in a year the GDP increased rather than decreased. The stock market went up Thursday based on the happy talk.

Then we got the news that consumer confidence is down badly. Today the stock market lost all the phantom gains it made yesterday. Why is consumer confidence down? Consider this.
Cities in California, Florida and Nevada accounted for the 10 highest foreclosure rates in Q309 among metro areas with more than 200,000 people. However, five of those cities reported decreasing foreclosure activity from Q308, offset by many other markets reporting spikes in foreclosures, according to the report.

Sharga sees the foreclosure crisis coming in three waves, and with this new data, the market is showing signs of the second one.

“That first wave of foreclosures cratered the economy, which created job losses, which created the second wave. Now, we’re seeing prime rate loans affected by unemployment. And the third wave will be really a repeat of wave one, except this time we’re going to see a switch of Option ARM and Alt-A loans out for the subprime loans. It will probably be as big but somewhat shorter lived,” Sharga said.

Sharga said that he expects a peak in foreclosures in 2010, only a marginal improvement in 2011 and a return to normal monthly foreclosure activity sometime in 2012.

“Rising unemployment and a new variety of mortgage resets continued to gradually shift the nation’s foreclosure epicenters in the third quarter away from the hot spots of the last two years and toward some metro areas that had avoided the brunt of the first foreclosure wave,” said James J. Saccacio, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac. “While toxic subprime mortgages drove much of that first wave of foreclosures, high unemployment and exotic Alt-A Option ARMs are spreading the foreclosure flood to more metro areas in 2009.”
Those increased foreclosures are caused by the increase in unemployment.

But wait! Hasn't the media happy talk been saying that unemployment isn't that bad? No, what they have been doing is spinning the fact that unemployment is no longer falling off a cliff as it was early in 2009. The stimulus money has slowed job loss, but not stopped it. Happy talk means the media is taking not-so-bad news and spinning it as good news.

Want an example? So-and-so stock beat analyst's expectations, so it rose in the market. That just means the analysts thought it would lose more money than they actually did, but they still lost money. That's taking not-so-bad news and spinning it as good news. Don't forget that consumer spending makes up 70% of the total GDP, and investment spending is not going to increase until the consumer markets are growing for the investors to plan to sell to.

Krugman addresses the unemployment problem.
Just a quick note on the GDP report. Obviously, 3.5 percent growth is a lot better than shrinkage. But it’s not enough — not remotely enough — to make any real headway against the unemployment problem.

[...]

Basically, we’d be lucky if growth at this rate brought unemployment down by half a percentage point per year. At this rate, we wouldn’t reach anything that feels like full employment until well into the second Palin administration.
So the only solution is Keynesian stimulation of the economy, and the stimulus pushed by both Paulson and by the Obama administration simply wasn't big enough. Krugman told us so, and he was right. The problem is, the economists don't have any real idea how to deal with this, and until they do, the government is not going to be able to get its act together and get something through Congress that will provide any more help than the current inadequate stimulus. (Inadequate for recovery, but thank god for what there is. Otherwise we would be deep in the first year of Great Depression II. Instead we are only in the Great Bush Recession, also brought to us by Alan Greenspan.)

More ideas from economists are badly needed. George Soros is planning on setting up a foundation for dissident economists who ignored the free market boys who got it wrong. Michael Hirsh in Newsweek describes the state of the community of Macro Economists right now.
[W]ith no rules of the road, we have entered a Mad Max world of economics in which even the most eminent of our top regulators and central bankers can't seem to agree on the fundamental nature of financial markets. One clash of titans is occurring between Paul Volcker and Ben Bernanke. Volcker, the former Fed chief, wants commercial banks barred from heavy proprietary trading. "I don't want them to be Goldman Sachs, running a zillion proprietary operations," he told me recently. Bernanke, the current Fed chairman, doesn't want to tamper nearly as much with the structure of the Street; instead, he wants to restrain the big banks through changed incentives, such as by tying compensation to long-term performance, and through increased capital requirements. Across the Atlantic, Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England, is engaged in a fierce debate with Britain's chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, over breaking up big banks. King says breaking them up is the only way to prevent another catastrophe; Darling says King doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Even Alan Greenspan appears to be engaged in a fierce argument ... with his own younger self. "U.S. regulators should consider breaking up large financial institutions considered 'too big to fail,' " he said earlier this month. But for most of his life, Greenspan was an Ayn Rand libertarian who abhorred the idea that government should break up anything; he once wrote that "the entire structure of antitrust statutes in this country is a jumble of economic irrationality and ignorance." Bigger was better, he said, and that way of thinking largely governed his stewardship of the Fed from 1987 to 2005. "The control by Standard Oil, at the turn of the century, of more than eighty percent of refining capacity made economic sense and accelerated the growth of the American economy," Greenspan wrote in Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal in 1961. But Greenspan now has this to say about banks: "If they're too big to fail, they're too big. In 1911, we broke up Standard Oil—so what happened? The individual parts became more valuable than the whole. Maybe that's what we need to do."
So we don't know what to do, but anyone with a background in Macroeconomics 101 will know when we are finally coming out of the craptitude. It will be when consumer sentiment starts up, and then when consumer spending starts up. And that will not happen until at least half a year after employment starts climbing again.

Personally I think that will require a return to Glass-Stegall and the hard separation of consumer banks and investment banks. The current talk out of Treasury of making the big Wall Street Banks plan for how the government will take them over when they fail is a start. But anti-Trust should also be considered. As Greenspan said - "Too big to fail is just too big."

Jon Stewart on how FOX handles "news."

Jon Stewart describes FOX's perpetual revulsion machine. Not only is is funny, it is extremely educational.

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Were humans evolved to be runners?

The New York Times offers an interesting speculation on the evolution of the human body.
The scientific evidence supports the notion that humans evolved to be runners. In a 2007 paper in the journal Sports Medicine, Daniel E. Lieberman, a Harvard evolutionary biologist, and Dennis M. Bramble, a biologist at the University of Utah, wrote that several characteristics unique to humans suggested endurance running played an important role in our evolution.

Most mammals can sprint faster than humans — having four legs gives them the advantage. But when it comes to long distances, humans can outrun almost any animal. Because we cool by sweating rather than panting, we can stay cool at speeds and distances that would overheat other animals. On a hot day, the two scientists wrote, a human could even outrun a horse in a 26.2-mile marathon.

Why would evolution favor the distance runner? The prevailing theory is that endurance running allowed primitive humans to incorporate meat into their diet. They may have watched the sky for scavenging birds and then run long distances to reach a fresh kill and steal the meat from whatever animal was there first.

Other research suggests that before the development of slingshots or bows, early hunters engaged in persistence hunting, chasing an animal for hours until it overheated, making it easy to kill at close range. A 2006 report in the journal Current Anthropology documents persistence hunting among modern hunter-gatherers, including the Bushmen in Africa.

“Ancient humans exploited the fact that humans are good runners in the heat,” Dr. Bramble said. “We have such a great cooling system” — many sweat glands, little body hair.

There is other evidence that evolution favored endurance running. A study in The Journal of Experimental Biology last February showed that the short toes of the human foot allowed for more efficient running, compared with longer-toed animals. Increasing toe length as little as 20 percent doubles the mechanical work of the foot. Even the fact that the big toe is straight, rather than to the side, suggests that our feet evolved for running.

“The big toe is lined up with the rest, not divergent, the way you see with apes and our closest nonrunning relatives,” Dr. Bramble said. “It’s the main push-off in running: the last thing to leave the ground is that big toe.”

Springlike ligaments and tendons in the feet and legs are crucial for running. (Our close relatives the chimpanzee and the ape don’t have them.) A narrow waist and a midsection that can turn allow us to swing our arms and prevent us from zigzagging on the trail. Humans also have a far more developed sense of balance, an advantage that keeps the head stable as we run. And most humans can store about 20 miles’ worth of glycogen in their muscles.

And the gluteus maximus, the largest muscle in the human body, is primarily engaged only during running. “Your butt is a running muscle; you barely use it when you walk,” Dr. Lieberman said. “There are so many features in our bodies from our heads to our toes that make us good at running.”
This makes a good case, and it is well-known in medical circles that a human in training can run down a horse given several days. The horse can always sprint away at first, but the human continues to run and catches up when the horse stops to rest. After a day or so, the horse will simply stop running away and the human catches it. The human, if trained, is capable of greater long term endurance than the horse does.

Interesting, no?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Health care reform looks more likely to include the public option

Steve Benen writes of favorable signs towards the passage of health care with a public option built in. He provides two articles, one on health care reform in the Senate and one on health care reform in the House.

Most of the recent news has been on the movement of health care reform through the Senate where the Blue Dogs have been building on the intransigent refusal to deal on health care in any way to shift the bill to the right and kill or water down the public option. What is beginning to happen now, though, is that Nancy Pelosi is beginning to set up the health care reform bill in the House so that it becomes a stronger platform to negotiate with the Senate when committees from the two houses get together to reconcile the different bills before sending the joint bill to the President for signature.

The public option has recovered from the days in August when it appeared nearly dead. It is now a lot more likely that it will be included in the final bill.go read the two articles. Start with the one on health care reform in the House.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Best take on the GOP web site failure; Jon Stewart, Natch.

What can I say? The GOP website pushed by Michael Steele is.... well here's Jon Stewart.

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When anyone is going to be totally out of touch with modern times, the Republicans will demonstrate the greatest degree of "out of touchness" and Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele will be there to show them the way.

The strange world inhabited by the conservative right

Stan Greenberg, James Carville & Karl Agne conducted some very interesting focus group studies with groups of conservatives and independents. This is the Executive Summary of their report of findings:
The self-identifying conservative Republicans who make up the base of the Republican Party stand a world apart from the rest of America, according to focus groups conducted by Democracy Corps. These base Republican voters dislike Barak Obama to be sure - which is not very surprising as base Democrats had few positive things to say about George Bush - but these voters identify themselves as part of a ‘mocked’ minority with a set of shared beliefs and knowledge, and commitment to oppose Obama that sets them apart from the majority in the country. They believe Obama is ruthlessly advancing a ‘secret agenda’ to bankrupt the United States and dramatically expand government control to an extent nothing short of socialism. They overwhelmingly view a successful Obama presidency as the destruction of this country’s founding principles and are committed to seeing the president fail
A major conclusion they drew from this study is that the press is focused on racist explanations for the voter's beliefs, but there are indications that racism is not the main driver of conservative attitudes and behavior. What they did find, though, is that conservative beliefs are very different from those of even the more conservative independents. The independents tend to just blow off the more extreme statements from the conservatives, considering such extreme rhetoric as efforts to influence people politically but not really representing what the conservatives actually believe themselves. Here are the findings regarding what the extreme conservatives do actually believe:
  1. ...[T]hese conservative Republican voters believe Obama is deliberately and ruthlessly advancing a ‘secret agenda’ to bankrupt our country and dramatically expand government control over all aspects of our daily lives. They view this effort in sweeping terms, and cast a successful Obama presidency as the destruction of the United States as it was conceived by our founders and developed over the past 200 years.

  2. This concern combines with a profound sense of collective identity. They readily identify themselves as a minority in this country - a minority whose values are mocked and attacked by a liberal media and class of elites.

  3. They also believe they possess a level of knowledge and understanding when it comes to politics and current events, one gained from a rejection of the mainstream media and an embrace of conservative media and pundits such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, which sets them apart even more.
[I have taken the liberty of adding numbered grouping what was a single paragraph to emphasize the three points.]
So that's the essence of what the report states.

Remember, this is a report of what the Republican base believes, not necessarily what their leaders believe. The right wing political leaders have to cater to this base to maintain their leadership positions, but I think that some believe this stuff and a lot do not.

The evangelicals like Sens. Ensign, Coburn, Enhofe and I suspect, Demint, are true believers. There is no doubt that the more extreme Representives such as Bachman believe this. I'm not sure whether to put Sarah Palin into the group of true believers or the group who manipulates them. A lot of the conservative leaders are their for their own advantage, not because they buy into the full core conservative base agenda. That's probably why the base is so ready to kick out any backsliders like Specter and Lindsay Graham. They don't trust them. They can't trust even other conservatives. Only the members of the oppressed conservative group can be trusted.

Then there are the Wall Street Republicans (big business, big banks, and big oil especially) who are ready to capitalize on this group of isolated and disaffected conservatives. By feeding propaganda to the Republican base directly and by buying off the evangelical leaders, they can manipulate the right-wing politicla leaders into handing them control of the American economy. The entire TV business news system is under their control because they control the advertising revenue that makes the business news possible. The wealthy ultra-conservatives like the oil tycoons, Amway people (i.e. Eric Prince of Blackwater fame), the Walton family (Walmart), the news tycoons (Richard Mellon Scaife, Rupert Murdoch) etc. are a noticeable subset of this group. So are the Libertarians and the Neocons. They are also members of minorities who feel oppressed by the mainstream and they also practice manipulating the Republican core base to the extent that they can.

The Democracy Corps report gives an intriguing look at the nature of the Republican core base. It is a major population group that a number of politicians and economically powerful groups and individuals manipulate to get what they want from the government. That base and its vulnerability to being manipulated politically appears to me to be at the core of America's currently largely dysfunctional politics.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Health Insurance industry has another PR failure

Right on the heels of the disaster the health insurance industry suffered when AHIP released it's attack report propaganda piece right before the Senate Finance Committee vote on the health care bill, they now have a second PR disaster. Greg Sargent reports:
CNN has acknowledged in a statement to me that a high-profile Republican commentator who frequently discusses health care on the air is also the media buyer for one of the ad campaigns bankrolled by America’s Health Insurance Plans, the major industry trade group currently waging war against the White House and Dem reform proposals.

CNN tells me his ties to the industry will be disclosed in the future.

The CNN contributor, well-known GOP consultant Alex Castellanos, is best known for producing the racially-charged “Hands” ad, has repeatedly appeared on the network attacking Dem health care plans and the public option, which is strongly opposed by AHIP.

Castellanos’s consulting firm, National Media, also recently placed over $1 million of TV advertising for AHIP, according to info obtained by Media Matters. AHIP’s most recent $1 million ad buy attacks the health care plan as a threat to Medicare.

This connection, you’d think, should be disclosed whenever Castellanos appears on CNN discussing health care. Asked for comment, CNN spokesperson Edie Emery acknowledged the tie and promised full disclosure in the future.
The insurance industry is rapidly digging a hole that leaves them a laughing stock instead of a credible source of information. This is at a time when the entire health insurance industry is set up to be restructured.

Jon Stewart on Olympia Snowe and the health care idiocy

Once again, Jon Stewart puts our American politics into perspective. What is with the Senators and health care?

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A few interesting items this morning

  • Crazy? Or strategy? Time to look at the train wreck. Orly Taitz is nothing but a public disaster in progress. Taiz states that she will refuse to pay the $20,000 fine that federal district court Judge Clay Land imposed on her this morning. Thus sayth the chief Birther. Is it insanity or media manipulation? But I repeat myself.

  • Jon Stewart does a really illuminating (and funny) segment on CNN's non-news non-fact-checking. What is CNN actually selling, I wonder? It's damned sure not "news."

  • The health care industry fired its big guns yesterday. They published a Price Waterhouse Coopers report that predicted large, immediate increases in the price of health insurance very soon if the health care bills pass. Today PWC took much of the sting out of the report by admitting that no cost savings resulting from the proposed health insurance changes were included in the report Gee. Report on all possible price increases with no possible cost savings. And we should be surprised that the report predicts (wait for it) PRICE INCREASES! (Ta Daa!) The health insurance industry is afraid that if the health care imitative passes they will be less able to gouge sick and potentially sick people for unconscionably high premiums for alleged insurance that as often as not does not actually pay off. It's the best argument yet for single payer health insurance (or failing that, at least a strong public option) that removes the private insurance parasites from the system.

  • If Republican Senator Olympia Snowe dares to vote for the health care reform bill the Republican Caucus has threatened to keep her from getting the position of ranking member on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. I wonder what the Democrats could offer her to switch parties? Or if her conscience can trump her ambition?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Steve Clemons explains why Obama deserves the Nobel Peace Prize already

There have been a lot of people who have questioned why, after only nine months in office, Obama deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. It's interesting that until now, no sitting U.S. president since Woodrow Wilson has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. A lot of people are asking "Why now? Why Obama?"

Steve Clemons gives the answer. Keep in mind that the Nobel Peace Prize is for actions on the world stage. Since most Americans do not think about anything outside the U.S., they tend to be quite oblivious to what is happening on the world stage. By focusing on domestic U.S. events they have missed what Obama has done already in the globalized world. Here's Steve's explanation.
The world has been mesmerized by Obama since he started to run for the presidency. The battle between Hillary Clinton and Obama for the Democratic nomination did more to educate the rest of the world about real political choice -- and about a system in which no candidates had an automatic lock on victory -- than any USAID program could have achieved.

Obama's decision to make the ulcerous Israeli-Palestinian negotiations one of the first foreign policy challenges of his administration, rather than the last, defied most seasoned analysts' expectations. His message to Iran's citizens, marking the Persian new year holiday of Nowruz, and his powerful and captivating speech in Cairo, Egypt, communicated to Muslims all around the world that their lives and their faith and their expectations for a better world were vital and as valid as any others.

From his perch in the White House, Barack Obama affirmed the humanity of Muslims and told them that America does value Muslim lives.

Obama's posture and rhetoric have reversed the collapse of hope and trust that the world's citizens had in America and stopped the degradation of America's image during the tenure of George W. Bush and Richard Cheney.

Should a U.S. president get the Nobel Peace Prize if he's about to send more U.S. troops, armed drones, bombs, tanks and other military hardware into the war-ripped zones in Afghanistan?

Or should Obama get the prize if he hasn't even succeeded in getting Israeli-Palestinian negotiations going? Or if he hasn't gotten Iran to drop its nuclear ambitions and to re-enter the international system on constructive terms?

The answer is yes.

[...]

What is brilliant about Obama and why he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize is that he is a global leader who clearly saw the gains that could be made in changing "the optics" of the global order, upgrading the level of respect between the United States and other nations, making a point of listening to other leaders.

Obama saw that before the world could move to a more stable and better global equilibrium, it had to believe it could -- and this is what Obama has done in ways that no other leader has in memory.

[...]

...the Nobel Prize Committee has shrewdly given a key down payment for a kind of leadership it wants to see from the U.S. for many more years and given Obama another tool to help craft a new global social contract between the United States and other responsible stakeholders in the international system.
So that's why Obama deserves the Nobel Peace Prize now, even though he has only been in office a very short time. The next question is why the American right-wingers have reacted in such a negative and unpatriotic way to the award from Oslo.

The answer to that is reasonably clear, also. It comes from the nature of conservatives and from their frustration as Obama has slipped their grasp. They "know" that Obama is wrong as President. The President should always be one of their own. They thought that after this summer they were winning. They were returning America to the "proper" balance and were constraining Obama's ability to act. The Nobel Foundation's award of the Peace Prize to Obama threatens all of their progress. And that threat comes from outside the United States, which makes the conservatives even angrier.

Conservatives are by definition traditionalists. They dislike social change and they have a strong sense that there is a given social order, one they belong at the top of. For Obama to become President upsets the social order as they see it and represents the threat of change. Their reaction to that threat is to be viscerally upset, and they are reacting with anger and frustration. They have been escalating the anger since Obama won the election last November and they clearly thought that they were succeeding in limiting what Obama could accomplish in office. That was their message last week when they reacted in such delight when they watched the Olympic committee reject Obama's pitch to give the Olympics to Chicago. The reaction of the right-wing talk show hosts and the Republican political leaders clearly showed that they thought their team had one a big one in Copenhagen. They were on the hunt, and they had their rabbit cornered.

The Nobel Peace Prize Committee snatched away their prey.

Not only did Obama slip their grasp, the Peace Prize gives him a position that will provide protection from their attacks from now on. It's what the Nobel Committee did for Martin Luther King, Lech Wałęsa, Desmond Tutu and for Aung San Suu Kyi. The conservatives thought they had Obama and they were going to return America to what they know is the way it should be. The Nobel Committee has yanked that away from them in a way they never expected possible.

It was a brilliant decision by the Nobel Foundation.