Is Capitalism a Sin?

If capitalism's ethic is the maximization of personal greed, isn't capitalism a sin?

OWS and Conservative Media: Grasping at Demonization Straws

It's instructive to witness the 15% or so of Americans who supposedly worship free market capitalism as if it were the word of God defend the banks against people protesting the massive government bailouts by throwing any mud they can at the:


impoverished-trust fund,


communalistic-Jew hating,





The OWS movement is very threatening to the people who own the country and their lapdogs are grasping at demonization straws.

Occupy Wall Street: Moderate Demands on the Banks

The question of what is to be done is complex and nobody knows what will happen. No demands have yet been issued.

A preliminary list of demands was suggested by one person but has not been voted on:

I can make some guesses as to what will happen. Any official demands will almost certainly arise from the protesters on Wall Street. This can be a very difficult and long process. Decision-making is consensus-based, which means that any member of the group has veto power over any decisions that are made. It's critical to keep in mind that no official demands have been issued and will not be until consensus has been reached. This is true in the New Orleans chapter and presumably all other chapters as well.

The desired route to change seems to be through the national legislature and, to a lesser extent, the judiciary. The options for legislative reform are innumerable, but there are a number of steps that both would be looked upon favorably by protesters and could feasibly pass the Congress. I'll just list some that focus on the chief issues and that could have passed, except for #9, in a Democratic Congress of the type that was in existence in 2009. Many protesters, including myself, would like to see more structural reforms, but that is a broader topic that is being debated in groups all over the country. It is important to note that these reforms are pro-capitalist, so Occupy Wall Street, as with the Arab Spring, is a reform movement rather than a revolutionary one.

1. Reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act.

2. Prosecute the bankers responsible for the financial crisis.

3. Use anti-trust legislation to break up the "too big to fail" banks.

4. Institute a financial speculation tax.

5. Increase income taxes on the rich.

6. Increase capital gains and estate taxes.

7. Decrease taxes for the non-rich.

8. Close corporate tax loopholes.

9. Minimize the influence of money in elections, by more fully incorporating public funding mechanisms into elections and/or passing a constitutional amendment to repeal Citizens United.

10. Institute consumer protections to prevent usurious lending practices.

11. Modify mortgages to mitigate the foreclosure epidemic.

There are many more issues, such as the wars, health care, minimum wages, social security, education, the environment, unemployment, and everything else, that will be discussed in New York and will hopefully produce an Economic Rights Act. Until then, we can hope that the changes listed above will go into effect as soon as possible.

Further reading on these demands can be easily found online.

Interviews with the Occupiers: Occupy New Orleans

Interviews with the Occupiers

Forget what you've heard about the Occupy Wall Street protesters: the supposedly bohemian, bourgeois, disorganized, lazy, naive, pot-smoking communists who still live with their parents and want more government money.

In the New Orleans encampment outside of City Hall, veterans, musicians, students, nurses, the unemployed, unionists, Christians, teachers and pensioners started their vigil on October 6. They have little money. They have put their lives on hold to protest and sleep on the ground for no pay or personal recognition. They are ultra-democratic: each protester has veto power over any decisions made in the group. They are drug-free. They carry many different signs - wouldn't it be strange if they didn't? - "Tax the Rich," "End the Fed," "Bail Out Hospitals, Break Up Banks," but their politics are rigorously developed and highly critical.

Ask any of them why they are there and they will recite a litany of abuses at the hands of their banks, their employers, their government, their police, and anybody else with power.

The half-truth is that that they have no demands. The truth is that the demands are obvious and general. They want accountability for the bankers whose stated business ethic, the maximization of personal greed, collapsed the global economy, destroyed the lives of millions of people, and led them to sprint to the US Treasury with one palm outstretched and the other clutching a copy of Atlas Shrugged. The occupiers want the bankers to stop committing crimes.

To insure they and their fellow Americans are never fleeced again, they call on the lessons of the civil rights movement and Tahir Square. They believe in and practice nonviolence with ascetic devotion.

But they don't want your sympathy. They want you to join them.



Lazy Media: The Coverage of Occupy Wall Street

Has anybody else been following the media coverage of Occupy Wall Street? If you read these stories it would seem the protesters are named Disparate, Disorganized, and Diffuse.

But why? Any 8-year-old could tell you that the protests target the investment bankers whose stated purpose is to maximize personal gain, whose actions destroyed the lives of millions of people, and who were rewarded for ...their greed with trillions of taxpayer dollars.

It must take a master's degree in journalism to ignore the most basic fact about these protests. This is because most journalists do not want to look at the facts. It is better for their careers if they are lazy and don't examine things too closely. It is much easier to selectively quote the young and the desperate than it is to ask tough questions of the people who own our country and determine its policies. The duties of journalists are to inform people and expose lies, not to ridicule people whose love for others and personal desperation drive them to act for democracy and justice.

The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street Movements

The Tea Party was a creation of Fox News: in fact, the original name of the movement was "FNC Tax Day Tea Parties." The Tea Party essentially did not exist before FN became involved.

The point of the Tea Party is to focus the - legitimate - anger of the white working class, which has been hammered incessantly over the past thirty years, into getting out the vote for business-conservative Republicans. This is why more literal Tea Partiers such as Ron Paul, who enjoys great support among the Republican electorate, will not be elected president: they don't understand that when the greed and ineptitude of the bankers inevitably lead the global economy to a structural collapse, they have to sprint to the US Treasury with one hand out and the other clutching their copies of Atlas Shrugged and The Road to Serfdom. The brazenness of this move brought the normal operations of the so-called "free market" to the surface and it became intolerable for almost everyone. Bush was terrible for the Republican Party, so it was critical to invent a new narrative blaming Obama, communists, African-Americans, the poor, teachers, Muslims, unionists, and pensioners for the very real problems facing our country and created by the undemocratic alliance of the Democratic and Republican Parties with neoliberal business interests.

The Occupy Wall Street movement does not have the same origins, although it may yet be co-opted by powerful interests within the Democratic Party. OWS is very threatening to the criminals who own our country, so it is important that the movement be seized by more business-friendly interests who support the status quo and can give populist speeches in times of crisis while working behind closed doors to enshrine the same corrupt system, e.g., Obama or someone like him.

Sir Winston Churchill and Chemical Weapons

"I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. We have definitely adopted the position at the Peace Conference of arguing in favour of the retention of gas as a permanent method of warfare. It is sheer affectation to lacerate a man with the poisonous fragment of a bursting shell and to boggle at making his eyes water by means of lachrymatory gas. I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes. The moral effect should be so good that the loss of life should be reduced to a minimum. It is not necessary to use only the most deadly gasses: gasses can be used which cause great inconvenience and would spread a lively terror and yet would leave no serious permanent effects on most of those affected." Winston Churchill, 1919

"I may certainly have to ask you to support me in using poison gas. We could drench the cities of the Ruhr and many other cities in Germany in such a way that most of the population would be requiring constant medical attention. We could stop all work at the flying bomb starting points. I do not see why we should have the disadvantages of being the gentleman while they have all the advantages of being the cad. There are times when this may be so but not now. I quite agree that it may be several weeks or even months before I shall ask you to drench Germany with poison gas, and if we do it, let us do it one hundred per cent. In the meanwhile, I want the matter studied in cold blood by sensible people and not by that particular set of psalm-singing uniformed defeatists which one runs across now here now there. Pray address yourself to this. It is a big thing and can only be discarded for a big reason. I shall of course have to square Uncle Joe [Stalin] and the [US] President; but you need not bring this into your calculations at the present time. Just try to find out what it is like on its merits." - Winston Churchill, 1944

Sources easily available by google search:



Reagan's "Miraculous" Growth

Growth is, at best, a rough measure of the economic health of a country's people. For example, the BP oil spill added to the country's GDP, as does somebody getting sick and going to the hospital. Obviously, oil spills and sicknesses are not good for people. So it's best to look at what you're actually trying to measure rather than a rough proxy. For example, the Human Development Index brings together a number of different metrics, including growth, to form a more accurate measure of the welfare of a country's people.

In the US, economic growth has varied widely over the past forty years, yet the poverty rate has remained pretty much the same:

Actually, transfer payments lower the poverty rate, and the countries with the most generous welfare programs have the lowest poverty rates:

Another sensible explanation that economists offer for historic poverty rates is the historic minimum wage:

That giving more money to poor people through transfer payments or increasing wages leads to lowering poverty rates is tautologous. I would be very interested to see any evidence that transfer payments increase poverty rates.

The financial problems of GRIPS (I = Ireland) are the result of the bursting of a housing bubble, which these nations are not able to deal with because they don't have controls over their own currencies: they can't pay their debts by printing more money, similar to states in the US. The current financial maladies of the US are due to the bursting of an $8 trillion housing bubble. Americans didn't suddenly wake up one day and become pessimistic and lazy welfare queens and decide to start a recession.

In terms of popularity, Reagan was middle of the pack compared with the rest of the postwar presidents:

On "Welfare States Can't Run on Autopilot"


This editorial is a weakly constructed farce. The writers claim that:

"Some American economists argue the United States should temporarily run even bigger deficits. Perhaps that would work, but Europe's experience counsels otherwise. Big deficits there led to higher interest rates, reflecting investors' greater fears of default. Default anxieties in turn weaken banks — large holders of government bonds — and, through them, the broader economy. Although the United States hasn't yet suffered this fate, it might."

Europe is a continent comprising roughly 30 countries and 500 million people. Do the facts bear out their criticisms of "Europe?"

The New York Times ran some nice graphics today comparing the states of different countries' bonds. The most generous welfare state in the world, Switzerland, currently has a 1.5% 10-year bond yield and a AAA rating.

Japan, another very generous welfare state whose citizens have enjoyed the highest life expectancy in the world for the last three decades, has a debt: gdp ratio of 200%, compared to the USA's of 100%. Japan is able to sell its bonds at 1.1% interest, so the markets are not upset by this level of debt in a very wealthy country.

People claiming knowledge of economics should not make clearly false statements. If one looks at facts instead of rhetoric, the rest of the column can be dismissed as ideological garbage. The writers have a duty not to lie to their readers and distract them with myths that "Governments everywhere are striving to protect the old order because they fear and do not understand the new" in order to push their agenda of cuts in social services.

Politicians' Polices vs. Character Issues and the Role of the Media

Last week there is a particularly slurpilicious article on Esquire about Obama:

"While Obama's story is ancient, it is also utterly contemporary, perfectly of the moment. His gift — and it is a gift that makes him emblematic — is that he inhabits all these roles without being limited by them. He has managed, miraculously, to remain something of an outsider while being the president of the United States of America, the most inside man in the world. He's African-American, but he's not African-American. He's from Chicago, but he's from Hawaii. One month he's bailing out the banks, the next he's keeping Gitmo open. He pushes health-care reform through with an unimpeachable heave of will then extends the tax cuts. He walks smiling through the newly opened White House garden on his way to announce renewed efforts at oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Meanwhile, his "balanced" approach to the economy has led to a slower recovery than other industrialized nations and the war in Libya has been half-assed at best, which is exactly what war cannot be. For two years, he seemed disingenuous and defensive, pushed into roles that his predecessors had scripted, alternately playing savior then monster. But no more. We can finally see who he is, we can finally understand the reality: In 2011, it is possible to be a levelheaded, warmhearted, cold-blooded killer who can crack a joke and write a book for his daughters. It is possible to be many things at once. And even more miraculous, it is possible for that man to be the president of the United States. Barack Obama is developing into what Hegel called a "world-historical soul," an embodiment of the spirit of the times. He is what we hope we can be.

We love Obama — even those who claim to despise him — because deep in our hearts and all over our lives, we're the same way — both inside and outside our jobs, our races, our cities, our countries, ourselves. With great artists, often the most irritating feature of their work is the source of their talent. Obama's gift is the same as his curse: He's somehow managed to be like the rest of us, only infinitely more so."

Politicians and their friends in the media focus on character issues (Obama "is all of us," Bush is a Texas farm boy, etc.) to distract people from politicians' policies, which are usually very unpopular. It works for both Republicans and Democrats.

"So I am planning to vote for George W. Bush because he is a nice guy. As a nice guy he will attract and retain the loyalty of outstanding administration officials, and together they will promote policies that are smarter and bolder than we ever would expect, just from looking at Bush himself. As a nice man, he will prove remarkably adept at working with Congress, with Democrats, with the media and with all the other different people you need to handle as president. He will set a tone of bonhomie that will grease the machinery of government; things will actually get done in Washington again....

Look at Al Gore. He is a deeply un-nice man. He was an unpopular senator because no one could penetrate his phoniness. Unlike Bush, he has not been able to attract and retain talented staff. Bush has created a smooth-running campaign team. Gore runs through people at an alarming rate, and many (though not all) of the Gore people are un-nice -- ask the reporters who have to cover the campaign."

- David Brooks​ics/feature/2000/08/02/bus​h_cover/index.html

Is Authoritarianism a Necessary Evil?

We're all in agreement that "development" is a good thing. In other words, we all agree that all else being equal, it is better for a nation and its people to be richer rather than poorer. Rich countries are more able to support "human rights," because goods and services that people want will trickle down in richer countries regardless of the structure of the state. Zakaria makes (or cites) this same point, but he retreats from the obvious conclusions and invents a false one, ascribing to poor countries the problems that plague all countries. It is critical to ask how rich countries became so.

The typical answer is given by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Thomas Friedman (2000:102), who argues that the rich countries became so through embracing a form of state capitalism mandating austere property laws, governmental restriction of labor flows, the opening of markets to foreign competition and cuts in social services, policies currently carried out throughout the Third World by the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organization (Peet and Harwick 2009:85-87). The scholarly literature is similar. In his celebrated work The Bottom Billion (2007), Oxford economist Paul Collier calls for expansion of foreign aid (2007:100) and neoliberal-style markets (2007:88), while dismissing the arguably relevant facts that “aid indeed makes a coup more likely” (2007:105) and “the exodus of capital from the [poorest countries] was only phase one of the global integration of the bottom billion. Phase two will be an exodus of educated people” (2007:94). He claims that practitioners of development should resist the temptation to focus on “photogenic social priorities – health and education” (2007:108) in favor of infrastructure projects like roads and ports and, if citizens resist, “military intervention” (2007:124).

These theories are bald neoliberal lies, used to elide history and support the inequitable status quo.

In reality, “almost all recent cases of collapses into anarchy were preceded by heavy World Bank and IMF involvement” (Easterly 2006:67) and every developed country became so through state protection of industry (Chang 2008:15-16; Peet and Harwick 2009:50-51) with the critical support of colonial violence (Chomsky 1999:7-11).

All the rich countries I have studied (I can't speak to Iceland, Norway or Finland) were colonizers or the offshoots of colonizers (N. Zealand, etc.). Although natural resources within the current national boundaries are indeed important (US), imperial countries like England and Japan did not get their wealth because of their access to strategic fishing habitats, but because they stole their capital (human and natural) from other countries, like India and China. (Colonialism was much more brutal in India than it was in China, which explains their current levels of wealth much more than their citizens' abilities to vote). So the options available to the United States - enslave some 15 million people and conquer every land you can through genocide - are not really available to poor countries trying to become rich these days, at least not realistically or to the extent that they were in the past. My point in saying all this is that the development of the rich countries makes the crimes carried out in Uzbekistan look like a summer stroll. Genocide and slavery have led to development, political "democracy" never has yet. Give people in poor countries a right to vote and what can they do (Bolivia is uber-democratic but remains the poorest country in South America)?

This is not the same thing as saying genocide and slavery are necessary for development, nor is it the same thing as saying political participation ("democracy") never helps the masses. S. Korea (and Israel) are very important examples in this respect. S. Korea was dissimilar from the reconstructed European and Japanese powers, because it did not have an educated workforce. In 1960 S. Korea was an extremely poor country, lacking much of a resource base to "develop," but after thirty years, "Korea ’s progress is as if Haiti had turned into Switzerland" (Chang 2008: 12). How did this happen? The domino theory could be given credit for doing some good in this respect. Unlike S. Vietnam, which was mostly destroyed by military excursions to deter "communism," S. Korea was mostly developed through economic clientelism to do so. In other words, it was a showcase for "capitalism," developing an entire country to demonstrate to the world that "freedom" triumphs over "authoritarianism." This should give pause to the claim that there is current "nation building" going on Iraq, Afghanistan, or anywhere else, rather than support of puppet regimes in America's interests, because the United States government actually does know how to develop countries: through state protectionism (tariffs, gov't investment in start-up companies, subsidies, gov't planning of industry, but capitalist [market] control of smaller decision making. Think US economy in 1930s-World War II or now (can you think of an American industry that doesn't benefit from government handouts?). As an aside, FDRoosevelt was probably the most popular president in US history, but he was also the most authoritarian of the 20th century. There was minimal dissent in the country at this time and almost all Americans would have agreed with the logic of your Uzbek friend, although they probably would have used different terms ("freedom," "democracy," "capitalism," etc.) to describe what was happening.). The US-installed strongman in S. Korea, General Chun, kept things in line with brutal force:

"Consider the response when General Chun’s military dictatorship in South Korea crushed the democracy movement in Kwangju in May 1980. Paratroopers ‘carried out three days of barbarity with the zeal of Nazi storm troopers,’ an Asia Watch investigative mission reported, ‘beating, stabbing, and mutilating unarmed civilians, including children, young girls, and aged grandmothers.’ Two thousand people were killed in this rampage, they estimate. The US received two requests for assistance: the citizens committee that had called for democracy requested help in negotiations; General Chun requested the release of 20,000 troops under US command to join the storm troopers. The latter request was honored, and US naval and air units were deployed in a further show of US support. ‘Koreans who had expected help from Carter were dumbfounded,’ Tim Shorrock writes, as ‘the news of direct support from the US was broadcast to the people of Kwangju from helicopters and proclaim throughout the nation in blazing newspaper headlines.’ A few days later Carter sent the head of the Export-Import Bank to Seoul to assure the military junta of US economic support, approving a $600 million loan. As Chun took over the presidency by force, Carter said that while we would prefer democracy, ‘The Koreans are not ready for that, according to their own judgment.’" (Chomsky 1999:99-100).

I would agree with the argument that there are two strands of human rights: political/civic and social/economic (Peck 2011). These would follow a conventional capitalist/American and communist/Soviet breakdown: America has strong freedom of speech, and to a lesser extent assembly and political participation, compared with the Soviet Union, which had strong social/economic rights (in 1989 the poverty rate was 1-2% and there were no millionaires in the country (Klein 2008:231)).

I think that mentioning China as the classic case of authoritarianism falls victim to the mythology of the cold war; the Chinese government is very popular among its people, despite news accounts in this country. The Chinese revolution was actually very democratic, unlike the American revolution, which contained the fruits and seeds of horrendous ethnocide. There has been a lot of violence in China during and since, but far less than in the history of our own country. So I would reject the standard definitions of democracy, authoritarianism and human rights, and instead reach for a broader definition encompassing material rights even more so than political rights. I would reject the dichotomy between authoritarianism and democracy, because the two have many overlapping facets and are not as universally repressive or liberatory as is often fantasized.

As to the ultimate question, "Is authoritarianism a necessary evil?" I think the answer is, we can only hope that someday development and all of our society will proceed without violence, but I think that hope is an impossible goal. Until then, maybe we can do something to mitigate the suffering heretofore inherent to all development.


Chang, Ha-Joon. 2008. Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism. Bloomsbury.

Chomsky, Noam. 1999. Year 501: The Conquest Continues. South End.

Collier, Paul. 2007. The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done about It. Oxford University.

Easterly, William. 2006. The White Man’s Burden. Penguin.

Friedman, Thomas. 2000. The Lexus and the Olive Tree. Macmillan.

Klein, Naomi. 2008. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Picador.

Peck, James. 2011. Ideal Illusions: How the US Government Co-opted Human Rights. Metropolitan.

Peet, Richard and Elaine Hartwick. 2009. Theories of Development: Contentions, Arguments, Alternatives. 2nd ed. Guilford.

Our American Lexicon

4th of July observation on political discourse:

"Patriotism" = support American violence; hate services to children, sick, poor, etc.

"Anti-Americanism" = hate American violence; support services to children, sick, poor, etc.

9/11 and the Iraq War

As Goering put it,

“Naturally the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the le...aders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”

The jingoist response is more interesting for the mindset it reveals. Even the merest suggestion that there could have been a peaceful settlement where bin Laden was turned over to the US for trial if evidence was provided of his guilt is dismissed because it "avoids justice entirely, and leaves his Taliban protectors untouched and as powerful as ever," and then equated, almost literally, with appeasement of Hitler.
I certainly agree that spending "years planning th emurder [sic] of hundreds in Africa and Yemen" and further plotting "the murder of thousands of innocents," then carrying out one or both of these plans, is criminal. I am wondering, would apply the same standards to your own government that you do to bin Laden?

There were other criminal actions over the past decade we could rightly condemn, for example, the invasion of Iraq, which left more than 650,000 dead, according to the most recent academic estimate ("Mortality after the 2003 Invasion of Iraq: A Cross-Sectional Cluster Sample Survey" The study is only eight pages long and worth reading.

Considering the Iraq War has been a tragedy far worse than 9/11, do you also think that it would be appeasement for Muqtada al-Sadr to negotiate a peace treaty with the United States, as, in your view, it was for the United States to negotiate with the Taliban? Do you think that "the murder of thousands of innocents" is wrong when your government does it, or only when bin Laden does it? If the architect of the Iraq War, Bush, was offered over for trial to Iraq, would you reject this offer because it "avoids justice entirely, and leaves his [American] protectors untouched and as powerful as ever?"

I am wondering if "pro-American patriots" are an apologist for state violence, as long as the favored nation carries it out, or if you object to "the murder of thousands of innocents" because it is wrong. If you only object to bin Laden's criminal actions, and not to the American government's, I am hoping you could tell me why.

If you can't, then, how would they define "justice?"

On Patriotism and Violence

It is natural to look back and ask questions when major events come to an end. In this case, we can ask, "Has anything ended?"

Bin Laden's threats and attacks were supposedly the impetus for ...this series of murderous wars. But his death has produced not the slightest change in course. In other words, our government is saying, "OK folks, sorry for lying to you for ten years, it wasn't really about bin Laden, we still need to keep hundreds of thousands of soldiers and mercenaries stationed in virtually every country in the world, wiretap anyone we want and spend trillions while cutting money for children's health insurance." The existence of a demon is only pseudo-real. In other words, bin Laden, Saddam, the Russians, Qaddafi, and others to follow are primarily tools to instill fear (for example, that Ho Chi Minh, etc., will sail over on a raft and destroy your family or the country) and thus, unquestioning obedience, regardless of their actual threat.

When we pay attention to the facts instead of rhetoric we see that our government has two foreign policies: one, whose purpose is to steal through the threat or use of violence, and the other, whose purpose is to produce lies and self-justifications for domestic consumption. In short, that bin Laden's death changes nothing about our foreign policy proves that it was all a pack of lies.

Maybe we have come to learn one thing from 9/11: when we saw pictures of Americans running from burning towers, we now know how others feel when we see pictures of them running from American bombs.

Response to an American jingoist

We have gotten far off the original topic and now you're just spewing lies and straw men, exactly as I expected you to do when confronted with the simple facts sur...rounding the issues you're trying to speak about.

Even if we accepted your lies, the fact that anybody or country does some good things does not excuse their murderous crimes any more than bin Laden's crimes could be excused because he supposedly fought for freedom in Afghanistan. This is a tautology. I've mentioned it in earlier posts but apparently you disagree.

What you're saying is exactly like Teddy Rooselvelt, who argued that

“The expansion of the peoples of white, or European, blood during the past four centuries. . . has been fraught with lasting benefit to most of the peoples already dwelling in the lands over which the expansion took place.”

Lie#1: "eradication of the Native Americans, an event which occurred before there was even such a thing as the United States."

The genocide of the Native Americans was certainly not complete before 1776. At that time, the British settlers were confined principally to the east, as you undoubtedly learned about in elementary school. The rest of the continent was still left to "eradicate," as you phrase it.

Nor was there any equivocation amongst the earlier presidents that genocide was taking place.

Jefferson wrote that

"However our present interests may restrain us within our own limits, it is impossible not to look forward to distant times, when our rapid multiplication will expand itself beyond those limits and cover the whole northern, if not the southern, continent, with a people speaking the same language, governed in similar forms and by similar laws; nor can we contemplate with satisfaction either blot or mixture on that surface. Spain, France, and Portugal hold possessions on the southern continent, as to which I am not well enough informed to say how far they might meet our views. But either there or in the northern continent, should the constituted authorities of Virginia fix their attention, of preference, I will have the dispositions of those powers sounded in the first instance. The West Indies offer a more probable and practicable retreat for them. Inhabited already by a people of their own race and color, climates congenial with their natural constitution, insulated from the other descriptions of men; nature seems to have formed these islands to become the receptacle of the blacks transplanted into this hemisphere."

Washington wrote that

“I am very clear in my opinion that policy and
economy point very strongly to the expediency of being upon
good terms with the Indians, and the propriety of purchasing
their lands in preference to attempting to drive them by force
of arms out of their Country; which . . . is like driving the wild
Beasts of ye forest . . . when the gradual extension of our
settlements will as certainly cause the savage, as the wolf, to
retire; both being beasts of prey, tho’ they differ in shape.”

John Quincy Adams felt sorry for

“that hapless race of native Americans, which we are exterminating with such merciless and perfidous cruelty, among the heinous sins of this nation, for which I believe God will one day bring to judgement.”

Lie #2: The US brought down the Soviet Union.

There is no evidence of this. The primary forces causing the Soviet collapse were internal.

Lie #3: The US "stopped ethnic cleansing in the Balkans."

Actually, you've got the history backwards. The worst ethnic cleansing was precipitated by the US bombing and happened AFTER the US war, not before.

Lie #4: The US "spared thousands of lives in Rwanda."

There was no intervention here, so this seems to be made up out of thin air.

Lie #5: The US "saved thousands of lives wiht [sic] our actions in the war on terror."

There is absolutely no evidence for this. NONE. The war in Iraq has killed hundreds of thousands of people, perhaps more than a million, in addition to the thousands of civilians in Afghanistan. I think it is the most elementary moral point to state that killing innocent people is wrong even when the leaders say it is right. It is wrong to kill innocent people when the Soviets do it, when the British do it, when the Americans do it, when bin Laden does it, when a serial killer does it, or even if Mother Teresa did it.

Straw man #1: Of course the United States stopped the Holocaust, though not as successfully as Stalin. I never said anything differently. A typical tactic of those who support unlimited state violence is to pretend those who object are somehow supporting Hitler, or bin Laden, or whoever. This is a clear fabrication.

The rest of your post that isn't transparent falsity is just devoted to repeating patriotic slogans.

On the death of bin Laden and American hypocrisy

Is it relevant that bin Laden repeatedly offered truces, which the United States rejected, or that the FBI said there was no hard evidence connecting bin Laden with 9/11. It's easy to see why you want to move away from the facts and into patriotic slogans.

Followers of bin Laden could say, for example, that he aided in murdering scores of innocent people, but he also had a hand in freeing the Afghan people from Russian imperialism and was attempting to free the world from American imperialism through bankrupting our country. In fact, this is exactly what they say.

If we accept patriotic logic, we should root for bin Laden because he was fighting for "freedom" and ignore his atrocities. Do you accept this premise? Does anybody accept this premise? Why then is it reasonable to apply this sick logic to the United States?

There should be no argument about the validity of supporting genocide. To say there is shows the depths of nationalistic indoctrination. If we are serious about condemning murder and aggression, then we should condemn it regardless of whether the perpetrator is an official enemy or our own government. Similarly, if we are serious about supporting freedom and democracy, we should support it unequivocally. There's no contradiction here: the contradiction is in lauding genocide in the name of peace.

Is there any evidence for the notion that no other nation "has done more for thew [sic] advancement of freedom, peace, and democracy over tyranny in its history" than the United States?

The nation was founded upon the genocide of tens of millions of people, so, despite your support for a genocide worse than any Hitler ever committed, this is peace in the Orwellian sense. I think we should at least agree that genocide should be condemned even when it's carried out by the nation in which we happened to have been born.

The glorious founding was in response to British abolition of slavery in 1772, despite much rhetoric. Of course, slavery is compatible with freedom in children's fairy tales.

Moving to the twentieth century, it is hard to find a country wherein the United States did not subvert democracy. Just to name a few, the United States orchestrated coups, assassinations and invasions in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Panama, Venezuela, Chile, Brazil, Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Libya, East Timor, Korea and the Congo. This is by no means an exhaustive list. Furthermore, the United States has supported authoritarian regimes in every country in the Middle East I can think of, against the will of the people. We may not remember these basic facts but surely the victims do.

As to World War II, there was one country that effectively won the war in Europe: the Soviet Union. Would it be honest to say that because Stalin liberated countries from German genocidal occupation during World War II, that we should ignore all of his other many atrocities? Of course not. Why, then, should we say the same thing about the United States?

So there are plenty of countries that have done more for peace, namely by not murdering millions of people. For example, Malta has done more for peace. Or Botswana. Or India. A more serious question is, if we abhor bin Laden for the death of many innocent American civilians, how many millions of innocent civilians have been killed by American foreign policy? Why should we support one and not the other?
Your initial statement is shocking for its hypocrisy and boyish logic. It is also clear that you are lazy and did not read the article.

You note that women are autonomous and thus have the responsibility not to involve themselves with abusers. The article notes that "in 1994 [Sheen] was sued by a college student who alleged that he struck her in the head after she declined to have sex with him. (The case was settled out of court.)"

If you approach this story from an elementary level of morality, you would apply the same standards to Sheen and other abusers that you apply to their victims. Assuming that drug addicts who assault people have the same autonomy that women do, certainly you would note that people who commit domestic violence deliberately choose to do so and thus should be punished for their crimes.

However, your logic perpetuates the twisted justifications for gender violence:

"Women mean "yes" when they say "no"; women are "asking for it" when they wear provocative clothes, go to bars alone, or simply walk down the street at night; only virgins can be raped; women are vengeful, bitter creatures "out to get men"; if a woman says "yes" once, there is no reason to believe her "no" the next time; women who "tease" men deserve to be raped; the majority of women who are raped are promiscuous or have bad reputations; a woman who goes to the home of a man on the first date implies she is willing to have sex; women cry rape to cover up an illegitimate pregnancy; a man is justified in forcing sex on a woman who makes him sexually excited; a man is entitled to sex if he buys a woman dinner; [and] women derive pleasure from victimization."

To say that victims of violence are at fault is a sick double-standard that exonerates rapists.

Obama's Budget Deficit Speech, April 13, 2011

I certainly agree that Obama intentionally lies in order to get votes.

But doesn't the orgy of adulation over today's speech demonstrate that he could play the media, including some of your coworkers at Salon, even more effectively (and garner even more support and votes, a la 2007-8) if he gives grand speeches, even while continuing on whatever policies his corporate masters dictate?

In other words, it seems he would be a better liar if he lied like he did today and in 2007-8. His pollsters surely know this. He scored the elusive 'independents' in 2008 by making grand speeches and loses them when he makes tepid ones. Why, then, has his presidency been replete with the latter when bland rhetoric loses independents?

Fetal Genetics Screening: Media, Power and Public Opinion


In a capitalist economy, reporters, scientists and corporations operate under similar structural constraints. Institutional pressures lead to the creation of a science-media complex that adduces inconsistent messages, confuses the public and fails in its basic role to promote the public good. The public lacks a normative understanding of basic scientific information, including genetics, and strongly rejects jargon and findings that are perceived as discriminatory. Sophisticated television and online marketing campaigns exploit public misunderstandings and convince low-risk people to purchase unnecessary genetic tests. However, successful corporate marketing indicates how public health practitioners can successfully craft a behavior change intervention. The media’s formative role in the creation of public discourse has been extensively studied with respect to genetics; to some extent vis-à-vis general genetic testing; and, not at all, as regards prenatal screening. This paper will argue that the status quo of ignorance and profiteering demands regulation of deceitful genetics advertising and cooperation amongst journalists and geneticists to advance meaningful understanding of prenatal testing in the United States.

Manufacturing News and Science: The Science-Media Complex

In the American capitalist economy, reporters and scientists operate under similar structural constraints. Perversely, “journalists are paid primarily to attract demographically valuable audiences so that advertisers will pay high rates” (Condit 2007:815), institutional roles that conflict with ostensible public duties. The inexorable pursuit of grant money can cause scientists to vest their interests in hyperbolic reporting, while professional territorialism causes them to refrain from principled criticism of other scientists’ works (Geller et al. 2005:202). Similarly, “research with positive results may get reported more often than research with negative results” (Geller et al. 2002:773). Therefore, the American mass media and genetic researchers paradoxically act as guardians of the public welfare and are incentivized to propagandize it, leading to the creation of a collusive science-media complex.

This paper will review the nexus of media reporting and the public’s understanding of genetic testing, which has been widely studied, with an emphasis on prenatal testing, which has not. I will argue that journalists and scientists are shirking their basic duties to educate and protect the public and offer three evidence-based solutions: 1) professionals should cooperate on a sustained education campaign in prominent media; 2) this campaign should avoid jargon the public finds as discriminatory; and 3) policymakers should abrogate misleading genetics advertising.

Public Opinion

    As one would expect in a paradigm that encourages theatrical journalism genetics journalism follows the framework of the science-media complex. As Geller et al. (2005:198) note, “it is well established that the mass media are the greatest source of science and health information for the public.” However, “the ‘hype’ and much of the key content in [genetics] articles [is] in parity with the original scientific articles” (Condit 2007:815). Consequently, “there is substantial evidence that media coverage of genetics, and public reaction to such coverage, is selective, inaccurate, or unbalanced” (Geller et al. 2005:199). For example, the public often confuses “non-genetic screening tests for cholesterol with genetic tests” (Condit 2010:6).

    Several researchers have reviewed opinions on genetic testing in some depth. Khoury (2000:198) contends that “early discoveries of severe and often incurable conditions may have raised concerns about genetic determinism (e.g., Tay-Sachs disease, Huntington disease.” Recent opinion polls demonstrate that “about one-quarter to one-third of the US public endorse genetic determinism” (Condit 2007:817), an inaccurate view of genetics that ignores the interaction of genes and environmental factors in determining most health conditions. Moreover, “polling data and focus group data suggest that individuals see the greatest role for genetics when it comes to physical characteristics, followed by psychological characteristics, with social attainment being seen as the least likely to be strongly influenced by genetic causes” (Shostak et al. 2009:81). Uncertainty “facilitates people’s ability to pick and choose their beliefs with regard to their own future health in ways that may be suboptimal” (Condit 2010:3). Secondly, people misunderstand “sex-related dimensions of inheritance….As many as half of lay people tend to fail to realize that breast cancer can be inherited from a father” (Condit 2010:3), leading to gender-based stigmatization.

Public and professional knowledge of prenatal screening is even weaker (Green et al. 2004:2). “Women do not possess the required understanding of prenatal tests to be able to make an informed choice,” a violation of medical ethics (Berg et al. 2005:332). Similar ignorance of prenatal screening also extends to nurses (Skirton and Barr 2010:600). Nevertheless, the public has high rates of acceptance for prenatal genetic screening (Hewison et al. 2007:423), which increases even further if women perceive it as culturally normative (Stefansdottir et al. 2010:2), have more knowledge of the practice, or support abortion (Tercyak et al. 2001:74). Unfortunately, “limited information is available on how knowledge of prenatal screening, education level and former experience of disability affect the decision to participate in prenatal screening” (Stefansdottir et al. 2010:2). Despite these limitations, prenatal screening ultimately reassures many couples and is desirable from a public health standpoint (Khoury 2000:200).

Language and Power

    Language can create cognition and reinforce dominant power structures, leading to mistrust of some aspects of genetic testing. In scientific parlance, people can be dehumanized “to a disease or physical condition such as ‘sickle-cell victims’ and ‘dwarfs,’ or further reduce[ed] to their DNA: ‘sickle-cell carriers’ or ‘BRCA1 positives.’” (Condit 2007:819). The public rejects genetic jargon and findings perceived as discriminatory, particularly with the term ‘mutation,’ conflating genetic changes with “the negative identity of an individual,” i.e., being a ‘mutant’ (Condit 2010:5). It is feasible to suggest that a discursive normal/mutant framing may cause women to feel loss of control over their bodies and thus lead to increased abortion rates, although no research could be found on this possibility.

    Rejection of genetics and race is uniform across large sectors of the American population, and independent even of race, class and political orientation, attitudes warranted by the tragic history of ‘scientific’ justifications of discrimination (Shostak et al. 2009:77-78). Indeed, public concern over discrimination seems to be stronger than consistent beliefs about genetic determinism:

Genetic explanations for perceived racial group differences are associated also with measures of modern racial prejudice….In contrast, genetic attributions for differences in sexual orientation are associated with greater tolerance towards homosexual men and women (Shostak et al. 2009:80).

Also, despite clear racial disparities in health risks, “most African American and White American participants in a series of focus groups expressed deep suspicion of a message and general framework that suggested drugs should be assigned based on a person’s attributed racial group. Respondents both rejected the message and evinced a strong preference for personalized genetics over race-based genetics” (Condit 2010:5). Although “African Americans and Latinos are more eager than whites to avail themselves of both prenatal and adult genetic testing,” “blacks [sic] endorse genetic explanations of mental illness significantly less than” whites (Shostak et al. 2009:79).

    Language changes the acceptance of genetic testing. For example, Hewison et al. (2007:423) found that desirability of prenatal genetic screening increased with the severity of the disease that could be hypothetically tested for. Willingness to consider abortion followed similar patterns. Numbers willing to consider both were nearly identical: 85% of patients said they would both seek screening and consider abortion for anencephaly and 35% said they would do both for gender, the “most” and “least” severe conditions offered in the study, respectively.

Behavior Change: Print; Television; Internet

    Given the weak public understanding of genetic testing, a number of studies have examined the feasibility of behavior change through print media, television and the internet. Smerecnik et al. (2010) found that study participants who read a (fake) news article on genetic testing in a prominent publication did not change their behaviors or beliefs. They conclude that “media coverage of genetics may not be effective to promote precautionary action” (Smerecnik et al. 2010:951). Unfortunately, the type of news proffered by science reporters is biased towards such single-story approaches (Geller et al. 2005:200).

    Corporate marketing campaigns have been demonstrated to be much more persuasive. “The first direct-to-consumer advertising campaign for genetic testing” (Geransar and Einsiedel 2008:15) and has been studied extensively. Lowery et al. (2008) discovered that the television advertisement “was the media most commonly recalled” media by the target audience (Lowery et al. 2008:893). The campaign changed knowledge and actions significantly:

Women at high and moderate genetic risk were more likely to recall having seen the advertisements for BRACAnalysis than were women at low risk (60%, 57%, vs. 39%). Among women who could recall having seen the ads, about 40% said that they were more interested in having the BRACAnalysis test after seeing the ad; this percentage was slightly higher in the high-risk group (48% vs. 39% moderate risk vs. 32% low risk)” (Lowery et al. 2008:890).

Furthermore, a study at Kaiser Permanente Colorado found

…an increase in genetic counseling referrals during and after the time of the Myriad campaign, the majority of which were for low-risk women” (Lowery et al. 2008:892).

Considering that “among those with less education, sensationalist media coverage of genetic research may be more persuasive” (Shostak et al. 2009:89), class differences may partially explain the great success of this television ad compared to the news article (Smerecnik et al. 2010).

    The pursuit of profit leads to similar undesired marketing of online genetics testing. Geransar and Einsiedel (2008:21) note that “almost half of patients attending a genetics clinic reported searching for genetic information online prior to their visit, and 4 out of 10 of these individuals reported feeling confused by the information they had found.” In a detailed review of all English language genetics testing websites (n=29), Lachance et al. (2010:309) report that “a much greater proportion of sites described the benefits of testing than the limitations inherent to these tests and their interpretation.” Additionally, “average reading level was grade 15,” “far above the eighth to ninth grade reading level of the average US adult.” This deception is almost certainly intentional. Promoting consumption of medical tests by those least likely to benefit from them is an undesirable public health outcome promoted by the capitalist accumulation of profit (Wallerstein 1996:90).

Suggested Interventions

    Evidence concerning genetics testing in various media strongly suggests the need for a journalistic marketing campaign, or repeated news stories of a similar theme Months-long campaigns are not uncommon in major media . One possibility is to create a legitimate news campaign to enhance public understanding of the risks and benefits of genetics in medicine. Condit argues (2010:6) that a first step is “to identify both relevant knowledge and theoretically based components of knowledge people actually use or profitably use in their decision making.”

    A feature of such a campaign should be a revision of language and presentation that offend people and cause them to reject more important health messages. As demonstrated earlier, both the term ‘mutation’ and the linkage of genetics and race are harshly perceived by the public. As Condit (2007:819) notes, “there is simply no reason for this scientific term [mutation] to be used in communicating with the public, for whom it connotes the monsters of science fiction.” Similarly, models of racial-genetic determinants of disease have proved vacuous and been discarded in favor of socioeconomic-environmental models (Dressler et al. 2005).
From a policy perspective, the success of television and online marketing in affecting consumers’ beliefs and actions necessitates regulation. Lachance et al. (2010:31) argue that advertising regulations for genetic testing should mirror pharmaceuticals’, with mandatory disclosure of side effects. Thankfully, some private sector companies have acted voluntarily to inform the public, as “major search engines…now generate results with government-funded organizations and nonprofit entities at the top” (Geransar and Einsiedel 2008:21).


The public lacks a basic understanding of fundamental information on genetic testing. Economic pressures on reporters and geneticists conflate to create journalism lack context, abrogates ethical responsibilities and allows prevaricating companies to exploit public confusion. Unfortunately, “there is scarce empirical research into the effects of mass media health messages about genetics on persuasion and precautionary action” (Smerecnik et al. 2010:942). However, corporate America has already shown the way with successful behavior-change interventions on a large scale. This paper argues that geneticists and journalists should orchestrate a media campaign with the goal of educating the public on basic issues of genetics and health. Such a campaign should be user-friendly and incorporate benign language in concert with regulation of advertising of genetic testing. If greater public understanding and health can come from planning between scientists and journalists, these groups are ethically obliged to cooperate and sacrifice the golden calves of elitism and profit.


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Dressler, William, Kathryn Oths and Clarence Gravlee. 2005. “Race and Ethnicity in Public Health Research: Models to Explain Health Disparities.” Annual Review of Anthropology 34:231-252.

Geller, Gail, Barbara Bernhardt, and Neil Holtzman. 2002. “The Media and Public Reaction to Genetic Research.” Journal of the American Medical Association 287(6):773.

Geller, Gail, Barbara Bernhardt, Mary Gardner, Joanna Rodgers and Neil Holtzman. 2005. “Scientists’ and Science Writers’ Experiences Reporting Genetic Discoveries: Toward an Ethic of Trust in Science Journalism.” Genetics in Medicine 7(3):198-205.

Geransar, Rose and Edna Einsiedel. 2008. “Evaluating Online Direct-to-Consumer Marketing of Genetic Tests: Informed Choices or Buyers Beware?” Genetic Testing 12(1):13-24.

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Hewison, Jenny, Josephine Green, Shenaz Ahmed, Howard Cuckle, Janet Hirst, Clare Hucknall and Jim Thornton. 2007. “Attitudes to Prenatal Testing and Termination of Pregnancy for Fetal Abnormality: A Comparison of White and Pakistani Women in the UK.” Prenatal Diagnosis 27:419-430.

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Lowery, Jan, Tim Byers, Lisen Axell, Lisa Ku and Jillian Jacobellis. 2008. “The Impact of Direct-to-Consumer Marketing of Cancer Genetic Testing on Women According to Their Genetic Risk.” Genetics in Medicine 10(12):888-894.

McCombs, Maxwell E. and Donald L. Shaw. 1972. “The Agenda-Setting Function of Mass Media.” The Public Opinion Quarterly 36(2):176-87.

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Stefansdottir, Vigdis, Heather Skirton, Kristjan Jonasson, Hildur Hardardottir and Jon Jonsson. 2010. “Effects of Knowledge, Education and Experience on Acceptance of First Trimester Screening for Chromosonal Anomalies.” Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Early Online:1-8.

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American-Israeli Relations and Policy: The Obama Bush (Dis?)Continuity

A recent theme in American-Israeli relations has been the supposed breakdown of a long history of trust with the election and policies of the Obama administration. A salient example of this is at

The article is insightful for a number of reasons, not all intentional. The sources of the quotes in the article almost all come from the Israeli political and foreign policy establishment (the exception is a block of five sentences on page 5 of the article that reports the opinions of two Palestinian leaders). So if we accept that caveat, the premise of the article, "View from the Middle East: President Obama Is A Problem," becomes instead, "View from the Israeli Government: President Obama Is A Problem," and which seems fairly accurate.

There is a significant break between politicians and the public on the wide range of crucial issues. A poll of Israeli attitudes from April 2010 exemplifies this break:

The first table in particular demonstrates that a large majority of Israelis would trade not only settlement expansion, but most of the settlements, for peace, while only a minority believes that most Israelis would agree with that position. So the current Israeli policy is far to the right of Israeli public opinion, and, unsurprisingly, we see that the Israeli government is undemocratic. Furthermore, settling one's civilian population on occupied territory is itself a war crime under the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, Article 49:

Remember that this law were enshrined after World War II in order to prevent the worst atrocities of Nazi Germany and imperial Japan; therefore, it should greatly concern the United States when its closest ally is breaking this law.

One should also note that the aforementioned opinions are in accord with the consensus both internationally and within Israel and occupied Palestine as to how to solve the conflict. See page 16 of this report:

To quote the relevant sections:

"Establishing a viable, sovereign state is the top priority for Palestinians, and the proposal “two states for two peoples – Israel and Palestine” is widely accepted by both publics. This option was found satisfactory by about three-fifths of both Palestinians (63%) and Israelis (61%) and unacceptable by about one-fifth of each public
(Peace Polls, 2/09 – see Table 4.1).3 Recently, a Truman Institute survey (3/1-14/10) found a
larger majority of Israelis (71%) than Palestinians (57%) support the “two-state solution” based
on “the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.” Surveys by the Institute for
National Security Studies have found that Israeli support for the “two states for two peoples”
concept (64% in 5/09) has run about 10 points higher than support for “the establishment of a
Palestinian state” (53% in 5/09). Two-thirds of Palestinians (68%) support going to the U.N. to
gain recognition for an “independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders” (AWRAD,

Peace Polls (2/09) found much less support among Israelis and Palestinians for a single “binational
federal state in which Israelis and Palestinians share power.” This option was found
unacceptable by 59 percent of Palestinians and 66 percent of Israelis (Table 4.1). Truman
Institute surveys (3/10) found two-thirds or more of both Palestinians (69%) and Israelis (70%)
oppose a “one-state solution for two peoples” in which Palestinians and Israelis would have
equal rights."

So, the factual "View from the Middle East" is that people of both countries want a two-state solution along the lines of UN Resolution 242, the dominant framework since 1967.

Bringing the discussion back to the main topic of this post, what is notable is the extent to which Obama's policies have mirrored those of GW Bush while media outlets (the Politico article is emblematic) seem to accept the premise that Israeli-American relations are much weaker now due to Obama's missteps. The current paradigm is GW Bush's Road Map to Peace, an agreement reached during his administration that stipulates:

"As first steps, Israel must immediately dismantle what are called settlement "outposts," extensions of Israeli colonies built in the Palestinian territories, and Palestinian leaders must immediately curb terrorism and take steps toward a democratic, accountable government." (

Please note both that this language is democratic insofar as it is in line with global public opinion and significantly to the left of Obama's actual actions, which are mentioned in the Politico article.

Why then would Obama be perceived as harming Israeli-American relations compared to GW Bush, who was ostensibly much more at odds with the Israeli positions advocated in this article.

Israeli policies may have themselves become more untenable. There is an excellent analysis in the book "This Time We Went Too Far," about the Gaza War and its ramifications, including the Goldstone Report. It is a quick read (<200 pages) that I highly recommend. I think it is wrong to note that Obama's domestic politics or party affiliation (e.g., "Republicans are the party of national security") cause this putative change in media coverage, considering the orgasm of adulation greeting Clinton's various efforts in Israel-Palestine and Obama's even better command of the media and global public opinion just two years ago.

Virginia's New Anti-Abortion Law Will Increase Maternal Mortality

This bill (First-Trimester Abortion Clinics Should Be Regulated as Hospitals, is not about protection of women, for access to legal abortion DECREASES maternal mortality. The American Medical Association has closely studied the decrease in maternal mortality due to abortion before and after Roe v. Wade:

"Deaths from legal abortion declined fivefold between 1973 and 1985 (from 3.3 deaths to 0.4 death per 100 000 procedures), reflecting increased physician education and skills, improvements in medical technology, and, notably, the earlier termination of pregnancy. The risk of death from legal abortion is higher among minority women and women over the age of 35 years, and increases with gestational age. Legal-abortion mortality between 1979 and 1985 was 0.6 death per 100 000 procedures, more than 10 times lower than the 9.1 maternal deaths per 100 000 live births between 1979 and 1986."

Only a licensed physician is allowed to provide abortions in Virginia ( So abortion clinics are indeed already regulated, as one would expect.

This bill does not change any requirements in terms of the actual abortion. The bill would change nothing except restricting access.

According to

"Virginia took a big step Thursday toward eliminating most of the state's 21 abortion clinics, approving a bill that would likely make rules so strict the medical centers would be forced to close, Democrats and abortion rights supporters said. Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican and Catholic, supports the measure and when he signs it into law, Virginia will become the first state to require clinics that provide first-trimester abortions to meet the same standards as hospitals. The requirements could include anything from expensive structural changes like widening hallways to increased training and mandatory equipment the clinics currently don't have. While abortion providers must be licensed in Virginia, the clinics resemble dentists' offices and are considered physicians offices, similar to those that provide plastic and corrective eye surgeries, colonoscopies and a host of other medical procedures."

If government officials want to protect women and children there are plenty of ways to do so. But in this case, "pro-life" has the usual ideological meaning: legislation that will increase maternal deaths, coming from the party claiming to abhor the governmental abridgment of freedom, and coated in the Orwellian rhetoric of "protecting women."

Virginia's 'Pro-Child' Policies

Today the Virginia legislature passed a "bill [that] requires all facilities that perform five or more first-trimester abortions each month to be categorized as hospitals" (

Just to be clear, would this effectively shut down all abortion clinics in Virginia?

We might take this announcement seriously if it were consistent with Virginia's other 'pro-child' policies:

"Some of McDonnell's most significant cuts would come in funding for social-service programs for 1,400 at-risk children. He proposed eliminating services to those who have gone through the juvenile justice system and those who are mentally ill, saving the state $5 million. Children in foster care and special education would still be served. Legislators adopted a two-year, $78 billion budget in the spring that cut millions from education, health care and public safety - curtailing state spending more aggressively than any in generations. But by June, Virginia ended the fiscal year with a surplus of about $404 million" (

Economic Globalization: The Homogenization of Culture and the Destruction of Public Health

This topic points to a number of issues. I will address: 1) the definition of globalization, focusing on economic globalization; and 2) the effects/risks of globalization, with particular attention to their implications for global public health.
One definition of globalization is provided by global capitalists and embodied in the meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where capitalists coalesce to share ideas and network about production, investments and economics. The type of globalization supported by these people is referred to by Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz as “economic globalization” (2007:4) or neoliberalization. These rules were famously enunciated by World Bank economist John Williamson (2000:252-253) as:
• “Fiscal discipline
• A redirection of public expenditure priorities toward fields offering both high economic returns and the potential to improve income distribution, such as primary health care, primary education, and infrastructure
• Tax reform (to lower marginal rates and broaden the tax base)
• Interest rate liberalization
• A competitive exchange rate
• Trade liberalization
• Liberalization of inflows of foreign direct investment
• Privatization
• Deregulation (to abolish barriers to entry and exit)
• Secure property rights”
In this paradigm, cultures are homogenized due to power imbalances, as dominant American (or Western) culture diffuses globally. This form of globalization is not only feasible, but in current operation.
The harsh consequences of these policies for poor countries are well documented. Chang points out that “since the 1980s, [Africa] has seen a fall in living standards. This record is a damning indictment of the neo-liberal [sic] orthodoxy, because most of the African economies have been practically run by the IMF and the World Bank over the past quarter century” (2007:28) (italics in original). In a sickening twist that reveals the true motives of globalization, “practically all of today’s developed countries, including Britain and the US, the supposed homes of the free market and free trade, have become rich on the basis of policy recipes that go against the orthodoxy of neo-liberal [sic] economics” (2007:15).
The effects on the supplies and distribution of global pharmaceuticals have been horrendous. The Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of International Property Rights (TRIPS) expands American patent laws worldwide through the World Trade Organization (Delgado 2002:297-298). Using TRIPS, American corporations have been able to force intellectual property laws on developing nations, which increases profits through two primary mechanisms (Zerbe 298-300). First, American corporate patents are extended to poor nations, preventing generic development. Second, local knowledge can be patented, distributed and sold around the world without any remuneration for indigenous people. Unlike the earlier intellectual property regime, “the advanced industrial countries could at last use trade sanctions to legally enforce intellectual property rights” (Stiglitz 2007:117). Now, fines can be leveled on countries or corporations that violate TRIPS rules. TRIPS regulations regarding AIDS and other tropical disease drugs are a particularly insidious form of globalization, with large, rich corporations supported by their governments attempting to sabotage the development of generic life-saving drugs. It is likely that “if the issue of access to AIDS drugs were put to a vote, in either developed or developing countries, the overwhelming majority would never support the position of the pharmaceutical companies or of the” American government (Stiglitz 2007:132).
In her 2001 book, Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health (2001), Laurie Garrett describes the effects of economic globalization on the people and public health systems of the ex-Soviet countries. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, “overnight millions of workers lost their jobs, and the majority of the people residing in the Eastern Bloc and former Soviet Union fell into poverty – perhaps 25 percent of them were, according to UNICEF, living in acute poverty within eighteen months of the breakup of the Soviet Union” (2001:166). In response, and on the advice of American policymakers, Russia embraced economic globalization, which “can claim credit for the impoverishment of 72 million people in only eight years” (Klein 2007:237-238) (italics in original). An astonishing number of Russians desperately turned to alcohol. “Some estimates were that eighty percent of all Russian men were alcoholics, consuming in 1999 – on average – 600 grams of booze a day, or roughly three liters of vodka every week. The male alcohol poisoning death rate in Russia was about 200 times that of the United States” (Garrett 2001:138) (italics in original). The consequences for the children of Russia were terrifying. “In late 1998 the University of North Carolina conducted a survey that revealed that all – 100 percent – of Russian children suffered iron deficiencies, most having only 3 to 4 percent of minimum daily requirement needs met in their terrible diets” (2001:169) (italics in original). Similarly, “in 1997 the Moscow Human Rights Research Center estimated that there were a million homeless children in Russia; the government said 700,000. No one knew how many more children had parents in homes but were left largely to survive on their own because of their parents’ alcoholism. In Russia a term was coined to describe these kids: the Lost Generation” (2001:140).

The consequences to the United States of embracing neoliberal globalization are being manifested most notably in the current recession. As Smith (2009) notes: “The economic crisis is far too fresh for any government agency or professional organization to have quantified the health consequences. But during previous recessions, researchers linked spikes in unemployment in the United States and Europe to increases in deaths from heart disease, cancer, and psychiatric disorders.” Yet the current recession tells only an incomplete story, for one should not forget the disastrous state of the profit-motivated American health care system, which I detailed in an earlier post.
Tabb (2008) contends that the primary implication of the current recession for American society has been a reexamination of the ideology of economic globalization. Indeed, if, as Krugman (2009) predicts, Keynesianism will return to the fore, this may strengthen American economic hegemony through more stable state capitalism, protectionism and regulation. The outcomes are unpredictable but unlikely to be beneficial to the Third World due to inequalities in economic and political power. Regardless of which direction the future will take the American economy relative to the world, the 2008 financial crisis heralds dramatic changes for globalization and public health both here and abroad.
Chang, Ha-Joon. 2007. Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism. Bloomsbury.
Delgado, Gian Carlo. 2002. “Biopi®acy and Intellectual Property as the Basis for Biotechnological Development: The Case of Mexico.” International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society 16(2):297-318.
Garrett, Laurie. 2001. Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health. Hyperion.
Klein, Naomi. 2007. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Metropolitan.
Krugman, Paul. 2009. “How Did Economists Get It So Wrong?” New York Times Magazine. September 6.
Smith, Stephen. 2009. “The Ailing Economy Is Making People Sicker.” Boston Globe. January 25.
Stiglitz, Joseph. 2007. Making Globalization Work. WW Norton.
Tabb, William K. “Four Crises of the Contemporary World Capitalist System.” Monthly Review. October 2008.
Vreeland, James. 2006. The International Monetary Fund: Politics of Conditional Lending. Routledge.
Williamson, John. 2000. “What Should the World Bank Think about the Washington Consensus?” The World Bank Research Observer 15(2):251-264.
Zerbe, Noah. “Contested Ownership: TRIPs, CBD, and Implications for Southern African Biodiversity.” Perspectives on Global Development and Technology 1(3-4):294-321. 2002.

Taxing the Rich: Democracy or Tyranny?

The idea that the rich should be taxed more heavily than the poor is common both in practice and in theory.

For example, under the great conservatives Ronald Reagan, the income of the highest-earning Americans was taxed progressively (28%), while the poorest paid no incomes taxes. His policies were precisely in line with one of the doctrines of the Communist Party, i.e. "2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax" (Marx and Engels. "The Communist Manifesto." Penguin Classics. 1985 ed. p. 104). Furthermore, according to reliable polls (e.g., Gallup:, taxing the rich more heavily than the poor is supported by the majority of the American people and is thus consistent with democracy.

If wealth were distributed commensurate to people's work ethics or intelligence we would expect a society in which wealth was distributed as a bell curve. However, "even after incurring large losses in 2008, the wealthiest 0.01 percent of households held 5 percent of total income" ( and the richest "95% of children born to parents in the bottom 6% of wealthholders [sic] will end up as poor [lowest 18%] adults. Children who start out life born to parents in the bottom 6% of wealthholders [sic] have only one-half of 1% chance of ending up even in the upper half of wealthholders [sic]" (McNamee. "The Meritocracy Myth." Rowman and Littlefield. 2004. p. 56).

So, if one is honest about it, one might say:

"The system of progressive taxation of the rich to fund social programs was carried out by Ronald Reagan. His policies were in line both with the visions of the intellectual fathers of the Communist Party and with the vast majority of the American people. However, I reject the democratic socialist policies of the foremost conservative president in American history and instead prefer that my government was more authoritarian and less responsive to the will of its citizens, because in my view, soldiers, health care workers, the elderly, the poor, women with infants, schoolchildren, college students, people who drive and receive mail, and others who benefit from social programs paid for by progressive taxation are stealing money from the richest people in our society, whose financial system was given trillions of dollars in slush funds (Stiglitz. "Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy." 2010. WW Norton. p. 110), who are bankrupting the country, and who threw tens of millions of Americans as well as hundreds of millions of people worldwide into poverty. I do not even believe in the more radical idea of a flat tax, far too radical for Reagan, for the rich would still be taxed more than the poor, but rather believe that everybody should pay the same, for example, $100 a month, from the invalid to Bill Gates, who "has as much wealth as the bottom 40% of American households" (Thurow. Building Wealth: The New Rules for Individuals, Companies, and Nations in a Knowledge-Based Economy." Harper. 2000. p. 130), who was born into a rich family, and whose company would not exist if the computer was not invented through massive government intervention in the economy. In my mind, such a system would be called fairness."

In reality, such a system is called anarchy, and it is a boy's dream.

David Brooks is a God Damn Clown

Does David Brooks have any serious economic qualifications, or does writing for the New York Times give such credibility that we are expected to be blinded to his clownishness?

My comments are in [brackets].

Make Everybody Hurt

Josh Haner/The New York Times
Over the past few weeks we’ve begun to see the new contours of American politics [what evidence do you have of this?]. The budget cutters have taken control of the agenda, while government’s defenders are waging tactical retreats. Given the scope of the fiscal problems, it could be like this for the next 10 or 20 years [where do these numbers come from? 10 or 20?]. 

No place is hotter than Wisconsin. The leaders there have done everything possible to maximize conflict [really? this sentence means nothing]. Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, demanded cuts only from people in the other party [All people in unions are Democrats?]. The public sector unions and their allies immediately flew into a rage, comparing Walker to Hitler, Mussolini and Mubarak [evidence?].

Walker’s critics are amusingly Orwellian. They liken the crowd in Madison to the ones in Tunisia and claim to be fighting for democracy. Whatever you might say about Walker, he and the Republican majorities in Wisconsin were elected [does this therefore justify everything an elected official does? doesn't Brooks make his career based on criticizing politicians?], and they are doing exactly what they told voters they would do [when did he tell voters he would end collective bargaining?]. It’s the Democratic minority that is thwarting the majority will by fleeing to Illinois. It’s the left that has suddenly embraced extralegal obstructionism [which laws have they broken?].

Still, let’s [who?] try to put aside the hyperventilation. Everybody [who?] now seems to agree that Governor Walker was right to ask state workers to pay more for their benefits. Even if he gets everything he asks for, Wisconsin state workers would still be contributing less to their benefits than the average state worker nationwide and would be contributing far, far less than private sector workers [those greedy teachers!].

The more difficult question is whether Walker was right to try to water down Wisconsin’s collective bargaining agreements. Even if you acknowledge the importance of unions in representing middle-class interests, there are strong arguments on Walker’s side [yeah, fuck the middle class!]. In Wisconsin and elsewhere, state-union relations are structurally out of whack [yeah, fuck the unions! they must have caused these massive deficits, right?].

That’s because public sector unions and private sector unions are very different creatures. Private sector unions push against the interests of shareholders and management; public sector unions push against the interests of taxpayers [those greedy teachers! i wish we didn't have to pay them anything!]. Private sector union members know that their employers could go out of business, so they have an incentive to mitigate their demands; public sector union members work for state monopolies and have no such interest [the premise of this entire article is flawed. did the unions cause this recession?].

Private sector unions confront managers who have an incentive to push back against their demands. Public sector unions face managers who have an incentive to give into them for the sake of their own survival [survival?]. Most important, public sector unions help choose those they negotiate with. Through gigantic campaign contributions and overall clout, they have enormous influence over who gets elected to bargain with them, especially in state and local races [the unions are the puppet masters? that must be why they're getting slammed by the political establishment, even though you just noted that 'Everybody now seems to agree that Governor Walker was right to ask state workers to pay more for their benefits.'].

As a result of these imbalanced incentive structures, states with public sector unions tend to run into fiscal crises [every state in the country is in a fiscal crisis because tax revenues have decreased due to the recession]. They tend to have workplaces where personnel decisions are made on the basis of seniority, not merit [evidence?]. There is little relationship between excellence and reward, which leads to resentment among taxpayers who don’t have that luxury [is there any evidence of this theory?].

Yet I think Governor Walker made a strategic error in setting up this confrontation as he did. The debt problems before us are huge. Even in Wisconsin they cannot be addressed simply by taking on the public sector unions [but we should take them on anyways??]. Studies done in North Carolina and elsewhere suggest that collective bargaining only increases state worker salaries by about 5 percent or 6 percent. That’s not nearly enough to explain current deficits. There are many states without collective bargaining that still face gigantic debt crises [oh wait, didn't you just say that 'As a result of these imbalanced incentive structures, states with public sector unions tend to run into fiscal crises?' hmm...maybe something else is going on here. Oh well, time to move on!].

Getting state and federal budgets under control will take decades [evidence?]. It will require varied, multipronged approaches, supported by broad and shifting coalitions [like cutting unions?]. It’s really important [like, really important] that we [who?] establish an unwritten austerity constitution [how the fuck would this work?]: a set of practices that will help us cut effectively now and in the future [what happened to the union-bashing?].

The foundation of this unwritten constitution has to be this principle: make everybody hurt [especially the teachers' unions and the poor! but not the bankers! it's called 'democracy'!]. The cuts have to be spread more or less equitably among as many groups as possible. There will never be public acceptance if large sectors of society are excluded [so is it everybody or is it large sectors?]. Governor Walker’s program fails that test. It spares traditional Republican groups (even cops and firefighters). It is thus as unsustainable as the current tide of red ink [is this economics or politics? where is he grounding this analysis?].

Moreover, the constitution must emphasize transparent evaluation [the unwritten one, right?]. Over the past weeks, Governor Walker increased expenditures to pump up small business job creation and cut them on teacher benefits. That might be the right choice, but if voters are going to go along with choices such as these, there is going to have to be a credible evaluation process to explain why some things are cut and some things aren’t [oh yeah, but i thought the voters elected Walker, so that is democracy, so then, if people criticize his decisions they must be anti-democratic. what happened to that line of argument?].

So I’d invite Governor Walker and the debt fighters everywhere to think of themselves as founding fathers of austerity [oh say can you see?]. They are not only balancing budgets, they are setting precedent for a process that will last decades [or like, you know, 10 or 20 years]. By their example, they have to create habits that diverse majorities can respect and embrace. The process has to be balanced. It has to make everybody hurt [and ignore the causes of the recession].