We're seeing a kind of bank run happening in Europe. The bond markets recognize that the European Central Bank is unwilling to save sovereign countries that cannot create their own money. So they're just moving away from one country to the next,[...]
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There are several ways to look at the fact that 25% of national income and nearly half of all assets are controlled by the top 1% of the population whose earnings have exploded 300% over the past 30 years while incomes for most everyone else have been flat, or worse.
One way is politically: That so much economic power in so few hands makes democracy inherently untenable.
Another way is economically: That when wealth is concentrated so acutely it tends to distort markets and make economies inefficient.
A third is legally: That with the emergence of a new Gilded Age there is at least probable cause for believing that waste, fraud and abuse is just as prevalent today as it was during the conspicuous opulence a century ago -- though, as Harold Meyerson notes, it is "mind-boggling" that over the past decade federal prosecutions for bank fraud have actually fallen each year since 1999 (from roughly 3,300 to just 1,365 expected in 2011), which strongly suggests "a loosening of laws, enforcement and norms of business behavior" as the political and cultural power of banks continues to grow.
One final way to look at the extraordinary concentration of wealth in America today is metaphysically: That the entire controversy over wealth and its impacts on society should be re-framed as a replay of the timeless if abstract debate in political philosophy between freedom and equality.
Guess which approach right wing conservatives prefer most?
In the most recent issue of the neo-conservative Weekly Standard, Matthew Continetti grumbles that over the last few weeks "the ground of American politics has shifted to the left."
The process began, he said, with President Obama's push to promote his jobs bill. Next came Occupy Wall Street, which Continetti says "gave the media an excuse to put questions of 'social justice' at the top of their agenda." The final straw was the Congressional Budget Office report highlighting the vast disparity of incomes which Continetti concedes seemed "to prove Occupy Wall Street's claim that the top 1% of Americans might as well live in a different country."
As for conservatives, Continetti says they were caught off guard and were "too quick to dismiss the occupiers, too convinced that the bad economy will doom Obama's reelection, too distracted by the silliness of the Republican primary, too beholden to the egalitarian assumptions of the left."
Too many conservatives, in short, have accepted "the premise that the purpose of government is to lessen inequalities of goods," says Continetti, instead of responding "coherently to the arguments put forward by their newly invigorated opponents."
The New Republic's Timothy Noah gives Continetti props for at least recognizing that income inequality exists at all and that it is a problem. Most conservatives don't even do that, Noah says, and instead argue that inequality is either "mooted by upward mobility" or that inequalities are actually good for us.
Noah also finds it refreshing -- admirable even -- that Continetti would state so plainly what Noah suspects most conservatives really do believe down deep inside, which is: Yes income inequality exists. Yes, it's a problem. But no, it's not my problem and it shouldn't be the government's problem, either.
Most inequalities, says Continetti, are just a "fact of life." Some people will always be poor, he says, and while human altruism can "alleviate the suffering of the destitute" that does not mean "the entire structure of our polity should be designed to achieve an egalitarian ideal."
Such a goal, he says, would be both "fantastic" and "utopian."
What stands out for me about Continetti's servile defense of privilege - besides his assumption that "the entire structure of our polity" is one that must prioritize the rich - is that it is so representative of the right wing's strategy to protect the existing status quo by avoiding talk of existing conditions at all.
Conservatives, being ideologues, prefer to translate all politics into ideological terms. Thus, to a right wing conservative like Continetti, "achieving an egalitarian ideal" is how a proper conservative should talk about measures a government might undertake to solve some real problem - like hunger, joblessness or poor health -- on purely practical and utilitarian grounds.
Conservatives are hard-pressed to come up with good reasons why the fabulously wealthy should not be taxed a little extra to fund programs that relieve real hardship and suffering or policies that put idle capital back into circulation to be used to build bridges and create jobs.
So, conservatives change the subject instead by pretending we must stop a Robin Hood government that would rob from the rich for no other reason than to establish some "fantastic" or "utopian" ideal of "absolute equality" or to indulge the envy of the poor.
Continetti was born the same year I graduated from college and so his writing betrays to me the tone of a smart, if earnest, undergraduate who is trying a little too hard to impress the professor - in this case the wealthy benefactors who support Continetti and his sinecure at the Weekly Standard.
Thus we get this gem, which is sure to make any plutocrat smile: "The simple truth is that the professional classes of our modern bureaucratized societies are engaged in a class struggle with the business community for status and power. The leveling spirit, in other words, is coeval with the inequalities of condition that are part of the human experience."
Continetti also exhibits in his writing another unattractive attribute common among undergraduates and conservatives, which is the sprinkling of name-dropping, classic references into their arguments in order to appear learned and to give their views a pedigree they do not deserve since they invariably mangle the original author's true meaning.
For example, Continetti says it was Aristotle "who observed that inequality and democracy were volatile in combination, because the poor multitude would try to redistribute the wealth of the rich few."
And that is why, he says, that Aristotle preferred a "mixed regime" combining elements of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy to promote the stability of society in place of those societies burdened by "pure democracies" which were "prone to collapsing into either anarchy or tyranny."
First off, "tyranny" for Aristotle is the evil twin of monarchy, not democracy. But, second, I suspect the whole point of this passage is to give Continetti a way of saying that if Aristotle were alive today he'd be horrified by Occupy Wall Street because it was a democratic movement.
But left out of Continetti's argument is Aristotle's most important point, namely that the best arrangement for a society is when there is a strong and stable middle class that dominates politics and serves as a buffer between an oppressive oligarchy at the top and a violent mob down below.
"As long as political institutions are arranged in such as way as to prevent one set of interests from becoming predominant, a mixed regime can last indefinitely," writes professor Joseph Carrig in the introduction to my copy of Aristotle's Politics. This is largely because "the interest of the public as a whole is more likely to be served where the interests of the few and the many are in balance."
Should one or the other set of interests becomes dominant, says Carrig summarizing Aristotle's views, "then constitutional government slips into either pure oligarchy in which the interests of the wealthy are satisfied, or pure democracy in which only the interests of the poor prevail."
Both situations are unjust and unstable because both are corrupt.
Likewise, Continetti claims, quoting the Federalist Papers, that the Founding Founders "understood the problematic relation between democracy and inequality" since they created a constitutional republic whose "first object" was the protection of the "diversity in faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate."
Thus, says Continetti, we have strayed far from the original views of the Founding Fathers because "our energies are no longer directed to the equal protection of rights but the equal provision of things."
Those differences in individual talents and wealth that Continetti hopes to reward through "the entire structure of our polity," were recognized by the Founding Fathers as the inevitable causes of "faction."
And among the Founders, divided powers and checks and balances were not designed, as Continetti claims, to protect differences in talents and wealth so much as they were used to ensure these differences between citizens did not rip their new republic apart by spawning political parties more committed to the preservation of privilege than to the achievement of the common good by means of the working out of those differences in a creative environment of consensus and compromise.
Unmentioned by Continetti, of course, are the most important lines of all from the Federalist Papers, James Madison's famous opening in Federalist 10: "Among the numerous advantages promised by a well constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction. The friend of popular governments never finds himself so much alarmed for their character and fate, as when he contemplates their propensity to this dangerous vice."
The case that Continetti tries to make for concentrated economic wealth and power thus falls flat as both metaphysics and history. Indeed, the new economy of concentrated financial power that the Republican Party now slavishly supports "mocks the dicta and beliefs of the nation's Founding Fathers," writes economic historian Kevin Phillips.
It is hard to know which Founder would be the most appalled at what Republicans have wrought, says Phillips: the George Washington who decried London creditors for their treatment of Virginians? The Benjamin Franklin who deplored debt? The John Adams who publicly loathed banks and bankers? The Thomas Jefferson who feared the rise of financial elites? The Abraham Lincoln who put labor ahead of capital? Or maybe the two Roosevelts who attacked "economic royalists" and the "malefactors of great wealth?"
Is it the purpose of the American government to "redress inequalities of income," as Continetti asks? Of course, not. But, then, that was never the right question since the purpose of our government is -- as the Preamble to our Constitution has always said it is -- to "establish justice," to "insure domestic tranquility," to "promote the general welfare."
And if in the discharge of these sacred trusts the government also happens to collapse the disparities of wealth between rich and poor, then in the famous words of Speaker John Boehner: "So be it."
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President Barack Obama is threatening to veto the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 over "unnecessary, untested, and legally controversial" restrictions imposed by Congress which would mandate certain terrorism suspects go into military custody.
"The Administration objects to and has serious legal and policy concerns about many of the detainee provisions in the bill," the White House said in a statement. "In their current form, some of these provisions disrupt the Executive branch's ability to enforce the law and impose unwise and unwarranted restrictions on the U.S. Government's ability to aggressively combat international terrorism; other provisions inject legal uncertainty and ambiguity that may only complicate the military's operations and detention practices."
Specifically, the administration "strongly objects to the military custody provision of section 1032, which would appear to mandate military custody for a certain class of terrorism suspects."
The administration says that the "unnecessary, untested, and legally controversial restriction of the President's authority to defend the Nation from terrorist threats would tie the hands of our intelligence and law enforcement professionals." The statement continues:
Moreover, applying this military custody requirement to individuals inside the United States, as some Members of Congress have suggested is their intention, would raise serious and unsettled legal questions and would be inconsistent with the fundamental American principle that our military does not patrol our streets. We have spent ten years since September 11, 2001, breaking down the walls between intelligence, military, and law enforcement professionals; Congress should not now rebuild those walls and unnecessarily make the job of preventing terrorist attacks more difficult. Specifically, the provision would limit the flexibility of our national security professionals to choose, based on the evidence and the facts and circumstances of each case, which tool for incapacitating dangerous terrorists best serves our national security interests. The waiver provision fails to address these concerns, particularly in time-sensitive operations in which law enforcement personnel have traditionally played the leading role. These problems are all the more acute because the section defines the category of individuals who would be subject to mandatory military custody by substituting new and untested legislative criteria for the criteria the Executive and Judicial branches are currently using for detention under the AUMF in both habeas litigation and military operations. Such confusion threatens our ability to act swiftly and decisively to capture, detain, and interrogate terrorism suspects, and could disrupt the collection of vital intelligence about threats to the American people.
"Any bill that challenges or constrains the President's critical authorities to collect intelligence, incapacitate dangerous terrorists, and protect the Nation would prompt the President's senior advisers to recommend a veto.," the statement says.
WELS church communications director, and advisor to the WELS Synodical Council and Conference of Presidents, Joel Hochmuth, has been arrested on child porn charges, WISN reported.
This morning the WELS church scrubbed Hochmuth's interview with prominent WELS member, U.S. candidate Mark Neumann from the WELS site, where the two discussed the "Good Lord," "Christian principles," "abortion," and God's plans for Neumann in politics.
The interview page now reads: "You do not have sufficient privileges to view the requested page. If your user account has access to this page, please log in."
This message began appearing after the piece, WELS?Mark Neumann's Church?Comm Director Arrested on Child Porn Charges, was posted here this morning.
The claim of "sufficient privileges" contradicts the site's Technological page reading: "Sign In is not required for http://www.wels.net/, ... ."
Neumann should condemn Hochmuth and use his considerable influence with his church to ax this guy, and WELS should stop covering up, and start speaking up.
I don't care if it's Penn State football, the Catholic Church or WELS, preying on children is flat-out wrong, and silence is acceptance.
Pelosi tells Super Committee leader Hensarling to forget about privatizing Medicare. [...]
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Rick Perry keeps dipping his toe in the toxic pool of Obama conspiracy theories. [...]
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Yesterday we told you about a 84-year-old woman who had been pepper-sprayed by Seattle police at Occupy Seattle. Click through to see the image; it's pretty bad. (It's also copyrighted, so we can't show it directly. If the reporter who shot it thinks it's photojournalistic gold, he's right.)
Here is Keith Olbermann's interview with the woman. She's Dorli Rainey, bright, clear, an activist and German survivor of the Nazi era. It's a fascinating interview. My few comments after.
First, she starts with the importance of education. Exactly right. Every generation needs to educate itself about what's going on, Howard Zinn fashion. The 60s activists started with teach-ins, for a reason. People aren't born knowing that the propaganda that surrounds them is BS. They have to be shown.
Think about the people on that bus she mentions. How many of them thought that cops were "rough" only when faced with "the wrong people"?
Second. she goes right to the coming Internet restrictions. She's referring to PIPA, the ProtectIP Act, making another appearance. (Senator Klobuchar, this is your doing.)
Elites (man do I want a more evocative term) always need to control the messaging in order to remain the elite. This means controlling the medium. Note her references to German WWII messaging. They were always winning the war with Eastasia ? until the Eastasians showed up. (And Bloomberg was always a friend of freedom from noise, until he showed up with his ear-destroying battlefield bullhorns.)
Third, this is for you, the well-meaning Mr. Day. Only the criminals of the last generation failed you. The criminals of their generation failed them. Your children will lay the failures of you and your brothers at your own feet.
Why's that? Because a small, determined, organized gang of the very very rich, who own the services of the very very powerful (their retainers), can almost always defeat the unorganized many.
Dr. Spock (the baby doctor, not the other guy) joined the Movement in the 60s, as did may like him. Dorli Raines is part of Occupy, as are many like her.
It takes the right time (this is one of them) and a determined, organized cadre to capture those occasional wins. Perhaps instead of complaining about the loss of Penn State?innocence, just join the cross-generational fight. It's always a cross-generational fight. It's mostly a losing one (think Peasants' War, which Martin Luther opposed).
This is one of the few times in history when the fight can actually be won. Let's not throw it away.
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The thing about joining up with other people to scam someone is that you need to give them some of the credit for the scam or else they get ticked off and start talking. That is precisely what is happening to James O'Keefe right now. It seems his partners in scamming NPR are upset over O'Keefe snatching the limelight away from them, and are talking to Howard Kurtz about it.
As the world would soon learn, Simon Templar had secretly recorded National Public Radio executives saying disparaging things about conservatives by passing himself off as Ibrahim Kasaam of the Muslim Education Action Center. He had even gotten a phone call with Vivian Schiller, NPR?s chief executive.
James O?Keefe, the man behind the undercover project, wanted to make the hidden-camera video public immediately last February as Congress debatedwhether to kill NPR?s funding. Templar insisted on waiting, and a confrontation ensued.
Templar insisted on waiting because, well, he didn't really have anything, and he was planning to up the ante and rope in other organizations.
Templar grew a beard and dyed his hair dark for the sting. After the lunch, Templar and Adeleye wanted to stick with the plan of approaching other media outlets and academic institutions to expose their purported hypocrisy.
But O'Keefe was in need of something to bolster his incredibly deserved bad reputation, and insisted they release it immediately.
But Templar says O?Keefe told him the video had to be released within three days because he was in touch with sources in Congress and a vote was about to be taken on a budget resolution that could eliminate federal funding of NPR. O?Keefe said he had been assured that "this story would push it over the edge,? according to Templar.
?James was insistent ? My position was that trying to beat that deadline was not only futile but irrelevant, even if the desire was to directly prompt the defunding of NPR,? Templar says. ?The only result would be an extremely slipshod product.?
So there you have it. O'Keefe was in touch with members of Congress who let him know that they were voting on whether to defund NPR, and he was happy to provide them with ammunition. For O'Keefe it was a win-win proposition, given that NPR executives reacted with extreme cowardice and fired Vivian Schiller and Ron Schiller summarily, despite the fact that they didn't do or say anything particularly wrong.
I've always wondered who the money is behind O'Keefe. He's been well-funded and now has the shield of a tax-exempt organization to receive large, tax-deductible contributions. This paragraph might give a clue:
The next day, according to Templar, O?Keefe and others on the team held a conference call with conservative fundraiser Richard Viguerie, whose firm was retained to send out financial appeals for O?Keefe?s nonprofit group, Project Veritas.
Oh, Richard Viguerie. Ron Paul fanboy and Howard Phillips buddy. Member of the mysterious Council for National Policy (CNP). That Richard Viguerie. He and his buddies made sure James O'Keefe survived to smear another day, courtesy of his buddies in the conservative cabal.
What a motley bunch of people these folks are. James O'Keefe is a perfect standard-bearer.
Several Russian LGBT equality organizations protested the anti-gay propaganda measure advancing in the St. Petersburg legislature that calls for a fine of up to $1,600 for ?public actions aimed at propaganda of pederasty, lesbianism, bisexuality, and transgenderism among minors.? The measure, which has passed the first of three readings, is intended to limit any public discussion or display about the LGBT community. Lawmakers in Moscow are considering a similar measure.
As Yury Garikov reports, the groups assembled in front of the Mariinsky Palace in hopes of talking to lawmakers on their lunch breaks and produced lunch plate signs that read, “Don’t feed people with homophobic laws” and “16 November — Day of Tolerance, Have A Happy One.” Police took the names of all the protesters and detained two for several hours once the group came together for a photograph:
Russia classified homosexuality as a mental illness until 1999 and decriminalized homosexual behavior in 1993, but homophobic attitudes remain. According to a recent study by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, Russian attitudes towards gay people have declined since the Soviet era, making Russia one of only four nations — along with Cyprus, the Czech Republic and Latvia — to see a reduction in tolerance towards homosexuality. Fifty-nine percent of the Russian population “felt that homosexual behavior was wrong in 1991 compared with 64 percent in 2008, the study showed.” In another poll from last year, when asked “Whom wouldn’t you like to have as your neighbor?” respondents said alcohol and drug addicts, former criminals, and homosexuals.
Gabriel Schoenfeld’s exact role with the Romney campaign remains unclear. He does not appear in campaign literature, and a search of Romney’s campaign website for Schoenfeld’s last name turns up nothing. Reached by phone at home in New York and asked by ThinkProgress what he did with Romney’s campaign, Schoenfeld replied: “I don’t think I want to speak with you. Thank you very much for your call.” The line then went dead. The Romney campaign did not return requests for information before press time.
Schoenfeld, who contributes to the Weekly Standard and the Wall Street Journal opinion page, was a senior editor at the neoconservative flagship magazine Commentary before moving to the Hudson Institute, a think tank associated with the movement. (Schoenfeld also held a fellowship with the conservative Witherspoon Institute.) At Hudson’s website, Schoenfeld is listed as a “Senior Fellow on Leave.” In response to an inquiry, the communications department at Hudson confirmed that Schoenfeld took leave on July 15 and “left to work full time for the Romney for President Campaign.”
A website formerly associated with George Washington University that tracks campaign information lists Schoenfeld as a “senior adviser” with the Romney campaign since July. A Federal Election Commission (FEC) October 2011 quarterly report lists Schoenfeld as having been paid $29,745.99 by Romney for President.
The full-time gig is not Schoenfeld’s first for Romney: FEC filings also show that Schoenfeld was paid a total of $27,625 over six disbursements by Romney’s Free and Strong America PAC during January, February and March of 2011 (about the same rate he is being paid per quarter now, as a full-time staffer who has left the non-partisan Hudson Institute). The FEC forms list Schoenfeld’s work as being for “communications consulting for PAC.”
His Hudson Institute biography records his areas of specialty as intelligence, national security, homeland security, terrorism and news media. Schoenfeld’s latest book, “Necessary Secrets: National Security, the Media, and the Rule of Law,” exemplifies a running theme in his work: that government secrecy is sacrosanct and all whistle-blowers and journalists who reveal them should be prosecuted. His frequent calls rest on the principle of “uphold(ing) the rule of law,” as when he called for a New York Times journalist to be jailed for revealing C.I.A. programs. But that notion of “rule of law” can be sacrificed when it comes to, say, launching covert wars against Iran. Schoenfeld wrote in 2009:
Such covert action is indeed illegal. But legality is beside the point. Espionage is by definition illegal and yet all countries engage in it….
Yet how much better off both Iran and the world would be if the CIA, operating covertly through local friendly forces, could have helped…
In another column, Schoenfeld accused scholars Steve Walt and John Mearsheimer and former President Jimmy Carter of being “yes-men” for the late terrorist mastermind Osama Bin Laden, labeling their advocacy for ending the Afghanistan war as “alarming overlap of some voices here at home and those of the very forces we’re fighting.”