Wednesday, January 14, 2015

We Are (still) Bigots

It is very fashionable these days to proclaim "Je suis Charlie." Among other things it makes the quasi literate sound sophisticated and cool. Of course, only a retrograde would condone the horrific killings at Charlie Hebdo, in the deep heart of democratic Paris, the city of light and inspiration to intellectuals everywhere.

But as is so typically the case, the media got it all wrong. The pundits, the blowhards, and the commentariat, like sheepherders, all cried wolf at the same time. And of course, the sheep, otherwise known as the masses followed suit like good herd animals usually do. 

Now, there is noting wrong with feeling solidarity with the slain satirists. I too, share the sentiment. I too, feel the outrage. But one can feel outrage at the killings and not lose one's rational power at the same time. We all have the power of independent thought, which is what Charlie Hebdo, that hommage to cartoon character Charlie Brown, was all about. Charlie Schultz would be proud of his progeny.

However, and this will come as a shock to some, that was not an act of terrorism. What, you say? Could millions of people on planet Earth be so wrong? Yes they could, because these millions are still struggling with their relative bigotry.

First things first. Those two assholes who killed those people were not terrorists, they were assassins. Plain and simple assassins. So why be so picky? They were Muslim murderers so therefore, must be terrorists. Really? So every crime a Muslim commits is an act of terrorism. How about Muslim bank robbers? Terrorism. Muslim  wife beaters? Domestic terrorism. You get the idea.

But, you say, they were financed by a terrorist organization, so ergo, they must be terrorists. And that's where the bigotry comes in. Is it possible for terrorists to do things that are not terrorism? Take a minute to think about this because your answer will determine how bigoted you are. The correct answer, of course, is a resounding yes! Terrorists are people, and as people they are capable of many things both good and bad.

This might be a good time to define terrorism. The Oxford dictionary defines terrorize as: Create and maintain a state of extreme fear and distress in (someone); fill with terror. The same dictionary defines assassinate as: Murder (an important person) in a surprise attack for political or religious reasons. Just based on these two dictionary definitions, it seems assassinate fits better. But the dictionary does not go far enough. Terrorism is the targeting of random people, precisely to give the impression that anybody and everybody is vulnerable, wheres assassination is the killing of very specific people to avenge a perceived wrong.

Why is this important, you might ask? Because until we learn to distinguish all the different activities of our political enemies we will just content ourselves with labeling any Muslim who commits murder a terrorist. And this has consequences because we then become vulnerable to the charge of bigotry, thereby fueling more antagonists who were sitting on the fence.

The fight against Muslim radicals is many faceted. We know they are capable of acts of terror. But with the killings at Charlie Hebdo, we know they are also capable of assassinations, which should not be a welcome development but is a whole different modus operendi

That is why the simplistic slogan "war on terror" is so inadequate. We will only be able to successfully counter the radicals with our intelligence not our visceral reactions. We are superior to these religious fundamentalists because we respect reason, science, and have a sense of humor.  

Friday, October 3, 2014

Economy adds 248,000 Jobs in September

Unemployment is at 5,9%. Let's see how the right wing will spin this piece of good news.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

ACA: Free Markets or Socialism?

The insurance industry believes Obamacare is here to stay no matter who wins control of the Senate this fall.
A lot more insurers plan on taking part in Obamacare next year — a 25 percent increase, HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell announced Tuesday. She called it a sign that the administration is “making historic progress” in covering the uninsured.
“When you consider the law through the lens of affordability, access and quality, the evidence points to a clear conclusion: The Affordable Care Act is working,” Burwell said at the Brookings Institution in one of her first major speeches as secretary. “And families, businesses and taxpayers are a better off as a result.”
Insurers stand to be better off, too. The industry has invested heavily preparing for the law, expects a growing business from the new markets, and knows that insurance is “sticky” — once a customer buys a plan, chances are he or she will stick with it. Repeal doesn’t just mean taking coverage away from the newly-insured. It means taking customers away from the insurers, too.
The HHS report is preliminary. There could still be changes before open enrollment for the second season begins Nov. 15. But the higher health plan participation numbers for 2015 — including some of the country’s biggest carriers — don’t come as a surprise to health policy consultants and analysts.
“It’s become clear that insurers can make money,” said Dan Mendelson, CEO at Avalere Health. The health plans are aggressively angling for a bite at the heavily subsidized and previously hard-to-reach market, he said.
Ceci Connolly, managing director of PwC’s Health Research Institute, said the new interest from insurers was greater than anticipated and builds on the case that campaign rhetoric aside, the Affordable Care Act is permanent.
PwC’s insurer clients “have been confident for quite some time” that some adjustments may be made to Affordable Care Act, “but the fundamental underpinnings of that law are here to stay,” Connolly said.
It’s the biggest growth opportunity in the industry, she said.
“You are skipping this at your own risk,” Tom Scully, who held senior health jobs in both Bush administrations, said of the insurers bigger footprint in the exchange market.
Major insurers that blanched at jumping into the exchanges the first year, like United Healthcare, are making a big play for the business in 2015. United will offer plans in as many as two-dozen states, its CEO announced in an earnings call with analysts this summer. Other big insurers already in some markets have said they will move into more states as well, including Cigna and Aetna.
The markets are not just attracting the big insurers, either, but also regional ones.
Upstarts including the nonprofit Obamacare backed cooperative plans that enrolled more than 400,000 people in the first year, are expanding their footprint. Twenty-three CO-OPs will be offering plans in 26 states, according to the National Alliance of State Health CO-OPs. Existing CO-OPs will move into three new states, and a new nonprofit insurer will be offering plans in Ohio.
Stuart Butler, a conservative economist now at the Brookings Institution, noted that some states had very few plans in the first year, so the 25 percent increase might be growth from “a very small base,” he wrote in an email. “But I do think the insurance industry is now moving from uncertainty (with the politics as well just the market uncertainties) to figuring how to design and price products for a new health system.”
The administration is trying to hammer its message that the health care law is working — a phrase Burwell repeated throughout her speech — despite the long-lingering political debate between Republicans and Democrats in Washington. Obamacare’s supporters are hoping that the new secretary, who doesn’t have the political baggage that predecessor Kathleen Sebelius carried, can put a new face on the law.
Burwell said she hopes to be a part of “collectively turning down the volume a bit” on discussions around the president’s signature legislation. “Surely, we’d all agree that the back and forth hasn’t been particularly helpful to anyone,” she said.
But it’s far from certain that the law’s Republican opponents think Obamacare deserves less debate. As recently as last week, they cited government reports that found some insurers are selling Obamacare plans without separating abortion funding from taxpayer money, an apparent violation of the law’s prohibition on federal funding of abortion. And they’re still blaming the health law for raising costs, limiting choices and, through what they cite as security flaws in, endangering people’s privacy.
Overall, 77 new insurers will join exchanges next year in the 44 states that had available data, HHS said. On the federal, there will be 57 new issuers, a 30 percent increase from the 191 on the exchange this year, according to an HHS report released Tuesday. In the eight state-based marketplaces with data available, there will be six more issuers, marking a 10 percent increase.
It’s not growth across the board though. Some state data was not available. Among the missing states in the HHS report was Minnesota — where the health plan PreferredOne, which covered more than half of the individuals in the state exchange, announced it was pulling out last week. At least 13 other insurers across the country are dropping out, too.
Still the trend is more not less, and the bigger the insurers’ stake, the harder it is to roll back.
Republicans shut down the government last fall because they knew that once the subsidies began to flow, “it would be nearly impossible to put the toothpaste back in the tube,” said Lambert van der Walde, a former CMS official in the George W. Bush administration and health policy analyst.
The question going forward, he said, is how many people will enroll next year, and how many of those are newly covered.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Coming Race War Won’t Be About Race

KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR  August 17, 2014 [Time Magazine]

Will the recent rioting in Ferguson, Missouri, be a tipping point in the struggle against racial injustice, or will it be a minor footnote in some future grad student’s thesis on Civil Unrest in the Early Twenty-First Century?

The answer can be found in May of 1970.

You probably have heard of the Kent State shootings: on May 4, 1970, the Ohio National Guard opened fire on student protesters at Kent State University. During those 13 seconds of gunfire, four students were killed and nine were wounded, one of whom was permanently paralyzed. The shock and outcry resulted in a nationwide strike of 4 million students that closed more than 450 campuses. Five days after the shooting, 100,000 protesters gathered in Washington, D.C. And the nation’s youth was energetically mobilized to end the Vietnam War, racism, sexism, and mindless faith in the political establishment.

You probably haven’t heard of the Jackson State shootings.On May 14th, 10 days after Kent State ignited the nation, at the predominantly black Jackson State University in Mississippi, police killed two black students (one a high school senior, the other the father of an 18-month-old baby) with shotguns and wounded twelve others.There was no national outcry. The nation was not mobilized to do anything. That heartless leviathan we call History swallowed that event whole, erasing it from the national memory.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

And, unless we want the Ferguson atrocity to also be swallowed and become nothing more than an intestinal irritant to history, we have to address the situation not just as another act of systemic racism, but as what else it is: class warfare.By focusing on just the racial aspect, the discussion becomes about whether Michael Brown’s death—or that of the other three unarmed black men who were killed by police in the U.S. within that month—is about discrimination or about police justification. Then we’ll argue about whether there isn’t just as much black-against-white racism in the U.S. as there is white-against-black. (Yes, there is. But, in general, white-against-black economically impacts the future of the black community. Black-against-white has almost no measurable social impact.)

Then we’ll start debating whether or not the police in America are themselves an endangered minority who are also discriminated against based on their color—blue. (Yes, they are. There are many factors to consider before condemning police, including political pressures, inadequate training, and arcane policies.) 

Then we’ll question whether blacks are more often shot because they more often commit crimes. (In fact, studies show that blacks are targeted more often in some cities, like New York City. It’s difficult to get a bigger national picture because studies are woefully inadequate. The Department of Justice study shows that in the U.S. between 2003 and 2009, among arrest-related deaths there’s very little difference among blacks, whites, or Latinos. However, the study doesn’t tell us how many were unarmed.)

This fist-shaking of everyone’s racial agenda distracts America from the larger issue that the targets of police overreaction are based less on skin color and more on an even worse Ebola-level affliction: being poor. Of course, to many in America, being a person of color is synonymous with being poor, and being poor is synonymous with being a criminal. Ironically, this mis-perception is true even among the poor.

And that’s how the status quo wants it.

The U.S. Census Report finds that 50 million Americans are poor. Fifty million voters is a powerful block if they ever organized in an effort to pursue their common economic goals. So, it’s crucial that those in the wealthiest One Percent keep the poor fractured by distracting them with emotional issues like immigration, abortion and gun control so they never stop to wonder how they got so screwed over for so long.

One way to keep these 50 million fractured is through disinformation. PunditFact’s recent scorecard on network news concluded that at Fox and Fox News Channel, 60 percent of claims are false. At NBC and MSNBC, 46 percent of claims were deemed false. That’s the “news,” folks! During the Ferguson riots, Fox News ran a black and white photo of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with the bold caption: “Forgetting MLK’s Message/Protestors in Missouri Turn to Violence.” Did they run such a caption when either Presidents Bush invaded Iraq: “Forgetting Jesus Christ’s Message/U.S. Forgets to Turn Cheek and Kills Thousands”?How can viewers make reasonable choices in a democracy if their sources of information are corrupted? They can’t, which is exactly how the One Percent controls the fate of the Ninety-Nine Percent.

Worse, certain politicians and entrepreneurs conspire to keep the poor just as they are. On his HBO comedic news show Last Week Tonight, John Oliver ran an expose of the payday loan business and those who so callously exploit the desperation of the poor. How does an industry that extorts up to 1,900 percent interest on loans get away with it? In Texas, State Rep. Gary Elkins blocked a regulatory bill, despite the fact that he owns a chain of payday loan stores. And the politician who kept badgering Elkins about his conflict of interest, Rep. Vicki Truitt, became a lobbyist for ACE Cash Express just 17 days after leaving office. In essence, Oliver showed how the poor are lured into such a loan, only to be unable to pay it back and having to secure yet another loan. 

The cycle shall be unbroken.

Dystopian books and movies like SnowpiercerThe Giver,DivergentHunger Games, and Elysium have been the rage for the past few years. Not just because they express teen frustration at authority figures. That would explain some of the popularity among younger audiences, but not among twentysomethings and even older adults. The real reason we flock to see Donald Sutherland’s porcelain portrayal in Hunger Games of a cold, ruthless president of the U.S. dedicated to preserving the rich while grinding his heel into the necks of the poor is that it rings true in a society in which the One Percent gets richer while our middle class is collapsing.

That’s not hyperbole; statistics prove this to be true. According to a 2012 Pew Research Center report, just half of U.S. households are middle-income, a drop of 11 percent since the 1970s; median middle-class income has dropped by 5 percent in the last ten years, total wealth is down 28 percent. Fewer people (just 23 percent) think they will have enough money to retire. Most damning of all: fewer Americans than ever believe in the American Dream mantra that hard work will get them ahead.

Rather than uniting to face the real foe—do-nothing politicians, legislators, and others in power—we fall into the trap of turning against each other, expending our energy battling our allies instead of our enemies. This isn’t just inclusive of race and political parties, it’s also about gender. In her book Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution, Laurie Penny suggests that the decreased career opportunities for young men in society makes them feel less valuable to females; as a result they deflect their rage from those who caused the problem to those who also suffer the consequences: females.

Yes, I’m aware that it is unfair to paint the wealthiest with such broad strokes. There are a number of super-rich people who are also super-supportive of their community. Humbled by their own success, they reach out to help others. But that’s not the case with the multitude of millionaires and billionaires who lobby to reduce Food Stamps, give no relief to the burden of student debt on our young, and kill extensions of unemployment benefits. With each of these shootings/chokehold deaths/stand-your-ground atrocities, police and the judicial system are seen as enforcers of an unjust status quo. Our anger rises, and riots demanding justice ensue. The news channels interview everyone and pundits assign blame.

Then what?

I’m not saying the protests in Ferguson aren’t justified—they are. In fact, we need more protests across the country. Where’s our Kent State? What will it take to mobilize 4 million students in peaceful protest? Because that’s what it will take to evoke actual change. The middle class has to join the poor and whites have to join African-Americans in mass demonstrations, in ousting corrupt politicians, in boycotting exploitative businesses, in passing legislation that promotes economic equality and opportunity, and in punishing those who gamble with our financial future.

Otherwise, all we’re going to get is what we got out of Ferguson: a bunch of politicians and celebrities expressing sympathy and outrage. If we don’t have a specific agenda—a list of exactly what we want to change and howwe will be gathering over and over again beside the dead bodies of our murdered children, parents, and neighbors.

I hope John Steinbeck is proven right when he wrote in Grapes of Wrath, “Repression works only to strengthen and knit the oppressed.” But I’m more inclined to echo Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues,” written the year after the Kent State/Jackson State shootings:

Inflation no chance

To increase finance

Bills pile up sky high

Send that boy off to die

Make me wanna holler

The way they do my life

Make me wanna holler

The way they do my life

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


— Sep. 9, 2014 3:58 PM EDT
WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of U.S. job openings remained near the highest level in 13 years in July, and companies also stepped up hiring that month to the fastest pace in nearly seven years, two signs the job market is slowly healing.
The tally of available jobs ticked down 2,000 to 4.673 million in July, from 4.675 million in June, the Labor Department said Tuesday. June's figure was the highest since February 2001.
The drop was led by a decline in government job postings. Businesses actually advertised slightly more jobs.
Total hiring, meanwhile, jumped 81,000 to 4.87 million, the highest level since December 2007, when the Great Recession began. That indicates companies are more likely to fill their open jobs. Still, that is below the pre-recession average of just over 5 million hires a month.
Job Openings
In this photo taken Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, job seeker Stephen Watson, of Fort Lauderdale, second from left, reviews the job qualifications during a job fair in Sunrise. Fla. The Labor Department reports on job openings and labor turnover in July on Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
The figures suggest the job market is still making progress, despite last week's mildly disappointing employment report. That report showed that employers added a net total of just 142,000 jobs in August, the fewest since December. The unemployment rate fell to 6.1 percent from 6.2 percent, but only because some of those out of work gave up looking. The government doesn't count people as unemployed unless they are actively searching.
Research by economists at JPMorgan Chase has shown that a rise in openings is typically followed 1-2 months later by greater net job gains.
"With the number of jobs available still near a 13-year high, the slowdown in net hiring exhibited in the August payrolls report is likely to be short-lived," John Silvia, an economist at Wells Fargo, said in a research note.
Job openings fell in manufacturing and construction, while they rose in retail and hotels and restaurants.
Tuesday's figures come from the Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey, or JOLTS, which provides a more detailed look at the job market than the employment report. It reports figures for overall hiring, as well as the number of quits and layoffs. The monthly jobs figures are a net total of job gains or losses.
Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen is closely following the JOLTS data as she considers when the Fed should begin raising interest rates.
Job openings have soared 22 percent in the past 12 months, evidence that employers are confident enough in the economy to boost staffing. Net job gains have also increased strongly: Employers added more than 200,000 jobs a month for six straight months through July, the best such stretch in eight years.
But overall hiring, as measured by the JOLTS report, hasn't increased as fast as openings. Hiring is up just 8 percent in the past 12 months.
The gap suggests that some employers are having trouble finding workers with the skills they need. Or they may not be offering sufficient pay to attract the necessary applicants.
The number of Americans who quit their jobs last month was little changed, at 2.5 million, the JOLTS report showed. More people quit their jobs in a healthy economy because they are more likely to find new, typically higher-paying, jobs. Quits fell sharply in the recession but have since recovered. Yet they are still below the 2.8 million that is typical in a healthy economy.