Cutting Through The Crap

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Conference Call


Further thoughts on Obama's conference with Congressional Rs.

Only the most ideologically hidebound could, after watching it, continue to think of him as some sort of left wing fanatic. Only those who truly wish him ill or who care only about party power could claim not to have seen something unique, and desirable. Namely, a president who is intelligent, thoroughly versed on a wide range of subjects, and who truly wants to rise above hyper-partisanship in the name of getting something done. Who relishes and demands factual debate.

This is, most decidedly, NOT to say that conservatives ought to agree with him, nor that Obama hasn't made mistakes. But it IS to say that people who actually agree the US has deep problems, and who think solutions are needed, and who understand that in democracy it simply never happens -- and ought not to -- that everyone or anyone gets everything they want, should be able to say, y'know, he's right about some of this. We DO need to tone down the rhetoric, we DO need to stop claiming he's the devil incarnate, we DO need to be willing to place solutions above self-solvency. For our survival, all-or-nothing politics has to stop.

In a time of great need -- perhaps, other than WWII, our greatest need -- we most amazingly managed to elect exactly the right president. The smartest guy to occupy the office in a long long time. The first in a longer time who really is NOT a hardened ideologue, who IS willing to take difficult positions, to disappoint his "base" as well as to piss off his opponents, for what he thinks is the greater good. Actually to listen to -- to demand that he got -- opposing views.

We're blowing it.

When you see how easily refuted are the right wing talking points, how much of their positions to date have been smoke and mirrors; when you see the extent to which a media network has taken up those falsehoods, and how uncritically the tea partiers have accepted them; when you see how polarized our politics have become, in large measure (in my opinion) because Republican leaders have recognized the power of reasonableness in a Democratic president and its effect on their future; when you see all this it's hard not to feel deep sadness.

We really need a president like this -- if there were a Republican in the office who spoke as much sense, I'd hope I'd be able to see it, and I'd hope a Democratic Congress could see it too. (For the record, they cooperated with a recent R president who was anything but that, so, unlike the Rs, I expect they would again. But that's Ds for you. Occasionally, at least, agreeing that elections have consequences. Occasionally, at least, voting for less than they'd have preferred, in order to move things forwards. So far, not a single R has done that during this administration. Not one. Not when it mattered.)

Thus is explained my deep disappointment and my belief that we are doomed as a nation. We actually had a president willing to think, to act, to seek help, to look for common solutions. And we're completely blowing the opportunity.

On the right wing blogs there are comments on the conference, saying it revealed how evil Obama is; confirmed he can't talk without a teleprompter; made himself a laughing stock. (There were actually a couple along these lines:

Obama did not look "bumbling", rather he looked like a lion tamer who walked into the cage before 140 Republicans and proved that he can master them without a Teleprompter. Obama looked fully in command. The Republicans did not do a good job of grilling him, they were pathetic. He walked into their trap but he sprung it on them. To the contrary, we should be very afraid of Obama [me interjecting here: "afraid?" Of a reasonable president? We're f*cked.] because he is one of the best mechanics and craftsman among politicians alive today... no self-respecting observer will ever again say that Obama cannot operate without a Teleprompter and we will cease deceiving ourselves, at least in this respect.
But it's pretty clear: most of them see what they want to see. In this case, however, it really is one of those situations: who you gonna believe: me, or your lying eyes? (Where "me," of course, is all those RWS™ and their mignons.)

As the President said, in demonizing him to the degree they have, Rs have left themselves virtually no room for negotiation. In acceding to the vitriolic RWS™ they've set themselves up for banishment from their party were they to make the slightest move toward compromise. Happily whipping up hated built on falsehood, they've given themselves, and the rest of us, no way out. It's no way to run a country. Particularly one in such peril.

If we last long enough for the history to be written, and if there's anything left to be found by the intelligent species that might take our place, it'll be said:

In their final and best chance to right their drifting ship, the United States of America, having improbably elected a person willing and able to steer that ship, blew its chance in a dance of self-destruction and unfocused rage. At the time when they needed it most, they actually had the makings of correction. But, led by a dishonest and self-interested media enterprise, picking as opposition leaders people fully willing to lie and to obstruct, they -- in numbers great enough to matter -- chose instead to let opportunity slip away. Accelerated by the misfortune of having a feckless majority leadership, unable to have their voices heard above the din, the tragedy continued. Except once. Briefly. When the President came and spoke to the opposition. But it was drowned and expunged within days, and they resumed their steady drift onto the rocks. That is all we know of this strange civilization; but we can safely conclude the world is probably better off without them.

[Postscript: seems there are others who think similarly.]
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Friday, January 29, 2010

Fear Unbalanced


Funny. President Obama goes to a Republican Congressional retreat, speaks, answers questions, in a way unseen before on television. It was, of course, on C-Span, and other networks. Fox "News" was broadcasting it, but cut away 20 minutes early. Gotta love it. Word is, the President was doing too well, being forthcoming but tough, pointing out falsehoods. The sort of stuff, you'd think, the network of "We report, you decide" would consider central to its mission. Yeah. Right.

So for you Fox followers out there, prevented as you were (per usual) from seeing the whole picture, the video is here and here; the full transcript is here. In regularly missing out on so much, you have my sympathy.

Afterward, Republicans said they'd made a mistake in allowing cameras (the very same who complained about lack of "transparency" in the health care bill. In that very meeting! Who'da thunk?) Reasonable people, on the other hand, said it was the most compelling political television ever, and that they should do it monthly. I'm with them.
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Riddle Me This



Why is it that the so-called party of so-called fiscal discipline voted -- without a single dissenter -- AGAINST renewing the "pay-go" rule for Congressional legislation?

I can only conclude that, in its typical choice of party power over the public good, they think that deficits are good to run against. How else to explain it? And what does it tell us that after railing against deficits (and, of course, ignoring the reappearance of them under Bush ((and the emergence of them under Mount Reagan))) they, to a wo/man, line up like toy soldiers to vote against a plan to reduce them? You know what it tells us:


Thursday, January 28, 2010

ATMazing


Let's not dwell on how it might have happened, or the fact that it took me six days to realize it. Suffice it to say from now on I'll be self-administering mental status checks regularly.

My wallet has four slots for credit cards or things of that shape. Couple of days ago I noticed there were only three cards in the slots, and I was pretty sure there used to be four. It's not a nice feeling. But the important stuff seemed to be there: the two credit cards I use, and my Regal Club (one dollar popcorn on Tuesdays) card. For the life of me I couldn't figure out what was missing. It's the sort of thing that is more than a little disturbing for a, uh, senior citizen. I kept staring at that empty slot, trying to pick up a vibe, a grok, a sense of what was supposed to be there.

Yesterday, for reasons unknown, the synapses signaled, the choline called, the axons aligned, and I realized I was missing my ATM card. Probably because I needed some cash, you'd think. Anyhow, I had enough of a grip on reason to go online and check my bank account. Last use of the card was six days earlier, and I recalled the transaction clearly. Good. Expecting not much, I called the bank, told my story (there was sort of a reason why I might be semi-excused for leaving the card in the ATM, involving a brand-new and very different machine, and an unusual size check -- a rebate, actually -- and a frustrated detour into the bank to speak to a teller). The person on the other end of the phone excused herself for about three minutes, and came back to announce the card had been found. In the ATM. Six days later, in the ATM. And, mind you, this bank is neither off the beaten path, infrequently used, nor, for that matter, in a particularly crime-free part of town. This may have been the first time I used that machine.

I'm not complaining. I'm more than relieved to have recovered the card. But somebody tell me this: how in hell could it have been found six days later, in the ATM? It sucked it in when I used it; to have received it back I'd have had to click a "finish and return card" button which, clearly, I'd failed to do.

So what happened? What did the lady do?
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How Can You Tell Fox Is Lying?




When any of its lips are moving, right?

To my readers who claim Fox "News" is a reliable source: above is the sort of bullshit that comes from there every day, unquestioned by its people, let alone its listeners.

There's nothing President Obama could have said that would have drawn from them a good word. Check out an example of Congressional Republicans when the president proposed actual conservative ideas.

We are totally, completely, thoroughly, irreparably screwed. And it seems every single Fox viewer thinks that feeling in their gut is chocolate pudding.


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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

State Of The Statement


My fellow Americans, the state of the union is perilous. Wherever we look, we see crossroads; no matter the issue, we see complexity so daunting as to make us want to turn away. If ever there were a time when we need to call upon the greatest of our resources -- our good will toward one another, our ability to sacrifice at critical times -- it is now.

And yet, there are signs that for the first time in our shining history, we are unwilling and unable to meet the challenges. To an unprecedented degree we have fallen upon ourselves, fighting change, challenging the patriotism of those with whom we disagree, falling prey to a constant stream of hyper-partisan misinformation. At both ends of the political spectrum there are voices saying, loudly, angrily, if I can't have everything I want, nobody gets anything. In a country whose very founding was based on the art and necessity of compromise, we're becoming a nation of selfishness that threatens, most literally, our survival. It simply can't go on like this.

Now, I'll place plenty of blame on myself. I've been unable to convince many of you of my good intentions (for that matter, there are people sitting right here, unconvinced of my citizenship), nor have I avoided missteps in promoting my ideas. But I do not accept -- I reject entirely -- the idea that I have not reached out across the aisle. How many have forgotten the words of a Congressional leader who said, after my first month in office, that his party had already had more face time with the President than in the entire eight years of the previous administration? When was the last time the losing presidential candidate was feted at the White House?

Nor is there the remotest bit of truth that legislation has been devoid of compromise on our side. To the great dismay of many on the left, the public option was dropped from the health care bill. Months were spent working with a bipartisan group formed with the express idea of finding middle ground. And after that ground was found, no votes were forthcoming from the other side. Not a single one. The same is true of the stimulus bill, which economists from all sides agree has been of significant benefit. And now, most astonishingly, after raising serious and very legitimate questions about our budget deficits, Republican members of Congress who were among the sponsors of a bill creating a bipartisan commission to study ways to address our deficits, have voted down its formation. I'm sorry to say this, but I think a very likely reason is that they prefer to run for reëlection against the deficits, rather than trying to fix them. Has it really come to this? In the most successful democracy history has ever known?

I hold neither myself or my party blameless. My point is simply to say that it's impossible to reduce the enormity of our problems -- whether they be the economy, jobs, wars, education, energy needs -- without a spirit of common purpose. Without compromise. Without willingness to forgo political expediency in the name of saving ourselves.

People are worried, they're angry. Their government, to a large extent, has failed them, and attempts to correct the failure have, so far, borne less fruit than anyone would like. But we can't let that anger become self-defeating; we must not let it destroy us. In times like these, there simply is no room for the close-minded adherence to one's view with no room for anyone else's. Nor, may I add, is there room for the sort of misinforming and destructive steam of vitriol that fills our airwaves.

So, my fellow citizens, here's the cold truth. In order for everyone to get something, in order for our country, most literally, to survive, nobody gets everything they want. Nobody. We cannot balance a budget without raising some taxes. Nor can we do it without cutting spending. Republicans will have to agree to finding reasonable cuts in our military budget; Democrats will have to buy into the notion that entitlements will need to be modified, so that those most in need get more, and those not in need get less. And, for now, everyone will need to be patient. The deficit spending we have undertaken, while not perfectly realized or distributed, is necessary -- let me repeat: with virtual universal agreement among economists -- we have HAD to spend money when none was available elsewhere, to get the economy moving. Were it not for the compromises we made, we would have spent more. And I think it would have been better. But that's what compromise is about.

When I ran for this office, a central theme of my campaign was that change doesn't come from above, it comes from below, from the people, from voters. To my shame, I believe I lost sight of that, and now I'm asking for amends, and I'm asking for the kind of help that this country needs more than ever. Citizens need to demand of their elected representatives, all of them, of whatever party, cease this intransigence and get to the extremely difficult work of legislating. Demand progress. Let them know that it's understood that, in a democracy, no one can have everything they want. Because if nothing else has become clear in this past year, this has: when we -- our politicians and our citizens -- break down into intransigence, nothing good comes of it. And yet, for far too many of the people in this room, for far too many of the people in the streets, for far too many of those who rant on our airwaves, that is where we are.

Democracy is built on compromise, it's built on the good will of people of all political persuasions. It demands thoughtful voters, and neutral but tough media. Democracy is hard. Democracy isn't for the faint of heart, nor the lazy or those of ill will. In legislation to fix our economy, no one will get everything he or she wants. No one. It simply can't be done. The same is true for our energy problems, our environment, our school. No one can have everything they want. No one. That's not how it works. Yet there are those who still demand it.

For the past year we've seen what I hope is the worst of our democracy. Angry people with no good will toward those with whom they disagree. Entire media outlets devoted to tearing down, to fomenting, to making things worse rather than pitching in. Politicians digging in their heels, calculating for their own benefit rather than for the country's. A year is too much. We don't have that kind of time to waste. It's time to get to work, it's time to realize that there are no perfect solutions but the only way to find the best ones is to drop blind ideology, to stop hoping for failure, and to begin the hard work, the noble work, the nation's work, just as our founders did, just as we have done every time we faced crises. Let us not be the first generation to fail. Let us not be the first to give up on one another, to give up on democracy, to resort to blind self-interest. To abandon decency. To forsake everything that has come before, and to forget about what ought to come later. Let us not lose sight of what has always made the United States of America great when the chips were down: hard work, cooperation, willingness to give up something now to secure a future for the next generations.

My fellow Americans, it is time. There is no more time, there is no other time.


[The above is what I wrote before the SOTU. His was better, of course, and calmer. That's why I still like the guy. He did touch some of the keys that I did, I'm happy to say.]
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Monday, January 25, 2010

Heraldic Comment


Anyone who comes here because of an article in the Herald might want to zip past the two posts below this, to get a better idea of the blog...

As If




An historic get for The Onion.
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Holy Sh*t


Literally.

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Veneer


These are scary times. Haiti, for all its undeserved (unless you're Pat Robertson) misery, might be a harbinger. I'm thinking of the looting, the roving gangs wielding machetes. In dire times, the veneer of civilization reveals its tenuous thinness.

In fact, given the scope of the disaster there, it seems -- admittedly from a distance -- that lawlessness has been less than one might expect. With the dead evidently in the hundreds of thousands, millions homeless, infrastructure wiped away, government effectively gone, the falling of one upon another might have been much worse.

Which brings me to my point: I wonder how far we are from widespread violence here, in the USA.

Things are tougher here than most people have seen; yet compared to Haiti, which seems, with help, to be retaining some civility, we have it damn good. And still we're turning against our fellow citizens with increasing ferocity. Incited by the constant venom and propaganda spewing from Fox "News" and right wing talk radio, and by the demagoguery of their elected, political nihilism is steering us onto the reefs. Mostly, so far, in the form of hateful rhetoric, the political scene is -- so it seems to me -- heading toward civil breakdown. Already there are towns calling for the forming of militias and the curtailing of government. Arming themselves for who knows what, based on fomented fears feloniously fabricated and faciley fed, having swallowed it whole and happily, large swaths of the country are preparing for chaos. Thereby making it almost inevitable. (Amusingly, it's the left wing that have the more cogent arguments against President Obama's agenda. The right see a far-left ideologue when he's nothing of the sort.)

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, in some ways the tea partiers and their ilk among the RWS™ are worse than those Haitian gangs: at least in that sorry place people have reason to be desperate. Starving, with the dead piled in the streets, resorting to violence seems unsurprising. Here, though, the destruction is mostly imaginary (communism... socialism... fascism... death panels... reëducation camps... destroying the very foundations of this country... reparations... hatred of white people... soft on terrorism...) To the extent that it's not, it's the leftovers from the very type of governance to which they long to return. Because it's based, for the most part, on blind hatred and fear rather than any sort of facts, I find it very ominous. When most needed, when times are only a billionth as tough as they are elsewhere, civil discourse is all but absent. Rather than suspending partisanship and blind ideology, half of the country has, instead, chosen obstructionism and demagoguery. It speaks ill of us, and of our ability to withstand tough times. Because they're strictly and unprecedentedly in the business of pushing a political agenda with no concern for actual journalism, it speaks particularly ill of Fox "News" and those who cling to it. (Ain't much actual journalism anywhere on TV; but for the others the sin is one of laziness and stupidity, rather than overt dissembling and distortion. Better, maybe by a little, but only marginally less destructive to democracy.)

I wonder if, in some barely imaginable future, such vilifiers as those on Fox and RWS™ radio, will ever come to realize the harm they've done. (The single counterpart on the left, whom I stopped watching months ago, actually did. That's among many differences between left and right.) Parenthetically (for I am nothing if not parenthetical) I'd add that unlike those in the Fox flock, liberals -- to a much greater extent than teabaggers anyway -- don't need to have their beliefs constantly and loudly reinforced by the fact-averse. Thus, the failure of Air America. (And it was almost NEVER fact-averse.)

Having revealed their intolerance of discomfort and unwillingness to search for real solutions; having chosen the spewing of unfocused and misdirected rage; having literally taken to the streets shouting slogans based on fear and hatred and, perhaps worst of all, demonization of all who disagree, huge numbers in this country are agitating toward anarchy, all the while claiming some sort of political high ground. Haiti is destroyed. In recent times, the closest the US came to it was a couple of years ago. People are trying (ineffectively, maybe, but trying) to fix it. But who remembers that? We are spoiled, selfish, and soft. Compared to Haitians, we're an embarrassment. At best.

I think it's not at all a stretch to believe that we're only about one more peeled layer away from roving gangs and far, far worse. The difference, of course, is that in this country they'll be much better armed and they'll feel way more aggrieved than those destroyed people in Haiti, despite all they have, and despite all the Haitians have lost. The greatness of commonality that got us through The Depression and WWII is receding faster than polar ice. Looking at the current heroes of the right, at the tactics of their national politicians, there's nothing to see but negativity. They can't go any lower without resorting to violence. It's next.

You heard it here third.


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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Anthem



Risking having my patriotism questioned, I had to mute the singing of The National Anthem for the second NFL game today. The first one was bad enough. The second (both American Idol winners/finalists, so what can you expect) was unlistenable.

I like singing that song. In particular, I like singing the bass line in a crowd, because it sounds good with the melody. Today, both people sang it slowly, as stars usually do, like a dirge. And they added, as usual, their self-indulgent flourishes, as if to say, "It's about me." If I sang it solo at an event, I'd do it about a third faster than most celebrity singers, and I'd do it straight, vanilla, which is how it sounds best.

In a book I wrote, I'm pretty sure I mentioned the best rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner I ever heard (if I didn't I should have.) I was making rounds as an intern in San Francisco, during the National League playoff series. Bending over a patient's bandages, I heard on the TV the clearest, purest, most unfussy and least self-centered version ever. Brilliant, stunning, resonant, a voice strong and like honey and brass. And I looked up to see Linda Ronstadt, to whom I'd barely paid previous attention, standing there in short shorts and a LA Dodgers jacket, dark-haired and beautiful. (I like dark-haired beautiful girls. Married one.) Who the f*ck is that, I wondered, in my internship horniness (I may have asked it out loud, in front of my patient. I hope not.)

I've been a fan ever since. Far as I can tell, there's no record of that performance. The above is a favorite; I used to love "Long long time" but ever since I used it as background of a slideshow I made after the death of a most beautiful niece, I can't listen to it without tearing up. (I changed the music for the show. To the above song, actually.)
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Friday, January 22, 2010

Oversight


I'm no economist. But it seems sort of intuitive that, since the last two experiments with deregulation and interfering with investigations of banks led to disaster (the S and L crisis, under the first Bush, and, although it seems to have fallen from the collective memory, the current crisis under the second one), new regulations must be in order.

It's interesting to me that immediately following the revelation (hardly a surprise) that Obama wants to impose new regulations (and I admit I have no idea what, exactly, they'd be, how well-constructed, or whether they'd get through this -- or any -- Congress), the Dow tanked. The Dow, which, as a result of previous "policy," was, not long enough ago for most people (other than those with teabags on the brain) to have forgotten, was at 6000. Yet attempts to enact reforms aimed at preventing another cataclysmic fall are seen as a bad thing. By investors, of all people.

I will say this, however: I wish President Obama had, in his speech, laid off the populist crap. It seems to me an outline of the causes of the fall in relation to lack of regulation would have been enough to make the deal. Nor do I think bonuses are much a part of the big picture. They're obscene all right, especially when it's in the bailed-out banks. But harping on fat-cats is too much like the sort of politician I thought Obama was not. There's a case to be made. It doesn't need to be in the rabble-rousing mode. It's a little too Foxobeckian for my taste.

[Addendum, a while later: Right on cue, the Republicans resort to the usual. Not a little ironic, of course, given the "us versus them" Palin rhetoric, and the anti-"elitism" (whatever that is) core of their entire presidential campaign.]
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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Running For The Exits


Just a thought: does anyone doubt that if, in the context of the Massachusetts election, the parties were reversed, facing an electoral loss that left them with a 59-41 vote majority (The Village Voice, this morning, headlined "Scott Brown Wins Mass. Race, Giving GOP 41-59 Majority In The Senate"), Republicans would say the loss was because their candidate wasn't a true conservative, and would dig in even harder? But, in droves, Congressional Democrats -- especially in the Senate -- are bailing. What a pathetic bunch of losers. They don't deserve the power the people, in overwhelming numbers, granted them a year ago.

True to form, the Ds will slink away and commit seppuku, gladly handed the knife by their colleagues across the aisle.



Terrifying

Here are a few things I believe about terrorism:

1) The danger is real, and potentially devastating.
1a) Absent a nuclear attack, the devastation will be, to a very significant degree, self-inflicted: political chaos, psychological mayhem, panic, fomented strenuously by the RWS™.2) The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have done nothing to lessen the threat.

3) Money spent at home, to beef up security, is of immeasurably greater value than that spent on wars.

4) We can't eliminate the threat with armies (cf: Yemen, Sudan, the next after them; and, of course anywhere in Europe, Asia, South America, Mexico, the US, to name a few.)

5) So far, our response to 9/11 has given al Queda everything it could have hoped for, and more.
5a) That means we're doing much of their work for them, by way of tearing ourselves apart politically, tossing out the window the very values that have allowed us to succeed as a nation, bankrupting ourselves fighting shadows.


Assuming the above thoughts are even partly true, it follows that we'd be much better off ending our wars and spending our manpower and treasure on such things as border security, increased personnel devoted to intelligence gathering and analysis, body scanners, and the like. Money well -- and much better -- spent, far as I can tell.

Amid the recriminations, reasonable and otherwise, following the underwearer, the difficulties have become pretty clear. It's been said (by David Brooks on PBS Newshour, matter of fact, source not stated) that our intelligence services collect, DAILY, as much data as there is in the Library of Congress. DAILY. Our desire to assign blame notwithstanding, searching prospectively through that mass is daunting, nearly impossible. Brooks blithely said we need more of a human touch, more gut instinct, to turn those data into actions. Probably true. But how do you do that when no one is willing to spend (and pay, and collect) the money it would take? How many more people than we currently have are needed for such a task? Specifically, of those happily blaming everything that ever happened or will happen on Barack Obama, how many would be willing to pay the extra taxes, okay reducing our wartime commitments, stop the inflamed rhetoric, address the real issue rather than the politics?

My guess: few enough that it rounds off to none. After all, they just elected another tax-cutter to the Senate. Reduce government. Lower taxes. And, while you're at it, keep us safe.
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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

In Case You Missed It


The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Mass Backwards
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis



As usual, Jon Stewart nails it. The Democrats are pathetic. With a loss in Massachusetts, they'll still have an EIGHTEEN VOTE MAJORITY!!! and they're unable to pass healthcare???

In 2008 the voters swept Obama into office and gave him huge majorities in Congress. And yet the minority, with its lies distortions and obstructions (not to mention the help of the cosmically embarrassing Democrats), wins.


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Monday, January 18, 2010

Lessons Learned


I learned a lot in 2009, none of it good. Not being a naive innocent, maybe I should say I had some beliefs confirmed, but to an unexpected level. I've known for a few years that, as a country, we're screwed. Still, I didn't think the end would be coming this fast.

What's funny, in the sense of non-funny, is the extent to which so many people are so easily manipulated, and the extent to which they are simply unable to see it. How ironic it is that those people who claim the current administration is like Soviet Russia, or Nazis, have been convinced of that by the fusing of a political agenda and a network propaganda machine exactly like those created and maintained by those authoritarian and failed entities.

The truth is that on average we are a stupid people, weak-willed and uncomfortable with complexity. The reason Fox has the influence it does is that it appeals to the sense of victimhood and lost entitlement that's increasingly the political mainstream. Roger Ailes' brilliance in unabashedly pushing a hyper-partisan agenda is his realization of how simple it would be. Constantly barraging listeners with repetitive falsehoods, conspiracy theories, reinforced endlessly in every time-slot by ethically empty so-called journalists, his network is the embodiment of theory of the "big lie." And the process is made even easier by targeting the very religious, with their need for certainty and their long-standing cultivation into the art of denying reality, the willful rejection of the obvious. Religiosity and political manipulation: they go together like hand and glove, peanut butter and blackberry jam, unprotected sex and STDs.

Who'd, for example, have thought that the destruction of Haiti could be so politicized? It's amazing enough that science has become partisan, with denialism as the central core of an entire political party. But charity, for Christ's sake? To what level of cynicism have our politics sunk that President Obama's actions to help a ravaged nation are mocked, decried, and demagogued shamelessly? That people are being asked NOT to help, and it's being hyped by the right wing, the party of Jesus? (I'll admit that in this, even Rush's rants seem not to have deterred giving to a noticeable extent. Possibly because, as usual, atheists are pitching in.)

How can it be that Massachusetts may well elect to the Senate a guy who, exactly like George Bush, advocates massive tax cuts, after denouncing the budget deficits, and without saying a single word about where he'd cut the spending needed to make up the difference? (And who, most Foxoteabaggingly, suggests our president's mother wasn't married.) Implicitly making the disproved argument that cutting taxes increases revenue, he also claims that the health care bills represent "government takeover," and promises to stop it. Government takeover? Relying entirely on the private insurers to an extent their stock has shot upward? Government takeover? Really? Yet there he is, the darling of an entire movement: completely divested of fact. Not to mention decency.

All of this is against the backdrop of the most misguided populism imaginable, cynically manipulated by corporate interests. Dick Armey, of "Freedomworks" must be in a state of constant tumescence over the ease with which he's pulled it off (as it were). As I've said many times, there's much to criticize about the Obama administration so far: most especially that stimulus monies seem to have been misdirected to a large extent. Not unneeded: inadequately dispersed. Nor do I agree with the buildup in Afghanistan; I'm concerned about Tim Geithner, about the lameness of some White House responses to the constant and dishonest attacks from Fox and the rest of the RWS™. But these worries have a basis in fact. Rather than lies and obstructionism, I wish the opposition would pitch in and provide sensible suggestions, work together even a little. Democracy depends on it. It might even do their party good!

Unlike the things I criticize, wild statements on the placards so proudly waved by the teabaggers are based on unquestioned belief in the steady stream of propaganda to which they're constantly and uncritically subjected. The supreme irony is that they are the very people who ought to be -- claim to be -- scared sh*tless by political agitprop and media control. And yet they eat it like cookie dough.

To them, disagreement is pure evil. I wonder what they think about the founding process of the country they claim to love, and understand not a bit. Compromise. Respect for opposing opinions. Doing the hard work of finding common ground. Contra the Nazi-baiter, it's they that have been dumbed down, not liberals.

Today, for the second time in a few months, someone forwarded me a breathless email. Strewn with full caps and varying colors like holiday fireworks, it claims Obama has demanded a stamp be produced to honor a Muslim holiday. "If you only forward one email.... patriotic Americans.... reject... stand up.... " The usual crap. (The wild-eyed commentary is based on the fact that every year for around ten years such a stamp has been issued, much like those commemorating Christmas, Hanukkah, and Walt Disney characters. Of absolutely NO significance, but seen by the crazed hordes as proof of Obama's treason.) Into the streets they march; into the Congress they send like-minded (in the loosest use of the word "mind") representatives, intent on destruction. It's working.

In a perverse way, I hope I live long enough to see it, because I'm absolutely certain I'm right. And I'd like to know if at any point along the decline those blind and dumb right wingers and teapartiers will realize what they've done, even though I already know the answer.

[PS: speaking of lessons, here's a good one.]
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Thursday, January 14, 2010

What The Devil?


Ever since Pat Robertson enlightened us, I've been thinking about the idea of a deal with the devil. I have a couple of questions.

First: it seems to me the kind of person who'd make a deal with the devil is pretty much already consigned to hell. So wouldn't making a deal be a smart play? Get a little something up here before you sign in down there?

Second: how does this pact thing work, anyway? Some guy can get a deal that pays forward so that two hundred years later, a bunch of innocents get destroyed, painfully, miserably? Oh, yes, I know: the deal was with the devil. This here thing is from god. So he (god, not the devil -- although in this case it's hard to tell) smites people who had nothing to do with Pat's pact, centuries later, as punishment? The fact that Haiti is 80% Catholic isn't enough?

Finally, the most obvious question: this Christian god is all mighty, right? Can do anything, n'est-ce pas? So what the hell is the devil doing existing, anyway? (I'm sure there's plenty of theological thought -- somewhat of an oxymoron -- on the subject, but why not some common sense?) Either god is the most powerful, perfect, capable thing in the universe, or he's not. If the devil exists, and can pactifiy people, per Pat, then it can only be at the pleasure of god, correct? Alternatively, if the devil can exist and do all the bogey-man stuff that Wretched Robertson claims, then he (the devil, not god, although it's hard to tell them apart in this case -- or did I mention that already?) is as powerful as god. But god is all-powerful; he makes earthquakes that kill people by the hundreds of thousands, ferchrissakes! Plus, god has a plan for everyone and everything. So isn't it obvious who, in fact, made a pact with the devil?

Just asking.

Meanwhile, as it is with prayer, the whole idea of the devil is self-negating. Assuming there's an oog (I'm getting tired of writing "omniscient, omnipotent god"), and if that means -- as it's said -- that god has a plan for everyone, then what the devil is going on? Can the devil disrupt god's plans? If so, then god has a plan but is unable to carry it out. Big deal. So do I. If the devil can't foil god's plans, then what's he for, except scaring people into coming to church (and sending money to Pat Robertson), and giving a lot of people excuses? You simply can't reconcile deviled oogs.

It's one thing to believe in god. But if I also believed in some red guy running around causing havoc that my god was powerless to prevent (or that he chooses not to prevent so he can see people fry in hell or, even better, directly inflict massive suffering on their heirs for generations), I'd be embarrassed to admit it. In fact, I would have hoped for the moral strength not to have bought in.
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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Reprehensible Piece of Sh*t



Gee, imagine that. Rush thinks responding immediately to a humanitarian crisis in which 100,000 people have died, is, in the context of waiting a sub-Bush-sixian three days (publicly) to discuss the panty bomber, is horrible. And then throws some gratuitous feces against the wall while he's on a roll.

These guys will politicize anything; and their listeners will shake their fists and clench their gingivitical jaws in the rage of agreement that only blind and dumb hatred can engender. It's pathetic.

And it will destroy us. Like the wound from a sharp knife that you don't feel for a moment, it already has.
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Tough Guys


Here's one of those pesky little fact-filled tracts, in response to the RWS™ decrying President Obama's approach to the underpants guy. Seems like Dick Cheney's tougherness-on-terrorness left much to be desired. Included:

The Bush administration -- in which Liz Cheney's papa held a fairly high position, you might recall -- prosecuted, after 9-11, 828 people on terrorism charges in civilian courts. At the time of publication of this excellent report from the Center on Law and Security, NYU School of Law last year, trials were still pending against 235 of those folks. That leaves 593 resolved indictments, of which 523 were convicted of some crime, for a conviction rate of 88%.

With regard to military tribunals, the Bush administration inaugurated
20 such cases. So far just three convictions have been won. The highest-profile is the conviction of Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's driver. The Hamdan legal saga, rehearsed here, doesn't exactly suggest that military tribunals provide swifter and surer and tougher justice. In the end, he was convicted all right, but sentenced -- not by a bunch of New York City Democrats, but by a military jury! -- to five and half years.

Then, the tribunal judge, a US Navy captain, gave Hamdan credit for time served, which was five years. So he served six months after conviction. Today he's back in -- guess where? -- Yemen.


So there you go. Make of it what you will. And, by all means, don't let the facts stand in your way.

Oh, there's this, too, if anyone cares.

And here's a really good question, from Fareed Zakaria, which repeats a frequent theme of mine:
As for the calls to treat the would-be bomber as an enemy combatant, torture him and toss him into Guantanamo, God knows he deserves it. But keep in mind that the crucial intelligence we received was from the boy's father. If that father had believed that the United States was a rogue superpower that would torture and abuse his child without any sense of decency, would he have turned him in? To keep this country safe, we need many more fathers, uncles, friends and colleagues to have enough trust in America that they, too, would turn in the terrorist next door.

Exactly.
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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

God Help Us


As appalling as this is, I'll ignore the idiocy (milk???) and the lies and the imminent, probably inevitable, prospects of theocracy for this country. I'll not comment on the implications of such people actually gaining (re-gaining, really: although Bush was more of a player than a user) control of what's left of our country. I'll refrain from reiterating the argument that separation of church and state does more to protect religion (at least the religion of everyone but these guys) than any other option. Not that they care. Nor will I point out, while they decry the godlessness of the US, that numbers of people who claim belief has risen over the years, and that the US has a higher percentage of believers, more houses of worship per populous than any Western nation. All that, I'll disregard. Rather, let's talk about what kind of trouble we're in if we're indeed ruled by a god who answers prayer.

In brief: if god answers prayer, then by definition and by looking around, we are at the mercy of a capricious, nasty and/or incompetent deity. It should scare the bejesus out of us (of course, living in mortal fear is exactly what many religions, particularly the evangelical forms of Christianity, want.) Really, if one can step back and just think about it (the opposite of religious posture), there's no other conclusion.

First: the people most likely to resort to prayer are those that also believe god has a plan for us all. So how does prayer fit into that idea? If he has a plan (if, as some believe, god knows you and has it all worked out before you're even born), how can prayer be needed? Does their god change his mind? If so, was his plan flawed? Does it take your prayer to point out his error? What does that say about your imperfection, compared to his? Or is it just that he's willing to let bad things happen to you if you don't -- regardless of your means or knowledge -- stroke him first. On the other hand, didn't he know if you were going to pray or not? Omniscient is he.

Second: what good do "prayer circles" (or whatever you call what those leaders of ours were doing) do? If the likelihood of prayers being answered is dependent on the number of people praying, what about the poor soul praying like hell in the loneliness of a solitary life? Why should prayer need amplification? Is there some sort of divine punch-card? And what about the people starving around the world? Is their starvation part of a plan, or is it because they don't have enough people praying for them? Either way, it bespeaks a pretty heartless overlord, doesn't it? Sorry, man, a piddling number of prayers just don't cut it with me. And what is the magic number? Ten? Three? A hundred? If numbers matter, aren't we all potentially screwed if, in our hour of need, we can't grab a gang of grovelers? If you've fallen and you can't get up, and you don't have that little beeper thing, aren't you wasting your time? The guy likes groups.

Third: doesn't the idea of god answering prayer completely eliminate the possibility that we have free will? If god chooses to answer a certain prayer, it follows that he chooses NOT to answer the ones that, clearly, aren't being answered, by the millions, hourly. So, whether you pray or not, god is choosing the direction of every event, everywhere, at all times. Unless he's fallible, imperfect, unable to hear the prayers of everyone, or unable to control events. In which case, he falls way short of the perfection attributed to him by those doing the praying. Logically, god controls everything, or he controls nothing. There's can't be an in-between. Everything that happens is his will, or nothing is. If he CAN act, then, in all cases, he DID act. Unless he's either not there at all, or is completely hands off. In which case...

It helps to remember that George Bush told us god doesn't hear the prayers of Jews. (Wait, if he can't hear them, then he's not perfect. It must be that he hears them and says "screw you." That's better.) So I guess the correct thought is that god ignores the prayers of those that don't follow certain guidelines. (Careful, all you believers: when was the last time you stoned your son to death for insubordination? Or sacrificed a heifer, for that matter?) Which certainly explains the starving children, birth defects, school bus crashes. Bunch o' miscreants, deserved what they got. But if god knows us before we're born and has our lives mapped out, then aren't those starvations, and other miserable deaths and deformities part of his plan? In his perfection he must know each kid who's born, know their faith or lack of it, must have planned it all in advance. So their lack of proper faith was part of the plan. And that means, this god wants people to starve by the millions, die painful deaths, be born into crushing poverty, get acne and halitosis. Not to mention be Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, Muslims.

If god is perfect -- all powerful and all knowing -- then it simply can't be that prayer works. It would mean his plans are changeable or incomplete. It means you, the prayer, think you know more than the prayee. If prayer works, god is fallible. Anyone who changes his mind is, by definition, not perfect. It's only if prayer DOESN'T work that we can (sort of) maintain the concepts of perfection, omniscience, omnipotence, infallibility.

Well, it's said, god has his reasons. We can't question why the child dies of cancer, slowly, painfully. God knows all and it's all his will. We must trust in him. Okay, makes sense.

Then why the hell are we praying?

[Addendum, 1/13: Right on schedule, that despicable self-important sub-human, Pat Robertson, weighs in on Haiti. Turns out they made a pact with the devil, and that's why the earthquake happened. But he's gonna pray for them. What? A god who gets off killing 100,000 people who had nothing to do with the "pact," lots of babies and children among them -- that sort of god is going to be influenced by prayer? But you know damn well there are thousands of people -- right wing voters, all -- nodding in agreement with the (at best) illogical and (actually) evil message. Pact with the devil. Amazing. Wonder where it was, who attended, and what hors-d'-oeuvres were served.]
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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Dyscourse


I read an interesting article. It's about one of the climate scientists whose emails were part of the latest "gate." In the process, I learned some things. Unfortunately, I also had my worst fears reconfirmed: I made the mistake of reading the comments.

It's the perfect microcosm of where we are, politically speaking. Never mind the status of climate science, per se, or why it is that what side a person is on depends entirely on one's political leanings and, often, one's religious beliefs, rather than on any sort of data analysis and science. Just read the comments, and note the content: personal attacks, ignoring arguments, repetition, and virtually no addressing of the facts in play. It's appalling. Dispiriting. Predictive.

In my view, a reasonable discussion of climate change ought to include the addressing of several questions: does carbon dioxide cause a greenhouse effect? Can it be shown experimentally? Is there a documentable rise in CO2 levels in the atmosphere? What is the evidence that the rise is anthropogenic? Can adding literally billions of tons of the gas to the atmosphere annually be shown to be trivial? Is there demonstrable acidification of the ocean? If so, to what extent is it anthropogenic? How does it affect ocean flora and fauna, and is this good or bad? Is the temperature of the ocean rising? Why? Is there increasing release from the ocean floor of methane? If so, has it to do with temperature and/or acidification? If it is occurring, is it true or untrue that methane release is a positive feedback loop (with methane being a potent greenhouse gas which causes more warming which causes more methane release)?

More: given the evidence of previous climate changes (ice ages forming and receding), what is the evidence that the current receding of glaciers and polar ice is different? Is it at the same rate as past ages, or not? [I don't think there's a need to address the Hannitobeckian argument that cold snaps in winter disprove climate change.]

The above, best I can tell, are the central issues raised by climate scientists, the vast majority of whom seem to answer affirmatively regarding the greenhouse effects of human activity, and the unprecedented rapidity with which ice is receding, the planet warming. And yet the arguments in the public square, exactly like those in the comment thread in the referenced article, rely on personal attack, off-point distractions, ignorance and ignoring of the scientific arguments. The important stuff is entirely out of the argument.

Not unlike pretty much the entire spectrum of political intercourse in this country.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Clarity


Honest to god, it's been mystifying to me why Dick Cheney would be saying such venal and demonstrably false things about President Obama. I doubt he's insane. Surely he's not stupid. So what's his agenda? Why announce to the world that the US is less safe now than when he was president? And suddenly, the answer appears. With the help of the alter kocker of the RWS™, Bill O'Reilly. One more terrorist event, says Bill, and Obama is gone. How else do you explain the falsehoods about Obama's response to the underpants bomber?

Given what we've seen from the Congressional Republicans, is it really a stretch: they'd rather derail everything this country needs, damn the consequences to America, than see Barack Hussein Obama get credit for anything. This is, most literally, party first, with country a very distant second. The point: the Republicans, the RWS™, the teabaggers, all actually want to see another terrorist attack on the US.

Come on, Cheney says, it's wide open for you. Our defenses are down. And O'Reilly, neither particularly insightful nor able to keep his ego in check, spills the beans as to why. Do it. We need you. It's our path back to the way it was. Meaning, of course, a buffet for the wealthy, get it while you can, screw 'em to the rest. Endless wars, high oil prices, unchecked executive power to arrest and torture anyone. And lower taxes for Dick and Bill.

Given that there's no way to prevent all terrorist attacks (airports are among the easiest to fix), another one is inevitable. Count on this, too: when it happens, unlike 9/11 when everyone rallied around George Bush, if it happens on Obama's watch the entire right wing of the county will take their fingers out of their (noses) and point them at the White House.

The sorriest part of the story, really, is that it'll work. Because whereas they've made a huge swath of the country stupid, the Republican leaders aren't. They've filled the air with distortions and dishonesty knowing it'll take root in the feculent soil they've spread. It already has. Perfect example: The latest lie -- there's simply no other term -- is that Obama doesn't use the words terrorism, or war. Said over and over again, people believe it, despite the reams of evidence that disproves the claim. You expect such things from the RWS™ (Hannity, after all, is still claiming 2009 was the coldest year on record. In fact, it was one of the warmest.) But it's being said in Congress as well. This, despite the fact that Obama continues to do things which strengthen us (while having to undo what Bush did to make us less safe, and to fix the communication issues that led to 9/11 and which, astoundingly, Bush evidently ignored for the next seven years.) And Obama takes responsibility, which that other guy never did!

So there it is. The fear of Democratic rule which swept the country in 2008, has caused the Republicans to drop all pretense. Whatever it takes, whatever lie, they'll say it. Whatever needed reform, they'll block it. All for one reason: to stop Obama, to regain their power to rape the country. (Believe it or not, I really hate that sort of hyperbole, usually. But at this point it seems self-evident. As stupid and ineffective as most of the Congressional Democrats are, there's hardly an instance of bald-faced lying about agendas and programs like there is from the other side. And at least the Democrats are actually trying to do things, albeit in their usual Rube Goldberg way.)

In my memory, it's unprecedented. A constant bombardment of deliberate lies, aimed only at returning to power those that actually DID bring this country to its knees. Led by the execrable Dick Cheney, forces are aligned to prevent the United States from becoming a fairer country, because were it to occur, the trough would be emptier for them. And, as I've said many times over, they've managed to get the uneducated, the credulous, the angry and fearful to act against their own interest, unwittingly furthering this greedy agenda. An agenda that, we now see, overtly encourages terrorists (who, I'm certain, would much prefer another version of Bush to more of Obama). On all levels it's deeply appalling; the most significant of which is that the most vocal and crazed anti-Obamites in the populace have no idea that they're being taken for a ride.

Update, 6 pm: I guess there are actually a few Republicans who have some sense.
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Saturday, January 2, 2010

Predictably Putrid


So here's the thing (Happy New Year, by the way):

That failed bombing of the plane to Detroit was most certainly the result of screwups. Janet Napalitano did herself and her president no favors by initially claiming that the system worked (even if she was, clumsily, referring to the warnings disseminated after the incident became known.) Clearly, we have a long way to go to make ourselves as safe as possible. But I find the response of the RWS™ and their Republican lickers putrid, if entirely predictable.

Recently a friend sent me a link to a very representative sentiment: Obama gets "an F" on protecting us. (I ain't providing the link: why should the author get traffic for such slime.) Whereas the writer of said screed listed the obvious concerns, he emphasized, in perfect RWS™ mode, on the fact that Obama was on vacation. He dredged up the time it took for Obama to speak about the incident (overlooking the fact that Bush took two days longer to address the issue of the "shoe bomber." He decried the idea that the failed bomber was arrested and remanded to Federal Court (exactly as was Richard Reid.) On it went, in that vein.

To my friend I sent a link to another article which correctly listed the concerns any reasonable person would have, but which didn't see the necessity to make some sort of perverse political hay over it by implying it shows Obama is somehow a failure.

Of the greatest concern, to me anyway, is the fact that there seems still to be the communication problems that characterized the pre-9/11 intelligence. But how is that strictly an Obama problem? George Bush had seven years to fix it, and didn't. (This was after, in order, opposing the DHS, privatizing the TSA and grudgingly federalizing it only after it became a monumental private failure, opposing the 9/11 Commission, and failing to put in place approximately 85% of its recommendations.) So, if there's blame to go around, isn't it proportionally more at the feet of the guy who had that seven years, as opposed to the one that had closer to seven months? Just asking.

To his credit, President Obama has stated that the incident demonstrates failures at several levels, in a way Bush never did. He's calling meeting to address them. Call me crazy, but I trust Obama actually to look into it and demand changes; Bush, as we saw, had no interest in such mundane matters. If you couldn't invade it, he'd rather ignore it. I suppose we can blame Obama for not going back in time and preventing the Bush State Department from granting the bikini bomber's visa. Indeed, maybe, before having been elected to the Senate, President Obama should have seen to it that the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission were followed, and that money was allocated to higher level screening. (Interestingly, unsurprisingly, the very senators now blaming Obama for his "weakness on terror," voted against funding airport security a few years ago.) Who'd have guessed, huh?

The friend who sent the link that annoyed me so much has, shall we say, certain reservations about President Obama's intentions. Yet in our conversations he acknowledges that there is literally no way to prevent certain kinds of terrorist attacks in this country; most especially at places not generally suited to (at least for now) the sorts of screenings that are routine at airports. So when the unavoidable next happens, let's remember this simple rule: whatever it is, and wherever it happens, it's always the Democrats' fault, whether they're in power or not. It makes things a lot simpler and easier to understand.

Finally, this: the most important indicator, evidently, of Obama's commitment to fighting terrorism is his use -- or lack thereof -- of the word "war." Never mind that he has, in fact, used the term; or, for that matter, that he has escalated (wrongly, in my opinion) the military presence in Afghanistan. Because he early eschewed the term "war on terror," which is one of the stupidest phrases ever invented to give an incompetent president war powers, Barack Obama is, according to Dick Cheney and the entire cadré or RWS™, failing to keep us safe. It is to laugh. Or cry. (I seem to be doing the latter, mostly.)

Finally finally, this: the panty-bomber came, evidently, via Yemen. Joe Lieberman, predictably speaking for all the deep thinkers on the right, is all tumescent for the next war there. The idea that disproves itself. Invade Iraq to prevent terrorism. Escalate in Afghanistan to prevent terrorism. Invade Yemen to prevent terrorism.... Anyone begin to see a certain logical flaw?

Happy New Year.