Cutting Through The Crap

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bold


The Rominee sticks his neck out and predicts 6% unemployment at the end of his first term. Which, as it happens, is the level already forecasted by the CBO, based on policies currently in place. Can't beat it, really: take office, do nothing, and it'll be fine.

It hasn't escaped me, nor, I'm sure, teabaggRs, that the trajectory of the economy is positive and if it continues if they take over, they'll be able to take credit for it. Which, sure as body odor in a locker room, they will.

In a similarly bold act of cervical out-sticking, Rominee promises the strongest military in the world. With a little more confidence in his abilities, I bet he'll commit to rotating the earth around the sun.


Heroes And Heavy-Breathers


This is a really difficult issue, rife with emotion, perfect for demagoguery.

Chris Hayes, a guy whose show I've never watched, got in hot water (to put it mildly) for saying, perhaps inartfully, something I've said here as recently as a few days ago: we love and idealize wars too much in this country, and too easily equate patriotism with fighting them. Calling the fallen soldiers heroic, while certainly true on many levels, also enables the overlooking of the horror of our own creation to which we send them; lets us ignore how terrible war is, how much we damage the people we send to fight them. And makes it too easy, I think, to shame people away from asking questions, which is probably the most dangerous aspect of all.

Whereas it's individually appropriate, and can't be overstated regarding those in the trenches (I served in Vietnam, in case you didn't know, was injured in a rocket attack, have run to tend to wounded as Cobra helicopters fired overhead: I've seen heroes, and I'm not one of them), promoting hero-worship is also an easy way for leaders to keep minds off what's going on. In some ways, weeping over heroism is a self-indulgent act of assuaging our own guilt. Worse, exploited cynically by those who benefit from war, politically and financially, it becomes an all-too-effortless substitute for the hard work of living in a democracy, an innoculation from criticism. Some pretty bad people know it all too well.

To bring that subject up is, as I see it, neither unpatriotic nor disrespectful. In an open and democratic society, it is, in fact, the opposite. Which, of course, is exactly why the RWS™, who have less love for democracy than they have for the black guy in the white house, have jumped on Chris Hayes (and, of course, on all liberals) like a Medal of Honor winner on a grenade. (Except none of them have ever served nor would have had the instincts to do it.) From their armchairs and sound studios, they loves them some war. Mitt Romney, looks like, loves him some war even more. In service of that proposition, they equate questioning with lack of patriotism, hating the troops, treason (a word tossed around by teabaggRs like frisbees by the hirsute). And, with far too many people, they've succeeded in over-eye-pulling the wool.

That it's nearly impossible to have such a discussion rationally doesn't mean Mr. Hayes shouldn't have tried. His apology was honest and heartfelt, I think; but his original words were meaningful. It's something we should be talking about. With our volunteer army and unpaid-for wars, it is too easy for us; saluting the flag with tears in our eyes as soldiers and veterans march by seems to fill the bill for many of us, and is a hell of a lot less difficult than paying for their care; or than setting aside selfishness and prejudice for the common good, sacrificing something real, compromising, as real patriots should do. If heroes are people who are sent (unprepared in the case of Iraq) to an unnecessary or unwinnable war and are killed or maimed fighting it, so, in these polarized and hateful times, are those willing to question it or try to prevent it in the first place. It should be harder to send kids to fight and die than it seems to be, less easy to ignore the realities by calling it heroism. And it should be easier to debate the wisdom of it all.

I think that's all Chris Hayes was trying to say.




[Thanks, Margy, for the link to the cartoon.]


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

I Was Wrong


Yep, I was. I've been saying that Romney's experience with Bain provided no experience that applies to being president; that he doesn't understand the economy. Turns out he does:

Halperin: You have a plan, as you said, over a number of years, to reduce spending dramatically. Why not in the first year, if you’re elected — why not in 2013, go all the way and propose the kind of budget with spending restraints, that you’d like to see after four years in office? Why not do it more quickly?

Romney: Well because, if you take a trillion dollars for instance, out of the first year of the federal budget, that would shrink GDP over 5%. That is by definition throwing us into recession or depression. So I’m not going to do that, of course.

Of course. Deficit spending has been necessary therapy for the economy devastated by his party's wrongheadedness, and he recognizes it. In fact, he knows that now's not the time to be cutting spending the way his party is calling for. He's a goddam closet Keynesian. (I added that sentence for you, PT.)

So, yeah, he evidently understands the need for what Obama has done. Which, because it's his nature, hasn't stopped him from lying about it and campaigning against it.


Manifest Destiny


This article by Andrew Sullivan is worth a read. In an ideal world a candidate's religion ought have no relevance whatever. In fact, I think absence of religion, in these times which call for clear thinking, would be an enormous asset. But, given the undeniable trend in this country, pretty much exclusively in one party, toward substituting one's version of gospel for common law and common sense, religious leanings may be more relevant than ever.

... For Mormons, the Constitution was a necessary great prologue for the real endeavor: the restoration of the Gospel, i.e. the triumph of Mormonism over other forms of Christianity. The same president of the LDS church confirmed the Mormon belief that the Founding Fathers appeared as spirits in Utah's Saint George Temple to a previous president, Wilford Woodruff in 1877, and stayed for two days and nights in order to be properly saved by a Mormon baptism. Woodruff wrote of this experience:

The spirits of the dead gathered around me, wanting to know why we did not redeem them. Said they, "You have had the use of the Endowment House for a number of years, and yet nothing has ever been done for us. We laid the foundation of the government you now enjoy, and we never apostatized from it, but we remained true to it and were faithful to God." These were the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and they waited on me for two days and two nights. I thought it very singular, that notwithstanding so much work had been done, and yet nothing had been done for them ... I straightway went into the baptismal font and called upon brother McCallister [sic] to baptize me for the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and fifty other eminent men, making one hundred in all, including John Wesley, Columbus, and others...

George Washington was posthumously named a high priest in the LDS church, alongside John Wesley, Benjamin Franklin, and Christopher Columbus. Yes: Ben Franklin is a Mormon High Priest now, according to Romney's faith. More significant to me is that all these figures in American history were asking to be baptized since they now knew that Mormonism was true and they needed saving.

[...]

I raise this because such an understanding of America's unique and divine status among nations has profound foreign policy implications. It means that America alone has divine permission to do what it wants in the wider world, that America is subject to different standards than everyone else (because we alone are divinely blessed),


So, assuming this is a fair analysis, we have, in Mitt Romney, not only a constant and deliberate liar and a man of no political morality, but one who'd see foreign policy as a means to a particular end: namely, the supremacy of the Mormon church via aggressive action against all perceived enemies, borne on the shield of righteousness.

I suppose some might see this as an appropriate counterpoint to Barack Obama's obvious attempts to make Sharia the law of the land. Me, I consider it a tad worrisome. Because President Obama's record is there for the looking, and it's nothing like the one RWS™ and The Rominee would have us believe. Mitt, on the other hand, has shown countless times he has no public values at all. Now, there may be reason to worry about his private ones.

And if not, well, then his lying and pandering and lack of core political convictions are more than enough to run away from, fast and far.



Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Foxified Again


This study is hardly news any more. Closed minds want to stay closed. Open minds like the breeze. (And, no, I don't watch MSNBC. But I do listen to NPR and watch The Daily Show.)


Devolution


It seems clear we're reaching, or have already reached, the breaking point of the human mind. The world has outpaced our ability to keep up. Designed or evolved, humans aren't built for this.

People are cracking up right and right, and I'm trying to figure it out. It'd be pretty interesting if we were, in fact, creations of some sort of intelligence, in which case, you'd have to wonder WTF he/she/it/they had in mind. By the time the rapture rolls around we'll have killed each other off. If the sky-guy put us together with this in mind, what does it say? Well, among other things, it'd say there's no point in considering it: the plan is in place, it's playing out piteously, we're pre-programmed pitiful pawns.

But I'm trying to understand what's happening based on reality. Observing the steady decline, at least in the US, I've taken some solace in believing that a society needs only a small number of brilliant people in order to keep itself moving forward; and I've noted that -- at least until teabaggers get their way -- we have a steady stream of smart and motivated immigrants who still believe in the American dream, winning contests, scholarships, pushing boundaries of knowledge. But it's not enough: we need a quantity of intelligent voters, too; forward-thinking ones, unselfish ones, ones who see change and embrace it, enough of them to elect sane politicians. In that, we seem increasingly bereft.

In study after study we've learned there are innate differences between liberals and conservatives; in how they think, in how they react to certain stimuli, in the very wiring of their brains. We seem to have evolved in two separate strains, two subspecies as it were, brains and guts, and there must be a reason. The gut-thinkers must have come first; primal, the trait remains more deeply embedded than reasoning. The question is whether it's become a liability in these metastable times. Having developed ways to band together, tribal instincts in the face of dangers great and small must be a big part of what got us here. Tigers. Crocodiles. Neighboring tribes. Volcanos. (Okay, sure, you wanna throw in T. Rex, Sarah? Why not?) But did this evolution prepare us for modernity, or has it left us unable to cope? I'm thinking the latter. The instincts we've developed -- half of us, anyway -- are causing us to implode. We're just not made for it.

Tribalism must have had great survival benefits as humanity emerged: developing a sense of community based on likeness, shared rituals, banding together for protection. Finding "otherness" threatening; not venturing too far from what's known and safe: these things must have kept the species intact. And these traits, I'd guess, were more select-worthy early on than those of dreamers and seekers. But -- speculating -- at some point, as societies became safer and more stable, more able to defend themselves, needing to spend less than full-time on survival, other human needs became important, too, allowing striving to appear; wonder, curiosity, invention.

Gut-thinkers, tribalists, suspicion and paranoia got us past the dangers of a few hundred thousand years ago, and continued to do so as long as scattered tribalism was the dominant form of society. In an increasingly borderless world, though, one in which assimilation is becoming the norm, one in which science is taking us places we never could have imagined at speeds impossible to comprehend, change is far outpacing the rate of evolution. We need more mental horsepower, more facility of thought, and we just don't have them; we're stuck in the savannas as the world whizzes by. Tribalism runs deep, and we should be thankful for where it once took us. Maybe we still need it: maybe if the speed of cultural and scientific evolution had been slower, gut-thinkers would have been able to keep up and remain useful.

Keeping guard, maybe, outside the gates.

In fight or flight situations, you only need to assess a couple of facts: that moving object looks different from me, smells different, makes un-me-like sounds. The slow gathering of information, careful making sense of things, planning ahead, considering pros and cons -- none of that applies. But as the world has become complex, threats less immediate and far less clear, that fight-or-flight thinking becomes the danger. It's a new world: science is calling your magic into question; people are increasingly moving past your tightly-held prejudices; your stone-age need to maintain a sense of superiority is threatened all around. Tribalist genes are screaming for action, convincing you you're right, calling you to react with force, and you neither can nor feel the need to resist. Your notions of order are falling apart: you see conspiracies, threats, you make up imaginary enemies (wait past the first moments of the video); you can't help it, you can't withstand the force of your nature.

There's a name for prehistoric tribalists, genetically driven, searching for touchstones in the modern world: teabaggers. We see it's not their fault that they are who they are. Let's say thanks for all they've done through all those eons, but we can't re-cork the bottle for them. The question is whether we can find a way forward together before their kind of thinking blocks all the roads. When they think it's life or death, gut-thinkers have the advantage over cerebrators. It's that evolution thing they don't believe in.

And suddenly it all make sense. Teabaggers are doing what they were programmed to do, calling up fears through millennia long past. Blacks, gays, yellows, browns, immigrants, people who don't believe in the things that they do. Science. Free-thinking. Equality: all of them ringing primordial alarm bells, so much a part of them that they can't see it for what it is.

Which, to me, is not a hopeful realization. It's too deep, it can't be changed. Humankind's creations have outpaced its abilities to keep up with them, and are at cross-purposes with deeply ingrained (in half of us, anyway) ancient instincts for self preservation. In the end, rocks thrown by cave men still break heads.




Monday, May 28, 2012

War Memorial


[Re-posted from a couple of years ago.]


For me the significance of Memorial Day is the recurring reminder that the story of war is -- or should be -- the story of the people who fight them and not of those that start them or support them from the safety of their homes. Wars begin because of the failures of leaders: their stupidity, their selfishness, their blindness, their need for power. For them, it's at a level far removed from those called upon to respond to their failures; with little if any personal pain, they make decisions for which people will die. Money will be spent. People will be mobilized with thoughts of patriotism, will find themselves chanting the name of their country, convinced that theirs is the just cause, that their survival depends on following those leaders who, by definition, have let them down. I think, particularly, of our succession of undeclared wars, most of which were for questionable or overtly phony purposes. Vietnam, Grenada (what a sick joke), Iraq, even Afghanistan, a message pitch, high and tight, abandoned early for a grand illusion.

My view of the Vietnam war was, comparatively, from the balcony, but I was there. I cared for the injured, I was (mildly) injured myself. I came to understand how easy it is to dehumanize the enemy, and, more importantly, how quickly the fight becomes about one's fellows and has little if anything to do with the supposed reasons for being there -- assuming the real reasons were ever stated, much less known.

It'll never change, of course. Because of issues about which soldiers likely won't know, and with a sense of patriotism so easily manipulated that both sides will feel it equally, off they will go, to the pain of their families and to the safe and comfortable pronouncements of heart-felt support of their nations, so easily conjured by the men in charge.

The almost unmentionable fact is that it seems we humans like war. For soldiers there's an intensity of relationships and of purpose, annealed by danger and the need for rising above oneself, that exists nowhere else. When I served, I believed the friendships I formed were the most profound I'd ever had. I was sure they'd last forever; and yet, after I was home, they disappeared nearly as quickly as they formed, and I'm not sure what that says about me. I'd like to think it's because I found something in my life more based in more durable things: family, being a good surgeon, the training for which immersed me so deeply that the rest of the world nearly disappeared; but I don't know. I do know that, rightly or wrongly, because of transcendence or giving in, for many there's nothing like those relationships ever again. To those that have gone through it, I give recognition; to those who died for it, and to their families, I owe much.

But to those who haven't, yet wave the flags, profess their love of country, especially whether "right or wrong," who get all teary-eyed at the passing parade and all hateful-eyed at those who don't, who define patriotism as saluting their flag and not much else, and who think "support our troops" is a bumper sticker -- about those people I'm not so sure. On Memorial Day we hear it said how wars have been our finest hours. For the soldiers, fighting to save themselves and to protect their buddies, with or without a sense of duty and honor, it may well have been. For many, it most certainly was. Called upon to perform heroic acts, to live in unimaginably horrifying conditions, they did. But was that the finest of what they might have been capable? Is that really our best? Shouldn't we hope to hell that it's not? Is life really so meaningless that in war we find our highest purpose?

As much as I honor and respect those who have fought in our wars, and as much as I am aware of the loss of those who died or whose lives were permanently damaged, that much and more am I disgusted by the smirking and secure, the rich and righteous hypocrites who foment the hatred, who prey upon human weakness and misery, who use the unspoken sense of purposelessness that so many people have and turn it, cynically, into faux patriotic pride. Over war. Over the threat of war. Manipulating the mistaken but nearly ubiquitous belief that war is good, that war is righteous, that war is who we are, they win elections, they revel in the spotlight, they spew untruths through the airwaves from their well-padded seats at the table of public opinion. It's shameful.

In having gone to war, dutifully, voluntarily or not, with high ideals or not, mistakenly or not, there's no shame. But at the thought of having been led there with deceit there's great sadness. For those leaders whose cynical recognition and manipulation of our over-arching human frailties, our desperate need for meaning; for those who, generation after generation, translate so easily our weaknesses into willingness to see war as greatness, and to define patriotism in terms of how we respond to that idea; for them I have mostly contempt.

In wars there are countless acts of individual greatness. In some wars nations have responded to need and risen to greatness. But wars are not great; only the people who fight them. And the people who fight them, I remember this Memorial Day, are, mostly, doing so at the behest and consequence of people who are wrong more often than right, who have their own unspoken purposes, who have run out of ideas, and who are decidedly not great.


Tom Tomorrow

[click, prn]


Saturday, May 26, 2012

Progress


Our 25 year old refrigerator/freezer finally completed its slow death, and we've just replaced it with the newest version of the same thing. The original had worked perfectly for 23 of its 25 years. The new one, which has many more bells and whistles, all of which are significant improvements over the old one (not the least of which is that it's so quiet I keep checking to see if the power is off; and it's much more energy efficient), stopped making ice after its first twelve hours in our home.

The repair guy plugged his computer into a data port, got a readout that determined the problem, from which he concluded that the entire motherboard (or whatever it's called) needed to be replaced. That's the evidently faulty one in the picture. (For perspective, it's about 14" x 5.5". A big mother.) From a refrigerator/freezer. Looks like it could direct a mission to Mars. The old one had no port, and I doubt it had much in the way of a computer. We didn't have to truck in ice to keep it cold, but it was definitely older school. You can buy a year-old if slightly stripped down car for the price of this new baby.

I like it, but I'm not expecting 25 years out of it, way things are going. Is all I'm saying.


Friday, May 25, 2012

Farming The Truth


It's obvious by now that those who put our country at risk by authorizing illegal torture will never be prosecuted; and maybe because of that, there are still people out there claiming it works, is needed, and that Obama is a traitor for ending it. (Although it's not so certain he did, which, you'd think, would make him a hero to the wingnuts.)

So this article is highly relevant, maybe more than ever. I'm not so naive as to think it'd convince those who continue to argue, against all evidence (Really??!! There are people who reject evidence to make their case???) that torture was integral to our fight against terrorism. But the interviewee knows of what he speaks, and easily debunks that Rodriguez guy who's been all over Fox "news" peddling his line. Torture good. Law bad:

Who is Jose Rodriguez? What does he know about the waterboarding of detainees after 9/11, and what we did or didn’t learn from it?

Jose was a C.I.A. officer whose area of expertise was in Latin America, but after September 11, 2001, he was put in charge of the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorism Center, and now he’s claiming responsibility for introducing the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” (E.I.T.s). In 2005, he ordered the destruction of tapes that showed the harsh techniques being used, apparently contrary to orders. He was later reprimanded by the C.I.A.’s inspector general’s office.

The claims he’s recently been making about the success of the harsh techniques are the same false claims that have appeared in now declassified C.I.A. memos, and which have been thoroughly discredited by the likes of the Department of Justice, the Senate Intelligence Committee, and the C.I.A.’s Inspector General.

The person making those claims isn’t the same Jose that I knew. I don’t know what he really knows, whether he was fed false information, or if he’s trying to defend his legacy, but what he says is at odds with the facts.

You were involved in the same sequence of events—the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah. How does your memory of them differ from the story Rodriguez is telling?

In this area it’s not a question of memory but of factual record. There are now thousands of pages of declassified memos and reports that thoroughly rebut what Mr. Rodriguez and others are now claiming. For example, one of the successes of the E.I.T.s claimed in the now declassified memos is that after the program began in August, 2002, Abu Zubaydah provided intelligence that prevented José Padilla from detonating a dirty bomb on U.S. soil, and identified Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as the mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks. Mr. Rodriguez has been repeating this claims.

The reality is that both of those pieces of intelligence were gained by my partner and me, with C.I.A. colleagues, in early April, 2002—months before the August, 2002, start of the E.I.T. program. But in the memos they were able to promote false facts, even altering dates, to make their claims work. ... When the Department of Justice asked Steven Bradbury, acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and the author of the 2005 O.L.C. memo to reinstate E.I.T.s, why he didn’t check the facts, he replied, “It’s not my role, really, to do a factual investigation of that.”

What about the identification of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?

The claim about waterboarding leading to unmasking of K.S.M. as the mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks is similarly false. We got that information in April, 2002, before the contractors hired by the C.I.A. Counterterrorism Center even arrived at the site. One by one, the successes claimed by E.I.T. proponents have been shown to be false...

Torture is illegal. It provides unreliable information. It's less effective at getting good information than legal techniques. Its most successful use has always been to elicit false confessions, a la John McCain in the Hanoi Hilton. Or witches in Salem. It should be enough that, until George Bush, the US has always condemned it, and specifically declared that the same techniques it used under him violate the Geneva Conventions. But if that isn't enough for a country that has legitimately claimed higher moral ground than most others, how about the fact that it simply doesn't work, and those that say it does are lying to protect their asses?


Putty


Richard Cohen isn't a guy I read very much, but I hear his name tossed around from time to time. I infer he leans left, but as an opinionizer for The Washington Post, he seems able to piss off both sides with regularity. I can't vouch for his wisdom one way or the other, but he's written something that's entirely consistent with what I believe about Mitt Romney, with respect to how he'd govern: namely that, contrary to claims he'd be a centrist, in fact he'd remain beholden to and afraid of the most radical and moneyed forces in the Republican party, and be putty in their hands. And he agrees that The Rominee seems not to have any core vision other than that he'd love to be president (or that, as was the case with Perry and Bachmann and Gingrich and Santorum, god told him to do it):

In the first place, Romney would likely have a Republican House, and maybe a Senate, too. This means he has to work with a party that has just recently punished Richard Lugar for excessive moderation and is willing, at this very moment, to bring down the country’s credit rating another notch rather than budge on the debt ceiling. To Romney, who made a fortune with the clever prestidigitation of debt, this has to make no sense, but he would go along because (1) he’d have to, and (2) he always does.

Congress, though, would be the least of President Romney’s troubles. The real threat will come from the Republican Party’s very core, which likes him little and trusts him less. The moment he shows the slightest moderate or rational tick, someone such as Rick Santorum will barrel out of the GOP’s piney woods, screaming oaths, and enter the 2016 Iowa caucuses that, you might remember, Santorum won in 2012. ...

[...]

It’s hardly conceivable that, as president, Romney will become the Romney some think he is. The forces that shaped him in the primaries and caucuses will not go away. He has been clay in the hands of the political right, and this will not change. After Romney recently disparaged Carter’s political courage, Gerald Rafshoon, once Carter’s communications director, shot back with this viaBloomberg View: “Scour Romney’s record for a single example of real political courage — a single, solitary instance, however small, where Romney placed principle or substance above his own short-term political interests. Let me know if you find one.” Rafshoon’s phone has not been ringing.

[...]

According to what a family friend told the New York Times, Mitt and Ann Romney decided he should run for president because they both “felt it was what God wanted them to do.” Having done just that, Romney has left it to others to define what sort of candidate he would be. Nothing would change if he were president. Weakness is his one consistency.


The election will come down to whether there's more people that hate their imaginary version of Barack Hussein Obama than there are those that recoil from a candidate who is imaginary, whole-cloth-constructed by anonymous (or, sometimes, not) self-interested billionaires, who's never stood for a thing, who'll say anything, lie without remorse, as long as it'd get him elected.

We'll find out soon enough. And I don't think I want to know.


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Rising C's


How much more news like this before the permanent party of full-time factlessness will find it too much even for them to deny?

Americans just lived through the hottest 12 months ever recorded, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported Tuesday.

The announcement came as NOAA reported that the U.S. also just experienced its third-warmest April on record.

“These temperatures, when added with the first quarter and previous 11 months, calculate to the warmest year-to-date and 12-month periods since recordkeeping began in 1895,” the agency reported.

NOAA said that for the period from May 2011 to April 2012, the nationally averaged temperature was 55.7 degrees, 2.8 degrees higher than the 20th century average. The national average temperature for April was 55 degrees, 3.6 degrees above average.

You'd think there'd be an end-point, a line beyond which it'd be impossible to follow, even when a major political party exclusively counts on and spreads denialism and lies; that eventually there'd be a collective up-wising. And I'm not just talking about climate-change denial: It's everything they say.

But why stop, when it's working so well? When they're cruising comfortably, counting on a carefully created and callously curried crop of clueless contradictors, clearly not capable of calculating the chaos that's coming countrywide; clashing continuously with common sense, countering cogency with calumny. Conservatives? Contrarily. The converse.


Frum The Horse's Mouth


David Frum: conservative, former Bush adviser, saying a lot of what I've been saying, but without naming names. (I'd say that, for the country, the answer to his final question is stop voting for teabaggRs entirely, and if you want to get rid of Nancy Pelosi as a fair trade, it's okay with me.)


The Biggest Lie?


Well, it's hard to order the lies when you have Kenyan Nazi Socialist terrorist Muslim America-hater, and there are surely more coming. But the one about Obama's spending spree is right up there. So says The Wall Street Journal (not exactly a source of liberal apologia):

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) — Of all the falsehoods told about President Barack Obama, the biggest whopper is the one about his reckless spending spree.

As would-be president Mitt Romney tells it: “I will lead us out of this debt and spending inferno.”

Almost everyone believes that Obama has presided over a massive increase in federal spending, an “inferno” of spending that threatens our jobs, our businesses and our children’s future. Even Democrats seem to think it’s true.

But it didn’t happen. Although there was a big stimulus bill under Obama, federal spending is rising at the slowest pace since Dwight Eisenhower brought the Korean War to an end in the 1950s...

Now, I suppose you could claim that there's a certain amount of mathematical shenanigans here, but it's also reality. If it's the case that Obama has maintained spending at the rate extant when he took office, it's NOT the case that he increased it:

Why do people think Obama has spent like a drunken sailor? It’s in part because of a fundamental misunderstanding of the federal budget. What people forget (or never knew) is that the first year of every presidential term starts with a budget approved by the previous administration and Congress. The president only begins to shape the budget in his second year...

The 2009 fiscal year, which Republicans count as part of Obama’s legacy, began four months before Obama moved into the White House. The major spending decisions in the 2009 fiscal year were made by George W. Bush and the previous Congress.

Like a relief pitcher who comes into the game with the bases loaded, Obama came in with a budget in place that called for spending to increase by hundreds of billions of dollars in response to the worst economic and financial calamity in generations.


It's safe to say The Rominee wouldn't stop claiming otherwise if the truth were carved on disappearing stones and someone gave him magic glasses to read them. But it's more evidence that Rs know if they were to make the campaign about what President Obama actually has and hasn't done, versus what they actually propose to do instead (which, you'd think, is exactly what campaigns ought to be about), they'd lose like the Washington Generals.



Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Sunset


We get nice sunsets around here this time of year. Sadly, I don't know how to capture them to fullest effect. But you get the idea.


Not Convinced


This stuff doesn't fool me. Clearly, Barack Obama sneaked into Hawaii in the dead of night, with the engines of Air Force One on stealth mode, and, while the aircraft hovered blackly (yes, AF1 can hover) over the Hawaiian department of records, roped down, broke in (someone gave him the keys, a native Muslim-Hawaiian, most likely) and stuffed another forgery into the place where they keep forgery things. Just like it happened in 1961, except 747s couldn't hover back then.

The state of Hawaii has verified President Barack Obama's birth records to Arizona's elections chief after a nearly three-month back and forth that Arizona officials said could have ended without the incumbent's name on its November ballot.

Joshua Wisch, special assistant to Hawaii Attorney General David Louie, told The Associated Press in an email late Tuesday that the matter is resolved after Hawaii gave Arizona the verification it was looking for.

Hawaii ... has vouched for Obama's birth in the state several times as early as October 2008 ...


I do know one thing for damn sure: good ol' Joe gonna keep at it, and tinfoil hats will never go out of style in the wingnutosphere.


Instructive


And if you like that one, here's another, on upside-down morality:



To say that what Romney did at Bain has nothing to do with being an economic expert is NOT to attack free enterprise, as he'd like you to believe. To say that sometimes things which are legal in the world of business are of questionable morality is also not to attack the idea of free enterprise, but to wish better of if.

Behold The Godly Love



For the sake of my writing I force myself once in a while to look at the wingnutosphere's latest fits of outrage. (Seriously, I don't recommend it: the amount of insane paranoia and unmitigated hatred is like looking into the ninth circle of hell. It's soul-depleting, it crushes hope like a tin can at the bottom of the sea.) To the extent the above video is mentioned there, it's not to bury the good parson, of course, but to praise him. America Fuck Yeah and all that...(Anyone else see, in the man of god's last words, a little Ted Haggard-like projection? Doth he protest too much? He wouldn't be the twelfth.)

As opposed to ignoring the above, the latest waste of ones and zeroes and photons, the frothing to be seen on, lo, virtually every one of the sources of insanity on the right, is the story of a N.C. teacher (the above preacher is from N.C. also) who argued with a student who criticized President Obama, and said he could be arrested for the criticism.

Which proves what, exactly, other than that the lady is sadly misinformed, and possibly ought not be teaching? But from the wingnut feeding frenzy, you'd think Obama had sent troops down there and sent the kid to Gitmo. (Note to President Obama: call the boy, congratulate him for saying what he believes, and don't tell anyone.) And how does this incident compare, numerically and legally, with the times public school teachers have preached the bible, or creationism, or told kids they were going to hell for being gay, or for not being Christian?

Truly, as a nation, we have moved far beyond hope, and it's at the hands of those who claim to love our country the most, who would have us believe their religion makes them the most righteous, the most deserving of respect, that our doom is sealed. For it's these people -- and they alone -- who are fomenting nothing but hatred, taking the most narrow view, refusing to see good in anyone but themselves, wrapping facts in the blanket of their fears and suffocating them. Like this video of our man of god, and those in his flock (looks like a real nice place with plenty of money, doesn't it, not some traveling tent in a parking lot) testifying with their amens and hallelujahs, the rightwing blogosphere has become a force for -- what other word is there for it? -- evil. A petrie dish for festering paranoia and fulminating hate. (Note to self: nothing you say will change anything. They need to rationalize their hate, and always will; so stop going there.) (Answer from self: okay, you're right. I will.)

And (I'd say "ironically" for the thousandth time but how often can it be used, even when it's appropriate?) it's the people they fear and hate the most who are trying against the odds to secure the future, to preserve education and health care and research and roads and bridges; to retain in this country some respect for the less fortunate, for those with whom they disagree, for the constitution which sprung from exactly the kind of compromise that the right wing has long-since abandoned.

Show me a reason for hope, and I'll paddle toward it like a man in a life raft. Because trying to reach those people is, and, I'm afraid, will always be, like this.
_____________________

[Addendum: as usual, I wrote this a few days before posting. Here's news of a church in N.C. which rejects the message of the other one. It's encouraging. But I see no evidence that, within the current Republican party, it represents anything but the minority. I hope I'm wrong.]

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Dumb, Dumbing, Dumbed



Above is a graph from an interesting study on the changing use of language by congressfolk.

...[referring to] the 20 members of Congress with the lowest grade level score for their Congressional record corpus dating back to 1996. Of them, 85% (17 of 20) are Republicans; 65% (13/20) are freshmen, and another 15% (3/20) are sophomores. Additionally, 90% (18/20) are House members. The two Senators to make the bottom 20 are Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ron Johnson (R-WI), both Tea Party-supported freshmen.

In fairness:

Republicans also outnumber Democrats among the members who speak at the highest grade levels. Among the top 20, 12 are Republicans, 7 are Democrats, and one (Joe Lieberman) is an Independent. And eight of the top ten are Republicans. There are also 14 House members and six Senators. And perhaps most notably, there are only two freshmen and three sophomores. More than half of the members have been in their seat for at least 15 years, which is well above the median of nine years across all members of the 112th Congress.


I'd say what it shows is not entirely clear: are the newly elected teabaggers dumber than average or are they smart enough to realize that the people who elected them are?* Or is it something else? It's a finding that fits nicely with certain preconceptions, but which really can't be explained by the data provided. Nor do the authors of the study try to -- although they do speculate that speeches nowadays are designed for YouTube as opposed to when they were actually intended to persuade colleagues on complex issues. (And, as charts are wont to do, the differences look worse graphically than they are, maybe: it's only a grade level difference. But who knows? It might even be worse than it looks: I'm guessing grade levels aint' what they used to was, either.)

Some might argue that it just reflects an attempt to reach a larger audience, which, in a democracy, is a good thing. I'd offer, though, that it's decidedly NOT a good thing if the best way to reach today's voters is to talk down and avoid using big words.

_____________________________
* I lean toward first-order dumbness. Witness the comments by a freshman teabaggR from Florida with the ironic name of Daniel Webster, regarding defunding the American Community Survey, which the R House voted to do, despite its value on many levels for the past 150 years or more: it's not scientific, he said. It's random. (For any teabaggers reading this: it's precisely the randomness that makes it scientific.) Shows you the profound effects forward to which we can look, as teabaggRs do everything they can to diminish science and ruin public education. People making decisions for us, dumber than a sack of teabags.

Crock'd



For a week or more, the wingnutosphere has been fomenting full-throated fiery fulminating flailing fantastical fruitcakey fallacious fact-free foaming fuming flipped-out frenzied frightwig furious furrowed-brow freakout over something Andrew Breitbart's coven had recently discovered hidden away in -- get this! -- the public domain. The news was evidently explosive enough to get Obama out of his bed in the dark of night to inject Mr. Breitbart with arterial plaque and to cause his heart to enlarge: Turns out a years-ago would-be publicity ad for a book our president wrote but never published (in which he referred to his Hawaiian birth) states that Mr Obama was born in Kenya. (The editor has admitted faulty fact-checking of the publicist, but that's only because Obama's al Queda henchmen put a Nazi horse head in her bed and threatened to eat her first-born in Bill Ayers' basement while burning a bible.)

So there it is: in the middling minds of right-wing bloggers it's proof positive, overriding the statement of the Republican governor of Hawaii who stated she'd seen the birth certificate (somehow, "they" got to her, too), various testimonies of others who've seen it, presented official copies of it, contemporaneous birth announcements (now there's some dastardly planning!) et cetera ad conspireum. If a flier said it, because publicists for books never lie, it's true. And if a wingnut believes it hard enough, like the audience of Peter Pan when Tinkerbell begs them to, it's truer than true. It's truly truthfully terrifically true.

How frightening it would be to live inside one of those heads. In there, the world is a very dark place. In there, you sleep with the lights on, and it's still dark.

Meanwhile, I'm certain Davy Crockett was born on a mountaintop in Tennessee and kilt him a b'ar when he was only three. Wore a coonskin hat, too. Disney said it, I believe it, that settles it.

Living in Washington and growing up in Oregon, I'm having a little problem with the greenest-state-in-the-land-of-the-free part. But I know I need to work on it. I mean, it's not only written down: people are out there singing it!


Monday, May 21, 2012

The Real Manchurians



It's puzzling, really: the crazies on the right spout all sorts of conspiracies about President Obama and his plans to destroy America, while their party sets out actually to do it. In what the president has done -- saving the capitalist auto industry, basing a health care program on capitalist insurance companies, overseen the recovery of capitalist Wall Street, killed more al Queda leaders than his predecessor could have imagined, including their leader the search for whom President Dead-or-alive abandoned, increased aid for our troops, ended a war as he promised -- in all of that they somehow see stone-carved evidence of their darkest conspiracies. The more a person does one thing, the greater the proof he intends to do the opposite. Who doesn't know that?

Meanwhile, the congresspeople the crazies support are proposing budgets that will in fact wreck America, in real life, no goblins under the bed required. And until they're in a position to do that, they seem to be trying their level worst to sabotage the economy to screw Obama. Heck, even Bill O'Reilly is finally starting to notice.

It becomes clear: feeding conspiracy theories to the most needful and gullible among us, whose worldview is coming apart at their ear-holes over the thought of that black guy in that white house, keeps enough people bamboozled that they'd vote for someone who axe-murdered their grandma if it meant Obama would lose.

Amazingly, it seems to be working. Gotta hand it to the Rovobeckians: they knew the crazies were out there in numbers enough to make a difference, and they're stroking it like a teenage boy alone with his thoughts in a bathroom. They'll take the money and run before the kid has time to reach for a Kleenex and figure out what happened.


Middle Man





I think I've disagreed with physician-senator Tom Coburn on pretty much every issue. And yet there he was on The Daily Show sounding damn reasonable. On the idea that fiscal sanity must include both cuts to government spending and raising of taxes, I'm there and always have been. In quoting Admiral Mullen as saying the debt is a greater danger facing us than war is, Coburn even seems to suggest that he -- perhaps alone among Congressional Rs and certainly not including The Rominee -- would consider cutting defense spending!

So why is it that, in real life, the obvious things he says are as foreign to our political process as breathing under water? Tom Coburn, a Republican!!, says something that's been at the heart of democracy until Newt Gingrich was Speaker, until RWS™ and Fox "news" replaced thought with bile, at which point it died and was interred with its own bones; namely, that we need to compromise, to meet somewhere in the middle. That in a democracy no one gets everything they want. And, coming from a current Republican, it's so shocking that one can't believe it. What's his game, one asks. Because there's no one else on his side of the aisle talking like that. Not, most certainly, any of their leaders. When Barack Obama began his presidency by reaching out, they made damn sure no massively-elected black guy was gonna get to go all reasonable on us. Damn sure.

If I can disagree with Tom Coburn MD on everything but still see that, if he's serious, he accepts the need to let some things go, as do I, then it still must be (in theory) possible to have politicians who'll commit to finding solutions to our nearly unsolvable problems. So why should what he said be so jarring, so unheard in these times?

Because for the last few decades voters (and by voters I mean Republican voters) have preferred to elect those of the scorched earth (environmentally speaking, quite literally) persuasion. On the right, voters clearly don't want representatives who'll compromise on anything; having been fed vitriol and lies in a steady stream from their preferred media gods, who'd expect anything else? If the other side literally hates America, is taking away your freedoms, aiming to kill your religion, how could compromise even be a consideration? It's a fight to the death.

And, as Dr Coburn suggests, death it will be.

[... Time passes....] A few days after I wrote the above, there appears another quote from the good doctor:

If President Obama is president again, those problems are still there and we have to solve them. He knows that. We’ve had conversations where he’s told me he’ll go much further than anyone believes he’ll go to solve the entitlement problem if he can get the compromise. And I believe him. I believe he would.


So, while others on his side of the aisle are constantly creaming their camos over the Kenyan terrorist America-hating Nazi socialist Muslim, a very conservative senator who actually works with the president credits him with plans to address deficits honestly and, by implication, in ways that would worry the left more than the right; and finding middle ground in ways teabaggRs never have and never will. Coburn, in other words, among the most conservative of senators, sees Barack Hussein Obama as honest and trying to do the right thing. I must be dreaming.

What's hilariously ironic about the garment-rending of the conspiracists who think if reelected Obama will reveal his inner terrorist Muslim Kenyan Nazi America-hating Bible burning gun confiscating true self is that to anyone who observes the real Obama -- as opposed to the insane RWS™ version -- it's apparent the opposite will happen. If reelected, we'll see the pragmatic centrist but left-leaning person he's always been liberated from needing to cater to anyone, and acting on his often-stated commitment to workable budgetary balance, very much in the middle. Take my word for it: far lefties will be more pissed than righties -- although the crazy wing (i.e., pretty much the entirety) of the current Republican party would accuse him of treason if he rescued a burning flag, single-handedly took out Mullah Omar, and personally carried every atom of uranium out of Iran.



Sunday, May 20, 2012

Reset


Damn. My emotional fall-back regarding the possibility of a Rominee presidencee or, worse, R takeover of both houses of Congress, was, who cares? The world is ending 12/21/12, right?

Maybe not. Now what will I do?

In case you missed the newsflash, the end of days will not be December 21 of this year. You will need to buy holiday gifts after all.

“That is correct, the world will not end,” says William Saturno, the Boston University archaeologist behind a new paper that could help put to rest the long-held myth that the ancient Mayans predicted a 2012 apocalypse...

Saturno’s report, which he unveiled in this week’s edition of the journal Science along with colleagues from the University of Texas at Austin and Colgate University, deals with a fascinating trove of calendars and paintings from a Guatemala excavation that have many in the anthropology community hopping with glee. And not just about the delay of the world’s end.

[...]

Most intriguingly for modern-day doomsday prophets, the scribblings include four long numbers that represent multiples of set units of time using the Mayan calendar. In one column, time stretches reach 7,000 years into the future. Bingo! The apocalypse myth, says Stuart, is that the Mayan calendar shows the world ending after 13 periods, or 5,000 years, also called baktun. We are supposedly coming up on the end of the last one.

This new find, however, is further proof that that belief is mistaken, says Stuart. The mural shows 17 baktuns, showing “there was a lot more to the Mayan calendar than just 13 baktuns.”

The Mayan calendar reaches far beyond the year 2012, the scientists assure us.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Dear Frank...


Watch and learn, Frankie. Because I love you.


Tom Tomorrow

[click to enlarge]


The Ugly Truth

[click to enlarge]

That last panel reminds me of AGIUTK.


Charting The Course

[click... yada...]

What might be even more interesting than the above is the fact that the Ryan/Rominee budget increases the deficit further -- and more than Obama's -- R posturing notwithstanding.

Armed with all that info, the election's already over. All it takes is the facts, right?

[In case anyone wonders: it's hard to see, but there's a little orange line at the top of the curve, and a green one at the bottom.]


Friday, May 18, 2012

Footshot


Typical. As an election approaches that well might put them in the minority, Senate Dems have finally grown a pair and are agitating about filibuster reform. Funny. I'd sort of been looking forward to seeing whether they'd use it like Rs have; ie, in unprecedented numbers, making the Senate virtually a super-majority body. Which was hardly original Constitutional intent. The R-eaction would be a thing to behold.

On the other hand, Senate Ds may be ineffectual idiots, but they have some shreds of integrity, and it's likely that even if they were to become the minority party absent filibuster reform, they'd continue their tradition of uncommonly employing it.

The only way Rs would go for it, sez me, is if they think they'll stay in the minority. Or -- and this is as likely as being struck by lightning while riding a dinosaur -- if the media stop treating it as routine, and stop saying bills failed to pass when it was cloture that "failed," with a majority of votes. Then, of course, the idea of the Senate as a majority vote body, as had always been the case until Obama became president with Ds in charge of the Senate, would have to take hold over the swamp gas emanating from Fox "news."

Not happening.


Crossing To The Dark Side


So non-white births have finally exceeded those of whites in the US. As the implications sink in, we can expect a few things:

  • White sheet sales will go up, which could be good for the economy.
  • "Stand Your Ground Laws" will be hastily enacted everywhere, before it's too late.
  • Militias will grow like weeds, and meta-swastika designers will be in high demand.
  • Superpacs will run ads with Obama's skin darkened, and fear will be mongered at even higher volume.
  • Imprecations of white aggrievement and victimhood will be shouted by the RWS™, the AFYP™, and will be seen on Fox "news" as frequently as commercials for gold scams.
  • "Love it or leave it" will take on a very different meaning, possibly with "...oops" added.
  • There will not be enough proton-pump inhibitors to soothe the rage, and ulcer surgery, nearly extinct, will see a resurgence, especially below the Mason-Dixon line. (I'll keep an eye on it: it's a living.)
  • Teabaggers will show up at polling places like crabs at a flophouse.
  • AGIUTK is buying more ammo.


What's less certain, but I'm thinking it's coming, is a major right-wing re-think regarding contraception and abortion. Selectivity and facileness with regards to biblical stipulation is already a well-practiced characteristic, after all; and as illegal immigration is now a net zero, what other options do they have? Legal ones, I mean, the turning to which would be a last resort under the circumstances.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Foreign Body



There was a not-insignificant piece in the Sunday NYT about The Rominee and his (lack of coherent) foreign policy. What was particularly newsworthy was the fact that his advisers are getting frustrated. The bullee, it seems, is more concerned about impressing teabaggers with his toughness than listening to voices of experience, or thinking things through:

DURING the Republican primary debates in January, when Mitt Romney was still trying to outmaneuver the challengers who were questioning his conservative bona fides, he made a declaration about Afghanistan that led a faction of his foreign policy advisers to shake their heads in wonderment.

“We should not negotiate with the Taliban,” the former Massachusetts governor declared, just as diplomats dispatched by the president were in Qatar trying to get those negotiations going. “We should defeat the Taliban.” In case anyone missed his meaning, he drove home the point, saying the best strategy was, “We go anywhere they are and we kill them.”

Set aside for the moment that many of Mr. Romney’s supporters and foreign policy advisers argue that after a decade at war, the only option is a political settlement, which means talking to some elements of the Taliban. ...

[...]

It was just one example of what Mr. Romney’s advisers call a perplexing pattern: Dozens of subtle position papers flow through the candidate’s policy shop and yet seem to have little influence on Mr. Romney’s hawkish-sounding pronouncements, on everything from war to nuclear proliferation to the trade-offs in dealing with China. In the Afghanistan case, “none of us could quite figure out what he was advocating,” one of Mr. Romney’s advisers said.

[...]

BUT when pressed on how, exactly, his strategy would differ from Mr. Obama’s, Mr. Romney had a hard time responding. The economic sanctions Mr. Obama has imposed have been far more crippling to the Iranian economy than anything President Bush did between the public revelation of Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities in 2003 and the end of Mr. Bush’s term in early 2009. Covert action has been stepped up, too...

[...]

More complicated for Mr. Romney, given his business credentials, is his position on China. He argues for more arms to Taiwan and much tougher use of trade sanctions to respond to China’s currency and market manipulations.

In the past, such actions have frozen Chinese cooperation with the United States, but, the white paper insists, “Romney will work to persuade China to commit to North Korea’s disarmament,” as if the last three presidents have not.

Such trade-offs are, of course, a bit too subtle for any presidential campaign. Yet so far this year Mr. Romney has spent little time on foreign policy, understandable given the length of the primary battles. The Romney strategy for now may simply be to portray Mr. Obama as a weak apologizer and figure out the details later.


Okay. I admit it. I don't like the guy. I think he's a faker, a panderer, a liar, an Easter bunny with a hollow center. He knows he wants to become president, and he'll do and say anything to get there. But he hasn't given a moment's thought about how to be president, if he makes it. Absent any beliefs held strongly enough to stick with, and having lied his way into untenable positions, he'll defer to the people that he wants most to impress; and, like any bully, it'll be the bigger bullies. John Bolton. Rush Limbaugh. Grover Norquist. And that should scare the shit out of everyone.