Farewell. The Flying Pig Has Left The Building.

Steve Hynd, August 16, 2012

After four years on the Typepad site, eight years total blogging, Newshoggers is closing it's doors today. We've been coasting the last year or so, with many of us moving on to bigger projects (Hey, Eric!) or simply running out of blogging enthusiasm, and it's time to give the old flying pig a rest.

We've done okay over those eight years, although never being quite PC enough to gain wider acceptance from the partisan "party right or wrong" crowds. We like to think we moved political conversations a little, on the ever-present wish to rush to war with Iran, on the need for a real Left that isn't licking corporatist Dem boots every cycle, on America's foreign misadventures in Afghanistan and Iraq. We like to think we made a small difference while writing under that flying pig banner. We did pretty good for a bunch with no ties to big-party apparatuses or think tanks.

Those eight years of blogging will still exist. Because we're ending this typepad account, we've been archiving the typepad blog here. And the original blogger archive is still here. There will still be new content from the old 'hoggers crew too. Ron writes for The Moderate Voice, I post at The Agonist and Eric Martin's lucid foreign policy thoughts can be read at Democracy Arsenal.

I'd like to thank all our regular commenters, readers and the other bloggers who regularly linked to our posts over the years to agree or disagree. You all made writing for 'hoggers an amazingly fun and stimulating experience.

Thank you very much.

Note: This is an archive copy of Newshoggers. Most of the pictures are gone but the words are all here. There may be some occasional new content, John may do some posts and Ron will cross post some of his contributions to The Moderate Voice so check back.


Showing posts with label Corporatocracy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Corporatocracy. Show all posts

Friday, June 22, 2012

Institutional Locks on policy

By Dave Anderson:

Ezra Klein on democratic accountability and incentives for economic growth versus depression:

Voters do not tend to like parties that aren't able to deliver anything more than a ringing endorsement of crushing poverty at the hands of more powerful countries.

Charlie Cook (via Outside the Beltway) on institutional insulation against policy preference changes:

Using The Cook Political Report's Partisan Voter Index as a measuring stick, our preliminary analysis indicates that the number of strongly Democratic districts-those with a score of D+5 or greater at the presidential level-decreased from 144 before redistricting to 136 afterward. The number of strongly Republican districts-those with a score of R+5 or greater-increased from 175 to 183. When one party starts out with 47 more very strong districts than the other, the numbers suggest that the fix is in for any election featuring a fairly neutral environment.

Oh, I was supposed to be talking about Greece where the institutional feature of a bonus 50 seats in Parliament performs the same function to lock in crap policy....

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Too Many Bankers - Not Enough Guillotines

Commentary By Ron Beasley

The people of Greece have spoken and said a lot and a little all at once.  They may or may not be able to form a government but even if they do it won't last long.  

This is not going to turn out well for anybody. Everybody knows that Greece is never going to repay their debt. Ditto for the others, Spain and Italy the big ones. The austerity program insisted on by Germany is destroying the economies of Europe making it even less likely they could ever repay the debt. The technocrats of the Euro zone have proved to be incompetents with there heads in the sand or up the rear end of the bankers. These bailouts are not for the people of Greece, Spain etc they are bailouts for the big banks that made bad loans. The people know this and we see a rise in the popularity of both far left and far right parties. Civil unrest is increasing.


Meanwhile here in the US things are not much better.  The banker/gamblers own our law makers. Chris Hayes:

JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon went before the Senate Banking Committee this week in what should have been a kind of ritual apology tour. Dimon has spent much of the last year and a half dismissing and belittling critics of Wall Street and harshly criticizing the major financial regulatory reform legislation that President Obama signed into law. The message has been: you guys in Washington don't understand our business, so you should keep to yourself and let the professionals like us, the smartest guys in the room, do what we do best. 

Which is why it was more than a little embarrassing for Dimon when it was revealed that a single unit of JP Morgan Chase, indeed a single trader in a division of the firm that Dimon personally oversaw, had somehow managed to lose about $3 billion and counting on a huge bet on credit derivatives. 

As I pointed out here this hearing was basically a love fest.  It was obvious the Senators fear Jamie Dimon.

This is the specter that haunts us after the spectacle of what I refer to in my book as "the fail decade." The notion that we can't simply trust our elites, the big decision-makers like Jamie Dimon, to actually run their institutions competently. And we know that if they screw up, we're likely all screwed. Dimon opened his testimony by eating some crow, but what followed in the hearing was downright bizarre.

While Dimon was there to apologize, many of the senators-- Republicans especially, but not exclusively-- were there to apologize to him, to seek his wise counsel.


To me this entire hearing was a perfect microcosm of what I call the crisis of authority in American life. A nation whose pillar institutions are helmed by the "smartest guys in the room," like Jamie Dimon, who've overseen a cascade of crisis, and yet face little to no sanction for it. Elites oddly blinded to the destruction they have caused.

And in their ceaseless attempts to discredit government, Republicans are only too happy to point out that It's the same for the United States Congress, one of the only institutions in American life that garners less trust than Wall Street and as we've previously noted on this show, is even less popular with the US public than Paris Hilton and the prospect of the US going communist. 

Rob Johnson, an economist, former hedge-fund trader and a man who once worked on the Senate Banking Committee, put it to me this way. "For years, the Right has worshiped markets and now they have reason to be skeptical," he told me. "Meanwhile, the Left has romanticized government and now they have reason to be skeptical. So what you've got now is a society that is demoralized because they have nothing to believe in."

Go to the link and watch the videos.  I couldn't get them to embed for some reason.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Quote Of The Day

Commentary By Ron Beasley

The Quote of the Day comes from Mike Krieger:

We must admit to ourselves that there are truly evil geniuses out there, and in most cases these characters have taken control of the power structure (corporations, politics and factions of the military in most of the nations we reside in).  The necessary action is not for good people to bury their heads in the sand and pretend that such people do not exist.  We must get inside their minds.  We must acknowledge and accept their presence as well as their power and then work tirelessly to relieve them of it.  As Irish statesmen, author and philosopher Edmund Burke so eloquently stated: "All that's necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing." Let's just do it already.

Think Jamie Dimon!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Go Fuck Yourself is a legitimate policy position

By Dave Anderson:

The talk of Greek default and subsequent Euro exit suddenly went from crazy dirty fucking hippie talk to serious discussion of when instead of if and if instead of laughter.

The BBC:

The Greek president has called the four main parties, including the centre-right New Democracy and the Socialist Pasok, to try to form an emergency government to avoid new elections.

But Syriza said it would not attend because it could not back any coalition which supported austerity....

Elena Panaritis, an economist and MP for Pasok...Greece now having "conversations we should have had two and a half years ago," she said.

Go Fuck Yourself is a legitimate policy option and as the MP for PASOK notes, it is an option that should have been on the table thirty months ago:

Newshoggers in May 2010:

Which politician wants to tell their constituents that they need to take a 30% to 50% reduction in their standard of living to pay-off a bunch of damn foreigners at near par and maintain allegiance to a monetary system that increases their pain?  The current set may be willing to make that argument, but the next election will promote politicians who promise to take away some of the pain and screw the foreigners instead of their own people.  

A single European currency without massive cross-border transfers and a central bank that is scared shiftless of the threat of transitory inflation has led to massive amounts of needless pain.  The Greeks should have defaulted two years ago and walked away from the Euro when they still had some control over their long term internal assets instead of wasting two years of continued pain before walking away.  

The Greeks, and the rest of the peripheral Euro-zone nations should consider that telling the Germans and the tight money Bundsbank that Go Fuck Yourself is a legitimate policy position and one that they are seriously considering embracing unless policy changes to both the ECB and the entire European economic integration project changes to allow for easier resets of relative prices between countries in the Euro-zone.  




Saturday, May 5, 2012

Overvaluing big ideas

By Dave Anderson:

Big ideas are sexy to activists and political junkies. Big ideas are often policy ideas that promise rewards to certain groups and from the redistribution of the political-economic-cultural pie goodies, activists are motivated to engage.  And activists are important to a candidate, a party and a movement.

However, big ideas don't create immediate winning coalitions.  They at best create future coalitions that can win.  And sometimes big ideas don't have to be new ideas.  I write this in response to a comment over at Balloon Juice regarding the British Labour Party regaining its footing:

And although Labour has done well in the most recent elections, their leadership is devoid of workable ideas, and are doing well mainly because Cameron is intent on totally crashing the economy with his austerity program.

Sometimes not intentionally crashing an economy when there are viable options for growth given zero-bounds is a big, election winning idea.  Electorates respond well to opposition parties that have credibly opposed needless pain, and have a plan to alleviate the pain.  Old ideas can be big ideas. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The cost of douchebaggery

By Dave Anderson:

I am not a big fan of Rep. Jason Altmire (D-PA-4/12). My archives here are clear about that. His voting record probably is a decent match for his district, although I think there is probably a little bit more wiggle room there than his votes indicated. My biggest problem with Altmire is that he has been a political weasel and that weaselling and chiselling has cost him his allies.

2011 saw several generally Democratically aligned outside interest groups start taking shots at Altmire:

Altmire is a douchebag, there is minimal dispute there. If there is a barely contentious issue that polarizes on partisan lines, expect him to vote with 98% of the Republicans. It is what he has always done....

Knocking out a theoretically partisan friend who has consistently voted against your desired policy outcomes induces fear and increases compliance with a policy agenda, and thus a $350K drop by nominally Democratic leaning group against a Democratic incumbent makes a good deal of sense.

Altmire lost the Democratic primary for the new PA-12 seat last night to Representative Critz (D-Cambria County). Critz's voting record is not that much better from my perspective than Altmire. However, Critz had allies and friends that are well to the left of him helping him in the primary. Altmire had managed to douchebag, dissemble and hippy punch all of his door knockers away from his campaign. The unions backed Critz heavily because they had not been betrayed by Critz on EFCA or other high priorities. Altmire had promised unions that he would vote for EFCA and then ran away from that position as soon as there was any Chamber of Commerce opposition or fundraising opportunities.

Maybe it is becuase I am not a politician, but this behavioral pattern does not make a ton of sense to me. Needlessly pissing off allies in pursuit of votes/cash from people who really don't like you gains neither votes nor friends. John Cole asks this same question about Joe Manchin's wisdom or lack thereof in seeing politics as an individual sport:

I�m basically just stumped as to where Manchin is on the stupid/evil axis. Considering he doesn�t think politics is a team sport (I hope his campaign staff and volunteers don�t hear that) and he�s sponsored several bills he clearly doesn�t understand, there is ample evidence for the stupid side

I don't get it because at any level above school board elections, once we assume reasonably competent candidates, individual policy positioning only does so much, and party/partisan trends tend to swamp individual candidate quality. Being a reasonably decent team member to gain the benefits of cooperation seems to me to be a much stronger self-serving interest than being a douchebag.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Stay or go (to work): middle class trade-offs

By Dave Anderson:

A single kid is expensive. Two kids can get really expensive fast. The biggest expense is day care. And unless both parents are working at jobs where they are making more than the average weekly wage at each job, having the lower paid parent staying home is probably a break even proposition at worse over the short run. Ann Kim wisely, raises this basic point at 10 Miles Squared:

But treating women�s work as an issue for culture and values misses the boat in a big way. Not only is it elitist, it denies the underlying economic realities of many women�s lives....

For many women, however, the �choice� to work at home or at an office is not one that�s dictated by values but by brutal economics.

Many women can�t afford to stay at home, given the realities of today�s middle-class expectations. But many women also can�t afford to go to work, given the high costs of child care and other factors.

The only problem I have with the excerpted segment is I would like to replace women with "parent(s)" as child-raising is becoming more of a shared gender role although women still contribute more time and energy on average to child rearing then men.

My wife and I have a three year old daughter, Elise.

She is amazing and makes me laugh every day as she tries to figure out the world around her by applying a bewildering array of tacit and formal rules to new situations such as deciding to sing "Happy Birthday" when she saw her Easter basket. The Easter basket had presents and candy. Birthdays are the days that she gets both presents and candy. Birthdays require singing, loudly and enthusiastically, therefore, singing "Happy Birthday" was, in her mind, an appropriate response to her environment.  

She is also in daycare full time as both of us work full time. Our day care is a middle-priced one for Pittsburgh, and it costs us slightly less than one of our four paychecks per month to keep her in daycare full time. 

We are also expecting a son this summer.

The combined day care bill will be slightly less than two of the four pay checks per month that we earn until Elise makes it to kindergarten. We can swing it as we have been preparing for that day for the past two years by rapidly paying down a lot of debt and smoothing out cash flow cycles, but it is going to be tough. We have also considered whether or not it makes sense for me to stay home for a couple of years as I earn slightly less than my wife but have better opportunities for part-time, casual, and temporary contract work. The break-even point is within a couple hundred dollars per month over the short run but the strongest argument for a dual-income, dual daycare family is the long run. I have been out of work before and I know the gaps in my employment history have already taken a whack to current and future wage potential. Another two year gap plateaus my career at a low level for a very long time.

Kids are expensive and often the work/stay at home decision is overwhelmingly an economic decision not a personal lifestyle choice.  And this is the decision matrix for a dual income, overly educated professional household.  If we made close to median income, the decisions that are currently tough but present long term acceptable outcomes are off the table with two kids.  Either one parent is working full time and the other stays home with some part time outside work at the cost of significantly impairing their long term earnings prospect OR the post-daycare income is near poverty level.  At that point, there are no good choices.  


Sunday, March 18, 2012

Robert Bales and Big Pharma

Commentary By Ron Beasley

I did an update on the Robert Bales post below to link to this post at Cannonfire on the malaria drug Lariam but I think it deserves a little more attention. The first link was to this article in Counterpunch:

Was Staff Sergeant Shooter On Dangerous Malaria Drug?

Few remember the grisly summer of 2002 when four Fort Bragg soldiers� wives were murdered within six weeks of each other and the malaria drug, Lariam, widely prescribed to troops deploying to Afghanistan and Iraq, was suspected as a factor.

Few also probably remember the case of Andrew Pogany, a staff sergeant who volunteered to serve in Iraq in 2003, but was sent back to Fort Carson after experiencing PTSD-like panic symptoms and hallucinations related to violence in theater. He and his attorney were later able to prove his reaction was a probable effect of Lariam. Pogany went on to help other soldiers who have experienced extreme PTSD and/or drug responses.

Troops who have used Lariam blame the drug for nightmares, depression, paranoia, auditory hallucinations and other psychiatric symptoms including complete mental breakdowns, says the Associated Press. Family members have blamed for their loved ones� suicides. The effects of Lariam can last for �weeks,months, and even years,� after it�s stopped, warns the VA. The drug �should not be given to anyone with symptoms of a brain injury, depression or anxiety disorder,� reported Army Times, which describes �many troops who have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.�

Yet even though the Air Force bans pilots from using Lariam, and the Army is substituting a safer drug, the Navy and Marine Corps have actually increased prescriptions for Lariam the Associated Press reported last year. And, �numbers could be higher still because prescriptions filled overseas are frequently not counted.�

So, we are not only putting our troops through the hell of multiple deployments we are giving them drugs that make things worse.  Of course the drug maker, Roche, is making lots of money so it shouldn't be too surprising that their studies found that only 1 in 10,000 suffered psychological affects.    Other more objective studies have found it's a lot more than that.

Medical and scientific reports were documenting dangers associated with Lariam as early as 1987. For instance, a study published in the British Medical Journal (31 August 1996, 313:13) found that "About 0.7% (1 in 140) travellers taking mefloquine can expect to have a neuropsychiatric adverse event unpleasant enough to temporarily prevent them from carrying out their day to day activities, compared with 0.009% (1 in 1100) taking chloroquine and proguanil. [emphasis mine]" Overbosch and colleagues (2001) reported adverse events attributed to mefloquine in 42% of 486 people studied. Neuropsychiatric adverse events were found in 29% of the subjects, with 19% being considered "moderate or severe".

Sgt Bales has a good lawyer and perhaps this and other issues will finally see light in what is bound to be a high profile trial.  At least we can hope.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

It Could Happen Here

Commentary By Ron Beasley

Could the catastrophe that caused the nuclear disaster at Fukishima been predicted?  It not only could have it was. But Japan's nuclear regulators and utilities not only ignored the predictions but supressed them.

But some insiders from Japan�s tightly knit nuclear industry have stepped forward to say that Tepco and regulators had for years ignored warnings of the possibility of a larger-than-expected tsunami in northeastern Japan, and thus failed to take adequate countermeasures, such as raising wave walls or placing backup generators on higher ground.

They attributed this to a culture of collusion in which powerful regulators and compliant academic experts looked the other way while the industry put a higher priority on promoting nuclear energy than protecting public safety. They call the Fukushima accident a wake-up call to Japan to break the cozy ties between government and industry that are a legacy of the nation�s rush to develop after World War II.

�March 11 exposed the true nature of Japan�s postwar system, that it is led by bureaucrats who stand on the side of industry, not the people,� said Shigeaki Koga, a former director of industrial policy at the Ministry of Economics, Trade and Industry, or METI, which both promotes and regulates the nuclear industry.

One of those whose warnings were ignored was Kunihiko Shimazaki, a retired professor of seismology at the University of Tokyo. Eight years ago, as a member of an influential cabinet office committee on offshore earthquakes in northeastern Japan, Mr. Shimazaki warned that Fukushima�s coast was vulnerable to tsunamis more than twice as tall as the forecasts of up to 17 feet put forth by regulators and Tepco.

Minutes of the meeting on Feb. 19, 2004, show that the government bureaucrats running the committee moved quickly to exclude his views from debate as too speculative and �pending further research.� None of the other 13 academics on the committee objected. Mr. Shimazaki�s warnings were not even mentioned in the committee�s final report two years later. He said the committee did not want to force Tepco to make expensive upgrades at the plant.

�They completely ignored me in order to save Tepco money,� said Mr. Shimazaki, 65.

But it's different here in the US, right?  Wrong! (via The Agonist)

Transcript available at The Center for Investigative Reporting.  The same story, the regulators are captives of the nuclear industry placing millions of Americans in danger.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Your ignorance, their strength

By BJ Bjornson

I couldn�t help riffing off of Paul Krugman�s column yesterday which, like many of his missives, is pretty hard to argue with, and it�s his summation that makes for some good quotable material. After noting that there is little surprise in the Santorum wing of Evolution deniers disliking higher education, he then moves to the more business-minded Romney wing.

But what about people like Mr. Romney? Don�t they have a stake in America�s future economic success, which is endangered by the crusade against education? Maybe not as much as you think.

After all, over the past 30 years, there has been a stunning disconnect between huge income gains at the top and the struggles of ordinary workers. You can make the case that the self-interest of America�s elite is best served by making sure that this disconnect continues, which means keeping taxes on high incomes low at all costs, never mind the consequences in terms of poor infrastructure and an undertrained work force.

And if underfunding public education leaves many children of the less affluent shut out from upward mobility, well, did you really believe that stuff about creating equality of opportunity?

So whenever you hear Republicans say that they are the party of traditional values, bear in mind that they have actually made a radical break with America�s tradition of valuing education. And they have made this break because they believe that what you don�t know can�t hurt them.

Knowledge is power, and the powerful aren�t into sharing.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Because privacy is such an antiquated notion

By BJ Bjornson

I wish I could say this was unbelievable, but unfortunately I can see it as being far too common, and with an increasingly bleak outlook for those entering the workforce, the likelihood is that it will only get worse rather than better.

If you think privacy settings on your Facebook and Twitter accounts guarantee future employers or schools can't see your private posts, guess again.

Employers and colleges find the treasure-trove of personal information hiding behind password-protected accounts and privacy walls just too tempting, and some are demanding full access from job applicants and student athletes.

In Maryland, job seekers applying to the state's Department of Corrections have been asked during interviews to log into their accounts and let an interviewer watch while the potential employee clicks through wall posts, friends, photos and anything else that might be found behind the privacy wall.

. . .

Student-athletes in colleges around the country also are finding out they can no longer maintain privacy in Facebook communications because schools are requiring them to "friend" a coach or compliance officer, giving that person access to their �friends-only� posts. Schools are also turning to social media monitoring companies with names like UDilligence and Varsity Monitor for software packages that automate the task. The programs offer a "reputation scoreboard" to coaches and send "threat level" warnings about individual athletes to compliance officers.

A recent revision in the handbook at the University of North Carolina is typical:

"Each team must identify at least one coach or administrator who is responsible for having access to and regularly monitoring the content of team members� social networking sites and postings,� it reads. "The athletics department also reserves the right to have other staff members monitor athletes� posts."

Now, I�m not all that impressed by Facebook�s privacy record in the first place, or Google�s after their latest changes, but this kind of thing is just beyond the pale. And I don�t care how �voluntary� they claim such things are. The mere threat that refusal to turn over or allow access means you get removed from consideration for employment or other activities is more than enough to make this a case of undue influence.

Hopefully these policies will get reversed, but it a measure of how far we�ve come that such a clear invasion of privacy would even be considered acceptable in the first place.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Who Needs Democracy?

Commentary By Ron Beasley

If you haven't been paying attention there has been a coup in Greece.  Yes, the home of democracy has been taken over by the global banksters.  Unelected technocrats, some from Greece but most not, are now calling all of the shots in Greece.  They are pillaging the country in an attempt to extract as much wealth before the inevitable default of the country.  And Greece is just the beginning.  Steve Lendman:

Predatory bankers make serial killers look good by comparison. Their business model creates crises to facilitate grand theft, financial terrorism, and debt entrapment.

They steal all material wealth and then some. They systematically rob investors and strip mine economies for self-enrichment.

They demand they get paid first. They hold nations hostage to assure it. They turn crises into catastrophes.

They leave mass impoverishment, high unemployment, neo-serfdom, and human wreckage in their wake.

Their Federal Reserve/ECB/IMF/World Bank/political class lackeys do their bidding.

They're more dangerous than standing armies. They wage war by other means. They cause "demographic shrinkage, shortened life spans, emigration and capital flight," explains Michael Hudson.

They're a malignancy ravaging societies and humanity. Greece is the epicenter of what's metastasizing globally. The latest bailout deal highlights out-of-control pillage.

The people of Greece are screwed.  While they may not be entirely blameless most of the blame has to go to a government that made little or no attempt to collect taxes from the top 20% while borrowing money that the banks should not have lent them.

The austerity being forced on the citizens of Greece will not only guarantee that they will never be able to repay the loans but will also send the country into a deep depression.  The banksters know this which is why they are pillaging while they can.  This is as aggressive as any military invasion.  The Greek people are rioting and burning - who can blame them.  They can see what's going on even if the rest of the world can't.

You think this doesn't impact you.  Think again!  It should remind you of the attacks on Social Security and Medicare here in the US while the hegemonic military and taxes on the wealthiest remain untouched.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

Friday, February 17, 2012

"You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet" Part II

Commentary By Ron Beasley

Probaly the smartest thing the British have done since WWII is not joining the Eurozone.   Yesterday I posted a rant by the crazy Nigel Farage. But he's not alone.  Here is a more reasonable MEP Daniel Hannan saying the same thing:

Yes it's time for the Greek people to say no to the bankster tehcnocrats.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

"You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet"

Commentary By Ron Beasley

There is a lot not to like about MEP Nigel Farage but when he is right he's right:

For the actual people of Greece there is only one solution - default and leaving the Eurozone.  The attempts at "bailout" are designed to bail out the big banks and give Germany an economic occupation of Greece.  The austerity being forced on the Greeks only guarantees that the country will officially slip into depression followed by civil war and the debts will never be re-payed.  Make no mistake - this is war.  Unlike WWII it's economic rather than military.  But the goal is the same - German domination.

This is not meant to be an excuse for the Greek economic  irresponsibilty, this is what happens when you spend money but don't collect taxes, but it's not the Greek people who should suffer.

Via Zero Hedge

Monday, January 30, 2012

An odd lesson to pick

By BJ Bjornson

Look, as my name might indicate, I�m rather partial to stories that put the Nordic countries and their people in a good light, but I still have to shake my head at this article from Alternet about how the Swedes and Norwegians paved the way for a more equitable society, referencing events in the 1920�s and 30�s to make its point.

Why am I bemused? Well, for starters, because you hardly have to go overseas for examples of how to build a better and more equitable society. The 20�s and 30�s were the home of massive general strikes and violent suppression of the same here in North America, as well as the period when the first major advances towards a more progressive modern state took place under Roosevelt�s New Deal. What happened in Sweden and Norway were reverberations of the same movement that was wreaking havoc worldwide in the industrialized West, not some unique unfolding that had never been seen before or since.

Second, there is the not-really-small matter of the Second World War, a discontinuity event even on this side of the Atlantic, but very much more so in Europe, and particularly for the conquered and occupied Norway. That�s not to say that the events of the pre-war period were unimportant, but it might behoove the author to note just how those countries were able to pick themselves back up after the war and return to a peacetime economy that still carried on the earlier tradition.

And again, there is no need to look to Scandinavia for examples, since the post-WWII boom in the U.S. and the rise of a true middle class is practically the textbook example of how these things get done, absent a few tweaks such as a universal health care system that your northern neighbours managed to pull off during the same period.

While I don�t pretend to be professional historian, what I have read and seen is that the single most important factor in ensuring an economically fair society is a strong labour movement, something the Republicans, for all their other craziness, have maintained a laser-like focus on for decades, and work to destroy, disrupt, or outright dismantle at every turn whenever they get the chance, as can be seen most recently in Ohio, Wisconsin, and elsewhere.

It may just be me, but I rarely see this kind of focus from the left on this point, and this article from Alternet is little different. It�s not that I don�t think the struggles of the Scandinavian labour movement isn�t inspirational to some degree, but it isn�t quantitatively different from the same struggle in North America or elsewhere. The real questions that needs to be asked is how the Swedes and Norwegians, and other European nations, maintained their strong labour movements while the U.S. saw its labour unions being sidelined and crumble away as a political force, and how and what it will take to bring a real labour movement back.

The article doesn�t say, and in that, it doesn�t strike me as too much different from a lot of progressive blogging these days. They know what they want to see as an end result, but seem incapable of charting or even exploring a tried and true path towards achieving it. Inspiration isn�t enough. Give working people the information they need to really organize themselves.

I have a feeling I'll be coming back to this.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Old School Labour Relations

By BJ Bjornson

Seems to me that I�ve read about this kind of thing happening in North America in decades past, or at least the precursor of what made this a story, a plant manager calling in the police to beat and kill a union leader. The counterattack doesn�t seem to be quite as common.

Workers at the Regency Ceramics factory in the India raided the home of their boss, and beat him senseless with led pipes after a wage dispute turned ugly.

The workers were enraged enough to kill president K. C. Chandrashekhar after their union leader, M. Murali Mohan, was killed by baton-wielding riot police on Thursday. The labor violence occurred in Yanam, a small city in Andra Pradesh state on India�s east coast.Police were called to the factory by management to quell a labor dispute. The workers had been calling for higher pay and reinstatement of previously laid off workers since October. Murali was fired a few hours later. The next morning, at 06:00 on Friday, Murali went to the factory along with some workers and tried to obstruct the morning shift, local media reported. Long batons, known as lathis in India, were used by police who charged the workers, injuring at least 20 of them, including Murali. He died on the way to hospital, according to The Times of India. Hundreds of workers gathered outside the police station and demanded that officers be charged with homicide.

I didn�t bother commenting on the recent NYT article on conditions at Apple�s supplier factories in China a couple of days ago since that story was more than well-covered already, but it does an excellent job of showing the costs of pushing the costs of manufacturing ever downward.

Per the Forbes story above, India is the poorest of the BRIC countries and its factory workers are paid the least, so maybe it isn�t too much of a surprise that disputes between management and labour are far nastier there than elsewhere, but I do wonder sometimes if the continued �flattening� of wages worldwide might bring such scenes back to these shores one day.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Psychopaths as the rule rather than exception

By BJ Bjornson

It has been bandied about for some time that the banksters who caused the crash of 2008, hoovered the taxpayers dry in bailouts, and continued to lavish themselves with massive bonuses and perks while the rest of the economy struggled are little better than psychopaths. The scary part is that it is no accident.

In a paper recently published in the Journal of Business Ethics entitled "The Corporate Psychopaths: Theory of the Global Financial Crisis", Clive R Boddy identifies these people as psychopaths.

"They are," he says, "simply the 1 per cent of people who have no conscience or empathy." And he argues: "Psychopaths, rising to key senior positions within modern financial corporations, where they are able to influence the moral climate of the whole organisation and yield considerable power, have largely caused the [banking] crisis'.

And Mr Boddy is not alone. In Jon Ronson's widely acclaimed book The Psychopath Test, Professor Robert Hare told the author: "I should have spent some time inside the Stock Exchange as well. Serial killer psychopaths ruin families. Corporate and political and religious psychopaths ruin economies. They ruin societies."

Cut to a pleasantly warm evening in Bahrain. My companion, a senior UK investment banker and I, are discussing the most successful banking types we know and what makes them tick. I argue that they often conform to the characteristics displayed by social psychopaths. To my surprise, my friend agrees.

He then makes an astonishing confession: "At one major investment bank for which I worked, we used psychometric testing to recruit social psychopaths because their characteristics exactly suited them to senior corporate finance roles."

Little wonder the financial world is so screwed up, isn�t it?

Friday, January 6, 2012

What would an Obama loss mean?

By BJ Bjornson

While it may be difficult to determine just why Obama himself would want to face another four years of the rather thankless task of running a country that rarely seems to appreciate any of his efforts, it isn�t so hard to find reasons why everyone else should like to see him be successful in November. In that vein, The Washington Monthly has a series out on the consequences of a GOP victory, all of which is well worth the read.

The first of the series is a good reminder that, despite conventional wisdom, we should be paying attention to the promises made by GOP candidates during the primaries, since they actually do indicate what kind of agenda the candidate will try to implement once elected.

I suspect that many Americans would be quite skeptical of the idea that elected officials, presidents included, try to keep the promises they made on the campaign trail. The presumption is that politicians are liars who say what voters want to hear to get elected and then behave very differently once in office. The press is especially prone to discount the more extreme positions candidates take in primaries on the expectation that they will �move to the center� in the general election. Certainly everyone can recall specific examples of broken promises, from Barack Obama not closing Gitmo to George W. Bush and �nation building� . . .

Political scientists, however, have been studying this question for some time, and what they�ve found is that out-and-out high-profile broken pledges like George H. W. Bush�s are the exception, not the rule. That�s what two book-length studies from the 1980s found. Michael Krukones in Promises and Performance: Presidential Campaigns as Policy Predictors (1984) established that about 75 percent of the promises made by presidents from Woodrow Wilson through Jimmy Carter were kept. In Presidents and Promises: From Campaign Pledge to Presidential Performance (1985), Jeff Fishel looked at campaigns from John F. Kennedy through Ronald Reagan. What he found was that presidents invariably attempt to carry out their promises; the main reason some pledges are not redeemed is congressional opposition, not presidential flip-flopping. Similarly, Gerald Pomper studied party platforms, and discovered that the promises parties made were consistent with their postelection agendas. More recent and smaller-scale papers have confirmed the main point: presidents� agendas are clearly telegraphed in their campaigns.

It is a lot easier to get upset at promises broken than those kept, particularly if your support of the candidate was based on some of those promises, which does explain a lot of the disappointment with Obama. Although in Obama�s case, the increase in attention and troops to the Afghan campaign has been treated like a promise broken by a lot of progressives even though it actually is a promise kept. Even there, paying attention to what he was saying as a candidate would have been helpful.

And it is not like anyone should be surprised by what the Republican�s agenda will be once they are elected. Not only have they been trumpeting their priorities for quite some time, they have been carrying them out on smaller scales wherever they control the government at the state level. Bernstein�s piece is about paying attention to what they are saying now, but Charles Pierce made the same point back last November when voters went to the polls to reverse some of the more egregious legislation pushed through by their Republican state governments.

I have become impatient over the past few years with the concept of "buyer's remorse." This notion pops up anywhere a freely elected Republican legislative majority and a freely elected Republican governor get together and put in place policies of the sort they were freely elected to enact. Suddenly, vast numbers of people see Republicans behaving like Republicans and profess themselves shocked � SHOCKED! � to find that there is wingnuttery going on in here. We've seen this with Walker in Wisconsin, Kasich in Ohio, Rick Snyder in Michigan, and Rick Scott in Florida. And, "But they didn't say they were going to do this when they ran!" is a vain and witless excuse. Republicans do what Republicans do. 

Look, folks. Everybody knew who was behind Walker in Wisconsin, and why they were behind them. The same is true of Kasich and Snyder and all the rest of them. Hell, Rick Scott was a convicted felon. Anyone who didn't know any of this either wasn't paying attention, or didn't give enough of a damn for it to matter and voted for these guys anyway. Which, come to think of it, fairly well sums up what happened in the 2010 midterms. The country handed itself over to ignorance and apathy and let those two scamps run amok in the process of self-government. The country doesn't get to wake up, blinking, in 2011 and wonder how all this happened.

It all happened because you let talk-radio drive the narrative in your tiny little minds. It all happened because you let yourself be convinced by grifters and charlatans that an insurance-industry-friendly health-care bill was the first in a series of Nuremberg Rallies. You people went to the market. You came home with the bag of magic beans. You all set the throttle to Full, cut all the brake-lines, and sent your elected governments careering down the slopes of Nutball Mountain. It's a little late now to decide that you don't have the stomach for the trip.

This is a case of not only being warned, but having recent examples to demonstrate how things will go should the warnings not be heeded, and there are longer term consequences to a Republican victory, which Dahlia Lithwick covers in her piece, The Courts:

If a Republican successor of Obama gets to replace both Kennedy and Ginsburg, it�s fair to predict that the Roberts Court may include five or even six of the most conservative jurists since the FDR era. Following the ideological disappointment that was David Souter, Republicans have been spectacularly successful in selecting and confirming justices who consistently vote for conservative outcomes. Indeed, the replacement of moderate Sandra Day O�Connor with Samuel Alito may have produced the most consequential shift at the Court in our lifetimes; in a few short years O�Connor�s pragmatic legal doctrine in areas ranging from abortion to affirmative action to campaign finance reform has been displaced by rulings that would make Edwin Meese�s heart sing.

But it�s not just the Supreme Court that would tilt further right. The high court only hears seventy-some cases each year. The vast majority of disputes are resolved by the federal appellate courts, which are the last stop for almost every federal litigant in the country. And the one legacy of which George W. Bush can be most proud is his fundamental transformation of the lower federal judiciary�a change that happened almost completely undetected by the left. At a Federalist Society meeting in 2008, Bush boasted that he had seated more than a third of the federal judges expected to be serving when he left office, most of them younger and more conservative than their colleagues, all tenured for life and in control of the majority of the federal circuit courts of appeals. The consequences of that change at the appeals court level were as profound as they were unnoticed. As Charlie Savage of the New York Times put it at the time, the Bush judges �have been more likely than their colleagues to favor corporations over regulators and people alleging discrimination, and to favor government over people who claim rights violations. They have also been more likely to throw out cases on technical grounds, like rejecting plaintiffs� standing to sue.� In short, they have copied and amplified the larger trends at the Roberts Court: a jurisprudence that skews pro-business, pro-life, anti-environment, and toward entangling the church with the state. Under the rhetorical banners of �modesty� and �humility� and �strict construction,� the rightward shift has done more to restore a pre-New Deal legal landscape than any legislative or policy change might have done.

The courts issue is one that more people should be paying attention to. From the Citizens United decision that is starting to get attention thanks to its likely effects on this election season, to the Supreme Court giving a hand to anyone who wants to avoid equal pay litigation, other decisions narrowing of the scope of class-action lawsuits to the benefit of big corporations, to more recently, a judge giving the state GOP in Wisconsin sole access to the court in their challenge to the Dems petition to recall the GOP governor.

A judge in Wisconsin has ruled that Democratic recall organizers cannot challenge a lawsuit brought by the state GOP against election officials � a suit that claims Gov. Scott Walker�s constitutional rights are being violated by the state�s petition review process.

This means that barring a hypothetical appeal, any continuing litigation in this matter will be conducted exclusively between the state GOP and the election board�s attorney, without the Dems themselves being able to participate and present legal arguments.

�I was a little surprised,� said Jeremy Levinson, the attorney for the recall committee, in an interview with TPM. �It�s the first time I can recall � let me rephrase � it�s the first time I�m aware of a recall-related lawsuit where only the official who is being targeted for recall gets to be a party, and the folks who are working to recall that official are shut out of the process.�

The appointed judge was a Republican state Senator for 20 years, and was nominated by Bush for a federal circuit position. Welcome to the future. Not too surprisingly under the circumstances, the GOP subsequently won the case.

Despite these rather real differences between the parties, there remains a quite vocal group on the left stating they�d rather sit things out and allow Obama to go down to defeat since he�s disappointed them on too many issues. Or even worse, those that figure things are going to get worse anyway, so they might as well just get there sooner than later. The latter reminds me of one of the tracks used by climate change denialists, who point out that since they can�t stop climate change from happening, we shouldn�t bother doing anything to mitigate it either, even though mitigating a problem when you have the chance is probably the only way to give yourself enough time to build the movement you need to truly deal with it.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The routine suppressing of drug research

By BJ Bjornson

Today�s scary reading comes from McClatchy:

Drug research, even from clinical trials sponsored by the federal government, routinely is suppressed, harming patients and increasing health care costs, according to new data highlighting an ethical controversy that continues to plague the field of medicine.

. . .

From diabetes drugs to spine surgery products, scandals involving concealed data have mounted. Consider the cases of two heart drugs that were the subject of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel stories:

For two years, Schering-Plough, the maker of the popular cholesterol drug Vytorin, sat on the results of a clinical trial showing the drug provided no benefit in improving artery health. During that time the drug was heavily marketed to consumers in TV ads. The situation came to light in 2008 after a congressional investigation was launched.

In 2003, a clinical trial of Multaq, a drug that treated irregular heartbeat, was stopped because more patients who were getting the drug were dying than those who were getting a placebo. However, the study was not published until five years later.

In 2007, an independent analysis of the diabetes drug Avandia found that the drug increased heart attacks and cardiovascular deaths.

Steve Nissen, the lead author of the analysis, said 35 of the 42 studies he looked at were unpublished and were obtained only because a court case required the drug's maker, GlaxoSmithKline, to turn over the data.

Drug companies may have been the focus of most of the criticism, medical device makers also come in for their share of suppressing data, particularly Medtronic, where a paper written by several surgeons receiving millions in royalties from the company failed to publish a the results of a clinical trial showing problems with a bone-growth stimulating product.

And lest it be said that it is only the companies themselves keeping vital data out of the light, government-funded research isn�t faring much better.

A surprising finding in the BMJ analysis was that serious lapses occurred even in clinical trials funded by the National Institutes of Health.

That research showed that less than half of NIH-funded clinical trials were published in a medical journal within 30 months of the completion of the trial and after 51 months, one-third of trials remained unpublished.

. . .

A second BMJ paper looked at clinical trials of drugs that already had received at least one Food and Drug Administration approval. In such cases a law requires the reporting within one year of the completion of the trial.

Despite the law, only 163 of 738 such trials, or 22 percent, had reported the results within a year, the paper found.

Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, doesn�t it?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Socialize the clean-up, privatize the profits

By BJ Bjornson

Why, oh why does this story sound so familiar?

An old N.W.T. gold mine that was recently cleaned up by the federal government is set to become a mine once again.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) took control of the heavily contaminated Colomac Mine site in 1999 after its owner, Royal Oak Mines, went bankrupt. Cleanup work was completed this year.

Now, mineral company Merc International Minerals Inc. announced it is acquiring the mineral rights to the property.

. . .

Tlicho elder Joseph Judas said he doesn't understand why the federal government would let another company mine at Colomac after it took them nearly 10 years and millions of dollars to clean it up.

Well Joseph, near as I can tell, the reason is likely that this federal government is made up of �business friendly� Conservatives, which means that they are happy to help out their business friends by spending taxpayer dollars to clean up the mess one of those friendly businesses left behind once the mine stopped being profitable enough, and then once the costly mess has been dealt with, they are more than happy to let another one of those friendly businesses move in to make even more money off of the property without all that nasty toxic clean-up to worry about anymore.

Being �business friendly� also likely means that the Conservatives will not be pushing too hard for the mining company to put up a bond against the eventual clean-up costs for this new project. After all, it wouldn�t be �friendly� to note that mining companies have a notorious history for spinning off failing mines that then declare bankruptcy and stick the clean-up bill to the taxpayers.

After all, friendship is all about trust, and if you can�t trust a mining company to clean up after itself, who can you trust really?