Musings on Tax Day.

According to a new report from the Congressional Budget Office:

the U.S. has made a deep dent in its deficit. The federal deficit lingered above $1 trillion from 2009 to 2012, reaching higher than $1.4 trillion in 2009 amid the recession. But the shortfall dropped to $680 billion in fiscal 2013. And CBO’s latest projections Monday show the deficit continuing to drop to $492 billion this fiscal year and then to $469 billion in 2015.

But after 2015, CBO says that it will start to rise and could reach $1 trillion in 2022 through 2024.

Those are some big numbers. And we should never, ever forget exactly where those numbers came from:

deficits

__________

Here are some more big numbers:

The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that the U.S. Treasury will lose approximately $50 billion a year because of the deferral of corporate taxes on foreign profit. The projected cost from 2013 to 2017 is more than $265 billion.

__________

“I like to pay taxes. With them, I buy civilization.”
-Oliver Wendell Holmes, Supreme Court Justice (Republican appointee).

__________

The bar patrons were so sure that their bartender was the strongest man around that they offered a standing $1000 bet. The bartender would squeeze a lemon until all the juice ran into a glass, and hand the lemon to a patron. Anyone who could squeeze one more drop of juice out would win the money.

Many people had tried over time: weightlifters, longshoremen, etc., but nobody could do it.

One day, this scrawny little fellow came into the bar, wearing thick glasses and a polyester suit, and said in a small voice, “I’d like to try the bet.”

After the laughter had died down, the bartender said, “OK”; grabbed the lemon; and squeezed away. Then he handed the wrinkled remains of the rind to the little fellow. But the Crowd’s laughter turned to total silence…. as the man clenched his little fist around the lemon…. and six drops fell into the glass.

As the crowd cheered, the bartender paid the $1000, and asked the little man: “What do you do for a living? Are you a lumberjack, a weight-lifter, or what?”

The little fellow quietly replied: “I’m with the IRS.”

[h/t don ardell]

__________

Nobody whines more about the taxes they pay than rich people:

Rich People Are Mad They Have to Pay So Many Taxes
on Their Ballooning Incomes

No group of Americans is less happy about the taxes they pay than the wealthy, The Wall Street Journal reports, glossing over the fact that they are paying more in taxes in large part because they are seeing most of the increase in incomes. This is like being mad that you paid more in sales tax on your Bentley than your doorman paid in taxes for a Ford.

The Journal, being the literal journal of Wall Street, takes great pains to articulate the anguish of the wealthy while downplaying that contributing factor. “Higher earners’ share of the overall federal tax burden has been climbing fairly steadily,” the Journal’s John McKinnon writes, “even before lawmakers negotiated the fiscal-cliff deal at the end of 2012.” He tells the story of a business owner that saw her taxes “rise from around $600,000 in 2012 to more than $700,000.” That’s a steep increase. And, McKinnon continues, it was “driven mainly by changes in investment-tax rates on the $2 million in dividends she received from her firm.” Oh. Well. Sorry? “She was really shocked by the increase,” her attorney said. “That one hit home.” Which home? Not the Aspen one, I hope.

I can think of a lot of people who would love to have a $700,000 tax bill today on $2 million. Jeezus.

__________

“There is a mass delusion in whitebread suburban America that they are the real America, and that they are being oppressed by high taxes to pay for poor minorities, even though the reality is actually the reverse: urban centers pay the bills for parasitic suburban lifestyles, which are ultimately unsustainable socially, fiscally and environmentally.”
-David Atkins (thereisnospoon), blogger

__________

Paul Ryan’s proposed budget increases taxes on middle- and working-class people, guts programs for the sick, the poor and the elderly, and gives enormous tax breaks to corporations and the wealthiest Americans. What a shocker.

By a vote of 219-205 yesterday the Republicans rammed through their “reverse-Robin Hood” budget authored by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

For the next decade, the Republicans basically propose taking from the middle class and the poor and giving to the wealthy. This is a crass and clear class warfare tactic coming from the Republicans in the House. By cutting $5.1 trillion in education, health care, help for seniors, food assistance for the poor and proposing huge tax breaks for the super wealthy, the Ryan budget upends not only our economy, but our society and our values.

According to Brookings, if you are in the top 1 percent of wage earners (over $633,000) the Ryan plan would cut taxes in half. If you are among the 75 percent of Americans making between $20,000 and $200,000 you likely would be facing a tax increase.

Paul Ryan, a.k.a. Satan.

Paul Ryan, a.k.a. Satan.

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“The tax which will be paid for the purpose of education is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance.”
-Thomas Jefferson

Sounds about right.

__________

Economixcomix.

I’ve written about the horrors of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) “free trade” agreement before, but man, I’m just a piker. This d00d takes it to a whole other level: explaining our political dysfunction, the effects of unbridled capitalism, and the problems of “free trade” agreements like the TPP in an entertaining comic. He hits all the right notes without dumbing it down.

I love this guy in the suit with the poison Kool-Aid—he makes several appearances.

economixcomixGood stuff.

Aww, you guys…and it’s not even my birthday!

Oh, you jokers! Okay, obviously one of my beloved Many Tens of Loyal Readers™ has an absolutely brilliant talent for satire and parody. A comment we received today (on a 3 year old postnice touch!) is way too hilariously, jaw-droppingly stupid to have emanated from an actual conservative. In fact it is so perfectly idiotic, it’s fucking genius. Behold “olliek”:

The characteristics attributed to the fictional CPD perfectly describes the modern statist liberal. I suggest a reading of “Liberty and Tyranny” by noted conservative Mark Levin just to test depth of your ignorance regarding the nature of conservatism. Indeed, it is liberalism that is a mental disorder as it rejects the lessons learned by humanity over the millenia in favor of a mythical utopia that will never be realized, but has been the reason that hundreds of millions of people have been executed or killed in the attempt at implementing such a twisted vision of human order. As Thomas Sowell has said: “Socialism in general has a record of failure so blatant that only an intellectual could ignore or evade it”

Awesome, amirite? Nearly a dozen symptoms of Conservative Personality Disorder are on vivid display in just those four sentences. But the thing that really puts it over the top, and had me rolling on the floor with side-splitting laughter when I saw it, is the Gravatar image of “new” Palace commenter olliek:

olliekgravatarGravatar image of “new” Palace commenter olliek. Hahaha!

liberalfascism

Goldberg’s hilarious book with Hitler smiley face.

Geddit? It’s a smiley Obama, ‘shopped with a Hitler mustache and Hitler hair!  Wow, way to resurrect a classic old trope—why, it was all the way way back in 2007 that the irrepressibly flatulent Jonah Goldberg shat forth “Liberal Fascism,” a spectacular embarrassment even by conservative standards. And that is saying something, my friends.

Well, I don’t know what to say. I am so humbled and grateful to have a readership as sharp and witty as mine clearly is. This “comment” is one of the most touching and meaningful gifts anyone has ever given me, and I shall treasure it always. Drinks are on me at the Palace Bar! We will be serving Mustache Rides (equal parts butterscotch schapps, grain alcohol and milk—soy milk for vegans!— mixed with crushed ice and garnished with mint leaves).

*cheers!* Whoo-hoo! You guys are awesome!

What?

Okay fine, you all seriously want to pretend this is for real? All right, I’ll bite. It’s the least I can do for you comedians. Pencils ready, class?

__________

The characteristics attributed to the fictional CPD perfectly describes the modern statist liberal.

Projection: it’s not just for movies anymore!

The symptoms characteristic of CPD as delineated in my piece are not “attributed to” a “fictional CPD.” These are behaviors observed in self-proclaimed conservatives.

Before moving on, let us also take note of olliek’s use of the word “statist.” Although we sometimes see this word deployed as a slur by the leftist anarchist—with whom we share a good deal of common ideological ground, by the way—it is usually a dead giveaway that we are instead dealing with a particular subspecies of conservative, the Libertariansus wankerpus. When spotted in the wild, specimens can be easily identified: plumage is typically blindingly white, and males are frequently observed jerking off furiously to Ayn Rand’s terrible, terrible books.

I suggest a reading of “Liberty and Tyranny” by noted conservative Mark Levin just to test depth of your ignorance regarding the nature of conservatism.

Mansplainer is mansplainy: film at 11.

As Loyal Readers™ well know, I have spent much of my adult life to the study and careful analysis of conservatism (as well as much of my childhood surviving it). I have pored over endless tracts by William F. Buckley, Phyllis Schlafly, George Will, Milton Friedman and Ann Coulter; I have sought enlightenment in the work of Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer and S.E. Cupp. I have listened to Rush Limbaugh and watched Fox News for hundreds of hours. I am a regular reader of The Wall Street Journal editorial page as well as various and sundry right-wing publications and blogs. Moreover, I have witnessed along with the rest of humanity the horrific destruction and devastation unleashed upon my country, people all over the world and the planet itself by the conservative policies of Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and a long line of predecessors, both within government and without.

And yet! I am still directed to read this or that writing, by so-and-so Big Willie or such-and-such doucheweasel. Listen: I have satisfied myself beyond any reasonable doubt that there is nothing new in any of it. Not one single thing. All of it boils down to: an entirely unwarranted sense of self-regard and entitlement; desperate and fanciful rationalizations for one’s own unearned privilege, resulting in the characteristic detachment from reality, wild mischaracterizations of history, and rejection of hard-earned knowledge; and a blundering, comical narcissism. Or, in more colloquial terms: “I’ve got mine, jack! Fuck you! And especially fuck THEM!”

Indeed, it is liberalism that is a mental disorder as it rejects the lessons learned by humanity over the millenia in favor of a mythical utopia that will never be realized,

Wow, the dumbassitude is strong in this one.

First, we note that our new friend neglects to say exactly which “lessons learned by humanity over the millenia [sic]” liberals reject due to our unfortunate mental disorder. Here are some lessons that, broadly speaking, liberals have gleaned from history:

  • Religion is a blight on humanity and has absolutely no place in governance.
  • Humans are a social species, with all that entails. We are interdependent. Chew on your bootstraps while you think about the ramifications of that. Go ahead. We’ll wait.
  • Humans flourish far better with government structure and a meaningful social compact than without.
  • The rule of law is a necessary but not sufficient for justice.
  • Diversity is a strength.
  • Empathy is not a weakness.
  • Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
  • Social democracy is so far the best of all these terrible democratic systems.
  • Free markets aren’t free. We all pay the price—except for the richest of the rich, who just collect the spoils.
  • War is stupid, evil and expensive. It is rarely necessary, and justified only in self-defense. Defense contractors should all be non-profits, because war profiteering is a terrible idea.
  • Women are people.
  • Corporations are not people.
  • Conservatives are dangerous shitheads, and we should never let them anywhere near power. They have shown themselves to be enemies of democracy, opposed to equality in principle.

Meanwhile, all conservatives have apparently gleaned is the following:

“I’ve got mine, jack! Fuck you! And especially fuck THEM!”

Second, the myth of the “mythical utopia” is a favorite trope conservatives like to fling, right along with their poo, and yet no liberal worth her L has ever seriously advanced such a notion. No, I’m afraid that distinction belongs to kooky separatist conservatives, Christian dominionists, and delusional supernaturalists of many stripes who conveniently claim with certainty that utopia exists all right, but only after you die.

What’s really going on in olliek’s fevered mind is as simple as this: conservatives are pathologically terrified of change. They cling so desperately to entirely fictional notions of “order” and habitual routine that they will resist any change, no matter how minor or beneficial to themselves and everyone else. So when anyone comes along and says, “gee, maybe racially targeted mass incarceration and private prisons are terrible fucking ideas,” or “hey, let’s legalize pot and tax it to pay for education,” without fail the conservative subject will become noticeably animated and apoplectic, spewing forth bizarre non-sequiturs like “mythical utopia!” and “death panels!” and “global warming is a hoax!” (See also: “Benghazi!”)

The reality of course is that there is nothing remotely “mythical” about social democracies: they actually exist. They are by no means perfect, but they are demonstrably better by nearly every metric of human happiness and well-being than the dystopic shithole these depraved conservatives want to see the U.S. become.

but has been the reason that hundreds of millions of people have been executed or killed in the attempt at implementing such a twisted vision of human order.

You see, our friend here pretends to understand a correct and proper vision of “human order.” Ooh! Ooh! Lemme guess: it’s a “natural” hierarchy, which just so happens to have arrogant white male fuckwits prancing around on top of it.

Once more: social democratic welfare states actually exist. It’s true! And yet remarkably, instead of executing and killing them, these nefarious regimes actually provide their citizens with things like single payer healthcare, so that they live longer and happier lives than Americans do. (Christ what a dumbass.)

As Thomas Sowell has said: “Socialism in general has a record of failure so blatant that only an intellectual could ignore or evade it”

In case it matters (it doesn’t), Thomas Sowell is a conservative liberturdian “free-market” proponent out of the Chicago School of Economics, à la Milton Friedman. That would be the very same “free market” that gave rise to the 2008 banking collapse, and to the unregulated chemical storage facility that leaked (again) in West Virginia. From his statement we can readily see that Mr. Sowell, like every fascist, is anti-liberal and anti-intellectual (despite having earned a Ph.D. himself). He has also apparently never heard of Sweden, Spain, Finland, Norway, The Netherlands, France or the U.K.

How…sad.

In short, it is well worth remembering exactly what it is that conservatives wish to conserve: a status quo that is racist, sexist, violent, amoral, ubercapitalist, hierarchical, heteronormative, patriarchal, and viciously social Darwinist—an imperialist oligarchy in a state of permanent war.

Thanks to “olliek” for the timely reminder.

You guys…!

Why stop there?

[TRIGGER WARNING: hostility to agency; brief description of graphic violence; the links in the section about South America lead to sites containing violent images and/or graphic descriptions of violence, including sexual violence; well-deserved f-bombs + s-bombs.]

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I recently wrote a piece entitled This is your water on conservatives about the West Virginia water crisis. It got some nice traction on Twitter, so I figure why stop there?

This is your body on conservatives.

marlise&matteomunoz

Marlise Munoz and her son, Mateo.
(PHOTO: Lynne Machado)

For those who may be under the mistaken impression that I make exaggerated claims when I say that the Forced Birth Brigades are depraved woman-hating shitbags who view pregnant people as subhuman incubators, meet Marlise Munoz. On the morning of November 26, her husband Erick found his wife unconscious on their kitchen floor. She was pronounced clinically brain dead at the hospital; she had suffered a pulmonary embolism and her brain had received no oxygen for an extensive period of time. Both paramedics, Erick and Marlise understood better than most people exactly what “life support” means. According to Erick and Marlise’s parents, she had made it crystal clear that in such a tragic situation she would not want any artificial measures keeping her alive.

But Marlise was 14 weeks pregnant with the couple’s second child, and Texas has a “pregnancy exclusion” law. This means that unlike any other human adult, a pregnant woman may not have life support withdrawn according to her own wishes and those of her family. To this day—although she is technically dead—Marlise’s body is being kept minimally functioning by artificial means in order to sustain the fetus. (It may also occur to my astute Loyal Readers™ that if Marlise’s brain was without oxygen for a significant period of time, so was the developing fetus. No one presently knows the ramifications of that.) Her husband is now suing the hospital, which may take months or even years to resolve.

This is not a Catholic hospital, and similar laws are on the books in 31 states. Only in one state—Pennsylvania—will the state itself pick up the exorbitant tab for its enslavement of dead or dying women in hospitals in order to harvest their fetuses. Katherine Taylor and Lynn Paltrow over at RH Reality Check wryly put it: “Apparently, in some circles, objections to government-supported health care disappears if the money serves the dual purpose of sustaining fetal life and denying women their rights.” See also this report of arrests, detentions, forced medical interventions, criminal charges and other actions taken by states to deprive pregnant women of their human rights (pdf).

The only right pregnant people have in any conservative context is the “right” to be treated like subhuman incubators and breeding sows. If you share this view, of course, you can expect nothing from me but my deepest, abiding contempt.

This is your state on conservatives.

Here is a 46 minute sci-fi fantasy thriller that paints a horrifying view of a dystopic future where a bunch of scheming and entitled right-wing shitweasels engineer the takeover of every single part of a state’s government. Oh wait, no. It’s actually a documentary by Bill Moyers about present-day North Carolina. My bad.

[h/t SJ]

This is your world on conservatives.

plunder(I hesitated to post this image because I am unsure of its provenance,
and will take it down immediately upon request of the copyright holder.)

That is a pretty good graphic depiction of Western imperialism, and the entirely predictable outcome of right-wing, rapacious capitalism presently dominating the world and led by the United States government and those whose interests it serves. One thing it doesn’t illustrate, however, is the blood-soaked methods used to achieve that outcome. Consider Colombia, our closest ally in South America, where we have been meddling and supporting the killing of poor people for decades. Even before the Colombia Free Trade Agreement was signed into law by President Barack Obama in October of 2011, people in the Pacific port city of Buenaventura began experiencing a brutally sadistic campaign of violence, torture and intimidation at the hands of right-wing paramilitaries, often in the presence of local police and with the support of the Colombian army. Their aim was the eradication of thousands of some of the world’s poorest people in order to make room for construction of the expanding port. The violence has only worsened since the trade agreement went into effect. It also compounded the already accelerating land grab by Big Agra and mining interests—which is pretty much the entire point of the exercise in the first place (the country is also oil-rich). A U.S. House of Representatives report has since noted:

“[w]hile Buenaventura is a strategic hub for international commerce, the riches of this growing global economy fomented by the U.S.-Colombia [Free Trade Agreement] mainly pass through Buenaventura and do not integrate or benefit the local Afro-Colombian population…[s]ixty-three percent of Buenaventura’s residents who are Afro-Colombian live under the poverty line, and unemployment is 64 percent.”

With nearly 5 million internally displaced people (and growing), Colombia is now the number one country in the world for internal displacements. Indigenous people and Afro-Colombians are disproportionately victims. A prominent human rights advocate in the region wrote to the U.S. embassador, calling the situation in Buenaventura a “permanent genocide”:

…where the neighborhoods and the Community Councils around the port are being invaded by paramilitaries supported or tolerated by the armed forces. They cut people in pieces with horrifying cruelty throwing the body parts in to the sea, if any of them dare to resist the megaproject for the new port. This included the expulsion of people living in the poorest areas and it includes the expropriation of the plots of garbage dumps where these people, in the midst of their misery, have over decades tried to survive.

Of course Buenaventura is just one city, in one country, where the U.S. government and those it serves are having their way. Nick Alexandrov writes of a Guatemalan peasant woman who in 1984 explained to author-activist Kevin Danaher exactly what’s up. He was visiting her country “shortly after School of the Americas alumnus Ríos Montt had completed his genocidal tear through the countryside.”

The woman, Danaher writes, “told us that soldiers had come to her home one night and hacked her husband to death, right in front of her and her three children;” the man “was a subversive,” in the military’s eyes, “because he was helping other peasants learn how to raise rabbits as a source of food and money.” Danaher struggled to understand the connection between this effort at self-sufficiency, and the brutal end its advocate met. “Look,” the widow explained, “the plantations down along the coast that grow export crops are owned by generals and rich men who control the government. A big part of their profit comes from the fact that we peasants are so poor we are forced to migrate to the plantations each year and work for miserable wages in order to survive.”  Were she and other Guatemalan peasants to become self-reliant, they “would never work on the plantations again”—an indication of the severe threat rabbit-raising posed.

This woman’s remarks indicated who Washington’s real enemy was in Guatemala, and throughout the world. The U.S. government was not opposed merely to “Communists,” real or imagined, during the Cold War, and in Colombia its policies have helped ruin—or end—the lives of millions of destitute individuals.

All of which is to say that American citizens are beyond redemption to the extent they believe that either the U.S. government or those on whose behalf it operates give one single flying fuck about democracy or human rights anywhere in the world—including here.

Advocates of capitalism are very apt to appeal to the sacred principles of liberty, which are embodied in one maxim: The fortunate must not be restrained in the exercise of tyranny over the unfortunate. -Bertrand Russell

So in short—and as usual—FUCK YOU, CONSERVATIVES.

palacefuckyouEveryone else: have a nice day.

palacehappyface

Proof that the Zombie apocalypse is here.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oiFJ2b-ZkuI

While watching this, I was imagining how Americans would act if they were after something they actually needed—like food—and then the caption at the end made the same point.

It could be worse, of course. It’s not like the population is heavily armed, or anything.

Are Americans the greatest people ever to live on the planet, or what?

[h/t nubs]

Terrible trade agreements.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreements are unfathomably awful in innumerable ways for everyone except America’s Owners. To the extent that we still live in a democracy—and I am certainly not averring that we do—we can all say buh-bye!

Like everything meaningful the U.S. government does, these trade agreements are being negotiated in total secrecy, so we only have snippets and rough outlines from leaked portions of the drafts and the usual doublespeak from stakeholders. Nonetheless, from everything we know do about them, the coup d’état will be complete upon ratification: corporate control of governments around the world will be a done deal.

I know, I know. I sound like a lunatic. Just hear me out.

Last year, two powerful business lobbies—the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and BusinessEurope, its counterpart across the pond—published a document purporting to explain TTIP’s aims. The agreement’s stated purpose is to create a single transatlantic market in which all regulatory differences between the U.S. and the E.U. are gradually removed. “Removed,” of course, means deregulated, or alternatively, regulated to favor big business. These agreements have a binding “proactive requirement” directing participating governments to change their laws in accordance with corporations’ wishes, putting “stakeholders at the table with regulators to essentially co-write regulation” to suit themselves. When you read “stakeholders,” think the Koch Brothers, Monsanto, Rupert Murdoch and Goldman Sachs. The trade deals apply to everything from industrial pollution and intellectual property to banking.

Obviously all of this is bad enough for the environment, the planet and the citizenry. But it’s the mechanism for enforcement that poses the greatest threat by far to democracy and humanity: investor-state dispute settlement. In a nutshell, the provision grants big business the right to sue the living shit out of governments which, through normal democratic processes, enact laws they don’t like. Worst of all, such suits are not brought in a court of law, but before a secret panel of corporate lawyers. There are no appeals, citizens have no standing, and the proceedings are completely secret (well, until a new Manning or Snowden lets us all know).

To give you an idea how this actually plays out, consider the similarly disastrous NAFTA, signed into law by Democratic President Bill Clinton (NAFTA is the framework on which these agreements are largely based):

In Canada, the courts revoked two patents owned by the American drugs firm Eli Lilly, on the grounds that the company had not produced enough evidence that they had the beneficial effects it claimed. Eli Lilly is now suing the Canadian government for $500m, and demanding that Canada’s patent laws are changed.

Poor Canada! Oh, wait:

In El Salvador, local communities managed at great cost (three campaigners were murdered) to persuade the government to refuse permission for a vast gold mine which threatened to contaminate their water supplies. A victory for democracy? Not for long, perhaps. The Canadian company which sought to dig the mine is now suing El Salvador for $315m – for the loss of its anticipated future profits.

During its financial crisis, and in response to public anger over rocketing charges, Argentina imposed a freeze on people’s energy and water bills (does this sound familiar?). It was sued by the international utility companies whose vast bills had prompted the government to act. For this and other such crimes, it has been forced to pay out over a billion dollars in compensation.

These companies (along with hundreds of others) are using the investor-state dispute rules embedded in trade treaties signed by the countries they are suing. The rules are enforced by panels which have none of the safeguards we expect in our own courts. The hearings are held in secret. The judges are corporate lawyers, many of whom work for companies of the kind whose cases they hear. Citizens and communities affected by their decisions have no legal standing. There is no right of appeal on the merits of the case. Yet they can overthrow the sovereignty of parliaments and the rulings of supreme courts.

You don’t believe it? Here’s what one of the judges on these tribunals says about his work. “When I wake up at night and think about arbitration, it never ceases to amaze me that sovereign states have agreed to investment arbitration at all … Three private individuals are entrusted with the power to review, without any restriction or appeal procedure, all actions of the government, all decisions of the courts, and all laws and regulations emanating from parliament.”

There are no corresponding rights for citizens. We can’t use these tribunals to demand better protections from corporate greed. As the Democracy Centre says, this is “a privatised justice system for global corporations”.

…One Canadian government official, speaking about the rules introduced by the North American Free Trade Agreement, remarked: “I’ve seen the letters from the New York and DC law firms coming up to the Canadian government on virtually every new environmental regulation and proposition in the last five years. They involved dry-cleaning chemicals, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, patent law. Virtually all of the new initiatives were targeted and most of them never saw the light of day.” Democracy, as a meaningful proposition, is impossible under these circumstances.

…[Conservatives] do not oppose the TTIP because their allegiance lies not with the nation but with the offshored corporate elite.

British writer George Monbiot also notes some applications that easily come to mind:

Investor-state rules could [sic] be used to smash any attempt to save the NHS from corporate control, to re-regulate the banks, to curb the greed of the energy companies, to renationalise the railways, to leave fossil fuels in the ground. These rules shut down democratic alternatives. They outlaw leftwing politics.

True. But what’s most interesting to me is that this should be one area where some strange bedfellows could effectively converge: rabid right-wing nationalists and leftists (not Democrats, like Barack Obama whose administration is of course aggressively pressing for these trade deals on behalf of his masters).

I am (still) haunted by former IMF chief economist Simon Johnson’s excellent 2009 piece in The Atlantic. Johnson likened the 2008 financial crisis, and the U.S. government’s response thereto, to those typical of emerging markets (e.g. Ukraine, Russia, Thailand, Indonesia, Argentina and elsewhere)—and only emerging markets:

Every crisis is different, of course…But I must tell you, to IMF officials, all of these crises looked depressingly similar…the economic solution is seldom very hard to work out.

Typically, these countries are in a desperate economic situation for one simple reason—the powerful elites within them overreached in good times and took too many risks. Emerging-market governments and their private-sector allies commonly form a tight-knit—and, most of the time, genteel—oligarchy, running the country rather like a profit-seeking company in which they are the controlling shareholders.

But inevitably, emerging-market oligarchs get carried away; they waste money and build massive business empires on a mountain of debt…The downward spiral that follows is remarkably steep…and conditions just get worse and worse…The government, in its race to stop the bleeding, will typically need to wipe out some of the national champions—now hemorrhaging cash—and usually restructure a banking system that’s gone badly out of balance. It will, in other words, need to squeeze at least some of its oligarchs.

Squeezing the oligarchs, though, is seldom the strategy of choice among emerging-market governments. Quite the contrary: at the outset of the crisis, the oligarchs are usually among the first to get extra help from the government, such as preferential access to foreign currency, or maybe a nice tax break, or—here’s a classic Kremlin bailout technique—the assumption of private debt obligations by the government. Under duress, generosity toward old friends takes many innovative forms. Meanwhile, needing to squeeze someone, most emerging-market governments look first to ordinary working folk—at least until the riots grow too large.

See you in the streets.

Iris the radical?

I recently enjoyed the company of one of my Many Tens of Loyal Readers™ over dinner and cocktails. At one point during our wide-ranging conversation, he said to me: “You are a radical.” Not a “radical feminist.” Not a “radical leftist.” Not “a radical atheist and anti-clerical zealot.”

Just… a radical.

I laughed. Not because I found the charge insulting by any means, but because I had never really considered before whether that particular term accurately described my political views. If it did, I would gladly identify as such, and update my professional resume accordingly.

I am not particularly fond of labeling people—especially political animals—because labels necessarily paint with a broad brush and thereby oversimplify exceedingly complex realities. Humans are wildly complex creatures, our priorities are as fluid as they are diverse, and none of us are always perfectly rational—and this may be particularly true in the case of political orientation. But labels do make for useful shorthand, at least sometimes. For example, it can be meaningful to say that someone leans left (or libertarian) on certain issues (e.g. drug legalization, same-sex marriage), and right-wing conservative on others (e.g. abortion, and funding a social safety net). And so, since that pleasant conversation I’ve been wondering whether or not the term “radical” (noun) is an apt description of Your Humble Monarch™.

Readers are strongly cautioned that what follows is an epic, self-righteous, self-indulgent screed: all sound and fury, signifying nothing.

__________

Loyal Readers™ will not be surprised that I approached the question of whether I am a radical methodically, starting with the definition. Unfortunately, Step One did not exactly turn out to be an exercise in clarification. (Wikipedia was of no help at all here: see if you can glean from that page any coherent, consensus definition of a radical.)

We’re pretty much stuck with crap like this:

radical [rad-i-kuhl]
noun

  • a person who holds or follows strong convictions or extreme principles; extremist.
  • a person who advocates fundamental political, economic, and social reforms by direct and often uncompromising methods.

Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2013.

Wait a minute. For one thing, “a person who holds or follows strong convictions” applies to nearly everyone I know, from family and friends to run-of-the-mill partisans. Ask any American adult about their views on religion, reproductive rights, Wall Street, taxes, drugs, Fox News, Syria, the Second Amendment, health care, Sarah Palin, affirmative action, Israel, criminal law, feminism, assisted suicide, etc. and I can pretty much guarantee you will discover at least one (and probably more) convictions the person holds strongly. Further, the U.S. Constitution itself is absolutist in much of its language and intent, and surely the major principles embodied therein can be correctly characterized as “strong”—although perhaps not strong enough to survive the bipartisan attacks of the early 21st century. In any case, its framers can accurately be described as radicals under this definition. So I will concede that I am a person who holds strong convictions (else, why blog?). But really, this definition is fairly useless. I may be a radical by this definition, but then, nearly everybody else is, too.

The second part of the definition, “a person who holds or follows … extreme principles; extremist,” is equally useless—not for being too broad but for being too vague. “Extreme” is a relative term. Extreme, relative to what, exactly? I suspect many readers here would view, say, neo-Nazis as extremists. Catholic bishops. Eco-terrorists. Take your pick/fill in the blank: you probably have some idea of an “extremist” in mind.

However:

  • Not even 20 years ago, legalized same-sex marriage seemed all but a pipe dream; now, the feds, the states and the courts are dismantling same-sex marriage prohibitions (due in no small part to advocates bolting from Democrats to Republicans in droves after Dems failed to act). Were same-sex marriage supporters extremists or radicals 20 years ago? Are they today? Likewise, how about their opponents, then and now?
  • It took women’s suffrage advocates almost 150 years to secure for American women their right to vote. At some point were they radicals? At what point did they cease to be radicals? I have similar questions regarding American abolitionists. Were they radicals or extremists? Everywhere, or only in the South?
  • An astonishing number (46%) of my fellow citizens believe the Earth is less than 10,000 years old and that some god created humans in their present form around the same time. Are they extremists? Radicals?

If extremism is only a numbers game confined to a particular geographic area and time—that is, if enough people in one place share a view, no matter how demonstrably false it is or how much evil results from holding it—are they by definition not extremists? Because if that is true, then the concept of “extreme” is entirely subjective. I don’t think anyone would disagree that a whole lot of people at almost all times and places fervently believe a whole lot of stupid, wrong and vile shit, consciously or not. We probably all do. So I’m afraid “extreme” (and “extremist”) are far too slippery for our purposes here.

Finally, there is this alternative definition: “a person who advocates fundamental political, economic, and social reforms by direct and often uncompromising methods.” Now this seems somewhat more promising. Let’s see:

“a person” -CHECK.

“who advocates” -CHECK.

“fundamental political, economic, and social reforms.” If you think that a more socialist democracy, i.e., less economic and political inequality, single-payer universal healthcare and advances in social justice for women and minorities, are fundamental reforms, then -CHECK. But we run into the same problems we did with “extreme”: fundamental is equally slippery and subjective. And I would strongly urge you to consider that your judgement on this “fundamental” matter may depend on how far down the right-wing rabbit hole you’ve fallen.

Take a look at these quotes:

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”
~Dwight D. Eisenhower, Republican President, WWII General

“I believe that there should be a very much heavier progressive tax on very large incomes, a tax which should increase in a very marked fashion for the gigantic incomes.”
~Theodore Roosevelt, Republican President

“The tax which will be paid for the purpose of education is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance.”
~Thomas Jefferson, Democratic-Republican President, Founding Father, principal author of the Declaration of Independence

“Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”
~Abraham Lincoln, Republican President

“Today’s so-called ‘conservatives’ don’t even know what the word means. They think I’ve turned liberal because I believe a woman has a right to an abortion. That’s a decision that’s up to the pregnant woman, not up to the pope or some do-gooders or the Religious Right. It’s not a conservative issue at all.”
~Barry Goldwater, Republican presidential candidate

“The supreme duty of the Nation is the conservation of human resources through an enlightened measure of social and industrial justice. We pledge ourselves to work unceasingly in State and Nation for … the protection of home life against the hazards of sickness, irregular employment and old age through the adoption of a system of social insurance adapted to American use.”
~Theodore Roosevelt, Republican President

“The divorce between Church and State ought to be absolute. It ought to be so absolute that no Church property anywhere, in any state or in the nation, should be exempt from equal taxation; for if you exempt the property of any church organization, to that extent you impose a tax upon the whole community.”
~James A. Garfield, Republican President

“While I am a great believer in the free enterprise system and all that it entails, I am an even stronger believer in the right of our people to live in a clean and pollution-free environment.”
~Barry Goldwater, Republican presidential candidate

“As Mankind becomes more liberal, they will be more apt to allow that all those who conduct themselves as worthy members of the community are equally entitled to the protections of civil government. I hope ever to see America among the foremost nations of justice and liberality.”
~George Washington, first President of the United States, commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War and Founding Father

“We establish no religion in this country. We command no worship. We mandate no belief, nor will we ever. Church and state are and must remain separate.”
~Ronald Reagan, Republican President

“Where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost.”
~Ronald Reagan, Republican President

“I like to pay taxes. With them, I buy civilization.”
~Oliver Wendell Holmes, Supreme Court Justice (Republican appointee)

“We all agree that neither the Government nor political parties ought to interfere with religious sects. It is equally true that religious sects ought not to interfere with the Government or with political parties. We believe that the cause of good government and the cause of religion suffer by all such interference.”
~Rutherford B. Hayes, Republican President

“We will bankrupt ourselves in the vain search for absolute security.”
~Dwight D. Eisenhower, Republican President, WWII General

There is nothing there that I disagree with. You?

For comparison, and with that context in mind, I posted in the lead up to the 2012 presidential election a (non-exhaustive) list of things a political candidate could do to earn my support:

At the time, I noted:

This is not fringe lefty stuff. I really isn’t. There is nothing here that is not standard, mainstream liberal fare.

Much of it was mainstream Republican fare, for most of our nation’s history.

It sure seems to me that something like the 1999 repeal of Glass-Steagall would qualify as a “fundamental” reform. Dismantling the provisions of the 1933 Banking Act enacted in the wake of the crash that led to the Great Depression that separated commercial banking from investment banking predictably led to the 2008 crash, from which much of the world is still reeling (with the exception of America’s Owners, of course)—and the unprecedented taxpayer bailouts that followed. That seems rather…um…hmmm…what’s the word I’m looking for here? Oh right: radical. In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed a century of settled law in the Citizens United case, granting corporations First Amendment rights and thereby unleashing the floodgates on corporate money in elections. That is radical. The president’s assassination of American citizens without due process: what could possibly be a more radical “fundamental reform” than that?

These are all recent, rapid, fundamental changes, and I want them changed back. Christ, now I sound like a fucking reactionary.

Anyway. Putting aside whether the reforms I support are “fundamental” or not, the final clause in the definition of “radical” that we are working with requires that I advocate for these reforms “by direct and often uncompromising methods.” Do I?

Well, I do strongly advocate voting, especially in primaries. And I strongly advocate supporting lefty candidates, financially or otherwise—again, especially in primaries, and even more especially in primaries against conservative Democratic incumbents. I further advocate not voting for conservative Democrats (including Barack Obama), both as a tactical strategy and on principle. Finally, I advocate peaceful protest and non-violent civil disobedience. There is a long and grand tradition of Americans doing precisely the same, from slavery abolition to women’s suffrage to the civil rights movement to Vietnam war protests, and history has looked back and smiled kindly at every one of them.

I absolutely do not concede that any of these methods are “direct and often uncompromising” in an ostensible democracy. Indeed, citizens have the right (if not the duty) to advocate for and against candidates, platforms, causes and initiatives that they believe are important.

I am not directly advocating for a revolution, although I do believe that one is inevitable if our current trajectory as a country is not significantly altered—politically, economically and socially—and soon. No one can claim to have any idea what will spark it, where or when, and there is a grave risk that things will turn out very, very badly for large swaths of humanity (almost certainly including America’s Owners themselves). I would like to have some influence on the shape it will take, and the way that it will play out. It is my fervent hope that this revolution will be nonviolent, that diverse coalitions will seek and find common cause in restoring our democracy from the ravages of endless war and corporate greed, and that we will not fall prey to the tactics of an elite which seeks to divide and conquer us. To that end, I will do what I can to advocate peaceful protest and civil disobedience, as well as coalition-building with multiple constituencies, including with those whose political perspective is radically (hahaha) different than my own.

But if I change my mind about all of that, and start directly advocating for a revolution, I would still probably eschew the label “radical.”

Instead, I would be a revolutionary.

Signal boosts.

My time to write is still extremely limited these days, but I wanted to signal boost two activist campaigns.

The first is from Stop Mass Incarceration Network (SMIN). They need to raise $600 more to cover the $6,200 cost of their full-page LA Times ad promoting an end to long-term solitary confinement, in solidarity with the hunger strikers in prisons across the nation. The ad can be viewed here (pdf). Please contribute a couple bucks if you can. From the ad:

UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Méndez told the UN General Assembly in 2011 “Segregation, isolation, separation, cellular, lockdown, Supermax, the hole, Secure Housing Unit… whatever the name, solitary confinement should be banned by States as a punishment or extortion technique… and indefinite and prolonged solitary confinement in excess of 15 days should also be subject to an absolute prohibition.”

In a provocative and visceral form of activism, two weeks ago SMIN set up a scale replica of a solitary isolation unit outside the California state capitol in Sacramento to draw attention to the nationwide prisoners hunger strike. The mental and physical effects long-term solitary confinement are extremely well-documented, and you can investigate them for yourself (the SMIN site is good place to start). Presently approximately 80,000 U.S. prisoners are subject to long-term solitary confinement, although exact numbers are difficult to determine, in part because inmates in long-term solitary are frequently barred or highly restricted from contact with the outside world.

The United States has by far the most prisoners in the world, and it is a near certainty that many of them are wrongly convicted and guilty of no crime whatsoever. Guards and wardens have used solitary with the petty capriciousness one would expect from third world tyrants. It does not matter what these people may have done, although it is without question that many have done nothing violent. These are human beings, and there is no justification to destroy peoples’ humanity under the dubious justification of Keeping Us Safe.

Imagine yourself or someone you love in here for days, weeks, months and years on end, your only human contact when a guard silently shoves (inadequate) food through a slot in the door. Learn more. Then do something about it.

SHUThe second campaign is Fast Food Forward’s national food worker’s strike. Please sign the open letter in support if you are so inclined:

Open Letter to Fast Food Chains

To McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut, Domino’s and Papa John’s:

We have a huge economic problem in this country. It’s you and the rest of the fast food industry.

Together, your restaurants employ millions of people. Millions of people, mostly adults, who can’t afford rent if they want to eat. Who can’t afford health care if they want to pay their bus fare. Millions of people, and more than 25% of them are parents who can’t afford school supplies if they have to buy school shoes.

Last year your combined profits were $7.35 billion. Yet you still paid most of your workers less than $11,200 a year – poverty wages. It’s shameful. And outrageous.

We’re speaking out together because it has to change. We’re rising up as Americans to say it’s no longer a matter of WHETHER you will raise wages; it’s a matter of WHEN. Your companies can do this right now – you have the power to raise wages for your workers today.

Please sign the letter and thereby do your small part to piss off America’s Owners—today.

Well that’s a big relief: Banks report record earnings.

Via WaPo:

Banks report record earnings of $40.3 billion in the first quarter

Profits at the nation’s banks topped $40.3 billion in the first three months of the year, the largest quarterly total on record and evidence of the industry’s robust recovery, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said Wednesday.

“The banks are back,” [Moody’s Analytics chief economist Mark] Zandi said. “Only four years after the banking system was literally looking into the abyss, it is highly profitable again.”

bankprofitsI don’t know about you, but I have been so worried about the tiny handful of citizens that comprise our nation’s bankers. Like all oppressed minorities, they have long suffered from a disproportionate lack of political clout, and are unfairly demonized just for going about their business. Although we can try to empathize, none of us can truly imagine the burdens they live with and the pain they endure.

But today, once again, we see affirmation that the American Dream really is within the reach of anyone who has the strength of character to work hard and pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

God* bless America!

__________
* By which I mean Vishnu. Obviously.

Ask Iris: Why are liberals so rude to the right?

When I read this in The Guardian today I nearly choked on my organic fair trade soy decaf latte. The whole thing really has to be read to be believed, but here are some, um… “highlights”?:

Too many people who lean left would rather crack nasty jokes than actually be liberal and listen to other views.

People who lean left have listened to your views. This is the precisely reason they mock you.

They look at us with disdain, thinking we’re unenlightened conservatives and never hesitating to say so.

If it walks like a duck…

As the lone conservative at the tennis courts, I cringe at the Sarah Palin jokes and the jabs at Mormons.

That poor lone conservative at the tennis courts! Jeezus. #firstworldproblems

Wouldn’t it be better for America if liberals really were liberal, and listened to other points of view?

Hardly. It would be better for America if conservatives kept their odious views and terrible policy ideas to themselves out of fear of instant public shaming, relentless ridicule and mockery. You know, like racists now do.

Is prayer in public places really so awful?

Yes. Yes, it is. It’s bad enough that the practice insults and excludes citizens who are non-believers or followers of other faiths. It’s bad enough that it’s blatantly unconstitutional. But worst of all, the state endorsing religion in any manner perpetuates the terrible idea that religion is automatically deserving of respect, instead of mockery. Tsk-tsk.

Isn’t it possible to have legitimate concerns about the effects of gay marriage?

No.

Hasn’t Sarah Palin earned some respect for her successful fight against corruption in Alaska?

Not really. Just because the Pope is right about capital punishment doesn’t mean he deserves any respect. Broken clocks right twice a day, and all that.

Perhaps the best response to global warming is to adapt to it, rather than spending billions to fight it. Think about it.

Listen, dumbass. We’re already going to have to “adapt to it” regardless of any hypothetical billions spent fighting it. You have no idea what you’re even talking about. Global warming isn’t going to be pretty: Massive human migrations. Food and water shortages. Ecosystem failures and habitat destruction. Coastline devastation. Unprecedented weather events. Catastrophic species extinctions. Resource wars.

No, I’m afraid you will need to adapt. To my farting in your general direction.

Which brings us to the latest edition of Ask Iris.

Q: “Why are liberals so rude to the right?”

A. Because conservatives foisted Bush/Cheney on the country and the world, and many, many thousands of people are dead, maimed, displaced and impoverished because of it. Because you openly support a status quo that benefits a tiny, overprivileged few at the expense of everyone else, including the nation’s children. Because you either believe human-caused climate change isn’t happening or that “the best response to global warming is to adapt to it.” Because you would force women to constantly give birth to unwanted children or seek out deadly alternatives out of desperation. Because you deny equal rights to LBGTQ citizens. Because you block even the most minor tweaks to gun laws while kids are being slaughtered. Because you reject reality in favor of your toxic, destructive and disproven dogmas, such as deregulation and for-profit healthcare. Because you support taxpayer-funded religious schools in lieu of excellent public education. Because you wage a war on drugs instead of a war on poverty, enriching private prison profiteers while your fellow citizens suffer unimaginably.

I could go on.

But by all means, let’s focus on the real tragedy here: your tender fee-fees get hurt when lefties mock you. Oh, the humanity!

Liberals are not rude enough to right-wing conservatives. Not nearly.

We hope this edition of Ask Iris has been helpful.