Sunday, May 24, 2009

Most of What You Know About Iran is Misinformation

They May Not Want The Bomb - And other unexpected truths.
By Fareed Zakaria NEWSWEEK Emerging Iran
Inside a land poised between tradition and modernity

Everything you know about Iran is wrong, or at least more complicated than you think. Take the bomb. The regime wants to be a nuclear power but could well be happy with a peaceful civilian program (which could make the challenge it poses more complex). What's the evidence? Well, over the last five years, senior Iranian officials at every level have repeatedly asserted that they do not intend to build nuclear weapons. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has quoted the regime's founding father, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who asserted that such weapons were "un-Islamic." The country's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a fatwa in 2004 describing the use of nuclear weapons as immoral. In a subsequent sermon, he declared that "developing, producing or stockpiling nuclear weapons is forbidden under Islam." Last year Khamenei reiterated all these points after meeting with the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei.

Following a civilian nuclear strategy has big benefits. The country would remain within international law, simply asserting its rights under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a position that has much support across the world. That would make comprehensive sanctions against Iran impossible. And if Tehran's aim is to expand its regional influence, it doesn't need a bomb to do so.

Iranians aren't suicidal. In an interview last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the Iranian regime as "a messianic, apocalyptic cult." In fact, Iran has tended to behave in a shrewd, calculating manner, advancing its interests when possible, retreating when necessary. The Iranians allied with the United States and against the Taliban in 2001, assisting in the creation of the Karzai government. They worked against the United States in Iraq, where they feared the creation of a pro-U.S. puppet on their border. Earlier this year, during the Gaza war, Israel warned Hizbullah not to launch rockets against it, and there is much evidence that Iran played a role in reining in their proxies.

Iran's ruling elite is obsessed with gathering wealth and maintaining power. (Sound familiar? Good capitalists all) The argument made by those—including many Israelis for coercive sanctions against Iran is that many in the regime have been squirreling away money into bank accounts in Dubai and Switzerland for their children and grandchildren. These are not actions associated with people who believe that the world is going to end soon.

Iran isn't a dictatorship. But it certainly is not a democracy, either. The regime jails opponents, closes down magazines and tolerates few challenges to its authority. But neither is it a monolithic dictatorship. It might be best described as an oligarchy, with considerable debate and dissent within the elites. Even the so-called Supreme Leader has a constituency, the Assembly of Experts, who selected him and whom he has to keep happy. (Hmm.. sounds more like the US all the time).

Ahmadinejad is widely seen as the "mad mullah" who runs the country, but he is not the unquestioned chief executive and is actually a thorn in the side of the clerical establishment. He is a layman with no family connections to major ayatollahs—which makes him a rare figure in the ruling class. He was not initially the favored candidate of the Supreme Leader in the 2005 election. Even now the mullahs clearly dislike him, and he, in turn, does things deliberately designed to undermine their authority.

Iran might be ready to deal. While the regime appears united in its belief that Iran has the right to a civilian nuclear program—a position with broad popular support—some leaders seem sensitive to the costs of the current approach. It is conceivable that these "moderates" would appreciate the potential benefits of limiting their nuclear program, including trade, technology and recognition by the United States. Both sides might get enough of what they consider crucial for it to work. Why not try this before launching the next Mideast war?

A Photographic Journey - The Changing Face of Iran
Iranian Cities and Travel
Video: Isfahan Diary—The Terror Victim

Video: Of the Qu'ran and Quarks
Video: The Laughing Radical
Photos: Emerging Iran
Zakaria: What You Know About Iran is Wrong
On the Road in Iran
Obama Chief of Staff Emanuel Rahm: Israel, Iran
Iran's Next President?
Khatami: 'The Country Can Be Run Better'
ElBaradei: Iranians 'Are Not Fanatics'

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Saturday Night Videos

Privatize the Profits - Socialize the Losses

The video below should be required viewing for every torture-apologist out there ... particularly Dick and Liz Cheney. For those who haven't seen this video, or for anyone still stupid enough to claim that waterboarding isn't torture:

Torture Nation - Jon Stewart Weighs In

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
American Idealogues
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisPolitical Humor

Olbermann Donates To Charity After Mancow Is Waterboarded

Whoopi Goldberg Calls Glenn Beck A 'Lying Sack Of Dog Mess'

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Republican "health care plan": Massive Fail

by -- Badtux the Health Care Penguin
Well, looks like the good ole' John McInsane Health Care Plan that I so justly derided back in October 2008 is back, as the brand-spankin' new GOP Health Plan. As is usual for GOP proposals, it is a huge honkin' tax increase for the middle class disguised as a "tax cut" -- it eliminates the tax deduction for employer-provided health insurance, and replaces it with a laughably inadequate tax credit that provides less than *HALF* of the cost of the average family health insurance policy. It also adds some cool pork for Republican donors, such as privatizing Medicaid (more profit for insurance companies! Yum!), auto-enrollment in insurance at the emergency room (yay, more customers for the insurance companies!), limit malpractice lawsuits against bad doctors... and all while doing nothing, nada, zip, zilcho, for the problem of out-of-control health care costs in America.
The United States is spending 17% of its GDP on health care. France is spending 12% of its GDP on health care, or 30% less than the United States. Yet France surpasses the U.S. on *all* measures of health care -- outcomes measures (life span, cancer survival rates, etc.), waiting periods for treatment, number of doctors per thousand population, number of hospital beds per thousand population, access to advanced medical treatments (only 66% of Americans have *any* access to advanced medical treatments -- the other 33% of Americans have no insurance or are too underinsured to have access to advanced medical treatments), access to advanced medical technology... and they do that all for less money than the U.S., because they have a guaranteed universal single-payer health insurance system rather than the costly and inefficient bunch of money grubbing leeches that is the U.S. privatized health insurance system. Now, the big problem here is that this is unsustainable. We can't spend 20% of our GDP on health care and expect to maintain a viable economy, and at current rate of growth of health care spending, we'll be at 20% by the end of this decade.
Yet the Republicans have nothing -- nada, zilch, zero -- to offer regarding fixing this problem. Indeed, by pushing yet more people into the costly and inefficient individual health insurance market instead of the far more efficient group health insurance market, they'll make health care costs go up even *more* -- and almost all of the increased costs will be profits pocketed by health insurers. Meanwhile, the most cost-effective solution for funding, single payer ("Medicare For All"), *still* isn't on the table... gotta make sure the blood-sucking leeches in the private insurance industry get to make more profit from the illnesses of Americans, sigh. And President Obama seems just peachy-keen comfortable with that. Best Republican president of the past thirty years? We'll have to see, hmm?

Green Day Vs. Wal-Mart

NEW YORK — Green Day has the most popular CD in the country, but you won't be able to find it at your local Wal-Mart.
The band says the giant superstore chain refused to stock its latest CD, "21st Century Breakdown," because Wal-Mart wanted the album edited for language and content, and they refused.
"Wal-Mart's become the biggest retail outlet in the country, but they won't carry our record because they wanted us to censor it," frontman Billie Joe Armstrong said in a recent interview.
While Wal-Mart sells CDs from acts known for raunchy content, including Eminem's latest, they offer customers the "clean" version of those CDs, which are edited for content that may be objectionable. But in Armstrong's view, "There's nothing dirty about our record."
"They want artists to censor their records in order to be carried in there," he said. "We just said no. We've never done it before. You feel like you're in 1953 or something."
"21st Century Breakdown" contains curses and some references considered adult.
Wal-Mart said that it's the company's long-standing policy not to stock any CD with a parental advisory sticker.
"As with all music, it is up to the artist or label to decide if they want to market different variations of an album to sell, including a version that would remove a PA rating," Wal-Mart spokeswoman Melissa O'Brien said. "The label and artist in this case have decided not to do so, so we unfortunately can not offer the CD."
Story continues here

Friday, May 15, 2009

“Wage Theft in America”

A Book Review of Kim Bobo’s “Wage Theft in America”
by David A. Love

In this winter of economic discontent in America, many people feel as if they have been robbed, and in fact they have. Unscrupulous Wall Street investment managers run off with billions of dollars of hard-earned money. Retirement savings and 401k’s vanish without a trace and seemingly without a remedy. Unregulated markets allow banks to prey on the public with mortgages containing unconscionable hidden terms and penalties. Meanwhile, corporate beneficiaries of the taxpayer-financed bailout extravaganza plot with conservative activists to kill the Employee Free Choice Act - which will facilitate the formation of unions - in order to “save” American capitalism and prevent the U.S. from turning into France.

The free market run amok, combined with regulatory police asleep at the wheel, a decline in bargaining power for workers, and an upward redistribution of wealth, has been a recipe for disaster for ordinary people. Meanwhile, most people do not realize that each year, employers steal billions of dollars in wages from millions of hard working low and middle-income employees. Someone could face a year or two in jail for stealing $1000, yet a crime of this grand scale goes unpunished.

On this second anniversary edition of the Color of Law column, it is fitting that I review the book, WageTheft in America: Why Millions of Working Americans Are Not Getting Paid - And What We Can Do About It by Kim Bobo. Bobo is the founder and executive director of the Chicago-based nonprofit organization Interfaith Worker Justice, and a columnist for Religion Dispatches. And in this fascinating yet disturbing (and ultimately optimistic) book she provides the reader with nothing less than the anatomy of an invisible epidemic. More here

Northern Europeans are the happiest people on the planet, according to a new survey.

Thomas Kostigen's Ethics Monitor
The Happiest Taxes on Earth
Commentary: More people are satisfied in heavily tariffed nations

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says people in Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands are the most content with their lives. The three ranked first, second and third, respectively, in the OECD's rankings of "life satisfaction," or happiness.
There are myriad reasons, of course, for happiness: health, welfare, prosperity, leisure time, strong family, social connections and so on. But there is another common denominator among this group of happy people: taxes.

Northern Europeans pay some of the highest taxes in the world. Danes pay about two-thirds of their income in taxes. Why be so happy about that? It all comes down to what you get in return.
The Encyclopedia of the Nations notes that Denmark was one of the first countries in the world to establish efficient social services with the introduction of relief for the sick, unemployed and aged.
It says social welfare programs include health insurance, health and hospital services, insurance for occupational injuries, unemployment insurance and employment exchange services. There's also old age and disability pensions, rehabilitation and nursing homes, family welfare subsidies, general public welfare and payments for military accidents. Moreover, maternity benefits are payable up to 52 weeks.

Simply, you pay for what you get. Taxes in the U.S. have taken on a pejorative association because, well, we are never really quite sure of what we get in return for paying them, other than the world's biggest military.

Healthcare and other such social services aren't built into our system. That means we have to worry more about paying for things ourselves. Worrying doesn't equate to happiness. Read the rest of this article here

The Real Motive Behind the Cheney Family Torture Tour

by Bob Cesca
Political Author, Blogger, and New Media Producer

I never thought I'd ever lead off a column by quoting Jesse Ventura. Not because I don't respect him. I do. Hell, he was in Predator! But rather, I never really had a specific reason to quote him. Until today.

The following is perhaps the best elevator pitch against the Bush administration's criminal torture policy, and it cuts the heart of exactly why torture was employed:
"You give me a waterboard, Dick Cheney and one hour, and I'll have him confess to the Sharon Tate murders."

For several weeks now, I've been attempting to unravel the answers to a pair of important "why?" questions, and Jesse's quote helped to crystallize some possible answers. Why did the Bush administration authorize torture when other methods were more successful? And why is Dick Cheney so desperate to exonerate himself and to skew the debate with trivialities?

The second question first.
I don't know if it's even possible for a vampiric supervillain like Cheney to experience the human emotion known commonly as desperation, but I tend to question the motives and stability of anyone who, as part of his public defense against a possible criminal investigation, shoves his daughter into the ring to absorb some of the punches intended for his own translucent-fleshed cheek. This was a guy who, when questioned about his other daughter's homosexuality, made it perfectly clear that his family was off limits. And now he's enlisted Liz Cheney as a surrogate in a bit of parental psychosis not seen since the contents of Cody and Cassidy's poopy diapers became unofficial sidekicks on Regis. That's not to suggest Liz is doing this against her will or that she can't hold her own. She was clearly blessed with daddy's Freon chromosome.

Personally, however, I grapple with the very idea of herein mentioning that I have a daughter. It's impossible to even fathom the notion of asking her to somehow go forth and publicly defend my work. And if she were to volunteer for such an effort, I would physically block her. You know, lay down in the path of her car and the like. Yet here's Dick Cheney employing his daughter, who, until now, we never even really heard from, to defend his decision to authorize the domestically and internationally illegal act of torture.

What motivates a man to exploit his daughter like this -- and in the context of an issue possessing such serious consequences?

I believe it's the desperation of a crook who's under significant strain and duress. And as information related to his authorization of torture trickles out, the reason for his desperation becomes increasingly evident.
This isn't just about torture or a tangential debate about ticking nukes or "keeping us safe." It's apparent that torture was authorized for the purpose of fabricating a case for invading Iraq. More here

Notes from Bizzaro World

Click the link to check out this post from Dr. Zaius. Irony personified.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Naomi Klein: Poorest, most vulnerable paying for bank bailouts

By David Edwards
With the results of stress tests on the major banks about to be released, the Washington Post is reporting that nearly all the banks “now have enough money to weather the recession” and that this is an “outcome more positive than many investors had expected.”
However, political analyst Naomi Klein doesn’t trust the stress tests. “It still feels like they’re playing with the numbers,” she told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Wednesday, “that they’re trying to delay the moment of truth — and I think that that’s why that confidence is really, really tentative.”
Klein is concerned that “the poorest and most vulnerable people in the country are being asked to bail out the most wealthy.”
“It really does fit the thesis of The Shock Doctrine,” she said, referring to her book in which she exposes how governments and powerful corporations use disasters and upheavals to gain even more power.
“Here we have just this transfer, this massive transfer of public wealth into private hands,” Klein explained, “and that’s continuing and it’s much, much larger, just on a much larger scale than any of the investments we’re seeing through the stimulus or the budget.”
Almost $12 trillion is being spent to bail out the financial sector compared to only about $1 trillion being spent on economic stimulus.
“My real concern is — has been my concern from day one — is that the crisis on Wall Street, created by deregulated capitalism, is not actually being solved,” continued Klein. “It’s being moved. A private sector crisis is being turned into a public sector crisis.”
“They are already cutting corners,” she told Maddow. “Now Aids funding in Africa is being cut by $6.6 billion. So who is paying for this? This is where the unfairness of it becomes very clear.”

This video is from MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show, broadcast May 6, 2009.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Somalia: Libertarian Paradise!

Anti-Education Intentionally Dumbs Down Americans

by Heidi Stevenson
Something is deeply wrong in America and the world. It's as if the vast majority of people have given up. Given up caring. Given up thinking. Given up common sense. Given up everything but gluttony. Even in the face of economic meltdown, the focus of government and most people seems to be only to get back to the seeming normality of borrowing and spending.
But why? What has brought us to such a state? Could it have just "happened"? Or was it intentional? To call it intentional, it's necessary to demonstrate planning. Fortunately, John Taylor Gatto, who was once named Teacher of the Year in both New York City and New York State, has explained what happened, when it started, and why.
Let's ask who benefits when the great mass of people becomes compliant, unable to think, unable to entertain themselves, and interested only in possessions. The answer is simple: corporations. When the mass of children are forced to go through a system that destroys creativity and rewards group-think, they are prepared to fill their predestined roles in a lockstep workforce and unthinking consumption corps.
What It All Means
Today, there is so little critical thinking that almost anything can be sold. In the arena of health, its now possible for purported research to make claims that vitamins are unhealthy. And people believe it! Immunisation programs that cause death for diseases that carry little harm to healthy people, such as RotaTeq for gastroenteritis in children. And parents rush out to have their children innoculated! Agribusiness pig growers destroy entire watersheds, even to the point of creating dead zones in the ocean. And hardly anyone cares.

This is what has been wrought by our anti-education school system. We are seeing what happens when a populace has been so dumbed-down and made compliant that the only thing they're capable of doing is shop.
"Shop 'til you drop" has another, far more sinister meaning than usually intended. We're in the early stages of a rapidly accelerating collapse of civilization—all brought on by a population so blind and compliant it couldn't see the obvious: What can't continue won't continue.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Too Big to Fail - A Medley of Corporate Greed

"Too Big To Fail" Is Un-American
Eric Hippeau
Managing partner, Softbank Capital
The Too Big To Fail Doctrine is cited today as the reason for bailing out our financial system and our auto industry. Hundreds of billions of public dollars have been sunk in this endeavor so far, with little sign that it has done more than just postpone the inevitable.
The Too Big To Fail Doctrine is nothing more than the rebirth of government Industrial Policy, whereby politicians and bureaucrats pick winners and losers in the economy. More here

The Stress Tests Fail The Smell Test
Arianna Huffington
The results of the much-anticipated bank stress tests are finally set to be released on Thursday -- after the markets close. But we can already give the Obama economic team a grade for the way the tests have been handled: F. More here
Mike Lux
Author, The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be
Most of us who have been working on the banking issue from the restructuring side of things (meaning put the big banks into receivership and break them up into smaller components that are no longer too big to fail), including people I know far closer to the administration's economic team than I am, have come to the conclusion that the administration's policy regarding the big Wall Street financial institutions is fairly set for the time being.
There are a variety of reasons Obama has chosen this path - the fact that Geithner and Summers really believe it is better to resuscitate the big banks rather than to fundamentally restructure them, the belief (reinforced by the Senate's recent failure on cramdown legislation) by senior administration officials that despite the populist anger among the general public that there is no political will in DC to take on the big banks, the reality that most of the media's shallow interpretation about whether something works is whether the Dow Jones goes up the day the plan is announced. More here