Monday, April 29, 2013

ANS -- Congress Rushes to Aid the Powerful

This is yet another reason to believe that our government has already been bought out by rich people and corporations.  It is too late to stop it, it is a done deal. 
Short article about our government jumping to save the airliners from delaying business people, but doing nothing to help poor people. 
Find it here:   


Congress Rushes to Aid the Powerful


Published: April 26, 2013

Congress can't pass a budget or control guns or confirm judges on time, but this week members of both parties found something they could agree on, and in a big hurry: avoiding blame for inconveniencing air travelers. The Senate and House rushed through a bill that would avert furloughs to air traffic controllers, which were mandated by Congress's own sequester but proved embarrassing when flights began to back up around the country.

Then lawmakers scurried out of town, taking a week's vacation while ignoring the low-income victims of the mandatory budget cuts, who have few representatives in Washington to protest their lost aid for housing, nutrition and education. Though they are suffering actual pain, not just inconvenience, no one rushed to give them a break from the sequester, and it is clear that no one will.

Catering to the needs of people with money, such as business travelers, is the kind of thing the country has come to expect in recent years from Congressional Republicans. But Democrats share full responsibility for this moment of cowardice. The Senate version of the bill passed by unanimous consent. That means not a single Democrat opposed bailing out travelers while poor kids are getting kicked out of Head Start or nutrition programs.

Even worse, the White House said President Obama would sign the bill. Apparently the ridicule pouring out of Republican offices ­ with Twitter hashtags like #ObamaFlightDelays ­ was extremely effective.

In the House, only 29 Democrats voted against the gift to travelers, which was made possible by switching some funds for airport improvement into the controllers budget. One of the few willing to brave the Republican attack machine was Steny Hoyer, the Democratic whip, who said he could not support repealing a piece of the sequester while preserving its harmful impact. "Seventy thousand children will be kicked out of Head Start," he said. "Nothing in this bill deals with them."

Delays in air travel annoy the kind of people who can inundate Congress with angry letters and e-mail messages. They also afflict lawmakers themselves. But cutting rental vouchers and jobless benefits affects only the voiceless. The more special-interest exceptions that are carved out of the sequester, the more the rest falls on the backs of those who can neither bear it nor stop it, promising many more years of hard-hearted cuts.

A single senator or a single president could have put principle before a little political pain and said no. But that would require courage, which, like government responsibility, is now in short supply.

Meet The New York Times's Editorial Board »

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Sunday, April 28, 2013

ANS -- Why the Austerity Fraud Matters

This week, a critique came out that showed that the study that has been used to promote "Austerity" was wrong.  It had several mistakes in it that, corrected, changed the statistical outcome drastically.  "Austerity" is the policy that is keeping our economy slow, and has wrecked the economies of Europe.  And now its "scientific" basis is proved wrong.  This matters to you, to me, to Europe. 
But facts don't convince people who are "true believers", so many in our government will still believe in this fraud.  That matters to you and me and Europe too.  So, we must get those "true believers" out of our government.  Remember that in the next election.  Debt doesn't cause the economy to slow. 
Find it here:  

Why the Austerity Fraud Matters

When disputes break out among academics, most people don't care. For good reason: Academic controversies are usually hard to follow, and concern topics that wouldn't matter to most of us even if we understood them. (I was in an academic dispute once, and my side won. Trust me, you don't want to hear about it.)

But this week a controversy broke out in economics, and it actually deserves your attention. A paper that has had a major influence on public policy around the world turns out to be wrong. And not just wrong in a subtle way that only geniuses can see, or even wrong in an everybody's-human way that you look at and say, "Oh yeah, I've done that." This one was wrong in three different ways that make you (or at least me) say, "That can't be an accident."

The bogus paper came out in 2010: "Growth in a Time of Debt" by Carmen Reinhardt and Ken Rogoff (both from Harvard). The paper that refutes it appeared last Monday: " Does High Public Debt Consistently Stifle Economic Growth? A Critique of Reinhart and Rogoff" by Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash, and Robert Pollin (all from the University of Massachusetts).

Before I get into the back-and-forth of it, let's return to why you should care. It has to do with whether the government should be trying to create jobs or cut spending.

Stimulus vs. austerity. Many countries came out of the Great Recession with a much larger national debt, but persistent unemployment and slow growth. And that led to a debate: The usual thing a government does when it has high unemployment and slow growth is spend money. (People need jobs and the private sector is skittish about expanding, so the government hires people to do things that need doing: building highways, fixing sewers, insulating homes, and so on. Or maybe the government boosts the economy by subsidizing certain kinds of consumption, like the popular cash-for-clunkers program that got a bunch of old gas-guzzling cars off the road.)

But maybe this time the thing to do was to cut spending, because of all that debt. Maybe spending more, and so increasing the national debt, would just make things worse.

The same debate was happening in all countries, and none of them went completely one way or the other. But the poster child for austerity has been the United Kingdom, where it hasn't worked. Here's how British economic growth has compared to the projections made by the UK's Office for Budget Responsibility. Austerity has brought the UK essentially no economic growth for three years.


The US has had its own stimulus/austerity debate, which has kept the Obama administration from spending as much as it wanted (or as much as Paul Krugman wanted, which was even more). But compared to the other major economies, the US has been on the stimulus side of the debate, which is probably why (disappointing as our economy has been these last few years) we're doing better than most other countries. (This graph is scaled so that all countries are equal when austerity-loving David Cameron became the UK's prime minister.)


Basically, the US and Germany are the only countries in that group that have seen any net growth since 2008.

The gist of what we've seen since 2008 is: Keynes was right. In the long run you probably want to keep your national debt under some kind of control, but not when you have high unemployment and slow growth.

How Reinhart/Rogoff leads to Ryan. Now, obviously, the budget debate we keep having in Washington doesn't acknowledge this reality at all. Conservatives like Paul Ryan and Rand Paul, who want drastic cuts in government spending  (to them, the sequester is just a down payment), somehow get away with claiming to have a " pro-growth" agenda.

How is that possible? Well, partly it's just dogma. The Gospel According to Ayn Rand states that government is always and eternally bad for the economy ­ she called for "a complete separation of state and economics" ­ and no accumulation of facts can outweigh holy writ.

But also, a handful of economists provide academic cover for the "pro-growth" austerity nonsense. And the biggest fig leaf in the bunch is the Reinhart/Rogoff paper. In his 2013 budget proposal, Ryan wrote:

Even if high debt did not cause a crisis, the nation would be in for a long and grinding period of economic decline. A well-known study completed by economists Ken Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart confirms this common sense conclusion. The study found conclusive empirical evidence that gross debt (meaning all debt that a government owes, including debt held in government trust funds) exceeding 90 percent of the economy has a significant negative effect on economic growth.

More precisely, R/R found a "threshold" that gets crossed when a nation's public debt exceeds 90% of the annual GDP. (The United States currently has  a debt-to-GDP ratio around 100%. It was comfortably below the 90% "threshold" until almost exactly the moment the R/R paper appeared.) In other words: All your economic intuition and experience might tell you not to cut spending in a slow-growth environment, but something magic happens when debt crosses 90%. Beyond that point, debt suddenly becomes toxic.

Jared Bernstein comments on the significance:

Those whose goal is severely shrinking the size of government in general and social insurance in particular need hair-on-fire results like this from established experts to keep the fire going,  even in the face of statistics that lean strongly the other way

What they did and why it's wrong. Reinhart and Rogoff looked at 20 industrialized countries year-by-year and divided the country-years into four bins: years when the national debt was 0-30% of GDP, 30-60%, 60-90%, and over 90%. They found significantly lower average economic growth in the over-90% bin. The average annual growth rates for the four bins in the 1946-2009 (post-WW2) period were 4.1%, 2.8%, 2.8% and negative .1%.

Now, if you look at those countries and years one-by-one, the case isn't always impressive. For example, 1946 in the US. We had a lot of debt because we'd just fought World War II, and we had a recession because all the discharged soldiers and laid-off tank-factory workers hadn't found new jobs yet. So high debt and negative growth were happening at the same time, but not because government debt was killing the economy.

Those are the kinds of one-off situations that you hope cancel out in the averages. And they kinda-sorta do, if you assemble your data honestly and do the math right. Unfortunately, R/R did neither. When Herndon/Ash/Pollin go back and do the analysis right, growth in the over-90% bin jumps from negative 0.1% to positive 2.2%.

So what mistakes did R/R make? Well, one was really stupid: They plugged the wrong row number into a formula on their spreadsheet, so their average skipped a bunch of rows, representing 6 of the 20 countries. (They've confessed to that mistake.)

Second, their data-set didn't really include all the country-years it should have. So, for example, New Zealand only has one year in their average, when it ought to have five. Unfortunately, that makes a huge difference in the country average, because that one year NZ had -7.9% growth, when the five-year average was +2.6%.

And third, they made the bizarre choice to average by country rather than by country-year. So that one anomalous year in New Zealand ended up constituting 1/14th of the entire average rather than the 1/110th it should have.

Why it's so bad. The significance of the R/R paper comes entirely from those mistakes.

Yes, an honest and accurate accounting still shows a negative correlation between growth and debt-to-GDP ratios, but everybody would have expected that anyway, because there's well-known causality in the other direction: recessions cause debt/GDP ratios to rise*. (GDP goes down because that's the definition of a recession. Debt goes up for two reasons: Revenue drops because there's less income to tax, and spending rises to pay for more unemployment insurance and food stamps.)

The only significant part of R/R was the threshold, and that was wrong: The something-magic-happens-at-90% was just a spreadsheet typo plus statistical sleight-of-hand.

So the data R/R assembled provides absolutely no reason to have some special fear about the current level of debt in the US. We haven't just passed through some economic equivalent of the sound barrier. To the extent that debt was bad before, it's still bad, and to the extent that it didn't matter before, it still doesn't matter.

Fraud. I anticipate taking heat for using the word fraud in the title. The Herndon/Ash/Pollin paper doesn't use it, and to fully justify fraud you'd have to see into the hearts of Reinhart and Rogoff. Responsible academics are slow to use words like fraud, because academics are cautious in general. You're not supposed to publish something you can't fully prove, even if your rivals do.

But I'm not an academic any more, so I'm using a preponderance-of-evidence standard, not a beyond-reasonable-doubt standard. Let's look at the three mistakes.

The spreadsheet error shows an unbelievable level of negligence, but if that were the only mistake I'd be inclined to give R/R some benefit of the doubt. The original mistake was almost certainly honest, but not finding the mistake is the real culpability. They didn't look the gift horse in the mouth; the mistake gave them the result they wanted, so they didn't check too hard.

They claim to have filled in the missing data in later research, but they've done nothing to point out what a difference it makes. And they defend their weighting scheme ­ an argument I could buy if they had defended that scheme in the original paper while pointing the major difference it made in the result. But they didn't. They were hoping the readers wouldn't notice.

In their response to H/A/P, Reinhart and Rogoff, defend their non-spreadsheet errors "in the strongest possible terms".

But surely the authors do not mean to insinuate that we manipulated the data to exaggerate our results.

I can't speak for H/A/P, but I won't insinuate anything, I'll say it outright: Yeah, R&R, you manipulated the data to exaggerate your results.

R/R's response. One proof of the fraud is that they're still doing it. Their response claims:

We do not, however, believe this regrettable slip [the spreadsheet error] affects in any significant way the central message of the paper or that in our subsequent work.

And that's just flatly false.

Do Herndon et al. get dramatically different results on the relatively short post war sample they focus on? Not really. They, too, find lower growth associated with periods when debt is over 90 per cent.

And that's sophistry. The "relatively short post war sample" are the economies that happen to resemble the United States today. And "lower growth" is not the result the paper is noted for; no one would care if that were the whole message, because that is completely explained by the well-known recession-causes-debt relationship. The 90% threshold is the paper's claim to fame, and that result has blown up completely.

And finally, while they don't explicitly claim that they've found a debt-causes-slow-growth relationship, they keep using their result as if they had. They do so even in their response:

There is also the question of whether these growth effects can be economically large. Here it is very misleading to think of 1 per cent growth differences without recognizing that the typical high debt episode lasts well over a decade (23 years on average in the full sample.)

It is utterly misleading to speak of a 1 per cent growth differential that lasts 10-25 years as small. If a country grows at 1 per cent below trend for 23 years, output will be roughly 25 per cent below trend at the end of the period, with massive cumulative effects.

That point is utterly meaningless if the causality works in the other direction, if the slow growth is causing the debt rather than the other way around. And another re-analysis of the R/R data shows that's what's happening. That analysis also was simple to do. As Matt Yglesias comments:

it's striking that R&R didn't even check this. I don't begrudge any academic's right to rush into publication with an interesting empirical finding based on the assembly of a novel and useful dataset. I don't even begrudge them the right to keep their dataset private for a little while so they can internalize more of the benefits. But Reinhart and especially Rogoff have spent years now engaged in a high-profile political advocacy campaign grounded in a causal interpretation of their empirical work that both of them knew perfectly well was not in fact supported by their analysis.

Buying apples, selling oranges. And that's the important point. The biggest reason R/R's paper has been so badly misused in our political debate is that they have been out there misrepresenting their results. Senator Coburn described their testimony to 40 senators a few months before the debt-ceiling debacle in 2012. After listening to their initial testimony,

Senator Kent Conrad, D-N.D., the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, then offered his own stern warning to the assembled senators. Turning around in his chair in the middle of the room, he explained to his colleagues that when our high debt burden causes our economy to slow by 1 point of GDP, as Reinhart and Rogoff estimate, that doesn't slow our [economic growth] by 1 percent, but by 25 to 33 percent, because we are growing at only 3 or 4 percent per year.

Did either professor interrupt to say, "Wait, Senator, we're not saying the debt causes a slowdown. Our data just shows a correlation that could be explained by slowdowns causing high debt."? No.

Reinhart echoed Conrad's point and explained that countries rarely pass the 90 percent debt-to-GDP tipping point precisely because it is dangerous to let that much debt accumulate.

Fraud. Fraud, fraud, fraud.

* A point I often make when numbers appear in the Sift: Correlation is not causation. Correlation just means that two things tend to go together; causation means that one causes the other. A very common fallacy is to display a graph showing that A and B go up (or down) together, and then say that A causes B.

My favorite way to demonstrate the fallacy: Birthdays are good for you; people who have a lot of birthdays tend to live long lives.

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By weeklysift, on April 22, 2013 at 10:41 am, under Articles. Tags: economics. 4 Comments
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ANS -- Maybe 9-11 Can Be Over Now

Here is what Doug Muder has to say about the Boston Marathon Bombing, and its aftermath.  It's hopeful. 
I just heard, this weekend, that 2014 is the year of the big change in direction in our world (the Great Turning). Or, as I have put it before, when we answer the question: Which is more important -- people or money?   If this article is any indication, maybe we will come up with the right answer: people.  (Maybe that idea dovetails with the story about the Austerity Fraud.)
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Maybe 9-11 Can Be Over Now

Here's my hope for the Boston Marathon bombing: Maybe it can mark the end of the 9-11 Era. It feels so different from 9-11. Maybe it can exorcize the demons that have haunted us these last dozen years.


9-11 was a wound that refused to heal. I think that had something to do with the kind of story it was and the way we told it: It was a tragedy, and the many heroic individual stories that came out of 9-11 just served to make the larger story that much more tragic.

The greatest heroes of 9-11 all died. They were the first responders who charged up the burning towers only to be crushed in the collapse. They were the passengers of United Flight 93, who crashed their own plane rather than let it become a bomb. We could not identify with them or feel connected to their courage, because we lived. To have survived on a day when the real heroes died … it felt almost shameful.

The villains ­ the men who hijacked the airliners and slammed them into the Twin Towers ­ were likewise dead. They died on their own terms, as martyrs and victors in their own eyes, and they were beyond our reach now.

So in spite of all the people who did the best they could that day, the overwhelming emotions of 9-11 were shame, depression, anger, and fear. As a country, America came out of 9-11 looking for somebody to blame, and wanting to mess them up as badly as we could.

We could not let the story end this way, so we took it to Afghanistan and Iraq. We took it to Bagram and Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. If some of the people we killed or maimed or tortured were innocent, so be it. Collateral damage. Our people had been innocent too.

9-11 was a monstrous act that we couldn't resolve in our hearts, so it turned us into monsters.*


But we will tell the Boston Marathon bombing story as a challenge that Americans rose to. Not years later in another country, but as it was happening. Not by dying or killing, but by living and saving lives. This time, the tragedy sets up the stories of heroism, not the other way around.

It started immediately, with the ordinary people, the runners and their friends and families, who raced into danger to help the wounded. But unlike the 9-11 first responders, they did not become martyrs or victims. They continue to walk among us like the typical Americans they are.

EMTs and police were already present at the finish line, and their performance will be a model for the rest of the world for years to come. Their story is a victory, not a tragedy. It is a tribute to them that only three people died on the scene.

Everyone who made it into an ambulance is still alive a week later, because hundreds more nurses and doctors became heroes by saving lives, not by dying or by taking lives in revenge. Like the runners and the EMTs, they did not vanish into a martyr's Heaven, but melted back into the general population. Maybe you pass them on the highway or stand in line with them at the supermarket. Maybe you are one of them.

[] Our leaders expressed sorrow, promised justice, and asked for our cooperation. They got it. People sent in their photos, and studied photos taken by others. Asked to stay off the streets or keep to their homes, we did.

Police swarmed in from all over the area, and worked together under federal leadership without visible rancor. They did their jobs, protecting the public without becoming our masters. They did not create more victims by rounding up hundreds of innocents. A policeman died, a fourth victim, but no more civilians.

And they caught the bad guys. One died in a suburban shootout that miraculously killed no bystanders. The other was wounded, but managed to hide for most of  the next day. He was found by a citizen who did not kill or get himself killed. He called the police, who captured the suspect alive and took him to a hospital.

That night, the convoy of police leaving Watertown became a spontaneous victory parade, and the citizens (who had been cooped up in their houses all day) streamed out onto the streets to cheer.

Unlike 9-11, it was over.

This time, like the aid-giving marathoners, like the EMTs, like the hundreds of doctors and nurses and police, at least one perpetrator will live and not become a martyr larger than life. We may get what we never had for 9-11: an explanation and a motive. We may come to look on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as a troubled teen-ager, rather than a demon we see whenever we close our eyes and keep trying to kill by projecting him onto others.

[] Along the way, we may exorcize another demon who has haunted us too long: the Terrorist Superman, who desires nothing but mayhem and can be stopped by nothing but death. Who requires superhuman security measures and inhuman methods of interrogation. The monster who can only be fought by other monsters.

And that forms the essence of my hope: Maybe the events of this week have shown us that we don't have to be monsters any more.

Maybe we can just be people who help other people, workers who save lives by doing our jobs, citizens who respect our authorities and get respect in return. Maybe we can seek justice without losing our human compassion. Maybe we can stand for values higher than mere survival. Maybe we can once again be part of a nation that is admired rather than just feared.

9-11 will never be forgotten, but I think it is time for it to be over. Maybe now it can join the Kennedy assassination and Pearl Harbor and the other great sorrowful events of our history. A scar, a memory, but not a wound.

So this is my post-marathon-bombing hope: That now we can stop being the frightened, angry, shamed survivors of 9-11 and go back to being Americans. It's been a long time.

* In an earlier version of this article that I posted on Daily Kos, some commenters were inclined to absolve everyday Americans and put the blame on President Bush. I'm not going to make excuses for Bush, but he didn't create the widespread post-9-11 desire for violence, he just channeled it. By the time the Iraq invasion rolled around, I and many other people were opposed. But I definitely felt the fear and anger it was based on.

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By weeklysift, on April 22, 2013 at 8:23 am, under Articles. 4 Comments
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  • []  velvinette On April 22, 2013 at 11:36 am
  • Permalink | Reply The way you express this is very nice, and insightful. You could also bring up the topic of scale. While one person could say we were able to stay humanized during this because it was smaller, and the fact that responders and perpetrators didn't die was part of how it was planned and carried out, it still supports the idea of seeing terrorism in a new way. The smaller size allowed us to focus more on it, to jump in and bring it to an end, just as the people jumped the barriers, and to see the perpetrators up close and more personal. Four ultimately have died in Boston, about a thousand times more than that died in New York and elsewhere on 9-11. I personally did not look for who to blame for 9-11, we knew who they were, more or less. And I never wanted to "mess someone up." But you are describing the tack taken by our country, I understand. Many of us never supported or had our hearts in that tack, in fact cringed from it and wanted it to end as soon as it began. That event brought out the rifts in our country, they are still there but perhaps not as wide, or at least those that would heal the rifts are more in charge.
    • []  weeklysift On April 26, 2013 at 7:41 am
    • Permalink | Reply I'm pleased you read the post the way you did. I was trying to express the overall mood of the country, not claiming that these were the feelings of every single individual. Personally, I felt conflicted. I felt the same kind of anger many others did, while simultaneously (like you) worrying about where this was headed.
  • []  blotzphoto On April 22, 2013 at 1:40 pm
  • Permalink | Reply I absolutely love that meme with the milk delivering cop. Too often we let the reactionaries depict every law enforcement action as a slippery slope into a police state. It's nice to be reminded how very far we are from such a thing.

ANS -- Americans Are as Likely to Be Killed by Their Own Furniture as by Terrorism

Here's a short piece reporting on a 31 page paper.  It's really about how exaggerated the fears of terrorism are.  The media keep promoting fear, because it pays.  Money before morals.
We can choose from two cultural directions: "Be afraid, be very afraid" versus "We have nothing to fear but fear itself."  I vote for the latter.
Find it here:    

Americans Are as Likely to Be Killed by Their Own Furniture as by Terrorism

Micah Zenko Jun 6 2012, 8:43 AM ET

Terrorist attacks killed 17 U.S. civilians last year and 15 the year before.


cfr wide logo2.jpg  
Today, the National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) released its 2011 Report on Terrorism. The report offers the U.S. government's best statistical analysis of terrorism trends through its Worldwide Incidents Tracking System (WITS), which compiles and vets open-source information about terrorism--defined by U.S. law as "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents."

Although I invite you to read the entire thirty-one page report, there are a few points worth highlighting that notably contrast with the conventional narrative of the terrorist threat:
  • "The total number of worldwide attacks in 2011, however, dropped by almost 12 percent from 2010 and nearly 29 percent from 2007." (9)
  • "Attacks by AQ and its affiliates increased by 8 percent from 2010 to 2011. A significant increase in attacks by al-Shabaab, from 401 in 2010 to 544 in 2011, offset a sharp decline in attacks by al-Qa'ida in Iraq (AQI) and a smaller decline in attacks by al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)." (11)
  • "In cases where the religious affiliation of terrorism casualties could be determined, Muslims suffered between 82 and 97 percent of terrorism-related fatalities over the past five years." (14)
  • Of 978 terrorism-related kidnapping last year, only three hostages were private U.S. citizens, or .003 percent. A private citizen is defined as 'any U.S. citizen not acting in an official capacity on behalf of the U.S. government.' (13, 17)
  • Of the 13,288 people killed by terrorist attacks last year, seventeen were private U.S. citizens, or .001 percent. (17)

According to the report, the number of U.S. citizens who died in terrorist attacks increased by two between 2010 and 2011; overall, a comparable number of Americans are crushed to death by their televisions or furniture each year. This is not to diminish the real--albeit shrinking--threat of terrorism, or to minimize the loss and suffering of the 13,000 killed and over 45,000 injured around the world. For Americans, however, it should emphasize that an irrational fear of terrorism is both unwarranted and a poor basis for public policy decisions.

This article originally appeared at, an Atlantic partner site.

ANS -- SF Gay Pride Rejects Bradley Manning, Embraces Corporate Sleaze

This is an interesting critique of SF Gay Pride going corporate and authoritarian.  The article is interesting especially for what it says about being authoritarian: a few paragraphs at the end. (I'll highlight them with color.) It appears Gay Pride has sold out. 
Find it here:  

Bradley Manning. (photo: AP)  
Bradley Manning. (photo: AP)

go to original article

SF Gay Pride Rejects Bradley Manning, Embraces Corporate Sleaze

By Glenn Greenwald, Guardian UK

27 April 13

A seemingly trivial controversy reveals quite a bit about pervasive political values.

[] ews reports yesterday indicated that Bradley Manning, widely known to be gay, had been selected to be one of the Grand Marshals of the annual San Francisco gay pride parade, named by the LGBT Pride Celebration Committee. When the predictable backlash instantly ensued, the president of the Board of SF Pride, Lisa L Williams, quickly capitulated, issuing a cowardly, imperious statement that has to be read to be believed.

Williams proclaimed that "Manning will not be a grand marshal in this year's San Francisco Pride celebration" and termed his selection "a mistake". She blamed it all on a "staff person" who prematurely made the announcement based on a preliminary vote, and she assures us all that the culprit "has been disciplined": disciplined. She then accuses Manning of "actions which placed in harms way the lives of our men and women in uniform": a substance-free falsehood originally spread by top US military officials which has since been decisively and extensively debunked, even by some government officials (indeed, it's the US government itself, not Manning, that is guilty of "actions which placed in harms way the lives of our men and women in uniform"). And then, in my favorite part of her statement, Williams decreed to all organization members that "even the hint of support" for Manning's action - even the hint - "will not be tolerated by the leadership of San Francisco Pride". Will not be tolerated.

I originally had no intention of writing about this episode, but the more I discovered about it, the more revealing it became. So let's just consider a few of the points raised by all of this.

First, while even a hint of support for Manning will not be tolerated, there is a long roster of large corporations serving as the event's sponsors who are welcomed with open arms. The list is here. It includes AT&T and Verizon, the telecom giants that enabled the illegal warrantless eavesdropping on US citizens by the Bush administration and its NSA, only to get retroactively immunized from Congress and thus shielded from all criminal and civil liability (including a lawsuit brought in San Francisco against those corporations by their customers who were illegally spied on). Last month, AT&T was fined by OSHA for failing to protect one of its employees who was attacked, was found by the FCC last year to have overcharged customers by secretly switching them to plans they didn't want, and is now being sued by the US government for "allegedly bill[ing] the government improperly for services designed for the deaf and hard-of-hearing who place calls by typing messages over the web."

The list of SF Pride sponsors also includes Bank of America, now being sued for $1 billion by the US government for allegedly engaging in a systematic scheme of mortgage fraud which the US Attorney called "spectacularly brazen in scope". Just last month, the same SF Pride sponsor received a record fine for ignoring a court order and instead trying to collect mortgage payments from bankrupt homeowners to which it was not entitled. Earlier this month, SF-Pride-sponsoring Bank of America paid $2.4 billion to settle shareholder allegations that Bank executives "failed to disclose information about losses at Merrill Lynch and bonuses paid to Merrill Lynch employees before the brokerage was acquired by Bank of America in January 2009 for $18.5 billion."

Another beloved SF Pride sponsor, Wells Fargo, is also being "sued by the US for hundreds of millions of dollars in damages over claims the bank made reckless mortgage loans that caused losses for a federal insurance program when they defaulted". Last year, Wells Fargo was fined $3.1 million by a federal judge for engaging in conduct that court called "highly reprehensible" relating to its persecution of a struggling homeowner. In 2011, the bank was fined by the US government "for allegedly pushing borrowers with good credit into expensive mortgages and falsifying loan applications."

Also in Good Standing with the SF Pride board: Clear Channel, the media outlet owned by Bain Capital that broadcasts the radio programs of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck; a pension fund is suing this SF Pride sponsor for making cheap, below-market loans to its struggling parent company. The health care giant Kaiser Permanente, another proud SF Pride sponsor, is currently under investigation by California officials for alleged massive privacy violations in the form of recklessly disclosing 300,000 patient records.

So apparently, the very high-minded ethical standards of Lisa L Williams and the SF Pride Board apply only to young and powerless Army Privates who engage in an act of conscience against the US war machine, but instantly disappear for large corporations and banks that hand over cash. What we really see here is how the largest and most corrupt corporations own not just the government but also the culture. Even at the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade, once an iconic symbol of cultural dissent and disregard for stifling peities, nothing can happen that might offend AT&T and the Bank of America. The minute something even a bit deviant takes place (as defined by standards imposed by America's political and corporate class), even the SF Gay Pride Parade must scamper, capitulate, apologize, and take an oath of fealty to their orthodoxies (we adore the military, the state, and your laws). And, as usual, the largest corporate factions are completely exempt from the strictures and standards applied to the marginalized and powerless. Thus, while Bradley Manning is persona non grata at SF Pride, illegal eavesdropping telecoms, scheming banks, and hedge-fund purveryors of the nation's worst right-wing agitprop are more than welcome.

Second, the authoritarian, state-and-military-revering mentality pervading Williams' statement is striking. It isn't just the imperious decree that "even a hint of support" for Manning "will not be tolerated", though that is certainly creepy. Nor is it the weird announcement that the wrongdoer "has been disciplined". Even worse is the mindless embrace of the baseless claims of US military officials (that Manning "placed in harms way the lives of our men and women in uniform") along with the supremely authoritarian view that any actions barred by the state are, ipso facto, ignoble and wrong. Conduct can be illegal and yet still be noble and commendable: see, for instance, Daniel Ellsberg, or most of the leaders of the civil rights movement in the US. Indeed, acts of civil disobedience and conscience by people who risk their own interests to battle injustices are often the most commendable acts. Equating illegal behavior with ignominious behavior is the defining mentality of an authoritarian - and is particularly notable coming from what was once viewed as a bastion of liberal dissent.

But the more one learns about the parties involved here, the less surprising it becomes. According to her biography, Williams "organized satellite offices for the Obama campaign" and also works for various Democratic politicians. It was President Obama, of course, who so notoriously decreed Bradley Manning guilty in public before his trial by military officers serving under Obama even began, and whose administration was found by the UN's top torture investigator to have abused him and is now so harshly prosecuting him. It's anything but surprising that a person who was a loyal Obama campaign aide finds Bradley Manning anathema while adoring big corporations and banks (which funded the Obama campaign and who, in the case of telecoms, Obama voted to immunize).

What we see here is how even many of the most liberal precincts in America are now the leading spokespeople for and loyalists to state power as a result of their loyalty to President Obama. Thus do we have the President of the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade sounding exactly like the Chairman of the Joints Chief, or Sarah Palin, or gay war-loving neocons, in depicting any meaningful opposition to the National Security State as the supreme sin. I'd be willing to bet large amounts of money that Williams has never condemned the Obama administration's abuse of Manning in detention or its dangerously radical prosecution of him for "aiding the enemy". I have no doubt that the people who did all of that would be showered with gratitude by Parade officials if they attended. In so many liberal precincts in the Age of Obama - even now including the SF Gay Pride parade - the federal government, its military, and its federal prosecutors are to be revered and celebrated but not criticized; only those who oppose them are villains.

Third, when I wrote several weeks ago about the remarkable shift in public opinion on gay equality, I noted that this development is less significant than it seems because the cause of gay equality poses no real threat to elite factions or to how political and economic power in the US are distributed. If anything, it bolsters those power structures because it completely and harmlessly assimilates a previously excluded group into existing institutions and thus incentivizes them to accommodate those institutions and adopt their mindset. This event illustrates exactly what I meant.

While some of the nation's most corrupt corporations are welcome to fly their flag over the parade, consider what Manning - for whom "even a hint of support will not be tolerated" - actually did. His leak revealed all sorts of corruption, deceit and illegality on the part of the world's most powerful corporations. They led to numerous journalism awards for WikiLeaks. Even Bill Keller, the former Executive Editor of the New York Times who is a harsh WikiLeaks critic, credited those leaks with helping to spark the Arab Spring, the greatest democratic revolution the world has seen in decades. Multiple media accounts describe how the cables documenting atrocities committed by US troops in Iraq prevented the Malaki government from allowing US troops to stay beyond the agreed-to deadline: i.e., helped end the Iraq war by thwarting Obama's attempts to prolong it. For all of that, Manning was selected by Guardian readers as the 2012 Person of the Year, while former Army Lt. Dan Choi said yesterday:

"As we move forward as a country, we need truth in order to gain justice, you can't have justice without the whole truth . . . So what [Manning did as a gay American, as a gay soldier, he stood for integrity, I am proud of him."

But none of those vital benefits matter to authoritarians. That's because authoritarians, by definition, believe in the overarching Goodness of institutions of power, and believe the only bad acts come from those who challenge or subvert that power. Bad acts aren't committed by the National Security State or Surveillance State; they are only committed by those who oppose them. If a person's actions threaten power factions or are deemed prohibited by them, then Good Authoritarians will reflexively view the person as evil and will be eager to publicly disassociate themselves from such individuals. Or, as Williams put it, "even the hint of support" for Manning "will not be tolerated", and those who deviate from this decree will be "disciplined".

Even the SF Gay Pride Parade is now owned by and beholden to the nation's largest corporations, subject to their dictates. Those who run the event are functionaries of, loyalists to, the nation's most powerful political officials. That's how this parade was so seamlessly transformed from orthodoxy-challenging, individualistic and creative cultural icon into yet another pile of obedient apparatchiks that spout banal slogans doled out by the state while viciously scorning those who challenge them. Yes, there will undoubtedly still be exotically-dressed drag queens, lesbian motorcycle clubs, and groups proudly defined by their unusual sexual proclivities participating in the parade, but they'll be marching under a Bank of America banner and behind flag-waving fans of the National Security State, the US President, and the political party that dominates American politics and its political and military institutions. Yet another edgy, interesting, creative, independent event has been degraded and neutered into a meek and subservient ritual that must pay homage to the nation's most powerful entities and at all costs avoid offending them in any way.

It's hardly surprising that someone who so boldly and courageously opposes the US war machine is demonized and scorned this way. Daniel Ellsberg was subjected to the same attacks before he was transformed many years later into a liberal hero (though Ellsberg had the good fortune to be persecuted by a Republican rather than Democratic President and thus, even back then, had some substantial support; come to think of it, Ellsberg lives in San Francisco: would expressions of support for him be tolerated?). But the fact that such lock-step, heel-clicking, military-mimicking behavior is now coming from the SF Gay Pride Parade of all places is indeed noteworthy: it reflects just how pervasive this authoritarian rot has become.

Corporate corruption and sleaze

For a bit more on the dominance of corporate sleaze and corruption in our political culture, see the first few paragraphs of this extraordinary Politico article on a new book about DC culture, and this Washington Post article detailing the supreme annual convergence of political, media and corporate sleaze called "the White House Correspondents' Dinner", to be held this weekend.

Monday, April 22, 2013

ANS -- Toxic Texas politics on display in fertilizer plant explosion

Here's a short article about how politics impacts the killing of 13 Americans per day, at work. 
Find it here:   

Mon Apr 22, 2013 at 11:43 AM PDT

Toxic Texas politics on display in fertilizer plant explosion

by Laura Clawson Follow for Daily Kos Labor Smoke rises as water is sprayed at the burning remains of a fer
The cause of the West, Texas, fertilizer plant explosion that killed at least 14 and injured 200, as well as destroying dozens of buildings, is still unknown and the damage is still being assessed, but even without the full story known, plenty of toxic Texas politics has been on display. Texas politicians are eager for the federal disaster aid they voted against when it was New York and New Jersey that needed it in the wake of Sandy, and the zoning laws that let a school and homes be right across the street from a fertilizer plant should be a scandal. And it's become clear that, whatever the immediate cause of the explosion, the plant was a menace to its workers and the town, enabled by Texas-style weak regulation and oversight.

StateImpact Texas points out that at some points in 2012, the plant stored more than 100 times as much ammonium nitrate as Timothy McVeigh used in the Oklahoma City bombing. The plant, meanwhile, had no sprinklers or fire barriers, but had been burning wood pallets in recent months. Such a disregard for safety doesn't just create the conditions for fires and explosions, it also creates additional dangers for first responders, and the West Fertilizer Co. plant wasn't the first such situation in Texas in recent years. For instance:
In 2011, a fire started at the Magnablend chemical plant in Waxahachie. Locals had to be evacuated. But first responders didn't know what chemicals were inside or that the building didn't have adequate sprinklers.

In the West explosion, the majority of those killed were indeed first responders, who did not have any way of knowing the scope of what they faced. And those killed deserve to be remembered despite the fertilizer plant explosion having happened in the same week as the Boston Marathon bombing and the subsequent dramatic hunt for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. As Richard Kim writes:
What separates these victims from one another? Surely not innocence, for they are all innocent, and they all deserve to be mourned. And yet the blunt and awful truth is that, as a nation, we pay orders of magnitude more attention to the victims of terrorism than we do to the over 4,500 Americans killed each year while on the job. As former Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis once put it, "Every day in America, thirteen people go to work and never come home." Very little is ever said in public about the vast majority of these violent and unnecessary deaths. And even when a spectacular tragedy manages to capture our collective attention­as the West explosion briefly did, as the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster did three years before­it is inconceivable that such an event would be constituted as a permanent emergency of world-historic proportions.

Whatever precise combination of accident and chemicals and lack of safety precautions caused the West explosion, chances are, it was political. Not political in the sense that someone actively intended or tried to cause damage, but in the sense that it was made possible by a state government with intentionally weak safety and environmental regulations and federal and state governments that don't put the needed resources toward enforcing what regulations should apply to a place like the West Fertilizer Co. Political in the sense that as a society we basically have agreed that disasters like this are, as Kim puts it, "the presumed cost of living in a modern, industrialized economy." We should take disasters like this one as a reminder of the recklessness with human life that our political and economic systems tolerate and even encourage.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Mon Apr 22, 2013 at 11:43 AM PDT.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions and Daily Kos.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

SF home for rent June-July

Anyone interested in renting a house in San Francisco for a vacation?  share with trusted friends who might be interested. 
see this:

Please share: Enjoy a San Francisco vacation! For rent, mid-June to mid-July: 3br, 2ba house in great sunny SF neighborhood, plus use of high mpg car. Deck, yard w/bbq, extremely well-equipped kitchen, wifi, thousands of books / CDs / DVDs. Easy access to highways and the bus/BART system, garage and easy free street parking, close to shopping and parks. $3000. Message @Amy Zucker Morgenstern or @Joy Morgenstern.

ANS -- Fwd: Shift Change - 6 Min promo clip GREAT!!!!!

This is a link to a 6 minute video clip of a movie that will be showing in the Bay Area next Friday and Saturday night -- when we cannot go to see it because next weekend is Regional Assembly, where we will be.  I recommend viewing the clip.  We hope to be able to get a copy of it and show it sometime, but the price is $300, so we'll see.... it may be rentable.
The name of the film is Shift Change, and it is about how the coming change in business is toward democracy and worker-ownership.  It will be the next big paradigm shift. 

ANS -- Meet the 28-Year-Old Grad Student Who Just Shook the Global Austerity Movement

Here is a very interesting article about the scientific basis of economics, specifically the "austerity" program, and how it has been built on bad arithmetic.  (Whether it was a mistake or cheating, you will have to answer for yourselves. A few of the comments are on this, but mostly not.  there are lots of comments.)
Find it here:

Meet the 28-Year-Old Grad Student Who Just Shook the Global Austerity Movement

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[]  Thomas Herndon, Excel sleuth.

Most Ph.D. students spend their days reading esoteric books and stressing out about the tenure-track job market. Thomas Herndon, a 28-year-old economics grad student at UMass Amherst, just used part of his spring semester to shake the intellectual foundation of the global austerity movement.

Herndon became instantly famous in nerdy economics circles this week as the lead author of a recent paper, " Does High Public Debt Consistently Stifle Economic Growth? A Critique of Reinhart and Rogoff," that took aim at a massively influential study by two Harvard professors named Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff.  Herndon found some hidden errors in Reinhart and Rogoff's data set, then calmly took the entire study out back and slaughtered it. Herndon's takedown ­ which first appeared in a Mike Konczal post that crashed its host site with traffic ­ was an immediate sensation. It was cited by prominent anti-austerians like Paul Krugman, spoken about by incoming Bank of England governor Mark Carney, and mentioned on CNBC and several other news outlets as proof that the pro-austerity movement is based, at least in part, on bogus math.

We spoke to Herndon about his crazy week, and how he's planning to celebrate his epic wonk takedown.

"This week has been quite the week," Herndon told us in a phone call from UMass Amherst's campus. "Honestly, I was not expecting at all the kind of attention it has received."

Herndon, who did his undergraduate study at Evergreen State College, first started looking into Reinhart and Rogoff's work as part of an assignment for an econometrics course that involved replicating the data work behind a well-known study. Herndon chose Reinhart and Rogoff's 2010 paper, "Growth in a Time of Debt," in part, because it has been one of the most politically influential economic papers of the last decade. It claims, among other things, that countries whose debt exceeds 90 percent of their annual GDP experience slower growth than countries with lower debt loads ­ a figure that has been cited by people like Paul Ryan and Tim Geithner to justify slashing government spending and implementing other austerity measures on struggling economies.

Before he turned in his report, Herndon repeatedly e-mailed Reinhart and Rogoff to get their data set, so he could compare it to his own work. But because he was a lowly graduate student asking favors of some of the most respected economists in the world, he got no reply, until one afternoon, when he was sitting on his girlfriend's couch.

"I checked my e-mail, and saw that I had received a reply from Carmen Reinhart," he says. "She said she didn't have time to look into my query, but that here was the data, and I should feel free to publish whatever results I found."

Herndon pulled up an Excel spreadsheet containing Reinhart's data and quickly spotted something that looked odd.

"I clicked on cell L51, and saw that they had only averaged rows 30 through 44, instead of rows 30 through 49."

What Herndon had discovered was that by making a sloppy computing error, Reinhart and Rogoff had forgotten to include a critical piece of data about countries with high debt-to-GDP ratios that would have affected their overall calculations. They had also excluded data from Canada, New Zealand, and Australia ­ all countries that experienced solid growth during periods of high debt and would thus undercut their thesis that high debt forestalls growth.

Herndon was stunned. As a graduate student, he'd just found serious problems in a famous economic study ­ the academic equivalent of a D-league basketball player dunking on LeBron James. "They say seeing is believing, but I almost didn't believe my eyes," he says. "I had to ask my girlfriend ­ who's a Ph.D. student in sociology ­ to double-check it. And she said, 'I don't think you're seeing things, Thomas.'"

The mistakes Herndon found were so big, in fact, that even Herndon's professors didn't believe him at first. As Reuters reported earlier:

"At first, I didn't believe him. I thought, 'OK he's a student, he's got to be wrong. These are eminent economists and he's a graduate student,'" [UMass Amherst professor Robert] Pollin said. "So we pushed him and pushed him and pushed him, and after about a month of pushing him I said, 'Goddamn it, he's right.'"

After consulting his professors, Herndon signed two of them ­ Pollin and department chair Michael Ash ­ on as co-authors, and the three of them quickly put together a paper outlining their findings. The paper cut to the core of a debate that has been dividing economists and politicians for decades. Fans of austerity believe that governments should cut spending in order to grow their economies, while anti-austerians believe that government spending in times of economic duress can create growth and reduce unemployment, even if it increases debt in the short term. What Herndon et al. were claiming, in essence, was that the pro-austerity movement was relying on bogus information.

When Herndon and his professors published their study, the reaction was nearly immediate. After Konczal's blog post went viral, Reinhart and Rogoff ­ who got a fawning New York Times profile when their book was released ­ were forced to admit their embarrassing error (although they still defended the basic findings of their survey). And today, another UMass Amherst professor, Arindrajit Dube, followed up on Herndon's paper with additional proof that there were serious theoretical and causal problems (as opposed to just sloppy Excel work) in the Reinhart-Rogoff study. Observers have been raising serious questions about what Herndon's work means for the future of austerity politics, and Reinhart and Rogoff's respectability as scholars.

Herndon says he isn't implying that Reinhart and Rogoff intentionally skewed their data to support a pro-austerity finding, and simply reported the errors.

"I don't want to sound the alarm and call for anyone's jobs," he says. "I didn't do this to be punitive or malicious."

With Reinhart and Rogoff's once-authoritative work now under serious question, there's no question that the austerity movement has been dealt a major blow. But Herndon's finding won't likely stop politicians from trying to reduce the deficit. The global march for austerity began before Reinhart and Rogoff's work was published, and will continue as long as there are people who believe that governments can shrink their way to prosperity.

Still, Herndon holds out hope. He calls austerity policies in the United Kingdom and elsewhere "counterproductive," and implies that part of why he took up the study of Reinhart and Rogoff's study was to question the benefits of current economic policy. "I have social motivations," he says. "I care deeply about how policy affects people."

Now that he's left his mark, Herndon says he's coping with the effects of academic celebrity ­ getting a new publicity head shot taken, receiving kudos from his professors and colleagues, handling interview requests. He says he's gotten extensions on some of his papers in order to handle his quasi-fame, but that he hasn't been popping Champagne yet in celebration.

"I'm going to celebrate this weekend," he says. "But for now, I have a really gnarly problem set."

[ Reuters]

Economists: Sorry About That Mass Unemployment
Scarborough and Friends Trying to Make 'Debt Deniers' Happen
The Fixers: How Fix the Debt Won Over Wall Street and Built a Fiscal Cliff Army

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

ANS -- Same-sex marriage law passed (but not here)

Just in case you hadn't heard yet, New Zealand passed same-sex marriage today.  And then they sang together. 
the article has a video attached. 
Find it here:   


Same-sex marriage law passed

By Isaac Davison @Isaac_Davison , Audrey Young , Kate Shuttleworth @K8Shuttleworth , Matthew Backhouse @Mbackhouse
11:00 PM Wednesday Apr 17, 2013

Parliament has just passed a law legalising gay marriage, 77 votes to 44, amid loud shows of jubilation from the floor and the gallery.

The declaration of the vote was followed by a waiata.

MPs held a conscience vote on the private member's bill sponsored by gay Labour MP Louisa Wall.

The bill will take effect in mid August and comes 27 years after New Zealand decriminalised homosexuality.

"Yay, we did it,'' was the celebratory catch cry from Ms Wall when she spoke to media waiting in Parliament tonight after the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill passed by 77 votes to 44.

Green MP Kevin Hague, National list MP Tau Henare, deputy Labour leader Grant Robertson, Labour MP Maryan Street and convenor of the Marriage Equality campaign Conrad Reyners clapped when Ms Wall spoke.

She said she had only every really hoped the `Yes' vote would reach 61.

"I never would have thought that Parliament would have overwhelming supported it - so far two-thirds of Parliament have endorsed marriage equality.

"I think the cross party working group has been incredibly effective, but it also shows we are building on our human rights tradition as a country.''

Mr Henare asked Ms Wall if she had a best man at her civil union. Ms Wall replied: "No, would you like to be mine?''

Mr Hague said it was an "enormously powerful'' day for him.

"For me it's as if our communities have come on a journey from outside of New Zealand society and we are now right inside.''

Mr Henare said Australians would now come to New Zealand for wedding ceremonies.

"Hopefully it will push the Aussies into doing something.''

Reverend Margaret Mayman said she was delighted the bill had passed.

"I am so convinced that it's not going to adversely affect people of faith. People of faith are going to be able to hold their religious views.

"We know the sun will come out tomorrow and everyone can have a big breathe and move on.''

Same-sex marriage supporters at the Campaign for Marriage Equality party in Wellington cheered loudly and applauded as the bill was passed into law.

More than a hundred supporters gathered at the San Francisco Bath House bar on Wellington's Cuba St to watch the vote.

There was a din of anticipation in the moments before the vote was announced, followed by a hush as the vote was read.

The bar then erupted into cheers and applause. Supporters embraced and joined in a waiata following the vote.

Scott Summerfield, 22, said he was thrilled with the outcome.

"I just got a text from my mother ... and I was quite thrilled to have her say she thinks I should have the same opportunities as my brother, who's straight, so that's really nice to have that support from my patents.''

Mr Summerfield said the atmosphere had been great.

"It really feels great to be gay and alive in New Zealand at the moment. I'm really proud of the waiata we sung - it was amazing.''

Mr Summerfield said it was an historic day.

"It's the last legislative barrier to equal rights for gay people or LGBT people.

"It's amazing.''

The 77 to 44 vote for tonight's third reading vote is the same as the second reading vote a few weeks ago, although two MPs voted differently tonight. National's Hamilton East MP David Bennett changed from a No vote to a Yes vote and Labour's Te Tai Tonga MP Rino Tirikatene changed from a Yes vote to a No vote tonight.

Only three MPs who voted against the bill spoke.

The debate was conducted with a lot of humour, and very little acrimony except between Mr Henare and his former party leader, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters.

Ms Wall also acknowledged the party leaders in the House who had shown leadership by supporting her bill - Prime Minister John Key, Labour leader David Shearer, Act leader John Banks, United Future leader Peter Dunne, Mana leader Hone Harawira and Maori Party co-leaders Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia.

"Nothing can counteract the very real negative consequences of not passing this bill. But nothing could make me more proud to be a New Zealander than passing this bill.

"I thank my colleagues for simply doing what is just, fair and right.''

She also thanked her "darling" civil union partner Prue Kapua for "sharing this journey with me".
By Isaac Davison @Isaac_Davison Email Isaac, Audrey Young Email Audrey, Kate Shuttleworth @K8Shuttleworth Email Kate, Matthew Backhouse @Mbackhouse Email Matthew

Sunday, April 14, 2013

ANS -- Mike Rice, Sean Hannity, and the Real American Discipline Problem

Here is another article by Doug Muder turning around what the Right says and finding it true in this reverse state. 
Find it here:  

Mike Rice, Sean Hannity, and the Real American Discipline Problem

One of the week's more interesting stories was the firing of Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice after a video came out showing him physically and verbally abusing his players.

But that's a sports story, and (in spite of being a major sports fan) I don't usually cover sports on this blog. What makes the it something more, though, is the way that some conservative political pundits* made Rice a symbol of "old-fashioned discipline" ­ something they think our country needs. Sean Hannity said:

I'm watching this and I'm thinking, 'All right, I don't like this. … But on the other hand, I kind of like old-fashioned discipline.' … Maybe we need a little more discipline in society.

And you know something? Sean is absolutely right. This is a story about discipline, and our country really does have a discipline problem. I could line up a bunch of conservative-pundit quotes about the failure of American discipline and agree with them completely, after I make one small adjustment: They've flipped everything upside down.

Is the problem at the bottom or the top? The Sean Hannities, Michele Malkins, and Eric Bollings would have you believe that our national discipline problem is the laziness and dysfunctionality of the people at the bottom of the pyramid (represented in this story by the Rutgers players, most of whom probably come from poor families and need the scholarship Rice could take away from them), and that the Mike-Rices-in-charge need a freer hand to whip them into shape.

That's why conservatives talk and act like this:
  • Tennessee's one-party legislature** looks poised to cut welfare benefits 30% for families whose children aren't doing well in school. Says the bill's sponsor, "What my bill would do is put some responsibility on parents for their child's performance."
  • Seven red states already require drug tests for welfare recipients, and threaten those who fail with the loss of benefits. Other red states are considering such laws, in spite of the fact that the predictions haven't panned out. The NYT summarizes: "a Florida law requiring drug tests for people who seek welfare benefits resulted in no direct savings, snared few drug users and had no effect on the number of applications, according to recently released state data." In These Times notes: "the notion that low-income families are overwhelmingly riddled with substance abuse is one that researchers across the country have discredited time and time again."
  • Republicans repeatedly opposed extending unemployment benefits in the wake of the Great Recession, arguing that people would not get out and find jobs without the threat of destitution. But research by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco concluded that this effect is small. Overwhelmingly, the unemployed failed to find jobs because there were no jobs.
  • Again and again during the 2012 presidential campaign, conservative candidates warned against the poor becoming "dependent on government". Mitt Romney's 47% video was the most famous example, but far from the only one. Newt Gingrich pledged, "If the NAACP invites me, I'll go to their convention and talk about why the African American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps." Again, the implication is that large numbers of Americans prefer government handouts and would rather not work ­ and that benefit cuts are necessary to discipline them.

I agree that America faces a major discipline problem, but I see the lack of discipline at the top: the bankers, the billionaires, the CEOs. Like Mike Rice, they're out of control and need to face the consequences of their actions.

The Rice video was seen by Rutgers officials months ago, and their response was a wrist-slap: Rice was suspended for three games and told not to do it again. Isn't that typical of how things go in America?
  • Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship treated safety violations in his coal mines as a cost of doing business. He stonewalled the EPA, dragged things out in court as long as possible, and then paid wrist-slap fines. In a very real sense, he murdered the 29 miners who died in the Upper Big Branch mine disaster. Is he in jail? On trial? Have we at least closed the barn door after the horse escaped? No, of course not. According to In These Times, Massey was sold to another corporation for $8.5 billion, Blankenship walked away with $12 million in severance and a $27 million deferred-compensation package, and "Congress has not passed any legislation tightening mine safety regulations."
  • Dick Cheney has repeatedly and publicly claimed "credit" for the Bush administration's program of waterboarding and other "enhanced interrogation" (the preferred euphemism for torture, which Ronald Reagan signed a treaty against). Waterboarding is an internationally recognized war crime for which we court-martialed our own soldiers in 1898 and executed Japanese soldiers after World War II. Is Cheney awaiting trial at The Hague? Don't be silly. He has not even been shunned, either for his confessed crimes or for the gross incompetence of authoring our disastrous Iraq invasion. Wyoming Republicans invited him to speak at their state convention last spring. His daughter may well carry on the family legacy in future elections.
  • Our large financial institutions are essentially crime syndicates. They have knowingly laundered money for drug cartels, illegally foreclosed on people's homes, and colluded to fix prices on credit card transactions. And that's just what's come out since they almost brought down the world economy and got billions of dollars in taxpayer bailouts. Are bankers in handcuffs doing the perp-walk? Maybe in benighted little countries like Iceland, but not here. Standard procedure is for the government to negotiate a settlement in which the banks pay a small fraction of their profits in fines, evidence of criminal behavior is never made public, and no one goes to jail.

I could go on; don't even get me started on the Catholic clergy's handling of their sex-abuse problem.

So yes, this is a story about discipline, but not about its failure: Mike Rice's firing is a rare example of the success of discipline in America. For once, a misbehaving person in authority faced some consequences.

How did discipline succeed this time? Michele Malkin attributed Rice's firing to "political correctness" and "the left-wing media makes a big fuss".

In the real world, the relatively apolitical ESPN called public attention to the Rice video, and from there social media took over. Particularly damaging to Rice were the comments by professional athletes like LeBron James. And unlike, say, Goldman Sachs or Bank of America, Rutgers needs both applications from students and support from the legislature, so it has to care about its public image. (With the banks, the political pressure pushes the other way: bankers pressure politicians. Watching Congress interview banker Jamie Dimon, it was obvious who was the king and who were the courtiers.)

So in this unusual case, wrong-doing in high places got called to public attention, and the public had a way to make its power felt. Maybe that's what we need more of if we're going to fix our discipline problem. But Malkin disagrees:

I think there should be scrutiny of people who blow the whistle on these kinds of things.

Wussification. The weirdest response to the Rice firing came from another Fox host, Eric Bolling:

We're in the midst of political correctness crushing our ability to teach kids, to discipline kids … I talk about the wussification of America, wussification of American men, this is it.

The idea seems to be that American kids ­ boys, at least ­ need authoritarian abuse to toughen them up. Sean Hannity seemed to agree:

Maybe we don't have to be a bunch of wimps for the rest of our lives. My father hit me with a belt. I turned out okay.***

Again, I think they've got this upside-down. Who's the wuss in the Mike Rice story? Mike Rice, that's who. Atlantic writer Patrick Hruby explains:

Rice is lucky he's not in jail, and luckier still that his players aren't in jail for beating him half to death. Because if he acted the way he did in a bar, a classroom, or an office, there's a good chance one or both of those scenarios would have taken place. But that's the thing: Take Rice out of a practice gym, and it's highly unlikely he would have behaved so badly. He did what he did because he's a coach, and as a coach he had the power to do it. He knew his players wouldn't fight back.

What's wussier than that? We're not "toughening" our boys by leaving them in the charge of men like Mike Rice. We're teaching them that they should also try to gain institutional power, so that they too can push around guys they'd be afraid to face man-to-man.

Real men, real values. Hruby continues:

Forget sports culture. Forget macho culture. Like I said, this is a bullying story. And bullying is about abuse. Abuse and the misuse of power. Not to get all Spider-Man here, but in civilized society, great power means greater responsibility.

No Patrick, don't apologize for getting all Spider-Man. That's exactly the kind of "old-fashioned values" (Stan Lee ­ 1962) that American culture has lost and needs to recapture. Peter Parker becomes a hero precisely because he had an Uncle Ben in his life, not a Mike Rice.

The "real men" we need our boys to look up to are the ones who see their authority as a challenge to meet a higher standard of behavior, not an opportunity to live by a lower one.

* To his credit, Gov. Christie was having none of it.

** Full disclosure: My nephew works for the Democratic Caucus in the Tennessee Senate, which controls a mere 7 of the 33 seats.

*** Jon Stewart questioned this conclusion: "Seriously? You're OK? Have you seen your show? Cause it seems like the show of a guy who was hit with a belt as a child."
April 8, 2013 – 10:40 am Categories: Articles | Comments (8)