Cutting Through The Crap

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Vile-olence



It always happens. When violent acts are committed in the name of some political belief or another, the target side blames rhetorical incitement from the other side; while the presumed originating side claims the violent are singular people, in no way a result of hate speech, and, as a matter of fact, the target side is the one to blame. They were asking for it, we'll be told.

The thing is there's not much in the way of equivalency. There simply is nothing on the left like the high tension crazy on the right; neither in numbers nor in calor. No network with the reach and singleness of purpose of Fox "news," no left-wing radio like that of the RWS™; and among those on the left that do rant and rave (to comparatively small and generally distracted and mildly amused public audiences), there's simply no one who calls for revolution, for becoming "armed and dangerous," for "destroying" the opposition; not to anywhere near the same extent as the righties. Nor, in the rare cases when it happens, is there the sort of deafening silence from the lefty leaders that we hear on the right. Or, among the recipients, the serious taking to heart.

So it seems obvious that, to the extent that fanning flames actually fans flames, and that the inflamed are fans of the fanners, there ought to be some blame and some sense of responsibility. And calls for it all to stop.

Now, admittedly, these guys don't look like a brain trust, and it might well be that their influences are more the voices already in their heads than the ones seeking hourly entry:



I'd say the same about the guy that actually threatened Eric Cantor (as opposed to the imaginary attack over which he was so breathless a few days back):


He evidently does hear voices. Much as the RWS™ will try to push him off as a liberal, he's way too crazy for that. Screamer, all the way. Got the paranoia and the theories. Religious nutjob? Not many on the left.

Of course, there's nothing at all funny about any of this. If it's true -- and it is -- that there have always been fringe groups and haters in our politics, it's also true that there's never been this universal level of priming of the pump, constantly, with unanimity, 24/7, land, air, and sea. Obama hates America. He has a deep-seated hatred of white people. He wants to destroy us. He's a Nazi. He's a terrorist. Concentration camps. His policies are destroying everything precious. We must take our country back, by any means necessary.

How can that not justify the actions of those who, crazy or not, wish to do actual harm? How can anyone who uses that language -- and it includes nearly ALL Republican leaders at this point -- ever demonstrate ANY cooperation with a person they claim is that evil?

To me, this is unprecedented, and I'm pretty old. Something really bad is going to happen. What has, so far, been cynical political strategy to "energize" potential Republican voters is turning dangerous. It's only a matter of time. And, per usual, those most responsible will deny it to their dying day.

Except they won't be the ones doing the dying.

[Note to my ones of readers: I'm having important distractions now and for the next week; therefore what posts I may or may not post will or will not have more or less than the usual amount of attention paid before posting.]


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Damn!


Well, there goes another one for the crazies.

Of course the guy was probably zapped by one of those zapper neutralizer thingies. I'm not gonna believe him.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Profit Prophets


And speaking of things the RWS™ have been saying that are untrue (it would be much easier to count their truths, if there were any), let's revisit the socialism of taking over the banks. Ignoring the fact that they were never really "taken over," and that it was always clear that the efforts were temporary, the RWS™ and those who love them have considered this (along with auto makers) the signal truth of their claim. So I'm waiting for their response to this news:

Among the banks that rule Wall Street, Citigroup got a bailout that was bigger than the rest. Now the company is about to pay a king's ransom for its federal rescue.

The Obama administration is making final preparations to sell its stake in the New York bank, according to industry and federal sources. At today's prices, the sale would net more than $8 billion, by far the largest profit returned from any firm that accepted bailout funds, and the transaction would be the second-largest stock sale in history. [emphasis mine, you betcha]

[...]

The windfall expected from the stock sale would amount to a validation of the rescue plan adopted by government officials during the height of the financial panic, when the banking system neared the brink of collapse. A year ago, Citigroup's stock hovered around a dollar a share, and the bank's future seemed in doubt. On Friday, the stock closed at $4.31.

If the sale proceeds as planned, Citigroup would be able to cut nearly all of its ties to the $700 billion Troubled Assets Relief Program. Meanwhile, the administration could highlight the profit generated from the rescue of big banks.

"It's unprecedented to do [a stock sale] of this size right after the financial industry has been so battered," said an industry official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly. "It's just a very bullish sign."



Really, it's amazing to me how the right wing has managed to convince so many people of things that are so obviously false. Like death panels. Like ignoring the fact that mandates were a Republican idea. Like it's a "government takeover," or whatever else it is that sent people to their beds when they heard the health care bill passed.

From the beginning it was obvious that the bank and auto-maker rescues, whether they were a good idea or not, were NOTHING like socialism. It was obvious that the plans were temporary. In fact, the idea of the government making money on the deal was floated from the start.

And ignored by the wingnuts, as they stoked themselves into white (most literally) rage.


Damn Lies, Statistically Speaking


The health care debate has (temporarily, no doubt) eclipsed the rage of the right over the Obama administration's plans to try terrorists in federal courts. Along the way, when it was pointed out that the Bush administration did the same, to the tune of some three hundred cases, the reaction of the right wing echo chamber was to deny it. To call the numbers false. Unsubstantiated. Suspicious. Such lights as Dana Perino and Jeff Sessions and Jon Kyl derided the claim with derisive derision.

Turns out they were right. The number of terrorism convictions in federal court under Bush wasn't anything close to three hundred. Shame on Obama for saying otherwise.





Friday, March 26, 2010

Real Americans



I've written about this before, but it's worth repeating, especially when backed up by an eminence gris of the Grey Lady:

"Linda Zhou, Alice Wei Zhao, Lori Ying, Angela Yu-Yun Yeung, Lynnelle Lin Ye, Kevin Young Xu, Benjamin Chang Sun, Jane Yoonhae Suh, Katheryn Cheng Shi, Sunanda Sharma, Sarine Gayaneh Shahmirian, Arjun Ranganath Puranik, Raman Venkat Nelakant, Akhil Mathew, Paul Masih Das, David Chienyun Liu, Elisa Bisi Lin, Yifan Li, Lanair Amaad Lett, Ruoyi Jiang, Otana Agape Jakpor, Peter Danming Hu, Yale Wang Fan, Yuval Yaacov Calev, Levent Alpoge, John Vincenzo Capodilupo and Namrata Anand.

No, sorry, it was not a dinner of the China-India Friendship League. Give up?

O.K. All these kids are American high school students. They were the majority of the 40 finalists in the 2010 Intel Science Talent Search, which, through a national contest, identifies and honors the top math and science high school students in America, based on their solutions to scientific problems. The awards dinner was Tuesday, and, as you can see from the above list, most finalists hailed from immigrant families, largely from Asia."


The dumbing down of America has not happened by accident. It's resulted from an unrelenting effort by Christian conservatives and, by way of cynical vote-pandering to that group, the Republican Party over the past few decades. For the religious right, it's about not having to think about stuff that challenges their beliefs: stuff like science, stuff like the historical record of The United States. For the Party of NO, it's about the Rovian realization that the less educated the public, the more easily peddled are lies. It's about his brainstorm that religious fundamentalism equates, in large measure, with gullibility. It's about his party's satanically disingenuous -- and very successful -- manipulation of those folk.

Thankfully, God has seen to it that we still have immigrants coming to our country: people in whom the American dream remains alive; people born of parents who value education nearly above all else. People with that old-fashion and newly-diminishing ethic of working for a goal. For the U.S., it's a literal life-saver.

Now, I have no problem with the idea of immigration reform, with shutting down (to the extent that it's possible) all illegal immigration. I don't even take issue with limiting access to our tax-paid social network (although I think a little situational compassion is called for, along with the making of distinctions between those who came illegally for illegal purposes, and those who came in desperation and who've been working and doing right.) There was a time when such luminaries as George W and John McPOW were reasonable on the issue: closing borders but stopping short of wholesale deportation, especially of those who've been here a long time, assimilated, paid taxes, pitched in. Unfortunately, such reasonableness has vanished from the Party of NO, who, fueled by the hate-filled teabaggers and their RWS™, seem always to need some new earth to scorch.

My concern is that in our seething xenophobia (well, not "ours." Theirs.) we'll close the doors to such people as those listed above. We need them. And until and unless we reverse the trend of willful self-destruction of our educational system by the same people whose voices are loudest, at the moment, in that Party of NO, and who, if they had their way, would bar the door forever, we'll need them more and more.

So Much For...

John McPOW is pissed. No more cooperation, says he, without evident irony. Stamping his feet and holding his breath, he cries that he didn't get his way on health care, scrabbles up his toys and stomps his way home. Having seen it many times, his mommy has hot chocolate ready when he gets there.

This is the guy who, had he not selected a shameless liar and know-nothing as his running mate, might have lost the election less dramatically. The maverick, the do-the-right-thing patriot, the guy who thought claiming to believe in "Country First" would earn him votes, while putting it second or lower in so many ways throughout his campaign, has decided to raise his middle finger and to ask, most respectfully, that we all sit on it and spin. Heroically.

In his party, he's far from alone. What marbles they haven't lost, they are scooping up like goodie bags at the Oscars; they are sulking like six-year-olds. (When asked about McCain, Robert Gibbs pointed out the strategy doesn't work for his six year old. Asked if he was comparing McCain to a six-year-old, he missed the opportunity to say, "No. My six-year-old eventually listens to reason.")

Although I sort of doubt it'll happen, there are some signs Republicans might be having second thoughts. Willingly, they passed up opportunities to shape legislation, calculating they could gain more by causing it to fail. Might that change? One can hope. But it seems the few who believe working to get things done for the American people is a good thing, that finding ways to cooperate in exchange for getting concessions to their liking, are not only few but are abandoned by their party.

In a thoughtful world, it would be suicidal strategy. In a thoughtful world.



Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Party Of NO


Come election time, there will be a very clear choice.





Reconciliation


The bill just passed the Senate, 56 - 43. Such a margin in a presidential election would be considered a landslide of historic proportions. But in the broken politics of today, it's considered the end of democracy.

What a world.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

In Memoriam

Our son and his cousin Shanti were born a month apart. In a family with lots of cousins layered severally in time, they were pretty close. Today is the anniversary of the day Shanti died, in her twenty-fourth year, nine years ago.

As we often do (usually on her birthday), my wife and I went to the small community park on Bainbridge Island where there's a circular teak bench in her name. Shanti's dad made it, then took it apart and sent the pieces to everyone in the family, and some friends. We stained them, oiled them, sanded and polished them, then put it together and mounted it there, in the park, planted a cherry tree in the middle. The tree has grown impressively, and the trinkets we've hung on it over the years remain. Overlooking a pond where there are ducks and geese, paths for running and wheeling kids on strollers, it's in a lovely spot.

Shanti forced you to love her. Well, it was so easy and universal I can't say there was any coercion involved. But no matter who you were, she wanted to know you. Even me, who, for most of her life, was absent from many family gatherings, working; and when I was there, tired and sometimes distant. Not allowed. Shanti came over, sat down, and wanted to talk. She was beautiful.


A few years earlier, my brother's daughter died, at age twenty, in her junior year at Grinnell. Slyly humorous, smart and with warmth that radiated as if from a glowing briquet, she was considered their best friend by everyone she knew. Lori and Shanti didn't know each other, but they were remarkably alike, in physical beauty (one blond and fair, the other dark and shining) and in their genuine and active interest in and love for the people in their lives, reciprocated as if an essential part of your life. You couldn't not want to be in their presence. It was too much fun; there was too much light and joy to ignore.

Time heals not much, fractured, ambivalently. The acuity of the pain is diminished, I guess, but it seems with each passing year, the sense of loss is greater, the feeling of having been robbed of something really precious. At the time of their deaths, each had serious boyfriends. Each would have wanted to marry and have kids, and they'd have been spectacular moms, their kids lucky as kids can be. Both had spent lots of time working with children, and their love was obviously mutual. Pictures show it. Letters show it. What a loss, doubly, of tragic proportions. Their parents and siblings will always be in pain, the worst. But my wife and I, increasingly it seems, feel their absence, as presumed step stones of life are passed, untrod.

Today, at the bench, it felt all too immediate, the presence of absence was everywhere.

Om, Shanti. Shalom, Lori. How I wish to know you as you'd have been now. The world needs you both. We all do.


Where Where They?


Interesting, isn't it? Suddenly newspapers and -- wow -- television news are full of information about the health care bill. Information about the bill. How it will affect people. The good, the bad. Gone is the horse race bullshit, the focus on legislative maneuvers, the latest outrageous characterization by the most viewer-grabbing lunatic. For a micromoment anyway, they're sort of, y'know, doing their job. The job, of course, being to inform, to educate, to explain, to hold accountable.

Well, most of them. Fox "news" wants to focus on Joe Biden's F-bomb.


I do, however, think Joe was wrong. It's not a big fucking deal. It's a BIG fucking deal.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Bye, Partisan



Having just watched the signing of the health care reform bill, and having, almost immediately thereafter, heard it pointed out that there was no bipartisan support, not a single Republican involved, an obvious thought occurred to me: It was an uncommon amount of bipartisanship that led to this day.

Barack Obama ran for president on the promise of health care reform (among other things, some of which he's done, some of which remain on the table). He laid out what he wanted to do, and he was elected resoundingly. More important, so were huge majorities of Congressional Democrats who promised the same. Why? Because large numbers of independents and Republicans voted for them. That, in the most important sense of the term, is bipartisanship (or, maybe better, tripartisanship.) The crazy that happened subsequently doesn't work retroactively.

For purely political purposes, calculating that their future depended on withholding ALL cooperation, the opposition mounted a fierce response. Cynically they fueled fear, finding perfect substrate in the most paranoid and least thoughtful among us. Fertilizing the so-called grassroots, abetted by a non-stop propaganda machine based at Fox "news" and in the airways of the rest of the RWS™, the Party of No was impressively effective. THAT'S why there were no Republicans at the ceremony. THAT'S why, despite the middle-of-the-road nature of the bill, despite its similarity to Republican proposals, the NO-sters begged off. They made it clear from the beginning that it was strategy, having nothing to do with helping solve one of our greatest problems. Having only to do with what they thought was a way back to power.

I've said it before: I'm not overwhelmingly happy with this bill. I hoped for much more; and, frankly, I don't trust the math (although, unlike Bush and the Rs with their drug bull, the Ds made an effort to pay for theirs). But I most certainly AM happy that something got started, that there were, in the end, Congressfolk willing to stick their necks out despite what may be career-ending opposition based on lies and politics at its worst. It refreshes me, if only a little.

Most of all, to finish the original thought of this post, I'm reminded of the most bipartisan of elections in recent memory, that got us here. Lies, fear-mongering, naked thirst for power above country, a wide-ranging and effective news network unlimited by ethics, unconstrained by a desire for truthfulness -- none of that can unwind the fundamental reason this happened. People got energized (for the first time since college, I did, too), got out there, went door to door, gave money, made calls, and they -- including many who crossed over -- elected a guy who promised change. If the tone in Washington didn't, in fact, change, it was because those left behind dug in, deeply, and said "No, you can't."

They were wrong about that. But, as has become immediately apparent in the response from the right wing (right on cue, John Boner says "they're taking away our freedoms"), they remain all in: no cooperation, no change. No bipartisanship.

Except, of course, for the kind that made it all happen.


Insight. Or Not.


I was born and raised Jewish. Mostly in terms of nucleotide pairs, I'm proud of that. Certain assumptions, an unspoken commonality, apply when I meet people and find they are Jewish. In my case, it has little to do with religious belief (I admit to a certain amount of guilt about that, given the generational struggles to keep passing the torch), but about an unbroken genetic line for as far as the eye can see, and a sense of shared connection to important people and things. (And, as long as I'm being frank, I'll say this: I've met dumb Jews; but not many.)

Nevertheless, it was early in my upbringing that I began to question certain beliefs. "Chosen people" made me uncomfortable. From a young age, I couldn't buy it. More generally, the whole idea of sitting in a temple (a really beautiful one, I might add, with gorgeous stained glass and an impressive organ magnified by wonderful acoustics), reading prayers written by others, mouthing words that didn't make sense to me, began to feel really discordant. More generally still, as can be discerned from my writings here, the idea of an omniscient, omnipotent, all-loving creator stopped making any sense at all, at all levels. And still doesn't.

None of the above is my point.

My point is this: I have no problem criticizing Judaism along with all other religions. Getting even nearer to the point, as much as I was impressed, in my twenties -- thrilled, even -- by the Israeli success against three much bigger Arab countries and various helpers in the Six Day War, I find their actions now, vis a vis Palestinians, abhorrent -- no matter the history behind them. And yet. And yet, when I read some of the opinions out there, not all that different from my own, hackles can be raised. I question motives, and fairness.

And that's really my point: it's one thing to criticize and question people and things that relate to oneself; it's quite another when someone else does. So I wonder: is this a universal dynamic? Does it in any way explain the nature of our politics; the intransigence, the hate, the evident lack of insight and self-awareness?

I think so. On the other hand -- and here's where I have to question myself -- it's my belief (belief? moi?) that, pretty much by definition, liberals are more likely to be self-aware and to question their own assumptions than conservatives. At least as the terms currently apply. At least if one considers the teabaggers and the RWS™ in any way representative of that school of thought. Method of thought. Level of discourse.

When I read various blogs, for example, I see plenty of self-criticism and loud disagreement among liberals; some of it quite dramatic. By contrast, teabaggers and RWS™ appear absolutely refractory to factual input, and seem to have not an iota of ability to recognize points of view different from their own as legitimate, as anything but evil. The same, as is obvious, applies to the small but determined cadre of commenters here.

It's as if there are entirely separate forms of human nature; it almost has to be genetic. It makes me question my initial point.

Which is exactly my point.




Monday, March 22, 2010

Rhetorical Excess


Maybe the guy believes what he's saying. God knows Congress is filled with an impressive amount of stupidity and delusion. Still, at some point you have to wonder: when does it become self-defeating to say such outrageous things? It's one thing to lie and deceive -- pretty much the stock in trade of the right wing of late -- and to assume the heretofore limitless gullibilty of voters. It's another to say things that will certainly be found by voters, eventually, to be false. You'd think, therefore, that rhetoric like this, when it was clear the bill would pass, and that even people inclined to believe such trash will eventually find out how far off the mark it is, would not be the order of the day during the final "debate."

From now until the November elections, Republicans will try to convince the public that their obstructionism was a worthy effort; that trying to fix health care was a misadventure by the Democrats. Surely there are better arguments than this guy is floating. (Floating in this sense, I'd say.) Meanwhile, it'll be up to Democrats to convince them otherwise.

You'd think it wouldn't be hard. Nearly everyone agrees (or, in the case of Republicans, gives lip service to the idea) that health care needs fixing. That it's clear the Democrats have made a serious effort and that the Republicans did nothing but try to stop it, ought to be convincing to a majority of voters. On the other hand, the Republicans are nothing (and by "nothing," I mean "nothing else") if not brilliant at message control. As they've made clear since Barack Obama laid hand on Bible (Bible? I heard it was the Koran!), the Rs and their echo machine on Fox "news" and all of the RWS™ are perfectly willing to shed all connection to fact, to prevaricate in quantity, to swing voters their way. Perhaps they're hoping it'll be after November that the lies will become self-evident; and that since they're only about regaining power for its own sake, the end justifies the means. When people find out, they figure, the Rs will have executed their coup and the truth is moot.

But at least one very staunch conservative, defender of all things George Bush, is worried, and quite candid:

At the beginning of this process we made a strategic decision: unlike, say, Democrats in 2001 when President Bush proposed his first tax cut, we would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing. We were going for all the marbles. This would be Obama’s Waterloo – just as healthcare was Clinton’s in 1994...


This time, when we went for all the marbles, we ended with none.

Could a deal have been reached? Who knows? But we do know that the gap between this plan and traditional Republican ideas is not very big. The Obama plan has a broad family resemblance to Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts plan. It builds on ideas developed at the Heritage Foundation in the early 1990s that formed the basis for Republican counter-proposals to Clintoncare in 1993-1994.

Barack Obama badly wanted Republican votes for his plan. Could we have leveraged his desire to align the plan more closely with conservative views? To finance it without redistributive taxes on productive enterprise – without weighing so heavily on small business – without expanding Medicaid? Too late now. They are all the law...

...We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat.

There were leaders who knew better, who would have liked to deal. But they were trapped. Conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio had whipped the Republican voting base into such a frenzy that deal-making was rendered impossible. How do you negotiate with somebody who wants to murder your grandmother? Or – more exactly – with somebody whom your voters have been persuaded to believe wants to murder their grandmother?


(Kinda puts the lie to the RWS™ claim that the failure of bipartisanship was Obama's fault, doesn't it? On the other hand, that claim was patently false from the beginning, despite its unrelenting ubiquity on the Foxified airwaves.)

So it'll be interesting: one side has all the facts but is incompetent in using them, while the other has none, but has no scruples, as we see in that video clip, in what they'll say to overcome that little handicap. It'll boil down to this: is that portion of the public currently in the thrall of the RWS™ and Fox "news" ever going to wake up and see what's in front of their faces, to throw off the hackles of disinformation and remember what it's like to think for themselves? Or, despite all the coming evidence, will teabaggers continue to rage against themselves, and will the media continue to ignore their role in a functioning democracy?

I'm not taking any bets.

[Added] In the meantime, I hope we'll be seeing more of this as the year wears on:



Transparency


One of many themes of the Party of No is that the process of health care reform (and of the economic recovery act, too) was not transparent. Allow me a contrary view: the problem is it was TOO transparent.

For the first time that I remember, we've been privy to the messiness of legislation: the give and take, the wheels, the deals. Compromise in all its glorious ugliness. So people got excited. They got schooled. They got pissed.

They had to confront the platitudes and plaster them with practicality. They had to answer the most basic of American questions: do you believe in democracy, or not? Turns out, for lots of people, the answer is no. Hell no.

In Congress (to coin a phrase) it would seem the entire Republican party is on the "no" side. Among Democrats, so are several -- but, by contrast, far from all -- members, including (until the day I'm writing this, reportedly) Bart Stupak.* Among the teabaggers, without question, there isn't a democracy believer among them, not a one. Likewise, it must be said, among some on the far left.

Democracy and compromise are joined like Chang and Eng. It's only in the kind of government that the wingnuts claim to abhor that a person can get 100% of what he or she wants, and that's only if that person is the dictator.

I don't like that the health care bill is based on private insurance, allowing the same huge amounts of money to be sucked out of the system and distributed to investors and CEOs. I'd prefer, at minimum, a "public option." Similarly, I didn't like that the stimulus bill spent forty percent of its money on tax cuts. I wish -- but I don't expect -- that all legislation were perfectly to my liking. But that's simply not the way it works. In democracies, it can't work that way. Until the Obama presidency, lots of people were able to ignore that fact. Our problem is that reality has set in. And those same people can't handle it. Given the legacy of Ronald Reagan, namely that we can have everything we want and not have to pay for it (and that government is not supposed to work), it's not surprising that most of those people are on the right side of the political spectrum. But it isn't helpful.

Despite the elimination of the public option, despite taking single-payer off the table, despite giving central stage to private insurers, the right say they were ignored. "Left out of the process" as a commenter likes to say. Bullshit on its face: the bill is so centrist that it mirrors prior Republican proposals, and has lost the support of many liberals because of it. The stimulus bill was smaller and built much more on tax breaks than liberals wanted. No matter. Not a vote for either by Republicans, and no support by their loudmouths. In a democracy, among people who believe in, uh, democracy, that simply should not be the case. Yet here we are. And there we go.

The process has been more than transparent. It's made the right wing face something they hadn't heretofore acknowledged: they neither understand nor approve of the most fundamental idea of democracy: compromise. The process was so see-through that it become obvious.

As the right wingers take us further and further toward deliberate diseducation, and away from actual understanding of the real meaning of our form of government, the future looks worse and worse. If everyone listened more to the Stones, we'd be a hell of a lot better off.

____________________________________
* Seems official. So unlike all the Rs, one of the most intransigent Ds was willing to accept some degree of compromise. Sorta proves my point, doesn't it?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Tell Me Again


These people are just regular Americans loving their country.




Imagine That!


Gee. Seems the House will be voting straight up on the Senate HCR bill, eschewing "deem and pass." Time for The Party of No to go back to calling it socialism.


As we've seen, the teabagging among us haven't a clue. Socialism? In what way? In fact, the bill is so far from socialism that it's likely to be a stopgap at best, on the way to single payer, which, as I've argued, is the only way we'll ever really solve our health care crisis. In my mind, the only question is whether we'll get around to it in time to save ourselves.

Socialism? I wish.

It doesn't matter. People will believe what they need (I wish I knew why), damn the facts.

Prediction: since, as far as I can tell, there aren't very strong controls on costs of health care in the bill, and since the ones that are there don't kick in right away, premiums will likely rise. Not because of the bill; in spite of it. But you can be sure people will point to any increases and blame them on Obama. Which will be funny in at least a couple of ways: premiums have been rising regularly, at enormous rates, for years. And if they keep doing so, won't that sort of, you know, disprove the idea that it's socialized medicine?


Friday, March 19, 2010

File Under.... "Duh"


In comments on this blog, one of the more constant supporters of the teabaggers frequently admits to not really knowing much about politics. Turns out, it's a perfect match. To the surprise of no one who has ever read a sign those angry and uninformed so proudly wave, or has seen an interview of any of those frothy fumers, it's an obvious inference: for people full of rage and certitude, they sure don't know much. Here's an article with proof (you might have to click past an annoying "welcome page"). The author was an economist for Ronald Reagan:

In short, no matter how one slices the data, the Tea Party crowd appears to believe that federal taxes are very considerably higher than they actually are, whether referring to total taxes as a share of GDP or in terms of the taxes paid by a typical family.

Tea Partyers also seem to have a very distorted view of the direction of federal taxes. They were asked whether they are higher, lower or the same as when Barack Obama was inaugurated last year. More than two-thirds thought that taxes are higher today, and only 4% thought they were lower; the rest said they are the same.

As noted earlier, federal taxes are very considerably lower by every measure since Obama became president. And given the economic circumstances, it's hard to imagine that a tax increase would have been enacted last year. In fact, 40% of Obama's stimulus package involved tax cuts. These include the Making Work Pay Credit, which reduces federal taxes for all taxpayers with incomes below $75,000 by between $400 and $800...

...Whatever the future of the Tea Party movement in American politics, it's a bad idea for so many participants to operate on the basis of false notions about the burden of federal taxation. It only takes a little bit of time to look at one's tax return to see what one is actually paying the Treasury, calculate the percentage of one's income that goes to taxes, and compare it with what was paid last year and the year before. People may then discover that their anger is misplaced and channel it into areas where it is more likely to bring about positive change.


Yeah. Like that'll happen. Still, the article deserves a full read.

How truly sad it is that such a large part of the national conversation is being dominated by the ill-informed. How destructive. How dispiriting to know that the Republican ideal of controlling education in order to produce dumbed-down sheep is so effective. How easy it is, as we see every day, to stir up rabble with lies. Such a simple formula: ridicule education as "elitist;" remove science and all ability to judge facts from education, preferably in the name of god; make up stuff; get an entire media outlet to repeat constantly; stir vigorously; drink deeply.

Brilliant. Effective. And it's killing us.

[Addendum: Need more proof? Want to see people who have no idea what they're talking about? Here they are, in all their glory:]




Scum/Scam


To be honest (and why not? It's Friday. The Sabbath approacheth.) I've never heard of Debbie Schlussel. Evidently, she's well-known among the right-wing, as a conservative pundit of some repute. And, apparently, some repugnance as well. Pretty, though. And the name has possibilities.

So it's interesting that she's just called Sean Hannity a fraud. Certainly, I've known him as a self-important and remarkably dumb guy, whose dishonesty about fact knows no bounds. At one time, I wondered what his presence on Fox "news" said about that network. (Long since, it became very obvious.) Anyhow, the lady reports:

For the last several years, Sean Hannity and the Freedom Alliance “charity” have conducted “Freedom Concerts” across America. They’ve told you that they are raising money to pay for the college tuition of the children of fallen soldiers and to pay severely wounded war vets. And on Friday Night, Hannity will be honored with an award for this “Outstanding Community Service by a Radio Talk Show Host” at Talkers Magazine’s convention.

But it’s all a huge scam.

In fact, less than 20%–and in two recent years, less than 7% and 4%, respectively–of the money raised by Freedom Alliance went to these causes, while millions of dollars went to expenses, including consultants and apparently to ferry the Hannity posse of family and friends in high style. And, despite Hannity’s statements to the contrary on his nationally syndicated radio show, few of the children of fallen soldiers got more than $1,000-$2,000, with apparently none getting more than $6,000, while Freedom Alliance appears to have spent tens of thousands of dollars for private planes.



There's lots more at the above link, with impressive detail. She reports. You decide.

[From another blog, one can discern early reaction from right-wingers: "TheNextRight’s blogger RBIII tweets at 9:38 AM.

Apparently, allegations about Hannity are more important than that shredding of the Constitution if you’re a ‘Progressive.’




Perfect. Sounds just like the commenters here.]

[Update: here's a response from Freedom Alliance.]

[And now there's an update on the original post to which I linked. She ain't backing down.]


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Hardball, Softball


Other than the bizarre amount of interrupting, it was a tough interview of Obama, but I thought the questions were legit. The interview with Bush? Well, he didn't suck his toes like his fellow Foxface.

Can anyone imagine anyone at Fox "news" coming on that strong to Bush? Or Cheney? Or any member of that party for which they are puppets? Me neither.

Nasty




Let's recognize something undeniable. Whatever else is true, these are not nice people.

Follow this video to the 50" mark, and then marvel.


In the same way that right-wing Texans have adopted government control of information, which characterize the dictatorships they claim to hate, so the RWS™ and their lemmings have come to embody that very thing against which they constantly rail: EVIL.


Acid Test


In the blizzard of climate prevarication we've had to endure this winter, because, you know, it still gets cold in January, some important points get lost. It's not just about temperature! That stuff we spew into the atmosphere does damage in many ways.
When we humans burn fossil fuels, we pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, where the gas traps heat. But much of that carbon dioxide does not stay in the air. Instead, it gets sucked into the oceans. If not for the oceans, climate scientists believe that the planet would be much warmer than it is today. Even with the oceans’ massive uptake of CO2, the past decade was still the warmest since modern record-keeping began. But storing carbon dioxide in the oceans may come at a steep cost: It changes the chemistry of seawater....
....But there’s a crucial difference between the Earth 100 million years ago and today. Back then, carbon dioxide concentrations changed very slowly over millions of years. Those slow changes triggered other slow changes in the Earth’s chemistry. For example, as the planet warmed from more carbon dioxide, the increased rainfall carried more minerals from the mountains into the ocean, where they could alter the chemistry of the sea water. Even at low pH, the ocean contains enough dissolved calcium carbonate for corals and other species to survive.
Today, however, we are flooding the atmosphere with carbon dioxide at a rate rarely seen in the history of our planet. The planet’s weathering feedbacks won’t be able to compensate for the sudden drop in pH for hundreds of thousands of years.
There's more. As permafrost melts, and as the ocean changes, we get methane. Lots of methane.

In the past few days (the paper is from a couple of years ago, Sid interjects), the researchers have seen areas of sea foaming with gas bubbling up through "methane chimneys" rising from the sea floor. They believe that the sub-sea layer of permafrost, which has acted like a "lid" to prevent the gas from escaping, has melted away to allow methane to rise from underground deposits formed before the last ice age.

They have warned that this is likely to be linked with the rapid warming that the region has experienced in recent years.

Methane is about 20 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and many scientists fear that its release could accelerate global warming in a giant positive feedback where more atmospheric methane causes higher temperatures, leading to further permafrost melting and the release of yet more methane.

That's why every time the idiots at Fox "news" ran outside this winter, saying "it's snowing, it's snowing," like kids looking for their galoshes, the national brain lost another quantum of gray matter; and we got still closer to disaster of our own making, happy to be relieved of responsibility, drinking from the punchbowl while ignoring what we've put in it

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Call It What It Is


The thing that knows no bounds. Congressional Rs, the RWS™, and all those that believe them are in an uproar over the possible use of a legislative technique called "self-executing" something or other. It's unconstitutional, they roar. Except when THEY used it themselves (35 times), and the Ds claimed it was unconstitutional, it went to court. And was found constitutional. Of course, there's also the fact that anger is easy; understanding is hard.

I'm not saying hypocrisy is the domain of a single party. It's just that the Rs do things they decried in the past with a level of abandon never before seen, rousing their receptive rabble, ignoring their own past without an iota of shame. Counting on the willful ignorance of their followers, they know they'll get away with it. As can easily be confirmed in the darkest recesses of comment threads even here, there's no chance their true believers will recall (or even check) what happened in that dim past... of the last administration. With the impunity that springs from the support of the unquestioning, they prevaricate with the passion of the possessed.

By hypocrisy.

At least when Nancy Pelosi lies, she blinks a lot.




USA!! USA!! USA!!


Some there are who -- depending where their heads are on the timeline of inevitability -- either fear or rue the fall of the US from world dominance. Me, I don't much care about global rankings; but I DO care about the reasons for the decline. It's one thing to get edged out in a hard-fought and keenly met fight; sooner or later tides turn. It's quite another to have deliberately stabbed oneself in the brain. (Nor is the aforementioned reference singular: Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck are the evident leaders of a movement based on deriding intellect, rejecting fact, and literally honoring its own ignorance. And, based on surveys, who can doubt they're riding a wave?)

So I was pleased to read this article (thanks for sending it, JB) in which I learned that there's at least one American still striving to be number one:

Donna Simpson, from New Jersey, weighs 273kg but told the Daily Mail newspaper she had her heart set on reaching her goal weight of 1000lb (450kg) in two years.

The 42-year-old already holds the title of the world's fattest mother after giving birth to her daughter in 2007 when she weighed 241kg.

"I'd love to be 1000lb ... it might be hard though, running after my daughter keeps my weight down," Ms Simpson told the Daily Mail.



In the article, there are several interesting details:

Her 49-year-old partner Philippe — who she met on a dating site for plus-size people — was encouraging her to reach her goal, she said.

"I think he'd like it if I was bigger ... he's a real belly man and completely supports me," she said......In order to pay for the enormous amounts of food she is eating — her weekly grocery bill is $815 — Ms Simpson makes money by running a website where men pay to watch her consume fast food.


Really, it's an all-American story, full of family values: she has loving support, and she's self-employed. And who knew there were "belly" men? (Well, maybe I am, too, if by "belly" this is what you mean. Just enough sweet softness over the recti to make it a touchable two-pack.... um... I digress... Sorry....)

The lady is an inspiration. I may have to get a web-cam. Let me know what you'd pay to watch me do.

So, you go, girl. Take our country over the top. We're right there with you (as long as you don't end up in our particular insurance pool, and as long as we're not playing teeter-totter.)


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Idiocracy


Like a lot of liberals I'm not thrilled with the Senate health care reform bill. There's much to criticize. But whatever it is, it is mostly certainly NOT socialism; in fact, my problem with it is that it's too much of a giveaway to the capitalist for-profit money-takers-from-actual-care that we know as insurance companies.

So, whereas it's fine to hear criticism, and even to lump it under a meaningless term like "Obamacare," it's beyond disheartening to think that the loudest voices out there, the ones behind the protests and the deceptive attempts to derail reform (as in insurers taking over movements to preserve their money, and the RNC surreptitiously taking over movements to preserve or return to power) have no f*cking idea what they're talking about. And that they listen to morons like Steven King. (No, not that one.)

I've yet to hear any of these paranoid lunatics even asked -- much less made to answer -- exactly what freedoms have been taken away in the last 15 months. Nor has anyone been forced to explain in what way any of the Obama initiatives are leading us toward socialism. As banks pay back their loans, as car companies head back to solvency and return to independence.

So there they are today, in DC, those righteous protesters, filled with anger and certitude and disinformation swallowed whole, taking cluelessness to unseen levels, making self-destruction an art form. Taking a page from the movie and sticking it in their own ear: I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to understand it anymore!

I do have a question, though, which I hope someone can answer: is this lady a protester of the tea-baggers, or can't she read, or is she simply bereft of irony?




Fareed At Last, Fareed At Last


I've always admired Fareed Zakaria: he's obviously bright, and is extremely knowledgeable about foreign policy. Whereas he seems generally an admirer of President Obama for his thoughtful approach to foreign affairs, I think he's also open-eyed, circumspect, and honest. So I find this article heartening. And, as usual, my reaction is based entirely on the fact that it says something I've been saying for a while: Pakistan seems much more on board with us since Obama came to office. That's a very good thing, and one for which the current administration deserves significant credit.

First, the Obama administration de-fined the problem correctly. Senior ad-ministration officials stopped referring to America's efforts in Afghanistan and instead spoke constantly of "AfPak," to emphasize the notion that success in Afghanistan depended on actions taken in Pakistan. This dismayed the Pakistanis but they got the message. They were on notice to show they were part of the solution, not the problem.

Second, the administration used both sticks and carrots. For his first state dinner, Obama pointedly invited Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh—clearly not Pakistan's first choice. Obama made clear that America would continue to pursue the special relationship forged with India under the Bush administration, including a far-reaching deal on nuclear cooperation. But at the same time, the White House insisted it wanted a deep, long-term, and positive relationship with Pakistan. Sens. John Kerry and Dick Lugar put together the largest nonmilitary package of U.S. assistance for the country ever. Aid to the Pakistani military is also growing rapidly...



There are caveats:

These results are still tentative. Pakistan's military retains its obsession with India—how else to justify a vast budget in a small, poor nation? It has still not acted seriously against any of the major militant groups active against Afghanistan, India, or the United States. The Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani group, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and many smaller groups all operate with impunity within Pakistan. But the Pakistani military is doing more than it has before, and that counts as success in the world of foreign policy.


The Af-Pak region has defied outside influence forever, and it remains extremely fractionated and tribal. Still, it seems a ray of hope: a much-needed and long-awaited one.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Enemy Mine


Psychological research is fuzzier than most. Exes and ohs are less rigid, numbers not easily applicable. Still, it often produces ideas worth chewing. Here's an example which, happily, comports with a central belief of mine:

A research team led by social psychologist Daniel Sullivan of the University of Kansas reports on four studies that suggest people are “motivated to create and/or perpetually maintain clear enemies to avoid psychological confrontations with an even more threatening chaotic environment.” When you place their findings in the context of the many threats (economic and otherwise) people face in today’s world, the propensity to turn ideological opponents into mighty monsters starts to make sense.
Of course I'd like to think that it doesn't apply to me: my warnings about the RWS™ are accurate, whereas their railings about Obama, as well as those of the tea bagging conspiracy theorists, are insane. Rather than giving me comfort, rather than helping me avoid angst, my feelings about those guys are deeply disturbing. Still, it's possible it's a human thing.

Deliberately or not, governments often seem to understand the need for scary enemies. Traveling in the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War, I concluded as much as I observed the ubiquitous demonization of the US. (In that case, I intuited that it was because their socialist paradise was a delusion, and the only way to make it -- and its people -- work was to create an existential enemy.) In the disproportionate reaction to terrorism coming from the right side of our own political spectrum, I hear echoes. It's not unlike the response to communism a few decades ago. Diverting attention and energies from power-grabs and oppression, cranking up a perpetual enemy works wonders. Right, Dick?

I wish we had the ability to see ourselves in terms of our frailties and failings. I wish we could get a little more meta, and recognize how our fears and needs enter into, distort, and color our beliefs. If so, might we rise above, at least a little, the hyperpartisanship that is destroying us? Might we see what we are doing to ourselves in giving a platform to, and following, such damaged souls as Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly? Could we understand the unworthy -- if human -- need behind it?

Well, people might say, I'm demonizing those guys as much as they demonize me. I'm just proving the point of the study at the center of this post. Am I, though? Is it all of a piece? Is there no difference between my point of view and that of Glenn Beck? Do people who think like I do have the same blinders as those who revere Glenn? Is paranoia the same as pointing out reality? I don't think so. He's crazy. I'm not.

But maybe I'm not meta enough.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Underdog


Other than Barack Obama, homosexuals, and taxes, there's nothing Republicans hate more than "activist judges;" and there's no kind of judge more revered by them than a "strict constructionist." So you'd think there'd be outrage from the right at the decision just rendered by that most "liberal" of federal appeals courts, the Ninth Circuit, seated in San Francisco. I'm waiting.

The case was about the inclusion of the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. Not a problem, they ruled, 2-1. Clearly, there's not a strictly-constructed, non-activist argument to be made. So what the judge said was this:
"The Pledge of Allegiance serves to unite our vast nation through the proud recitation of some of the ideals upon which our Republic was founded... [The Pledge] is a recognition of our founders' political philosophy that a power greater than the government gives the people their inalienable rights... Thus, the pledge is an endorsement of our form of government, not of religion or any particular sect.

Now, it seems to me, no matter what one's opinion of the Pledge might be, it's impossible to see those words as any sort of Constitutional argument. It's pure opinion (and not a little purple prose.) It's an argument ex cathedra; it's an attempt to rationalize a preconceived conclusion. Activism, in other words, at its most undisguised. Wrote the dissenting judge: "Under no sound legal analysis adhering to binding Supreme Court precedent could this court uphold state-directed, teacher-led, daily recitation of the 'under God' version of the Pledge of Allegiance by children in public schools."

I was ten when The Pledge changed to include those two words, and my recollection is dim. I recall less about my own feelings which, I'd guess, were somewhere between neutral and puzzled, than I do about my parents' reaction. They were upset. And that was at a time when they were sending me to Sunday School.

It's a position that some people will never understand. Too subtle. Not a winnable argument (which is not to say unimportant, as they march, crosses in hand, toward my door). But anyone should be able, with only a minimum of thought, to recognize that the decision just rendered, on whatever else it might be based, had nothing to do with Constitutional law.