Cutting Through The Crap

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Loser




I started a post the other day, and, as is often the case, didn't finish it. Until now, I've sort of reservedly liked Alan Grayson, a D congressman from Florida: he isn't shy about his liberalism and about calling bullshit when he sees it. Despite the fact that he's made it his theme song, referring to himself as "the congressman with guts," I guess I gave him a pass, since on some level it had been refreshing to see a congressional D who isn't a wimp. I'm now embarrassed to say I even gave him fifty bucks once.

Anyhow, I'd seen his ad against his opponent, in which he refers to the guy as "Taliban Dan." Okay, I thought, that's pretty much reprehensible, and I should say so. It's a little too Foxobeckian for my taste. But, I thought, the guy does seem to be another unneeded hyperchristianist theologue, and God knows we don't need more of them running our country. So I let it go. There are, after all, similarities among all groups that want to impose religious law on people who believe differently. (I admit Christianists don't stone people to death. When they take out abortionists, they're far more humane. Single shot. Lynching, too: not nearly as bad.)

Then I saw this. Alan Grayson had done a complete Hannity, taking a statement totally out of context and doctoring it, making it exactly what it was not. Sorry, Mr. Grayson. That's RWS™ stuff. That's the poison that Fox is injecting into our veins every day. It's one thing to point it out. It's another -- and inexcusable! -- to adopt it. [I will say this, however: political ads are more or less expected to be lies, and courts have, sadly, specifically said it's okay. In my view, however, the practice is immeasurably worse and destructive when so-called news media do it, because even though in the case of Fox it's entirely undeserved and ludicrous, there are people who actually consider it accurate and seem to lack the skills to differentiate. Bad as political ads like this are, what Fox does is way worse. Just so that's clear.]

So, much as I hate the idea of John Boner being Speaker, here's what I have to say to you, Alan Grayson:

I hope you lose. You deserve it.




No News Is Good News

(I wrote this one a while back, which explains the somewhat old news.)



Pretty dramatic. The meaning, as this article concludes, is exactly what has seemed obvious for a long time:
In other words, Democrats and Independents have changed their viewing habits only slightly while Republicans have flocked to Fox and dropped both CNN and MSNBC in droves. Back in 2000, it turns out, the viewing habits of all three groups were pretty similar. Since then, as Fox has steadily amped up its conservative branding, conservatives have decided that's all they want to hear. The echo chamber must be getting pretty deafening over there.


I've said, because it's true, that a fundamental difference between (today's) liberals and conservatives is that the latter seem to need constant reinforcement of their beliefs, and reject any fact-based threat to them. While not, I suppose, a universal truth, it most certainly applies to people of teabagging mindset. In droves.

There was a time, I admit, when I watched MSNBC religiously, for maybe a year. Then I tired of it. I lost interest in hearing the same people predictably say the same things, superficially, over and over. The loudness disturbed me, as did the uniformity. I realized I wasn't learning anything new. So I turned to the intertubes where the cacophony is deep and broad, but where, between the extremes of both sides there are sites full of thoughtful discussion and insight, by smart people with inquisitive minds.

I haven't watched MSNBC for over two years (although I look at the occasional clip, on the net, of Rachel Maddow, whom I admire for her intelligence, factuality, and willingness to engage fairly her opposition). We know from studies to which I've referred that this is much more typical of the liberal mind than the conservative. Maybe it wasn't always thus (although why is it that challenging beliefs and prejudices, exposing people to a broad range of ideas is characteristic of something we call "liberal education"), but the combination of blatant partisanship, deceptive techniques of manipulating the news, and rising viewership at Fox "news" speaks loudly (by which I mean LOUDLY) of where we are today. Debunked claims, exposed untruths, blatant insanity not only don't turn people away, they attract them like, well, you know which to you know what.

[Need I say, for the six hundred and fiftieth time, that I don't reject conservatism per se. In many things, I share it ("it" being elusive, nowadays.) It's the Foxobeckian and RWS™ version of it, consumed by hate, bigotry, and aversion to comity, the emptiness of discredited ideas, the cynical falsehoods and conspiratorial manipulations that I reject and see as eating us alive. Other than that, no problem have I.]

There's nothing to do about it. Minds can be made up, but not remade, and there's nothing (that we know of) illegal about a billionaire with a destructive mission buying a network and several newspapers and paying employees to push political falsehoods. It's depressing that it's so successful, that as a people we've become so willingly susceptible to it. At this point the best to be hoped for is that when, once again, the conservative fantasies become law of the land and, as has happened every time, the economy is wrecked while the rich get richer, there'll still be time to save it one more time.

Somehow, though, I doubt it. This time around it went too far toward irreparable; and yet the Rupert Murdochs of the world, who gained the most from the debacle and who had the most to lose from the repair work, were once again able to convince their teabagging sheep that up was down, day was night, wrong was right.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Economical Stuff

I try to keep up. With so much news, so many opinions, it's hard to stay as well informed as I obviously am. Believing that an informed electorate is vital -- more so now than ever -- and arguing constantly that such an electorate is sorely lacking, I'm sharing an important article from what many consider America's finest news source. Among its insights and revelations:

According to numerous articles and economics segments from major media outlets, experts on banks and such have become increasingly concerned over a new extension or rates or a proposal or compromise that could signal fewer investments, and dollars, and so on.

The experts confirmed that the stimulus has played a role...

...The man, who also apparently mentioned the Nasdaq, the Dow, and the Japan one at some point or another, talked for a really long time about credit or reductions or possibly all these figures, which somehow relate to China...

...Paul Krugman, New York Times columnist and 2008 winner of the Nobel Prize for something in one of those economics categories, acknowledged in an editorial this week that the SEC must work closely with the stock market, Wall Street, and the New York Stock Exchange to maintain the bulls, bears, and opening bells. Krugman also said something could spur lending or trading or budgetary measures.

Greece was also involved.



You're welcome.

Bartlett Pares



I have occasionally noted that there remain a few sensible Republicans. Within that vanishingly small group is Bruce Bartlett, Reagan's chief economic adviser, to whom I've referred in the past. He keeps pouring the cold water of truth on the hot fire of right-wing rhetoric. Recently, titled "Reagan's Tax Increases," there's this:

It may come as a surprise to some people that once upon a time in the not-too-distant past Republicans actually cared enough about budget deficits that they thought raising taxes was necessary to bring them down. Today, Republicans believe that deficits are nothing more than something to ignore when they are in power and to bludgeon Democrats with when they are out of power.

That followed a statement, illustrated below, that made reference to:
the many tax increases supported and signed into law by Ronald Reagan, which eventually took back half of the 1981 tax cut

Some things in politics are simply so obvious that they ought not need stating. For example: to achieve sustainable fiscal sanity, we'll need a combination of tax hikes and spending reduction. Or this: health care reform will eventually require some form of public option that does not rely on insurance companies, and it will also need to include some sort of prioritizing of spending. Or this: lasting peace in the Middle East will include the relinquishing of some settlements and territory by Israel and the sharing of Jerusalem by the Palestinians.

What is in question is whether there will ever be politicians with the brains and guts and honor to say what does need to be said, and to do what needs doing. Sadly, it doesn't seem to matter that we have a president willing and able. He seems drowned in the din raised by the RWS™ and smothered by the cynicism of the current Republican leaders and the teabaggers to whom they pander. Truth and sanity have no place at their table. And as for the Democrats, strength and bravery have none at theirs.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Challenge


This op-ed in the NYT is a challenge to both parties, and seems a clarion call to America to think seriously about long-held partisan tenets before it slips into irrelevance. Among its assertions, this one is preceded by bemusement at the nomination of Christine O'Donnell:
...the pendulum swings in American politics are a key concern of Wen Jiabao and Naoto Kan, the prime ministers of China and Japan, respectively, who both met with President Obama in New York on Thursday, with the loss of American jobs to Asian competition high on the agenda.

The Asian nations’ interest in American politics stems not just from America’s standing as the sole global superpower, but also from a growing belief among Asian leaders that the era of United States hegemony will soon be over, and that the polarization of its politics symbolizes America’s inability to adapt to the changing nature of global capitalism after the financial crisis. (emphasis mine, of course, since it's exactly my point, always, everywhere, all the time.)


At the core of the article is China's monetary policy, a thorn in the side of America's for some time.
With Chinese economic policy now serving as a model for other Asian countries, Japan was faced with a stark choice: back United States criticisms that China is artificially keeping down the value of its currency, the renminbi, or emulate China’s approach. It is a sign of the times that Japan chose to follow China at the cost of irritating America.

Japan’s action suggests that, in the aftermath of the recent financial crisis, the dominance of free-market thinking in international economic management is over... ...The fact is that the rules of global capitalism have changed irrevocably since Lehman Brothers collapsed two years ago — and if the United States refuses to accept this, it will find its global leadership slipping away. The near collapse of the financial system was an “Emperor’s New Clothes” moment of revelation. In this climate, the market fundamentalism now represented by the Tea Party, based on instinctive aversion to government and a faith that “the market is always right,” is a global laughingstock. (mine, of course, again.)


Lest the reader think the writer, the chief economist for a Hong Kong investment firm, is some sort of lefty liberal, he also says this:
In France, Germany, Japan and Sweden, water supplies, highways, airports and even postal services are increasingly run by the private sector. For home mortgages to be backed by government guarantees would be unthinkable anywhere in Asia or Europe. Tax systems, too, are in some ways less redistributionist in Europe and Asia than they are in the United States. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the proportion of income tax raised from the richest tenth of the population is 45 percent in America, compared with only 28 percent in France and 27 percent in Sweden. These countries raise money for public services mainly from middle-class voters, through consumption and energy taxes, not by soaking the rich.

As a result, these nations’ budgets are more stable and their governments have more ability to support their economies in times of crisis... ...In America, by contrast, the tax system’s dependence on revenues from the richest citizens means that the social safety net and long-term goals like energy independence can be achieved only if the rich keep getting richer.

It's not necessary to be an economic scholar to recognize the implication that our polarization and reliance on comfortable sloganeering-as-dialog is killing us, and not all that slowly.

We need to stop electing idiots as lawmakers (which means, sadly -- because it appears impossible -- that we need more people to become thoughtful and informed voters). It's bad enough that we have smart idiots like Harry Reid and ... let's see... who's a smart idiot on the right?... It's worse to have thoroughly dumb ones like John Boner, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Mitch McConnell, Christine O'Donnell, Tom Coburn (yes, there are dumb doctors. Rand Paul is another)... And if there are fewer dumb Democrats (I make a distinction between annoying/disappointing and dumb), the article suggests they, too, need to consider options beyond their usual solutions.

Clearly, whether the NYT writer is right or wrong, these are complex issues, indicating our future is intertwined with that of countries seemingly light-years ahead of us in ability to function in a changing world. And yet the harder it gets the more Americans resort to superficialities. When the going gets tough, we turn to magic. In need of serious, we choose stupid. We make up conspiracy theories, resort to arguing birth certificates and secret Muslims, resurrect zombies.

What do you call such avoidance? Is it some sort of psychological protective mechanism, the weakness of the self-deluded? Is it that poorly educated people awash in falsehoods simply are no longer equipped to face facts? Is it that while we chant "USA, USA, USA," and "We're number one, we're number one" (and "no mosque at ground zero") other countries have been out-studying and out-working and out-thinking us? Have the easy magic of Reaganomics and the cultivating of religious anti-intellectualism, so cynically nurtured by Republicans, finally come back to bite us, fatally? So it seems.

I guess I do I know what to call it:

Suicide.

Worth A Read


There's a great interview of President Obama coming out in Rolling Stone. It contains such gems as this, from our America-hating, foreign, Muslim-in-Chief, speaking of when Bob Dylan played at the White House:

Here's what I love about Dylan: He was exactly as you'd expect he would be. He wouldn't come to the rehearsal; usually, all these guys are practicing before the set in the evening. He didn't want to take a picture with me; usually all the talent is dying to take a picture with me and Michelle before the show, but he didn't show up to that. He came in and played "The Times They Are A-Changin'." A beautiful rendition. The guy is so steeped in this stuff that he can just come up with some new arrangement, and the song sounds completely different. Finishes the song, steps off the stage — I'm sitting right in the front row — comes up, shakes my hand, sort of tips his head, gives me just a little grin, and then leaves. And that was it — then he left. That was our only interaction with him. And I thought: That's how you want Bob Dylan, right? You don't want him to be all cheesin' and grinnin' with you. You want him to be a little skeptical about the whole enterprise. So that was a real treat.

At the end of the interview, the President had this to say:

One closing remark that I want to make: It is inexcusable for any Democrat or progressive right now to stand on the sidelines in this midterm election. There may be complaints about us not having gotten certain things done, not fast enough, making certain legislative compromises. But right now, we've got a choice between a Republican Party that has moved to the right of George Bush and is looking to lock in the same policies that got us into these disasters in the first place, versus an administration that, with some admitted warts, has been the most successful administration in a generation in moving progressive agendas forward.

The idea that we've got a lack of enthusiasm in the Democratic base, that people are sitting on their hands complaining, is just irresponsible.

Everybody out there has to be thinking about what's at stake in this election and if they want to move forward over the next two years or six years or 10 years on key issues like climate change, key issues like how we restore a sense of equity and optimism to middle-class families who have seen their incomes decline by five percent over the last decade. If we want the kind of country that respects civil rights and civil liberties, we'd better fight in this election. And right now, we are getting outspent eight to one by these 527s that the Roberts court says can spend with impunity without disclosing where their money's coming from. In every single one of these congressional districts, you are seeing these independent organizations outspend political parties and the candidates by, as I said, factors of four to one, five to one, eight to one, 10 to one.

We have to get folks off the sidelines. People need to shake off this lethargy, people need to buck up. Bringing about change is hard — that's what I said during the campaign. It has been hard, and we've got some lumps to show for it. But if people now want to take their ball and go home, that tells me folks weren't serious in the first place.

If you're serious, now's exactly the time that people have to step up.



I'm sure the RWS™ will take him to task, finding ways to make everything he said into proof of his Muslim secretness and destroying Americaness. But the whole interview should be read by everyone, especially his detractors. Were they to do so with an open mind, they'd see a deeply thoughtful and intelligent man, trying to make the best among a bunch of complex to the point of impossible choices. And whereas they are certain to suggest he's blaming everything on George Bush, there are certain facts that can't be screamed away: he DID inherit a mess -- more of a mess than any president with the possible exception of FDR. But FDR fixed the economy, in part, by entering a war. BHO came to two wars which were wrecking the economy and which simply couldn't be fixed by wishing them away. Easier to start a war than to end one, although it's evidently not that hard to start one and ignore another.

Just ask George Bush

Make 'Em Laugh


Sarah Palin, to the great guffaws and hoots of the misled, likes to ask, referring to Obama supporters, "How's that hope-y change-y stuff working out for ya?" Funny material. A peak experience for teabaggers, that. Those stupid liberals, wanting to believe things might change.

Amazing. The prospect that in our corrupted and hyper-partisan political system change is impossible brings great joy to these people. In a spasm of retrograde ejaculation, the Palinized populace express their hilarity over the idea that, even when a president is elected with overwhelming approval, and when Congress has close to the largest Democratic majorities ever, a group of negative, consensus-hating, unserious, hate-bating Republicans and their deluded supporters can see to it that nothing changes. Mired, stagnated, bound down by superficial thinking and deliberate disinformation, our country is shown incapable of change, even in the face of the most disastrous -- maybe unprecedented -- combination of existentially threatening problems in need of responsible and consensual solutions -- and Sarah Palin and her like-mindless pack think it's hilarious.

To these proudly stupid, deliberately fact-free, professers of love of country, this failure, brought about by them, is good for a bunch of yuks. High fives for low lifes.

Might they stop for a micromoment, take a brief pause from their destructive know-nothingness, and consider what it really is they're saying, laughing about, taking pleasure in? That a majority of voters, for a moment, against all odds and with history lined up against them like waves of Redcoats, believed things might change for the better in our politics. That people actually suspended cynicism long enough to vote for change in the poisonous politics that has grown from more than disturbing, during the Clinton impeachment era, to the level of threatening impending failure of our republic in the last ten years. That it was believed possible we might still be able to form a functioning government based on a sense of mutual need, lubricated by willingness to rise above purely political obstructionism, for the common good. Funny, huh? It's a regular thigh-slapping riot.

The real joke is that none of those hopefuls anticipated the over-arching cynicism of the minority party, the power of right-wing news media willing to lie openly (the same media that created Sarah Palin out of the wastelands of Wasilla, to advance their selfish agenda). Few, if any -- certainly not me -- imagined that in such dire times, with two wars, a failing economy, years of ignoring sensible energy policy, health care on a path to collapse, the entire right wing would unite to maintain their failed status quo; that their profoundly self-interested and deeply unpatriotic propaganda would succeed in convincing so many that attempts to save the country -- imperfect as they might be -- were, quite literally, treasonous. I'm hardly a Pollyanna, but I simply couldn't imagine our country was so stupid, so easily duped, its hates and prejudices so easily preyed upon. So goddam selfish. So fucking selfish.

Great. Take it back, teabaggers. Turns out, it was yours all the time. Yours, and the guys who led the country over the cliff in the first place. Good job. Grab your jumping clothes, follow Sarah and Glenn and Christine and Sharon and Michelle and John and Mitch and Rush and Rand and Joe and Bill and Bill and Andrew and Dick and Dick and Dick and Ann and Michael and Laura, and have yourselves another laugh on the way down.

I wonder if Sarah and enough teabaggers will be alive in, oh, thirty years let's say, to answer this one: So how'd that hate-y lie-y stupid-y stuff work out for all of us?


Monday, September 27, 2010

Adult Toys


Let's not talk solutions, he pleads, while saying we need adult conversation. Un-fricking-believable. This from the party of "Death Panels," "Killing Grandma," and pledges to return to the failed theory of trickle-down economics, brought to us four decades ago, by Ronald Reagan. This from the party that still contends, a lá Ronnie (as if it didn't fail miserably when he tried), that they'll balance the budget while adding nearly four trillion bucks more in tax-cut debt, while increasing defense spending. This, from the party that wants, in effect, to return us to the hand-cranked Model T and its broken arms.

This from the party that calls global climate change a deliberate hoax, an anti-capitalist plot. (Care for some lemonade, Los Angeles?)

John Boner is saying let's scare the people into voting for us (ed note: hating Muslims is the best way, of course, but with the right lies, the economy can work, too). Then, we'll ignore real solutions just like we always have. Note also his reference to "consequences." In other words, in the poisoned pool into which they've dragged us, any policy statement that even remotely gets close to reality is doomed to failure.

He should know. Because when Barack Obama made serious proposals to address medical costs in ways that Republicans would have surely proposed themselves had they been in power, they railed to the heavens and, charitably, mischaracterized them shamelessly. What does that leave them? "Well, huh huh, y'know that was just to trash that black guy terrorist illegitimate president. Really, we need to do that stuff, so never mind what we said. Huh huh. You weren't dumb enough to believe what we said then, were you, when we were just kidding? This time it's for reals. Really. Trust us to do the right thing."

Adult conversation. After making disinformation and demagoguery the coin of the realm. After actively avoiding (the linked article is by a conservative) talking about what they'd really do, and what it'd mean for the country.

Adult conversation. Right. That might be the most dishonest thing the guy has ever said, and that's saying a hell of a lot.


Philosophy



Being separated by a thousand miles, my brother and I don't see each other much except, as in the present case, when we gather at my mom's bedside for the latest crisis. (This one seems to be passing, allowing her to return to the ever-ravenous dementia which has eaten most of her past, present, and long-since, her future.)

He was always, and remains, a social liberal. He supported Obama (I'm pretty sure) after his significant financial contributions to Hillary failed to get her there. Now, he's disappointed and has become quite conservative fiscally. While my brother agrees with me that many in the tea party (I'd say most, if not all; he might not) are nutjobs or deeply misled, he believes the movement is not about the crazy stuff, but about philosophy: what is the role of government?

My problem is that it's not really framed that way; or, at least, that in order to get the teabaggers on board with the "philosophy," the powers behind it have to lie and distort. And, more significantly, philosophically, to hide the ball. Not to mention encouraging the coalescing around them of the theocracy-wanting brand of evolution-denying christianists, and the usually suspect fringe hate groups of the right. So, philosophy or not, it's a con-job.

But the question is a fair one, and has been at the heart of our politics forever. What is the role of government? How much will that role cost? How much can we or will we pay for it? Very, very few -- I'd say none -- of the people behind the curtain want to say. The cuts required to maintain -- or, as some would have it, further lower -- the Bush tax cuts and to balance the budget would be truly draconian. It would mean government as military bases, maybe a couple of courtrooms.

My brother seemed to be predicting an end to public education; or, from a practical standpoint, he'd more likely to say, claiming that it's just no longer economically viable. To the question of what happens to those who can't afford private education, I gathered he was saying they'd rely on charitable contributions, and, maybe, the remains of a broken public system. It's certainly true that we're failing our kids with public education in many areas, but it has in part to do with the tax cuts that have already occurred, and there's no way to see improvement in the tax-intransigent world. (The failings have been evolving long before the current economic crash. Prop 13 was a long time ago.) He didn't have much of an answer to what happens to the inner city kids if there isn't enough charity to go around.

Nor do teabaggers.

So let's have that discussion, out in the open. Let's replace the Nazi placards and Foxobeckian simplicities and conspiracies with the real thing. What tax rates do we want, can afford? What government will remain, what will be the consequences? Do we cut loose those in need? What will be the effect on society if we do? Does it matter or not, philosophically, and selfishly? Is it dog-eat-mano and let the cow chips fall in the woods; or does society in general, and individuals in particular, benefit from helping others? Should I care if there are more people living on the streets, fewer well-educated people coming up, people without access to health care until they're dying? If we consign one stratum of society to inferior schools, will it matter? Will we fail to educate the girl who'd have cured cancer, or shall we assume there'll always be another? Is destiny determined by birth?

If so, so much for "the American dream."

Maybe it'd be easier the other way around: to ask what we think government ought to do, and then figure out what it costs, and what tax rates would do it. I wish Barack Obama would give a speech saying exactly his vision of those things, and demand Rs do the same. Let the voters see the real numbers, the real implications, and choose. Implicit in the action of congressional Ds is the conclusion that there are certain things which are bottom-line necessary to a functioning society, and we must do them. Then figure out how to pay for them, like you have to do when you need a new roof. (And, yes, I know paying for it hasn't been high on the list in many past instances, except under Clinton. But the ACA is -- theoretically -- paid for, and Bush's Medicare grade D wasn't. There's tax and spend, and there's don't tax and still spend. How do we get back to sanity when the insane are calling the shots?)

Implicit in teabaggerism, it seems to me, is the illusion that the roof we have will last forever; or that when we need money, cut taxes, and it will magically appear; or God will provide; or if some people out there do need a new roof, it's up to them to pay for it. (If you can't pay, get buckets at the flea market. Just don't come around my place looking for shelter.) What I don't get is that the people they want to return to power have never done the paying part, either; nor have they ever put up realistic numbers; nor have things ever worked out as they predicted. Economies get worse when those guys are in power, and better under the ones they want to kick out.

My brother asks fair questions, necessary questions. But, far as I can see, they're not in any way addressed by teabaggers or their titular leaders like Silly Sarah and eGregious Glenn. The guys in the shadows have, Grover Norquist, the corporate billionaires: they've said, simply, we don't care.

And the RWS™ have said we're not gonna ask, we don't want to know. So shut up.

And the Republican congressional leaders have just said you bring the smoke, we've got the mirrors.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Uh Oh


Local headline:

Bellingham man hikes length of Appalachian Trail

I mean, wow. Did he take Viagra? Anyhow, there goes the marriage.


Friday, September 24, 2010

Jon Says It Better

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Postcards From the Pledge
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

After readying the post below this one, I hied me to bed to watch The Daily Show. Seems JS sees The Pledge pretty much the way I do.

And here's another way of saying it, which won't get as many laughs:





And this won't get any laughs at all.

Hook, Line, And Sinker


Speaking of bullshit (and I was) there's the latest exercise in deception known as the Republican "Pledge To America." I don't doubt that teabaggers will love it, because it's exactly their thing: lots of hot words with no cold details.

Even some conservatives are calling it out.
Given the gravity of the debt crisis, this is the most fiscally irresponsible document ever offered by the GOP. It is to the far right of Reagan, who raised taxes and eventually cut defense, and helped reform social security to ensure its longterm viability. It is an act of vandalism against the fiscal balance of the US, and in this global economic climate, a recipe for a double-dip recession and default. It is the opposite of responsible conservatism.

Andrew Sullivan is a reasonable guy. Then there's this, titled "Perhaps The Most Ridiculous Things To Come Out Of Washington Since George McClellan," from one of the more crazy with a capitol "K" RWS™ bloggers:

These 21 pages tell you lots of things, some contradictory things, but mostly this: it is a serious (ed. note: I assume he meant "series") of compromises and milquetoast rhetorical flourishes in search of unanimity among House Republicans because the House GOP does not have the fortitude to lead boldly in opposition to Barack Obama...
...This document proves the GOP is more focused on the acquisition of power than the advocacy of long term sound public policy. All the good stuff in it is stuff we expect them to do. What is not in it is more than a little telling that the House GOP has not learned much of anything from 2006.

It's the same old crap: cut taxes, add military spending, and miraculously balance the budget; ie, Reaganomics, so accurately called by the first George Bush, "voodoo economics." Was then, is now.

What makes the above conservatives so foamy at the mouthy is that it completely avoids spelling out any cuts that would be made to achieve balance, except to end the stimulus money, which is already scheduled to end. As usual, it avoids stating the consequences of their tax policies, or their vision for what government should actually do, and not do. The reason, of course, is that no one would buy it if it were laid out for all to see. More than that: congressional Rs don't actually want to do what they say they do. They've never done it. There's only one president in memory who actually did produce a balanced budget and a healthy economy. Then he blew it. (Well, it wasn't he who did the actual blowing.)

The pledge is as bogus as it is cynical. It's as empty as it is dishonest. It's weak tea.

Which means it'll work like a charm for its intended purpose, which is most certainly NOT to restore fiscal balance: hook the teabaggers, line the pockets of the powers behind the curtain, and sink the rest of the country.

Will we ever see a serious conversation about government from these people?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

It's A Natural Fact


An ant mill tea party rally is a phenomenon where a small group of army ants gullible people separated from the main foraging party reality lose the pheromone track their ability to think for themselves and begin to follow one another, forming a continuously rotating circle. The ants country will eventually die of exhaustion self-inflicted wounds. This has been reproduced in laboratories and the behaviour has also been produced in ant colony simulations.[1] This phenomenon is a side effect of the self-organizing structure of ant colonies continual propagandizing of Fox "news" and other RWS™. Each ant teabagger follows the ant in front of it lead of Glenn Beck, and this will work until something goes wrong and an ant mill forms actual solution is required.[2] An ant mill was first described by William Beebe who observed a mill 1,200 feet (365 m) in circumference. It took each ant 2.5 hours to make one revolution.[3] Similar phenomena have been noted in processionary caterpillars and fish.[4]

[edit]

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Pretty Good



This is a pretty good overview of the new health care law. Fair and balanced, one might say. Since it's in cartoon form, with hardly any big words, maybe even teabaggers could force themselves to watch it. Have an actual basis for their rage, be able to point to specifics and to address counter arguments. Have an actual Beck-free discussion.

If so, I'd advise keeping one eye on the skies and their umbrellas up.

Solution


The Bush tax cuts, which have so devastatingly plunged us into debt -- debt, by the way, over which teabaggers and the RWS™ and every R in Congress are apoplectic -- are set, by design, to expire at the end of this year. By design. By law. The way George Bush, guided, as we now know, by God, intended.

Congressional Rs are determined to stop any and every action Obama and Ds propose. They're even planning to replay Newt's greatest hit, the shutting down of government. How can we address the deficits if Rs continue to raise alarums about it but steadfastly refuse to take action? What's a Congressional D to do?

Answer: nothing.

NOTHING. Why all the machinations about Obama's plan, Bush's plans, getting something done, when doing nothing takes care of the whole ball of tax? Go home, run for reëlection, spend your time running away from health care and President Obama. Don't do a damn thing, and everything will be okay, just the way G and G planned. It's perfect. They, it turns out, were perfect. Because by doing nothing -- at which Rs have become absolute experts -- taxes revert to those of the Clinton era, deficits disappear. Gone in the trash, tossed like a breakfast teabag. And, like teabaggers after Glenn Beck, budget balance will follow without a further thought.

So, what's the problem? All Congress has to do is not a goddam thing.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Idea Men


These are the guys -- and their ideas -- that teabaggers are rolling back into command. Mitch McConnell proposes a tax plan that will add 3.9 billion dollars to the national debt. Says WaPo:

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office recently forecast that a similar, slightly more expensive package that includes a full repeal of the estate tax would force the nation to borrow an additional $3.9 trillion over the next decade and increase interest payments on the national debt by $950 billion. That's more than four times the projected deficit impact of President Obama's health-care overhaul and stimulus package combined.


What signs, I wonder, will the teabaggers stick on their kids when this plan is in effect, and this philosophy becomes the guiding principle of our nation? And, unless these baggers are richer than they appear, they'll be falling even further behind when it happens. But they don't care.

And John Boner's main focus as Speaker, it appears, will be to make sure health care reform never happens, even if it means shutting down the government. Which part bothers him the most, I wonder. Coverage for preëxisting conditions? Helping twenty million or so Americans? Effectiveness research? EMR? Or maybe, given the relish with which he passed Bush's unfunded Rx coverage, it's the fact that it pays for itself and reduces the national debt. (Okay, even I don't believe those numbers: but it's a hell of a long way forward from the reckless way in which Rs did their irresponsible budget-buster.)

Teabaggers proclaim their revulsion at the national debt. They worry for their poor little kids, as they pram signs down their throats. Why, in the name of whatever god they think is guiding them, would they vote for these disingenuous pushers of past failures? The Bush tax cuts, the holy water for brewing tea, didn't work. THEY DIDN'T WORK!!! On what basis can they possibly argue that the things over which they are so steeped in tea water will get better when the doers of disaster are back in charge?

Seriously. On what basis?

Maybe it's that they like this vision, from The Tax Policy Center:

...Thus, to balance the budget McConnell would have to slash the rest of the federal government in half. If you are tea partier, that probably sounds pretty good. But let’s look at what that would mean.

The biggest remaining program is, of course, Social Security. It happens that projected Social Security spending in 2020 is almost exactly equal to the $1.2 trillion McConnell would need to balance his budget. But the vast bulk of that money would go to those who are already 60 or older and there are no serious proposals to make substantial reductions in benefits for those retired or close to it. The one change that might—slowing annual cost of living benefit increases —would reduce total payments by only about 4 percent by 2040. So there isn’t going to be much dough there, especially as soon as 2020.

What’s left? Well, McConnell would have to abolish all the rest of government to get to balance by 2020. Everything. No more national parks, no more Small Business Administration loans, no more export subsidies, no more NIH. No more Medicaid (one-third of its budget pays for long-term care for our parents and others with disabilities). No more child health or child nutrition programs. No more highway construction. No more homeland security. Oh, and no more Congress. No more nothin’.

We’re not talking about a temporary 1995-like government shut-down here. We are talking about a government that exists only to fund national defense, provide benefits to the already- or soon-to-be retired, and pay interest to the Chinese and our other lenders.

[...]

As my Tax Policy Center colleagues Rosanne Altshuler, Katie Lim, and Bob Williams have written, balancing the budget by raising taxes on high-income people alone is unrealistic. But as my little exercise shows, it is equally absurd to try to do it by only cutting spending, especially when you try to work within McConnell’s self-imposed constraints.

McConnell himself won’t say how he’d pay for these ongoing tax cuts. He does back a freeze in domestic discretionary spending—an idea that would leave him about 93 percent short of his balanced budget goal. As to the rest, he says he’ll await Obama’s deficit reduction commission that will report, conveniently enough, after the election.



The Message Is Medium (at best)




In the case of health-care reform, the Democrats have pretty clearly failed to communicate what their reforms are. It's frankly amazing that after a year-long health-care debate that dominated the mainstream media and blogosphere, many Americans don't seem to know that the Affordable Care Act bars insurers from discriminating on the basis of pre-existing conditions. But this isn't just a superficial public-relations issue for the Democrats. It's the product of a deeper malady affecting the party. Democrats seem to be unable to craft policies that deliver clear results in a fashion which voters can understand and vote on. That's because the policy-making process that takes place among Democratic legislators is so open to compromise, amendment, interest-group giveaways, and bank-shottery that the party's big programmes end up lacking coherence, not just in their details, but in their basic goals and values.

It's especially infuriating, because of information like this:

When voters who want to repeal the Democrats' health-care reforms find out that this would mean insurance companies could refuse coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, half of them don't want to repeal the reforms anymore.

Since I'll never stop saying it until it stops being true, I'll never stop saying it: Congressional Democrats could screw up and complicate saying hello. And it isn't just because they're out-messaged (although gods and goddesses know they are); it's for the reasons above. Their legislation, while hearted in the right place, is full of crap that ought not be there.

In the case of Rs, their legislation has been nearly universally wrong-headed and disastrous to our economy. But they manage to keep focused on their goal: if they want to screw everyone else if it's what it takes to further enrich themselves, they're sharp as assassins at doing it; and, witchcraftily, to achieve public buy-in.

Still, there most certainly is a messaging problem when there's good stuff in the D legislation, people don't know it, and they hate it; and when there's bad stuff in R legislation, people do know it, and they simply don't care.

Between incoherent and inarticulate Ds, and unconscionable and unscrupulous Rs, how will we ever survive?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Oh, Crap!


I think I just figured something out. Blogger has made some tweaks to comment controlling, including a worse-than-nothing spam filter. I still get plenty of spam comments which I have to mark as spam. But that's not my point.

The thing is, there's also a new page that lists all comments that have been published. Being hemi compulsive, I've cleared that page a few times, thinking it just freed up space in the records. Little did I know that it does more than just deleting them from the record: it seems to delete them from the post in which they had appeared, going back who knows how far. I just deleted two weeks' worth a moment ago, with the stroke of a key. Damn.

Which must explain why I've been asked a couple of times how come comments didn't show up. Sadly, it appears I've removed several before today, as well. Sorry, Frankie, among others. It was unintended, and now that I know the problem, it won't happen again.

Apologies to any and all.


Genius


My aunt, who, among other things, was a gifted musician, told me that when she was a little girl she liked to read classical piano sheet music at bedtime, and when she woke up she could play it all, from memory.

I was talking with my nephew this weekend about the wonders of the human brain. He'd seen a piece about an autistic savant who could hear the most complex jazz music once, and play it back perfectly. I like thinking about that.

The other night, I heard a lecture by Jonathan Franzen, who is, in my opinion, an exceptionally gifted writer. He is also, by some accounts, a bit of an asshole whose social skills don't match those of his wordsmanship. (In fact, he'd obviously devoted a lot of thought to the lecture, and was almost painfully honest and self-revelatory; he took questions, pausing and thinking hard before giving very personal and nuanced answers. Answers that respected the questions. He was entertaining, thought-provoking, and charming. The LA Times recently ran a very snarky opinion column about him. The careful reader of it might find a familiar in the comment thread.)

Is genius a disorder? In the conversation with my nephew, we discussed the fact that in the same piece he'd seen, a mathematical savant was also featured. Studies of his brain in action, while mathturbating, showed he was using parts of it for calculation that other people typically devote to physical dexterity. It's as if genius is some sort of anatomic accident. Maybe individuals with exceptional gifts, whether they be of music, math, writing, painting -- even, perhaps, of legislating wisely -- are like people with Asberger's. Maybe to be really gifted you must have a brain whose wiring devotes more of itself to your gifts than to, say, being nice. It's said of many of the greats that they were hard to live with.

When I read really good writing, view a particularly resonant painting, hear great jazz, it adds enjoyment to know something about the artist; I like having some context. Simply, it's interesting. But it doesn't affect my pleasure in experiencing the art if I discover the artist was a jerk. From observation, in fact, it seems genius has a high correlation with some sort of personal dysfunction. We need genius, so who cares?

Seen another way, it's being "normal" that is a disability. Normal is nice, of course, but we can't get along if all we have is normal people. Being charitable to them, teabaggers are normal. Normal people can draw pictures, play happy birthday on the piano, write sentences that fit on signs (and they're certainly not gifted at spelling). Normal people like Thomas Kinkade. They can start with a world-view and sift data to fit it. They can make their own reality. Genii can't. They see the world, the reality of it, they can't help it. And although that sort of clarity of vision tends to drive them crazy (or maybe it's the other way around), it fuels them. Seeing and knowing, they create, they stimulate, they add to our understanding of the world, even as they rob us of comfort. Without such people, we stagnate, we are blind, we fail to learn new things, to find cures, to recognize each other. The price to the seers, or maybe the entry fee, is to live in pain, to not fit in easily.

There's the reality of Sarah Palin and what's-her-name O'Donnell, in which the earth is six thousand years old, Barack Obama is a terrorist, tax cuts pay for themselves and your next car, we'll have roads and health care and limitless energy in a climate-stable world without changing a thing, same-sex marriage will end it for everyone else, and God will take care of us. In this reality, everything is simple and easy; it contains no self-doubts, no existential angst, it's black and white, there is no discordance, only certainty. All truth is in a single book, all solutions fit on placards. In their reality, there's no place, no need, for genius.

And then there's reality.




Sunday, September 19, 2010

Just Wondering...




Why is it that when the death of a loved one is said, by the grieving, to be part of God's plan, we are moved by and admire that depth of faith; and yet when someone murders another and claims to have heard the voice of God telling him to do it, we call him crazy?

.....................................................

And, since it's the Lord's day, consider this recent event, which happened not far from home. Whenever and wherever it occurs, and no matter to whom, stuff like this literally turns my stomach:

Washington's only Jewish high school was defaced Thursday night by anti-semitic graffiti, including swastikas and references to gas chambers.

Members of a congregation that meets at Northwest Yeshiva High School on Mercer Island discovered the vandalism Friday morning, said Rabbi Bernie Fox, head of the school.

Fox suspects the vandals were aware that this evening marks the beginning of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement when Jews pray and seek forgiveness for wrongdoings.

Question for creationists: Is humankind really the best God could do, as small-minded and nasty as we are? Companies that put out crap that breaks down or doesn't perform as advertised, go out of business, and well they should. If homo sapiens is God's finest work, what does that say of his craftsmanship? Shouldn't he be let go? Retrained, at least? Shouldn't his work be recalled and the defects repaired? If Toyota, why not God? Why hasn't Consumer Reports weighed in? Where the hell is the CPSC?

What a miserable, sad, frightened, weak, hateful, ignorant, and altogether wanting lot are we. If we are created, someone severely messed up the blueprint. Bad architect, bad engineer.

The Day of Atonement just passed. Who should be apologizing to whom?


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Saturday's Child


Recently, I played catch with my brother-in-law. First time in a very long time. Dug out the old glove, held that perfect white ball in my hand, spun it around to the seams, tossed it back and forth for a while. Relishing the snap of leather, the familiar sting, thinking of chasing down the ball when I threw it past my dad. This time, my aim was better, and it felt really good.

Made me remember doing the same with my son at the park by our house, many years ago.

Made me want to do it with him again.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Lines In The Sand



This letter was in our local paper today. I rather like it (the headline was theirs):


Voter malpractice will injure nation

When I was in the practice of surgery, had I severely damaged a patient by poor care, the last thing the patient or her family would do when they needed another operation would be to come to me. And yet that logic has escaped those (including, now, the editorial board of The Herald, in its rejection of Rick Larsen) who would return majority power to congressional Republicans and their undeniably failed economic theories.

I suppose it can, in part, be explained by the constant bombardment with disinformation from the screamers of the right-wing airwaves. A majority of tea party people, for example, believe the bank bailouts happened on Obama’s watch. Similarly, they’ve been taught to ignore the fact that the vast majority of projected national debt is the result of Bush’s tax cuts and his unpaid-for wars and other spending.

But if it’s an explanation, it’s no excuse. Just as proper medical decision-making assumes informed input from patients, democracy demands educated voters. The distractions of birth certificates and mosques, deliberately fomented by the foxy falsifiers to prevent facing facts about what happened to our economy and why, threatens us all.

Having spent a long career where the well-being of my patients was paramount, it’s all but unbelievable to me as I observe the carelessness with which people are about to turn our country back over to those whose policies have so grievously harmed it, and who have so selfishly and unanimously refused to help those trying to bind the wounds.

Sid Schwab
Everett

Seriously Unserious


The teabagger-endorsed candidate in my congressional district has a real chance of winning, against a pretty mainstream and fairly thoughtful Democrat. In his latest ad, he says he wants to lower taxes and balance the budget. Cool. With a deficit of over a trillion, which would go up with further tax cuts, that's a lot of spending reduction. How would he do it? Doesn't say. Won't say. Can't say.

And so it is with all the darjeeling darlings. To a person, it's tax cuts and balanced budgets (more often than not with anti-gay, anti-Muslim, birther and hyper-religious seasoning tossed in for the hungry), while refusing to answer questions of how or where. This is not serious policy. In a plane of existence in which voters were something other than just mad, where they demanded answers not just anger, none of these Earls of Grey could have won nominations. They'd be laughed off the stage, told to come back when they have a clue. But that would be very, very elsewhere. France, maybe? A dimension far, far away.

Put more colorfully than I might have, but otherwise entirely congruent with my view of the entire"movement," (in the sense of, well, you know..) this says it well:

O'Donnell is a creature of an age in which politics have no meaning beyond performance art. She is the Creature from the Green Room, with no apparent public career beyond being available whenever some teenage booker from the cable shows needed someone to say something reliably stupid. ...

Her résumé is so thin as to be opaque, and a lot of it seems to be a lie. She seems to be something of a deadbeat, and "U.S. Senator" seems to be her idea of an entry-level position. This morning, she stands one step away from the job.

She is what politics produces when you divorce politics from government. She is what you get when you sell to the country that nothing government can do will help, and that the government is an alien thing, and that politics is nothing more than the active public display of impotent grievance.

She is what politics produces when you turn it into a game show and the coverage of it over to a generation of high-technology racetrack touts. She is what you get when political journalism reduces politics to numbers on a scoreboard, divorcing it from the real-world consequences of what are increasingly seen as cute little eccentric decisions.

She is what politics produces when we abandon self-government for self-gratification. And that's the real obvious irony in her victory on Tuesday night, and the only thing about it that truly matters. Christine O'Donnell's campaign is a successful exercise in angry, misfit masturbation, with as little to do with the deadly problems this country faces as some guy wanking in the balcony of a grindhouse has to do with Romeo and Juliet.


We're in the age of politics as aggrievement and accusation, of substituting pouts and provocations for policy. In times that demand seriousness from all parties, one has abandoned it entirely, to the delight of -- at the behest of -- its supporters. (Nor do I have a heck of a lot to say for the weak-kneed congressional dems, afraid, evidently, to do the most obvious -- and, ironically, poll-supported -- of tax hikes. Stupid meets pathetic. Equals screwed.)

When Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin are the dominant influences of an entire movement and what's left of a once-serious national party, we're in indescribable trouble. For what they are is vapid and vaporous. They're playing at it for their own jollies, the adulation, the money. They're traveling salesmen, except they have no product. Name a serious proposal either has put forward, policy-based, workable, thoughtful. When has either come up with anything other than rhetoric, appealing to fear, the paranoid? (Turning it over to God doesn't count. He's not a registered voter.) When, for that matter, has any of them submitted to legitimate questioning at all? Simple Sarah recently said it plainly enough, for those who still think Fox is fair (but we know about teabaggers and fact, don't we?): just "speak through Fox "news.""

I don't have a problem that my country produces such people: what kills me (figuratively only, so far) is the degree to which everyone else has taken their bullshit as something meaningful. (And, of course, the degree to which our media, failing, lazy, negligent, keep it frontal and central.) It's nothing but noise. It's fantasy. It's nasty and crazy. It's not helpful. It has nothing to do with lawmaking and problem-solving.

Mad? All right. Don't like health care for more Americans, don't like rescuing the auto industry? Fine. Suggest something else. Don't want to pay taxes? Me, neither (except that I sort of like roads, cops, the occasional aircraft carrier driving by my house, and the FDA.) So come up with an alternative. Tell me what you'll cut, and what you think the consequences will be. Present me with numbers that add up to zero deficit, and show your work.

Naw, forget it. Turns out you don't need to. Say the magic words, and the teabaggers will call you a hero, carry signs for you, and follow you off the cliff. For, to them, it's about pitching forks, not pitching in. To them, it's enough to be angry, to carry signs. To have ideas that fit on signs. That their chosen leaders provide no solutions isn't a failing.

It's a feature.