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Gender: Male
Hometown: Detroit, Michigan
Home country: Citizen of the world whose address is in the U.S.
Current location: Detroit, Michigan
Member since: Fri Oct 29, 2004, 12:18 AM
Number of posts: 68,274

Journal Archives

Stephen Hawking Says We Should Really Be Scared Of Capitalism, Not Robots

Stephen Hawking Says We Should Really Be Scared Of Capitalism, Not Robots
"If machines produce everything we need, the outcome will depend on how things are distributed."

Alexander C. Kaufman
Business Editor, The Huffington Post

Machines won't bring about the economic robot apocalypse -- but greedy humans will, according to physicist Stephen Hawking.

In a Reddit Ask Me Anything session on Thursday, the scientist predicted that economic inequality will skyrocket as more jobs become automated and the rich owners of machines refuse to share their fast-proliferating wealth.

If machines produce everything we need, the outcome will depend on how things are distributed. Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.

Essentially, machine owners will become the bourgeoisie of a new era, in which the corporations they own won't provide jobs to actual human workers.

As it is, the chasm between the super rich and the rest is growing. For starters, capital -- such as stocks or property -- accrues value at a much faster rate than the actual economy grows, according to the French economist Thomas Piketty. The wealth of the rich multiplies faster than wages increase, and the working class can never even catch up. .......................(more)


We mourn for Oregon shooting, but gloss over bombing a hospital: The brain science behind empathy

from Salon:

We mourn for Oregon shooting, but gloss over bombing a hospital: The brain science behind empathy
A psychologist explains why Americans grieve more intensely over the Oregon college shooting than foreign crises


The last week or so has seen a number of painful events: The shooting at a community college in Oregon, which has drawn an enormous amount of grief and empathy. We’ve also seen global tragedies, including the bombing of a hospital in Afghanistan and the latest chapter of the Middle Eastern refugee crisis, neither of which has received the same amount of attention in the United States.

Is there a way of making sense of the disparate ways we — especially if “we” are American, or other members of the First World — connect with these things? Why do we, whoever we are, respond more intensely to some tragedies than others?

Salon spoke to Art Markman, a cognitive psychologist and professor at the University of Texas at Austin. Markman is the author of “Smart Thinking” and host of the KUT radio show “Two Guys on Your Head.”

We caught up with Markman outside of Austin. The interview has been edited slightly for clarity.

Let’s start with the week’s news. Why do we respond so differently to various tragedies? What summons our empathy? What makes Americans connect with some events and not with others?

The thing to remember is the way we understand people around us is by trying to simulate what it would be like to be in that situation ourselves. A lot of times that’s our best way of trying to predict the reaction someone’s going to have when we’re interacting with them. And so, the power of these stories, which in some ways is like the power of movies and other is that we are projecting ourselves into that situation… The position of a mother or a father or a person who is there – and feeling those emotions. Feeling the fear or someone trapped by a gunman, feeling the sorrow of someone who has lost a child. That mechanism, which helps us to navigate our social relationships, plays a huge role in our ability to understand these situations. And that’s where empathy comes in.

That’s why Stalin is reported to have said that one death is a tragedy and a million is a statistic. And the reason that works is that you can’t empathize with a million people. But if you can look into the eyes of someone, and project yourself into their situation, you can feel what they are feeling. ....................(more)


Central States Pension Fund Prepares To Slash Hundreds of Thousands of Workers’ Pensions

In These Times) For several months, many current and retired truck drivers have feared receiving a letter in the mail that could be “devastating,” in the words of Teamsters union vice-president John Murphy. Finally, last Friday, the Central States Pension Fund sent those dreaded letters to 407,000 workers and retirees, mainly Teamsters employed by hundreds of trucking-related companies with roots in the Midwest, South and East.

Each individualized letter told them in detail whether the fund will now cut their promised pension payments—and, if so, by how much.

Four decades after Congress first passed legislation protecting workers against such cuts, these reductions in promised benefits derived from workers’ deferred wages have started again, thanks to legislation passed late in 2014 with support from not only many businesses but also some unions and traditionally pro-union members of Congress.

Pro-worker advocates like the Pension Rights Center warn that this move to cut the benefits at the troubled Central States Pension fund could spread to other, more securely financed multi-employer plans as well as even more widespread single-employer, defined-benefit plans. But it could also spur support for legislation introduced in June by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) that would save the endangered pensions.

The cuts in monthly payments to workers covered by Central States will vary from nothing (for about one-third of the group) to more than 60 percent (the highest losses will be suffered by many in a group of about 28,400 Teamsters whose employers had abandoned their employees, usually via bankruptcy and closure). The average loss for all participants will be 22.6 percent of retirement pay on which they had counted, according to the summary prepared by the fund trustees. ..............(more)


How California Birthed the Modern Right Wing

from In These Times:

How California Birthed the Modern Right Wing
Many of 20th-century conservatism’s tricks were honed in 1930s agribusiness’s fight against farmworkers


Conservative rule in America is by now so deep-seated that a veritable cottage industry has sprung up to explain its origins. By varying accounts, the modern Right’s resurgence has its roots in populist religious revivals, Cold War paranoia, racial scapegoating and the ongoing cultural backlash against the New Left. Taken together, they raise the question: What served as the mainspring force?

Kathryn S. Olmsted, a UC-Davis historian, furnishes an arresting, if partial, answer in Right Out of California: The 1930s and the Big Business Roots of Modern Conservatism. In order to take hold, the American Right had to make the liberal bulwarks of modern American prosperity seem irredeemably creaky, corrupt and sinister. Olmsted focuses on the convergence of the Right’s defining traits—a small-government ideology of economic individualism, a mediagenic narrative of business victimology and a healthy dose of anti-collectivist paranoia—as they were mobilized at the height of the New Deal to battle an enemy that barely registered on the radar of American public opinion at the time: the scattered, multiracial, and grossly undercompensated farmworkers of the Golden State.

How this defining conflict came to pass is itself an instructive story in the limits of New Deal liberalism. Migrant farmworkers, who had seen their wages stagnate well before the Depression, seized upon the Roosevelt administration’s support for collective bargaining to start organizing. But there was just one problem: Thanks to deals cut in Congress with conservative Southern Democrats, farmworkers were exempt from federal collective-bargaining protections (and still are). Nonetheless, desperate Californian agricultural laborers picked up on the robust pro-union mood of New Deal America and took matters into their own hands. As a 1933 wildcat strike among California berry pickers picked up momentum throughout the state’s rich agricultural interior, one Department of Labor bureaucrat wrote to another: “They are union mad, and they have been led to believe that the government upholds them in their stand.”

The group doing much of the leading was the Communist-run Cannery and Agricultural Workers’ Industrial Union (CAWIU). In 1934, the union coordinated a strike for better wages in the cotton fields of the San Joaquin Valley. ..........(more)


The Problem With Using Chicago to Make the Case Against Gun Control

(Bloomberg) In the wake of Thursday’s mass shooting in Oregon, a familiar political pattern has emerged, with Democrats advocating for tougher gun laws and Republicans arguing that such legislation won't make a difference in curbing firearm deaths.

To make the latter point, two GOP presidential candidates, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and billionaire Donald Trump, have invoked Chicago in their arguments, pointing to that city’s tough gun laws and its high rates of gun violence as proof that the problem cannot be legislated away.

"You look at Chicago,” Trump said on ABC’s This Week on Sunday. “It's got the toughest gun laws in the United States. You look at other places where they have gun laws that are very tough, they do generally speaking worse than anybody else."


Chicago's high rates of gun violence have been well-documented. In 2014, there were 2,587 shooting victims in in the city, according to the Chicago Tribune. The New York City Police Department recorded 1,381 victims in the same time period, and New York has around three times as many people as the Windy City.

But advocates for tougher restrictions say Trump’s and Christie’s arguments do not take into account two key features of the Chicago's gun landscape. The first is that, though it’s hard to get a gun in Chicago, it’s much easier to get one in the city’s immediate vicinity. The second feature is the city’s high level of gang activity, and that gangs are both adept at procuring guns illegally and prone to involvement in shooting incidents.

“I think that it’s more likely that if Chicago did not have tough gun laws they would have higher rates of gun violence than they do have,” said Philip Cook, a Duke public policy professor and economist who works with the University of Chicago Crime Lab, leading its multi-city underground gun market study. .......................(more)


Who's buying sex and drugs in Detroit? Suburbanites

from the Metro Times:

The Detroit News tagged along for two recent undercover police operations: A drug sting (known as a “Push Off,” urban dictionary notes) and a prostitution operation (known as an OTE, or “Offer to Engage”).

During the 2-hour OTE sting on Detroit’s eastside, six men were arrested. Five were from the suburbs. In the drug sting the findings were no better. There were six buyers in a little over an hour — all but one was from the suburbs.

According to the paper, these findings indicate a big problem. "Detroit’s underground economy mirrors the legitimate one: Both rely heavily on suburban investment. Suburbanites flock to Detroit to spend money on sporting events, dining, casinos — and attractions not touted by city boosters, like illicit sex and drugs. It has long caused headaches for residents and police," writes the Detroit News.

While you may say, "But the Detroit News! These are just two small scale operations — you were only in one neighborhood and only there for a total of about fours hours!" the article also had data from many months of arrest records to back up the claim that Detroit's so called moral decay issue is not so much a city problem as it is a suburban issue. ..................(more)


TPP: It’s Not a Deal, It’s Not a Trade Deal, and It’s Not a Done Deal

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

“These people, dressed as they are, come from all over the United States to make deals here in the Market Place of America … LET’S MAKE A DEAL!”–Jay Stewart, Let’s Make a Deal

Press coverage of the climax of the Atlanta ministerial meeting on TPP was as herd-like as the Corbyn 5 minutes of hate in the UK. Here are just a few of the headlines; you can see how very much alike they are, in tone and content:

United States, 11 Pacific Rim countries reach trade deal AP

12 Pacific countries seal huge free trade deal AFP

Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Deal Is Reached New York Times

US, Japan and 10 countries strike Pacific trade deal Financial Times (sigh)

Trans-Pacific free trade deal agreed creating vast partnership’ BBC

Trans-Pacific Partnership signed: US and Japan among 12 in ‘disastrous trade agreement’ International Business Times

Of course, nothing has been “signed,” and the deal has neither been “reached”, “sealed,” “struck,” or “agreed.” At best, what we have is a deal to try to make a deal; these headlines, and the mentality of the writers and editors, are all profoundly anti-democratic. As the BBC sheepishly admits:

Despite the success of the negotiations, the deal still has to be ratified by lawmakers in each country.

The Financial Times contradicts its own headline:

The TPP must still be signed formally by the leaders of each country and ratified by their legislatures, where support for the deal is not universal. In the US, Mr Obama will face a tough fight to push it through Congress next year, especially as presidential candidates such as the Republican frontrunner Donald Trump have argued against it.

Nice spin on “formally.” And what are the lawmakers? Chopped liver? (For grins, here are the official texts that we do have: The “joint statement” from the trade ministers after the Atlanta meeting; The “summary” on the USTR’s website; and “Statement by the President” at the White House site. Needless to say, these should all be regarded as propaganda, just as much as the memes that the White House Internet operation has been assiduously pumping out since Monday morning.)

In this post, I want to first look at the exact status of the deal we do not yet have; that is, the text that will, at some point, be presented to lawmakers. Then I want to look at what the deal, or at least the dealings, are really about; and it’s not trade. NC readers already know this, of course; but it’s good to have more confirmation come out of the negotiation process. (In this post, I’m not going to look at the sausage-making or who said what; frankly, I’m not certain that’s the only method to examine — or, more importantly, disrupt — the TPP process, though it is necessary to be informed if only to refute or recontextualize in conversation.) In conclusion, there’s hope: Deals like TPP have been defeated before. ................(more)


Tony Benn: 10-Minute History of Neoliberalism

Carly Fiorina’s war on math: Her pixie-dust plan to balance the budget and make America perfect

When even "Morning Joe" is laughing at you, you know you've gone wrong


(Salon) Carly Fiorina’s campaign to be the next Republican president – or failing that, the secretary of commerce in the next Republican president’s Cabinet, or maybe the director of the Office of Management and Budget, really, she’ll take anything to feel relevant again, has she mentioned she was the first female CEO of Hewlett-Packard? – continued Wednesday with a deeply hilarious phone interview on “Morning Joe” that had the show’s panelists either laughing at her or choking on their Starbucks coffee off camera. It was hard to tell.

“Morning Joe” is as good a place as any for an appearance by a Republican presidential candidate looking for a couple of softballs at which to swing. As they so often do, the crew of MSNBC’s flagship morning show didn’t disappoint. This meant no questions about Fiorina’s claims about the Planned Parenthood videos or her deeply weird statement that the undergraduate degree in medieval history she earned at Stanford 40 years ago qualifies her to lead the fight against ISIS. And yet, even with the fat pitches the panelists grooved down the center of the plate for her, Fiorina still managed to sound as if she has no idea what she was talking about.

The whole thing is nine minutes of hilarity as Fiorina tries and fails to sound some of the populist notes that have inflated Donald Trump’s poll numbers, while also attempting to sound like a competent executive with a plan and a Beltway outsider. Does anyone buy Carly Fiorina, she of the $42 million golden parachute that HP strapped to her back when it kicked her out of the Gulfstream she made the company lease for when she had to travel, as a populist sympathetic to the small businesses being crushed by the socialist tyrant Barack Obama?

But I want to focus on one exchange, because it exemplifies the way some of the GOP candidates have been scrambling over each other like puppies in the Puppy Bowl to present ever-more-awesome economic plans. ...............(more)


Will Pitt: The Deadly Fraud of "American Exceptionalism"

The Deadly Fraud of "American Exceptionalism"

Thursday, 08 October 2015 09:54
By William Rivers Pitt, Truthout | Op-Ed

Doubtless you have heard more than once the term "American Exceptionalism." It implies, in short, that we are somehow special, different, superior. We are the "city upon a hill" whose freedoms and accomplishments set us apart. Alexis de Tocqueville coined the phrase midway through the 19th century, and it has enjoyed constant deployment by politicians and pundits ever since, because it lights a warm bulb of self-satisfaction in many bellies ... and people feeling good about themselves are easier to convince. Salesmen thrived on this axiom before Babylon's bricks were laid.

For the sake of comparison, here's something exceptional: MÇdecins Sans Frontiäres. Founded in France, the organization is most commonly known in the US as Doctors Without Borders. Made up of more than 30,000 medical professionals, administrators and logistical experts, this organization provides vital health care in places mired in war and strife: Sudan, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Afghanistan ... sadly, the list has included some 70 countries over the intervening years, and does not stop. Military personnel have a saying: "Run to the sound of the guns." Doctors Without Borders volunteers do exactly the same thing.

This past weekend, Doctors Without Borders volunteers were treating people in a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, when the building erupted in fire and screaming. A US airstrike by a massive AC-130 gunship laid an ocean of ordnance on the building at fifteen-minute intervals for more than an hour, and when it was over, 22 people were dead including three children and ten Doctors Without Borders staff members. One nurse who survived recounted how the hospital was all but destroyed, and when the survivors went in to look, they found six patients on fire in their hospital beds.

For its part, the US said it wasn't us, then said it might have been us, then said the hospital was a nest of Taliban fighters - a claim the doctors dispute vehemently - before saying Afghan officials asked us to do it. Yesterday, President Obama personally apologized to Dr. Joanne Liu, the organization's international president, for the attack. Doctors Without Borders is not having it, and is not mincing words. Immediately after the attack, the organization's General Director, Christopher Stokes, said, "We reiterate that the main hospital building, where medical personnel were caring for patients, was repeatedly and very precisely hit during each aerial raid, while the rest of the compound was left mostly untouched. We condemn this attack, which constitutes a grave violation of International Humanitarian Law." The organization's Executive Director, Jason Cone, described it as the "darkest couple of days in our organization's history," before going on to call the attack a "war crime." After the apology, Dr. Liu demanded an independent investigation into the incident. ...................(more)


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