Cutting Through The Crap

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Mellow



The first thing I learned at the rally is that sunscreen doesn’t work if you leave it behind.

Other than that, it was good fun. I’d say the organizers made it as perfect as it could have been, given that who the hell knows what it was.

What was most cool is that there were at least 200,000 people there. Jamie and Adam Mythbuster said 150K, but that was their off-the-cuff from the stage. Online after it was over, various “official” estimates were between 200 and 250K. Look at the non-inclusive picture: I’m saying it was more still. None of them there to scream at imagined enemies, none to get all hyperbolic.

Talking to various assemblees, I’d propose that the reason most showed up was just to be with a bunch of other people who weren’t nuts. People who eschew the “he voted present” or the “he’s a closet terrorist” mode of political thought. People who enjoy being people, Americans, members of a diverse and untidy society and who see that as positive. Of the many signs I liked (I didn’t carry one) was “I don’t want my country back. I want it forward.” Or "I disagree with you but I probably won't step on your head." Mainly, it was people wanting to have a good time; nice to know it's still possible.

And a good time it was. No point, I guess, in recounting it since I assume it can be watched somehow, somewhere. Among the highlights of the warmup was the benediction by Don Novello who, as Guido Sarducci, asked God to give a sign to let us know what was the best religion. As he reeled them off, he looked up, and around, and asked if anyone noticed anything that might be a message. Nothing? Well, he said when he mentioned Buddhism, “nothing” might be the sign. Muslims don't eat pork, Jews don't eat pork, he pointed out. "Let's build on that."

Having the Mythbusters there was a brilliant stroke. They organized a front-to back wave, timed it, did it again with just women, then men, then simultaneous from each direction. It took over a minute to cover the crowd: if that doesn’t confirm a huge crowd, I don’t know what does. Other than, you know, counting. Map extrapolations. Glenn Beck took 87,000 and turned it into 500K. Tellingly.

Kareem was there. Yousef Cat Stephens Islam, as gentle and soulful as ever. Ozzy fricking Osborne. The Roots, really good. Mavis Staples, Tony Bennett, The O’Jays. Sam Waterston read a poem by Colbert.

The National Anthem, sung by 4Troops, was among the best renditions I've ever heard. (A poor quality recording, along with extraneous preamble, here.)

Riding in, the Metro was packed. Totally packed. People from all over the country, waiting for the next train, and the next. Got good advice not to transfer downtown. We left Silver Spring at what we considered an early time and when we got there, there was no chance of being near the stage, so we plotzed in front of one of the screens, saving room (with some difficulty) for some friends who were there but couldn’t get through the crowds to be with us. Cell towers being overwhelmed, it was a long time before our texts, and then we, connected. Hundreds of thousands of people leaving the mall made for a seething mass of signs, people letting people pass, a slow torrent into which a moment’s distraction saw people disappear, to be re-sighted with difficulty. Nearly lost a couple.

I think they hit the right notes in the show: fun, satirical, a little serious. No doubt many will declare Jon Stewart’s speech at the end was too self-important, crossed some sort of line, whatever. But gimme a break. Was he wrong in anything he said? It’s the whole point, I’d say. And one of mine, too: the media are letting us all down. By what a couple of them do, and by what the rest of them fail to do. In more or less equal measure they're responsible for giving so much voice to so much crazy.

Am I, with this blog, among the bad guys, the screamers, the polemicists, the dichotomists? Maybe. But what I rant about is the ranting itself, and the piss-poor (to take it down a notch) journalism that has all but completely replaced the idea of an inquisitive and skeptical press whose job it is to question and to educate. And I reject the phony nationalism that fails to understand, at best, and hates, at worst, the real implications of democracy. On the rare occasions when I receive thoughtful disagreement (strange, isn't it, how devoid of usefulness are most of the comments from the disagreeable?), I respond in kind. And, like Jon Stewart (no equivalence implied) I’ve taken on both sides when they go over the top. And I document what I claim, believing, as I still do, that facts and reality are reasonable bases for opinion.

“These are hard times, not end times,” he said. The problem is that in hard times, it seems liberals are willing to offer help to their fellow man, and conservatives (well, not real conservatives, but the ones that play them on TV and wrong-wing radio) turn upon everyone else as enemies. Make up conspiracy theories. Abandon friends. When the going gets tough, the right wing goes selfish.

What we need, in tough times, is to restore sanity. They should hold a rally for that.

And what I need is some sleep.


Saturday, October 30, 2010

LOC



In medical terms, it stands for Loss Of Consciousness. In D.C., it's the Library of Congress, which raises consciousness. What an impressive place. Hard to imagine the commitment to honoring learning in today's political climate. Guessing Michele Bachmann hasn't been there.

It's monumentally grand architecture, the inside of the dome of which bespeaks reverence for wisdom; as does the marble work, the statuary. And, of course, the collection of Jefferson's personal library which he offered to give to the US for whatever price they were willing to pay. The Congress debated for six months whether to accept, with some Congressmen arguing it contained languages that no American should speak. Teabaggers, you have roots. Even so, there's no one in Congress now that has a tenth of the intelligence and thirst for knowledge of Thos. Jefferson.

Approaching his collection, one passes through terrific displays on the writing of the founding documents. You don't need to be a hard right Christianist teabagger to be inspired by the history of this country, and by seeing the records in the flesh. Foxophiles have no idea, when they talk about the Constitution, of the brilliance and complexities of it; nor could people like them have ever made the kind of compromises that those men did.

Side by side in the lower floor of the LOC are exhibits devoted to George and Ira Gershwin, and to Bob Hope. Both were fun to see, but the latter was surprisingly dense, with space devoted to inclusion of a broad spectrum of political comedy, the involvement from the right and from the left of celebrities in politics, insights into the spectrum of reaction to criticism from all sides.

Wearing Rally pins, we've run into many people from all over the country who've come for the rally. Still don't know what to expect, but it looks like it'll be a big and very engaged crowd. People not given to hyperbole or ridiculous conspiracy theories. Might be fun.

The view of the White House from the top of the W Hotel is great. A gin and tonic there costs fourteen bucks.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Time In Space

It made me think of my former friend. I'd tell him, if he hadn't stopped wanting to hear from an America-hating Jew facilitator of a Muslim black guy in the White House, to be sure to visit the Air and Space Museum in D.C., if he hasn't already. Even if he has, I bet the photos they have there now weren't there then. Fabulous closeups from various vehicles of various planets, some which remind me amazingly much of my former friend's friend, Chesley Bonstell. It's the sort of thing that used to come from me to him more than politics. But we're not speaking anymore.

What a place it is. Trinkets big and small from various Apollo missions; many questions answered about how they did it. Planes, rockets, from Wright to wrong. Spectacular place.

Since this is a family show, I won't mention the bag of feces brought back from the moon.

How amazing that anyone on the planet can visit any of the museums for free. The National Gallery and its collection (by one guy, who made his money trading bonds on Wall Street) of impressionist and other European art. Some classic pictures there, including many of the founding fathers that you've seen before. In the Museum of American History is the actual Star Spangled Banner that still flew in the dawn's early light. And Archie Bunker's living room. And Julia Child's kitchen, which was like a shrine for my wife.

On the mall near the Capitol are the bones of the Rally, gaining flesh. A good time will be had by all.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Flying Pan


[Written yesterday, mid-air.]

My peak experience, commercial flyingwise, occurred when I was in Vietnam. (For that matter, the same is true for non-commercial flying: seeing tracer bullets arising from the jungle to my low-flying gooney bird was bracing; as was hearing ground control call out bandits at our six o’clock while riding in a flying gas tank over Haiphong Harbor. But those are stories for another day.)

On this occasion I was winging toward Hawaii on an R and R flight, while my wife was flying to the same destination, heading West. Knowing a guy in Saigon with some influence, I had been booked into the first class cabin; and this was in the days when first class meant something.

It was a shiny TWA 747. The upstairs was accessed by a spiral staircase, and as opposed to nowadays, it was an adjunct to first class. Namely, a bar, a lounge, a cushiony retreat. Generous and plentiful drinks were served to the brass there, and they looked askance at a guy sporting two silver bars instead of the stars and eagles that otherwise occupied the place. I was a little uncomfortable, but not enough not to enjoy the opulence which stood in contrast to my more humble accommodations back on base.

At dinnertime a cloth was spread on my seat table, wine was poured, after which the stewardess returned pushing one of those shiny steel roll-top steam carts, under the dome of which she dramatically revealed a standing rack of prime rib, smelling of home. “How much,” she asked, and proceeded to carve off an inch or two after incrementally moving her knife along the rack until I waved her to a stop…

I don’t remember it all. Was there a piano in the upstairs bar?

Anyhow, I bring this up as I’m flying to D.C., moments after having been asked if I’d like to purchase a stale (and, by its looks, a decidedly unboiled) bagel for six bucks, and an hour after an unsuccessful search for a pillow to bolster the lumbar region of a particularly uncomfortable seat. Cleaving my elbows tightly to my side to avoid the inevitable ulnar incursion of the brusque battering-ram of an especially unglamorous and opposite-of-shiny container on wheels, bearing crackers and soda pop and really bad coffee.

I should add that I’m in economy class, from which I can see the first class folks. The seats are bigger, but there ain’t no steam carts, and not a rib in sight.

Well, we lost the war. I don’t suppose we deserve anything better.

Alien Naked


Wonder if Fox "news" will report this. Under Obama, illegal aliens were deported this year at the highest rate in history.

According to the Washington Post, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement removed more than 1,000 murderers, 6,000 sex offenders, 45,000 drug offenders and 28,000 drunk drivers.

The Department of Homeland Security used biometric information and services to identify criminal aliens in state prisons and local jails across 660 jurisdictions, including all those along the Southwest border.

About 197,000 noncriminal aliens were also removed due to increased audits of more than 2,200 employers suspected of hiring illegal labor. Officials said 180 owners, employers or managers had been criminally charged with $50 million in fines imposed.

The problem is, facts like this don't fit with the RWS™ meme of Obama as America-hating alien-enabler.


On a sort-of unrelated note, there's this tidbit: We have a new teabagger candidate for president. The Naked Cowboy. Seems perfectly attune, since he's neither naked nor a cowboy. Quoth he, in a perfectly Foxobeckian rant of factlessness:

"America is rapidly transforming into a government-run enterprise," the over-exposed tourist attraction said, adding that "American politicians are selling out America and its most cherished institution, that being capitalism."
Well, he's at least as qualified as Christine O'Donnell or Sarah Palin, with a similar command of policy (and it's a safe assumption he won't spend $150K of R money on clothes). His claim of anti-capitalism is as ubiquitous among the uninformed as oil-stained rocks in Prudhoe Bay. With the auto industry rising from the dead, banks flourishing and only wimpishly regulated, insurance companies harvesting cash like Afghan poppies, tax cuts and loans for small business just enacted over R objections (!), some one in the press ought to point out the guy is an idiot.

But that would be like, oh, I don't know....


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Off We Go


Heading to D.C.

If anyone can restore sanity, it's me.

Obvious


If one party continually tries to get people to vote, and the other regularly tries to suppress it, which is the more consistent with democracy?

Let's just admit it: these are terrible people.
"You liberial scumbags should be hung by the neck in public ! We are on to your voter fraud. Keep it up you MOTHER FUCKERS and you will soon be put down for a long dirt nap! Your nothing but a bunch of white guilt ridden assholes, NIGGERS and greasy mexican spics! The WAR is comming and we are going to dispose of each and every one of you while we take OUR (White) nation back."

Juiced up after their take-down of ACORN over non-existent fraud (except for that committed against ACORN by its own workers and reported to election monitors by ACORN), they're back to form, making accusations of fraud toward anyone trying to register voters.

As is regularly the case, the casting of actual fraudulent votes remains a vanishingly small problem; yet the suggestion thereof can be counted on to rally the most desperate among us.

Meanwhile, Rs are no longer even trying to hide their formerly covert efforts to trick minorities into not voting.

It's consistent, though. What's really going on in all this "take our country back" weeping and wailing is the fact, as I've said before, that teabaggers and other right-wingers don't actually believe in democracy. What they believe in is their supremacy. They're okay with voting as long as it's those that share their beliefs. (And by beliefs, I mean the things they cling to, no matter the facts. Pretty much everything they stand for, in other words.)

And so it is that, of a piece with the above illiterate efflux, we get stuff like this:

Stephen Broden, a Republican running for Congress in Texas' 30th District, said he would not rule out a violent overthrow of the government if the midterm elections don't cause a change in government, saying that "our nation was founded on violence" so "the option is on the table."

According to the Dallas Morning News, Broden said in a TV interview yesterday: "We have a constitutional remedy here and the Framers says if that don't work, revolution."

"If the government is not producing the results or has become destructive to the ends of our liberties, we have a right to get rid of that government and to get rid of it by any means necessary," he continued.


Happily, the local Rs disavowed the rhetoric. But is it far outside the teabagging mentality?

Meanwhile, Glenn Beck says he doesn't believe the guy said it.



Okay, fine: he said if the guy said it, he'd denounce it. Kudos.

But it's already on tape. IT'S ON TAPE.

What's not to believe?

Global warming (he exhales, says that's CO2, so what's the problem?), evolution (he says he's never seen a half-man/half-monkey), the stimulus worked: THEY'RE ON TAPE!!!!!

Take bag, dip. Don't like facts? Dip again.



Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sun Rises In East


Mitch McConnell, in a slip of the tongue (by which I mean he told the truth), makes clear what Congressional Republicans are all about:
"The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president."
Not, oh, y'know, balancing the budget, fixing health care, creating jobs. Addressing wars, improving education, solving immigration. Not that it was ever in doubt: they have zero interest in actually governing, nor ideas by which to do it.

And the RWS™ pretend it's Obama who hasn't been cooperating.


There's No There There


This is absolutely typical of every teabagger and teabagger-supported candidate. Promises to cut taxes, cut spending, balance the federal budget, with absolutely no specifics. Because it's politically, mathematically, and historically impossible.

And yet these people are winning.

Claiming, contra virtually every economist on the planet, that the stimulus didn't work; spreading the falsehood that cutting taxes increases revenue when it never has; blaming the deficits on Obama when it was Bush that turned record surplus into unprecedented red ink, every single one of them says the same things; all of which are demonstrably false.

And yet these people are winning!

In the endless -- and likely unresolvable -- search to find an explanation for the seemingly limitless ability of teabaggers (and, lately, all conservatives) to ignore reality, I came across this article in (warning: anathema approaching) Scientific American:

The critical quality that leads people to treat rookie cards like rosaries is that of the sacred, whereby an object becomes worthy of boundless reverence, commitment, and protection. As diverse as people are in ascribing sacred status to possessions, they are equally varied in which values they consider sacred, a diversity that can breed substantial conflict. The abortion debate, for example, often presents a divide between those who consider woman’s “right to choose” sacred versus those who consider a fetus’ “right to life” sacred.


Referring to a study of feeling among Iranians for their country's nuclear program, the article adds:
...The work is a reminder that sacred values are tremendously influential in disputes both international and interpersonal, but that our negotiating instincts can lead us away from common ground...
....What truly distinguishes sacred values from secular ones is how people behave when asked to compromise them. When people are asked to trade their sacred values for values considered to be secular—what psychologist Philip Tetlock refers to as a “taboo tradeoff”—they exhibit moral outrage, express anger and disgust, become increasingly inflexible in negotiations, and display an insensitivity to a strict cost-benefit analysis of the exchange.
I may be extrapolating too much here, but I think it applies to the current state of affairs in our politics. The mantras of tax cuts and deregulation, held as deeply sacred and absolutely foundational by all conservatives, have never been so threatened by reality. To accept that either idea had anything -- anything at all -- to do with our economic calamity is to allow a disruption in the force of the conservative mind that is simply incompatible with earth-bound equilibrium. Those beliefs which we hold closest are those that allow us to function in an incomprehensible and threatening world. The more the beliefs are shown to be false, the more we hold onto them. Absolutely natural and entirely inevitable, discordance between belief and reality is what so many people seek desperately to avoid. In my view, it pretty much defines the difference between the conservative and the liberal mind: willingness to process fact, to adjust to new circumstances, to evolve one's thinking. (Or to think one's evolved!)

Closed mind, in other words, versus open.

Based on current events, I'd guess another study might confirm the tendency, when all else fails to buttress one's sacred holdings, to find new ones, just as rigidly velcroed to the inside of the skull, but even more lightly attached to the firmament: like Obama's birth as a Kenyan Muslim terrorist. Seek, it is said, and ye shall find.

And whereas it's undoubtedly true that both sides are guilty of similar blindness (after all, where's the evidence that voting rights and education are essential to democracy or that societies which provide for their people are more stable than ones that don't?), based on the past ten years it's the conservative sacraments that appear to be on shakier ground. Thus, the greater tendency among teabagger ilkophiles to cover their eyes, finger their ears, and cleave for guidance unto the RWS™.

An explanation, perhaps. But hardly a comfort, given the actively, proudly, and resolutely fact-averse hordes taking to the polls in a week.

What have we become? And what will we become when they're in charge? Again.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Should Be Good


Having much admired Booth Gardner when he was governor of my state, and having been and remaining an advocate for the law in Washington, I'm looking forward to seeing this.

Profoundly affected by his Parkinson's Disease, Governor Gardner campaigned heroically and effectively (and successfully) for "Death With Dignity." His popularity in the state, and his lifelong credibility as a thoughtful and honest man no doubt made a difference.

Media Rare


I'm not the only one who sees that "liberal" news networks will never have the audience that Fox "news" does. Even a guy with a large national audience agrees:

...you'll never have a liberal equivalent to Fox News that has anything like the same level of success. Conservatives believe that the mainstream news is fundamentally corrupt and untrustworthy. They want a fully closed information ecosystem in which every piece of data they consume is filtered through the perspective of the conservative movement. Very, very few liberals want that. They want their liberal opinion, but they also want straight news, or at the very least news that isn't overtly propagandistic like on Fox. MSNBC has slightly right-of-center programming in the morning with Joe Scarborough, straight news throughout the day, then liberal opinion at night.


It's a battle liberals will always lose. And whereas that's great for Glenn and Bill and Sean and Sarah and Mike, it's really bad news for our country. Because not only is Fox "news" not only not a news organization but a coordinated propaganda organ, it's much more: it's the kingmaker for Republican candidates. Half of them are literally paid employees: Palin, Gingrich, Huckabee. Others, per instructions from Sarah herself, have decided to campaign exclusively through appearances on Fox, knowing they'll never be challenged. It's become the pattern for virtually all the teabagger candidates: Angle, Paul, O'Donnell, and more.

So why is that a bad thing? It hardly takes thought to answer: these candidates are bought and paid for by Fox "news." The candidates owe everything to Rupert Murdoch, one of the richest and most blatantly partisan, agenda-driven men on the planet. In a most obvious sense, this man will have a significant part of our government fully beholden to him, dependent on him, afraid of him; with the power of the unspoken threat to turn his propaganda against them any time they disagree with him. This is much more than being beholden to money; it's potentially total control of politicians by the man who literally produces, edits, and shapes all the information consumed by conservatives. It's a hell of a lot more than pursestrings: it's total influence over how these politicians will be perceived. I'd say that pretty much puts the teabagger candidates in Rupert's pocket.

Who but a teabagger would consider that a good thing? Who but a teabagger would not recognize and be repelled by this perversion of democracy, this unprecedented political influence?

And who but a teabagger would so willingly let themselves be used in such a way?


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Find It, Watch It


There's a series beginning tonight on Discovery Channel about the origins of animals, called "First Life." I can't embed video but there's some here. It's very well done and highly recommended. David Attenborough, pink-faced and wild-haired as ever, is the host, and his usual enthusiasm is infectious.

How sad that young-earth creationists won't watch it. What could be more fascinating, exciting, thrilling? How much more inspiring is the piecing together of the clues to such mystery than is the idea of some celestial magic wand? How much more ennobling to know that we are the result of hundreds of millions of years of evolution. Sponges and tube worms, cells and collagen.

I love it.




Hoax

Friday, October 22, 2010

Juan Gone


I don't know if Juan Williams should have been fired or not (I've long thought, given his relationship with Fox "news" and, more importantly, the role he plays in that intellectual desert, that he was a strange choice for them in the first place). But his was a pretty weird statement on O'Reilly's show.
"I mean, look, Bill, I'm not a bigot. You know the kind of books I've written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous."
I get what he was saying, at least in part, and I'm sure it's shared by many confused Americans. But here's what bothers me: First of all, does wearing religiously mandated garb mean you are "identifying yourself first and foremost" as a whatever? Like a yarmulke? A bonnet and a beard? A turban? First and foremost? What about wearing a crucifix? Is there an important distinction? And what if they are so identifying? Practically every teabagger-supported candidate for office strongly and repeatedly identifies him- or herself as Christian, first and no less than threemost. And we all know what they do.

Second, and much dumber: flying on a plane, I think we ought to be a lot less worried about people who make it clear that they're Muslim than about someone who really does have evil intent who'd, almost certainly, take pains to look as bland as possible. After all, wouldn't you?

No doubt, dumb like that fits very comfortably among the Fox "news" personnel (although compared to Doocy and Kilmeade and Hannity he's a damn savant). On NPR? I dunno. But at least they're equal opportunity reactors. And it looks like Williams won't go juanting.

Nor will he have to go on living a lie. (He could still rescue himself, I suppose, but it's starting to look like he belongs where's he's headed.)

________________________________

[As expected, the RWS™ are weighing in with hypocrisy a-blazin':

Glenn Beck, in typical hyperbolic Glenn Beck fashion, was outraged today on his radio show that the "voices are being silenced" by "the jack booted thugs of the left." He also said: "Juan Williams was put up against a wall and NPR shot him"

But in June, Beck said on his radio show: "The old hatreds are reappearing. Now, how Helen Thomas has a job today is beyond me." He added: "You know, may I tell you this Jewish run media, really, they're really bad at running the media, if they are indeed Jewish. You know what I mean? The Zionist masters really suck at being Zionist masters. If you still have Helen Thomas sitting in the front row after saying go back to Germany, go back to Poland."

Bill O'Reilly decried the Williams firing on Fox News today, calling it "outrageous." He continued:

As Woody Allen once said, this is a travesty of a mockery of a sham. But it's not out of character for NPR -- they've been trying to get rid of Juan for a while because Juan is associated with the Fox News channel and NPR is -- it's not a news organization. It's basically a left wing outfit that wants one opinion.
Just a few weeks ago, O'Reilly defended CNN's decision to fire Rick Sanchez, since the network "sells their credibility as a hard news organization" and Sanchez "is supposedly representing CNN."]
Such Fox hypocrisy is, of course, entirely expected and is no more harmful to political discourse than it always is. No less predictable, but potentially actually unfortunate, though, are the calls from the usual RWS™ to defund NPR. (Not the first time they've tried to broil Big Bird.)

That there's a news organization that tries to keep the rhetoric at luke-warm levels, that values thoughtful exchange of ideas, that would rid itself of a commentator who regularly discredits himself (see above) is, apparently, too much for the likes of Sarah Palin and Jim Demint. It's not enough for them to have an entire propaganda network devoted exclusively to promoting their version of truth and to distorting everything else: they want the landscape scrubbed entirely of a news organization -- the only one left on the airwaves -- that actually does reporting in depth and regularly airs both sides of a debate. When the facts happen to contradict Foxobeckian disinformation, or when a program eschews screaming, such people see that as "liberal bias." But there simply is no outlet that provides more balanced and informative reporting on important issues. Even conservative David Brooks agrees with that.

And I'm not saying that because The News Hour nearly had me on.]




Self Interest


Could it be any clearer? Of the many times I've pointed out how the teabaggers have been deceived and manipulated into acting against their own interests, is there any better proof than this?

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says it received an "outpouring of support" that crashed its servers Thursday morning after conservative host Glenn Beck pledged $10,000 on the air to the organization and urged his listeners to donate what they can afford.

So why say teabaggers are being played? Hardly a tough one:

Prudential Financial sent in a $2 million donation last year as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched a national advertising campaign to weaken the historic rewrite of the nation’s financial regulations.

Dow Chemical delivered $1.7 million to the chamber last year as the group took a leading role in aggressively fighting proposed new rules that would impose tighter security requirements on chemical facilities.

And Goldman Sachs, Chevron Texaco, and Aegon, a multinational insurance company based in the Netherlands, donated more than $8 million in recent years to a chamber foundation that has helped wage a national campaign to limit the ability of trial lawyers to sue businesses....

... To support the effort, the chamber has adopted an all-hands-on-deck approach to fund-raising. Mr. Josten said he makes many of the fund-raising calls to corporations nationwide, as does Mr. Donohue. (Both men are well compensated for their work: Mr. Donohue was paid $3.7 million in 2008, and has access to a corporate jet and chauffeur, while Mr. Josten was paid $1.1 million, tax records show.) But those aggressive pitches have turned off some business executives.

“There was an arrogance to it like they were the 800-pound gorilla and I was either with them with this big number or I just did not matter,” said Mr. Tyree, of Chicago.

Another corporate executive, who asked not to be named, said the chamber risks alienating its members.

“Unless you spend $250,000 to $500,000 a year, that is what they want for you to be one of their pooh-bahs, otherwise, they don’t pay any attention to you at all,” the executive said, asking that the company not be identified.

This is the group to which Glenn Beck asks his faith-full followers to send their nickels and dimes! No wonder their site crashed: they have no need of or interest in such piddling proffers from the internetted. And yet, donate the Becked-up did.

To me, it remains absolutely inexplicable. Even the frightened and gullible ought not be so eager to stab themselves. Left alone, people tend to act in their own interest. Don't they? Such self-destructive behavior on the part of so many can only come from careful, well-orchestrated, and deliberate deception. But the media keep buying and selling the myth of a grassroots movement.

For most of the season, I have a pretty nice-looking lawn. Every year, it gets aerated; I fertilize it about three times, spray some moss-killer here and there, pluck weeds when I find them. With my environmentally friendly cordless electric machine, I mow and mulch every five days or so. I water just enough to keep the roots deep. Until the cedar tree's roots start sucking water faster than I can put it in, it looks damn good, clean and green.

Whatever else is true about it, it sure as hell didn't grow itself.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

It's High School


MoDo may be onto something here:

We are in the era of Republican Mean Girls, grown-up versions of those teenage tormentors who would steal your boyfriend, spray-paint your locker and, just for good measure, spread rumors that you were pregnant.

These women — Jan, Meg, Carly, Sharron, Linda, Michele, Queen Bee Sarah and sweet wannabe Christine — have co-opted and ratcheted up the disgust with the status quo that originally buoyed Barack Obama. Whether they’re mistreating the help or belittling the president’s manhood, making snide comments about a rival’s hair or ripping an opponent for spending money on a men’s fashion show, the Mean Girls have replaced Hope with Spite and Cool with Cold. They are the ideal nihilistic cheerleaders for an angry electorate.



It explains a lot.

Most of us, I think (and hope), can't look back at our high school years without a little shudder at our own naivety and superficiality. Our certainty about the importance of one group or another, our need to find solace from our own awkwardness in the approval of others. The nastiness and cowardice. (FWIW, I was sort of a cool/geek hybrid: took classes and mostly hung out with the smart kids but was captain of the football team and SB president. Neither wholly accepted nor rejected by either camp, I nevertheless found no reason really to question myself. Took an hour or two of college for that to start happening.)

Like learning to walk and to stop smearing food on our faces, evolution from the superficial and simplistic social rules of high school ought to be a given as we approach maturity of mind. To go through life cleaving to high school rules, where the self-appointed cool people judged and put down those they deemed less worthy (while ignoring the still small voices inside telling them it was they who were wanting) is to prove there was never an awakening to adulthood. To see the world in terms of otherness and to behave toward those you consider outsiders as if they were to be ignored or ridiculed (because they represent a threat to your self-centered world-view) is to have gotten stuck in pubescence. And to admit you have nothing else to offer.

When you listen to Sarah Palin next time, and Jan Brewer, and Sharon Angle, and Christine O'Donnell (if you can stand it), think of it in those terms. Hear them suggest their opponents are fey, asking them to "man up." Notice their looseness with fact and how they bull through their lack of knowledge. Aren't they just the stuck-up cheerleader type? Aren't their words those of a superficial locker-room bully? Doesn't it remind you of the kids you sort of envied back then but who you, like, totally, left behind as you learned to live in the real world?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Botched Surge-ry


Forget about the disinformation (to put it mildly), the poor planning, the disregard of the generals who knew. Ignore the stupidity of thinking god was guiding our plan, that by preƫmptive invasion we could spread democracy, like bread on the waters, throughout the Middle East. Of all the travesties of the invasion of Iraq, the greatest -- because it foretold the failure from the outset -- was the complete misunderstanding of the religious/tribal dynamics of the place.

So now, after years of triumphalism, of hearing from Bush acolytes like John McPOW and everyone at Fox "news" that the surge worked, how brilliant they were and how shameful the nay-sayers, it's falling apart. (And those of us who said it was never about the "surge" but about the "Sunni Awakening," are proved right. Not a surprise, given the numbers. Facts.)
BAQUBA, Iraq — Members of United States-allied Awakening Councils have quit or been dismissed from their positions in significant numbers in recent months, prey to an intensive recruitment campaign by the Sunni insurgency, according to government officials, current and former members of the Awakening and insurgents.

Although there are no firm figures, security and political officials say hundreds of the well-disciplined fighters — many of whom have gained extensive knowledge about the American military — appear to have rejoined Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. Beyond that, officials say that even many of the Awakening fighters still on the Iraqi government payroll, possibly thousands of them, covertly aid the insurgency.

The defections have been driven in part by frustration with the Shiite-led government, which Awakening members say is intent on destroying them, as well as by pressure from Al Qaeda. The exodus has accelerated since Iraq’s inconclusive parliamentary elections in March, which have left Sunnis uncertain of retaining what little political influence they have and which appear to have provided Al Qaeda new opportunities to lure back fighters.

The Awakening members’ switch in loyalties poses a new threat to Iraq’s tenuous social and political balance during the country’s ongoing political crisis and as the United States military prepares to withdraw next year...

...“Many of those who called themselves the Awakening felt remorse,” said the man, who used the nom de guerre Abu Mohammed al-Daeni. “They believed they were making a mistake by helping the occupiers and have now returned to Al Qaeda. I can say that the number is increasing every day.”

...Muthana al-Tamimi, head of the provincial council’s security committee, said Awakening members were clearly returning to the insurgency, but that Baghdad should share the blame.

“The Awakening needs government support,” he said. “They’re not getting it, so they’re an easy bite for terrorists.”


Thomas Ricks, among the most credible writers on Iraq and Afghanistan, has this to say:
It isn't surprising, but it is sad to see. I think it probably was inevitable, given the sectarian Shiite ascendancy and the ultimate victory of Iran in the war, as shown in this Guardian article. (... Maliki is visiting Tehran today. He supposedly also is going to Qom, temporary home of one Moqtada al-Sadr.)

More evidence, I would say, that the surge worked tactically (that is, improved security and so enabled Uncle Sam to edge toward the exits) but failed strategically (that is, didn't lead to a breakthrough in Iraqi politics).

I think the big question is how far the Sunni Awakening reversal will go. Is this the beginning of the next phase of the war? I dunno. And how much will U.S. troops be involved? Again, an open question. I am hearing through the grapevine that things are getting friskier.


It's not about "I told you so," although many people did. It's about the fact that, having made a huge mistake in going there, we now have to admit there's nothing more we can do. The RWS™ will be eager to blame Obama for the inevitable disintegration (although the word implies there was, as some point, integration.) They already are, of course.

But if there's any blame that accrues to him, it's in not standing up and saying exactly what needs to be said: whether you believe the invasion was a good idea or a bad one, it's time to recognize that we've given the Iraqis enough time, money, and blood to find a way to settle their internal differences. They want to, or they don't. They will or they won't. They can, or they can't. It's their time, and their country. If they need financial help, political advice -- if there are ways in which we can facilitate the process of reconciliation between Iraqi religious factions, or their growth as a nation, all they need to do is ask. But the military phase of our involvement at all levels must end. Their future, after thousands of lives and trillions of dollars, is -- and must be -- in their own hands.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Penny Foolish


Okay, okay, I'll say it in advance: bad metaphor. Still, I find it more than mildly ironic that the party and its various surrogates and propagandists who find the killing of Jesus such a motivating force for everything they believe are symbolically crucifying Barack Obama at every opportunity they get. The one man in the political arena who seems to have clear vision of what this country needs, who can see beyond the present tense, is being thwarted at every turn. Kind of makes you wonder, doesn't it? Psychiatrically speaking.

It's Tom Friedman's recent column that stupefies me yet again, over the idiocy of our congresspeople and the voices to whom they seem to be listening. In it, Friedman writes about discussing, with an academic from Singapore, Obama's plan...

... to set up eight innovation hubs to solve the eight biggest energy problems in the world. But ... the program has not been fully funded yet because Congress, concerned about every dime we spend these days, is reluctant to appropriate the full $25 million for each center, let alone for all eight at once, so only three are moving ahead.

“You mean billion,” he asks? “No,” I say. “We’re talking about $25 million.” “Billion,” he repeats. “No. Million,” I insist....

Welcome to Tea Party America. Think small and carry a big ego...

...So let’s start with the good news: a shout-out for Obama’s energy, science and technology team for thinking big. Soon after taking office, they proposed what Energy Secretary Steven Chu calls “a series of mini-Manhattan projects.” In the fiscal year 2010 budget, the Department of Energy requested financing for “Energy Innovation Hubs” in eight areas: smart grid, solar electricity, carbon capture and storage, extreme materials, batteries and energy storage, energy efficient buildings, nuclear energy, and fuels from sunlight.

In each area, universities, national labs and private industry were invited to put together teams of their best scientists and research ideas to win $25 million a year for five years, to, as Chu put it, “accelerate the normal progress of science and technology for energy research” and thereby “discover and commercialize the energy breakthroughs we need” and thereby spawn new jobs and industries.

So far Congress has appropriated partial funding — “up to $22 million” but probably less — for three of these hubs for one year. ... Chu is now trying to persuade Congress to finance those three again for 2011, as well as at least one more: batteries...

...“We don’t want incremental improvements,” said Chu. “We want real leaps — game-changing” breakthroughs — like a 75 percent reduction in energy used in a commercial building through affordable design and software improvements. “America has shown we can do this,” concluded Chu. “The scientists and engineers see the problem; they see the opportunity; they see what is at stake, and they want to help.” That is why we should fully fund all eight now.

Isn't this exactly the sort of thinking we need and ought to want from our president? (And, incidentally, ought this not incinerate the still-heard cries of Obama as America-hater?) Isn't this the sort of thinking that might still save us from ourselves? Yet discussion of such policies -- discussion? Hell, even mention by our fair and balanced media -- is virtually unheard in the din of campaign season. In the deluge of anonymous and opaque money funding the most dishonest and self-interested ads, successfully deluding teabaggers into acting against their own (and their country's) needs by convincing them of what is not, such thoughtful and far-sighted policy is drowned.

Irony abounds. Those whose world-view is centered in the mythology of a savior killed for his ideas, who weep at his sacrifice and would exclude from our country all who fail to see it, are figuratively killing the first person in a long time actually trying to implement policy that might be our salvation. (Yeah, yeah, I already admitted it's a stretch.)

The difference: ain't gonna be a resurrection. And a second coming will be way too late.

Along those lines, President Obama -- thoughtful as usual -- had this to say in a recent interview (which I'd highly recommend to everyone, especially those who continue to see him as some sort of incarnate devil):
Something that I have learned over the last couple of years is that I have to make decisions based on the long view. And I have to suppress my own desire for a short-term fix if I’m going to be able to lead the country effectively over the long term... I will keep on making that case, and I think that to point — to quote my vice president — I believe that voters are going to stop comparing me to the Almighty and compare me to the alternative.
Would that it were so.



Monday, October 18, 2010

House Whine


Note to self: you've GOT to stop watching House. Some medical shows, after all, at least make an attempt to keep within the third standard deviation from possible. The writers of House stopped trying a long time ago.

Tonight's episode (WHY do I watch that show???) was to medical reality as Sarah Palin is to Russia-watch. Really. (In about a week, you could watch it here.) Fully to list the ridiculous fallacies would take another hour, and I just wasted one. And hours, at my age, are diminishing like my savings did in Bush's economy.

I can only assume they don't have medical advisers. Or if they do, they get their information from The Huffington Post (which, although it has a decent spectrum of political news and opinion, has nothing but woo when it comes to medicine.) Maybe it's medical students, ones that flunked out after the first year. Or, perhaps, people who walked by a hospital once. Whatever. The fact is the stuff up with which they come is completely made up, having no more contact with medical fact than Christine O'Donnell has with the ground.

It's bad enough that I watch it: here I am actually blogging about it. I'm pathetic.




Let's Have Him Over For Tea

Awful


Making Alan Grayson look like the Dalai Lama, Jack Conroy, the guy running against Rand Paul, has taken us further into the slime. It sickens me. There's so much about Rand Paul that ought to be easy pickings for a half-way capable opponent, that it's beyond appalling to see such desperation.

Way to go, asshole. You're handing the election to a ridiculous crank, and you're doing it in the most unDemocratic way possible.



Gates Of Hell


I've always admired Sec Def Bob Gates, even when he was CIA chief under George the First. He seems pretty much above partisanship, a straight shooter, unafraid to stand hard. So his comments after a Federal judge tossed DADT sort of surprised me a little. He said, in part,

"I feel strongly this is an action that needs to be taken by the Congress and that it is an action that requires careful preparation, and a lot of training," said Gates. "It has enormous consequences for our troops."
Well, in fact I have no disagreement with anything he said; it's the context, right after the decision. Because whereas he may understand the situation (I'd give him the benefit of the doubt), such people as Christine O'Donnell most certainly do not. In addition to other insanity, as predictable as rain in Puget Sound, talking points as original as they are thoughtful, she refers to the decision as "legislating from the bench." (Wonder what she called the "Citizens United" ruling.) People like her will never, ever, figure it out. Which means every last teabagger, and pretty much everyone in the Republican party. It requires stopping to think; it requires a modicum of (though not much, maybe eighth-grade) understanding of how our government works.

Pissing in the wind-up, beating a deaf horse, jerking the off-button, I'll say it anyway, in two words:

Judicial review.

Checks and balances.

The Constitution.

Out of ignorance, hatred, misguided good will -- for any of many reasons, states, voters, the Congress have shown themselves quite capable over the years of passing laws which are unconstitutional. Among the great wisdoms of the Constitution is the way it protects minority rights and unpopular views: nothing could be more fundamental to our system of government. Yet not everyone -- especially not those right wingers who'd have us believe they love constitutional democracy -- likes how it works. It's not "legislating from the bench" when a court rules a law unconstitutional. It's saying to the lawmakers, sorry, try again. You want to do something not allowed by the Constitution, amend it. (Which, of course, is exactly what America-and-its-constitution loving right-wingers want to do: they have a whole bucketful of changes in mind. Outlawing gay marriage is the least of them.) Until then, ordering adherence to the Constitution is the opposite of legislating from the bench. It's holding the line.

Now, I happen to think it's as obvious as my liver spots that discriminating against an entire class of people based on their sexual orientation is unconstitutional. (It seems pretty undeniable as well that multi-billion-dollar corporations differ from individuals in terms of speech, and that that decision was blatantly political, whereas the DADT one is as strict-constructionist as it gets.) So whereas Gates is right that it'd be ideal for Congress to be dealing with the issue, that doesn't change the fact that a judge has a duty to strike down discriminatory and unconstitutional laws. It's what they have done since Marbury v. Madison, and must continue to do. (I acknowledge that some legal scholars are questioning the breadth of the judge's authority. To this biology major, that doesn't affect the basic principle.)

Because as long as our nation is capable of producing an entire party dedicated to ignoring fact, to mocking science, to substituting the Bible for the Constitution, and to fomenting hate as a way to gain or retain power, if we don't have judges willing to do what's right, we'll cease to be what we've always been: a nation of laws.

The Christines and Sarahs of the world, and the RWS™, however, simply will never get it.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Visitors

From the visitor logs of this blog:

magnify this user Department Of Homeland Security (216.81.94.71) [Label IP Address]

United States Alexandria, Virginia, United States, 0 returning visits


DateTimeTypeWebPage
October 15th 201002:56:24 PMPage ViewNo referring link




Hmmm....

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Non-Fiction


Failure To Communicate



I can think of several reasons to be disappointed -- maybe even angry -- with President Obama. If he and the Democrats are going down this election and the next, I wish it were over those things: wimping out on the public option in health care reform; watering down financial reform; not finding a way to close Gitmo... But when it's because of things that are not -- terrorist sympathizer, Nazi, socialist, all the rest of the Beckofoxian lies and crazy -- it's pretty disappointing.

I acknowledge that when the most-watched news network is a propaganda wing of the opposition, communication of one's message is an uphill battle. Still, you'd think truth would find a way, even among those who actively seek to ignore it.

Paul Krugman's latest is just the latest.

So as I said, the big government expansion everyone talks about never happened. This fact, however, raises two questions. First, we know that Congress enacted a stimulus bill in early 2009; why didn’t that translate into a big rise in government spending? Second, if the expansion never happened, why does everyone think it did?

Part of the answer to the first question is that the stimulus wasn’t actually all that big compared with the size of the economy. Furthermore, it wasn’t mainly focused on increasing government spending. Of the roughly $600 billion cost of the Recovery Act in 2009 and 2010, more than 40 percent came from tax cuts, while another large chunk consisted of aid to state and local governments. Only the remainder involved direct federal spending.

And federal aid to state and local governments wasn’t enough to make up for plunging tax receipts in the face of the economic slump. So states and cities, which can’t run large deficits, were forced into drastic spending cuts, more than offsetting the modest increase at the federal level.

The answer to the second question — why there’s a widespread perception that government spending has surged, when it hasn’t — is that there has been a disinformation campaign from the right, based on the usual combination of fact-free assertions and cooked numbers. And this campaign has been effective in part because the Obama administration hasn’t offered an effective reply.


He adds:

[The administration] has insisted throughout that its original plan was just right, a position that has become increasingly awkward as the recovery stalls.

And a side consequence of this awkward positioning is that officials can’t easily offer the obvious rebuttal to claims that big spending failed to fix the economy — namely, that thanks to the inadequate scale of the Recovery Act, big spending never happened in the first place.

But if they won’t say it, I will: if job-creating government spending has failed to bring down unemployment in the Obama era, it’s not because it doesn’t work; it’s because it wasn’t tried.



And there it is: while teabaggers have been instructed and deceived into raging against out-of-control spending, the facts are exactly the opposite; just as the idea of Obama as terrorist-sympathizer has taken hold when his policies belie it.