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       There's been some notable discontent among progressives who look to Paul Krugman for his refreshing honesty on a number of topics and his willingness to state plainly when emperors are having wardrobe malfunctions. Where, they've been wondering, is his take on the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal getting fast-tracked through Congress at the behest of the President and the Republicans? (And a few Democrats.)

        Wait no more. It's here: Trade and Trust. Krugman doesn't get into all the details that have leaked - it's still largely unknown what's in there, by deliberate intent on the part of the people pushing this. Krugman focuses on some fundamental problems with TPP.

1) "First of all, whatever you may say about the benefits of free trade, most of those benefits have already been realized."
 

In other words, there's not a lot left to be gained from making trade deals - if they're really about trade.

2) "...the main thrust of the proposed deal involves strengthening intellectual property rights — things like drug patents and movie copyrights — and changing the way companies and countries settle disputes. And it’s by no means clear that either of those changes is good for America."

In other words, rigging the system to benefit those who own things for profit, and giving business the power to overturn laws and regulations they don't like.

3) "As I see it, the big problem here is one of trust.

International economic agreements are, inevitably, complex, and you don’t want to find out at the last minute — just before an up-or-down, all-or-nothing vote — that a lot of bad stuff has been incorporated into the text. So you want reassurance that the people negotiating the deal are listening to valid concerns, that they are serving the national interest rather than the interests of well-connected corporations."

In other words, "Trust me on this" is not sufficient. To quote Ronald Reagan (and did you expect that?) "Trust - but verify." And the White House is not allowing us to verify anything.

       Read the whole thing and see for yourself. Krugman puts it in very simple language.

         Despite popular opposition to fast-tracking TPP, despite efforts to pass amendments, despite reports of tough sledding for TPP in the House, past history and actions by the usual suspects would appear to make it a safe bet that at the end of the day, Big Money will get what it wants.

         Stay tuned.

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     The National Association of Railroad Passengers has a blog post that gets right to the point.

It is a perpetual wonder for many passenger advocates that Amtrak—which, it’s worth noting accounts for $1.4 billion of the U.S. government’s roughly $4 trillion budget, or 0.03 percent—should serve as such a reliable whipping boy for the nation’s deficit hawks. It’s become almost a rite of passage for Republican presidential candidates to establish their conservative bona fides by calling out Amtrak as an instance of government inhabiting spheres it just shouldn’t be. So it was no surprise when the usual suspects, sensing the railroad’s vulnerability, began to circle this past week.
     It's a compelling read, and I recommend Read The Whole Thing. There's one quote that sums up what is happening not just to Amtrak but this entire country.
No one did a better job of explaining the source of this curious apathy toward passenger rail last week than the New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik:

[T]he will to abandon the public way is not some failure of understanding, or some nearsighted omission by shortsighted politicians. It is part of a coherent ideological project. As I wrote a few years ago, in a piece on the literature of American declinism, “The reason we don’t have beautiful new airports and efficient bullet trains is not that we have inadvertently stumbled upon stumbling blocks; it’s that there are considerable numbers of Americans for whom these things are simply symbols of a feared central government, and who would, when they travel, rather sweat in squalor than surrender the money to build a better terminal.” The ideological rigor of this idea, as absolute in its way as the ancient Soviet conviction that any entering wedge of free enterprise would lead to the destruction of the Soviet state, is as instructive as it is astonishing. And it is part of the folly of American “centrism” not to recognize that the failure to run trains where we need them is made from conviction, not from ignorance.

emphasis added

        If terrorism is the use of fear to change people's behavior for political ends, what we are seeing is a subtle form of terrorism that is having a corrosive effect on the country - and it is deliberate. As I wrote in a comment last week,

Deliberate disinvestment in the country leading to death, injury and loss of faith in the government because of preventable disasters is terrorism in slow motion. It has political effects and it is by calculated choice.

You don't have plant bombs to terrify people if you have them worrying what is going to go wrong next.

      The Republican pushback against connecting the dots between their ideology and the body count racking up around the country - not to mention injury, economic damage, and worse - from lack of investment in the country and the public good is a sign that they know what they're doing. As the NARP commentary notes:
... As the facts emerge, you begin to see the motivation behind these infrastructure deniers: they’ve deliberately starved our transportation system of federal funds, and with the cracks are starting to show, they want desperately to deny cause-and-effect to ensure that they’re not saddled with responsibility for the real-world consequences of their political philosophy.
emphasis added

        It's not just trains either. They refuse to invest in the country. "The public be damned." (And yes that quote is more than a little ironic.) Anyone who thinks conservatives or conservatism has what the country needs to go forward is living in a fool's paradise.

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        No evidence so far yet, but... Amtrak Train Possibly Hit Before Wreck

Mr. Sumwalt said that investigators had found a fist-size circular area of impact on the left side of the Amtrak train’s windshield and that they had asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation to analyze it. He said that the F.B.I. had been called in because it has the forensics expertise needed for the investigation, but that it had not yet begun its analysis.
More below the Orange Omnilepticon.
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Fri May 15, 2015 at 10:14 AM PDT

Tribes

by xaxnar

      Jeb Bush continues to stumble along, unable to repudiate his brother's legacy - if not actually embracing it. He is surrounding himself with members of the same cabal that led the country into disaster in Iraq; he is trying to pass himself off as some kind of 'moderate' but that dog won't hunt in the GOP today.

      Charles P. Pierce continues to observe the latest feckless scion of the Bush clan seeking to lead the country, and marvels at the clueless way he's trying to sell GOP snake oil.

    Paul Krugman is taking note as well, and discusses the larger issue of the Fraternity of Failure, a political party in which the facts don't matter and the record is something to be ignored. His concluding paragraph asks a worrisome question:

What’s going on here? My best explanation is that we’re witnessing the effects of extreme tribalism...

...It doesn’t matter that the skeptics have been proved right. Simply raising questions about the orthodoxies of the moment leads to excommunication, from which there is no coming back. So the only “experts” left standing are those who made all the approved mistakes. It’s kind of a fraternity of failure: men and women united by a shared history of getting everything wrong, and refusing to admit it. Will they get the chance to add more chapters to their reign of error?

        Krugman is on to something here. My own thoughts (submitted to the Times but probably won't make the cut) are thus:
Tribalism is definitely the word to describe what is going on here. The Republican Party runs on a "You're either with us or against us" dynamic. Facts don't matter. The record doesn't matter. What matters is if you are a member of the tribe in good standing or not.

It used to be if you lived in this country, you were automatically a member of the America tribe (if you were the right skin color/ethnic background/religion/sex). And for those who needed a defining 'other' to unite the tribe against, the Evil Empire of the Soviet Union and Global Communism did a pretty good job at that.

Funny thing happened though - the enemy empire collapsed and at home the America tribe became aware that more and more of those seeking membership were people of color, people of the female persuasion, people of 'that' religion or no religion at all, and people who had been hiding in closets.

Needless to say, a tribe anyone can belong to is no tribe at all - which is why the GOP politics of division have prospered. They're trying to defend the old tribal boundaries, and a lot of people are good with that. They don't care about facts or the record - they just want that old tribal feeling again. The GOP field is auditioning to play the Tribal Chief, and woe to anyone who gets in their way.

Chiefs need enemies to blame for their failures after all, and to keep everyone scared so they stay in line. And that's what holds the tribe together - not their record or facts.

Discuss

Thu May 14, 2015 at 05:39 PM PDT

Inside the Cockpit

by xaxnar

 ...Is a fascinating article in the NY Times today.

Mark Vanhoenacker is a senior first officer for British Airways on the Boeing 747-400 fleet and the author of “Skyfaring: A Journey With a Pilot.” This essay was adapted from the author’s book.
     There's some nice multi-media effects and explanations of what kind of things pilots encounter, set against the backdrop of flight from England to Japan. For example, airspace is divided up into great big blocks for traffic control and routing purposes. Inside those blocks are waypoints, navigation checkpoints which are given 5 letter names that are distinctive - and occasionally meaningful.
It’s America’s sky-mappers who have gone to the greatest lengths to localize its skies. Near Kansas City are BARBQ, SPICY, SMOKE, RIBBS, and BRSKT. Near Detroit is PISTN; also MOTWN and WONDR (Stevie, Michigan-born).

Boston has etched a particularly rich constellation onto the heavens above New England. There is PLGRM, of course; CHWDH, LBSTA and CLAWW; GLOWB and HRALD for the city’s newspapers; while SSOXS, FENWY, BAWLL and OUTTT trace the fortunes of the city’s baseball team in long arcs across the stars. There’s a NIMOY waypoint; Leonard was born in Boston.

     The whole thing is an engrossing read - enjoy!
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Mon May 11, 2015 at 08:23 PM PDT

Why Fly?

by xaxnar

       Why do people fly? Is it simply about getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible? For many, that is all flying comes down to: the destination is the reward, not the journey. (And on too many airlines these days, the journey is an ordeal to be gotten over with as quickly as possible.) Few have the time, money, or skill to become pilots, to take up flying for the sheer pleasure of it.

        But, every so often we get a glimpse that shows flying can be an end in itself, an experience that enriches the soul and feeds the mind. Over at the BBC in the Travel section, Jeff Greenwald relates his experiences flying cross country in a two-seater way-open cockpit AirCam - and has some absolutely stunning photos to go with the story. (And who knew multi-engine planes came in a package like that!)

        Go take a look. It's the kind of flying experience most people don't even know exists - more's the pity.

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Tue May 05, 2015 at 09:46 AM PDT

What IS the purpose of David Brooks?

by xaxnar

  In case you missed it, David Brooks is pimping promoting his latest book in the New York Times today by asking "What Is Your Purpose?" To wit:

Every reflective person sooner or later faces certain questions: What is the purpose of my life? How do I find a moral compass so I can tell right from wrong? What should I do day by day to feel fulfillment and deep joy?

As late as 50 years ago, Americans could consult lofty authority figures to help them answer these questions.

        You can read the whole thing at the link above, but rather than reciting more of the piece, let me leave with you a response I submitted, which may or may not make it in before the Times closes the comments section.
Sheep without shepherds - that seems to be the gist of Mr. Brooks complaint. The appeal for authority figures is a "tell" - Mr. Brooks appears to be longing for a world where everyone knew their place, followed orders, and carried out the roles assigned to them by society without dissent.

He claims there are no authority figures today to bring order to a troubled society, but there is a rather egregious omission in his plaint. He fails to note the existence of a dedicated media machine to promote conservative ideology 24/7, just running over with authority figures who are always ready to tell us what every thing means, who is right, who is wrong, and what we should do.

He fails to note how this apparatus, funded largely by corporate interests, oligarchs, and the like, has deliberately engaged in the politics of division and active sedition against the very idea of democratically elected government as a means to order and progress in society. Instead, he seems to be longing for some father-figure leader to settle things once and for all.

There's this thing about sheep and shepherds: the sheep get sheared on a regular basis, while the shepherd enjoys a steady diet of mutton and lamb.

I do not think we need to speculate about the purpose of Mr. Brooks - it's rather like that of the sheepdog to the shepherd. Herd the sheep where the shepherd wants them to go.

Discuss

         Kevin Drum may be undergoing some intense medical treatment, but a Washington Post article made his day. Freddie Gray’s life a study in the sad effects of lead paint on poor blacks

          Drum's 2013 story at Mother Jones and follow-up reporting detailed research making a pretty good case that exposure to lead in gasoline and elsewhere (Paint as in Gray's case) has serious effects leading to violent criminal behavior among other things. The use of lead in gasoline and its removal tracks almost precisely changes in violent crime rates - with a roughly 20 year lag as the effects of exposure in children affect them as they become adults. The latest research shows there appear to be no safe levels at which the effects of exposure to lead can be ignored.

           We no longer put lead in gasoline, but we still have the crime policies in place that reflect that toxic era. As Drum concludes

This is important, because even if you're a hard-ass law-and-order type, you should understand that we no longer need urban police departments to act like occupying armies. The 90s are gone, and today's teenagers are just ordinary teenagers. They still act stupid and some of them are still violent, but they can be dealt with using ordinary urban policing tactics. We don't need to constantly harass and bully them; we don't need to haul them in for every petty infraction; we don't need to beat them senseless; and we don't need to incarcerate them by the millions.

We just don't. We live in a different, safer era, and it's time for all of us—voters, politicians, cops, parents—to get this through our collective heads. Generation Lead is over, thank God. Let's stop pretending it's always and forever 1993. Reform is way overdue.

        To the extent that cities like Baltimore still have a legacy of lead in old buildings and in the environment from air pollution, lead is still going to be a factor. Blaming what happens on social failures, government policies, etc. may not be entirely off the mark - but the legacy of a deliberate poisoning of people for profit (as Neil deGrasse Tyson showed in "The Clean Room" episode of Cosmos) is one we still need to keep in mind.
Discuss

Fri May 01, 2015 at 06:54 AM PDT

Krugman Hits One Out of the Park Again

by xaxnar

         Paul Krugman's May 1 column in the New York Times states the devastatingly obvious: Ideology and Integrity.

...Nonetheless, many in the news media will try to make the campaign about personalities and character instead. And character isn’t totally irrelevant. The next president will surely encounter issues that aren’t currently on anyone’s agenda, so it matters how he or she is likely to react. But the character trait that will matter most isn’t one the press likes to focus on. In fact, it’s actively discouraged.

You see, you shouldn’t care whether a candidate is someone you’d like to have a beer with. Nor should you care about politicians’ sex lives, or even their spending habits unless they involve clear corruption. No, what you should really look for, in a world that keeps throwing nasty surprises at us, is intellectual integrity: the willingness to face facts even if they’re at odds with one’s preconceptions, the willingness to admit mistakes and change course.

And that’s a virtue in very short supply.

emphasis added

       Read the whole thing - and spread the word. Krugman takes on the shallowness of reporting that refuses to see the elephant in the room, and the moral cowardice/dishonesty of politicians who not only won't admit their mistakes, but insist they were right all along and wouldn't change a thing. He names names while he's at it:

Jeb Bush, for example, has declared that “I’m my own man” on foreign policy, but the list of advisers circulated by his aides included the likes of Paul Wolfowitz, who predicted that Iraqis would welcome us as liberators, and shows no signs of having learned from the blood bath that actually took place.

Meanwhile, as far as I can tell no important Republican figure has admitted that none of the terrible consequences that were supposed to follow health reform — mass cancellation of existing policies, soaring premiums, job destruction — has actually happened.

Conversely, he notes Hillary Clinton supported trade agreements in the 1990s, but now is critical - so does this mean she's a flip-flopper, or has she learned from experience? Two guesses how the press will spin that.

      It's obvious that Paul Krugman has been paying attention to what's been going on in the world over the past few years, and is increasingly dismayed by the inability of political leaders to learn anything, admit mistakes, or be called on that by the press. He had a long piece in The Guardian recently: The Austerity Delusion - The Case for Cuts Was a Lie; Why Does Britain Still Believe It? It's a fascinating article with a lot of relevance to the U.S.

        Read both, and get the word out. Krugman's one of the few voices speaking out on this.

Discuss

Thu Apr 30, 2015 at 08:38 PM PDT

Must See TV: Alan Grayson on TPP

by xaxnar

  Hat tip to Gaius Publius over at Digby's Place for posting about this. Alan Grayson has a video that must be seen. In 9 minutes, Grayson blows away all the BS about the 'Free Trade" benefits. GP has a short transcript of parts of the video - here's an excerpt.

...[TPP and TAFTA] would put our $30/hour workers directly in head-to-head competition with workers in Vietnam and Brunei, who are lucky to make 30 cents an hour.

"Free trade" countries like that are free of health and safety rules and environmental protection, free of social security, pensions and health care, free of child labor laws, free of the right to organize, and even free of the rules against slave labor.

    The "Freedom" in Free Trade is the freedom of the rich to get richer at the expense of us. That's what it's all about.

Here's the video: https://youtu.be/...

         Share this one widely people - the message needs to be hammered home. And while you are at it, check out tradetreachery.com

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          So, one more commentary on Baltimore tonight. I'll keep this short. If you want some background on the relationship between the Baltimore Police and the community, The Baltimore Sun had an extensive report back in September 2014. Undue Force looked at the $12 million dollars the city has paid out in settlements and legal fees to over 100 victims of police misconduct in just that past 4 years. (Hat tip to Charles P. Pierce for digging it up.)

         The victims have been barred from discussing their cases; talk and the City can go after the money. It's part of the settlement. (So, it's not just 'justice' - it's also hush money.) The Sun managed to uncover the details of some cases however, and it is pretty disturbing. Read the whole thing, and you'll have a much better idea of the context of this latest chapter in 'post-racial' America.

        Meanwhile, Pierce is still on the case tonight, with something of a wrap up on the day and a preliminary shot at parsing blame. Governor Larry Hogan is getting called out for being rather feckless about the whole thing, while throwing Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake under the bus.  And then there is O'Malley:

But if there's one politician who had an even worse day, it was former Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, currently running a demi-campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. More than a few people have cited O'Malley's law-and-order turn toward "zero tolerance" policing as one of the root causes of the cowboy mentality that infected the Baltimore P.D., which is not the first time anyone made this connection, as anyone who has watched The Wire knows.
       Pierce's quote from the BBC piece is spot on:
...To keep the affluent Baltimore viable, city officials have pursued a laser-like focus on crime, ensuring its new up-and-coming neighbourhoods stay safe. Meanwhile, in sprawling low-income areas on the city's east and west sides, the police have been omnipresent. Sometimes their methods have bordered on draconian.

The success of the new Baltimore has never touched many parts of the city, most prominently the west side where this week's violence began. Take away the towering downtown, the waterfront and other affluent enclaves and Baltimore suddenly looks a lot like Ferguson - poor, harassed and angry.

        If there is anything good about this, it's not just that it's calling attention to America's problem in dealing with race and/or police brutality. It's also focusing attention on the massive inequality in this country and the economic and political choices of the last 40 years that have led us into a very dark place indeed.

       There is going to be a very determined attempt by the Right Wing to yet again frame this as the result of failed Liberal policies, above and beyond the usual "blame Obama" for everything. Sean Hannity was already hammering away at this today on his radio show, along with blaming the victims.

        It's about time we shoved it right back down their pie-holes. The election of 2016 is not going to be fun - but it may be the tipping point at which the nation can be pushed around to a new direction - IF Democrats don't lose their nerve and finally dump the neoliberal fallacies that have enabled so much of the Republican agenda. It's not too soon to start getting progressive candidates into position NOW for the upcoming primaries at all levels. That Hillary Clinton is promising a campaign from the precinct level on up through all 50 states is a good start - and the opportunity to not only get Democrats back into state houses, governorships, and Congress, but to get the right kind of Democrats into place to turn this country around.

Discuss

Tue Apr 28, 2015 at 06:49 AM PDT

David Brooks is a Fun Read Today

by xaxnar

        WTF!?!! You may ask. Well, Brooks is displaying the art of projection, taking all one's faults and flaws, and projecting them onto others. It's a psychological defense mechanism - but it's also a deliberate political strategy. By smearing an opponent with one's own worst attributes, the idea is immunize yourself from being called out on them, make it a "he said - she said" type argument. When a target responds by saying the accuser is the one really guilty of the alleged faults, well onlookers have to go to the trouble of sorting out who is really telling the truth, and it's too easy for them to just say the hell with it and become disgusted with both.

         Partisans for either side will go with their candidates; the 'mushy middle' will be turned off. That is one factor in low voter turn outs. When the mud starts to fly, people stay out, and the side with the most mud to throw can triumph. The trick is to find an answer to these attacks that puts the attacker off balance somehow, or at the very least, the Pee Wee Herman defense of "I know you are, but what am I?"

          In any case, to read Brooks musing about Hillary Clinton and then shoveling out tripe like this is amusing.

"People who are dishonest, unkind and inconsiderate have trouble attracting and retaining good people to their team. They tend to have sleazy friends. They may be personally canny, but they are almost always surrounded by sycophants and second-raters who kick up scandal and undermine the leader’s effectiveness.

Leaders who lack humility are fragile. Their pride is bloated and sensitive. People are never treating them as respectfully as they think they deserve. They become consumed with resentments. They treat politics as battle, armor up and wall themselves off to information and feedback.

You may think they are championing your cause or agenda, but when the fur is flying, they are really only interested in defending themselves. They keep an enemies list and life becomes a matter of settling scores and imagining conspiracies. They jettison any policy that might hurt their standing."

       I can't think of a better description of the Republican field these days. And then Brooks delivers this 'insight" with all apparent sincerity:
Modern politics, like private morality, is about building trust and enduring personal relationships. That means being fair, empathetic, honest and trustworthy. If you stink at establishing trust, you stink at politics.
     Of course, the Republican approach turns that on its head; to paraphrase Brooks:
Modern Republican politics, like private moral hypocrisy, is about building social dominance over, and enduring fealty among, your supporters. That means creating the appearance of being fair, empathetic, honest and trustworthy - while always being ready to sell them out. If you stink at conning the marks, you stink at G.O.P. politics.

         If you can read between the lines, Brooks is revealing way too much about himself and the Conservative Mind.  

Discuss
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