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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Plutocracy watch, Obama cribs from Tricky Dick, "Ripper Street" and more...

The rich have it their way. You already knew that. But this Los Angeles Times piece really drives it home...
Over the last two years, President Obama and Congress have put the country on track to reduce projected federal budget deficits by nearly $4 trillion. Yet when that process began, in early 2011, only about 12% of Americans in Gallup polls cited federal debt as the nation's most important problem. Two to three times as many cited unemployment and jobs as the biggest challenge facing the country.

So why did policymakers focus so intently on the deficit issue? One reason may be that the small minority that saw the deficit as the nation's priority had more clout than the majority that didn't.

We recently conducted a survey of top wealth-holders (with an average net worth of $14 million) in the Chicago area, one of the first studies to systematically examine the political attitudes of wealthy Americans. Our research found that the biggest concern of this top 1% of wealth-holders was curbing budget deficits and government spending. When surveyed, they ranked those things as priorities three times as often as they did unemployment — and far more often than any other issue.
On policy, it wasn't just their ranking of budget deficits as the biggest concern that put wealthy respondents out of step with other Americans. They were also much less likely to favor raising taxes on high-income people, instead advocating that entitlement programs like Social Security and healthcare be cut to balance the budget. Large majorities of ordinary Americans oppose any substantial cuts to those programs.
The wealthy opposed — while most Americans favor — instituting a system of national health insurance, raising the minimum wage to above poverty levels, increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit and providing a "decent standard of living" for the unemployed. They were also against the federal government helping with or providing jobs for those who cannot find private employment.
It's like they're a whole different species, ain't it? Or perhaps I should say "sub-species" -- accent on the "sub."

Iraq war revisionsim. The Daily Howler is on this like a coat of paint.
To our ear, Lawrence O’Donnell seemed to be trying to give the impression that he spoke out against the invasion. Ditto for his guest, David Corn. Ditto for John Judis.
Some people pretend that they spoke when they didn’t. Others punish the public with filibusters as they pretend to confess.

All the people we’ve mentioned have retained or improved their prior positions within the celebrity press corps.
The Howler goes on to point out that the marvelous Gene Lyons has not become a media superstar of similar fame over the past ten years -- even though Lyons was right about the war all along. Here's a juicy chunk of Lyon's piece:
Skepticism, however, was in short supply. Spooked by 9/11 and intimidated by the intellectual bullies of the Bush administration, American journalists largely abandoned that professional virtue in favor of propaganda and groupthink.

Among scores of examples, the one that’s stuck in my craw was allegedly liberal Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen. Reacting to Gen. Colin Powell’s anti-Saddam speech to the United Nations General Assembly—since repudiated by its author—Cohen wrote that “Iraq not only hasn’t accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool—or possibly a Frenchman—could conclude otherwise.”

“War fever, catch it,” this fool wrote.

I added that to anybody capable of remembering past intelligence hoaxes, it wasn’t clear that Powell’s presentation answered any of the objections put forward by doubters like George H.W. Bush’s national security advisor, Gen. Brent Scowcroft.

“To any skeptic with a computer modem, moreover, it became quite clear why Powell’s speech failed to convert many at the UN,” my Feb. 5, 2003 column continued.

“Key parts of [his] presentation were dubious on their face. That alleged al Qaeda base in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq? If it’s what Powell says, why hasn’t it been bombed to smithereens? British and U.S. jets have been conducting sorties in the no-fly zone for months. Because it’s a dusty outpost not worth bombing, reporters for The Observer who visited the place quickly saw.

“The mobile bio-war death labs? Please. Even if [UN inspector] Hans Blix hadn’t told The Guardian that U.S. tips had guided inspectors to mobile food inspection facilities, anybody who’s dodged herds of camels, goats and sheep and maniacal drivers on bumpy Middle Eastern highways had to laugh. Bio-war experts told Newsweek the idea was preposterous. ‘U.S. intelligence,’ it reported ‘after years of looking for them, has never found even one.’

“Then there was the embarrassing fact that key elements of a British intelligence document cited by Powell turned out to have been plagiarized from magazine articles and a California grad student’s M.A. thesis based upon 12-year-old evidence.”
And how was Lyons rewarded for telling these truths?
My own reward was getting Dixie Chicked out of a part-time teaching job halfway through a series of columns about Iraq. Supposedly, Hendrix College ran out of money to pay me. My most popular offering had been a course about George Orwell. Oh well.
Matt Taibbi on Wikileaks, Bradley Manning and Aaron Swartz: This piece is well worth your time.
Then there's the case of Sergey Aleynikov, the Russian computer programmer who allegedly stole the High-Frequency Trading program belonging to Goldman, Sachs (Aleynikov worked at Goldman), a program which prosecutors in open court admitted could, "in the wrong hands," be used to "manipulate markets."

Aleynikov spent a year in jail awaiting trial, was convicted, had his sentence overturned, was freed, and has since been re-arrested by a government seemingly determined to make an example out of him.
Goldman isn't "the wrong hands"? 

Taibbi notes that the government has yet to toss a single banker in the pokey despite the flagrant lying, deception and manipulation which nearly destroyed our economy. Yet this administration devotes an incredible amount of time and energy to prosecuting people like Manning and Aleynikov and Assange. The only real "crime" these guys committed is attempting to tell us what's really going on.
But in all of these cases, the government pursued maximum punishments and generally took zero-tolerance approaches to plea negotiations. These prosecutions reflected an obvious institutional terror of letting the public see the sausage-factory locked behind the closed doors not only of the state, but of banks and universities and other such institutional pillars of society. As Gibney pointed out in his movie, this is a Wizard of Oz moment, where we are being warned not to look behind the curtain.

What will we find out? We already know that our armies mass-murder women and children in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, that our soldiers joke about smoldering bodies from the safety of gunships, that some of our closest diplomatic allies starve and repress their own citizens, and we may even have gotten a glimpse or two of a banking system that uses computerized insider trading programs to steal from everyone who has an IRA or a mutual fund or any stock at all by manipulating markets like the NYSE.

These fervent, desperate prosecutions suggest that there's more awfulness under there, things that are worse, and there is a determination to not let us see what those things are. Most recently, we've seen that determination in the furor over Barack Obama's drone assassination program and the so-called "kill list" that is associated with it.
And finally: Many of you are following the BBC's terrific series Ripper Street, a gruesome Victorian cop show set in the aftermath of the Whitechapel murders. (Not for kids.) Fans may not know that the main character, Detective Inspector Edmund Reid -- played by Michael MacFadyen -- was a real person.

And even if you did know that, you probably were not aware that, well before he became a police detective, Reid already had one astounding accomplishment to his credit: In 1877, he became the first person ever to parachute out of a hot air balloon.
Comments:
Ripper Street, despite its unfortunate title, is an outstanding show. Great acting, stories, sets.

Re: Iraq. Just before the invasion I recall having a hissy fit over all the lies and getting shunned by the local gentry and then they got all red-faced when a bunch of 2nd Amendment patriots attacked a group of grandmothers protesting the war while the cops stood by and watched. One of the "patriots" later bragged they set to break some skulls and they did. I wonder how they feel about it today.

They were protests and complaints even out here in the hinterlands, but like Viet Nam (which I initially supported with my body), Ten Years After, no one voted for Nixon, and no one believed Colin Powell.
 
Meanwhile, Boris Berezovsky has been found dead in his bath in Surrey, England.

So no more will be heard from him at the Litvinenko inquest, where last week his lawyers were alleging that the British and Russian governments were co-operating to withhold evidence.

In particular, he himself will not give evidence. He will not be saying anything about the traces of polonium found in his London offices, for example.

Which may be convenient for both governments, not just the British one, which harboured this notorious mafia-boss criminal, friend of the royal family and leading Tories, for years.
 
The rich have it their way.

'Twas ever thus,or as the song puts it:


L'etat opprime et la loi triche,
L'impôt saigne le malheureux,
Nul devoir ne s'impose au riche,
Le droit du pauvre est un mot creux.
C'est assez languir en tutelle,
L'égalité veut d'autres lois;
«Pas de droits sans devoirs», dit-elle,
«Egaux, pas de devoirs sans droits!»


Eugène Pottier, L'Internationale, 1871
 
I dunno, Bob. One of the most verbal opponents of the Iraq invasion that I knew happened to be a work colleague who is a Life Member of the NRA (like Michael Moore). I'm not sure branding every naive, jongoist thug as a "2nd Amendment patriot" is exactly productive. I seem to recall an awful lot of Democrats falling right in line, too - and abusing any number of their fellows who happened to think otherwise.

In a corporate kleptocracy, where the wealthy are beyond the reach of justice (where la loi triche, as L'Internationale puts it) do you really think it's a good idea for the rich and their hired thugs to have a complete monopoly on force? What use then is your outrage?


 
A bit of hyperbole on my part, Prop. I take your point. However, I have yet to meet more than one 2nd Amendment First supporter who did not support the invasion. I know several Dems who did, too. I am a multiple gun owner but I quit the NRA decades ago.

I certainly am not supporting the notion of gun confiscation but reasonable rules are-- well, reasonable.
 
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