27 November 2008

Egalité


Ian Welsh gets this right:

The executive compensation debate is beyond tiresome and beyond stupid. It's not hard to rein in executive compensation, all you have to do is decide what the maximum pay you want someone to be able to receive is and tax most of the rest of it away. The simplest thing is to just count all income equally, tax it all at the same rate, don't allow deductions beyond a certain level (50K or so) and tax all income above, say 1 million at 90%, 95% for all income above 5 million. Don't allow too much income deferral and there you go. Slap on some "in kind" rules for corporations (yes, if your corporation pays for your car, that's salary) and while there will always be loopholes, you'll still rein in the worst excesses.

We've already got all the tools in our tool-chest--we just need to use them.

26 November 2008

First priorities


Obama's choice to keep Gate's as Secretary for Defense is a disappointment. The defense establishment, after all, is the first place we need change. With the economy in free-fall (and in my opionion, poised to get much worse), the first thing the U.S. should do is to cut out the roughly trillion dollars a years that we throw away on defense and related areas. If Russia can survive in a much more hostile geopolitical niche on roughly 40 billion dollars (2008 projection) in annual defense expenditures, the U.S., situated in a much safer neck of the woods, should be able to survive on much less, perhaps 3-4% of our current budget. A trillion dollars more per year suddenly added to our budget like magic without a single new dollar in taxes would change the economic outlook dramatically. Current military personnel couldn't all be fired, but they could be brought back to the U.S. and retrained for positions in key emerging industries. For example, our burgeoning cadre of torturers could be put to work waterboarding billionaires and CEOs to find out where they stashed all the loot.

25 November 2008

Maximum wage law

From the NY Times Business page:

After long and often bitter debate, Congress has passed legislation, fiercely fought for by labor and progressive groups, that will limit top salaries to fifteen times the minimum wage. Tying the bill to a plan of overall reform of the U.S. economy, the bill echoes a similar effort enacted by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1942, which was followed by the longest period of growth for the middle class in U.S. history.

I always thought this was a great idea--much more important than a minimum wage. People can, after all, be so lazy and unproductive that their labor is worth next to nothing. But it's impossible for people to create billions in wealth just through a wave of their hand at a board meeting.

The perfect woman


I realize that Dilbert comics probably aren't a good way to increase a blog's manliness rating, but what can be done? There just aren't that many manly comics out there. Plus, this was just too good to pass up--there are some great insights into human nature to be gleaned from the funny pages.


24 November 2008

This will not do!

This is upsetting. Swerve Left only rates 57% on the manliness scale. I definitely need some more violent diatribes.

$

Reflections on money:

Liza Minnelli, Joel Grey: Money (Willy Wonka version)
Floyd: Money (live version)
Beatles: Money
Serj Tankian: Money
Laducris: Money
50 Cent: I get money
Abba: Money
Monty Python: Money
Cool song
Anime Version: Money
Kalomoira: Money ain't the key
Weezy Ambitions

18 November 2008

Voting and eternal destiny

It looks like we'll be joined by a band of unrepentant South Carolinian Obama-luvin' Catholics in a few decades when we arrive at Hell's gates. Father Jay Scott Newman of St. Mary’s Catholic Church recently told those among his flock who flocked to the polls to vote for Obama:

Persons in this condition should not receive Holy Communion until and unless they are reconciled to God in the Sacrament of Penance, lest they eat and drink their own condemnation.

Personally, I'm not so sure there'll be room down in hell as quite a few of us already are headed there according to the experts in such matters. With all the overcrowding, maybe they'll choose a few of us to undergo reincarnation. According to Father Newman's spokesman, all those who did house to house canvassing for Obama will be sent to the crotch-cutting hell.



Ouch! That's gotta hurt!

Bright spots in the economy


It's a relief to know that is bad goes to worse, I can perhaps get hired in the Spam factory. I wonder if they give out free samples during lunch break.

17 November 2008

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose?

Within the euphoria of Obama's win, we'll hopefully be able to keep the pressure on for authentic change. Obama has been making a lot of overtures to Clinton and others in an attempt to be inclusive. Hopefully, he'll keep in mind that he won the election precisely because most people didn't want to include any of the current cast of clowns in our future government. Especially upsetting is the notion that Gates should be retained. The ever-insightful Bob Parry explains the problem with this choice in a recent article on Consortium News:

During a campaign interview with the Washington Post, Obama said, “I have been troubled by … the politicization of intelligence in this administration.” But it was Gates – as a senior CIA official in the 1980s – who broke the back of the CIA analytical division’s commitment to objective intelligence.

In a recent book, Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA, former CIA analyst Melvin A. Goodman identifies Gates as the chief action officer for the Reagan administration’s drive to tailor intelligence reporting to White House political desires. A top “Kremlinologist,” Goodman describes how Gates reversed a CIA tradition of delivering tough-minded intelligence reports with “the bark on.”

That ethos began to erode in 1973 – with President Richard Nixon’s appointment of James Schlesinger as CIA director and Gerald Ford’s choice of George H.W. Bush in 1976 – but the principle of objectivity wasn’t swept away until 1981 when Ronald Reagan put in his campaign chief, William Casey, as CIA director.

Casey then chose the young and ambitious Robert Gates to run the analytical division. Rather than respect the old mandate for “bark on” intelligence, “Bob Gates turned that approach on its head in the 1980s and tried hard to anticipate the views of policymakers in order to pander to their needs,” Goodman wrote.

“Gates consistently told his analysts to make sure never to ‘stick your finger in the eye of the policymaker.’”

It didn’t take long for the winds of politicization to blow through the halls of CIA headquarters at Langley, Virginia.

“Bill Casey and Bob Gates guided the first institutionalized ‘cooking of the books’ at the CIA in the 1980s, with a particular emphasis on tailoring intelligence dealing with the Soviet Union, Central America, and Southwest Asia,” Goodman wrote.

16 November 2008

Be optimistic?

The NY Times has a good article on the growth of medical tourism in South Korea. Americans are traveling abroad for healthcare. It's little wonder--we have the most expensive healthcare system in the world yet have appalling health with a system that is steadily declining. Countries with national plans (France, Sweden, the UK) spend the least among industrial nations. And yet it's absolutely taboo to mention a national plan in the U.S. (I honestly believe there's a conspiracy. I've listened to call in programs on multiple occasions where callers were immediately silenced after asking why we don't have a national plan.) To return to South Korea, a woman giving birth can stay in a hospital afterwards in a private room for 3 or 4 days with nice meals provided, even with family members joining her, for the price of a hotel room. In the U.S., the same room for the same time would cost the price of a car (and not a cheap car, at that). And yet we still have smirking George on the news yesterday telling us that if we just wait a little bit longer the markets will take care of it all. Kind'a brings to mind an old Shirley Temple song: "Be optimisitic..."

Maher

Maher's positively giddy in this clip:

Veterans for Peace lead daring protest

Today, Veterans for Peace scaled a 90 ft. high scaffold and unfurled two 450 square foot banners stating, "DEFEND OUR CONSTITUTION. ARREST BUSH AND CHENEY: WAR CRIMINALS!" and "WE WILL NOT BE SILENT" at the National Archives in DC! The vets chose the Archives for their nonviolent protest as a symbolic of their military oath to "defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic."

13 November 2008

Zizek

Last night, I bought a bottle of Greek wine and watched a documentary on Žižek. With too much pragmatic American blood flowing through my veins, I don't quite know what to make of some of these European philosophers. He was definitely animated, entertaining, and intriguing. None of his conclusions seemed very constrained by any method--I could imagine him taking virtually every example cited and reaching the exact opposite conclusion--but maybe I'm being a stick in the mud: Slavoj would be a great guy to chat with while sipping a cappucino in a street cafe.

12 November 2008

Manmade

A group of scientists report in a recent issue of Nature Geoscience that warming at the poles can only be explained via anthropogenic factors. So much for the conservative canard about sun spots and natural cycles.

11 November 2008

1 day = 1 year

Wagoner, the CEO of the mostly poorly-run company in the country, made nearly 40 grand every day (including weekends) last year. It's hard to imagine. In a single Saturday at the golf course, he makes what I get in an entire year. The first step these bankrupt companies should take is to fire their CEOs and hire a competent manager at a 100th the price.

10 November 2008

Cyborg futures

60 minutes has a fascinating story on paralyzed patients who are now able to control computers solely with their thoughts.

Exception as status quo

In August of 2005, I wrote a long post on the U.S. military's stop-loss policy (Let's stop all the hogwash about stop loss), a post that received quite a number of comments at the time and has cointinued to have weekly visitors. Many of these are probably troops that continue to be affected by the policy, over three years later. Anyone signing up for military service who continues to think that their contract has any meaning is crazy. Contracts are supposed to mutually bind both parties. With the military resorting to stop-loss as an ongoing policy for nebulous undeclared "wars," the contracts could all be printed on a two-ply square of DA Form 1 for all they matter.

8 November 2008

Research on the political blogosphere

I was looking at some recent academic research on blogs and found the following factoids:
  • Walsten (2005): A-list blogs tend to stick more closely to mainstream media coverage.
  • Graf (2006): Bloggers, as a group, tend to despise the mainstream media, tend to be male, and are generally further on the extreme ends of the political spectrum.
  • Drezner and Farrell (2004): Bloggers, in some cases, can construct or focus public discourse in significant ways. (For a more pessimistic view, look at this 2004 article in Mother Jones.) However, most bloggers have relatively little influence due to the way that the web manages traffic.
  • Burbules (2008): Blog literacy should be taught along with other types of media literacy.
  • For those who are really interested in the topic, there's a 2007 thesis on political blogging by Sharon Meraz.

Money and the Crisis of Civilization

Charles Eisenstein gives his opinion on how we've come to where we are:

[Excerpt] Essentially, for the economy to continue growing and for the (interest-based) money system to remain viable, more and more of nature and human relationship must be monetized. For example, thirty years ago most meals were prepared at home; today some two-thirds are prepared outside, in restaurants or supermarket delis. A once unpaid function, cooking, has become a "service". And we are the richer for it. Right?

Another major engine of economic growth over the last three decades, child care, has also made us richer. We are now relieved of the burden of caring for our own children. We pay experts instead, who can do it much more efficiently.

In ancient times entertainment was also a free, participatory function. Everyone played an instrument, sang, participated in drama. Even 75 years ago in America, every small town had its own marching band and baseball team. Now we pay for those services. The economy has grown. Hooray.

The crisis we are facing today arises from the fact that there is almost no more social, cultural, natural, and spiritual capital left to convert into money. Centuries, millennia of near-continuous money creation has left us so destitute that we have nothing left to sell. Our forests are damaged beyond repair, our soil depleted and washed into the sea, our fisheries fished out, the rejuvenating capacity of the earth to recycle our waste saturated. Our cultural treasury of songs and stories, images and icons, has been looted and copyrighted. Any clever phrase you can think of is already a trademarked slogan. Our very human relationships and abilities have been taken away from us and sold back, so that we are now dependent on strangers, and therefore on money, for things few humans ever paid for until recently: food, shelter, clothing, entertainment, child care, cooking. Life itself has become a consumer item.

Today we sell away the last vestiges of our divine bequeathment: our health, the biosphere and genome, even our own minds. This is the process that is culminating in our age. It is almost complete, especially in America and the "developed" world. In the developing world there still remain people who live substantially in gift cultures, where natural and social wealth is not yet the subject of property. Globalization is the process of stripping away these assets, to feed the money machine's insatiable, existential need to grow. Yet this stripmining of other lands is running up against its limits too, both because there is almost nothing left to take, and because of growing pockets of effective resistance.

7 November 2008

Graduating at 16?

New Hamshire plans on moving toward a European-style educational system that allows kids to test out of high school at the end of their sophomore year and start attending community or technical colleges. What are your thoughts on this?

6 November 2008

Join the Palin 2012 committee!

I'm in full agreement with conservatives who feel that Palin should be the bright new symbol of the GOP. She fully embodies all its fundamental principles--emphasis on image over substance, disdain for science, ignorance of even basic facts (Africa is a continent), and love of wealth and crass persuits. It's now come to light that 150 grand wasn't enough for her wardrobe--she had to twist the arms of some of the staff so that she could "borrow" their credit cards. Is this the same lady who was lecturing me a month ago about how to balance my checkbook? Palin is indeed a perfect symbol for what the party stands for.

5 November 2008

Hope

I'm happy with this. I'd wanted to see Bush's head on a stick as the cheerful crowds chanted outside the Whitehouse, but I guess we can't always get what we want. The electoral college votes have given Obama an overwhelming advantage, but even the gap in the popular vote tally was wide. The overwhelming support of Obama in the Pacific states (to include Hawaii) was particularly heartening. Republican commentators have tried to put a good spin on all this, saying that these things move in cycles, but they've got their work cut out for them this time around. We seem to be witnessing an emerging demographic of young voters who have witnessed first-hand the destructiveness of Republican economic policies and are unimpressed with all the psuedo-religious issues, millionaire plumbers, and oversized flag pins of the right. And as for Palin, I don't even think she'll be able to arouse derision in four to eight years.

Hope
One thing is clear: the election represents a clear repudiation of the Republican's national plan to mortgage the country to the super-rich. Unfortunatetly, Obama wil have only reduced scope to do anything after he inherits the empty coffers of the Shrubian misadministration, but at least there's some hope that something will change. As bad as the last eight years have been, I'm quite willing to give up the steaming crap that I've been handed and trade it in for whatever's behind Door 2 (or Door 3 or Door 4 . . . )

3 November 2008

Endorsements

Cheney gives the kiss of death to the McCain team. In more rational quarters, Kunstler gives a sort of endorsement to Obama:

I reject the label "gloom-and-doomer" where these difficult transitions are concerned. There's a lot about the way we live now that is disgusting, degrading, demoralizing, and socially toxic -- from our suicidal diet of processed fat, salt, and corn syrup byproducts to the spiritually punishing everyday realm of the highway strip to the fantastic loneliness and alienation of a people made hostage to a TV-consumer nexus of corporate colonialism. Were done with that. We just don't know it yet. Mr. Obama may not know it, either, but he is a trustworthy soul to hold our hands as we enter this unknown territory.

The war with those ones

Palin assures us that we'll win the war in Iran. Um . . . I think we're skipping a few steps here. First, you need to manufacture some intelligence, then hire some ambassador's daughter to make up stories of raping and marauding Iranian troops, and then convince the electorate that failing to attack will mean Iranian commandoes storming the beaches of California (or New York?), and then you get your war. This lady's in such a rush.

2 November 2008

Do you feel safe yet?

When I read stuff like this, I have to wonder what's going on in McCain's mind when he says that he's going to freeze all expenditures except military spending:

World military spending grew 45 percent in the past decade, with the United States accounting for nearly half of all expenditures, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said Monday. Military spending grew six percent last year alone, according to SIPRI’s annual report. In 2007, 1,339 billion dollars (851 billion euros) was spent on arms and other military expenditures, corresponding to 2.5 percent of global gross domestic product, or GDP, and 202 dollars for each of the world’s 6.6 billion people. The United States spends by far the most towards military aims, dishing out 547 billion dollars last year, or 45 percent of global expenditure.

1 November 2008

Faraway seas

This is an interesting idea. It might be possible to detect planets with liquid oceans by look for the glint of the sun hitting the water.