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The Gulf of Tonkin Events – Fifty Years Later: A Footnote to the History of the Vietnam War – Book Salon Preview

By: Elliott Thursday March 1, 2012 8:00 pm

Today at 5pm ET, 2pm PT

The Gulf of Tonkin Events – Fifty Years Later: A Footnote to the History of the Vietnam War

Chat with John White about his new book, hosted by Pulitzer Prize winner Deborah J. Nelson.

The war in Vietnam essentially began in 1964 in response to what the American government claimed was an unprovoked attack upon two U.S. naval ships, the destroyers USS Maddox (DD-731) and USS Turner Joy (DD-951), while they were steaming peacefully on the high seas in the Gulf of Tonkin off Vietnam. Although there was a U.S. military presence in Vietnam before that, the Tonkin events led to congressional action which allowed President Lyndon Johnson (and, later, President Richard Nixon) to escalate our military presence enormously and to wage war not only in Vietnam but also covertly in Southeast Asia. Among the many books written on the Vietnamese war, half a dozen note a 1967 letter to the editor of a Connecticut newspaper which was instrumental in pressuring the Johnson administration to tell the truth about how the war was started. The letter was mine. It became, in the words of one author, “a national sensation.” Actually, that was an understatement. It became an international sensation. On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin events, this is an account of my role and its aftermath, both personal and political. – From the Foreword

JOHN WHITE is an internationally known author who writes about the human mind and spirituality and their relationship to social and political affairs. He has published 16 books, including The Meeting of Science and Spirit, What Is Enlightenment?, A Practical Guide to Death and Dying and (for children) The Christmas Mice. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reader’s Digest, Esquire, Woman’s Day and many other newspapers and magazines. His books have been translated into ten languages. Mr. White was born in 1939. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Dartmouth College (1961) and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Yale University (1969). He has taught English and journalism on the secondary and college levels. After college, Mr. White served four years in the U.S. military as a naval officer, primarily in antisubmarine warfare and nuclear weaponry. In 1972, Mr. White worked with Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell to begin The Institute of Noetic Sciences, a research organization founded by Dr. Mitchell to study the human potential for personal and planetary transformation. Now retired, Mr. White lives in Cheshire, Connecticut. (Amazon)

Remembering Bloody Ludlow – One Hundred Years On

By: RFShunt

Closer view of the destruction at Ludlow

On the morning of April 20, 1914, agents of the Baldwin-Felts detective agency along with Colorado national guardsmen massed on a ridge overlooking a tent city of hundreds of coal miners and their families that occupied the plain below – roughly a half mile from the village of Ludlow, Colorado. They came armed, with some men on horseback but with others setting up machine gun positions able to sweep over the encampment. Inside the thin cotton tents some 1200 men, women and children stirred and began their day as they had throughout the preceding months. during one of the coldest Colorado winters in recent memory.

The Ludlow Massacre Memorial, April 20th, 1914, Colorado Massacre on Coal Miners

The Ludlow Massacre Memorial, April 20th, 1914, Colorado Massacre on Coal Miners

The miners and their families had been living in the tents since John D. Rockefeller’s Colorado Coal and Fuel company along with 2 other coal operators had thrown them out of company houses in September of the previous fall. The companies had refused the demands of the miners and a strike/lockout had begun. The coal companies had hoped the brutal cold and isolation of the winter would break the striker’s resolve and end the confrontation.

Throughout the cold months, there had been skirmishes, with the Baldwin-Felts agents firing shots into the camp, wounding and on occasion killing strikers. With the arrival of spring, it became apparent that the miners and their families would be able to hold out for much longer, perhaps indefinitely.

The morning had begun with the strike’s organizer, Louis Tikas, being lured out of the camp to a meeting with the militia’s leader on the pretext of negotiating the release of two men who were supposedly wanted by authorities Tikas, who had dealt with the captain many times before, sensed something amiss during the meeting and cut it short, rushing back to his people in the tent city. As he returned, the Baldwin-Felts agents opened fire, sending a terrifying hail of soft-point bullets ripping through the fabric of the tents. So began the bloodiest and deadliest labor battle America has ever seen.

By today’s standards, the striker’s demands seem tame:

1. Recognition of the union as bargaining agent
2. An increase in tonnage rates (equivalent to a 10% wage increase)
3. Enforcement of the eight-hour work day law
4. Payment for “dead work” (laying track, timbering, handling impurities, etc.)
5. Weight-checkmen elected by the workers (to keep company weightmen honest)
6. The right to use any store, and choose their boarding houses and doctors
7. Strict enforcement of Colorado’s laws (such as mine safety rules, abolition of scrip), and an end to the company guard system

The nascent United Mine Workers of America had done their best in preparation for the strike. They leased land for the encampment and built the tents on wood platforms. They provided as much support as they were able, including their most potent asset, Mary Harris Jones.

Before being known as a magazine, Mother Jones was notorious as a fiery organizer and activist – referred to at times as the most dangerous woman in America. She galvanized support and attention on the striker’s plight and during her visits brought together the immigrant women, wives of the miners, bridging divides of culture and language that the coal operators hoped would keep them separate.

The cost of militia patrols were mounting for the state of Colorado and the governor was growing tired of the standoff at Ludlow and other mines. The cost of the private detectives bore heavily on Rockefeller’s coffers as well. The pressure for a quick resolution to the conflict was mounting. It was in this atmosphere that the battle was sparked.

The gunfire continued through the entire day – 14 hours. The strikers had dug pits beneath the tents to protect them from the sniper fire that had plagued them all winter. The militia and detectives picked off some of the men, but most of the camp was able to take shelter beneath the tents. At one point a passing train gave some of the strikers cover and a few fled to the nearby hills. As night approached at 7:00 pm the militiamen descended on horseback into the camp.

Using paraffin and torches, they set fire to the tents. In the ensuing pandemonium numerous of the miners were gunned down. Beneath one of the tents, which functioned as a nursery, nearly a dozen children, many of them infants, and two of the women taking take of them, suffocated and burned to death.

Tikas had stayed on in the camp to the end, and was rounded up along with other union organizers. One of the officers of the militia was seen to break his gunstock over Tikas’ head. Shortly after, Tikas was killed and for the next three days his body lay in the field were he died. Finally, railroad workers recovered the remains, He was found to have been shot in the back.

Full Show: Climate Catastrophe Now + The Most Important Question About Obamacare {aTV 001}

By: Dennis Trainor Jr Saturday April 19, 2014 3:37 pm

Originally Posted at PopularResistance.org

Dennis talks with Dr. Jill Stein, President of the Green Shadow Cabinet about the recently published U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) fifth assessment on climate change. The findings, combined with the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community, paint a picture of humanity committing a collective genocide and ecocide. The end of civilization scenarios, once projected for your grandchildren’s grandchildren are now a reality for anyone ho plans to be alive in 2050.

“The IPCC has finally stepped up to the plate in saying what we are up against,” says Dr. Stein, “but they have not begin to step up to the plate, in fact they are really not qualified to say how we fix this. The IPCC is not calling for radical transformation. They have yelled, ‘fire!’ and come out with a squirt gun. What they are calling for is not what we need.”

In the second half of the show, Dennis sits down with Dr. Margret Flowers.

Recently, Dr. Flowers initiated an online petition declaring herself a consciences objector to the Affordable Care Act and asking others to send a message to President Obama that the ACA is a scam.

“The most important conversation we should be having right now in the United States is not how many people are insured,” says Dr. Flowers “knowing that insurance is not protective, it’s: do we want to continue to treat healthcare as a commodity where people only get what they can afford, or do we want to join the rest of the industrialized nations in the world and treat healthcare as a public good and create a system where people can get what they need.”

Bios:
Dr. Jill Stein (@DrJillStein) is a mother, physician, longtime teacher of internal medicine, and pioneering environmental-health advocate. She was the 2012 Green Party presidential nominee and current president of the Green Shadow Cabinet. She is also an initiator behind the Global Climate Convergence, which is an education and direct action campaign running from Mother Earth Day to May Day. It seeks to build collaboration across national borders and fronts of struggle to harness the transformative power we already possess as a thousand separate movements springing up across the planet.

Dr. Margaret Flowers (MFlowers8) is a pediatrician from Baltimore who is an organizer at PopularResistance.org, co-directs ItsOurEconomy.us and co-hosts Clearing the FOG on We Act Radio. She is adviser to the board of Physicians for a National Health Program and is on the steering committee of the Maryland Health Care is a Human Right campaign.

Dennis Trainor, Jr. (@DennisTrainorJr) is a writer, host and producer. His documentary on the Occupy movement, American Autumn: an Occudoc, garnered critical praise from The New York Times, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and more.  He also wrote and directed Legalize Democracy, a documentary short about the Movement To Amend the Constitution. Trainor was an embedded YouTube personality/media advisor on the staff of Dennis Kucinich’s 2008 presidential campaign and his work is regularly published on The Huffington PostTruth Out, The Real New NetworkPopular Resistance and several others.

This episode of Acronym TV was filmed at The Real News Network in Baltimore, MD.

Director – Jamar Jemison

Assistant Director + Camera op – Chris DeMillo
Audio – Charles Waters
Camera- Denise Rivera, Michael Johnson
Makeup – Kelsey Johnson
Writer – Dennis Trainor, Jr. 

* Disclosure: PopularResistance.org provides partial funding for Acronym TV

ATV001

Sunday Food: Happy Easter, and Don’t Eat Revolting Stuff

By: Ruth Calvo Tuesday January 24, 2012 8:00 pm

 

Market Research produced this

 

(Picture courtesy of liftarn at wikimedia commons.)

If you are going out for dinner for Easter, sorry, but wouldn’t you prefer real food, and prefer not to put things into your system that are harmful?   Okay, if you don’t thank me after reading this, I am sorry.

The subject line may strike you as unnecessary advice, but if you know what you’re eating when you buy into restaurant fare, you may well be doing that very thing.

The research kitchens that are making food that appeals to us do not put our health as their motivation, but their profits.

Would you like a cow eyeball with your burger?
One of the more-enduring urban legends about McDonald’s is that their hamburgers contain cow eyeballs. While this has not proven to be the case, the company’s Baked Hot Apple Pie does contain duck feathers, or at least an ingredient commonly derived from such. Truth can be just as strange as fiction.
How have duck feathers become a viable ingredient in apple pie? Welcome to the world of food additives. People have been adding flavors, spices, natural preservatives and ripening agents to food since antiquity. But as the popularity of highly processed food has risen dramatically since the 1950s, so has the astounding array of bizarre chemical additives used in food manufacturing. Fast-food recipes seem to be born more from the laboratory than from farm or field.
And although the powers that be deem these food-additive chemicals safe, the science fiction of it all is a bit unsettling. How do we come up with these things? Here are some of the wackiest of the bunch.
1. Duck feathers and human hair (L-cysteine)
You thought duck feathers sounded bad? How about human hair? These are the two most-common sources for l-cysteine, an amino acid used to condition dough for increased pliability, which facilitates better machine processing. CNN reported that most human-derived L-cysteine comes from Chinese women who help support their families by selling their locks to small chemical-processing plants.
Although originally the primary source for L-cysteine was human hair, many manufacturers seem to have moved away from hair-derived L-cysteine and on to the more-palatable duck feathers. According to Jeanne Yacoubou, MS, research editor for The Vegetarian Resource Group, 80 percent of L-cysteine is now derived from feathers. During her research, McDonald’s told Yacoubou that the L-cysteine used in its Baked Hot Apple Pie, as well as its Wheat Roll and Warm Cinnamon Roll, was of the duck-feather variety. Many other fast-food joints rely on L-cysteine in bakery products as well.
And not to be sensationalist here, the resultant additive is far-removed from its original source — but still. It may be disturbing to many, and importantly, may fly in the face of ethical or religious dietary restrictions.
2. Sand (silicon dioxide)
Avoiding sand in your sandwich at the beach is obvious, avoiding sand in your restaurant-purchased meal may not be so apparent.
Silicon dioxide, also known as silica (also known as sand!), is used to make glass, optical fibers, ceramics and cement. Oh, and chili. Used as an anti-caking agent, it is often added to processed beef and chicken to prevent clumping, and is listed in the ingredient panels for chili from both Wendy’s and Taco Bell. Most experts suggest that it isn’t harmful for consumption, but just know that the ingredient keeping that chili meat nice and non-caking is the also the primary component of diatomaceous earth, commonly used as a natural insecticide.
3. Wood (cellulose)
Processed wood pulp, known as cellulose, is used in everything from cheese to salad dressing, from muffins to strawberry syrup. Food processors use it to thicken and stabilize foods, replace fat and boost fiber content — as well as to minimize reliance on more costly ingredients like oil or flour. Powdered cellulose is produced by cooking virgin wood pulp in chemicals to separate the cellulose, and then purified. Modified versions require extra processing, such as exposure to acid in order to further break down the fiber.
Ironically, with the increase in nutritional awareness has come an increase in the use of cellulose — with the addition of wood pulp, products can boast of less fat and more fiber. Just don’t mind the wood.
McDonald’s, Taco Bell, KFC, Sonic, Pizza Hut, Wendy’s, Arby’s, Jack in the Box, and many others include cellulose in their repertoire.
4. Silly Putty plastic (dimethylpolysiloxane)
Eight-syllable ingredients make sense for Silly Putty, but French fries? Sure enough, dimethylpolysiloxane, a form of silicone used in cosmetics and Silly Putty, is also found in many a fast-food fried thing. It is the secret ingredient that keeps fryer oil from foaming. McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish and French fries have it, as do Wendy’s Natural-Cut Fries With Sea Salt. In fact, most fast-food items that bathe in a deep-fat fryer are imbued with a hint of dimethylpolysiloxane. Should you be concerned? The World Health Organization found no adverse health effects associated with dimethylpolysiloxane, but come on — what’s wrong with using potatoes, oil, and salt for fries?
5. Petroleum-derived preservatives (TBHQ)
Tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ) is made from compounds derived from petroleum and finds a home in cosmetic and skincare products, varnish, lacquers and resins — and processed food. McDonald’s, for example, uses it in 18 products ranging from its Fruit and Walnut Salad to Griddle Cakes to McNuggets.
TBHQ was finally approved after many years of pressure from food manufacturers, though with approval, the FDA mandated that the chemical must not exceed 0.02 percent of a food’s oil and fat content. Why would there be a limit? Because five grams would be lethal, while one gram can cause nausea, vomiting, delirium, a sense of suffocation and collapse. (Although you would have to eat more than 11 pounds of McNuggets to reach that level. And if you’re willing to eat 11 pounds of McNuggets in one sitting, well…)
6. Soil fertilizer (ammonium sulfate)
Ammonium sulfate is sold by chemical companies to food manufacturers as “yeast food for bread,” and many fast-food companies list the ingredient in their bakery products.
But that’s just its night job; when ammonium sulfate is not moonlighting as a food additive, it performs its main task: as a fertilizer for alkaline soils. Ammonium sulfate also does duty as an agricultural spray adjuvant for water soluble insecticides, herbicides and fungicides.
7. Beetle juices (carminic acid, confectioner’s glaze)
Food dyes approved by the FDA include colors synthesized from petroleum derivatives and coal tar, but with all of the negative attention paid to artificial food color, natural dyes are on the rise. Yet some food dyes based on natural ingredients come from things that you may not care to ingest. Meet carminic acid, a commonly used red food coloring that comes from the dried, crushed bodies of female scale insects called cochineal. Variously known as Cochineal, Cochineal Extract, Carmine, Crimson Lake, Natural Red 4, C.I. 75470, E120 — it is used in a wide variety of products ranging from some meat, sausages, processed poultry products, marinades, bakery products, toppings, cookies, desserts, icings, pie fillings, jams, preserves, gelatins, juices, drinks, dairy products, sauces and dessert products.
From the same family of the cochineal comes the Lac beetle, which is the source of shellac — as in wood-primer-and-varnish shellac. The female beetle secretes a resin that is scraped from trees in Southeast Asia and Mexico. The resin is collected and processed into a shiny coating to be donned by a variety of foods, including candy, vitamins, pills, tablets, capsules, chocolate and waxed fresh fruit. You won’t find beetle excretions on the ingredients list, however, look for its aliases: Confectioner’s Glaze, Resinous Glaze, Shellac, Pharmaceutical Glaze, Pure Food Glaze, Natural Glaze or Lac-Resin.
8. Meat paste-goop (mechanically separated meat)
Mechanically separated meat (MSM) has been produced since the 1960s, but has been enjoying new fame lately courtesy of a photo making the rounds which shows an industrial machine extruding a plump ribbon of pink paste into a box. It is commonly referred to as “pink slime.” Looking more like frosting than pureed meat and bone bits, the FDA defines mechanically separated poultry (MSP) as “a paste-like and batter-like poultry product produced by forcing bones, with attached edible tissue, through a sieve or similar device under high pressure to separate bone from the edible tissue.” Mechanically separated pork is used too, although in 2004 to protect consumers against Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, mechanically separated beef was considered inedible and prohibited for use as human food.
After the meat slurry has been produced, it is sometimes treated with ammonium hydroxide to remove excess bacteria. Ammonium hydroxide is also used as a household cleaner and in fertilizers. Since the resultant meat-bone-muscle-tendon-ammonium-hydroxide goop doesn’t taste much like meat, artificial flavors are added to finish the whole thing off.
Mechanically separated meat is to blame for a number of processed meat products; think hot dogs, salami, bologna, burgers and many a chicken nugget. Fast-food restaurants are known for employing pink slime, although recently McDonald’s made clear that it no longer relies upon it in its burgers.
Generally recognized as safe (GRAS)
These four little words seem to have become the FDA mantra when it comes to food additives; all of the above ingredients, and an expansive array of other chemical additives, have been generally recognized as safe in scientific studies. Taken out of context and looked at individually, maybe a little ammonium sulfate here and a petroleum product there aren’t going to cause quantitative damage to lab animals. But if you were to add up all of the chemical ingredients consumed during a life of a fast-food fueled Western diet, what would that look like? Would it look like an epidemic of obesity, diabetes or cancer?
Michael Pollan‘s advice, ”Don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food” never seemed so appealing.

If you were just planning a trip to the local garbage purveyor – which is how I regard fast food outlets – if you decided not to, I’m glad for you,

The “butterfly effect” revisited

By: David Seaton Saturday April 19, 2014 12:02 pm

Moth by night

In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependency on initial conditions in which a small change at one place in a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state. The name of the effect, coined by Edward Lorenz, is derived from the theoretical example of a hurricane’s formation being contingent on whether or not a distant butterfly had flapped its wings several weeks earlier. Wikipedia

I remember that the “butterfly effect” was much in vogue in the late 1990s and was often quoted by the chaos theoreticians that were instrumental in designing the risk modeling that ruled finance up till 2008 and signally failed to predict the implosion of the financial system.

I think that today it would be more appropriate to talk about the “moth effect”.

Moths are not as conventionally “pretty” as butterflies, but are often stunningly beautiful in a rather sinister way; and yes they flap their wings too and they often arrive in large numbers and eat their way through closets full of wool or gardens full of geraniums. 

Unlike the butterfly, the moth is seen as a plague and a pest… you don’t go to the store to buy “butterflyballs”, do you?

And then, rather poetically: on balmy, breathless, summer nights, moths often commit suicide en masse in the flickering flames of dinner candles, driven by their love, need and obsession with light… 

The romantic, sinister, light-driven and pestilent moth: a fitting symbol of our time.

The greatest clusters of metaphorical, wing flapping, wool chewing, suicidal moths that I detect today seem to me to be long term products of our economic system, such as the doomsday effect of global warming and the Oozlum bird effects of the advances in Artificial Intelligence. 

Global warming is the long term effect of the industrial revolution and its spread to the entire globe, but so is Artificial Intelligence.

One can imagine such technology outsmarting financial markets, out-inventing human researchers, out-manipulating human leaders, and developing weapons we cannot even understand. Whereas the short-term impact of AI depends on who controls it, the long-term impact depends on whether it can be controlled at all.  Stephen Hawking and friends – Huffington Post

But long before it comes to all that, in the near future AI will be putting nearly everyone (except maybe the people who clip the toenails and give blowjobs to elderly billionaires) out of work.

AI is the result of the geometrically accelerating drive for technological innovation, which we are told is wonderful and which will solve all our problems, but which in fact is not really a search for the greatest good for the greatest number, but on the contrary, generally driven by the intense dog eat dog competition of our economic system, where to avoid being eliminated, management and shareholders are constantly looking for greater efficiencies in cutting costs and getting more productivity with fewer people, even if this reduces the number of potential consumers. The now classic metaphor for this is Kodak, which once had 140,000 employees being replaced by Instagram, which had 13 employees when Facebook bought it.

Ironically, this pressure to innovate may finally be what fatally destabilizes our system.

Cross posted from: http://seaton-newslinks.blogspot.com


SitComs Not Always a Laughing Matter

By: brasch Thursday October 2, 2008 7:55 am

by Walter Brasch

 

My favorite new TV comedy is “Growing Up Fisher.”

Sitcom

Sitcom set

It’s the story of a blind lawyer, his 12-year-old son, a mid-teen daughter, and an ex-wife who is trying to return to her adolescent years. The show is based upon the experiences of D.J. Nash.

J.K. Simmons portrays Mel Fisher; for most of his life after he became blind at 12, he tried to make others believe he wasn’t blind. Jenna Elfman  is his ex-, Joyce Fisher, who extends the role she played on the hit series, “Dharma and Greg.”

Because television is a repetitive medium, “Growing Up Fisher” has the look and feel of “The Wonder Years,” complete with a love interest for its pre-teen child.” In this newer SitCom, instead of an older Kevin Arnold (voiced by Daniel Stern) narrating the story of his younger self (portrayed by Fred Savage), it’s an older Henry Fisher, narrated by Jason Bateman, who reflects upon his own younger self, portrayed by Eli Baker.

In “Growing Up Fisher,” as in “Dharma and Greg” and “The Wonder Years,” the father/husband is conservative and strait-laced; the wife is more of a free spirit,”  common in many comedies, including Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park,” which had a half-season run on ABC in 1970 after being a successful Broadway play and film.

The pilot of “The Wonder Years” aired on ABC following SuperBowl XXII; the pilot for “Growing Up Fisher” aired on NBC following the Olympics. Network executives counted on dragging the huge audiences into strong ratings for the neophyte comedies.

It’s not for the similarities I like “Growing Up Fisher.” Nor is it for the acting, directing, and writing, all of which are above average for a modern TV comedy. Or even because of Elvis, the Guide Dog. It’s because “Growing Up Fisher” doesn’t have an annoying laugh track.

Charley Douglass, a CBS-TV sound engineer invented the first laugh machine. Its purpose was to improve the studio audience laughs, some of which were raucous and too overbroad, some of which were far less than what the producers wanted. With the change from comedies airing live to the use of tape delay, post-production, including canned audience reaction, became critical for how the producers wanted audiences to perceive the finished product. Ever since the early 1950s, most TV comedies have used a laugh track, even when the show was “taped before a live audience.”  Eventually the Douglass “Laff Box” had more than 300 different canned laughs.

Instead of developing plot and character, many TV comedies are little more than a series of one-liners stuck together by writers and producers who are too young to know and appreciate the writing of James L. Brooks,  Sam Denoff, Larry Gelbart, David Isaacs, Ken Levine, Bill Persky, Carl Reiner, Gene Reynolds, and dozens of others who were craftsmen.  The laugh track now shows up every one or two lines, even if the line isn’t funny.  And it’s not just subtle laughter or mild chuckles. Even the lamest line gets an all-out decibel-popping presence.

The escalation of the laugh track has become the producers’ way to manipulate the audience to believe every word is a gem, every sentence uttered is golden. In the past few years, the laugh track has become invasive. On “Two and a Half Men,” a lame but popular rip-off of “Three’s Company,” and “2 Broke Girls,” both of which push sexual suggestiveness to the edge of lewdness, the laugh tracks make the shows almost unwatchable. They’re not the only ones.

At first, the insertion of canned laughter was non-intrusive. Some comedies, including “My Three Sons” and “The Brady Bunch” used less laughter; others pumped laughter at almost every line. Several comedies went without laugh tracks. NBC reluctantly dropped the laugh track mid-way through the second season on “The Monkees,” after all four actor-musicians demanded it, according to historian Paul Iverson. CBS had required “M*A*S*H” to use a laugh track, over the protests of its creators. However, as the comedy’s ratings and subsequent advertising revenue increased, CBS executives relented a bit—laugh tracks during scenes in the operating room were optional, and other laughter was toned down.

Almost none of the classic cartoons had laugh tracks; they didn’t need it—the audiences knew when and how to laugh, even if network business executives, few of whom were ever in the creative part of show business, didn’t.

Also not needing much “sweetening” are “The Daily Show, with Jon Stewart,” “The Colbert Report,” and the late night talk shows. Although all are taped a few hours before airing, live audiences provide the genuine laughter and applause, with the hosts reacting to it rather than delivering a line and waiting a couple of seconds to allow digital laughter to be inserted in post-production.

For “The Wonder Years” and “Growing Up Fisher,” which first aired more than two decades apart, the producers wisely decided that comedy, if good, will bring its own laughs; the merit of the show will rise or fall based upon writing, acting, and directing, not upon forced laughter.

[Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist, satirist, and author. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigation into the process and effects of hydraulic horizontal fracturing.]

Misdirection: Rampell Views Entitlements Through the Generational War Lens

By: letsgetitdone Saturday January 8, 2011 1:38 pm

Some of the favored children of the economic elite who have a public presence, work hard in their writing and speaking to divert attention from inequality and oligarchy issues by raising the issue of competition between seniors and millennials for “scarce” Federal funds. That’s understandable. If millennials develop full consciousness of who, exactly, has been flushing their prospects for a decent life down the toilet, their anger and activism might bring down the system of wealth and economic and social privilege that benefits both their families and the favored themselves in the new America of oligarchy and plutocracy.

Catherine Rampell sets forth the position that seniors haven’t paid for their Social Security and Medicare because they “generally receive” more in benefits out of these programs than they pay into them.

Here and here, I evaluated Abby Huntsman’s arguments for entitlement “reform,” and, of course, Pete Peterson’s son, Michael fights a continuing generational war against seniors in pushing the austerian line of the Peterson Foundation. Now comes Catherine Rampell, who, in a recent column, sets forth the position that seniors haven’t paid for their Social Security and Medicare because they “generally receive” more in benefits out of these programs than they pay into them. I’ll reply to all of the main points in Rampell’s argument, by quoting liberally and then replying to the points she makes in each quote. She says:

Yes, seniors paid into Social Security and Medicare during the years they worked, if they worked. But they generally receive much more out of the entitlement system than they paid into it.

She continues by citing an Urban Institute study and pointing out that earlier age cohorts received much more in benefits from Social Security than they paid in, and also says:

But let’s consider the average worker who turned 65 in 2010. Generally speaking, the people in this cohort will, more or less, break even on Social Security, according to Eugene Steuerle, an Urban Institute fellow who co-authors the annual report. (Earlier generations made out like bandits; for example, members of an average one-earner couple who turned 65 in 1990 receive twice as much in Social Security benefits as they paid in taxes.)

Medicare, on the other hand, is pretty much a steal no matter when you turned 65.”

After citing some details documenting “what a steal” Medicare is, Rampell concludes the first part of her argument with this:

”It boils down to this: Despite all the “we already paid for it” rhetoric popular among seniors, seniors did not pre-pay for their entitlements. If anything, they paid for their parents’ entitlements, which were more modest than the benefits today’s retirees receive.

This argument of Rampell’s is disingenuous, because it takes the claim that seniors have already paid for their entitlements as saying that they’ve paid dollar-for-dollar, more or less, for what they’re getting in benefits. But seniors who know how SS and medicare works certainly don’t mean this when they say they’ve already paid for it. What they surely mean instead, is that Congress has legislated the SS and Medicare safety nets, and the benefits that currently exist, for the purpose of seeing to it that seniors have a minimum of economic insecurity during the period of their lives when a large proportion of them no longer have the capability to earn a decent living due to illness, other infirmities, or an extreme reluctance of private sector employers to hire them even when they are very skilled.

To draw on the benefits of these programs seniors were required to pay FICA contributions during their working lives. These payments, according to the law, give them the right, in other words, entitle them, to receive the benefits of SS and Medicare that were mandated by Congress.

No one ever said to today’s seniors that there was some rule in the SS and Medicare programs requiring that their payments needed to, or ought to, correspond to the amount of their total benefits, since that was never the deal legislated by Congress. No, the deal was: “You pay your FICA contributions, and you get your benefits at retirement.” Simple as that!

So, people who followed the SS and Medicare rules and made their payments over the years rightly view themselves as having paid for their entitlement benefits, regardless of whether their cumulative FICA payments fall short of or exceed the cumulative sum of those benefits. Why shouldn’t they, and why is Rampell implying that the deal implicit in our major entitlement programs is anything different?

Additionally, I’m afraid that Rampell is also wrong when she says that today’s seniors “paid for” their parents’ entitlements. They certainly paid FICA and Medicare-related contributions, of course; but it is not true that these revenues paid for anything, in spite of Federal reports that appear to link the two, or the accounting that shows that the Social Security Administration has built up a $2.8 Trillion credit against future expenditures, and that Medicare has a much smaller volume of credit to be used for such expenditures.