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    • The Technology of Violence and its effect on prosperity and freedom
        Prosperity is two things: 1) How much you can produce with your technology and social organization; 2) Who gets how much.   The second is determined by a number of factors, but the simplest is the structure of violence.  Those who aren’t good at fighting, don’t get as much of the surplus created by [...]
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One of the most sensible things I’ve read on the left in years

Atrios this morning on the bombing of Iraq.

The war in Iraq was stupid and expensive.  But we are responsible for the humans we left behind in the country we messed up.

 

Oh My God! The problem is the 401K!!

Suddenly, there are bloggers and writers popping out of the woodwork claiming that there is something very wrong with a retirement system built around a 401K.  It’s like a collective light bulb going on.  How did they miss it when it was staring them in the face all along??

Yes, many of our problems, from insufficient retirement funds to lack of labor protection to massive layoffs to wildly irrational corporate greed and testosterone fueled gambling at the global casino by the finance industry leading to global market catastrophes can be traced back to the 401K.  I am not being hyperbolic here.  I’ve been writing about the 401K monstrosity for several years and have been highly suspicious about it for many years before that.  Here are just a few of the many, many posts I’ve done on the recklessness of the 401K.

Is the 401K system a Ponzi Scheme? Discuss.

And now for something Radical and Extreme: Get rid of the 401K 

Convergence: Reckless Endangerment, Can you afford to Retire?

By the way, although Atrios is right about increasing social security benefits, he is wrong about having people invest more of their money in 401Ks.  The 401K should not be an opt out default retirement account.  It should be stepped down and offered as a supplement to a regular boring pension.  It’s not that the politics of abolishing the 401K as a primary retirement fund is very difficult.  It’s that we don’t really have a choice if we want to reign in the runaway finance industry’s ability to carelessly destroy economies and people’s lives.  I mean, what does a banker care if he loses a billion here or there?  For one thing, the money will get replenished in the next payroll cycle and for another, the US government will frantically cover all loses in order to prevent nationwide insurrection.  Go ask Neil Barofsky about the trillions of dollars in government funds that banks have access to in order to cover their losses and make themselves look healthy.

But wait! There’s more!

You can’t touch your 401K before you’re almost 60 without a heavy excise tax.  Oh sure, there are some hardship exceptions but just paying your bills because you’ve been out of work or using the funds to start your own business (to buy hardware and software licenses for example), not possible.  Now, I suppose this is the benevolent governmental entities preventing you from spending your retirement before you retire and in normal economic circumstances, this would be perfectly understandable.

But these are not normal economic circumstances and with the House controlled by a bunch of hardass Republicans bent on a new Civil War against Americans using stinginess and closing the tap on the money supply to people who desperately need it, the fact that the finance industry is able to sit on our nest eggs and play with them to their heart’s content while there are people out here who are losing everything so they don’t have to pay a crazy excise tax, well, I’m sorry but that’s just immoral.  Sure, you can’t spend your pension in this manner but you know what you’re going to get at the end of 40 years of work with a pension.  With a 401K, the only people who are going to make out for sure are the financiers.  Why should the rest of us be paying for that?

401K’s are bad investments with insidious consequences.  They have to go.

See Jon Stewart’s interview with Helaine Olen on her book Pound Foolish for more about what havoc has been wrecked by the 401K.

Why questions

Why does Adam Davidson even have a recurring Sunday column in the NYTimes?

Why are there so few women opinion makers and so many male opinion makers who go on to become pompous gasbags on Sunday morning talk shows?  Why do I get the feeling that when MoDo dies or retires, she’ll be replaced by someone like Kevin Drum?

Why do I get the feeling that the lack of female voices in major media outlets has to do with the fact that they are unlikely to identify with the villagers?  Why are the villagers so much like the Taliban in their repression of women in the public forum?

***********************

Why do otherwise smart bloggers make a big f&*(ing deal about re-electing an African-American president when it was clear that the re-elected dude’s whole campaign revolved around making giant leaps of hyperbolic meme planting about how evil his opponent was while simultaneously re-inforcing learned helplessness to make sure his own disgusted base didn’t defect to third parties?  Why doesn’t this blogger see that many people felt they didn’t have a choice and it had nothing to do with melanocyte density?  Why doesn’t the blogger understand that if the disgusted had a choice they would have ditched the dude even if he had been the first purple skinned president in history?   Why doesn’t he understand that this is not a triumphant moment but an indication of the feeling of impotence in the electorate?  And why doesn’t the blogger admit that the ability to “win” a nomination and have a series of unfortunate events lead to winning an election is no guarantee that the candidate will be anything more than an inexperienced, mediocre, banker sycophantic president who is a notoriously poor negotiator, even in his second term?  Why won’t the left shut up about Obama because going on about racism and politics is about as out-of-touch with everyday living conditions as it is possible to get and the rest of the electorate, even the ones on their side, is starting to resent it?

Why doesn’t the blogger understand that it is even less possible now for an intelligent, left of center female to win the presidency than it was 4 years ago and that it will probably never happen in my lifetime because Obama’s campaign showed how to take out the female competition?

Why doesn’t the blogger understand that there were/are dozens of women who were more qualified to be president and had years more legislative experience than Obama and they were never even considered by the Democratic party?  Why do we just assume that they wouldn’t have been better presidents than Obama?  Why do I get the feeling that the next conservative grand bargaineer that the Democrats try to rush through will be a woman and the meme machine will say “It’s her time!” and everyone will jump on the bandwagon and inadvertently elect another Reagan lover?

Why do most left blogosphere bloggers act like no damage was done to women by the hateful way women candidates were treated in 2008?  Why are they living in la-la land about how women’s standing has been set back?  Why are they so fucking clueless?

Why do I get the feeling that Democrats are as dumb as a box of rocks?

Childhood songs mondagans

Atrios put up the lyrics of two childhood songs yesterday but he got them all wrong.

Here are the correct lyrics for the Battle Hymn of the Republic and Old Smokey:

My eyes have seen the glory of the burning of the school
We have tortured every teacher, we have broken every rule
We are marching to the office now to hang the principal
Our school is marching on

Glory, glory, hallelujah
Teacher hit me with a ruler
I bopped her on the bean
With a rotten tangerine
And now she’s not so mean

(note that the original lyrics predates the use of assault weapons in school)

And here is Old Smokey:

On top of old Spaghetti, all covered with cheese
I lost my poor meatball, when somebody sneezed
It rolled of the table, and onto the floor
And then my poor meatball rolled right out the door

It rolled into the garden and under a bush
And then my poor meatball,
Was nothing but mush.

The mush was as tasty
As tasty could be,
And then the next summer,
It grew into a tree.

The tree was all covered,
All covered with moss,
And on it grew meatballs,
And tomato sauce.

So if you eat spaghetti,
All covered with cheese,
Hold on to your meatball,
Whenever you sneeze.

Kids in the 60s and early 70s were less violent. We knew all the words to the protest songs and no one we knew owned guns except bad suburban dads wwho beat their kids on Sundays as prophylactic punishment and hunters.

True story.

An answer to Atrios on how old you need to be to ride a city bus to school

Taking the public bus to school in Nuremberg, Germany

Atrios asked the question in response to Lenore Skenazy’s post on FreeRangeKids about a mother who was reported to CPS for allowing her 10 year old to ride the public bus to school by herself. Here’s my take on it.

My kid spent the summer in Nuremberg, Germany as an summer study award recipient from the German government (Long story.  She earned it). She was paired with a girl who was a couple of years younger than Brooke.  We’ll call her C.  C is 14 and attends the equivalent of eighth grade.  Germans go to school well into July so Brooke went to school with C and spent time in the high school level gymnasium as well. Additionally, in Germany, it seems like the school isn’t necessarily in the immediate neighborhood.  The gymnasium Brooke and C attended was in the middle of Nuremberg but C lived about about 8-10 miles away.

To get to school every morning, Brooke and C would get on the city bus, just like all the other students in Nuremberg.  They took the bus to the train station and then took the train into town. Then they walked.  Brooke didn’t say how young the youngest students were that took the bus and train but you can expect that from about the 6th grade on, the public transit system was the transportation that the students were expected to use.   She was given an unlimited transit pass for the month that she was there but that was part of her award.  C and her family used a more limited pass with a certain number of rides and they needed to buy new ones periodically, sort of like a metro card.

But wait! There’s more.

Brooke says that a typical gymnasium day is broken into two parts.  The compulsory parts of the curriculum are in the morning.  The electives are in the afternoon and afternoon scheduling varies depending on what you’re taking.  It’s difficult to describe but it sounds like more of a college schedule in the afternoon because the elective classes don’t meet every day of the week or meet hours apart, that kind of thing.  So, after your morning classes, you’re pretty much free to do what you want until your afternoon electives begin.  And she didn’t have lunch at school.  You’re on your own after your morning classes are finished and that means you can leave the school if you want.  Students either go home or they roam the city foraging for food, usually at McDonalds.  Brooke said she ate more lunches at Mickey D’s in Nuremberg than she ever has in the US.

That kind of behavior is unheard of here in the states and yet it seems to work just fine in Nuremberg.  There aren’t gangs of kids getting into trouble during the middle of the day or getting kidnapped at the bus stops.  You can imagine what it was like when she started school this fall back in her old high school.  Suddenly, she was treated like a feeble minded toddler again after a summer of expectations of mature and responsible behavior.  There is no public transportation in this town and no way for her to go and explore the city or walk around.  There really aren’t that many destinations here anyway.  It’s a suburb and all the businesses are on a busy main drag without many sidewalks.  It’s strictly SUVLand.  There aren’t any cathedrals or museums or gathering places nearby. No place where a bunch of teenagers with time to kill before their classes can hang out without suspicions of  wrongdoing. Not only that but leaving the campus during the middle of the day is strictly forbidden.  You can’t just go off to a local coffee shop or a cafe order a sausage and a beer, which you can drink at 16.  Nooooo.  Your movements are strictly controlled.  Can you imagine that?? Nuremberg lets a whole junior year’s worth of students loose in a city where it’s legal to drink beer at 16 and no one bats an eye.  Here in NJ, a 16 year old can’t go anywhere without a strict chain of custody.

And the weird thing is that the whole time she was in Germany riding the buses and trains from town to town with her friends, and many times without the chaperone, I never worried about her.  During her time in Berlin, her group had several opportunities to explore the city on their own without the chaperone.  And they did.  For a bunch of American kids to go to a city in a different country and not have to be tied to a chaperone who practically has to be in the bathroom with them to wipe their asses just doesn’t happen here.  It must have been very liberating.  And they all made it back to the hotel in one piece.  Fancy that.  Will wonders never cease.

Why the people of central New Jersey think it is good or healthy to regulate their kids’ every move is beyond me.  Brooke really resents being curtailed.  She can’t go anywhere without a car, which is too expensive for her to learn to drive in our present domestic circumstances, and the system acts like it can’t trust her or her classmates to keep their commitments.  They’re assumed to be up to no good before they’ve even done anything.  Around here, little groups of teenagers can’t walk through the neighborhoods talking and laughing without some irate citizen calling the police on them for making noise.

But the more I see it, the more I am convinced that it’s not really a safety issue.  It’s a control issue.  There are many things we can’t control anymore.  Our jobs and retirements seem very uncontrollable.  We can’t control the wars our elected officials got us into.  We can’t control gas prices or food prices or global warming.  But we can control our kids.  It seems like some people are hanging onto that power way past the point where it serves any useful purpose.  You have to let your kids grow up sometime.

As for Brooke, the summer in Germany matured her quite a bit.  A couple of weeks ago, I drove her to Philadelphia Airport  to catch a flight to visit her grandparents in Houston.  I left her off at the curb in front of the terminal, got her bags out of the car, and told her to wait inside for me while I parked the car.  Before I had even found a spot, she buzzed me on the phone.  She had checked in, gotten her boarding pass, checked her baggage and was going through security.  I could leave because there was nothing left for me to do or hover over or fret about.  She jumped on the plane without any help at all.  Thank you, Nuremberg.

So, the answer to the question about how old should a student be in order to take public transportation to school is: find out what the best practices are in the rest of the world and use that as a guideline.  If it’s ok for a 10 year old in Nuremberg to take the public bus to school, it’s probably ok for an American kid to do it.  It would be nice if the kid had other friends doing it too.  There’s comfort in numbers.  But as long as the kid can navigate the bus route and use the token/card system by themselves after practice with a parent, why not?  Give the kid a cell phone and tell him/her to call if they get stuck.

They’ll probably do fine.

And here’s how they get to school in the Netherlands.  Now THIS is what I’d love to see in more places in the US:

Repeat after me, Duncan

Nobody outside of your little circle of Democrats gives a flying fuck about what you call “neoliberalism“.

Yes, you think there is a big, dark ugly political philosophy behind neoliberalism.  We are aware of the theories. To me, it sounds like you have blown up the neoliberal boogieman disproportionately to its actual effect.  But we don’t care.  No, we do not.

We have our own theories about what the Clintons were up to and we simply disagree with you.  We disagree strenuously because we weren’t brain dead during the past 20 years.  We know how to keep score.

Give up already.  It’s bad enough that you committed us to 4 years of Obama with Gitmo, Kill Lists and 9.8% unemployment in NJ.  Remember, in 2008 he was touted as the cure for “neoliberalism”.  And how did that turn out?

Don’t make us dislike you.

Commence the defensive whining about Clinton

Well, that didn’t take long:

Whether or not he deserves any credit – and he certainly deserves a lot of credit for some bad things – what I think has been lost is the fact that the latter half of the Clinton years were good times. Good times in a way that that hadn’t been experienced since the late 60s or so. I don’t just mean in terms of purely quantifiable things – though the numbers there are good – it was also the case that there was a real sense of optimism. America, we’re back, bitches! It wasn’t all a horror story in the previous couple decades, but “morning in America” ads aside, there was a feeling of stagnation.

Dems have plenty of reasons to be mad at Bill Clinton, but for those wondering why there’s fondness – it’s because the economy boomed and he ultimately kicked their asses.

I was a Democrat and ran for the Board of Ed on a Democratic ticket back when Clinton was president and I don’t have any reason to be angry.  Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard all the reasons why people in Atrios’ clique think I *should* be mad at him and it’s not like I’m politically naive and don’t know what they’re talking about. Perhaps they overestimate their own self-importance and authority.  Or it just might be the case that a good chunk of the Democratic base (more than half), analyzed the data with their own set of criteria and expectations, which are no less legitimate, and came to a different conclusion.  And you’re never going to be able to convince us otherwise no matter how hard you try.  We only end up resenting the people who seem determined to rewrite history to reflect their own cultural biases.  They just frustrate our will, leave the Democratic party in a permanently broken state and make it easier for Republicans to win. I’m pretty sure that’s not what they want but they keep undermining their party with their futile attempts to make us change our minds.  It’s like they can’t evolve until they’ve stamped out every bit of good feelings we have for the Clintons.  They seem to be on a mission to delegitimize our perceptions.  I don’t think this is a good use of their time or effort.  It’s like an evangelical fundy spending 40 years trying to convert a non-believer.  At some point, it becomes disrespectful and we have to disassociate ourselves from the zealots.

Except for the Gramm- Bliley bill, which passed thru Congress with a veto proof majority, I just don’t see Clinton’s terms as a string of bad things.  Atrios’ little ditty sounds a lot like Reg and the People’s Front of Judea complaining about the Romans.

Whatever you think of Clinton, Obama can’t hold a candle to him.  Not even close. I can’t see either Clinton compromising our civil liberties or turning their backs on the unemployed or soon to be homeless for even one year compared to Obama’s four.  Clinton is a true politician and did Obama a huge favor last night that he didn’t deserve.  Some  of us don’t even recognize the Obama that Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Bill Clinton talked about last night.  THAT Barack Obama is a fictional character and we all know it.

I hope Clinton got something out of it, but don’t hold your breath for Hillary in 2016.  We were cheated out of that possibility by the people in Atrios’ tribe of Democrats.  And he would have to be politically naive to believe that the powers that installed Obama over our objections will ever let someone like her run unless they are defeated and scrubbed from the party.  It is my mission to deprive those people of power and that’s why I am voting third party this year.

But in any case, the proof is in the data, which Atrios readily admits to, as much as he doesn’t like it.  People like Bill Clinton because he was a good president, a masterful politician and their lives improved while he was in office.

Alas, beautiful theories destroyed by ugly facts.  Or, in this case, ugly theories destroyed by beautiful facts.

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