Cutting Through The Crap

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Eurovision

Here's a declaration from Denmark, with which I entirely agree. A sampling of the larger statement:


  • We recognize the unlimited right to freedom of conscience, religion and belief, and that freedom to practice one's religion should be limited only by the need to respect the rights of others.
  • We submit that public policy should be informed by evidence and reason, not by dogma.
  • We assert the need for a society based on democracy, human rights and the rule of law. History has shown that the most successful societies are the most secular.
  • We assert that the only equitable system of government in a democratic society is based on secularism: state neutrality in matters of religion or belief, favoring none and discriminating against none.
  • We assert that private conduct, which respects the rights of others should not be the subject of legal sanction or government concern.
  • We affirm the right of believers and non-believers alike to participate in public life and their right to equality of treatment in the democratic process.

Expiration Date?


What's the shelf-life of prayer? It's well over a week, now, since the day declared for the purpose of stopping the leak of oil. Is the celestial in-box full? Maybe the prayer numbers didn't meet the reserve? Or is it still being processed? When Sarah Palin chimed in, did that reset the timer or, like me, does God consider her such a joke that he ignored her? Did she cancel the whole thing out? Since so much is at stake, I suppose I have to hope not.

Well of course we can't say what time is to God. Depending on your biblical literalism, a "day" is either about a thousand years, or a billion. So maybe he hasn't checked his answering machine lately. On the other hand, if it's because a week is such a trivial amount of time that he has barely noticed yet, I'd have to say the kidnapped kid, the person trapped in the earthquake, the patient in the ICU is just screwed.

If I didn't know better, it'd make me question the power of prayer.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

He Lives



As I've said here in various ways at various times, it's been clear from the time of his ascension that the Undead King of Republicans started this country on its inexorable descent from greatness. Selling smoke, as he used to sell smokers, he convinced his subjects of something patently impossible, like perpetual motion (and, by golly, the idea lives perpetually): namely, that you can have everything you want, and not pay for it. Even if by "you" is meant "you, and not... them." Ronnie, revered as only false gods can be revered, told people what they wanted to hear, let them believe what they wanted to believe, and set sail on the course to ruin, holding the tiller while Republicans rode rapturously. Rowing still a sunken ship, his rudderless retinue of relics regale recalcitrant regretters of receded royalty with raptuous rhetoric, rarely regarding recent reality. Ruinous Ronnie Reagan: razer of the Republic.

So, here's an article that displays it quite well. Not, of course, that such data will convince believers. Belief, after all, is what you use when evidence is either lacking or refutes your magical thinking. But, always hopeful that a single person might, for a second or two, have clarity before shrinking from it as Nosferatu shields himself from sunshine, I offer this:

"It seems that you can look at a chart of almost anything and right around 1981 or soon after you'll see the chart make a sharp change in direction, and probably not in a good way. And I really do mean almost anything, from economics to trade to infrastructure to ... well almost anything. I spent some time looking for charts of things, and here are just a few examples. In each of the charts below look for the year 1981, when Reagan took office.

Conservative policies transformed the United States from the largest creditor nation to the largest debtor nation in just a few years, and it has only gotten worse since then:"





There follow, in the article, several more charts in logical sequence, showing the same trend, the same break point, in various economic parameters.

The year of our lord nineteen eighty one is exactly the time to which Congressional Republicans, the RWS™, and Foxobeckian teabaggers would like us to return. (After Reagan, ever so briefly, there was a moment when a Republican was, by some measure, serious about fiscal responsibility. He was, naturally, summarily disowned by the true believers.)

Twenty years ago, the last serious Republican effort to reduce the budget deficit took place when George H.W. Bush agreed to negotiate with congressional Democrats on a budget deal. As a consequence, many Republicans disowned his efforts and abandoned him in 1992, leading to his defeat. Today, the idea of cooperating with Democrats on deficit reduction is viewed as a total loser by all Republicans. Until that perspective changes, the elder Bush will remain the last Republican who took fiscal responsibility seriously.

Hey! Now that I think of it, if we could teabag our way back in time, we should. AND VOTE RONNIE OUT OF OFFICE BEFORE HE EVER GETS IN. Now THAT'S what I'd call taking our country back!!


Monday, June 28, 2010

Overload


What's a blogger to do? There's so many things going on at once, so much political hypocrisy, so many examples of the desire of Congressional Republicans to see America fail -- as policy, for political gain! -- so egregious as to make it impossible to know where to start. Maybe that's part of the big picture: they're deliberately flooding us with so much stupid at once that they figure none will get much attention; and they guess, possibly correctly, that thinking people will finally just throw in the towel. At some point, you just have to accept the facts: we're going politically insane and the media are only too happy to hide the lithium.

Skimmed from just the last couple of days:

  • Remember the apoplexy when Moveon.org had a video contest, and there was, briefly, one on its site that compared Bush to Hitler? Recall it was never among the selected winners, never shown, and was removed from the site very soon after it appeared? Anyone notice how often it's still brought up as an example of the hate which is liberalism? Yet Hitlerized pictures of Obama have become so ubiquitous as to be normal background noise. And now, Sarah Palin, that darling of teabaggers, has hopped on the bandwagon. Anyone on the right showing a tenth of the outrage they did over the Moveon non-event? Can it be coincidence that Hitler and Hypocrisy both start with H.
  • Bobby Jindal is making a living off complaining about the lack of federal support for oil cleanup. Turns out he's been blocking the help. Anyone surprised? And there's more.
  • Joe Barton apologizes to BP, apologizes for the apology, then apologizes for the second apology, while the entire lot of Congressional Republicans use the same language as Barton originally used, and are proud of it. Eric Cantor thinks it's ducky.
  • Referring to a supposed conversation between them, John Kyl accuses President Obama of using the Arizona border as a political tool, the White House denies his claim, Kyl defends the absurd comment, the RWS™ go nuts, Kyl walks it back, the RWS™ are silent.
  • Predictable reaction to the Rolling Stone article.
  • Marco Rubio, teabagger icon, has said multiple times that he wants to see the entire health care reform bill repealed. Except lately. He likes (because, it seems, voters do) the idea of eliminating "pre-existing condition" refusals. Or does he? But, of course, he simply doesn't get the economics: you want that, you need mandates. Period.
  • Republican farmer calls Democrats the "party of parasites," dances around his taking $1 million in subsidies.
  • Doubling down on their belief that their only issue is deficits, failing to care about recovery, Republicans derail more aid to states and extension of unemployment benefits. Despite high unemployment, they think the unemployed should get jobs.
  • In but one among the many one-eighties taken by Rs, showing they actually believe in nothing but derailing Ds, it's pointed out that cap-and-trade was not only originally endorsed by Republicans, but was actually part of the McCain-Palin platform. There's simply no way to negotiate with people who have no core values, no shame, no allegiance to any principle other than personal power; who will switch their arguments without the slightest acknowledgment of their hypocrisy, and with their screamers and supporters neither noticing or caring.
  • The guy who would be senator, over whom teabaggers are dripping with.... joy... wants to solve immigration with an electric fence. UNDERGROUND. And they'll still vote for him.
  • I'm not the only one who thinks the Republicans are deliberately undermining chances for economic recovery in order to help their electoral chances. Damage the country, save the party.

Clearly, Congressional Republicans believe there are enough Americans who neither understand nor care. Certainly they assume they're not paying attention. Selfishness and stupidity, they figure, are the new American norms, and who can say they're wrong? I'd sure like to believe they are, but as long as Sarah Palin is their hero, and Glenn Beck is their fount of inspiration; as long as Rush Limbaugh is the top-rated screamer and Fox "news" is considered a reliable news source, there's really not much reason for hope.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Courage



I've thought for a long time that to pull out of Afghanistan would require an act of political courage that we've never seen before, that I can recall, and that we'll never see in such a polarized country. Bob Herbert agrees, it seems:

Ultimately, the public is at fault for this catastrophe in Afghanistan, where more than 1,000 G.I.’s have now lost their lives. If we don’t have the courage as a people to fight and share in the sacrifices when our nation is at war, if we’re unwilling to seriously think about the war and hold our leaders accountable for the way it is conducted, if we’re not even willing to pay for it, then we should at least have the courage to pull our valiant forces out of it.

I think he's right that it's a shared blame. But I think the dynamic is more like this: constant bombardment by the panoply of RWS™ and disgusting inability of liberals to mount an effective response, along with the selfish need of most Americans to equate patriotism with war while avoiding really thinking about it -- much less paying for it -- makes for paralysis. Because overcoming such a charged political climate requires selfless courage; and the screamers know it well, and use it to their advantage.

About this I'm as certain as I am about tomorrow's sunrise: were we to pull out of Afghanistan, there'd be an unprecedented and coördinated barrage of invective from the RWS™, and when the next and inevitable attack on our soil occurs, President Obama would, at minimum be accused of murder. Or worse.

We're wasting lives in Afghanistan, and unending amounts of treasure. In doing so, we're making ourselves less safe, diverting that money from the home front, where it can surely be put to better use. Iraq, on which the jury is still most decidedly out, was, at one time, an actual country. Afghanistan is tribes spread about in the roughest terrain on earth, beholden to no government; and it has been so for centuries. I can't see what would change it; not even were we to send in a million troops and a few more trillions of dollars. If they won't pacify themselves, it'll never happen. They've never been a country.

Nor, were we able magically to turn Afghanistan into a western democracy, or even a pro-western whatever, would we be eliminating terrorist threats. They can come from anywhere, including, as we've seen, within our own borders. Armies can't stop it. Armies fight armies.

It's not worth it. It hasn't been worth it, ever since Bush decided to leave Afghanistan in favor of the debacle known as Iraq. If ever there was a chance to get it right -- and, frankly, I doubt there ever was -- it was then. Now, we're killing ourselves.

I wonder if, deep down somewhere, Barack Obama knows that. In the writings I've read since the McChrystal episode, it seems there's always been a strong contingent in his administration that opposed the "surge" and wanted to find a way out. But, as a war hero once asked, "How do you ask someone to be the last one to die for a mistake?" He's in too deep. Perhaps he thinks of the families of those that have died, those living with deep wounds mental and physical, and hates to tell them it was all for nothing. To tell us what we need to hear, that we lost our chance to prevail in Afghanistan when we left it for Iraq, that we've given them more than nine years to find a way and they haven't, that terrorism knows no country and that our wars have done nothing to lessen the threat but rather has raised it by recruitment and by diversion of resources -- to tell us that, to say it was a mistake by Bush to leave and a mistake by him to go back would take enormous and probably impossible political courage.

If Barack Obama doesn't have that unprecedented courage, no politician does; and, sadly, none likely ever will.

[Update: Here's an article by a person of much more credibility than I, of the same opinion about the outcome.]


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Freedom Ain't Free


So eggs from free-range chickens contain five times higher concentrations of pollutants than those of the caged birds.

The good news is that in the US, you can call your chickens "free range" if you leave a key to the barn door within reach of the tallest hen. So we're good.


My Guy? This Guy

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Committing Journalism


Too bad the "liberal" media -- or any of them -- don't know how to conduct an interview like this kid does. It's, you know, sorta what, uh, those founding father guys, well, had in mind with the First Amendment, doncha think? I do.

The thought that, against the odds and unlikely though it might be, she might actually face a real question is surely why Sarah Palin refuses any interview except by Fox "news" and the RWS™ (for whom actual journalism is about as likely as a flying saucer landing in Rupert Murdoch's back yard) and why at public appearances she only takes pre-screened questions. And yet the teabaggers love her like they love their fears. Same with Sharon Angle in Nevada. No press, no how. And here we see why.

It is, of course, of a piece with teabaggers in general: lots of opinions, few facts, unwilling to face questions. And the more their leaders reflect that, the more they love them. I suppose we should just let them take over. Make the death swift, if not necessarily painless.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

How It Works


Sadly, there are still those who watch Fox "news" and consider it a reliable news source. Ethical, even. A couple of them drop by here once in a while to sing their praises and leave a mess. I keep hoping I could convince those people to peel the scale from their eyes. As if.

Anyway, here's but one small -- and recent -- example of what they do. (I believe the term is "lie." But since it's all they do, no matter the issue, there ought to be a stronger word, wouldn't you think?)

In 2006, the Bush Administration closed off a five-square-mile stretch of the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge to the public to allow the Border Patrol to improve security. Owing to mission creep of sorts, this section stayed closed. And how does Fox interpret this? That President Obama is giving vast stretches of land back to Mexico.

I have to admit I'd never before visited the Fox "news" website. I just did. It's really quite astounding. One after another, relentlessly, article after article attacking President Obama, liberals, government policy in the most slanted language. It's not as if this stuff isn't ubiquitous on right-wing websites. But this is the network that calls itself fair and balanced. We report, they claim, allowing "you" to decide. Even the Huffington Post has articles critical of Democrats, and of the president, and it regularly posts commentary from such wingers as Tony Blankley.

But Fox... well, they're in a category alone. I don't begrudge them their bias and their right to lie through their pixels. It's just that I'm continuously boggled by the fact that anyone -- even teabaggers and others of such limited critical skills -- could call them a useful source of news. Of confirmation bias, sure. Of reinforcing prejudice and fact-free belief, of course. A place to go to get lubed and stroked, the best.

But, c'mon: a fair news source? A news source by any definition? It's pathetic, if laughable.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Perfect Example


It should be clear to everyone by now that Congressional Republicans, the RWS™, and everyone at Fox "news" would rather see President Obama fail than see our country succeed. It's as overt as an oil spill. The best thing that could happen, in their eyes, would be for the country to fall into another recession. (Well, that, or the nuking of a city by al Queda.) So here's how it goes:

Among economists there is some disagreement about the size and scope of the recovery act (with at least two Nobel winners saying it was too small); but almost none think it was unnecessary. Deficits, though not particularly desirable, are an unavoidable consequence. For now. And only the most hard-core deniers argue that the stimulus hasn't been of benefit. So what's a right-winger to do? Inheriting the worse economic calamity since The Depression, promising to reverse it, and succeeding, Obama has put the Republicans, whose policies drove us off the cliff, in a bit of a bind.

Easy. Rail about the deficits. Whip their easily-whipped, frightened, and uninformed teabagging minions into a frenzy; send the talking points to Fox "news," see to it that their cadre of echoing RWS™, who have nothing in mind but their ratings and their next dose of oxycontin-lithium, will pump up the volume. And presto, as darker night follows night: in a perfect meld of the credulous and the cruel, the paranoid and the pseudopatriot, the disingenuous and the disturbed, you're on the way to wrecking the economy -- AGAIN -- in order to win elections.

It's not hard to imagine the meetings in the unprepped bowels of the Congressional Republican hiding places. "Deficits," they announce. "It's all we've got." A plan forms: call Dick Armey and get him to roll out his astroturf, put it under the feet of his teabaggers. Deficits, deficits: play them like a vuvuzela, get Hannity on the phone, leave a message for Beck in his tinfoil closet. And be sure, for god's sake, not to mention that ninety percent of the deficit going forward is from Bush's tax cuts and spending increases; don't ever refer to the things Obama has already done to lower deficits; and, whatever you do, don't let anyone talk about the impact of more recession on our economic future. Deficits, just deficits. It's simple, it's perfect for people for whom bumper stickers have replaced newspapers. It'll work.


"If Congress doesn't provide additional stimulus spending, economists inside and outside the administration warn that the nation risks a prolonged period of high unemployment or, more frightening, a descent back into recession. But a competing threat -- the exploding federal budget deficit -- seems to be resonating more powerfully in Congress and among voters."

"Seems to be," all right. And why is that? See above. Egged on by people for whom national interest is the furthest thing from their minds, people have come to prefer economic calamity over short-term deficit spending. Rightfully, Obama has pledged to address deficits when the time is right. Wrongfully, with only their return to political power in mind, the selfish have convinced the short-sighted that the time is now.

You sort of have to tip your hat to the brilliance: all it takes is a surpassingly cynical (if accurate) view of voters and willingness to lie to them unendingly, to deceive them without a second thought. In Twenty-First Century America, if a party untethers itself from love of anything but its own power, nothing is impossible.


Sunday, June 20, 2010

It's All Over


Finally. No more oil leak, no more dead animals; the beaches and marshes shall gleam. It's amazing no one thought of it until now; not, at least, as official policy.

State senators designated Sunday as a day for citizens to ask for God's help dealing with the oil disaster.

"Thus far efforts made by mortals to try to solve the crisis have been to no avail," state Sen. Robert Adley said in a statement released after last week's unanimous vote for the day of prayer. "It is clearly time for a miracle for us."

The resolution names Sunday as a statewide day of prayer in Louisiana and calls on people of all religions throughout the Gulf Coast "to pray for an end to this environmental emergency, sparing us all from the destruction of both culture and livelihood."


Haul in ye the boom, send forth to their homes the cleaners of the beaches. Uncap ye the gusher, invest ye in BP. For the day of healing is nigh. Raise ye your voices and thank ye your Father, for it is His day.

Fathers' Day.

Our father, who... leaketh His crude, killeth His birds, and screweth the fishers of His flock. Hallowed be Thy name. Thy pollution be done. For thine is the kingdom, the (carbon-based) power, the gooey, forever. Amen.

What a guy. He'll keep pounding those pelicans, shredding the shrimpers, mangling the marshes, corroding the coastline until enough people ask him to stop. Or so those silly solons must believe.

And yet this is exactly the direction in which Sarah Palin, former half-term governor, and Glenn Beck, rescuer of the tin-foil industry, want to take us; and in which the teabaggers can't wait to follow. How to prevent it?

Let us pray.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Flagellation


You can't really love soccer if you don't hate it.

  • I know of no game in which the weaker team has such a chance of winning.
  • There's no contest in which subjectivity -- or incompetence -- of a referee has such a role in the outcome. In other games, referees decide if something happened. In soccer, they also decide whether it was important. Important enough. For the location.
  • In no sport are the required skills so difficult and so under-appreciated by unknowing viewers.
  • There's no game in which the higher level you achieve the more inclined you are to fake injury and roll around like an idiot.
  • Only in soccer is the scoring almost secondary to the appreciation of the work being done (which means appreciation is lacking in the uninitiated.)
  • Offsides is something only real fans understand. Often, this excludes side judges.
  • Deciding a tie by a shootout is the most horrible thing that happens in any sport, anywhere. At least in hockey they've made it more of a show.
  • The difficulty of scoring explains much of the above.
I'd never seen a soccer game until my son started playing it. As he got better and better, making more and more highly select teams, which won more and tournaments and state championships, I came to appreciate what it took. Years, is what it was. As opposed to, say, (American) football, in the playing of which he scored a touchdown the first time he got the ball in a game. Tucking a ball under your arm and running with it, even if quickly and trickily, isn't anything compared to running full speed while controlling a ball with your feet. And then striking it, getting it to go more or less where aimed, still running full out. Or receiving and settling it, also while running, using only your feet, or your chest. Or both.

At a big-deal invitational tournament in Canada, work kept me from the first game. When I arrived at the motel the next morning, another dad told me I'd missed the best game he'd ever seen (our kids had played the Canadian U-17 national champions). I asked the score. Zero-zero (nil-nil, as it's said.) That's when I knew we were true fans.

But it does drive me crazy. Scoring is incredibly hard. A team can dominate another and lose, and it happens all the damn time. Infuriating.

I could never play soccer: too slow, too clumsy. And yet I was a pretty decent rugby player, which says something about skill. Back then, there were no subs in rugby, so we kept playing unless they had to carry you off. It's laughable to watch soccer players -- especially world class ones, like Ronaldo -- dive and roll over and over and over (point of observation: a player who is actually hurt will lie still. One that's a big bag of fakery will roll over and over and over, or flop around a lot. For super athletes, these guys are embarrassing; and they're not even good actors. Rich Franklin broke his arm and kept fighting Chuck Liddell. And knocked him out.)

With family and friends, we were at the World Cup in 1994. (I had to work for the final, but my wife and kid were there. Decided by penalty kicks, the shoot-out saw the Italian hero Robert Baggio boot his chance to save it for his country.) We watched Brazil sweep up the sides like peregrine falcons, center the ball with the grace of gods. Surrounded by Cameroonian fans wearing lion costumes, we reveled in the good vibe. We saw crazy fans, eighty-five thousand of them filling Stanford Stadium, faces painted, waving flags, beating drums, wearing tribal costumes and marching down streets. No badness, all happy to be there, crazy in love with the game.

It was the most fun at a sporting event, ever.

And not a single frickin' vuvuzela.

Friday, June 18, 2010

This Is It


Well, you'd think it would be, anyway. Up until now, Congressional Rs have tried to hide the extent to which they love big business, and particularly big oil, above the interests of the American people. They'd couch it in terms like "free markets" and "the American way" and they'd expect -- because it was true -- that they could get enough people to be distracted by it. Prestidigitation, is what it is.

So when they drop all pretense, figuring the teabaggers will vote for them instead of that black communist America-hater (true), and knowing that Fox "news" and all the RWS™ would claim Obama is the anti-Christ even if he were to turn IEDs into gold and give a bar to every US citizen (they would), in a rational world (it isn't) some might expect there'd be a backlash. Some might think they'd finally overplayed their hand, become so sure of themselves that they no longer felt the need to hide their real agenda or to package their crap and sell it as chocolate sauce.

The reaction to the twenty-billion dollar escrow fund for paying damages caused by the oil spill has been amazing to me; and I no longer amaze very easily. Nearly in unison, the Republicans in Congress have characterized it as extortion, as a slush fund, as something awful. (Rush Limbaugh thinks the money might go to Acorn.) The very idea that a president somehow managed to get a company to pay for the damage it caused has sent them to their fainting couches. Michele Bachmann thinks when a company pays for damage it's "redistribution of wealth." (What business transaction isn't, Michele?) Joe Barton (who has received more money from oil companies than any other Representative in Congress, and who would become chairman of the energy committee were Rs to gain the majority) apologized to BP and said he doesn't "want to live in a country" where "every time" someone does something wrong he or it is expected to make it right. Really. That's what he said. Yeah, sure, he sort of apologized for calling it a "shakedown." But that's the very term Bachmann used, as did the "Republican Study Committee," which includes over half the House Rs. And some guy who wants to be a Republican congressman thinks the government deliberately caused the leak.

So. Is it what they believe, or, as has been the case with so much else, are they willing to say anything, to ignore whatever opposite they may have said previously, in order to take a shot at Obama? Either way, isn't the spectacle of kissing the ass of oil enough finally to wake up the millions who've been deceived by these people and their propaganda outlet known as Fox "news"? At last, might this outrage at something so simple and obvious as insisting on accountability be a point of tipping?

I've watched the statements of these apologists for the despicable behavior of BP in disbelief. How can they be so arrogant, so brazen? Do they have it on some authority that their supporters are so in the teabag for them -- are so stupid in their rage against, well, whatever it is that they're raging against -- that they're actually against everything, EVERYTHING, that Obama does? Even when it's so clearly right?

I guess so. I guess so. Having watched those people, in their unfocused and uninformed anger, their visceral hatred and unabashed sense of aggrieved entitlement, I guess so. I keep thinking that no political group -- not even teabaggers and those that agree with them -- can be that stupid, that gullible, that easily deceived. I keep thinking that at some point something -- something -- those obviously unserious Congressional Republicans say or do will be rejected. Those people who don't believe in accountability or regulation, not even after all this. But I guess not.

I guess not.

Message Received





It was a lightning strike, in case you hadn't heard.

It's safe to assume, I assume, that many -- if not all -- of the members of that church believe in miracles. Surely they pray for interventions of one sort or another all the time: that's what believers do. So what could be more of a sign from above than a bolt from the blue, taking out the statue with inerrant aim (leaving intact, according to reports, the adult video store next door)? On what basis could a believer-in-miracles reject the event as an act of their god? I mean, if we pick and choose, then what's the point? I've said it before: if the kid who survives the school bus crash is a miracle, so are the ones that died.

It's gotta be a message, right? What message, I can't say. Perhaps only art criticism: it was, after all, a pretty tasteless monstrosity, egregiously outsized, seemingly pleading for someone to pull him out of the water (can you imagine the macerated feet, the shriveled...?) Still, were I in the congregation I'd be a bit loath to rebuild, which, they are saying, is the plan. I'd suggest they leave it exactly as is.

Because, isn't rebuilding that craven image a direct affront to their god? If a lightning bolt, in the context of Jesus and a church, isn't about as clear a statement as you can hope to get, what the hell is? Or if it isn't, how can they claim to be able to interpret any event; how can they continue to pray for signs, for miracles? What's the point, if you're gonna reject that as a message pitch, high and tight?

Really, I'd like to know.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Fantasy




I haven't yet posted what I wrote after watching President Obama's Oval Office speech. Disappointed, I wanted to let it settle for a while. Why did he even bother, was my central thought. Has he become deaf to his own words?

Then I saw the above clip, and realized it captured much better than I'd written what my thoughts were. The message is exactly what we should have heard. And didn't.

On the other hand, the next day President Obama announced something really astounding: a twenty billion dollar escrow account that BP will establish to pay for damage done. What he lacked in words, he made up for, in large part at least, in action.

Which, jaw-droppingly, drove Republicans crazy. Actually, it's the entire gaggle of Congressional Republicans. Holding a private corporation accountable to the people whose lives it destroys after flouting the law, it turns out, is anathema to them!!!

How can it be that Republicans are poised to make enormous gains in November? It's un-frickin-believable. Democrats are nothing if not meek and afraid; but, my god, it's like choosing between walking by a panhandler and Jack the Ripper.

Good Gig


I wrote a book once. It took several months, lots of self-editing and revision, and I loved everything about it. Something, therefore, annoys me about the idea of people cashing in on celebrity by sticking their names on ghost-written books, to the tune of millions of dollars.

At least Glenn Beck doesn't pretend he wrote his. Won't keep him from banking the bucks, though, lousy reviews notwithstanding. Sarah Palin clearly doesn't have the staying power or command of her thoughts to have written her book, but she'd like us to believe otherwise. It's made her a multi-millionaire. In a Joe Six-pack sort of way, I guess.

One thing I have in common with Barack Obama: we both wrote our books ourselves. Or should I say Bill Ayers wrote them?


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Getting Regular


If Rand Paul has his way, we'll end all regulating of business. Same with a former pro football player in my state, running against Patty Murray. Get rid of 'em all, he says. Ditto John Boner, Mitch McConnell, and Sarah Palin, who's against regulations except when she's not. (Okay, let's give Sarah a pass: she really has no idea what she believes (except in faith healing.))

It's insanity. Who but Republican politicos and the usual RWS™ could actually try to make the case that the response to under-regulated banks and oil wells is to deregulate even more? Here's an article on the subject that feels eminently reasonable to me:

...it’s hard to think of a recent disaster in the business world that wasn’t abetted by inept regulation. [...]


These failures weren’t accidents. They were the all too predictable result of the deregulationary fervor that has gripped Washington in recent years, pushing the message that most regulation is unnecessary at best and downright harmful at worst. The result is that agencies have often been led by people skeptical of their own duties. This gave us the worst of both worlds: too little supervision encouraged corporate recklessness, while the existence of these agencies encouraged public complacency.


In particular, its concluding paragraph resonates:

...[S]uccessful regulation, by filling information gaps and managing risk, fosters confidence in the safety and honesty of markets, which in turn makes them bigger and more robust. The pharmaceutical industry, for instance, would be much smaller if people were seriously worried that they might be poisoned every time they took a new drug. And though executives chafe at financial regulation, the protection it provides makes investors far more likely to hand them money to play with. If we want our regulators to do better, we have to embrace a simple idea: regulation isn’t an obstacle to thriving free markets; it’s a vital part of them.


And yet our country is steeped (get it?) in teabaggers demanding the return to every policy that got us where we are. In our history -- and it's not like you have to go very far back for examples -- there are countless examples of deregulated industries going wild to the detriment of our economy and to the harm of consumers. Are there really any examples of the opposite; of over-regulation causing such economic (and ecologic) violence as we've just seen?

It's like that forget-zapper thingy that Tommy Lee Jones used to such good advantage. Who knew it'd work on half the population of an entire -- and supposedly enlightened -- country?

Oh, yeah. Karl Rove knew. So did Newt Gingrich. And Mitch McConnell, and Tom DeLay, and Dick Armey (who founded a whole army of dicks.) Sarah, Michele, Glenn? Not so sure. I don't think they've ever understood what went on or what's going on, only how to whip up frenzied support for nonsensical positions on wrongly-defined problems. But what's the difference? Whether by deviant design or insane intention, the result is the same: ill-informed voters masterfully manipulated into voting against their own interests, while being led to believe they're doing the opposite, forgetting the lessons of recent history, so recent as to be reverberating in the very air they breathe.




Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Unmitigated A$$holery


Behold. These are the guys who want you to return control of our government to them.

Mitch McConnell, who's never believed a thing he's ever said, is single-handedly preventing final votes on eighty important government appointees. Why? Because he's pissed off over one particular recess appointment. Willing to slow down our government in areas where it's most needed, ignoring the fact that George W. Bush did the same, dozens of times, he stamps his fat little feet and has a hissy fit. Over eighty people already approved by committee. Can there be any doubt about his lack of seriousness toward governance? About his commitment to effective leadership for the common good? Really? And let's not even talk about the fact that there are Senate rules allowing such power to a single senator, and that there are sinister senatorial slimeballs such as McConnell, Coburn, and so many others, perfectly willing to abuse it.

And in case the obviousness has escaped you, here's yet another example of Republican power-brokers delighted to see America struggle. The oil disaster is just peachy to them:

Republican communication strategists in Washington and Louisiana are thrilled at the press coverage of the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, according to e-mails from GOP officials accidentally sent to the Huffington Post.

The specific news report that had party operatives celebrating was a local Fox Channel 8 report on an event held by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal calling on President Obama to lift the moratorium on offshore drilling.

"Watch the video -- you can't beg for a better package than that," writes a top Louisiana GOP spokesman to a communications staffer at the Republican National Committee.



Then, for just plain idiocy, there's this.

Oklahoma State Senator Rex Duncan (R) is pushing for a ballot measure that would prohibit courts from considering international or sharia law when deciding cases. He says the measure is a "preemptive strike" against "liberal judges" who want to "undermine those founding principles" of America.

What is there to say about people who think like this? And about those that vote for them? How many of them can a democracy tolerate before it collapses under its own weight?

It's one thing to have the occasional citizen passing out drool-stained and misspelled literature on a street corner somewhere. It's quite another when a major party keeps electing them and calling them heroes.


Monday, June 14, 2010

Veneer


How thin is the veneer of civilization. How few layers of keratin separate humans from packs of animals. As another example of ethnicity justifying slaughter answers those questions, I can only wonder if it could happen here. Here's irony, if ever there was:

Aigulia said her house was destroyed by Uzbeks overnight and all her Kyrgyz neighbors had to run for their safety. She said the area was still unsafe, claiming Uzbek snipers were shooting at them.

A Kyrgyz man, Iskander, said he and others burned Uzbek property to avenge their attacks.

"Whatever you see over there - all the burnt restaurants and cafeterias - were owned by them and we destroyed them on purpose," he told APTN. "Why didn't they want to live in peace?"


Given the tenor of the times in the US, with death threats against legislators who voted for health care -- health care, ferchrissakes! -- with hatred and fear being stoked deliberately (and very effectively) by Fox "news" and the awful RWS™, can it really be much longer before such violence breaks out here? We're talking cafés and houses and schools in this latest example of human defectiveness; not hovels and caves.

A steady stream of propaganda, hard times with uncertainty about the future, deliberate pitting of "us" against "them," claims of threats to our very way of life, willingness to lie to a credulous people, the people unwilling and unable to separate fact from fiction, preferring easy (ie, like religious) answers: it's happened before to highly "civilized" people. We've seen what happens .

Interesting -- not to mention deeply frightening -- the similarities between the kind of regime to which those on the right compare our current government and behaviors they have taken upon themselves. While denying it. Coincidental, I suppose, that the party of deniers of evolution, of global warming, of birth certificates (can you extrapolate the other sign in the previous photo link?), of the causes of the current calamity, and of staking claim to the righteousness of the law of their god, also includes those that decorate their arms with swastikas and deny that the Holocaust ever happened.

I suppose I should say my goodbyes now, because I'll be among the first to be burned alive.

Not "IF."

WHEN.


Friday, June 11, 2010

Glimmer


Well, here's a small amount of good news. In California, a cadré of four lawyers ran against four sitting judges, with the claim that they'd bring Jesus to the bench. Making not even the pretense of judicial impartiality, they wanted the job on the basis of their pledge to rulings based on the Bible.

They lost, resoundingly.

On the other hand, it was California, not exactly the reddest of the red. Were the races in Texas, or Georgia, I'd bet on the thumpers. And, heck, even in CA thirty-five or forty percent of voters were willing to turn the judiciary over to theocrats. Toss the Constitution overboard. Pretty shocking, when you look at it like that. People like clergy and homophobes, according to the article. Neighbors.

Still, it means that there are still clots of people here and there who understand the value to all of us -- even the religious -- of separation of church and state; Sarah and Michelle (the other one) notwithstanding.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Climate Change Melts Brains



In trying to do all they can to gut climate legislations, Congressional Republicans, led by Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Palin's place, once again have revealed their stupidity in its blinding resplendency. Really, I think when these people get together, some sort of vortex is created that sucks intellect from everyone within an as-yet undefined radius. Certainly that distance is at least big enough to contain their own group.

It doesn’t help her case that the press conference she called on the measure Tuesday featured some of the Senate's all-stars of climate denial. There was Inhofe, who reaffirmed his belief that global warming is the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." There was Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri, who noted that, "Without carbon, my trees would die. Carbon occurs naturally." And there was Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming, whose contribution was, "People are breathing out CO2 all the time. Would that be a violation of the Clean Air Act under this law?"
Hard to know where to start, much less to risk the brain-burn required to face it. But I think I like Kit Bond the best: without carbon, he says, his trees would die.

Well, yes. And his dog, and his wife, and his kids, and were he himself a carbon-based life form (which, for the sake of our collective self-esteem, we should assume he isn't) he would, too. But you have to get that in science class. You know, the place where he and everyone else on his side of the chasm prefer to teach the Bible.

Oh man. We are so screwed.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Judgment Call


Right. The guy apologizes for "poor judgment:"

A Kent man accused of joining his wife in raping their 4-year-old daughter live online was sentenced Friday...

Addressing King County Superior Court Judge Regina Cahan, Beston claimed remorse before apologizing for a his "
poor judgment" and saying he hoped to mend fences with his children in the future.


Poor judgment. That gives language a bad name. The only words to which he is entitled, in my opinion, are these: "Your honor, I am a sick sick individual who has no place in society, ever again. I request that I be incarcerated for life or, if you prefer, put to death. Anything less would be a travesty. I am a travesty. My wife, too."

Mend fences. Poor judgment. My god.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Boom Bust


I just watched a really disturbing video, about the booming -- or lack thereof -- of the Gulf Coast. It's full of really bad language, so much so that I'll just provide a link as opposed to embedding the clip. But for those of you who wouldn't be offended by pervasive use of the f-word and occasional use of the c-word, it can be seen here.

In short, it argues that the placing of booms has not only been inadequate and incompetent but has, in fact, been mainly for show. It claims that proper booming can prevent oil from coming ashore. It suggests media have been complicit -- or, at minimum, useless -- by failing to let people know. (My opinion: they'd rather talk about political impact and show dead birds than do actual reporting, which takes work. And intelligence.)

It's really, really disturbing. If it's a fair statement of what's possible and what has not, in fact, been done, then everyone involved deserves.... I don't know what. Hanging, maybe. And if President Obama knows this and has let it slide it's inexcusable; and if he doesn't know this (assuming it's a true representation) then he's failed miserably to have found out what he needs to know. Same with Jindal, Barbour, Congress, the lot of them. They're disgusting beyond words.

I must say that I've wondered from the beginning how those pathetic little booms could be expected to work in anything but flat water. On the other hand, I'm just a guy with too much time on his hands. The people doing it, responsible for it? Shame on them. Beyond shame.

Unless the person on the video is lying. Which I seriously doubt.


The Culprits



Starting with the Republican intellectual leader, Rush Limbaugh; flowing to their pseudo-intellectual leader, Krauthammer; and picked up by their spiritual leader, Palin, is the latest and perhaps the most idiotic (for now) talking point of the season: the oil spill is the fault of environmentalists. With this, they've truly outdone themselves. Which, most certainly, is NOT to say it won't be sucked up and re-mouthed as gospel by teabaggers and the sort of happy harpers that occasionally roam these parts.

It goes like this: those nasty tree-huggers have made it impossible to drill on shore or close to shore and, because they call the shots, have forced the helpless oilmen like the obsequious and pliable Cheney, lacking influence, to take their platforms and slink into the deep waters. Right. Had they let them drill in ANWR, they'd never have gotten wet. Right. Had Palin won she'd have corked those babies and we'd never see an offshore rig again. Right. And, I imagine, had it not been for environmentalists, BP would never have cut corners. Environmentalists have always been delighted to see deep water drilling. Right.

It's not at all surprising to hear this sort of crap from the RWS™. They simply have no regard for reason or and even less -- much less -- for their audience. (When, oh when, will teabaggers realize it?) And, having witnessed the deeply depressing spectacle of that audience slurping up their effluvium and repeating it as if it made some sort of sense, it's not surprising -- not any more -- to see them do just that. Why should the RWS™ stop spreading sewage as long as people think it's chocolate pudding?

Unsurprising it may be; but it's still really depressing. It's a perfect example of the sort of slop that passes for political thought on the right, and is accepted as such, no questions asked, by the masses -- poised to vote in mere months.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Guardians


Of the many things I find incomprehensible about the American right wing, their hatred of the ACLU is very near the top of a long and depressing list. That a party which claims reverence for the Constitution and professes distrust of big government reviles an organization dedicated to protecting people's rights from government overreach has always seemed absolutely self-contradictory. Hypocritical. Nonsensical. Inconsistent.

So what else is new?

I just read an article that reconfirmed the insanity. It turns out -- hold onto your hats and sit on them, everyone -- RWS™ bombard their flock with untruths, while ignoring reality. Hard to believe, I know; I wonder if it could be a pattern. And, as we saw in a previous post, constant bombardment of people unable to distinguish truth (and who have no desire or capacity to make the effort) is very effective.

In reference to the recent punishing of some California students for wearing American flag images on Cinco de Mayo, the article begins by listing nearly countless examples of right wing outrage (understandable) along with claims (untruthful) that the ACLU (the "American Communist Lawyer Association," as one ranter describes it) was silent on the issue. It wasn't.

Punishing students for wearing T-shirts with the American flag is a clear violation of their free speech rights. The ACLU of Northern California responded to the incident by sending a letter (PDF) to Morgan Hill Schools Superintendant Dr. Wesley Smith, reminding him of the speech rights students are entitled to under the U.S. Constitution and California law.
The article, written by a previously mentioned and vanishingly rare thoughtful conservative, goes on:

A PDF of the more formal letter sent to the school is here. This shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with the actual ACLU, as opposed to the movement conservative caricature of it.
It also mentions several other similar incidents in which the ACLU has been involved. And I well remember when the (commie Jew liberal) ACLU supported the right of American Nazis to march in the heavily Jewish town of Skokie, Illinois.

Of all the people whose natural inclination you'd think would be strong support of such a group, it ought to be so-called conservatives, libertarians, and, if they knew the first thing about anything, teabaggers. Protectors of civil liberties, willing to stick out their necks, to do the unpopular thing in the name of constitutional rights: could such a group be more American, more desirable, more, ferchrissakes, conservative?

I simply can't fathom it.

Well, of course I can. Congressional Republicans, the RWS™, and most of those who support and believe them, have no more love for the Constitution than they have understanding of it. They only love the law when it's convenient, when it applies to them; not to the poor, the brown, the black, the gay, the female, the non-Christian. Any people they don't like. Of that, they really hate to be reminded. Which is what the ACLU does, every day, across the political spectrum. We're a nation of laws, it says; laws that need to be applied equally, to majorities, minorities, rich, poor, powerful and weak.

Hateful, UnAmerican stuff, that.


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

войнa и мир



From 2005. Thanks, Timmyson: thought-provoking on many levels. It makes great sense, even if there's an implication that it's easier than it is.

Not Good


Hard to be optimistic about Afghanistan. Says, only in part, a report from our own government:

DOD and the State Department have experienced a myriad of problems in carrying out this training. For the Afghan Army, problems include attrition rates of about 20%, deficiencies in leadership, frequent absenteeism that can reduce units to 50% of their strength, limited logistical capabilities, and questionable behavior. For the police, training has been hampered by illiteracy, corruption, and the targeting and killing of police recruits and police by insurgents.

Summarizing an April Senate hearing on Afghan police training, the CRS report cites the following problems, which have also been widely noted elsewhere:

* Difficulties in coordinating DOD, State Department, and NATO coalition training;


* Persistent problems in relying on private contractors including poor performance and bad behavior, unauthorized use of firearms and inadequate vetting, and shortages of contractor personnel; and

* Lack of sufficient personnel to manage contracts and insufficient contract oversight including invalid invoices as well as inadequate performance.


Plus, our enemies have never lost there, and, it seems likely, never will. Because of this:

As for the Americans, they won his bitter enmity. By Zaeef’s account—which aligns with those of numerous other prisoners who fell into U.S. hands in the wars that followed September 11th—he was treated barbarically: stripped naked, beaten, interrogated endlessly to no purpose, always kept isolated and ignorant of his situation, made to endure years of physical and mental torture in a condition of legal blackout. In a way, even worse than the loss of his rights is the sheer gratuitous ugliness of his treatment at the hands of American soldiers: “Every day all prisoners were lined up outside and made to stand in the sun. There were about twenty tents that held eight hundred prisoners. Not all soldiers were the same, but some would command us to stand there for half-an-hour before they took the attendance register and almost two hours afterwards. No one was allowed to sit down or stand in the shade, no matter what his condition.” Zaeef adds: “May Allah punish those soldiers!”

In Zaeef’s telling, He surely will.


The Americans have won the hatred of all Afghans, he concludes, and will lose the war as the Soviets lost theirs: the whole world is turning away from the U.S. and coming to see the justice of the Islamic cause. Like any religious revolutionary, Zaeef is certain that history and faith will soon rhyme. His entire story is saturated in righteousness; all the hardships he endures are redeemed by the solidarity of the faithful, whose superiority to non-Muslims is taken for granted. Zaeef doesn’t even pay lip service to the notion of equal rights for all: the only outrage is what’s done to Muslims, because they are Muslims and better than the rest of humanity. This world view is founded on such chauvinism that Americans, with our automatic assumptions about equality, might fail to notice it. “My Life with the Taliban” shows that, while all wars are foolish, some wars are not a matter of mere misunderstanding—that beneath the superficial differences of clothing and facial hair lie more profound differences that can’t be reconciled.




I can't judge the only legitimate rationale for continuing our war there: the extent to which there's a risk of Pakistan nukes falling into al Queda hands, and the extent to which our presence reduces that risk. I don't know. But no matter the worth, it seems a doomed mission: the more so for a country that tries hard to avoid civilian casualties, fighting an enemy for whom causing civilian casualties is their most effective tool. Even considering the Pakistan situation, it approaches inarguable obviousness that the resources we're expending there could be put to much better and more clearly effective use at home. If it's true -- and I think it is obviously so -- that we can't prevent terrorism with armies -- then it follows that our best defense is bolstering the home front. Along with, of course, selective military strikes when intelligence demands it. I think continuing the war is Obama's biggest mistake, by far.

Nor does this article, discussing the war from the point of a recently disembeded reporter, do anything to dispel a sense of pessimism:
.... Yon's outlook is bleak. "Even if the President commits more forces [next year], they will not be effective until 2012. By that time, more allies likely will have peeled off, requiring us to commit even more forces to cover down. We lost crucial time in building the Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army and so forth, and today we are paying the price. This is not to mention that the Afghan government is sorry at best and criminal at worst."

He concludes, "The trajectory of this war leaves a sick feeling in my stomach. It's as if I've watched a space shuttle liftoff while sitting at launch control, with full knowledge that it will abort to the Indian Ocean. We are trying to reach orbit with insufficient fuel."

Presently, Michael Yon continues to cover the situation in Thailand. As long as General McChrystal is in charge, his days as an embedded reporter are finished, though he intends to return to Afghanistan independently in the near future.

I also know that were President Obama to make the clear case for withdrawal, the RWS™ would pillory him relentlessly. On the other hand, so what? They already are.