Friday Night Fun and Culture: Kurt Weill Edition

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Free to Die

From The New York Times:

Published: September 15, 2011

Back in 1980, just as America was making its political turn to the right, Milton Friedman lent his voice to the change with the famous TV series “Free to Choose.” In episode after episode, the genial economist identified laissez-faire economics with personal choice and empowerment, an upbeat vision that would be echoed and amplified by Ronald Reagan.

But that was then. Today, “free to choose” has become “free to die.”

I’m referring, as you might guess, to what happened during Monday’s G.O.P. presidential debate. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Representative Ron Paul what we should do if a 30-year-old man who chose not to purchase health insurance suddenly found himself in need of six months of intensive care. Mr. Paul replied, “That’s what freedom is all about — taking your own risks.” Mr. Blitzer pressed him again, asking whether “society should just let him die.”

And the crowd erupted with cheers and shouts of “Yeah!”

The incident highlighted something that I don’t think most political commentators have fully absorbed: at this point, American politics is fundamentally about different moral visions.

Now, there are two things you should know about the Blitzer-Paul exchange. The first is that after the crowd weighed in, Mr. Paul basically tried to evade the question, asserting that warm-hearted doctors and charitable individuals would always make sure that people received the care they needed — or at least they would if they hadn’t been corrupted by the welfare state. Sorry, but that’s a fantasy. People who can’t afford essential medical care often fail to get it, and always have — and sometimes they die as a result.

The second is that very few of those who die from lack of medical care look like Mr. Blitzer’s hypothetical individual who could and should have bought insurance. In reality, most uninsured Americans either have low incomes and cannot afford insurance, or are rejected by insurers because they have chronic conditions.

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Why Are Some Americans So Shockingly Cruel?

From Benzinga:

By John Thorpe
Benzinga Staff Writer
September 14, 2011

This will surely get taken out of context in my future political career, but I will say it now anyway: I am embarrassed, saddened, and yes, disgusted, by the behavior and beliefs of the majority of Americans.

A new report came out Tuesday, showing that the poverty rate in America rose to a whopping 15.1% in 2010. That means that nearly one in six Americans gets by on less than $11,139 a year, or $22,314 for a family of four. At the same time, the average CEO rakes in $11.3 million EACH.

In other words, you can grab any six people off the street, and the odds are that the average CEO makes 1,000 times as much money as one of them. He only makes 400 or 500 times as much as the other five. That is obscene.

And the sick part? The entire Republican Party and portions of the Democratic Party are completely OK with this arrangement. One sixth of our citizens live below poverty and the calls are for more tax cuts for the wealthy, more benefits for the wealthy, and less for the poor. It’s disgusting and people should be ashamed.

Yes, ashamed. There is absolutely no reason for anyone, let alone one sixth of our citizens, to live in abject poverty. We are America and we can do better.

Letting people live in poverty is not the only issue where America is an embarrassment. We are unbelievably cruel and indifferent toward those same poor people, blaming them (and not the system) for their plight. The reality is, no one in this world gets ahead without help. Wealthy people have a natural advantage of a network of family and friends who can push them into the right school, teach them the right values, and help them get into jobs where they can succeed.

The poor do not have that advantage, and we blame them for it. We demonize them, calling them white trash or ghetto moms. We ignore the problems inherent in trying to raise children on minimum wage, working two or three part-time jobs and juggling child-care. We ignore their kids’ natural disadvantage in terms of nutrition (try finding somewhere to buy fresh broccoli in an inner city sometime) and schooling (would you send your kid to an inner city school?). Then, after the kids come out behind, we blame the kids. We blame their choices, as if they ever had a choice.

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The Girl Scouts’ Allegedly Radical Feminist Lesbian Agenda

From Slate Magazine:

What conservative Christian rumors about the group get wrong—and right.

By Amanda Marcotte
Posted Thursday, Sept. 15, 2011

Most of us, if pressed to think about the Girl Scouts, conjure up images of girlish innocence: summer camp, volunteerism, and, of course, cookies. A small but growing segment of the public, however, has started to think of the Girl Scouts in far darker terms.

More than a decade ago, Kathryn Jean Lopez of the National Review wrote: “The Girl Scouts’ leaders hope to make their youthful charges the shock troops of an ongoing feminist revolution.” A number of prominent voices on the Christian right went on to join her in sounding an alarm about the organization, accusing it of religious and sexual subversion. Cathy Ruse of the Family Research Council alleged that the organization is “pushing promiscuous sex on the girls.” Bob Knight, while working for Concerned Women for America, accused the Girl Scouts of drifting into “radical feminism,” and while the word “witchcraft” has yet to be trotted out, popular right wing website WorldNetDaily has accused the Girl Scouts of promoting “lesbianism” and “paganism.”

For years, such suspicions swirled in a disorganized cloud, until in the spring of 2010, they coalesced around an urban legend that the Girl Scouts were working with Planned Parenthood to secretly distribute sex manuals to young girls. Wendy Wright, also of CWA, was one of those who promoted the fast-spreading tale, writing on CWA’s website that “the group hosted a ‘no adults allowed’ meeting at the United Nations (U.N.) where a graphic sex guide was distributed.” The Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute was also instrumental in promoting the story, insinuating that the Girl Scouts were using a Planned Parenthood brochure to promote casual sex and to encourage HIV-positive people to conceal their status from sex partners.

Planned Parenthood and the United Nations hijacking a girl’s organization to encourage orgiastic behavior? If the story had been generated by a computer programmed to push right-wing buttons it could hardly have been better suited to the task. And yet these critics aren’t entirely wrong to perceive the group as a feminist organization, however mild and mainstream its strain of feminism may be, or to perceive the group as comparatively forward-looking (something that’s obvious when you contrast the group, both now and historically, with the Boy Scouts). Since their founding, the Girl Scouts have taken the well-being of girls as their mission, and they lobby to this end both nationally and internationally. So even as specific accusations against the group are spurious, it makes a certain amount sense that the group’s conservative Christian critics, who value traditional gender roles, would oppose an organization that takes female equality as a given.

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Racial Bias Seen in Study of Lead Dust and Children

What difference is there between the rationales of these “Doctors” and Dr. Mengele’s rationales?

From The New York Times:

Published: September 15, 2011

A class-action lawsuit was filed Thursday against a prominent Baltimore medical institute, accusing it of knowingly exposing black children as young as a year old to lead poisoning in the 1990s as part of a study exploring the hazards of lead paint.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs say that more than 100 children were endangered by high levels of lead dust in their homes despite assurances from the Kennedy Krieger Institute that the houses were “lead safe.”

The institute, a research and patient care facility for children that is affiliated with Johns Hopkins University, periodically tested the children’s blood to determine lead levels.

But, the lawsuit said, Kennedy Krieger provided no medical treatment to the children, who ranged in age from 12 months to 5 years old. Lead exposure was a significant cause of permanent neurological injuries in some of the children, according to the suit. Johns Hopkins, which approved the study, is not a defendant in the lawsuit.

“Children were enticed into living in lead-tainted housing and subjected to a research program which intentionally exposed them to lead poisoning in order for the extent of the contamination of these children’s blood to be used by scientific researchers to assess the success of lead paint or lead dust abatement measures,” said the suit, filed in state court in Baltimore. “Nothing about the research was designed to treat the subject children for lead poisoning.”

Dr. Gary W. Goldstein, president and chief executive of the Kennedy Krieger Institute, said in a statement on Thursday that the “research was conducted in the best interest of all of the children enrolled.”

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A napkin is not an argument: Deconstructing Santorum

From Zinnia Jones

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Targeting Dissent

From Truth Out:

by: Nancy Murray and Kade Crockford, Truthout and ACLU Massachusetts
Thursday  15 September 2011

Ten Years Later: Surveillance in the “Homeland” is a collaborative project with Truthout and ACLU Massachusetts.

How little – yet how much – has changed in the last 40 years. The COINTELPRO papers sound distinctly 21st century as they detail the monitoring of perceived threats to “national security” by the FBI, CIA, National Security Agency (NSA), Secret Service, and the military, as well as the intelligence bureaucracy’s war on First Amendment protest activity.

The Church Committee investigation concluded in 1976 that the “unexpressed major premise of the programs was that a law enforcement agency has the duty to do whatever is necessary to combat perceived threats to the existing social and political order.”

In addition to massive surveillance, assassinations and dirty tricks “by any means necessary” included the creation of NSA “watch lists” of Americans ranging “from members of radical political groups, to celebrities, to ordinary citizens involved in protests against their government,” with names submitted by the FBI, Secret Service, military, CIA, and Defense Intelligence Agency. The secret lists, which included people whose activities “may result in civil disturbances or otherwise subvert the national security of the US,” were used by the NSA to extract information of “intelligence value” from its stream of intercepted communications.

We learned that there was, apparently, no easy way to get off the FBI’s “security index.”  Even after the criteria for fitting the profile of a “subversive” were revised in the mid-1950’s, the names of people who no longer fit the definition remained on IBM punchcards, and were retained in field offices as “potential threats.” A card would only be destroyed “if the subject agreed to become an FBI source or informant” or in another way indicated a “complete defection from subversive groups.”

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GOP Attacks On Medicare Cuts In Health Care Law Prove False, Says HHS

From Talking Points Memo:

Brian Beutler
September 15, 2011

One of the most persistent GOP attacks on the new health care law is that its Medicare savings, including cuts to Medicare advantage overpayments, would cripple the program.

Not true.

“On average, Medicare Advantage premiums will go down next year and seniors will enjoy more free benefits and cheaper prescription drugs,” says HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a statement.

That’s based on new data from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which finds that premiums will decline significantly for the second straight year and enrollment will climb.

In 2010, actual enrollment in Medicare Advantage was 11.7 million. In August of last year, CBO predicted Medicare Advantage enrollment would be 10.2 million in 2012. But that figure will actually be 13.1 million, HHS now projects.

Medicare Advantage is a private insurance alternative to Medicare whose proponents argued would inject competition into Medicare and provide seniors policies they preferred en masse to traditional Medicare. But it’s ultimately served as a form of corporate welfare, where insurance companies act as a middle man between seniors and the government payer, for a healthy profit. The health care law nixed that overpayment, to help pay for the cost of covering the uninsured.

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The Theology of Armageddon

From Common Dreams:

by Robert C. Koehler
Published on Thursday, September 15, 2011 by

The woo-woo nuttiness of it all defies the imagination, beginning with the idea of a course in “Nuclear Ethics and Nuclear Warfare” at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Nuclear ethics?

Does that mean no nuclear weapons should ever be used to promote sexual harassment?

Well actually, turns out the point of the mandatory course recently canceled by the Air Force after officers of numerous faiths complained to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation about it and TruthOut published an exposé in July — was to give officers in the first week of missile-launch training a Bible-verse-studded indoctrination in faux-Just War Theory, cynically known in the ranks as the “Jesus Loves Nukes” training.

“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.”

This verse, Revelation 19:11, has nothing to do with Just War Theory, Christian or otherwise. It sounds more like the theology of Armageddon, or the ethics of end times — scary enough on the social fringe but, my God, here was the U.S. Air Force, guardian of the country’s nuclear arsenal, pushing it as a basic part of missile-launch training.

There were plenty of other religiously pushy declarations in this mandatory course, such as these words from Wernher von Braun, the Nazi rocket scientist who teamed up with the U.S. military after the war to develop its space and missile programs, regarding his surrender to the Americans in 1945:

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Are Jobs on Their Way to Becoming Obsolete? And Is That a Good Thing?

From Alternet:

Do we have it backward when we call for job creation? Could we instead radically rethink our economy to benefit everyone?

By Sarah Jaffe
September 12, 2011

Are jobs obsolete?

Media theorist and author of Life, Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take it Back Douglas Rushkoff ruffled some feathers this week when he dared, at of all places, to ask that question. It seemed, perhaps, gloriously insensitive to the plight of unemployed workers, of union workers at the U.S. Postal Service, who are struggling like so many others to stay afloat in an uncertain economy while they’re demonized in the press as greedy for wanting a decent job.

Yet Rushkoff also raises points worth considering, particularly for those of us trying to articulate, in the wake of massive failures of the economic system we’ve lived our whole lives with, some sort of alternative to the cycle of boom, bust, bailout.

He argues that perhaps we’re going about it backward when we call for jobs, that maybe it’s not a bad thing that technology is replacing workers, and points out that actually, we do produce enough food and “stuff” to support the country and even the world—that, in fact, we produce too much “stuff.”

He alternately harkens back to a past before jobs, when many people worked for themselves on a subsistence level, and forward to a future where we are all busy making games and books and communicating with one another from behind computer screens, with the hours we have to work dwindling.

It’s an argument that recalls others being made today, as the economic crisis collides with the awareness of climate change, as people realize that developed-world lifestyles are unsustainable and perhaps there’s a better way to do things.

It’s utopian, of course, and there are plenty of problems with it. Rushkoff isn’t the only one thinking this way—Jeff Jarvis, another media thinker and advocate for digital technology, argues in a post called “The jobless future” that “Our new economy is shrinking because technology leads to efficiency over growth.”

Sara Horowitz, founder and CEO of the Freelancers Union, points out in an interview that for many the jobless future has been here for years. “On the one hand what you see is it’s happening across the economy, but you could argue that for poorer workers this is the way it’s been anyway. It’s not like the bottom quintile people had full-time jobs with benefits because then they wouldn’t be poor.” As more and more workers find themselves cobbling together gigs and part-time work in order to get by, she says, “This is part of the middle-class decline, that this is happening to people for whom getting a college degree meant you could have a sustainable economic future.”

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London trader for Union Bank of Switzerland loses $2 billion

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