Happy Friday

20140418-174302.jpg

Or as my good friend Mike Ward used to say, “It is a good day to be alive.” Roger to that.

More on Torture

From the Guardian:

Dr James Elmer Mitchell [the psychologist who designed CIA's post-9/11 torture program] has been called a war criminal and a torturer. He has been the subject of an ethics complaint, and his methods have been criticized in reports by two congressional committees and by the CIA’s internal watchdog.

But the retired air force psychologist insists he is not the monster many have portrayed him to be. … “I’m just a guy who got asked to do something for his country by people at the highest level of government, and I did the best that I could.”

He also criticized Obama’s healthcare policy – a “shit sandwich” – and his administration’s approach to global warming. Mitchell believes it’s a myth.

…”I would be happy to tell my entire story,” Mitchell said. “But I have been told numerous times that if I violate the non-disclosure agreement there would be criminal and civil penalties. I am interested in having an active and honest debate, but only if the Justice Department and federal government release me from my agreement.”

Hmm. A guy who has a vested interest, kind of like the CIA, in portraying his life work, torture, in a positive light, tries to portray it in a positive light. And this is a guy who can deny global warming and fails to understand how Obamacare will help the unfortunate (lacks empathy), is a candidate for an unbiased look at the success of torture? We live in scary times. I can’t wait to read the whole report, if we ever get to see it, because I have a feeling once we are out of the dark, there will be very little people like Mitchell and defenders of this travesty, that will stand open examination.

Economic Elites – A Glaring Example

I just heard David Gregory of MSNBC tell Andrea Mitchell that we who have employer healthcare have no idea what it costs (probably true) and employers are pushing costs on to us with higher deductibles which is probably a good thing since we will pay more attention to costs. That is fine for a person earning seven figures to say but he has no idea what higher deductibles do to the rest of us. Oh and it depresses the economy because we have less to spend on other things that might create jobs.

Then he spins the favorite yarn of the right and the business class, that our economy could be doing better, but with uncertainty about healthcare and regulations, our economy remains depressed. This is the confidence fairy myth. It is also a supply side argument, both of which have been totally debunked. The theory goes that if the wealthy would spend more on investment, there would be more jobs. But most of us in the 99% are already spending all our income and producing more goods (and this would not be more jobs because there is tons of slack in the system now) would not create demand. People need good jobs and then the demand will increase.

So another case of someone in the economic elite listening to other economic elites without a clue about the reality of real America and he has real power to effect policy, just the wrong policy. Of course Andrea just nodded and agreed with him like she was listening to a wise sage, and not someone who is totally caught up in the Washington bubble of economic elites and interest groups.

So Who is In Charge? An Oligarchy of Economic Elites, Interest Groups, Average Citizens?

Oligarchy is government or control by a small group of people. In the United States wealth is power (see Supreme Court Rulings in Citizen United and McCutcheon, money in politics) so we are talking about a wealthy oligarchy. In my blog, Maybe Karl Marx was Only Half Wrong, I noted economist Thomas Piketty’s new book, Capital in the 21st Century demonstrating how economic inequality and the power that goes with wealth is increasing and more and more this will be and is inherited wealth. This strongly suggests that power and control will be in the hands of a few in our country. Now along comes a study by two American political scientists that adds fuel to this fire.

The study* by Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page entitled, Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens, is a study of who really controls politics and policies in the United States. And the answer is: Economic elites. Basically what they did was look at the conventional wisdom:

The evidence indicates that U.S. federal government policy is consistent with majority preferences  [average citizens] roughly two-thirds of the time; that public policy changes in the same direction as collective preferences a similar two-thirds of the time; that the liberalism or conservatism of citizens is closely associated with the liberalism or conservatism of policy across states; and that fluctuations in the liberal or conservative “mood” of the public are strongly associated with changes in the liberalism or conservatism of policy in all three branches of government.

Said more simply, politicians tend to find the common ground of what the average guy/gal wants and reflect that in  their votes. We the people govern. But of course we have seen that that is not the case where things like immigration reform and raising the minimum wage are highly popular and yet nothing happens. Then the authors note:

The fly in the ointment is that none of this evidence allows for, or explicitly assesses, the impact of such variables as the preferences of wealthy individuals, or the preferences and actions of organized interest groups, which may independently influence public policy while perhaps being positively associated with public opinion – thereby producing a spurious statistical relationship between opinion and policy.

And to make a long story short what the study did was look at Economic Elites defined as the top 90 percentile of wealth in this country, the average citizen at the 50th income percentile, and organized interest groups (largely owned and controlled by wealthy elites), and see who affected public policy more. And the findings were disturbing.

Average Americans and their policy preferences count for very little, and only when they agree with what the economic elites and organized interest groups want. Top that off with the fact that our whole systems prefers the status quo even when there is wide-spread support for change and we have a democracy in name only. Here are some of the major findings from the study:

  • When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.
  • …our evidence indicates that the responsiveness of the U.S. political system when the general public wants government action is severely limited.
  • When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.
  • These results suggest that reality is best captured by mixed theories in which both individual economic elites and organized interest groups (including corporations, largely owned and controlled by wealthy elites) play a substantial part in affecting public policy, but the general public has little or no independent influence.
  • …the system has a substantial status quo bias. Thus when popular majorities favor the status quo, opposing a given policy change, they are likely to get their way; but when a majority – even a very large majority – of the public favors change, it is not likely to get what it wants.

Disturbing? But we see it all the time. We want to raise the minimum wage, reform immigration, legalize marijuana, reform the tax code, and do we see any of it happening? But the authors raise the even more disturbing thought that instead of looking at the 90th percentile, what if the study looked at the 1% or the .1%. Would we find that they really are the power in the United States? And even more importantly:

Of course our findings speak most directly to the “first face” of power: the ability of actors to shape policy outcomes on contested issues. But they also reflect – to some degree, at least – the “second face” of power: the ability to shape the agenda of issues that policy makers consider. …Our results speak less clearly to the “third face” of power: the ability of elites to shape the public’s preferences. We know that interest groups and policy makers themselves often devote considerable effort to shaping opinion.

In other words, any alignment with what the average citizen may want and the elites and interest groups is being manipulated by the elites and the interest groups. And the elites and interest groups may be controlling the conversation with our leaders (Financial reform anyone?) And finally:

Perhaps they [economic elites] know better which policies will benefit everyone, and perhaps they seek the common good, rather than selfish ends, when deciding which policies to support. …But we tend to doubt it. We believe instead that – collectively – ordinary citizens generally know their own values and interests pretty well, and that their expressed policy preferences are worthy of respect.

Moreover, we are not so sure about the informational advantages of elites. Yes, detailed policy knowledge tends to rise with income and status. Surely wealthy Americans and corporate executives tend to know a lot about tax and regulatory policies that directly affect them.

But how much do they know about the human impact of Social Security, Medicare, Food Stamps, or unemployment insurance, none of which is likely to be crucial to their own well-being? Most important, we see no reason to think that informational expertise is always accompanied by an inclination to transcend one’s own interests or a determination to work for the common good.

In my mind the economic elites know very little about what affects the average citizen, evidenced by their many statements like the 47% comment.  And they focus on benefiting themselves and their economic interests at the expense of the average citizen. Finally,  they are affecting policy based upon political philosophy and belief instead of empirical data on what is working and what is not.  And you were wondering why we can’t fix anything in Washington?  

We are living in a very scary world and the work of Thomas Piketty and Gilens and Page taken together paint a very bleak picture of how we will ever make our government responsive to average Americans again.  The takeaway from Thomas Piketty is that capitalism as it is presently configured creates economic inequality leading to oligarchy and extreme inequality, but with policy changes we could tame those forces. The takeaway from Gilens and Page is that unless the economic elite and interest groups align with those goals it is not going to happen.

At least now we have the data to understand the problem, but as Jonathan Chait pointed out yesterday in his blog**, only liberals care about what the data shows. Conservatives don’t need no stink’in data.

*Vox.com has probably a better explanation of the study than mine and a few criticisms of the approach. We can quibble, but it is hard to explain why polls show popular support for many programs, and Congress (Republicans) do nothing.

**Jonathan opined yesterday (Why the New Data Journalism Really is Partisan) that the new “data journalism sites” like Vox, Wonkblog, FiveThirtyEight, Upshot, that try to present the data around an issue in a nonpartisan way are going to be partisan because one party wants to see what is effective and data is important, and the other already knows all answers and data is superfluous.  That data superfluous group are the ones pushing a bill that would impose a 40 percent cut to funding for social, behavioral, and economic sciences, because data is superfluous to what they already really know in their gut.  Oh, and Obamacare is failing and all the numbers are made up in their reality. Or said another way, the facts have a well known liberal bias.

More on Conservatives Inciting Violence

Yesterday I tried to make the point that conservative Republican policies exacerbate the very circumstance that give rise to terrorism and violence.  Those are:

  • Increasing economic inequality (and blaming the poor for their predicament)
    • Against a living minimum wage
    • Against equal pay for women
    • Against a healthcare system for all
    • Against extending unemployment insurance
    • Against any investment by government to create jobs
    • Against women’s right to choose and limiting their health and economic choices
    • For Lower taxes for the rich paid for by the middle class and poor
    • For gutting regulations that protect workers including unions
    • For gutting programs that help the poor and level the economic playing field
  • Disenfranchising the voters at the polls giving rise to feelings of powerlessness
  • Passing laws to expand gun access, stand and defend, and harsh punishment that is demonstratively applied unfairly increasing the sense of inequality across the nation

But that in and of itself would not have the poor and middle class rise up against them in terms of violence and revolution as long as they believe elections can be fair. No, the real violence is going to come from their own base.  The Republicans really represent the only the wealthy.  But here is where the real evil lies.  

They need their base to keep them in power and need to keep them fooled on who they really represent.  Remember, this is the base who screamed keep your government hands off my Medicare.  So while they continue the policies listed above that really hurt this base and make them feel threatened (economically), they feed them a continuing stream of propaganda and conspiracy theories to secure their support to include:

  • Government is the problem (All government is bad)
  • Guns secure your freedom from an out of control government (An armed nation)
  • “Others” (non-whites) are taking over the government (and surveys show they will) (racism)
  • Supporting the wealthy by lower taxes and destroying unions creates more jobs (Flow down and job creators, both proven false)
  • Democrats are trying to give away their hard-earned money to slackers (Them against us))
  • Continuous propaganda and conspiracy theories that government is behind an evil usurption of power (All government is bad)
  • The poor are takers and deserve their fate (Them against us)
  • Immigrants steal your jobs (xenophobia, racism, and us against them)
  • President Obama is evil and violating the Constitution (racism and all government is bad)
  • Americans need to take back their government (Anarchy is freedom)

All of the above has been proven untrue (except whites will soon be a minority), but their base is buying it.  We saw that in Nevada over the weekend as we saw the Frankenstein they are creating raising its ugly head, armed to the teeth.  This is where the real violence is going to come from.  Along with their failing economic policies, the lies and misconceptions the conservatives are creating are sowing the seeds of violence.

The real problem in this country are the militias being created to “protect their rights” who have been fed and believe a continuous stream of lies and propaganda based on conspiracy theories and hate the government from conservatives.  The conservatives have created this monster to vote for them and keep them in power even though their policies weaken them economically.  When the violence comes, and it will because of all the bulleted items above, they will wonder what happened and deny their responsibility.  But we know where that responsibility lies and we should hold them all accountable.  Most should never hold office again.  Their definition of patriotism is in reality, sedition.  I wonder how long before we have another Oklahoma City?

Has Fox News Committed Sedition?

I think so and they ought to be charged.

Sedition is a crime of revolting or inciting revolt against government. However, because of the broad protection of free speech under the First Amendment, prosecutions for sedition are rare. Nevertheless, sedition remains a crime in the United States under 18 U.S.C.A. § 2384 (2000), a federal statute that punishes seditious conspiracy, and 18 U.S.C.A. § 2385 (2000),which outlaws advocating the overthrow of the federal government by force. Generally, a person may be punished for sedition only when he or she makes statements that create a Clear and Present Danger to rights that the government may lawfully protect (schenck v. united states, 249 U.S. 47, 39 S. Ct. 247, 63 L. Ed. 470 [1919]).

The crime of seditious conspiracy is committed when two or more persons in any state or U.S. territory conspire to levy war against the U.S. government. A person commits the crime of advocating the violent overthrow of the federal government when she willfully advocates or teaches the overthrow of the government by force, publishes material that advocates the overthrow of the government by force, or organizes persons to overthrow the government by force. A person found guilty of seditious conspiracy or advocating the overthrow of the government may be fined and sentenced to up to 20 years in prison. States also maintain laws that punish similar advocacy and conspiracy against the state government.

Fox News has been actively encouraging people to support the Rancher in Nevada who has been stealing from the Federal Government and refusing court orders to pay his fees and cease and desist grazing his cattle on Federal land.  Their host, Sean Hannity, even bragged that the support for the rancher was due to his coverage and urging.

Video clearly shows that the “support” consisted of armed insurgents and snipers aiming at federal agents, preventing them from carrying out court ordered warrants. Violence was prevented only because the Feds caved in to their demands to prevent a shootout.  It was clearly an act of sedition.

This caricature of a “patriot” (the rancher) does not recognize the legitamacy of the federal government and by his and his ‘supporters” actions are levying war against the United States by using armed insurrection to prevent it from carrying out lawful orders of our courts.  

So let’s charge Fox News with sedition.  Let’s round-up all the rest and charge them similarly.  Let’s throw the rancher in jail for grand larceny against the people of the United States*, and let’s demonstrate to others that armed revolt against a legitimate government will not be tolerated in the United States.  They had their day in court and they did not prevail.  To let this fester sends all the wrong messages and will create more confrontation in the future.

*The fees he did not pay have to be made up by taxes you and I pay.

Are Republicans Setting Us Up for Terrorism and Possibly Violent Revolution?

If you look back at history, you see that most violent uprising are caused by a combination of these factors:

  • Severe Economic inequality with wealth focused in the few with the majority having little hope of improvement
  • The majority of citizens disenfranchised from control of their government
  • The system of justice that is unfair and unequal

Said more simply revolution is set in motion when a group disproportionately holds more power and wealth, and abuses that power and wealth. Our Founders in the Declaration of Independence gave reasons for throwing off British rule and our revolutionary war:

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.

The Constitution lists 27 abuses that justify their Declaration of Independence and they fall into the general category of the items listed above. So how are Republicans setting the groundwork for terrorism and revolution?

First, we are looking at economic inequality that is increasing and is now the largest in our history. This is not a result of “the capitalist system” but the policies we put in place to distribute the returns of our capitalist system. While the Democrats certainly have been along for the ride on these policies, the Republican agenda is clearly to increase this as evidenced by the Ryan Budget, lower taxes for the wealthy, and paid for by cutting programs to help the poor.

Republicans continue to block programs that will improve employment or invest in our country unless they can further cut the programs such as food stamps that help our less fortunate survive. They have actively prevented millions from enrolling in Medicaid that is resulting in an estimated 27,000 deaths because of these Republican governor’s actions. Their failure to address unequal pay in the workplace for women, and block all efforts at immigration reform, disenfranchises millions more who see their government not working for them. Their failure to move on a livable minimum wage is further evidence that working hard is no longer the road to success.

Republicans have begun a program to disenfranchise voters at the polls with unneeded and restrictive voter ID laws, restricting voter access through moving polling places and restricting operating hours, and restricting easy registration to vote. This is not lost on those affected and their anger is building as they see their basic right to vote being suppressed.

Republicans, with Democratic acquiescence, have turned our justice system into the largest Gulag in the world. And the majority of the inmates are poor and of color. The justice system has handed out harsh sentences for the poor while the rich go virtually unpunished for the same crimes. See anyone go to prison for the crimes Wall Street committed? Police tactics of an overuse of force (see Albuquerque) and the stop and frisk tactics of the NY police force further build distrust of the system and its rules.

Republicans and some “moderate Democrats” have made the access to weapons that can cause great harm easily available to those who “want to take back their country”. Conservative talk shows actively promote hate and a feeling of disenfranchisement from their base with false accusations and wild conspiracy theories. The white racism and hate Obama literally seethes from these shows. The makers and takers of conservative ideology is literally the basis of all revolutions.

But what is most surprising is that the revolution will not come from those who are being disenfranchised the most, the poor and middle class. It will start with the conservative generated hate the government propaganda. We saw the beginnings last weekend when heavily armed militia men (mostly white supremacists) showed up to protect the Nevada Rancher from the big bad Federal Government whom they don’t recognize. And our Federal government backed down*. That is what they have sown and what is now one of the biggest threats to our democracy.

So the party that says it is freedom loving and protects our Constitution is in fact the party whose policies and actions are setting up the real possibility of violence and revolution in this country that makes a mockery of that Constitution and equates freedom with anarchy. I wonder when they will wake up to the Frankenstein they are creating?

*The facts in this case clearly indicate that the Rancher is a taker who is stealing from the federal government and we the people. The BLM backed off because they saw the real potential for violence. But these people, if allowed to continue, undermine our system of government. There has to be a real plan to take stern action against both the rancher who is stealing from the federal government, and those that tried through violence to thwart the legal actions of the BLM.

Making an Example

Recently several base jumpers got into the new World Towers being constructed in New York City, climbed to the top and parachuted off. YouTube video of the jump went viral and the Police Commissioner statedd that we will charge these law breakers to the full extent of the law to make an example.

Now what is wrong with this is very simple. First of all the real problem is not that a few guys jumped off the New World Tower, but that they could. That in post 9/11 world security was so lax that they could get in there. Second, you don’t deter crime by fear. If you did, no one would do drugs. Murders in general are crimes of passion, and do you think the Boston Bombers were deterred by the fear of punishment. For that matter any terrorist?

But the biggest thing that is wrong with this whole line of thinking (typical of many high ups in the police chain of commands) is that it mete out unequal justice. The whole system comes into question (and any respect for our judicial system) when the system is seen as handing out justice based upon someone’s whim. As Matt Taibbi has pointed out in his new book, The Divide, people end up in the justice system for having a joint in their pocket, but nobody on Wall Street went to jail.

So when anybody says something like we have to make an example out of some poor individual, all I see is a system that is abusing its power and losing its grip on the thing that makes it work, respect for the law.

Internet Security – Just a Wild Thought

I have to have a spreadsheet to keep up with all my passwords and if you did everything “security experts” recommend, each password would be impossible to remember so you would have to write them all down. We live in this technological age and the only way we can get security is if we remembers some 8-10 character string that is gibberish, numbers and capitals must be included. Really? And we have to change them every time the web gets hacked? Really? Do these security experts know how many sites we visit that have password requirements? It is getting out of control.

Something is badly out of whack here. Why haven’t we come up with a better security arrangement than the system that has been in place since they created the need for the first password? Apparently the finger print thingy has been hacked so maybe could we get an eyescan? There must be a better way and I am wondering after all these years if those innovative geniuses really exist. It should be quite clear that the present system is not working.

UPDATE: Apparently Timothy Lee on Vox says the answer is to write our passwords down on paper because paper can’t be hacked. Really? Didn’t we invent technology to get rid of paper and store files and spreadsheets on our computer instead of all over our desk? I still don’t think we are thinking outside the box.

They are Trying to Drive Me Crazy (News)

UPDATE: See last item about rancher in Nevada that does not recognize the federal government or the cost for grazing his cattle on the fed’s (our) land. Apparently Ted Nuget and the Duck Dynasty moron have joined the rancher. Does that tell you all you need to know about this fellow?

It is reported that China is going to build a giant desalination plant near the city of Tangshan and, “for it to supply one million tons of fresh water each day, which could account for one-third of the water consumption of Beijing, a city of more than 22 million people, officials said.

Um, what is a ton of water? Isn’t ton a measure of weight, not volume? Is that a metric ton, an English ton, or an American ton? Normally we will put the capacity in a unit of volume, because we usually measure volume in gallons (or liters). There is 8.34 pounds in a gallon of water, so you can do the math, but shouldn’t the paper have done the math for us?

Oh, and here is a critical question: The major byproduct of desalination is salt. So what are they going to do with the salt? Again silence. Well half a report is better than none at all I guess.

Here is another headline: Political Rift Stalls Action on Climate Change. Really? Is it Democrats who deny global warming? The correct headline would have been: Republicans and Coal State Democrats Stall Action on Climate. Why must we continue the fiction of partisan bickering?

In the vein of punish those law breakers and make an example, Tennessee passed legislation that would allow criminal assault charges to be filed against women who use illegal drugs during pregnancy. Now this seems reasonable until you understand that drug addiction is a sickness that has proven fairly impervious to threats of punishment and quite possibly will harm babies because pregnant women will be afraid to seek treatment. Don’t we have bigger fish to fry, but this is what you can get law makers to agree on, and unintended consequences does not cross their minds, just punish the bad people.

Finally, to send me up a wall, I watched a report of a Nevada cattle rancher who had been using federal land to graze his cattle and had refused to pay the fees since 1993. The feds decided to confiscate his cattle and get them off their land. This became a right wing talking point where the big bad federal government was beating up on a hard working rancher (ignoring he is stealing from you and me and is the very definition of a “taker”). The Republican governor even jumped in and the next thing you know you have a stand off between heavily armed right wing militia nuts and the federal government.

Yes folks that is what Republicans and their right wing media are bringing us. Chaos. Isn’t is sad that those that think they have to protect freedom and the lost likely to be the ones responsible for its demise?

I need to spend the rest of the day deep breathing.