Cutting Through The Crap

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Death Spiral


This is the beginning and the end, from which there's no finding our way back.

All over the United States, community college enrollments have surged with unemployed and underemployed people seeking new skills.

But just as workers have turned to community colleges, states have cut their budgets, forcing the institutions to turn away legions of students and stymieing the efforts to retrain the workforce.

Unemployment is highest among the nation's lesser-educated workers, and for them, community colleges offer a critical pathway to new jobs: Classes are open, relatively cheap and often tailored to picking up job skills.

The process of retraining these workers is considered vital to rebuilding the economy.


It'll get worse. In my state, incomprehensibly, people voted down an initiative that would have created an income tax (we currently have only sales taxes and property taxes) only for the very wealthy. Lowering property taxes for everyone, increasing taxes on families making more than $500 400K (corrected, embarrassingly, via Frank), it would have raised two billion for education.

It was trounced.

The reborn Republican party, enabled by teabaggerism, is not just about the ignoring of education. It's the derision of it, proudly. Along with the supplanting of it by biblical literalism. The consequences are already profound, and we ain't seen nuthin' yet.

I guess we can drive around potholes; oil won't run out for a few more decades. But the end of education is fast suicide. We have been overtaken by the false notion, promulgated by Reagan, taken to a destructive extreme by George W. Bush, and now the basis for current Republicanism, that we don't need to pay for anything, that all spending by the government is bad, that people ought to fend for themselves. That it is ruinous to our country, obvious to anyone willing to have a look, is of no importance. I got mine, f*ck you, I don't care. Credit to teabaggers for being willing to be explicit about it. Shame to everyone else for buying in, while trying to paint it as patriotism; or, worse, to call it Christianity.

What it is is rationalized selfishness. What it is is a death spiral.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Finally


For, lo, it has come to (dropped) pass that an athlete has shown some theologic consistency.

And the years have begat questions, as I've wondered when, since players routinely praise god for their great catch, the team win, one of them would call him out when he blows it.




Having seen his post-game interview, I feel bad for the guy, who seems one of the good ones. Nevertheless, I think there are several things he could learn from this, religulously.

But he wouldn't like any of them.

Delusions And Lies


"If I had the opportunity to put Obama against the wall and shoot him, I would. I would kill, if possible, the President for what he has done to this country."

I feel bad for the guy: he's old, he's a veteran, he's probably, at some level, mentally disturbed (interesting what the family says about the Secret Service in that link). He was damn well-armed. Even so, I doubt he is or was a real threat to the President. But what's actually so disturbing is the idea -- believed by virtually all teabaggers, for whose sanity I would not presume to vouch -- that President Obama has done something horrible to this country; so much so that he deserves death, or worse. Like this poor guy, the people who believe that are, largely, the results of the brainwashing cabal known as Fox "news" and the rest of the RWS™.

Because what, exactly has Obama "done to this country"? Other than rescuing the auto industry and returning it to stockholder ownership, helping to turn the economy around and at least headed in the right direction, getting banks to repay most of the TARP money, making it easier and cheaper for students to get loans, getting major health care reform (of which, I'll stipulate, we won't know the effects for several years, but which didn't fundamentally change the interposition of capitalist profiteering non-government health insurers between patients and caregivers), he's left the political and economic infrastructure of our country mostly unchanged but on measurably better footing. Look around, ferchrissakes! What the hell is different, other than the color of people in the White House, and the graphs of job loss and the trajectory of my stock portfolio? Behind which tree does the threat hunker?

"...What he's done to this country." "I want my country back." "...Taking away our freedoms." Specify, please; and do so without regurgitating the crap with which you've been bombarded by the right-wing scream machine. Base it on something real. Anything for which there's evidence.

Some on the left feel disappointed that Obama hasn't done enough actually to deserve such baseless whines, that he's left the country too much the way Bush did. The fact is, the only way a person can look at what's happened since BHO took over and see destruction is by having absorbed and believed with total credulity the non-stop lies and mischaracterizations they've been fed. They see something that's not there; they see what's there and the image produced at the back of their brains is from a different movie. They're Burt Lancaster in "Atlantic City," when he says, "You should have seen the Atlantic Ocean in those days."



Sunday, November 28, 2010

Last Word




The very last words in this discussion are what I've been saying about this as well.

Last words, indeed. In order 1) to take down Obama and 2) reinstate and/or protect the failed economic policies of Reagan and Bush, the newly-powerful Congressional Rs will happily set us back on the path to self-destruction.

Maybe it comes down to this: the difference between liberals and conservatives, as now constituted, is that liberals have a long view of the present and the future, and conservatives are all about now. And by "now" I mean "I want mine, NOW! I don't care about yours, and I don't care about the future." Unsurprisingly, this is from the party that most identifies as highly religious, so I guess they figure they don't need to worry about the future, because a) it's in god's hands and b) they're all going to heaven. Surprisingly, these are also people who claim to love the teachings of Jesus.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Credulity


I've been known occasionally to post an article here from The Onion. Did it on Turkey Day, matter of fact. The difference between me and Fox "news" is that I know they're (The Onion, that is) a satire organization. Not only does Fox not know, evidently; neither do its readers. The line between what Fox calls "news" and deliberate falsehood (even when satirical) is non-existent.

It's but one more example of the need to believe the worst about Obama. It's what keeps Fox going and raking in the dough: validating and stoking hatreds, prejudices, and fears of the credulous. And the cred-heads not only don't know they're being fed a pile of crap, they don't want to know. They believe what they believe. It's not about truth.

If they wanted truth, they'd read the NYT.

Or this blog.

[Thanks for the heads-up, Pieter.]


Friday, November 26, 2010

Socialist Agenda


Well, now it's official. Glennnn Beck was right: President Obama, in his Nazi-socialist-communist-America-hating-Kenyomuslim way, is wrecking capitalism. As planned, no doubt, in Bill Ayers' basement fortress:

American businesses earned profits at an annual rate of $1.659 trillion in the third quarter, according to a Commerce Department report released Tuesday. That is the highest figure recorded since the government began keeping track over 60 years ago, at least in nominal or noninflation-adjusted terms.

The government does not adjust the numbers for inflation, in part because these corporate profits can be affected by pricing changes from all over the world and because the government does not have a price index for individual companies. The next-highest annual corporate profits level on record was in the third quarter of 2006, when they were $1.655 trillion.



Since the obvious question has been answered, what with the above, General Motors, and all, here's my remaining one, and it's to the teabaggers and their favorite (aside from birtherism, Reaganovoodoo economics, and re-writing the Constitution) theme: what is a more glaring example of "income redistribution" than what's happened over the last decade?


WASHINGTON — The recession seems to be socking Americans in the heart as well as the wallet: Marriages have hit an all-time low while pleas for food stamps have reached a record high and the gap between rich and poor has grown to its widest ever....

....Marriages have been declining for years due to rising divorce, more unmarried couples living together and increased job prospects for women. But sociologists say younger people are also now increasingly choosing to delay marriage as they struggle to find work and resist making long-term commitments.

In dollar terms, the rich are still getting richer, and the poor are falling further behind them.

The income gap between the richest and poorest Americans grew last year to its largest margin ever, a stark divide as Democrats and Republicans spar over whether to extend Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy.

The top-earning 20 percent of Americans – those making more than $100,000 each year – received 49.4 percent of all income generated in the U.S., compared with the 3.4 percent made by the bottom 20 percent of earners, those who fell below the poverty line, according to the new figures. That ratio of 14.5-to-1 was an increase from 13.6 in 2008 and nearly double a low of 7.69 in 1968.

At the top, the wealthiest 5 percent of Americans, who earn more than $180,000, added slightly to their annual incomes last year, the data show. Families at the $50,000 median level slipped lower.



Seriously: this is income redistribution of the most perverse sort, of the sort that leads countries to collapse. By definition, ANY tax change leads to redistribution of income; and let's agree that there's no formula which would be considered fair by everyone. Nevertheless, the current situation, deriving in large part from the Bush tax cuts, seems untenable in anything but a non-democratic society, one in which the upper crust ignores the needs of everyone else, except to the extent necessary to keep them alive and productive enough to provide the labor force they require. It's the sort of imbalance that in past times led to tumbrels, knitting, and baskets of heads.

Not now. Today, the people most adversely affected, blinded by constant news distortion, astroturfing, and the baiting of fear and hatred, are demonstrating in favor of the very kind of economic unfairness that, even in the darkest of ages, has led such people to rise up in their own defense. Now, they threaten violence in order to preserve the system that is grinding them into dust.

I mean, yeah, okay: they don't like having a black guy in the white house; they hate immigration, they're convinced the black guy is coming for their guns. But the tax thing, the health care thing, regulating banks? Really? They'd rather destroy their own futures than acknowledge the lies that Fox "news" and the RWS™ are deliberately feeding them; they'd consider an end to Obama worth the price, even if the price is the end of America.

How strange are the times in which we live. How disconnected from reality and from their own interests are those enabling the destruction to continue. Really and truly, it's absolutely remarkable, and entirely incomprehensible.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Decision


Obama Outlines Moral, Philosophical Justifications For Turkey Pardon

Morsels


A few images that've been sitting on my desktop for varying amounts of time, and for which I haven't felt like writing an entire post:



Just the tip of the hypocriceberg.



Astroturf in a nutshell.


We ain't seen nuthin' yet. But he did manage to get this accomplished. (I happen to be an agnostic on earmarks.)




Deeper than it seems. It comes from the following:



Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Enemy Within


I guess I'm not the only one to have noticed: Congressional Republicans would rather destroy America than see Barack Obama reƫlected for a second term. Looked at with unfogged eyes, it's apparent that deliberate sabotage of the economy is merely a means to an end.

... tangible improvements in the economy are key to Obama’s re-election chances. And Douglas Hibbs knows that it’s key. And senior administration officials know that its key. So is it so unreasonable to think that Mitch McConnell and John Boehner may also know that it’s key? That rank and file Republicans know that it’s key? McConnell has clarified that his key goal in the Senate is to cause Barack Obama to lose in 2012which if McConnell understands the situation correctly means doing everything in his power to reduce economic growth. Boehner has distanced himself from this theory, but many members of his caucus may agree with McConnell.

Which is just to say that specifically the White House needs to be prepared not just for rough political tactics from the opposition (what else is new?) but for a true worst case scenario of deliberate economic sabotage.


Is it crazy hyperbole to think so? Is it really far-fetched? What would it look like?

You might start with rejecting the advice of economists and oppose any kind of stimulus investments. You'd also want to cut spending and take money out of the economy, while blocking funds to states and municipalities, forcing them to lay off more workers. You'd no doubt want to cut off stimulative unemployment benefits, and identify the single most effective jobs program of the last two years (the TANF Emergency Fund) so you could kill it.

You might then take steps to stop the Federal Reserve from trying to lower the unemployment rate. You'd also no doubt want to create massive economic uncertainty by vowing to gut the national health care system, promising to re-write the rules overseeing the financial industry, vowing re-write business regulations in general, considering a government shutdown, and even weighing the possibly of sending the United States into default.

You might want to cover your tracks a bit, and say you have an economic plan that would help -- a tax policy that's already been tried -- but you'd do so knowing that such a plan has already proven not to work.

It applies across the board. Judges, for example.

It's gotten so bad that, Ian Millhiser writes, a number of Republican judges are now begging the GOP to stop obstructing Obama's nominees....

... Even the most benign, Republican-friendly elements of Obama's agenda, like the new START treaty, are subject to total opposition from the GOP. They use what power they have to prevent government from performing basic duties at any level of efficiency, and then turn around and argue that this reflects a failure of leadership on the part of the president. The pursuit of political power is more important to the party than civic responsibility. It's a testament to the power of low expectations that this hasn't produced more of an outrage, especially since they aren't even pretendingotherwise.


Having made it clear their prime directive is to destroy Obama, not even trying to hide their agenda which might well include a government shut-down, it's not really in question that these guys place their own political goals above the country's best interest. The only question remaining is whether voters will recognize it and, if they do, whether they'll find it abhorrent. And whether the damage done will be too great to reverse.

My guess: no, no, and yes.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sympathy


The US (and, specifically, the Bush administration's) response to the 9/11 attack has been overreaction in countless ways, exceeding OBL's wildest cave-dreams, and underreaction in others. I (and, therefore, anyone) can think of a gazillion places in the US where a terrorist strike would have more emotional and economic impact than an airplane, and would be child's play to pull off.

But the patriotic dudgeon over body scanners and patdowns has been revelatory.

I have many questions about both methods, and I really have questions about the RWS™ calls for racial profiling in order to spare the rest of us the indignities. (Isn't it obvious what the terrorist response would be, how stupid an idea it is? (Well, of course it is: Sarah's on board, too.))

On the other hand, my first thought about going through a body scanner is this: I feel sorry for the poor sonofabitch who has to look at images of me digitally unclothed.


Spectrum


This pretty thoroughly demonstrates the whole range of differences between Obama and Bush, and between Republican tactics and normality. It also shows what I consider good about Barack Obama, and what drives me crazy about him.

Not long after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a variety of Democratic lawmakers proposed creating the Department of Homeland Security. George W. Bush, at least initially, balked, fearing a cabinet agency would lead to more oversight.

In time, Bush reversed course, and embraced the idea. But when it came labor laws and the new DHS, the White House and the Democratic Senate majority were on opposite sites. As the dispute intensified, Bush ultimately gave a speech on Sept. 23, 2002, insisting, "The Senate is more interested in special interests in Washington and not interested in the security of the American people."...

...Eight years later, Dana Milbank reflects on the incident while noting that it's Republicans who are "blocking a Senate vote on a treaty with Russia that is critical to securing loose nukes and keeping Iran from gaining the bomb."

For Democrats, the opposition's gamesmanship with security should present an opportunity. Republicans seem to have entered a post-post-9/11 era, in which national security is no longer a higher priority than their interest in undermining President Obama. There's no need to resort to the demagoguery once used against Democrats, but neither would it hurt the White House and congressional Democrats to point out that their opponents are trying to weaken Americans' security. [...]


Milbank suggests if the situations were reversed, and Democrats were blocking a nuclear arms treaty negotiated by Bush, the Republican president would not only be questioning Dems' motives, but Republicans "would no doubt be running ads juxtaposing Democrats with Osama bin Laden, or alleging, as they did then, that Democrats are giving 'comfort to America's enemies.'...
...And so we hear a very different tone. Eight years ago, Bush said Democrats don't care if we live or die. Yesterday, President Obama said of Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), "I believe that Senator Kyl wants a safe and secure America, just like I do, and is well-motivated." Obama added, "Senator Kyl has never said to me that he does not want to see START ratified. ... What he said is, is that he just felt like there wasn't enough time to get it done in the lame duck. And I take him at his word."

That's a degree of graciousness Kyl almost certainly doesn't deserve, and one Bush never even considered.



(Sorry about the psychedelic font changes.) I wrote about this recently. The behaviors of both sides are astoundingly and diametrically different, with one being blatantly cynical and hypocritical and the other -- the president, anyway -- eschewing the sort of tactics that everyone knows the Rs would be using were it reversed.

It says a lot about President Obama that he retains the FAR higher ground.

I just wish I knew what.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Clarity Rarity


If the most successful investor in history says something as obvious as a full moon about economics, will anyone listen? What will it take for the Foxobaggerbeckians to admit that their demand for tax cuts is based on greed and nothing else? Admit that they couldn't care less about history, and even less than that about the common good.

"I think that people at the high end, people like myself, should be paying a lot more in taxes. We have it better than we've ever had it," he told ABC's Christiane Amanpour in a clip played on "This Week" on Sunday.

When Amanpour pointed to critics' claims that the very wealthy need tax cuts to spur business and capitalism, Buffett replied, "The rich are always going to say that, you know, 'Just give us more money, and we'll go out and spend more, and then it will all trickle down to the rest of you.' But that has not worked the last 10 years, and I hope the American public is catching on."

He's right about everything but that hopey thing at the end. Clearly, denialism of reality, simplification of hard stuff and rationalization of selfishness have become the new norm. If the recent election doesn't demonstrate that, nothing does.

Dancing With The Metaphors


Despite my happenin' stance, I have to say I've never watched "Dancing With The Stars." But, as a faithful follower of the truths that pass each other in the night on the intertubes, I'm aware that Bristol Palin is on the show, and that she keeps getting voted back by hordes of people who proudly announce they voted hundreds of times to "make liberals' heads explode." This, despite the fact that the born-again virgin regularly receives the lowest scores from the judges. And since it came from one of my best friends, the one who introduced me to my future wife -- twice (same girl) -- when he requested that I comment on the situation (sly reference there), I obey.

Having watched clips that show her acting disability, I'm inclined to stipulate that Ms Palin is not a good dancer either. Evidently, experts agree. (I don't know anything about the show's judges, but I assume they know something about dance, much as the judges on American Idol know music: and I have watched that show.) So for the purposes of this highly important post -- and because my point makes no sense if it's untrue -- let's all get along, and buy the proposition that Bristol Palin dances like me.

In which case, it's a perfect microcosm of teabaggery and the whole Sarah Palin phenomenon: the voting onto the national stage of people demonstrably unqualified and untalented by folks proudly and resolutely refractory to fact. People who not only don't value expertise but actively reject it. People who, for reasons that sincerely escape me, feel a primal need for validation, and exercise it by supporting people who are vapid, anti-intellectual, vengeful, superficial, short-sighted, selfish, uninformed, and mean. Nasty.

The good news is I couldn't care less what happens on DWTS. The bad news is the phenomenon is not limited to meaningless TV shows. It's taken over all phases of political life and, without doubt, threatens to destroy our country.

So, let's keep dancing. You break out the booze. I've got the equivalent of a ball.



Sunday, November 21, 2010

Who Knew?


NEW YORK -- Citing a shortage of priests who can perform the rite, the nation's Roman Catholic bishops are holding a conference on how to conduct exorcisms.

The two-day training, which ends Saturday in Baltimore, is to outline the scriptural basis of evil, instruct clergy on evaluating whether a person is truly possessed, and review the prayers and rituals that comprise an exorcism. Among the speakers will be Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston, and a priest-assistant to New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan.

"Learning the liturgical rite is not difficult," DiNardo said in a phone interview before the conference, which is open to clergy only...

...The full exorcism is held in private and includes sprinkling holy water, reciting Psalms, reading aloud from the Gospel, laying on of hands and reciting the Lord's Prayer. Some adaptations are allowed for different circumstances. The exorcist can invoke the Holy Spirit then blow in the face of the possessed person, trace the sign of the cross on the person's forehead and command the devil to leave.



This is truly good stuff. Who knew it was so easy? Shake a little water, a little blow..., say "scram." I know of teenagers who were harder to get to move out.

I get the faith thing, I really do. Don't have it, sadly or not, but I get it. But this? Believing in possessions and little rituals to treat it? Really? I simply can't connect such belief with sanity. I mean, geez, people, we're talking Satan here. Beelzebub, the dark one, evil disincarnate. Why would he waste his time possessing a person if it were so easy to force him out? Is some priest, maybe even a little tired from a hard day's child molesting, more powerful than The Devil himself? After a two-day course? That's all it takes?

I have to assume there's no lab time, no possessed people caged in a basement somewhere, to be brought out for the final exam. I admit I felt ready to do lap choles after a half-day course that ended by separating a couple of pigs from their gallbladders; but this seems so much more, what, biblical. Apocalyptic. I'm thinking a week at least. Maybe half a lifetime of good deeds and a miracle or two.

A two-day course. And they're serious! Doesn't it make the whole possession/devil belief a little embarrassing? Even more than it already was?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Democracy, We Hardly Knew Ye'



Yes, it's long, so it'll not be read by those with the teabagging form of ADHD. And, because it's Bill Moyers at a Howard Zinn lecture, there's a certain amount of liberal blood in the eye. But there's so much that's factual and really depressing in this speech, that it's perfect for a guy like me. Riding in on the backs of teabaggers, finishing a journey that started with Ronald Reagan, the plutocratization of America is complete. So long democracy, it was nice knowing you. (Well, not actually knowing: imagining.)

If you read it, I'd say you could skip the first several paragraphs. Even I have my limits. Here's a sampling. It ain't pretty.

...Between 2001 and 2008, about 40,000 US manufacturing plants closed. Six million factory jobs have disappeared over the past dozen years, representing one in three manufacturing jobs. Natalie Ford said to the Times what many of us are wondering: “I don’t know how without any good-paying jobs here in the United States people are going to pay for their health care, put their children through school.”

... the new BMW plant that recently opened [in South Carolina]... advertised that the company would hire one thousand workers. Among the applicants? According to the Washington Post; “a former manager of a major distribution center for Target; a consultant who oversaw construction projects in four western states; a supervisor at a plastics recycling firm. Some held college degrees and resumes in other fields where they made more money.” They will be paid $15 an hour – about half of what BMW workers earn in Germany...

... from 1950 through 1980, the share of all income in America going to everyone but the rich increased from 64 percent to 65 percent. Because the nation’s economy was growing handsomely, the average income for 9 out of l0 Americans was growing, too – from $17,719 to $30,941. That’s a 75 percent increase in income in constant 2008 dollars.

But then it stopped. Since 1980 the economy has also continued to grow handsomely, but only a fraction at the top have benefitted. The line flattens for the bottom 90% of Americans. Average income went from that $30,941 in 1980 to $31,244 in 2008. Think about that: the average income of Americans increased just $303 dollars in 28 years...

... plutocracy is here, and a pumped up Citigroup even boasted of coining a variation on the word— “plutonomy”, which describes an economic system where the privileged few make sure the rich get richer and that government helps them do it. Five years ago Citigroup decided the time had come to “bang the drum on plutonomy.” And bang they did. Here are some excerpts from the document “Revisiting Plutonomy;”

“Asset booms, a rising profit share and favorable treatment by market-friendly governments have allowed the rich to prosper… [and] take an increasing share of income and wealth over the last 20 years.”

“…the top 10%, particularly the top 1% of the United States – the plutonomists in our parlance – have benefitted disproportionately from the recent productivity surged in the US… [and] from globalization and the productivity boom, at the relative expense of labor.”

… [and they] are likely to get even wealthier in the coming years. Because the dynamics of plutonomy are still intact.”

...You will hear it said, “Come on, this is the way the world works.” No, it’s the way the world is made to work. ... And those policy decisions were paid for by the less than one percent who participate in our capitalist democracy political contributions. Over the past 30 years, with the complicity of Republicans and Democrats alike, the plutocrats, or plutonomists (choose your own poison) have used their vastly increased wealth to assure that government does their bidding. Remember that grateful Citigroup reference to “market-friendly governments” on the side of plutonomy? We had a story down in Texas for that sort of thing; the dealer in a poker game says to the dealer, Now play the cards fairly, Reuben; I know what I dealt you.” (To see just how our system was rigged by the financial, political, and university elites, run, don’t walk, to the theatre nearest you showing Charles Ferguson’s new film, “Inside Job.” Take a handkerchief because you’ll weep for the republic.)...
...early this year the five reactionary members of the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are “persons” with the right to speak during elections by funding ads like those now flooding the airwaves. It was the work of legal fabulists. Corporations are not people; they are legal fictions, creatures of the state, born not of the womb, not of flesh and blood. They’re not permitted to vote. They don’t bear arms (except for the nuclear bombs they can now drop on a congressional race without anyone knowing where it came from.) Yet thanks to five activist conservative judges they have the privilege of “personhood” to “speak” – and not in their own voice, mind you, but as ventriloquists, through hired puppets.

Does anyone really think that’s what the authors of the First Amendment had in mind? Horrified by such a profound perversion, the editor of the spunky Texas Observer, Bob Moser, got it right with his headline: “So long, Democracy, it’s been good to know you.”

You’ll recall that soon after the Court’s decision President Obama raised the matter during his State of the Union speech in January. He said the decision would unleash a torrent of corrupting corporate money into our political system. Sitting a few feet in front of the president, Associate Justice Samuel Alito defiantly mouthed the words: “Not true.”

Not true? Terry Forcht knew otherwise. He’s the wealthy nursing home executive in Kentucky whose establishments is being prosecuted by Attorney General Jack Conway for allegedly covering up sexual abuse. Conway is running for the Senate. Forcht has spent more than $l million to defeat him. Would you believe that Forcht is the banker for one of Karl Rove’s two slush funds, American Crossroads, which has spent nearly $30 million to defeat Democrats?

What’s that, Justice Alito? Not true?...

...Now let’s connect some dots. While knocking down nearly all limits on corporate spending in campaigns, the Supreme Court did allow for disclosure, which would at least tell us who’s buying off the government. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell even claimed that “sunshine” laws would make everything okay. But after the House of Representatives passed a bill that would require that the names of all such donors be publicly disclosed, McConnell lined up every Republican in the Senate to oppose it. Hardly had the public begun to sing “Let the Sunshine In” than McConnell & Company went tone deaf. And when the chief lobbyist for the Chamber of Commerce was asked by an interviewer, “Are you guys eventually going to disclose?” the answer was a brisk: “No.” ...

...Now, hold on to your seats, because this can blow away the faint-hearted: Among the right-wing luminaries who showed up among Koch’s ‘secretive network of Republican donors’ were two Supreme Court Justices: Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. That’s right: 2 of the 5 votes to enable the final corporate takeover of government came from justices who were present as members of the plutocracy hatched their schemes for doing so...


There's more, but I can't stand to go over it again. You might quibble about this or that in Moyers' speech; but I don't think its deniable that since Reagan we've become a country built to make the already wealthy much wealthier. And that the people who stand to benefit most, with the election of George Bush and his radical Supreme Court appointments, sealed it.

And now they've found the perfect formula for endless success: talk radio and Fox "news" with their constant RWS™ propagandizing, disseminating distortions on the one hand and using religion on the other, to befuddle the electorate and remove their means for ever recognizing it; massive infusions of untraceable cash to convince people that it's in their interest to vote against their interest.

Believe it or not, I love capitalism. I know that a legal and political climate that allows business to flourish is good for America. But this is a perversion of that, and it can only end badly. The influence of mega-rich has become unstoppable; and they've shown themselves not to care, because they no longer need to.

The time has long passed, and it's much too late, for the insane Beck posse to realize what they've done.

Not that they ever would have.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Free The Anti-Matter!


Don't know about you, but I'm gonna write someone a nasty letter. An email, anyway. Scientists have really over-stepped this time.

So they've been looking for anti-matter. Okay, it's a free country. (Switzerland, that is.) I've been looking for Sasquatch around here, too. But if I ever found one, I'd sure let it roam free. So what do these guys do? They find an anti-atom, and trap it. Keep it. Poor little guy. And those scientists? Probably getting revenge for all the wedgies they got in grade school. Far as I'm concerned, it's no excuse.

GENEVA – Scientists claimed a breakthrough Thursday in solving one of the biggest riddles of physics, successfully trapping the first "anti-atom" in a quest to understand what happened to all the antimatter that has vanished since the Big Bang.

An international team of physicists at the European Organizationfor Nuclear Research, or CERN, managed to create an atom of anti-hydrogen and then hold onto it for long enough to demonstrate that it can be studied in the lab.

Yeah, sure. Under what conditions? In a cage with no water?

If I understood it, I bet I'd be even more pissed.

Obstructionism Gone Wild

To say John Kyl is not a very smart guy and one whose priorities have nothing to do with protecting our country or moving it forward is to say there are Republicans in the Senate. So, no, it's not surprising that the guy, for no reason I can think of, has decided personally to kibosh the nuclear treaty with Russia (with the blessing of the rest of his asinine abettors.)

Republicans had made Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) their point man on the issue -- it's not clear why, since Kyl has no background or working knowledge of the issue -- and he made specific objections to the Obama administration clear. Officials, in response, gave Kyl what he asked for. The deal, they thought, was done.

Over many months of negotiations, the administration committed to spending $80 billion to do that over the next 10 years, and on Friday offered to chip in $4.1 billion more over the next five years. As a gesture of commitment, the White House had made sure extra money for modernization was included in the stopgap spending resolution now keeping the government operating, even though almost no other program received an increase in money.

All told, White House officials counted 29 meetings, phone calls, briefings or letters involving Mr. Kyl or his staff. They said they thought they had given him everything he wanted, and were optimistic about completing a deal this week, only to learn about his decision on Tuesday from reporters.

Kyl wouldn't even give the White House the courtesy of a phone call to let them know he was betraying them and the nation's national security needs. Worse, the dimwitted Kyl, with the future of American foreign policy in his hands, couldn't even give a coherent rationale for why he'd made the decision -- his office would only say "there doesn't appear to be enough time" in the lame-duck session.

This is what happens when serious officials try to negotiate in good faith with Republicans -- they refuse to take "yes" for an answer, they don't have intellectual capacity to explain why, and the entire country has to suffer the consequences.

[Emphasis by your blogger. Because there's never been a truer statement, any time, anywhere.]


I take it back. I can think of a reason, and it would seem to be the only one: Kyl's prime motivation is to make President Obama look bad, no matter the impact it has on our country. Loose nukes? Who gives a sh*t, right? Another arms race? F*ck, yeah! Help from Russia on the Iran problems? Who needs it? (How's that balance-y America-y thing workin' out for ya'?)

Awful doesn't describe these guys. What words do? Can anyone make a reasonable (i.e., not Frankonian, not Foxobeckian) argument for Kyl's action? After they gave him what he said he wanted? I'd love to hear it.

[Well, here's another view, suggesting Kyl's naked dishonesty may have lit a fire under the generally non-flammable Harry Reid. One can hope. And here's an answer to my question from one of the rare R Senators who occasionally makes sense. Not that it puts them in any sort of good light. Quite completely the opposite, in fact. Nor does it offer hope for ratification, now or ever.]

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Easy


In my recent post on the deficit, I should have more overtly made an obvious point: using the fun interactive site I referenced at the NYT, what becomes clear is not how hard it is to balance the budget, but how easy it is. All it takes, as I've been saying, is a not-horrendous bit of tax-raising, and a not very painful series of spending cuts. I'm not saying the NYT site isn't oversimplified, but the principle is pretty clear. Give it a try. It's revelatory.

The problem is that you and I (and by "you" I exclude some of my Foxobeckified commenters) are adult enough to be able to make obvious choices; whereas no one in Congress is. The difficulty, in other words, is not in seeing the answers: it's that our political system, fatally wounded by hyper-partisanship and the forsaking of reality-based thinking (mainly but not exclusively on one side of the aisle) is no longer able to function in the way in which it was designed. Our founders, silly boys that they were, imagined there'd always be in Congress at least a handful of educated people, willing to rise above pettiness to act for the common good.

And, of course, the fault is not entirely with our elected representatives: it's with those who elected them. Fed for decades on Reagonian economic fantasies and Bushy redefinition of patriotism to mean shopping and shutting up, the electorate has no stomach for those who'd tell them the truth, much less act on it.

So we'll never get there. Not in time, anyway. But it's not, as you'll see if you play the NYT's game, because it's too hard to find the answer.


Empty He




Some stories are so perfect, you just can't get ahead of them on the intertubes. By now, pretty much everything that needs to be said has been said. But it's still worth a note over here. Because, after all, the stupidity, dishonesty, factlessness, gullibility, hypocrisy, superficiality, vacuity, laughability-were-it-funny, and over-arching unhelpfulness (to name only the first few appropriate adjectives that come most obviously to mind) of the teabaggers and those candidates supported by them, is a central theme of this blog, without which what'd be the point? Like sex without a partner. (Well, okay... )

First of all, let no reader of comments on this blog be surprised or fail to note that the shameless hypocrite in question, with no useful ideas, is an anesthesiologist from the Southlands. Just sayin'.

So this guy, who likes to appear on camera in the starchy white coat and pressed scrubs of the non-operational, campaigned against government-run health care, mischaracterizing as "government takeover" the plan that was sadly far short of and anything but a government takeover. "Market solutions" was his brilliant, original, and pre-failed proposal.

Announcing for everyone to see (those that hadn't figured it out or read this blog, that is) that he and everyone who campaigned on the falsehoods and simplicity of the teabag variety weren't serious at all, he arrives in D.C. and demands, I tell you, DEMANDS his free government health care. A one month wait, he says, is intolerable. Even though it's two months shorter than for the average American new employee in, y'know, market-based private business. Then, when reaction is, well, exactly what you'd expect, he tries to say he was just pointing out the inefficiency of government sponsored care. Yeah, by demanding that he get it right away. Convincing. (It's all in the preceding links.)

Yep. And Mitch McConnell climbs clumsily on board the anti-earmark haywagon, pitchfork in his ass, after requesting a billion dollars --A BILLION DOLLARS -- of his own.

Y'know, I've criticized Congressional Democrats roundly for their fecklessness, for their weak-kneed wobbling on their own principles. But at least they've been trying to get things done, and they haven't been presenting themselves completely as people they are not. Not completely, anyway. But these guys, these new majority Congresspeople, and the ones already in place whom they're joining? What a bunch of disingenuous and empty-headed deceivers. How transparent is their selfishness, their dishonesty, their goals being only about personal power and preserving wealth for the richest while ignoring everything and everyone else.

This guy, this anesthesiologist from the South who, like our favorite commenter, probably sucks a little too much nitrous at home, in his clumsy and instantaneous dropping of tea party pretense almost makes it funny. But really, it's not.

I can only wonder, trembling (mostly with fear), what disasters they're about to wreak upon us (and embarrassments on themselves); and whether even the self-centered and unthinking people who put them in Congress will wake up in time to undo the damage. Or, since it'll be too late, at least to recognize what they've done.

After putting this post to bed, as it were, I got an email linking to the following, by Sam Seder, cleverer and much better known than me:


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

God Is Great....ly exaggerated


Somehow, people are able to see the suffering of a child and feel ennobled by it. (Boy, was I slammed over that one: read the comments and decide for yourself.) To me, it makes a pretty clear case that if there's a god, she cannot possibly be omniscient, omnipotent, and loving, as most of the religulous would have us believe. I know nearly first hand how the pain of a parent witnessing the dying of a child demands some kind of safe haven for the soul. God has a special plan; in her suffering we see the beauty of life. (Somehow.) But I can find nothing -- NOTHING -- redeeming about the death of a parent via Alzheimer's disease, and if it's not absolute proof of the non-existence of god, then it sure as hell is proof of a very incompetent or a very distracted or a very nasty one.

Yeah, okay, they watch a child die of brain cancer and in her obedient expressions of faith, which she knows are helping her parents cope (which is not to say they're not also helping her as well), witnesses can find some sort of grace. (And take the unspoken inference that their kid could be next.) I don't, not even hardly. But I understand the need and the way in which, for parents, it eases the intolerable pain (and for bystanders, provides a chance to reassure and relieve themselves). If it works, more power to them.

But the slow descent through Alzheimer's disease is completely beyond any such rationalizing. This is an old person, one who's lived her life, whose death is not inconsistent with what we expect; it's in the order of things, it has inherent meaning. To whom goes glory when the death is extended over ten years of robbery? Where is the meaning or evidence of godly love when the person so destroyed has no ability herself to address or understand it? And what person could find any sort of solace watching and participating in the darkest of human comedies as their loved one first denies, then fears, and finally painfully slowly helplessly sadly then dumbly succumbs to the loss of everything they once were, to the end of dignity. The confusion, the incomprehension, the cruel incremental relentless transformation from highly capable and active participant in life, a contributer, into one who can neither recognize nor appreciate the help gladly but so sadly given. If it is a part of life that children eventually become the parents of the parents, in what way is this particular variation of any good to anyone?

I accept that it's often a part of life, and I did whatever I could to make it easier. Who wouldn't? But there is no sign of a loving god in it, surely there isn't. One who didn't plan carefully for the end of life, sure. One who actually takes pleasure in the purposeless suffering he can create, maybe so. Because this can be seen as nothing other than cruelty, were it part of any sort of design. Or, at best, evidence that this creator-person lost interest, checked out, or simply doesn't care about old people. (He's a Republican? Who knew? I'd have said Jesus, anyway, was a Democrat. But it's not really my area.)

The dying girl, called before her time. Of course, we say, there's meaning here. God brought her home, sending us a message -- especially if the family can convince the girl to hide her pain and love God, so we who watch will be pleased. (Why it has to involve such physical pain and suffering for the child, well, it's not ours to ask.) But an old person, already headed there, in whose death there'd be sadness but not a sense of cosmic disorder? Where in god's name is god in such a death, robbing the person of who she was, skinned alive slowly with a dulled knife. Threatening to replace her family's best memories with ones of sorrow.

I didn't need convincing: I'd long since seen the contradictions in the generally-held views of god and found myself unable to ignore them. But how does a believer rationalize such a thing as death by Alzheimer's disease?

I enjoy fiction; I enjoy fantasy; but to enjoy it I do expect a modicum of internal consistency. If the story makes sense in its own context and follows a kind of logic that, if not based on reality, remains constant throughout the story, I'm on board. As a kid, I relished The Foundation Trilogy, marveled at the creation of a whole set of rules, an entire civilization that neither existed nor was possible, but made complete sense within the walls of its world, on every page. I like a good mindless movie as much as the next guy, and I don't expect much in return for being entertained (especially now that I qualify for senior rates.) But watching a movie like the latest "Bourne Redundancy" I can't help but be bothered when they make not the slightest attempt to explain plot jumps that are impossible.

Belief in god, by definition, isn't supposed to be rational. But why can't there be some sort of connection to what we observe of life? It is not possible -- IT'S SIMPLY NOT POSSIBLE -- to reconcile the idea of an 1) all-knowing and 2) all-powerful and 3) loving god with life as we know it to be. Not to mention with free will or answering prayer. It's not impossible, it seems to me, to have belief that makes some sort of internal sense, so why not? Too unsatisfying, not soporific enough? The Greeks and Romans with their gods fighting and screwing and generally causing chaos and running wild were consistent with life. Native animism, too. Buddhism is mostly a philosophy of humility; its reincarnation idea is sort of a side dish which is neither consistent nor inconsistent with observation. Doesn't negate itself the way Judeo-Christian insistence on the three-fold god characteristics does. (In fairness, Jews sort of punt on the idea of afterlife, and I give them a thumbs-up for that. Not in terms of belief per se, but in morality: if there's no reward, no punishment to follow this life, then doing good is for its own sake. The highest ethic, if you ask me. A religion that doesn't promise heaven and hell asks more of its flock.)

And if, for the sake of simplicity you prefer the idea of one god (although most who do seem happy to complicate it with saints and angels and devils and demons), why not just settle on the idea that he's a mean s.o.b. (in that, you'd stand firmly within Biblical teaching), or that he doesn't always pay attention, or that there are things of which he's simply incapable? Because that view would be consistent with what we know of how life works: it's random, it's unfair, it's, finally, neutral. If the ultimate answer to the obvious contradictions between life as we know it and God as we prefer to imagine it is simply that we can't know, then what's the point? No answer is no answer: it's just a drug. Or this.

Anyhow, I just thought I'd mention it. Do I need a reason?




Deficit deficit



I've argued many times here that fiscal sanity for this country will require that both sides of the political spectrum accept some things they don't like. Taxes will need to go up, spending down. Spending cuts will have to include such conservative holy ground as the Pentagon, and such liberal lines in the sand as entitlements. The "leaked" preliminaries from Obama's budget resolution group indeed have things unlikeable for both sides. But it seems way too tilted against the needy in favor of the very wealthy.

Cutting the top tax rate to 23%, it seems to me, is WAY ridiculous. It's a huge giveaway to the very wealthy, to pay for which they, among other things, eliminate mortgage deductions. Such a change will be significantly more painful for low and middle income earners than the rich.

Twenty-three percent? To get there they propose raising retirement age and medicare eligibility, reducing or eliminating medicaid. My view of entitlement reform is to begin with indexing it to need, not to take it away from the needy. To lower taxes to 23%? It seems, to put it neutrally, an exceedingly conservative plan. Completely unrealistic, in other words. Hey, my house is paid for, so losing the mortgage deduction won't affect me. I'd love to pay only 23% in taxes. But I think it'd be absolutely wrong. There are things we need to do for ourselves and for our fellow citizens. It's a pipe dream to think such low taxes would provide enough except with the most draconian stripping away of the so-called safety nets.

Instead of a mix of tax increases and spending cuts, it appears they've gone for huge tax decreases, and very unbalanced spending cuts that will significantly harm the average American while richly rewarding the wealthy ones.

It's entirely consistent, however, with the Republican version of compromise: come to our side and we'll agree (and as you approach, we'll keep stepping back). Somehow I'd thought the commission would have felt the need to meet in the middle. Alan Simpson, sort of likable in an unlikable way, for his unapologetic irascibility, is a very hard-core conservative. Erskine Bowles is, at best, a middle-of-the-right-side-of-the-road liberal. It seems the deck was stacked from the beginning. (After seeing his choices for co-chairs, can anyone still think Barack Obama is a communist socialist far left America-destroying Nazi Muslim terrorist? Duh.)

If I were in Congress, and the only choices were to vote for the proposals or to revert back to our current state of double-talk and pretense, I'd vote for it, because we have to do something. But I'd hope there'll be a serious period of making it more balanced between tax and spending cuts. I'd also hope for a money tree in my back yard, and a tap in my kitchen with an endless supply of chocolate syrup, calorie free but still as luscious Dilettante's Ephemere.

Happily, thanks to a fun simplification by the NYT, you can have a crack at budget resolution yourself. Here's mine. I think I did it without hurting the people who need the most help.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Mom


Mother of a one-and-a-half year old son, eight-and-a-half months pregnant with me, my mom was widowed at age twenty-four when her husband, a respected, loved, and gentle doctor (as I learned from reading letters she received back then), died unexpectedly after an operation. (And I went on to become a surgeon!) Years later, she confessed to me how hard that time was, that she had to force herself to care for me, shocked and grief-stricken as she was. In some sort of geometric shape of life which is not a circle, she died yesterday, on my birthday.

Mom married my dad when I was about two; I have no recollection of being fatherless, although I do recall when she told me that I'd had another one. (I think it was in our living room, while I was looking at a book from a low shelf, with a picture above it. The book may have been his. The piano was to my back, and it was daytime. It's like a picture in my head, in black and white, and quite possibly false.)

My dad was a lawyer, a judge, a State Supreme Court Justice, a sort-of politician, a school board member. I remember how my mom gave him advice, helped write speeches, suggested approaches, at a time when "Father Knows Best" was the popular ideal of marriage. At a fairly young age, I recognized that their relationship was unusual for the times, that Mom was an equal intellectual partner and more.

For a time Mom worked in the alumni office at Reed College (having attended there for two years and then transferring to Stanford); she was on the board of the Oregon Symphony and of the University of Oregon Health Sciences Center, the Red Cross, the League of Women Voters. Many, many others. She helped found and support the Cannon Beach Historical Society, through which she met Ken Burns when he was working on his series on Lewis and Clark. And she was a talented painter and sculptor who turned down offers for serious study, to do other things. It always showed, though, in the personal touches in her home and in the little nick-nacks she made for her kids and grand kids. In college, she was on the ski team. (Okay, it was Reed, and I'm guessing they competed against local high schools. Which didn't have teams.)

Like all moms, she loved being a grandma. Until the tragic death of a most lovely young lady, there were three grandkids. To my son, she was loving always, forbearing, and able to draw him out. Like all grandmas, she knitted him things. Many were the hours they spent, at the beach, doing jigsaw puzzles, baking cookies, talking. Her granddaughter, a beyond-brilliant professor of immunology at NYU, and a total sweetheart, looks a lot like her.

Mom raised pie-making to a plane unseen by mortals. It's a common claim, I know; every restaurant would have you believe it of theirs, and everyone, I suppose, makes the attestation about their moms. But if you never believe anything else I say, believe this: hers were the best. Flaky, crisp no matter the substrate, barely sweet, always crimped artfully at the edge and perfectly brown, her crusts were the Platonic ideal. Most perfect were blackberry pies when I and my siblings -- and, later, my wife and son and I -- collected the berries from the vines near our family house at the Oregon coast. Chocolate was good, too. And peach. Rhubarb.

Even as the end approached, she retained her love of chocolate, and until most recently I could please her with something decadent from the bakery by the motel we used on our many trips to Portland. I'd ask if she wanted another bite, she'd say no, I'd put a morsel between her thumb and finger, and she'd pop it in her mouth and smile. And we'd do it over again.

Growing up, my family was never demonstrative or overtly affectionate. Unlike the boisterous love that abounds in my wife's family, in mine there were conditions and reservations, embarrassments. So in some way my mom's decline provided something most often absent until then. As she became more childlike, talking to the stuffed animals we gave her, there developed a rare, if unnatural, intimacy. "I love you" was said. "My little boy..." Affection poured uninhibited, she showered words of love on my wife, admired my hair (of all things!) For that, I suppose I can be grateful. But in her descent through the ravages of Alzheimer's disease, as layers of her essence were relentlessly peeled away, the energetic intellect that lit her eyes dimming into pleading puzzlement, there was nothing good or redeeming about it. Especially during the time when she knew it was happening, after she'd stopped resisting acknowledgment. I can't say which time was worse: it was all bad.

For a while, I could still make her laugh. Her love of wordplay remained until it, too, was finally pulled away from her. (Her kind of joke: woman goes to the butcher and asks for a pound of kiddlies. The butcher asks, you mean kidneys? The woman replies, I said kiddlies, diddle I?) Near the end, my attempts to make her laugh just confused her.

As we gathered at her death bed, my brother recalled a memory that I'd completely lost. About the time we got our first TV, in the fifties, when he was about ten, Joe McCarthy's red-baiting committee came to Portland, to investigate Reed College. He remembers sitting in the basement with Mom, watching live broadcasts of the hearings. He recalled how angry and frightened for her family Mom was, having gone to Reed, and being -- as were so many of those called -- Jewish. Some of their friends abandoned them during those times. A few, including a family of very conservative Christians, did not. (Maybe, in some ways those were better times.)

So, now she's gone. As much as I'd felt, over the past couple of years, that the end would be a relief -- for her and her family -- when it came it was not, exactly. One weight replaces another, and I'll try to force away the memories of the last few years as they threaten to rob me of the rest. Like the one my brother gave me, and so many others disappearing into the mist of my own failing brain. For now, and for too long a while, I'll see her as she died, the woman she was having long since departed.

In the Jewish prayer for the dead -- one of the things I've always liked about the faith of my childhood -- it's said, "They still live on in the acts of goodness they performed and in the hearts of those who cherish their memory." That's the idea of afterlife that resonates with me. In that, my mom lives on, brightly.



Sunday, November 14, 2010

Angel Dust



The other day, I was thinking about angels. Don't ask me why. But it struck me that, like the idea of prayer or free will, their existence is incompatible with the concept of an all-powerful, all-knowing (and, in the case of prayer and free will, loving) god.

So what's the deal? If there's such a thing as a guardian angel, what must we infer? That god subcontracts? That he can't keep up with it all himself? Do angels have license to operate independently? Either they're a redundancy, unnecessary actors between the all-powerful and his subjects, or god is not fully capable him/her/it/themself. Right? How could it be otherwise?

The proverbial piano falls off the tenth floor, narrowly missing you as you turn away to sneeze. "My guardian angel was with me that day," you say. So what, exactly, was the transaction?

Let's ignore asking why the piano fell in the first place, because that in itself raises a blogload of questions. It happened, okay? Angel had stuff on her mind, god was playing bingo at the church, making the wide receiver drop the ball. Your call. Anyhow, if it missed you because of the angel, did she just act on her own? You'd think that'd be a little risky, because, you know, if god airborned the ivories and she nullified the play, there go the wings. One must assume.

Maybe there's a daily schedule, an RSS feed, of godly interventions, and the piano wasn't on it, so the angel was good to go. But that brings it back to the independent contractor thing. It must not have been god's plan, because how could a mere angel overrule god? But if it wasn't his plan, and angelic intervention handled it, then god can't possibly be all-knowing or all-powerful. He has a clean up crew for his oversights? (Not that we all couldn't use one, so far be it from me...) Or could the angel have h-mailed god to get the okay? I mean, we have to assume it couldn't go down (or go down) if he were against it. But then what was the point of having the angel hanging around? Seraphim ain't stopping sailing Steinways if god isn't in on it, right? Unless he's, well, in his dodderage. Checked out. Error-prone. Is there astral amyloid? Are angels god's Nancy Reagan?

Well, I guess there's a choice to make, belief-wise: active angels, or omni-omni god.

Of course, it's pretty obvious there's no way there's an all-powerful and all-knowing god. Not a loving one, anyway. Not in this world.

I'm going with angels. Got one on my shoulder right now.