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Monday, January 31, 2011

Ayn Rand, Hugely Popular Author and Inspiration to Right-Wing Leaders, Was a Big Admirer of Serial Killer


http://www.alternet.org/module/printversion/145819


By Mark Ames, AlterNet
Posted on February 26, 2010, Printed on January 31, 2011
http://www.alternet.org/story/145819/

There's something deeply unsettling about living in a country where millions of people froth at the mouth at the idea of giving health care to the tens of millions of Americans who don't have it, or who take pleasure at the thought of privatizing and slashing bedrock social programs like Social Security or Medicare. It might not be so hard to stomach if other Western countries also had a large, vocal chunk of the population that thought like this, but the U.S. is seemingly the only place where right-wing elites can openly share their distaste for the working poor. Where do they find their philosophical justification for this kind of attitude?

It turns out, you can trace much of this thinking back to Ayn Rand, a popular cult-philosopher who exerts a huge influence over much of the right-wing and libertarian crowd, but whose influence is only starting to spread out of the U.S.
One reason most countries don't find the time to embrace Ayn Rand's thinking is that she is a textbook sociopath. In her notebooks Ayn Rand worshiped a notorious serial murderer-dismemberer, and used this killer as an early model for the type of "ideal man" she promoted in her more famous books. These ideas were later picked up on and put into play by major right-wing figures of the past half decade, including the key architects of America's most recent economic catastrophe -- former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan and SEC Commissioner Chris Cox -- along with other notable right-wing Republicans such as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Rush Limbaugh and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford.
The loudest of all the Republicans, right-wing attack-dog pundits and the Teabagger mobs fighting to kill health care reform and eviscerate "entitlement programs" increasingly hold up Ayn Rand as their guru. Sales of her books have soared in the past couple of years; one poll ranked Atlas Shrugged as the second most influential book of the 20th century, after the Bible.

The best way to get to the bottom of Ayn Rand's beliefs is to take a look at how she developed the superhero of her novel, Atlas Shrugged, John Galt. Back in the late 1920s, as Ayn Rand was working out her philosophy, she became enthralled by a real-life American serial killer, William Edward Hickman, whose gruesome, sadistic dismemberment of 12-year-old girl named Marion Parker in 1927 shocked the nation. Rand filled her early notebooks with worshipful praise of Hickman. According to biographer Jennifer Burns, author of Goddess of the Market, Rand was so smitten with Hickman that she modeled her first literary creation -- Danny Renahan, the protagonist of her unfinished first novel, The Little Street -- on him.

What did Rand admire so much about Hickman? His sociopathic qualities: "Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should," she wrote, gushing that Hickman had "no regard whatsoever for all that society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. He has the true, innate psychology of a Superman. He can never realize and feel 'other people.'"

This echoes almost word for word Rand's later description of her character Howard Roark, the hero of her novel The Fountainhead: "He was born without the ability to consider others." (The Fountainhead is Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' favorite book -- he even requires his clerks to read it.)

I'll get to where Rand picked up her silly superman blather later -- but first, let's meet William Hickman, the "genuinely beautiful soul" and inspiration to Ayn Rand. What you will read below -- the real story, details included, of what made Hickman a "superman" in Ayn Rand's eyes -- is extremely gory and upsetting, even if you're well acquainted with true crime stories -- so prepare yourself. But it's necessary to read this to understand Rand, and to repeat this over and over until all of America understands what made her tick, because Rand's influence over the very people leading the fight to kill social programs, and her ideological influence on so many powerful bankers, regulators and businessmen who brought the financial markets crashing down, means her ideas are affecting all of our lives in the worst way imaginable.

Rand fell for William Edward Hickman in the late 1920s, as the shocking story of Hickman's crime started to grip the nation. He was the OJ Simpson of his day; his crime, trial and case were nonstop headline grabbers for months.
Hickman, who was only 19 when he was arrested for murder, was the son of a paranoid-schizophrenic mother and grandmother. His schoolmates said that as a kid Hickman liked to strangle cats and snap the necks of chickens for fun -- most of the kids thought he was a budding manic, though the adults gave him good marks for behavior, a typical sign of sociopathic cunning. He enrolled in college but quickly dropped out, and turned to violent crime largely driven by the thrill and arrogance typical of sociopaths: in a brief and wild crime spree that grew increasingly violent, Hickman knocked over dozens of gas stations and drug stores across the Midwest and west to California. Along the way it's believed he strangled a girl in Milwaukee and killed his crime partner's grandfather in Pasadena, tossing his body over a bridge after taking his money. Hickman's partner later told police that Hickman told him how much he'd like to kill and dismember a victim someday -- and that day did come for Hickman.

One afternoon, Hickman drove up to Mount Vernon Junior High school in Los Angeles, telling administrators he'd come to pick up "the Parker girl" -- her father, Perry Parker, was a prominent banker. Hickman didn't know the girl's first name, so when he was asked which of the two Parker twins, he answered, "the younger daughter." Then he corrected himself: "The smaller one."
No one suspected his motives. The school administrator fetched young Marion, and brought her out to Hickman. Marion obediently followed Hickman to his car as she was told, where he promptly kidnapped her. He wrote a ransom note to Marion's father, demanding $1,500 for her return, promising the girl would be left unharmed. Marion was terrified into passivity -- she even waited in the car for Hickman when he went to mail his letter to her father. Hickman's extreme narcissism comes through in his ransom letters, as he refers to himself as a "master mind [sic]" and "not a common crook." Hickman signed his letters "The Fox" because he admired his own cunning: "Fox is my name, very sly you know." And then he threatened: "Get this straight. Your daughter's life hangs by a thread."

Hickman and the girl's father exchanged letters over the next few days as they arranged the terms of the ransom, while Marion obediently followed her captor's demands. She never tried to escape the hotel where he kept her; Hickman even took her to a movie, and she never screamed for help. She remained quiet and still as told when Hickman tied her to the chair -- he didn't even bother gagging her because there was no need to, right up to the gruesome end.

Hickman's last ransom note to Marion's father is where this story reaches its disturbing end. Hickman fills the letter with hurt anger over her father's suggestion that Hickman might deceive him, and "ask you for your $1500 for a lifeless mass of flesh I am base and low but won't stoop to that depth." What Hickman didn't say was that as he wrote the letter, Marion had already been chopped up into several lifeless masses of flesh. Why taunt the father? Why feign outrage? This sort of bizarre taunting was all part of the serial killer's thrill, maximizing his sadistic pleasure. But this was nothing compared to the thrill Hickman got from murdering the helpless 12-year-old Marion Parker. Here is an old newspaper description of the murder, taken from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on December 27, 1927:
"It was while I was fixing the blindfold that the urge to murder came upon me," he continued, "and I just couldn't help myself. I got a towel and stepped up behind Marion. Then before she could move, I put it around her neck and twisted it tightly. I held on and she made no outcry except to gurgle. I held on for about two minutes, I guess, and then I let go. When I cut loose the fastenings, she fell to the floor. I knew she was dead. Well, after she was dead I carried her body into the bathroom and undressed her, all but the underwear, and cut a hole in her throat with a pocket knife to let the blood out."
Another newspaper account explained what Hickman did next:
Then he took a pocket knife and cut a hole in her throat. Then he cut off each arm to the elbow. Then he cut her legs off at the knees. He put the limbs in a cabinet. He cut up the body in his room at the Bellevue Arms Apartments. Then he removed the clothing and cut the body through at the waist. He put it on a shelf in the dressing room. He placed a towel in the body to drain the blood. He wrapped up the exposed ends of the arms and waist with paper. He combed back her hair, powdered her face and then with a needle fixed her eyelids. He did this because he realized that he would lose the reward if he did not have the body to produce to her father.
Hickman packed her body, limbs and entrails into a car, and drove to the drop-off point to pick up his ransom; along his way he tossed out wrapped-up limbs and innards scattering them around Los Angeles. When he arrived at the meeting point, Hickman pulled Miriam's [sic] head and torso out of a suitcase and propped her up, her torso wrapped tightly, to look like she was alive--he sewed wires into her eyelids to keep them open, so that she'd appear to be awake and alive. When Miriam's father arrived, Hickman pointed a sawed-off shotgun at him, showed Miriam's head with the eyes sewn open (it would have been hard to see for certain that she was dead), and then took the ransom money and sped away. As he sped away, he threw Miriam's head and torso out of the car, and that's when the father ran up and saw his daughter--and screamed.
This is the "amazing picture" Ayn Rand -- guru to the Republican/Tea Party right-wing -- admired when she wrote in her notebook that Hickman represented "the amazing picture of a man with no regard whatsoever for all that a society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. A man who really stands alone, in action and in soul. Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should."

Other people don't exist for Rand, either. Part of her ideas are nothing more than a ditzy dilettante's bastardized Nietzsche -- but even this was plagiarized from the same pulp newspaper accounts of the time. According to an LA Times article in late December 1927, headlined "Behavioralism Gets The Blame," a pastor and others close to the Hickman case denounced the cheap trendy Nietzschean ideas Hickman and others latched onto as a defense:

"Behavioristic philosophic teachings of eminent philosophers such as Nietzsche and Schopenhauer have built the foundation for William Edward Hickman's original rebellion against society," the article begins.

The fear that some felt at the time was that these philosophers' dangerous, yet nuanced ideas would fall into the hands of lesser minds, who would bastardize Nietzsche and Schopenhauer and poison the rest of us. This aptly describes Ayn Rand, whose philosophy developed out of her admiration for "Supermen" like Hickman. Rand's philosophy can be summed up by the title of one of her best-known books: The Virtue of Selfishness. She argues that all selfishness is a moral good, and all altruism is a moral evil, even "moral cannibalism," to use her words. To her, those who aren't like-minded sociopaths are "parasites," "lice" and "looters."

But with Rand, there's something more pathological at work. She's out to make the world more sociopath-friendly so that people her hero William Hickman can reach their full potential, not held back by the morality of the "weak," whom Rand despised.

Rand and her followers clearly got off on hating and bashing those they perceived as weak. This is exactly the sort of sadism that Rand's hero, Hickman, would have appreciated.
What's really unsettling is that even former Central Bank chief Alan Greenspan, whose relationship with Rand dated back to the 1950s, did some parasite-bashing of his own. In response to a 1958 New York Times book review slamming Atlas Shrugged, Greenspan, defending his mentor, published a letter to the editor that ends: "Parasites who persistently avoid either purpose or reason perish as they should. Alan Greenspan."

As much as Ayn Rand detested human "parasites," there is one thing she strongly believed in: creating conditions that increase the productivity of her supermen -- the William Hickmans who rule her idealized America: "If [people] place such things as friendship and family ties above their own productive work, yes, then they are immoral. Friendship, family life and human relationships are not primary in a man's life. A man who places others first, above his own creative work, is an emotional parasite."

Republican faithful like GOP Congressman Paul Ryan read Ayn Rand and declare, with pride, "Rand makes the best case for the morality of democratic capitalism." Indeed. Except that Rand also despised democracy, writing that, "Democracy, in short, is a form of collectivism, which denies individual rights: the majority can do whatever it wants with no restrictions. In principle, the democratic government is all-powerful. Democracy is a totalitarian manifestation; it is not a form of freedom."

"Collectivism" is another one of those Randian epithets popular among her followers. Here is another Republican member of Congress, Michelle Bachman, parroting the Ayn Rand ideological line, to explain her reasoning for wanting to kill social programs:

"As much as the collectivist says to each according to his ability to each according to his need, that's not how mankind is wired. They want to make the best possible deal for themselves."

Whenever you hear politicians or Tea Partiers dividing up the world between "producers" and "collectivism," just know that those ideas and words more likely than not are derived from the deranged mind of a serial-killer groupie. When you hear them saying, "Go John Galt," hide your daughters and tell them not to talk to any strangers -- or Tea Party Republicans. And when you see them taking their razor blades to the last remaining programs protecting the middle class from total abject destitution -- Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid -- and bragging about how they are slashing these programs for "moral" reasons, just remember Ayn's morality and who inspired her.

Too many critics of Ayn Rand -- until recently I was one of them -- would rather dismiss her books and ideas as laughable, childish, and hackneyed. But she can't be dismissed because Rand is the name that keeps bubbling up from the Tea Party crowd and the elite conservative circuit in Washington as the Big Inspiration. The only way to protect ourselves from this thinking is the way you protect yourself from serial killers: smoke the Rand followers out, make them answer for following the crazed ideology of a serial-killer-groupie, and run them the hell out of town and out of our hemisphere.

Read more of Mark Ames at eXiledonline.com. He is the author of Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion: From Reagan's Workplaces to Clinton's Columbine and Beyond.

Mortgage Lenders Committed Massive Fraud and Now Wall St. Wants to Escape the Law

http://www.alternet.org/news/149631/mortgage_lenders_committed_massive_fraud_and_now_wall_st._wants_to_escape_the_law




By Joshua Holland, AlterNet
Posted on January 27, 2011, Printed on January 31, 2011
http://www.alternet.org/story/149631/

They committed widespread fraud – largely whitewashed by the corporate media – and, in the process, threw the economy into a tailspin. They've broken into and stolenpeople's homes, and, in the name of “efficiency,” bilked state governments out of billions of dollars in real estate transfer fees. They've even admitted to ripping off – and foreclosing on – soldiers deployed overseas, in violation of the law.
And they shredded a bedrock principle of capitalism, throwing hundreds of years of settled property law into doubt and in turn creating a massive drag on Main Street's economic “recovery.”

They got rich in the process. The mortgage industry did all of that for a fat stream of profits while the going was good, but now that they face the prospect of being held accountable by the justice system -- as would you or I had we routinely broken the laws -- analysts expect the “banksters” to lobby hard for another bailout.
They won't be looking for the Fed to shower them with free money or buy up trillions worth of “toxic assets” weighing down their books  they already got that sort of bailout once, the voters detested it and with the Tea Party ascendant in the GOP, the political atmosphere precludes a repeat performance.
No, the mortgage industry – with the help of its political lackeys in Washington-- is reportedly looking for a judicial bailout that would retroactively allow loan servicers to foreclose on properties without running up the costs of getting their paperwork in order, and limit investors' – and possibly the states' – ability to sue them for the mess they created in the housing market.

Third Way, the financial industry's Trojan Horse in Democratic policy circles (which is very well represented in the White House), released a policy memo last week urging Congress to step into the chaos caused by the banks' “robo-signing” scandal and immunize the banks from liability from the robo-signing mess (PDF).
As economics writer Yves Smith noted, the proposal “advocates Congressional intervention into well established, well functioning state law.”
This proposal guts state control of their own real estate law when the Supreme Court has repeatedly found that "dirt law" is not a Federal matter. It strips homeowners of their right to their day in court to preserve their contractual rights, namely, that only the proven mortgagee, and not a gangster, or in this case, bankster, can take possession of their home.
This sort of protection is fundamental to the operation of capitalism, so it's astonishing to see neoliberals so willing to throw it under the bus to preserve the balance sheets of the TBTF banks. Readers may recall how we came to have this sort of legal protection in the first place. England learned the hard way in the 17th century what happens with low documentation requirements: abuse of court procedures, perjury and corruption become the norm.
Lenders are playing down the mess they created, suggesting they're simply dealing with some isolated “paperwork” issues. But the Third Way memo comes in the wake of a series of judicial setbacks for the banks that indicate their legal problems are likely to be anything but “minor.”

Last year, the New York Times reported that “in numerous opinions, judges have accused lawyers of processing shoddy or even fabricated paperwork in foreclosure actions when representing the banks.” In both New York and Florida, courts “have begun requiring that lawyers in foreclosure cases vouch for the accuracy of the documents they present,” which “could open lawyers to disciplinary actions that could harm or even end careers.” Stephen Gillers, an expert in legal ethics at New York University, told the Times, “when ... it turns out there are documents being given to the courts that have no basis in reality, the profession gets a very big black eye.” The bar association is, understandably, up in arms over the requirement.

Last week, in response to a class action suit, GMAC Mortgage thew out approximately 1,000 foreclosure filings in Maryland that had been “verified” – at a rate of as many as 10,000 per week – by infamous robo-signer Jeffrey Stephan. Anthony Depastina, an attorney for Civil Justice, Inc., a public interest law-firm representing the mortgage-holders, explained to AlterNet that in an affidavit, “the signer is supposed to attest that they verified the numbers … they're attesting under the penalties of perjury that the information contained in the affidavit ...are true and accurate. Plus they're supposed to sign it in the presence of a notary.” But in the robosigning scandal, “none of this happened.”

In fact, the Associated Press reported that “financial institutions and their mortgage servicing departments hired hair stylists, Walmart floor workers and people who had worked on assembly lines and installed them in 'foreclosure expert' jobs with no formal training.” In depositions reviewed by the AP, “many of those workers testified that they barely knew what a mortgage was. Some couldn't define the word 'affidavit.'"

The Maryland case was the first ever “defensive” class action suit filed. GMAC responded by offering to dismiss the foreclosure proceedings against the homeowner whose case sparked the suit. “We argued that was just an attempt to get around what was right,” said Depastina. “At the end of the day we would have to file on behalf of some other Maryland homeowner after we found there was a falsified affidavit.” GMAC can refile the foreclosures, but they have to start at square one.

Depastina said he expects these issues to extend far beyond the home mortgage industry. It's “only symptomatic of a greater attempt by lending institutions of all types to circumvent the processes set up by the courts, the judiciary and legislatures in an effort just to increase their bottom line,” he said. “And I don't think the foreclosure industry is the only problem – you're going to see it in credit cards, in debt buying, in assignment of debt, in the auto industry... You know, the same individuals signed off on billions of dollars of debt every year. They're supposed to verify all that debt information. Do they verify it? I have my doubts.”

The case came only weeks after the Massachusetts Supreme Court dealt the banks a serious blow in US Bank National Association (as trustee) vs. Antonio Ibanez. The case hinged on whether the banks (the case combined two separate foreclosure proceedings) actually had clear titles for properties they claimed to own.
At the heart of the case was the practice of slicing up and bundling hundreds of loans into investment vehicles – “securitizing” the debt. In the process, loans change hands a lot – they were assigned and reassigned from investor to investor, and a servicer dealt with the homeowners. But along the way, paperwork was required by law each time the mortgage changed hands. When the banks showed up to to foreclose, they didn't have the required chain of title – the court found they were essentially trying to foreclose on properties they didn't own.

The ruling only applied to Massachusetts, but it sent shockwaves across the mortgage industry. According to Harvard legal scholar Adam Levitin, “there are lots of securitization deals where the mortgages might not be enforceable in title theory states like Massachusetts … and that could well be fatal to enforcement of these trusts' mortgages in Massachusetts at the very least, and possibly in” many more states.
Then there is the banks' potentially massive liability stemming from the MERS mess. MERS is a private company established by the banking industry to allow investors to instantly trade debt back and forth. The idea was simple: instead of assigning and reassigning loans and filing the required paperwork with the states, MERS would oversee a database of all of the securitized mortgages in the US – about half of the total number of loans. It would theoretically “own” all the securitized loans, and transfer them within its network instantaneously. The problem is that when a deed changes hands, a recording fee has to be paid to the state or locality where the property is located, and MERS allowed investors to skirt these fees, costing communities untold billions.

Creating a privately operated registry of deeds in order to skirt local filing requirements was a remarkable act of hubris. “Fees are paid for a service performed, and if a document is eliminated because it is no longer necessary, no fee is due because there is nothing to record,’’ reads a statement on the MERS Web site. But that's nonsense; when a state charges a $50 filing fee, it doesn't represent the cost of the piece of paper. Those fees make up the revenues that finance state and local government and all the services they provide.

But the key point is that they're required to file those documents by law, a law the home loan industry believes doesn't apply to mortgage-lenders. Now they face not only investigations by all 50 state attorneys general, but potentially a wave of lawsuits from investors who may claim that the losses they took on these mortgage backed securities weren't just the product of the market's ups and downs, but a consequence of widespread misrepresentation on the part of Big Finance.

But the damage is, unfortunately, in no way being contained on Wall Street. According to data compiled by Housing Wire, the robo-signing boondoggle is largely responsible for a 50 percent drop in the number of foreclosures being completed over the past few months, shifting 250,000 from 2010 to 2011. It's good for those homeowners to stay in their places for another year, but potentially disastrous for the economy to have a large overhang of distressed properties weighing down the market. According to an analysis by Barclay's Capital, cited by Housing Wire, “If the worst happens... [if] widespread issues are found throughout the process and foreclosures are not allowed to be carried out, the damage could mean frozen home sales and new lending nationwide.”

In other words, the uncertainty around these chains of ownership may add to the “shadow inventory” of distressed properties that will come onto the market at some point down the road, a number estimated to be as high as seven million homes.
There are also untold numbers of homes that the banks are simply walking away from. Just as many homeowners have seen the value of “strategically defaulting” on their loans, these are properties so far under water that lenders have no financial incentive to take possession of and maintain them until they can be sold. A study conducted in Chicago by the Woodstock Institute, an advocacy group, found 1,896 “red flag” homes in the city that appeared to have been abandoned by loan servicers. The properties were disproportionally located in already distressed low-income communities.

Woodstock Institute VP Geoff Smith told AlterNet that the abandoned properties “add to the destabilization of these neighborhoods. They further effect surrounding property values.” He added that from the city's perspective, “a lot of times they have to step in and secure these properties because nobody else will. That's a cost to the city there. If there's criminal activity, the city has to respond, adding to the cost. They have to demolish these properties in many cases, again adding to the cost for the city. All of this is an extra layer of impact for communities that are already experiencing some distress.”

According to Smith, the issue “raises questions about servicer accountability. How are [they] accountable for the decisions they make and the impact those decisions have on communities? If it's not in their economic interests to take possession of the properties, then how does that effect the community” as a whole?”

The answer is that the consequences are disastrous, which may in turn provide the argument that the mortgage industry will use to seek judicial relief from the mess it created. It's a good bet that they will once again claim they are “too big to fail” – or too big to bear the brunt of widespread litigation on the part of struggling homeowners, investors and state governments.
It would be scandalous to reward the lending industry with an effective pardon for its wanton, fraudulent practices. The good news is that the banksters face a much steeper climb this time around. In October, only 26 percent of the public said that George W. Bush's Wall Street bailout was “good for the country, and disapproval spanned the political spectrum.

So defeating a judicial bailout for the loan industry should be a winnable fight against an opponent that the public views as a toxic influence on the economy. Back in November, rumors floated around about a potential “MERs whitewash bill” that would immunize the firm from lawsuits, but such a bill never materialized in Congress. Reaction to the trial balloon was swift and angry, and nobody on Capitol Hill has dared to introduce such a measure.

If a judicial fix ends up being debated, the outcome will likely be determined by which side wins the battle of narratives. The lending industry will say that it's necessary to keep the Main Street economy afloat. In order to defeat that message, opponents need to repeat a simple mantra: No more bailouts for Wall Street.

Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet. He is the author of The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy (and Everything else the Right Doesn't Want You to Know About Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America)Drop him an email or follow him on Twitter.

23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism: Item #1 -- There's No Such Thing as a Free Market

AlterNet: 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism: Item #1 -- There's No Such Thing as a Free Market

AlterNet

23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism: Item #1 -- There's No Such Thing as a Free Market

By Ha-Joon Chang, Bloomsbury Press
Posted on January 31, 2011, Printed on January 31, 2011
http://www.alternet.org/story/149688/

Editor's Note: Many books have tackled the great recession of 2008, the second worst economic crisis in history, after the depression. But I doubt there is one book, written in response to the current economic crisis, that is as fun or easy to read as Ha-Joon Chang's 23 Things They Don't Tell you About Capitalism. I'd never heard of this Korean economist, probably because he lives in England and teaches at Cambridge, but he is well known in economic circles, and well respected.

It is no secret that the American society is dominated by the super rich, held for hostage by the banks, dominated in the Nation's Capital by the tens of thousands of lobbyists and their big bucks, as the Republican party and their corporate Tea Partyists provide cover for giant theft of many billions of wealth for the very rich, with of course the cooperation of the Democrats who supported the extension of the Bush tax cuts for the very wealthy (Check out Rachel Maddow's op-ed, which explains why Dwight Eisenhower, who taxed the rich to balance the budget, which be a radical in today's political reality). In this very discouraging environment it is hard to imagine scenarios where normal folks, every day voters, the non-rich, who are not represented by lobbyists, can have much influence.

On top of that, making change even harder, is an enormously effective propaganda system that perpetuates inaccurate and often destructive myths about virtually every element of capitalism and the US and global economy. And top economic officials in the Obama administration and leading mainstream economists often perpetuate these myths, and the corporate media marches along side repeating them like the gospel.

So, as far as I am concerned there never can be too much truth-telling to attempt to pull away the curtain of propaganda and disinformation that shrouds our economic thinking and actions. I am not under the illusion that the facts will set us free. As research has shown, when people connect their opinions to a set of values or leaders, they will not be open to changing their mind, and presentation of contrary "facts," may make them dig in more clinging their their misinformation. But when it comes to the economy, the propaganda system has been so pervasive, and supported by conventional wisdom that people who need to know better, buy into it, and yes that includes liberals and progressives who have a kind of inertia of the mind of their own. It is hard to change one's sense of things.

AlterNet's Economics editor Joshua Holland made a nice contribution to this public education effort this Fall with his book: The Fifteen Biggest Lies about the Economy Now we have the funny, and sharp Chang. What follows is chapter one of his book: "There is No Such Thing as a Free Market." Other chapters are quite revealing such as: " The Washing Machine Has Changed the World More than the Internet;" "More Education, in Itself, Is Not Going to Make a Country Richer;" "The U.S. Does Not Have the Highest Living Standard in the World;" "Companies Should Not Be Run in the Interest of their Owners."

Chan's main point is the recent economic disaster wasn't by accident, that active government can promote economic dynamism, that tax cuts for the rich simply redistribute wealth upward, and that we will continue on the path to economic disaster,with no end in sight, unless the collective wisdom, goes in a different direction. -- AlterNet Executive Editor Don Hazen

The following is an excerpt from 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism (Copyright © 2011) by Ha-Joon Chang. Reprinted with the permission of Bloomsbury Press. 

 

Thing 1: There is no such thing as a free market

What they tell you

 

Markets need to be free. When the government interferes to dictate what market participants can or cannot do, resources cannot flow to their most efficient use. If people cannot do the things that they find most profitable, they lose the incentive to invest and innovate. Thus, if the government puts a cap on house rents, landlords lose the incentive to maintain their properties or build new ones. Or, if the government restricts the kinds of financial products that can be sold, two contracting parties that may both have benefited from innovative transactions that fulfill their idiosyncratic needs cannot reap the potential gains of free contract. People must be left "free to choose," as the title of free-market visionary Milton Friedman’s famous book goes.

 

What they don’t tell you

 

The free market doesn’t exist. Every market has some rules and boundaries that restrict freedom of choice. A market looks free only because we so unconditionally accept its underlying restrictions that we fail to see them. How "free" a market is cannot be objectively defined. It is a political definition. The usual claim by free-market economists that they are trying to defend the market from politically motivated interference by the government is false. Government is always involved and those free-marketeers are as politically motivated as anyone. Overcoming the myth that there is such a thing as an objectively defined "free market" is the first step towards understanding capitalism.

 

Labor ought to be free

 

In 1819 new legislation to regulate child labor, the Cotton Factories Regulation Act, was tabled in the British Parliament. The proposed regulation was incredibly "light touch" by modern standards. It would ban the employment of young children – that is, those under the age of nine. Older children (aged between ten and sixteen) would still be allowed to work, but with their working hours restricted to twelve per day (yes, they were really going soft on those kids). The new rules applied only to cotton factories, which were recognized to be exceptionally hazardous to workers’ health.

The proposal caused huge controversy. Opponents saw it as undermining the sanctity of freedom of contract and thus destroying the very foundation of the free market. In debating this legislation, some members of the House of Lords objected to it on the grounds that "labor ought to be free." Their argument said: the children want (and need) to work, and the factory owners want to employ them; what is the problem?

Today, even the most ardent free-market proponents in Britain or other rich countries would not think of bringing child labor back as part of the market liberalization package that they so want. However, until the late 19th or the early 20th century, when the first serious child labor regulations were introduced in Europe and North America, many respectable people judged child labour regulation to be against the principles of the free market.

Thus seen, the "freedom" of a market is, like beauty, in the eyes of the beholder. If you believe that the right of children not to have to work is more important than the right of factory owners to be able to hire whoever they find most profitable, you will not see a ban on child labor as an infringement on the freedom of the labor market. If you believe the opposite, you will see an "unfree" market, shackled by a misguided government regulation.

We don’t have to go back two centuries to see regulations we take for granted (and accept as the "ambient noise" within the free market) that were seriously challenged as undermining the free market, when first introduced. When environmental regulations (e.g., regulations on car and factory emissions) appeared a few decades ago, they were opposed by many as serious infringements on our freedom to choose. Their opponents asked: if people want to drive in more polluting cars or if factories find more polluting production methods more profitable, why should the government prevent them from making such choices? Today, most people accept these regulations as "natural." They believe that actions that harm others, however unintentionally (such as pollution), need to be restricted. They also understand that it is sensible to make careful use of our energy resources, when many of them are non-renewable. They may believe that reducing human impact on climate change makes sense too.

If the same market can be perceived to have varying degrees of freedom by different people, there is really no objective way to define how free that market is. In other words, the free market is an illusion. If some markets look free, it is only because we so totally accept the regulations that are propping them up that they become invisible.

 

Piano wires and kungfu masters

 

Like many people, as a child I was fascinated by all those gravity-defying kung fu masters in Hong Kong movies. Like many kids, I suspect, I was bitterly disappointed when I learned that those masters were actually hanging on piano wires.

The free market is a bit like that. We accept the legitimacy of certain regulations so totally that we don’t see them. More carefully examined, markets are revealed to be propped up by rules – and many of them.

To begin with, there is a huge range of restrictions on what can be traded; and not just bans on "obvious" things such as narcotic drugs or human organs. Electoral votes, government jobs and legal decisions are not for sale, at least openly, in modern economies, although they were in most countries in the past.

University places may not usually be sold, although in some nations money can buy them – either through (illegally) paying the selectors or (legally) donating money to the university. Many countries ban trading in firearms or alcohol. Usually medicines have to be explicitly licensed by the government, upon the proof of their safety, before they can be marketed. All these regulations are potentially controversial – just as the ban on selling human beings (the slave trade) was one and a half centuries ago.

There are also restrictions on who can participate in markets. Child labor regulation now bans the entry of children into the labor market. Licenses are required for professions that have significant impacts on human life, such as medical doctors or lawyers (which may sometimes be issued by professional associations rather than by the government). Many countries allow only companies with more than a certain amount of capital to set up banks. Even the stock market, whose underregulation has been a cause of the 2008 global recession, has regulations on who can trade. You can’t just turn up in the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) with a bag of shares and sell them. Companies must fulfill listing requirements, meeting stringent auditing standards over a certain number of years, before they can offer their shares for trading. Trading of shares is only conducted by licensed brokers and traders.

Conditions of trade are specified too. One of the things that surprised me when I first moved to Britain in the mid-1980s was that one could demand a full refund for a product one didn’t like, even if it wasn’t faulty. At the time, you just couldn’t do that in Korea, except in the most exclusive department stores. In Britain, the consumer’s right to change her mind was considered more important than the right of the seller to avoid the cost involved in returning unwanted (yet functional) products to the manufacturer. There are many other rules regulating various aspects of the exchange process: product liability, failure in delivery, loan default, and so on. In many countries, there are also necessary permissions for the location of sales outlets – such as restrictions on street-vending or zoning laws that ban commercial activities in residential areas.  

Then there are price regulations. I am not talking here just about those highly visible phenomena such as rent controls or minimum wages that free-market economists love to hate.

Wages in rich countries are determined more by immigration control than anything else, including any minimum wage legislation. How is the immigration maximum determined? Not by the "free" labor market, which, if left alone, will end up replacing 80–90 per cent of native workers with cheaper, and often more productive, immigrants. Immigration is largely settled by politics. So, if you have any residual doubt about the massive role that the government plays in the economy’s free market, then pause to reflect that all our wages are, at root, politically determined.

Following the 2008 financial crisis, the prices of loans (if you can get one or if you already have a variable rate loan) have become a lot lower in many countries thanks to the continuous slashing of interest rates. Was that because suddenly people didn’t want loans and the banks needed to lower their prices to shift them? No, it was the result of political decisions to boost demand by cutting interest rates. Even in normal times, interest rates are set in most countries by the central bank, which means that political considerations creep in. In other words, interest rates are also determined by politics.

If wages and interest rates are (to a significant extent) politically determined, then all the other prices are politically determined, as they affect all other prices.

 

Is free trade fair?

 

We see a regulation when we don’t endorse the moral values behind it. The 19th-century high-tariff restriction on free trade by the U.S. federal government outraged slave-owners, who at the same time saw nothing wrong with trading people in a free market. To those who believed that people can be owned, banning trade in slaves was objectionable in the same way as restricting trade in manufactured goods. Korean shopkeepers of the 1980s would probably have thought the requirement for "unconditional return" to be an unfairly burdensome government regulation restricting market freedom.

This clash of values also lies behind the contemporary debate on free trade vs. fair trade. Many Americans believe that China is engaged in international trade that may be free but is not fair. In their view, by paying workers unacceptably low wages and making them work in inhumane conditions, China competes unfairly. The Chinese, in turn, can riposte that it is unacceptable that rich countries, while advocating free trade, try to impose artificial barriers to China’s exports by attempting to restrict the import of "sweatshop" products. They find it unjust to be prevented from exploiting the only resource they have in greatest abundance – cheap labor.

Of course, the difficulty here is that there is no objective way to define "unacceptably low wages" or "inhumane working conditions." With the huge international gaps that exist in the level of economic development and living standards, it is natural that what is a starvation wage in the U.S. is a handsome wage in China (the average being 10 per cent that of the U.S.) and a fortune in India (the average being 2 per cent that of the U.S.) Indeed, most fair-trade-minded Americans would not have bought things made by their own grandfathers, who worked extremely long hours under inhumane conditions. Until the beginning of the twentieth century, the average work week in the U.S. was around 60 hours. At the time (in 1905, to be more precise), it was a country in which the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a New York state law limiting the working days of bakers to 10 hours, on the grounds that it "deprived the baker of the liberty of working as long as he wished."

Thus seen, the debate about fair trade is essentially about moral values and political decisions, and not economics in the usual sense. Even though it is about an economic issue, it is not something economists with their technical tool kits are particularly well equipped to rule on.

All this does not mean that we need to take a relativist position and fail to criticize anyone because anything goes. We can (and I do) have a view on the acceptability of prevailing labour standards in China (or any other country, for that matter) and try to do something about it, without believing that those who have a different view are wrong in some absolute sense. Even though China cannot afford American wages or Swedish working conditions, it certainly can improve the wages and the working conditions of its workers. Indeed, many Chinese don’t accept the prevailing conditions and demand tougher regulations. But economic theory (at least free-market economics) cannot tell us what the ‘right’ wages and working conditions should be in China.

 

I don’t think we are in France any more 

 

In July 2008, with the country’s financial system in meltdown, the US government poured $200 billion into Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage lenders, and nationalized them. On witnessing this, the Republican Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky famously denounced the action as something that could only happen in a "socialist" country like France.

France was bad enough, but on 19 September 2008, Senator Bunning’s beloved country was turned into the Evil Empire itself by his own party leader. According to the plan announced that day by President George W. Bush and subsequently named TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program), the U.S. government was to use at least $700 billion of taxpayers’ money to buy up the "toxic assets" choking up the financial system.

President Bush, however, did not see things quite that way. He argued that, rather than being "socialist" the plan was simply a continuation of the American system of free enterprise, which "rests on the conviction that the federal government should interfere in the market place only when necessary." Only that, in his view, nationalizing a huge chunk of the financial sector was just one of those necessary things.

Mr. Bush’s statement is, of course, an ultimate example of political double-speak – one of the biggest state interventions in human history is dressed up as another workaday market process. However, through these words Mr. Bush exposed the flimsy foundation on which the myth of the free market stands. As the statement so clearly reveals, what is a necessary state intervention consistent with free-market capitalism is really a matter of opinion. There is no scientifically defined boundary for free market.

If there is nothing sacred about any particular market boundaries that happen to exist, an attempt to change them is as legitimate as the attempt to defend them. Indeed, the history of capitalism has been a constant struggle over the boundaries of the market.

A lot of the things that are outside the market today have been removed by political decision, rather than the market process itself – human beings, government jobs, electoral votes, legal decisions, university places or uncertified medicines. There are still attempts to buy at least some of these things illegally (bribing government officials, judges or voters) or legally (using expensive lawyers to win a lawsuit, donations to political parties, etc.), but, even though there have been movements in both directions, the trend has been towards less marketization.

For goods that are still traded, more regulations have been introduced over time. Compared even to a few decades ago, now we have much more stringent regulations on who can produce what (e.g., certificates for organic or fair-trade producers), how they can be produced (e.g., restrictions on pollution or carbon emissions), and how they can be sold (e.g., rules on product labelling and on refunds).  

Furthermore, reflecting its political nature, the process of re-drawing the boundaries of the market has sometimes been marked by violent conflicts. The Americans fought a civil war over free trade in slaves (although free trade in goods – or the tariffs issue – was also an important issue). The British government fought the Opium War against China to realize a free trade in opium. Regulations on free market in child labour were implemented only because of the struggles by social reformers, as I discussed earlier. Making free markets in government jobs or votes illegal has been met with stiff resistance by political parties who bought votes and dished out government jobs to reward loyalists. These practices came to an end only through a combination of political activism, electoral reforms and changes in the rules regarding government hiring.

Recognizing that the boundaries of the market are ambiguous and cannot be determined in an objective way lets us realize that economics is not a science like physics or chemistry, but a political exercise. Free-market economists may want you to believe that the correct boundaries of the market can be scientifically determined, but this is incorrect. If the boundaries of what you are studying cannot be scientifically determined, what you are doing is not a science.

Thus seen, opposing a new regulation is saying that the status quo, however unjust from some people’s point of view, should not be changed. Saying that an existing regulation should be abolished is saying that the domain of the market should be expanded, which means that those who have money should be given more power in that area, as the market is run on one-dollar-one-vote principle.

So, when free-market economists say that a certain regulation should not be introduced because it would restrict the "freedom" of a certain market, they are merely expressing a political opinion that they reject the rights that are to be defended by the proposed law. Their ideological cloak is to pretend that their politics is not really political, but rather is an objective economic truth, while other people’s politics is political. However, they are as politically motivated as their opponents.

Breaking away from the illusion of market objectivity is the first step toward understanding capitalism.

Support AlterNet by purchasing your copy of 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism through our partner, Powell's, an independent bookstore.

Ha-Joon Chang teaches in the faculty of economics at the University of Cambridge. His books include "Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism" and "Kicking Away the Ladder."

© 2011 Bloomsbury Press All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/149688/


Simply Put~ HuffPost Article About Jobs + A Business Owner Explains Simply Who's Responsible For Job Losses

WASHINGTON — Republicans won dozens of elections last fall after claiming Democrats had focused too little on creating jobs. Now GOP lawmakers stand accused of the same charge, using their new House majority to push to repeal the president's health care law, restrict abortions and highlight other social issues important to their most conservative supporters.

Republican leaders say they have a jobs agenda, kicked off by their attempt to unravel what they call the Democrats' "jobs-killing" health overhaul.

Democrats scoff at this notion, and they're hounding Republicans to show how they can put more people to work.
"It's astonishing to me how tone-deaf the Republicans have been in the first weeks of the session," said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass. "They've talked about everything but jobs."
Few were surprised when House Republicans moved quickly and voted to overturn the law, but the Democratic-controlled Senate will block that effort.
Heads turned when Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, presented the next item on the agenda: writing into law a perennially renewed ban on federal dollars for abortion, and to specify that it applies to health plans.

The abortion proposal "reflects the will of the people," said Boehner. "It's one of our highest legislative priorities."

When reporters asked why jobs weren't the main focus, Boehner said it was vital to vote against the health law because "it's destroying jobs in America."

He and his fellow Republicans say the law could wipe out 650,000 jobs
Democrats dispute that claim. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office put the law's effect on supply and demand for labor as small.

At best, House Republicans seem to be sending mixed or diluted messages about job creation while they promote social issues that appeal to conservative activists. Examples include limiting jury awards in medical malpractice cases and expanding the District of Columbia's school voucher program.
Democrats are pouncing. Each day, they echo the taunt that Republicans used in the November elections: You're not doing enough to create jobs.

"Republicans waging losing war on health care while Democrats focus on jobs," said a headline Friday from the office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. He told reporters that "we still recognize that our number one issue is jobs." He said he was preparing a small-business innovation bill "that would also create jobs."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., sends daily "talking points" to colleagues with suggestions such as "another day, another opportunity lost for Republicans to work with Democrats on job creation."

In truth, there's only so much the government can do to create jobs, short of expensive stimulus bills or public works programs such as those launched by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Numerous and complex factors that affect the U.S. and global economies play a bigger role.

Curiously, perhaps, both parties have accused the other of fixating on health care instead of jobs. Health care, more than any other issue, energized the Democrats' liberal base in 2008 and 2009, and, conversely, fired up the GOP's conservative base as well.
Barack Obama campaigned on overhauling the health care system, and his backers saw his 2008 election as a mandate to follow through. In Congress, the process proved extremely difficult and partisan, with no Republicans voting for the final version.
Raucous protests against the legislation helped launch the tea party movement in 2009. Dozens of GOP candidates ran last fall on a promise to overturn the health law. Once elected, they claimed their own mandate to act right away on the issue, just as Democrats had done two years earlier.
Both parties risk appearing to cater to their hard-core supporters at the expense of political centrists worried mainly about jobs.

A new AP-GfK poll asked 1,000 adults to name the one thing they would want the federal government to do this year, if it accomplished only a single thing. The economy and jobs ranked first, cited by 38 percent of those surveyed. By comparison, 31 percent named health care, with some supporting Obama's health law and some opposing it.

No other issue exceeded 12 percent; abortion barely registered.
Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, who oversaw GOP House campaigns in past years, defended the early focus on health care and abortion. "These are commitments we made" during the fall campaign, he said, adding that a heavier emphasis on jobs is coming soon.



HuffPost Commenter:  Mafdet 9 hours ago (10:17 PM)

Me and my business partner own a small manufactur­ing business and here's our observatio­n about what caused spiraling unemployme­nt: The consumer banks had started their freefall in Dec 2007. They were looking at inestimabl­e losses from the defaulted mortgages they were going to be left holding the bag on, and lawsuits from all the states. So as 2008 Read More... closed they wouldn't be lending for years to any but risk-free prospects. So certainly not to small business. As 2008 closed, the small manufactur­ing and profession­al services base in America had been laying off workforce to preserve cash flow for 12 months. This sector employs almost 50% of America.

Well, even though the consumer banks were screwed, the investment banks were sitting pretty, because Henry Paulson had convinced this president and the last that the investment banks should not have to buy back the hundreds of thousands of fraudulent securities that they dumped on overseas markets through thousands of Enron-like shell companies for more than a decade. In fact, they would keep the proceeds of their fraud and they would even cash in any insurance policies on bad mortgages they were still holding!

But Henry reasoned, this made the investment banks perfectly situated to help the American economy. What we would do is give the big investment banks $25b each and they would turn that back around and lend it to small banks that would then lend to America's small manufactur­ing and profession­al services sector and we would start hiring people again and shore up employment­. AND WE WOULD HAVE. Because then, as now, all other market conditions were favorable for growth.

But the investment banks did not do that. They instead said to themselves­: We could make a lot more money by denying it to the small banks! By strangling them and the businesses that depend on them, we create bargains. Then we can leverage this here bail out money two or three times over and we can snap up the assets that we drive under at a value of hundreds of billions. Then we'll make a big deal of paying back the bail out money early and everyone will think we're heroes.

In their wake, they left hundreds of failed banks, thousands of failed businesses­, and relentless­ly spiraling unemployme­nt. And the banks - no banks - have loaned to small manufactur­ers and profession­al service firms for more than 3 years now.

That is why we keep seeing the headlines about employment not returning to normal levels for years. It takes about 10 years to restore a country's manufactur­ing and profession­al services base once it has been devastated as badly as ours has.

Congress - neither party - didn't care because they were and are invested in these banks.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A look at coal mine safety

Program: Need To Know
Episode: Fri., Dec. 10, 2010

This week on Need to Know: A look at coal mine safety. The U.S. ranks low in a global education study. A social innovator outsources "microwork" to developing countries. Jon Meacham analyzes the tax cut deal. And director Julie Taymor on the Spiderman musical and her new adaptation of Shakespeare's "The Tempest."


Watch the full episode. See more Need To Know.

Artist Could Face 15 Years In Prison For Recording His Own Arrest

Artist Could Face 15 Years In Prison For Recording His Own Arrest

NOTE:  America is looking more and more like a Police State.  Civilians are losing rights left, right & center.
Drew
Chris Drew was finally ready to get arrested. An artist and activist, Drew had spent years protesting a Chicago ordinance that puts tight restrictions on where and how people can sell their art on the street. He was downtown, on State Street, selling silk-screened patches for $1 and defying the city to stop him.
He'd tried his act of civil disobedience three times before -- a First Amendment lawyer on hand to argue his case, a team of videographers ready to film the arrest -- but the police simply let it slide. When, on December 2, 2009, he finally succeeded in getting booked, Drew was ready for a few hours in lock-up on a misdemeanor, and a lengthy court battle. He was in no way prepared for what he would actually face.
The state charged Drew with a Class 1 felony, not for selling art on the street, but for violating the Illinois Eavesdropping Act by recording his own arrest. He faces up to 15 years in prison.
"Illinois has the worst eavesdropping law in the country," Drew said in a phone interview. If not the single most punitive, it's certainly in the top three.
The state is one of twelve that has so-called "two-party consent" eavesdropping laws. This means that audio recording any conversation is illegal unless all parties to the conversation consent.
All but three of those states make an important exception to that law: the recording of police conversations in the public way. Only Maryland, Massachusetts and Illinois deem such recordings illegal, and the Maryland attorney general recently issued an opinion suggesting that taping the cops shouldn't be prosecuted.
But Illinois is staying the course, currently prosecuting nine individuals -- including Drew -- for making just such recordings.
"We as an organization, we believe that there's an important role that these kinds of recordings can play in terms of trying to understand the actions of police on the streets, and then using that information to advocate for particular changes in terms of police behavior," said Ed Yohnka, Director of Communications and Public Policy of the Illinois branch of the ACLU. "And we believe that that speech in particular is protected by the First Amendment."
The law first came to the ACLU's attention through a separate but similar case, in which two young protesters in Champaign, Illinois were charged with eavesdropping for recording a police interaction on a street corner. The organization filed an amicus brief in that case, and the state's attorney dropped its charges, but continued prosecuting other cases of the same kind. Yohnka said the ACLU decided to challenge the law itself when it realized the consequences it might have on its own attempts to defend citizens' constitutional rights.
Speaking of one particularly sticky situation with the police, he said, "We realized in sending out some legal interns, you couldn't tell them to do what you'd actually tell them to do in this day and age, which is take out your iPhone and give us a sense of what's going on there."
The ACLU is currently taking the Cook County State's Attorney to court, challenging the constitutionality of the law on the First Amendment grounds he mentioned. So far, the challenge has failed in two separate rulings, the most recent of which came down on January 10 of this year. Yohnka says the group's legal team is now in the process of preparing an appeal to the Seventh District Appellate Court.
He acknowledged that it might seem ironic for the ACLU to be attempting to weaken an eavesdropping law, which offers the kinds of protections the Union might otherwise fight for. But Yohnka saw the irony the other way around. The Chicago Police, he said, have been expanding their recordings of ordinary civilians, with blue-light cameras, cameras in patrol cars, and the like. The justification for these recordings is that what happens in public is public, and there should be no expectation of privacy.
"We think that's the standard that ought to be applied to police officers who are engaged in their public duty, in a public place, in an audible voice."
Thus far, the courts don't agree. That means that Chris Drew will go to trial on April 4 for the felony charge against him. "We filed two motions to dismiss, but they were both denied," said his lawyer, Mark Weinberg. Drew faces four to 15 years in prison for the charge, though he could also be released on parole.
"My lawyers say it's unlikely I'll do prison time," Drew said -- "but I do live in Chicago."
Given the ordeal he's been through, his lack of faith in the city is understandable.


Friday, January 21, 2011

Why Today's Vote Matters

Health Care Repeal: House Republicans And The Morally Bankrupt Vote | The New Republic
 

Nearly a year ago, after President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, I recalled the story of Gary Rotzler and what happened to him in the early 1990s. He had a college degree and a life pulled straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting: He had married his high school sweetheart and, together with their three young children, they were living in a tiny village at the foot of the Catskill Mountains.

Then he lost his job, with its health benefits, and went uninsured for two years while getting by with a series of part-time, temporary jobs. By the time he'd gotten benefits, it was too late to treat his wife's breast cancer, which had gone undiagnosed and would soon take her life. But it was not too late to run up five-figure medical bills that forced Gary, the young widower, to declare bankruptcy.

Gary was just one of hundreds of people I've interviewed over the last decade, in my efforts to learn more about the health care system. And the best available estimates tell us that he's just one of millions who have suffered great financial or physical harm since then because he couldn't pay for basic medical care. Every other developed country on the planet protects its citizens from this sort of devastation. And thanks to the Affordable Care Act, the United States is on its way to joining them.

It still is, thankfully. Today's House vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act is merely symbolic. The Senate will almost certainly not pass it and, even if it did, the president surely would not sign it.

But symbolism matters. It sends a message about values. And so it's worth considering what values this generation of Republicans has decided to embrace. 

Over the last year, the Republicans have spent a lot of time arguing that the Affordable Care Act will cost too much, that it will micromanage care, that it will burden business with taxes and bureaucracy. The most outrageous claims, like the notion of government-run "death panels," have zero basis in fact. And even the less explosive arguments frequently rely on flimsy evidence. But the most remarkable thing about the Republican campaign against health care reform is what the advocates of repeal haven't said.

They never bothered to engage with the fundamental moral logic behind the Affordable Care Act--that a modern society guarantees everybody access to doctors, hospitals, and the treatments they provide; that it's wrong to sit by and watch people give up their savings, or their lives, just because they happened to get sick. The more serious Republicans have some ideas, yes, but nothing that would come remotely close to insuring 30 million people or bolstering coverage for the people who have it.

As recently as the last major debate over health care reform, in the 1990s, there were prominent Republicans with sincere interest in helping the un- and underinsured. Even today, you can find conservatives who feel the same way or who, at the very least, are honestly convinced that fiscal constraints put those goals out of reach. But the Republicans in the House? The ones who'd gladly run up red ink to finance more tax cuts for the rich? If they care even a little bit about the human casualties of our health care system, they haven't bothered to show it. 

In 1965, the House passed H.R. 1, a set of amendments to the Social Security Act that, when signed into law, created Medicare. The designation of the bill as the legislature's first order of business was no accident. President Lyndon Johnson and his allies understood that Medicare was a moral imperative--that extending insurance to the nation's seniors, thus sparing them the familiar indignities and financial deprivations of illness, was among the most important things they would ever do as lawmakers.

Today's vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act was H.R. 2. It, too, was a deliberate signal that the leadership considered this a top priority. All 244 House Republicans voted for it. But this was a bill to take insurance away from millions and to weaken it for millions more.

History remembers what happened in 1965. I hope it remembers what happened in 2011, as well.

Update: I made some small revisions to give conservatives, as opposed to House Republicans, more credit for their good faith.

More Articles On: Gary Rotzler



Thursday, January 20, 2011

Rick Santorum : Bigot

Rick Santorum: "........I find it almost remarkable for a black man to say 'now we are going to decide who are people and who are not people.'"



I am Voting Republican

Republicans Give Government Back to Their Corporate Paymasters


http://www.truth-out.org/jim-hightower-republicans-give-government-back-their-corporate-paymasters66966



by: Jim Hightower, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

Early this month, when John Boehner was sworn in as the new speaker of the House of Representatives, he tipped his hat to the teabag activists across the country who had fueled the Republican takeover of the chamber last fall. He almost choked up as he promised to "give the government back to the American people."
Boehner was not choking back tears, however, he literally was choking on the flagrant hypocrisy of his words. You see, the people he's giving the government back to are not tea partiers, but the rapacious corporate lobbyists who ran the Congress during the years when former Majority Leader Tom DeLay ran the show. Apparently, the name "Boehner" is derived from an ancient Teutonic word meaning: business as usual.
Throughout his two decades in Congress, the new speaker has been a reliable ally of corporate interests. In recent years, he has formed unusually tight legislative, political and even social ties with a group of lobbyists for such giants as Citigroup, Coors, Goldman Sachs, Google and R.J. Reynolds.
Of course, most congressional leaders work with lobbyists, so that's not odd, but to have them also be his closest friends and social chums -- well, you just want to say, "For heaven's sake, Johnnie, get a life!"
These influence peddlers are now the speaker's inner circle, guiding his legislative decisions. Even before last November's election, Boehner had a private meeting with a flock of top corporate lobbyists to help shape "a new GOP agenda." Forget the tea party. No tea party operative is a Boehner insider. It's the corporate agenda that Republican leaders will be pushing, and to make sure that it stays on track, Boehner has hired a top corporate lobbyist to be his policy director.
So, while tea party regulars are giddy with the thought that their movement took over the U. S. House, they were actually a Trojan horse. They delivered the votes to make Boehner speaker, which allowed the corporate powers to move inside, quietly take over and return Congress to business as usual.
On opening day of the 112th Congress, beaming members of the new Republican majority entered the House chamber, accompanied by their proud families. But the moment did not belong to members alone.
Also entering the Capitol for the swearing-in ceremonies was David Koch, the multibillionaire industrialist and laissez-faire extremist who bankrolled much of the tea party/GOP victory last fall. What symbolism! The members were taking office, but Koch and his corporate agenda were taking power.
Indeed, many lobbyists for Wall Street banks and big corporations have been hired as top legislative aides for Republican members. As Rep. John Campbell put it, "You want someone with experience." Yeah, experience in corporatizing our government.
In fact, some of the most powerful lawmakers in the House are simply handing their power to corporate interests. For example, Rep. Spencer Bachus of Alabama, the new chairman of the Wall Street oversight committee, declared that his role is to "serve the banks."
The chief comforter of corporate crybabies, however, is Rep. Darrell Issa of California, chair of the wide-ranging government reform committee. He sent letters to 150 corporate interests, asking them to tell him if Obama and his Democratic meanies have imposed any consumer, worker or environmental protections that should be undone. That's like asking a barber if you need a haircut!
The letters unleashed an outpouring of corporate whining -- big banks, for example, wailed that their ability to gouge customers with rip-off debit-card fees had been curtailed. There, there, Issa said soothingly, I'm here now. I'll make it all better for you.
Under the guise of giving government back to the people, the House majority is giving it to the corporate powers who finance their campaigns. This is not just business as usual, it's business way more than usual.
National radio commentator, writer, public speaker, and author of the book, Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow, Jim Hightower has spent three decades battling the Powers That Be on behalf of the Powers That Ought To Be - consumers, working families, environmentalists, small businesses, and just-plain-folks.

Alabamas' Republican Gov. Robert Bentley Says If You Are Not A Christian You Are Not His Brother or Sister

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/18/robert-bentley-alabama-christians_n_810401.html

Robert Bentley Alabama Christians

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) commemorated the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday, telling a gathering of Alabamians that he didn't see skin color as a divisive factor. When it came to religion, however, the recently-inaugurated governor raised some eyebrows with a comment on his view of non-Christians in his state.
"So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I'm telling you, you're not my brother and you're not my sister, and I want to be your brother," Bentley said in his address, according to The Birmingham News, after telling the congregation that he was "color blind."
Questioned by The News about the suggestive nature of his statement, communications director Rebekah Caldwell Mason clarified, ''He is the governor of all the people, Christians, non-Christians alike."
While Bentley himself promised to become "the governor of all the people" on Monday, the new governor was never shy about his Christian faith during his campaign (he is a deacon at his Baptist church in Tuscaloosa and has been supported by a number of religious leaders). Since winning in November, he has also continued to tout his religious credentials on a variety of issues.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Pharmacist Denies Anti-Bleeding Medication Because Woman Might Have Had an Abortion

Pharmacist Denies Anti-Bleeding Medication Because Woman Might Have Had an Abortion | Women's Rights | Change.org
A pharmacist at a Nampa, Idaho, Walgreens refused to dispense medication that stops uterine bleeding because she suspected the woman may have had an abortion. The pharmacist invoked the state's new so-called conscience clause that allows pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for emergency contraceptives and abortifacient drugs, among other things, if they have a personal problem with it.

Last November, a woman took her prescription for Methergine, a drug that stops uterine bleeding regardless of cause, to Walgreens. The pharmacist, suspicious that the woman's uncontrolled bleeding may have been the result of an abortion, called the nurse practitioner who wrote the prescription to inquire why the patient needed it. When the nurse refused to answer because to do so would violate the patient's confidentiality, the pharmacist hung up on her and refused to fill the prescription.

Essentially, the pharmacist was saying that, while her conscience was just dandy with letting a woman bleed out, it would have a problem saving her life if it was even a possibility that the blood loss was connected to an abortion. The pharmacist's conscience being so fickle, apparently also prevented her from even referring the woman to a pharmacy who would fill her prescription, leaving her alone, bleeding, and lost. Someone care to explain to me how this qualifies as pro-life?

The problem here is bigger than one anti-choice pharmacist. One of the biggest problems with conscience clauses is that they single out one issue (reproductive care) and make it okay for individuals to deny care based on their personal feelings on the issue. People argue that health care professionals shouldn't have to provide care they disagree with. Really? So then should racist doctors be able to opt out of treating people of color, anti-Semitic nurses ignore Jewish patients, or sexist pharmacists deny medicine to women? For examples that hit even closer to home: why not have pharmacists allowed to deny single men erectile dysfunction medication and pain pills (you never know, they might be related to a vasectomy)?

It is both ridiculous and dangerous to allow women's medical care to be at the whim of the feelings of people like that Walgreen pharmacist. According to Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, who filed a complaint with Walgreens, the pharmacy in question has taken undisclosed "corrective action" in this case. That is not enough. Ask Walgreens to make sure that their pharmacists are trained on exactly what they do and do not have the right to opt out of and how to properly handle instances where they exercise that option, including providing referrals. It is what anyone with a conscience would do.


In America It's a Crime To Feed The Poor

'Feed A Friend,' A Program To Feed Homeless, Shut Down By Houston Health Department
Give a man a fish," and you may get served with a citation.

A volunteer group that distributed food to the homeless was shut down by the the Houston Health and Human Services Department, reported The Houston Chronicle.

Houston volunteers Bobby and Amanda Herring operated their "Feed a Friend" program undisturbed for over a year before officials shut it down. Amanda told the Chronicle that she was incredulous over the timing.

"I'm just really sad. I can't believe for a year we were right out in the open and never had anybody tell us to leave, to stop, to tell us it was wrong. I'm blindsided with it."

The volunteers said that they cleaned up the surrounding area where they fed those in need. However, because they used food prepared by local volunteers in informal settings, their philanthropy wasn't up to code.

Kathy Barton of the Health and Human Services department told the Chronicle the reasoning behind the codes. She said that along with the food itself needing to be certified, it had to be prepared in a certified area as well, all for the good of the homeless.

"Poor people are the most vulnerable to foodborne illness and also are the least likely to have access to health care."

Along with the cost of bringing their program in line with city code, Bobby Herring told CNN that the permit would cost about $17 per day of operation. They rely on volunteerism and donations just to provide the food. Herring was unsure of where the additional funds could come from.

"There's no government funding or church funding. It's purely organic."

The Herrings are not alone. A battle erupted in Los Angeles, Calif. last year over the same themes.
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In June of 2010, members of World Agape Church were approached by law enforcement and health department officials after operating their Skid Row soup line for over five years. They were shut down due to lack of permit, like the Houston program.

After joining together with the Los Angeles Community Action Network, World Agape members connected with other activist groups that experienced similar treatment and claimed a perceptible rise in police citations.

Local public health officials maintained that the volunteer groups had inadequate provisions and disregarded safety regulations. According to the LA Times, LAPD Officer Deon Joseph equated feeding homeless persons with enabling crime and drug culture.

"When you give them food in an area where there are so many other resources for foods, you're incentivizing the streets and keeping them on the streets and nearer to their vices, like drugs."

Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry told the LA Times that she supported the law enforcement's position.

"Feeding people on the street is not hygienic, it's not sanitary, it's not good for their health."

Unhappy with liaison attempts with their local government, community activists organized an event in protest. On Sept. 30, "The Right To Share Food Extravaganza" was held on Towne Avenue in Skid Row.

Volunteers distributed food and services freely, with no reported incidents of unrest. Local police and public department officials did not inhibit or shut down the event.

Michael Hubman, a familiar face in Skid Row, has been passing out water to the area homeless for over five years. He helped organize the event and told the LA Times that distributing food to those in need is a part of a citizen's basic freedom.

"We want to exercise and protect our right to share food with our brothers and sisters."