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Sun May 03, 2015 at 03:00 PM PDT

Happy Birthday, Customer

by Mark E Andersen

Happy Birthday [Insert Name] from your corporate overlords
My birthday was last Sunday and I received hundreds of birthday greetings from friends, family, and corporate America. The screen capture above is the corporate greeting that stood out. Not for its warmth, not for its offer of $20 off of fees. No, this one stood out for one reason. It told the truth—I am not a person, I am not even a number to this company. I am simply a customer. That is my only value to them. I am sure that all of the personalized emails I received from other corporations were really just a farce. My name and birthday came up in their massive databases and they sent an email to a potential customer offering some token discount to get this customer to come in. They do not care if Mark E. Andersen, Emperor Lrrr from Omicron Persei 8, or even Glen the Plumber uses the 5-percent-off-a-dessert coupon included in the email. They just want to separate someone, anyone, from the money in his or her wallet.

Over the course of the last decade or so, more and more Americans are feeling as if they hold no value in the corporate world. We hold onto jobs we hate because we have nowhere else to go. Employers cut our wages, lengthen our hours, and we just take it—a job is too valuable to lose in this economy.

Robert Reich echoed those same comments in his April 26 column when he said:

The companies we work for, the businesses we buy from, and the political system we participate in all seem to have grown less accountable. I hear it over and over: They don’t care; our voices don’t count.  

Companies are treating workers as disposable cogs because most working people have no choice. They need work and must take what they can get.

There was a time in this country when one could graduate from high school, find a good blue collar union job, and make enough money to raise a family, buy a house, and even save enough money to send the kids to college.

Jump below the fold for more.

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Proportion of Google queries containing the “N-word” by designated market area, 2004–2007.
Colors changed so the map can be seen by all. Original is below the fold.
Click to enlarge
There are neighborhoods in Baltimore in which the life expectancy is 19 years less than other neighborhoods in the same city. Residents of the Downtown/Seaton Hill neighborhood have a life expectancy lower than 229 other nations, exceeded only by Yemen. According to the Washington Post, 15 neighborhoods in Baltimore have a lower life expectancy than North Korea.

North Korea.

And while those figures represent some of the most dramatic disparities in the life expectancy of black Americans as opposed to whites, a recent study of the health impacts of racism in America reveals that racist attitudes may cause up to 30,000 early deaths every year.

The study, Association between an Internet-Based Measure of Area Racism and Black Mortality, has just been published in PLOS ONE and has mapped out the most racist areas in the United States. As illustrated above, they are mostly located in the rural Northeast and down along the Appalachian Mountains into the South. How they did it and what it may mean are below the fold.

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Does ‘we the people’ matter anymore? Will it always be pay to play for the foreseeable future? Will we ever get our country back? Not the tea party type ‘get our country back’ but actually have a democracy?

To be clear, America was never a democracy. One man one vote (one person one vote) was never an implicit reality. Any reading of Federalist 10 makes that patently clear. Why? Ultimately the powers then and today’s plutocracy realized that it would change the social and economic order based on a real meritocracy, compromises, and the hard work of selling many ideas. You see an idea that benefits a few would never fly from an enlightened populace.

As Americans were becoming more liberal and enlightened they demanded democracy, social democracy and economic democracy. The plutocracy would have none of that. We are living through an implemented Powell Manifesto that has in effect dumbed down the population by infiltrating news media and schools as it decimates unions and liberal values.

Many organizations believe that this problem will be solved simply by effecting some sort of electoral reform that gets money out of politics. They believe that reversing the Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions would somehow set things right. One must remember that pre-Citizens United and pre-McCutcheon, our politics was not much better.

The Move to Amend coalition was formed outside of the Beltway in Marin, California, in 2009 in preparation for the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision. The coalition, which now boasts nearly 380,000 people and thousands of organizations, has helped to pass over 600 resolutions in municipalities and local governments across the country, calling on the state and federal governments to adopt the amendment below. Interestingly these resolutions passed irrespective of the demographics, ideologies, or party affiliations of the voters.

Head below the fold for more.

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U.S. President Barack Obama pokes fun at the media with comedian Keegan-Michael Key playing
President Obama and his "anger translator" Keegan-Michael Key, disrupting the social order.
Ancient Roman society had a special holiday each December called Saturnalia. Part Halloween, part Mardi Gras, and part April Fools, this holiday was a weeklong extravaganza of drunkenness, costumes, and revelry—but perhaps the most important aspect was the upheaval of traditional social order. Gambling, which was traditionally either outlawed or highly discouraged, was permitted. Slaves were allowed to wear the garments of the freeborn, and sat at the same table to eat and drink with their masters. They could even backtalk and lecture their owners, as long as they did so in the form of a good joke.

In short, it was an annual, highly anticipated party where for one day, the people who had to keep themselves in check the most got to say whatever they actually wanted to say, all in the guise of humor and a good time. And when the festival was over, all of society would wake up the next morning, revert back to traditional structure and decorum, and pretend the previous evening's events simply never took place.

American political society has an annual spring festival very similar to this: It's called the White House Correspondents' Dinner. More below the fold.

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Eric Harris after being shot by Tulsa police
No snarky comment here. Not for this image.
'Why?' It's the most useful one word sentence in the English language. It's how we begin the search for causes, for understanding, for truth. We have to figure out why something happened before we can figure out how to make change going forward. There are people who want to understand why the events that unfolded this week in Baltimore did so, and there are people who most assuredly do not. Let's start with the latter, or least with the most egregious of them, since we don't have all day to go through the full litany.

Republican Maryland state legislator and radio talk show host Patrick McDonough, in discussing the events that took place in Baltimore, emphasized "a lack of parenting." He also praised a proposal to take food stamps away from families whose children participated in the protests. I'll let those statements speak for themselves. Among national figures, one of the more popular themes was—try not to be shocked—to blame President Obama. Donald Trump (I know, I know) offered this gem:

Our great African American president hasn't exactly had a positive impact on the thugs who are happily and openly destroying Baltimore.
Then there's Ben Shapiro, columnist, editor-at-large for Breitbart News, and author of The People vs. Barack Obama: The Criminal Case Against the Obama Administration (Count 1 in Shapiro's list of charges is—wait for it—"Espionage"). Shapiro opined that Baltimore demonstrates the President's "legacy of racial polarization." Fox News' Lou Dobbs attributed this week's events in Baltimore to the Obama administration's having "corroborated if not condoned ... a war on law enforcement."

These guys too fringy for you? How about Ted Cruz, a United States senator elected from one of the most populous states in our union and a serious, if not likely to be victorious, candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. In his musings on Baltimore, Cruz accused the president of having "made decisions that I think have inflamed racial tensions—that have divided us rather than bring us together." When probed by Dana Bash of CNN, and asked for examples, Cruz repeated the charge, but offered no specifics other than mentioning "the beer summit," and complaining that Obama "vilif[ied] and caricature[d]" those who opposed him politically on matters such as health care and the negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.

I'm sorry, Mr. Cruz. You aren't Donald Trump, or at least you'd like to think you aren't. But you need to be more prepared than that if you want to level such a serious charge at the president of the United States. As I've written elsewhere, the idea that Obama is a divider is ridiculous. Ask yourself whether a divider would say something like this:

Whether your ancestors came here on the Mayflower or a slave ship; whether they signed in at Ellis Island or they crossed the Rio Grande — we are one people. We need one another. Our patriotism is not rooted in ethnicity, but in a shared belief of the enduring and permanent promise of this country.
Please follow me beyond the fold for a discussion of what and whom is really to blame for what happened in Baltimore.
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Over the past few years, two topics have come to dominate the discourse about religion in America. The implementation of the Affordable Care Act and especially the rapid acceptance of marriage equality have prompted social conservatives to decry the supposed threat to "religious liberty." At the same time, the rise of "the Nones"—the growing numbers of Americans unaffiliated with any formal religion—has produced triumphalism among some atheists and despair on the part of some of the faithful.

Unfortunately, these twin debates have produced heat, but not light, and for much the same reason. Simply put, in the United States the terms "religious liberty" and "secularism" don't mean what their appropriators think they mean. Our First Amendment protections provide a shield from government interference with the practice of our own faiths, not a sword to prevent others from the exercise of speech and religion we might find offensive. And in the uniquely American context, "secularism" is not a spiritual philosophy embracing atheism or godlessness, but a political creed which recognizes that the separation of church and state is the surest protector of true religious liberty for all. As our religious diversity increases in the years to come, reclaiming these finest of American traditions will become even more important.

Continue reading below to see why.

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Sun May 03, 2015 at 06:00 AM PDT

On 'riots' and roots

by Denise Oliver Velez

Langston Hughes' poem, "Harlem" has been floating around in my head, as I watch footage from Baltimore.
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

We are watching one of those periodic explosions, which will continue until America gives itself a root canal, lances the boil or abscess, and addresses the cause of our national dis-ease of racism and xenophobia, while trying to put a compress on the symptoms.

Let us not forget that segregated housing was one of the main issues addressed in Lorraine Hansberry's  "A Raisin in the Sun," title taken from the Hughes poem, which I discussed in "The Hansberrys, and Housing Dreams Deferred."

For almost every "riot" sparked by either white vigilante destruction of stable black and brown towns and communities, or by police murder of civilians or leaders, there is the story of economic frustration, racism, and planned racial segregation.  

Follow me below the fold into "The Ghetto."

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Grand Canyon
Nicholas Kristof reminds us that the structure of our economy is not an inevitable outcome. It's a choice.
The eruptions in Baltimore have been tied, in complex ways, to frustrations at American inequality, and a new measure of the economic gaps arrived earlier this year:

It turns out that the Wall Street bonus pool in 2014 was roughly twice the total annual earnings of all Americans working full time at the federal minimum wage.

I'm going to pause here to let that sink in. The bonus pool, not the salaries of everyone on Wall Street, but just the bonus pool of a few people in a single city, working at tasks most of us could not name and few of us would miss, exceeded the total income of everyone across the nation who waited on you at a restaurant, who picked up your trash and recycling, who stocked the shelves in your grocery, and a hundred other daily things that you would most certainly notice if they were to vanish.
We've been walloped with staggering statistics like this long enough that although this used to be a Democratic issue, Republicans are now speaking up. “The United States is beset by a crisis in inequality,” warned Senator Mike Lee of Utah, a Republican with Tea Party support (although he added that his concern is gaps in opportunity, not wealth).
Yet another ridiculous Republican rephrasing (RRR) of income inequality. This RRR is almost as good as the old saw that the real problem is that the rich are paying too much in tax, while lazy poor people pay too little. Which causes income inequality...to...not be as big as it should be?
We as a nation have chosen to prioritize tax shelters over minimum wages, subsidies for private jets over robust services for children to break the cycle of poverty. And the political conversation is often not about free rides by corporations, but about free rides by the impoverished.

Kansas’ Legislature is so concerned with this that it recently banned those receiving government assistance from, among other things, spending welfare funds on cruise ships (there is, of course, no indication that this was a problem). Will Kansas next address the risk that food stamps are spent on caviar and truffles? We all know that public money is better used to subsidize tax-deductible business meals by executives at fancy restaurants.

Well, Missouri already took care of that caviar business. In fact, the Missouri bill would keep people from using food stamps on any fancy sea food, like say Mrs. Paul's Fish Sticks.

But the point here is this is all political. A yawning income chasm is not a given. It's something we've created through a thousand paper cuts.

Come on in. Let's see what other punditry is afoot.

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Sat May 02, 2015 at 09:00 PM PDT

Sunday Talk: Scorching #HotTakes

by Silly Rabbit

Given that the Apocalypse is coming, we'll probably never really know whether Freddie Gray got away with murdering himself and framing six of Baltimore's finest in the process, as is suggested by a recent Washington Post article.

For, to paraphrase Iraq War mastermind Donald Rumsfeld, "There are known knowns, and known unknowns; and there are also unknown unknowns."

Now, all that being said, after staying at a Holiday Inn Express last night, I know that I know this:

If it weren't for gay marriage; minority voting; Planned Parenthood; anchor babies; food stamps; the international so-called "global warming" conspiracy; unrighteous judges; Democrat [sic] witch hunts; the genetic inferiority of blacks; daddy issues; and our modern society's lack of morals, we wouldn't even be having this discussion right now.

#ThanksObama

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What's coming up on Sunday Kos ...

  • 'Sir, are you injured anywhere?' vs. 'f*ck your breath'. Only one kind of approach provokes riots, by Ian Reifowitz
  • Reclaiming secularism is the key to protecting religious liberty, by Jon Perr
  • On "riots" and roots, by Denise Oliver Velez
  • The White House Correspondents' Dinner: America's political saturnalia, by Dante Atkins
  • The most racist areas in the United States, by Susan Grigsby
  • Happy Birthday, Customer, by Mark E Andersen
  • Do we all live in a giant hologram, by DarkSyde
  • Hillary Clinton on Foreign Policy : Critical Perspectives from the Left, by koNko
  • A constitutional amendment is the only solution to our fraudulent politics, by Egberto Willies
Discuss
Reposted from Daily Kos Elections by David Nir
Messrs. Sturgeon, Miliband, Cameron, Clegg, Lannister, and Lannister
Two important things are currently going on, for fans of complex, impenetrable stories about people with impressively highbrow-sounding accents forming ever-shifting coalitions in order to try to gain control of an isolated island with bad weather. One is season 5 of Game of Thrones on HBO. The other is the United Kingdom parliamentary election, the first since 2010, to be held on May 7.

While there are plenty of wikis and fan sites devoted to Game of Thrones, I haven't seen anyone trying to apply FiveThirtyEight-style quantitative analysis to the question of who holds the Iron Throne. On the other hand, there are numerous sites devoted to predicting who holds No. 10 Downing Street. Polls currently show the Conservatives nearly neck-and-neck with Labour, who are poised for a comeback after the UK's economic recovery lagged the US's, thanks in part to the Conservatives' austerity agenda.

It's not a simple case of which party gets the most votes nationwide, though; there are 650 different constituencies in the House of Commons, and a first-past-the-post election in each one. Complicating matters greatly is that third (and fourth and fifth) parties play a much larger role in the UK. This means that not only are individual seats much more difficult to predict than in American congressional elections (because, in a left-leaning constituency, multiple left-of-center parties might split the vote in a way that lets the Conservatives win), but also that no party is likely to control a true majority of seats and that power must be held through a coalition.

For instance, the Conservatives (who, confusingly, you'll often see referred to as the Tories) won only 306 seats in the last election, and hold power today only because of a coalition with the centrist Liberal Democrats. However, both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are expected to lose seats next week. Good news for Labour, right? Not quite: Labour is likely to pick up a number of seats from the Conservatives, but also lose a number of seats in their previous stronghold of Scotland to the Scottish National Party. While the SNP is perhaps even further to the left than Labour, they're focused on Scottish autonomy and not necessarily disposed to form a full coalition with Labour. One of the likeliest outcomes might be no coalition at all, but a Labour/SNP informal relationship that limps along until another election will be held.

The element of chaos that third parties bring to the mix (even greater this year, with the rising impact of the Greens on the left and the UK Independence Party on the right), is an enjoyable part of following UK politics. But another enjoyable aspect is simply the constituencies themselves: there are no boring, American-style numeric designations like CO-06 or FL-18 here. Instead, they have pleasing, evocative names, many of which sound like they're straight out of the mists of medieval times ... or from fantasy literature, like Game of Thrones itself. With that in mind, we thought a fun quiz mixing the two would be a good way to delve deeper into both. So, for each location below, which is it? A UK parliament constituency, or a location from Game of Thrones?


1. Amber Valley
2. Barrowlands
3. Beaconsfield
4. Casterly Rock
5. Castle Point
6. Eddisbury
7. Great Grimsby
8. Hazel Grove
9. Highgarden
10. King's Landing
11. Maidstone and the Weald
12. Mole Valley
13. Pyke
14. Riverrun
15. The Eyrie
16. The Wrekin
17. Vale of Glamorgan
18. White Harbor
19. Wolfswood
20. Wyre Forest
Head over the fold for the answers!
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Reposted from Comics by ericlewis0

strip 249 panel 1

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