Archive for International

Apr
14

Shutting down Skynet

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You know you’re in trouble when life starts resembling a Schwarzenegger movie. What with economic insecurity, huge income disparity, severe drought in California, massive NSA surveillance, a virtual
war on the poor, police firing on unarmed civilians, and a population pacified with reality TV, The Running Man (1987) comes to mind. In a dystopian, near-future police state, Ah-nold gets framed as “The Butcher of Bakersfield” after a police helicopter crew (following orders) fires on food rioters.

But that was 2017. Today, the Air Force is hot to open your friendly skies to its large Predator, Reaper, Global Hawk, and Sentinel drones. A few weeks ago, I wrote about that at Crooks and Liars. The press focus has been on the FAA’s congressionally mandated commercial drone testing, yet “there is no funding from FAA to support the test sites.” Plus, everywhere you look, the people involved in the testing program seem to include Department of Defense, ex-military, Air National Guard, or members of the defense industry. I wrote:

It’s not that commercial drones aren’t of interest to the private sector. Ask Amazon. But the military and U.S. defense contractors want access to civilian airspace for testing exportable military hardware and for keeping their drone pilots’ skills sharp. Several drone testing programs are fashioned as university research programs and appear as civilian efforts. That might be understandable after George W. Bush’s speech about drones attacking civilians with “chemical and biological weapons,” and after revelations about widespread domestic surveillance here and abroad.

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Apr
11

Cult? What cult?

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This week’s in-box brought news that one North Carolina Republican, Rep. Chuck McGrady, is re-introducing a bill to permit benefit corporations or B-corps in the state. It has failed to advance in past legislative sessions. B-corps, as I understand them, give directors legal protection for decisions that consider community stakeholders’ interests, not shareholders’ alone. Twenty-eight other states and the District of Columbia permit them:

Under current corporate law in North Carolina, corporations are not allowed to serve a purpose beyond maximizing profit for its shareholders. The North Carolina Benefit Corporation Act, however, would allow businesses to accomplish goals that go beyond the bottom line.

“It’s a for-profit entity that can do nonprofit work,” McGrady said. “They’ve got other purposes. They’re not all about the highest value for the stakeholders.”

The Horror.

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Apr
04

Curiouser and curiouser

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IS fighters in Anbar, Iraq.
(Public domain via Wikipedia.)

Sen. Ted Cruz is enough to grok before the second cup of coffee, but this may take some espresso:

A Philadelphia woman was arrested Friday on charges she tried to join the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group, a day after two women in New York City were charged with plotting to build a bomb and use it for a Boston Marathon-type attack.

Keonna Thomas, 30, was preparing to travel overseas to fight with the armed group and hoped to make it to Syria, authorities said. Instead, she was arrested at her home, which has three small U.S. flags adorning the porch. If convicted, she could face 15 years in prison.

This woman’s arrest comes on the heels of the two New York women arrested Thursday:

“The defendants allegedly plotted to wreak terror by creating explosive devices and even researching the pressure cooker bombs used during the Boston Marathon bombing,” said Assistant Director in Charge Diego Rodriguez, of the FBI’s New York Field Office.

The justice department said the two women have plotted to build an explosive device since at least August of last year and studied chemistry and electricity.

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Categories : International, News
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Mar
31

Elections Are About Choice

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Can Martin Freeman do one for Democrats in 2016?

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Mar
25

Coming Soon To An Interstate Near You

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Remember me warning you about Thom’s Tholl Road? Coming soon to an interstate near you? Via Barry Summers. Introduced in the NC Senate:

A BILL TO BE ENTITLED

AN ACT to direct the department of transportation to study ways to fund improvements to interstate 95.

The General Assembly of North Carolina enacts:

SECTION 1. Study. – The Department of Transportation shall study ways to fund improvements to Interstate 95 from the South Carolina to Virginia borders, including the feasibility of establishing tolls and managed lanes.

It’s been “studied” since 2010 at least:

North Carolina tolling I-95 being studied

Here’s the group that was fighting it in 2012: http://notollsi95.com/

How long before they’re “studying” it for I-26?

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Mar
23

Well, somebody’s taking to the streets

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As we wonder when people will take to the streets in America over growing inequality, they’re taking to the streets in Brazil over government efforts at lessening inequality. Aljazeera reports that the center-left Workers’ Party (PT) under President Dilma Rousseff saw hundreds of thousands demonstrating on March 15. She faces “the most conservative National Congress since 1964 as well as a decelerating economy, hostile media and a corruption scandal that implicates her party.” It doesn’t help that her trade unionist and social movement activist base have been alienated by “pro-market political appointments.” (Nope. No foreshadowing there.)

The people in the streets, “whiter and wealthier than the typical Brazilian,” are part of a growing conservative backlash among the elite and middle class:

Since Rousseff’s re-election campaign in 2014, political discourse in Brazil has become more polarized than ever. Legislators elected from historically progressive states openly defended policies such as torture and the extermination of indigenous peoples. Congress now includes a sizable “bullet caucus,” which supports militaristic responses to crime, as well as a substantial Christian fundamentalist caucus opposed to gay rights and a very large rural caucus that opposes land reform and indigenous rights. Meanwhile, the PT and parties to its left lost seats, and nearly 30 percent of voters cast blank ballots or abstained — a historic high.

Rousseff’s administration has fallen short of expectations on certain scores, including land redistribution and the reform of the political system. But most progressive commentators agree that the PT represents a significant break from the free-market orthodoxy that previously prevailed in Brazil. There are a number of impressive social achievements based on the unapologetic redistribution of resources and opportunity. Extreme poverty has been reduced by 75 percent since the PT came to power, and overall poverty gone down 65 percent, largely by means of direct cash transfers now received by 44 million Brazilians, or nearly 1 in 4. The inflation-adjusted minimum wage has doubled in the last 12 years, and domestic workers have won expanded rights, including paid vacation.

On its own, clearly not a situation the right people can allow to stand. But it’s the affirmative action program in the country’s public universities that has the elite really riled. Tuition is free, Aljazeera reports, but now future politicians, government ministers, and judges, etc. find themselves having to share those elite educational institutions with working class and lower middle class students and, yes indeed, issues of racial inequality are adding to the political friction. Furthermore, Rousseff’s party “has failed to present the redistributive project as one that benefits the entire nation and not just the dispossessed.”

The Guardian describes how the Latin American left is seeing pushback elsewhere. The global financial crisis has caught up with the reforms in Venezuela as well, and Argentina’s fight with “vulture funds” such as Paul Singer’s Elliott Management has dried up its credit:

Many see a conspiracy at work. “The Latin American left is coming up against an enemy that it has never prepared itself for,” said Federico Neiburg, an economic anthropologist at the Museu Nacional. “It’s an alliance between shifting geopolitical interests, economic and financial elites trying to impose politics that are beneficial to them, and political action on behalf of the media …

Paging Naomi Klein.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Mar
20

Changing the culture. Emphasis on cult.

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This is an old story of mine about how views on education have changed:

I grew up thinking that education was its own reward. In college, I studied, philosophy, art, drama and science. Yeah, I waited tables and traveled for awhile. After college, I was appalled at the attitude of many customers. They’d ask if I was in college. No, I told them, I’d graduated. Next question: What was your major?

When I told them, their eyes went blank. “But what are you going to do with it,” they’d ask. You could see the gears going round in their heads. How did that (a philosophy degree) translate into *that* as they mentally rubbed their finger$$ together.

Education used to be valued for its own sake. Not anymore.

America’s founding ideas were cultivated and distilled by people of the Enlightenment, probably the best educated the world has ever produced. Men mostly. White men. Wealthy white men.

Two and a quarter centuries later, another collection of wealthy white men want America to return to those roots, where only wealthy, white people will be educated in wealthy, white, business-friendly ways. State supports for low tuition rates “distort” the market. Costs must rise to drive students who can still afford it into the more remunerative majors. Tech schools for the rest.

Our modern Übermenschen want to terraform our minds. To make humans suitable for their brand of capitalism, they must remake the culture. Emphasis on cult. The Great Whitebread Hope is trying to “reform” the University of Wisconsin into a vocational school. Meanwhile, the purge continues at the University of North Carolina. I’ve written about it over and over. Now it’s the Jedidiah Purdy’s turn at the New Yorker:

For several years, there have been indications that the state’s new leaders want to change the mission of public higher education in North Carolina. In 2013, the Republican governor, Pat McCrory, told William Bennett, a conservative talk-show host and former Secretary of Education, that the state shouldn’t “subsidize” courses in gender studies or Swahili (that is, offer them at public universities). The following year, he laid out his agenda in a speech at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Using the language of business schools, he urged his audience to “reform and adapt the U.N.C. brand to the ever-changing competitive environment of the twenty-first century” and to “[hone] in on skills and subjects employers need.” McCrory also had a warning for faculty members whose subjects could be understood as political: “Our universities should not be used to indoctrinate our students to become liberals or conservatives, but should teach a diversity of opinions which will allow our future leaders to decide for themselves.”

All those stupid, unmarketable things our Enlightenment Founders had learned in school? You know, history, Greek and Latin? E pluribus unum? French. French literature and philosophy? What did they ever do with that? What use are they to homo corporatus? He needs a trade. Well okay, maybe a little philosophy of the proper sort. Purdy continues:

The other reformist front is a call to revive the Great Books model of humanities education: literature and philosophy as a source of eternal truths, dating back to Plato, passing through John Locke, and perfected by Ayn Rand and the libertarian economist Friedrich Hayek. A Pope Center research paper published this year describes a “renewal in the university” through privately funded programs dedicated to teaching the great books untainted by relativism. The report devotes a great deal of attention to programs dedicated to “the morality of capitalism,” which have been founded at sixty-two public and private colleges and universities. Many of these programs, which are often housed within business schools or economics or political science departments, were funded over the past fifteen years by North Carolina-based BB&T Bank, under its former president John Allison, who is now the C.E.O. of the Cato Institute. In a 2012 statement, Allison explained that he funded the programs to “retake the universities” from “statist/collectivist ideas.” He also noted that training students in the morality of capitalism is “clearly in our shareholders’ long-term best interest.”

Because when betterment meets bottom line, betterment loses (or is redefined). “A successful humanities education makes the obvious questionable,” Purdy writes. But questioning is not the object for results-oriented businessmen. They want results and a return on investment. Just a wild guess, but the only market testing these Market mavens did (if any) for their proposed curriculum was among other wealthy, white men.

As it happens, I wrote about BB&T’s putsch to indoctrinate university students in Ayn Rand’s sociopath morality as the Great Recession took hold in January 2009. Reprised here:

A struggling George Bailey once received a fat cigar and a generous job offer from banker Henry Potter. Potter pointed out that it would be in George’s self-interest to accept it and forget about that old savings and loan and all the little people it served. George Bailey turned down that deal.

Western Carolina University and other financially struggling universities have received similar offers from the BB&T Foundation. The catch is that they have to indoctrinate students in Ayn Rand’s economic philosophy and teach Atlas Shrugged.

Mountain Xpress’ report on the BB&T grant to WCU [“Capitalism on Campus,” Dec. 23] quotes College of Business Dean Ronald Johnson saying, “As a businessperson, you have to have a set of principles—or a philosophy. … Those people who do not have a firm foundation … are not likely to be very successful.” Also, “The base of my philosophy is wealth maximization.”

Wealth maximization, I take it, has always been the primary philosophical foundation of business ethics—pretty thin gruel—and the foundation for both Duke University’s recent Fuqua School of Business cheating scandal (among others elsewhere) and the scruple-free atmosphere behind the subprime gold rush.

Pursuit of—if not full realization of—the “pure, uncontrolled, unregulated laissez-faire capitalism” that Rand advocated has brought the world economic system to its knees. Rational self-interest wasn’t supposed to be so irrational. Nonetheless, free marketers have redoubled efforts to resuscitate their philosophy, including offering colleges lucrative grants to teach it.

Economic meltdown is not a failure of their philosophy—no. Washington just didn’t do laissez-faire right. When tax cuts failed to produce promised jobs, it just meant we needed more tax cuts. Or as the blogger Digby observed, “Conservatism never fails. It is only failed.”

The Detroit bailout debate revealed that, for many opponents, the loss of millions of jobs was acceptable collateral damage in propping up their economic philosophy: Government intervention would be a deplorable violation of free-market principles.

It is symptomatic of the Gilded Age that economic principles trump all others. Most people learn better in Sunday school.

In the wake of business-school scandals, the Enron/WorldCom/Tyco scandals and Wall Street’s sub-prime/derivatives scandal: If parents and churches don’t, somebody should teach remedial ethics. But is it acceptable for our shrugging Atlases to bribe colleges to teach theirs?

Having taken control of state governments, conservatives/libertarians no longer have to ply potential converts with beer or pay bribes to have their faith taught in state schools. They can simply “reform” the schools. I call them the Midas Cult. Their behavior and tactics continue to reinforce that impression.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

Categories : Corporatocracy
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Mar
19

Rigging the rigging

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It is one of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s signature lines: “The game is rigged.” Lina Khan at Washington Monthly fleshes out just how much. Forget the social safety net. Khan looks at how binding arbitration clauses in consumer contracts snip away what’s left of the legal safety net protecting consumers. Warren may have birthed the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to give Average Joe a fighting chance, but binding arbitration still leaves the Man with all the power:

Last week the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a report documenting the prevalence and effects of arbitration clauses in consumer financial products. CFPB’s report captures the effects of arbitration clauses in financial products and services, based on data from the American Arbitration Association, which handles the vast majority of consumer financial arbitration cases. A few main takeaways from the study [edited for length - TS]:

•Arbitration tends to work out better for companies than it does for individual consumers: in cases initiated by consumers, arbitrators awarded them some relief in around 20 percent of cases. By contrast, arbitrators provided companies some type of relief in 93 percent of cases that they filed.

•Even the degree of relief varies notably: within the slice of arbitration outcomes that CFPB could assess, consumers won an average of 12 cents for every dollar they claimed. By contrast, companies on average won 91 cents for every dollar they claimed. In total, consumers received less than $400,000 from arbitrators in 2010 and 2011. Companies won $2 million over that same period
.
•Notably, CFPB found evidence undercutting a favorite pro-mandatory arbitration trope: that nixing arbitration clauses would burden companies with greater litigation costs, which they would be forced to pass on to consumers in the form of higher prices for their goods. CFPB found that the banks that had to drop arbitration clauses from their contracts as part of an antitrust settlement in 2009 did not subsequently raise prices for consumers.

The CFPB is expected to propose rules “limiting mandatory arbitration clauses in these take-it-or-leave-it contracts,” Khan reports. Over 90 percent of consumers in contracts with a binding arbitration clause were unaware they could not sue “or had no idea.” On average, $27,000 of consumer money is at stake in these disputes. But paired with class action bans, these contracts leave financial organizations holding all the high cards in the game and “de facto privatizes” a legal process funded with tax dollars that, at least in theory, level the playing field.

The sharks are running the fish hatchery.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Mar
19

Getting Base With The Base

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The lefties are busing THEM to the polls. Yes, it’s a thing.

Categories : International
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General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper at Creech Air Force Base, NV, one of several test sites promoted by the state.

We’ve also discovered through intelligence that Iraq has a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles [UAVs] that could be used to disperse chemical and biological weapons across broad areas. We’re concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVs for missions targeting the United States. – Pres. George W. Bush, Cincinnati, OH, October 7, 2002

That was the first time many of us heard the term “unmanned aerial vehicles.” Ticking off a litany of bogus reasons for invading Iraq, Bush hoped we would collectively wet our pants in fear of unmanned drones over America unleashing death from above. That was then. This is now.

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