Friday, May 31, 2013

Fool's Errand



Ironic. The guy who was running against Michele Bachmann, to whom I've given a little money now and then, has dropped out, too, following the exit of Ms Bachmann from the race. Which adds new insight: the only chance he had, a Democrat in a highly Republicanized district, was to run against her. Virtually any other R will have a lock on the seat. So I'd guess that among the real reasons she bailed (pending reports about her campaign finance illegalities, the fact that Mr Graves was polling very favorably) is that she was getting pressure from R movers and shakers to get the hell out.

So, whereas it's a good thing for the country, and, yes, for the smoking remnants of a formerly credible political party, that she's gone, it makes a D return to majority in the House that much more unlikely. So, you win some, you lose some. I'd rather have seen her stay in and lose. But her gonity, no matter the means, is a good thing for us all.

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The Final Frontier



At the top of the list of things I'll never understand about right-wing zealots is their insistence that these people, whom their god has been creating since Adam ate an Archeopteryx, are a threat, an affront, or anything other than valuable human beings.

And if I ever figure that one out, I'll work on why those wingnuts also prefer misinformation to truth, why they actively reject facts that show they're wrong, in all things. If there's a trait that's destructive, and an affront to functioning society, surely it's that.




Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Say It Ain't Ain't So



I couldn't force myself to watch the video in which she made her announcement, but none of the summaries indicated she said god told her to quit. (Well, this one did.) Which, if true, is weird. He's told her to do pretty much everything else she did. I'm trying to figure out what it all means, but, as I indicated yesterday, at the moment I'm still somewhat under the influence of don't-give-a-shit.

Assuming god had nothing to do with it, though, it kinda makes you wonder what he'd been thinking when he whispered in her ear a few years ago. My guess: he wagged a finger to some archangel, or, better, Thomas Jefferson, or Karl Marx, or Gandhi, and said, "Check it out guys. This is gonna be really fun."

You might think that, knowing all like he does, god saw what was coming. But maybe even his omniscience took a hit; maybe he really had no idea how crazy she is; maybe he finally said, yeah, well, funny is funny, but it's time we started helping my chosen country get its shit together before people like her take it down, past recovery.

That god. What a trickster. What'll he think of next? How bout bringing a building down in Bangladesh, wiping out a thousand innocents. Moms, mostly. Naw, he wouldn't do that, would he? He's like all about love.

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Through The Fog



So here's the deal. We've been in Mexico for the wedding of an old friend of our son, now living there for about ten years, and making a living as a successful fashion photographer. His wife, a Mexican beauty of staggering proportions, is someone we'd met a couple of times up here in the northlands, and is as warm and impressive as she is gorgeous.

Her dad is evidently a well-known, respected, and highly successful businessman, who put on a wedding the likes of which I'd never seen before and won't ever again. If I gave a shit at this point, I'd write more about it.

What did he just say? "If I gave a shit?" Well, here's the deal. Without going into details and explanations, while in Mexico I managed to damage my back to such a degree that I was bedridden for a few days, during which time, as I contemplated the impossibility of managing the complexities of getting home, I figured the only solution was to kill myself, and let Judy bring me home in some sort of ceramic container. I didn't see any downside.

Well, with the passage of time, and what might have been hilarious under other circumstances, the delivery to our room of drugs in the care of a house-call doc in six inch heels and bearing impressive d├ęcollatage, the wearing of a back brace, and a reasonably high pain tolerance (tested to the max), I managed to make the trip to that wedding and, a day or two later, back home.

However I'm still needing the help of mild narcotics. Thus the ungiving of a shit. In med school I had my hand operated on for a rugby injury incurred when I went back to my college for a weekend and played against my former team because the opponents were down a man. In the recovery room I got a shot of demerol, and it made me understand the meaning of the word "euphoria." I never took another shot, nor did I when I had my ankle operated on years later. Too appealing. In times like these, even more. And whereas codeine is nothing like demerol, I'm finding myself a little less concerned about the world around me.

Or maybe it's the pain itself, indescribably less than a few days ago, but omnipresent. (When it happened, the most intense pain I've ever experienced, from which I actually passed out -- unprecedented for me -- I recall a millisecond's worth of thinking things would never be the same.) Or, maybe, the trip which was fun before the fall, as it were, and made me want to rethink my priorities. Or maybe it was a recent comment on this here blog. Anyhow, whereas I'm still paying a degree of attention, it's happily attenuated. I'm about ready to try getting along on ibuprofen alone, and want to as soon as possible.

After which, presumably, the misery will switch from the physical back to the mental: the perfect state for blogging.

P.S: Had it not been for the lucky presence of another good friend of our son, and a guy who's been in many ways a godson or something, and who speaks fluent Spanish, and who helped Judy in many ways (and too many other wedding attenders to count), I might have had to execute, as it were, plan A. So, thanks Britt. And to anyone else planning to visit Mexico, I recommend taking Britt along. It'd be a good time.

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Friday, May 24, 2013

Guess I Won't Be Visiting The In-laws For A While



Major artery between Seattle and Canada. And Bellingham, where my wife's family live.

Gotta remember to ask a teabagger: is it more cost-effective to fix stuff like this before it happens, or after? I think I know, but I'm not sure.

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Never Ending Story



Texas. Whaddya gonna do?


Bill Nye, the harmless children's edu-tainer known as "The Science Guy," managed to offend a select group of adults in Waco, Texas at a presentation, when he suggested that the moon does not emit light, but instead reflects the light of the sun. 

As even most elementary-school graduates know, the moon reflects the light of the sun but produces no light of its own. 

But don't tell that to the good people of Waco, who were "visibly angered by what some perceived as irreverence," according to the Waco Tribune. 

Nye was in town to participate in McLennan Community College's Distinguished Lecture Series. He gave two lectures on such unfunny and adult topics as global warming, Mars exploration, and energy consumption.
But nothing got people as riled as when he brought up Genesis 1:16, which reads: "God made two great lights -- the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars." 

The lesser light, he pointed out, is not a light at all, but only a reflector. 

At this point, several people in the audience stormed out in fury. One woman yelled "We believe in God!" and left with three children, thus ensuring that people across America would read about the incident and conclude that Waco is as nutty as they'd always suspected.

Thing is, they vote. And so, eventually, will their kids. God save us.

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Monday, May 20, 2013

Sarah The Sanctimonious

In case you missed the latest addition to the unending pile of Obama-scandals, there's much ado in wingnuttosphere about the fact that two Marines were holding umbrellas for the president and some other guy at a press conference. Naturally, it's horrifying.

Thus sayeth the former half-term governor:

Mr. President, when it rains it pours, but most Americans hold their own umbrellas.
And thus respondeth the internet:



Sunday, May 19, 2013

Sunday Column



Here's my latest Sunday column in our local paper:




I assume we can all agree on this much: had there been attacks on US embassies during the Bush administration, the Democrats would have held hearings till the cowed came home. And if, say, right before George Bush’s reelection, the IRS came after a church in which a sermon was given criticizing the Iraq war, there’d have been calls for the IRS director to resign (same guy under whom the current brouhaha began, by the way, a Bush appointee after whose resignation Rs have blocked further nominees). What’s that? There were lots of attacks under Bush? And Fox “news” was silent? Surely you’re mistaken. 
And now you’re saying there was a harsh IRS investigation of All Saints Church in Pasadena after an antiwar sermon in 2004? And one of Obama’s church, too? How did I miss that? I watch Fox “news” like a hawk watches Fox “news."
I have a clean record of nobody misunderstanding or mischaracterizing what I say, and don’t want to start now. So let me be clear: I’m not excusing any of this stuff. Benghazi (interesting fact: 39% of people who say it’s “the biggest political scandal in American history” don’t know where it is, including 6% who say it’s in Cuba) is, at minimum, a tragedy; and initial accounts, for whatever reason, were inaccurate. Without doubt, bad decisions were made, as they may have been prior to the attacks during Bush’s reign, in India, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Serbia, Greece, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Indonesia, which went essentially uninvestigated. The cover-up, more like a mix-up, lasted about three days. That everyone within shouting distance of Fox “news” perseverates on the falsehood that the military had the capability to ride in there like Clayton Moore and stop the assault, after all manner of military leaders have debunked it, well, that’s our politics, nowadays. I haven’t seen any evidence of coordinated and continual dastardly behavior there; if Darrell Issa is right for once, maybe I will. But at this point, it looks like what Rs are really up to is preemptively discrediting Hillary Clinton before she runs for president. If you doubt that, note Karl Rove’s (tax-exempt) group’s ad that popped up like a mushroom against her.

Which brings us to the IRS. I’m appalled (not being sarcastic) that there was asymmetrical attention paid to right-wing groups as they applied for tax-exempt status. I condemn it. On the other hand, I think it’s pretty obvious that tax exemptions for so-called social action groups are being abused. The aforementioned Rovian repugnance, which spent over seventy million on political ads, is a prime example. I’d argue no political action group deserves tax-exempt status; but if some do, then scrutiny by the IRS doesn’t seem all that outrageous, assuming it’s done fairly. Like, you know, that church near the Magic Kingdom.
 
Of all the privy-contents being emptied toward the ventilatory device, the issue that bothers me most deeply is the revelation of secret surveillance of emails and other records of certain AP reporters. Evidently, the records were subpoenaed; so it seems that the courts were involved, as opposed to when Bush first started snooping. Yay, Patriot Act! Irony: it was Rs who demanded Eric Holder investigate leaks. He did. Now they’re calling for his resignation. Still, unfettered freedom of the press is, in my opinion, a heck of a lot more important to the future of our democracy than, say, the ability to buy an AR 15 unaccountably at a gun show. This, above all, needs clear-eyed investigation, free of Issafication.

I’m aware that I’m rationalizing, to a certain extent, things that I might not have rationalized had someone else done them. I’m no angel. And it’s clear that Congressional Rs and the frothers at Fox are a heck of a lot more outraged at things that have happened under Obama than they ever were when the same, and much worse, happened under Bush. President Obama made what I assume was a political calculation not to pursue prosecution of war crimes and war lies by his predecessor, which have cost us more in lives and treasure than anything since, by too far to count; I guess he thought if he did, it’d cause Rs to obstruct everything he had in mind for his presidency. And that it’d fracture the country even further. How’s that for irony? Might be his most grievous miscalculation of all.

Either way, though, I admit I’m feeling a little let down by Obama right now.
 


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Friday, May 17, 2013

On Hold





For reasons not entirely beyond my control, I expect blogging to be a little thin in the next couple of weeks. But I also expect resumption will happen. Hold your applause.

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Olympic Bullshit





Here's why Ms Snowe is full of shit: she (entirely unoriginally, and like every retired elected) says what's needed is for people to speak up. Right. But there's a tiny problem with that: the people who elected the obstructionist denialist and uncompromising legislators are perfectly happy with the situation. Think people who elected Michele Bachmann or Louie Gohmert regret it? Think they'd be telling them to compromise? Same with Ted Cruz and Mitch McConnell. It's simply bullshit. It won't change, ever; not until it's too late (it already is.) Not until people stop thinking Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity are gods of the gospel. Not until people recognize that public education and respect for science are critical to our future. They won't. In numbers enough to thumb the scales, they've already made up their minds.

And that's the other end of the turd that is Ms Snowe's hey-it-ain't-my-fault contention: the system is set up so that even if the idiots are in the minority, they have the power to block progress. Witness the "failed" background check legislation: a 54% favorable failure. So she can shift blame to a propagandized or disinterested public all she wants. Calling your congressman, while probably still a good idea because who knows, simply doesn't stack up against the stacked deck and the power of big money.

Or am I missing something?


Thursday, May 16, 2013

Seriously?



The questioner is the Fox "news" White House correspondent. He actually can't think why there needs to be a "firewall" between the White House and the Department of Justice. I think Mr Carney was remarkable gracious. The fact is that when a White House correspondent for what calls itself a news organization is that clueless, it says much more than I care to spend the time saying about what a joke Fox "news" is, and always was. Really, truly pathetic; and it ought to embarrass everyone associated with that propaganda organization. But, of course, it won't. For obvious reasons.


The Shocking Truth



Now we can see, unvarnished, the horror that was the shockingly partisan IRS investigation of tax-exempt applicants. Here, in its awful awfulness, is the list of groups turned away at the time in question:

The I.R.S. denied tax exemption to the groups — Emerge Nevada, Emerge Maine and Emerge Massachusetts — because, the agency wrote in denial letters, they were set up specifically to cultivate Democratic candidates. Their Web sites ask for evidence that participants in their training programs are Democrats.
All I can say is, heads better roll.

(Parenthetically, it speaks loudly of the effectiveness of the well-coordinated Republican scream machine that no one in the administration pushed back by pointing out that, whereas it looks bad to have flagged certain words for scrutiny, the IRS was, in fact, doing what it's supposed to do; and that the groups about which all the gnashing is occurring were, in fact, approved; and that the ones that weren't, far as we know, were liberal ones. It's yet another example of shameless R cynicism and frustrating D wimpiness in the face of it.)

(Like what's good for the goose has never been on the other foot.)

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Fading



I gotta say, even if Obama wasn't involved or informed, there's a lot of crap piling up that's disturbing: the IRS thing, the snooping on AP... I still think the Benghazi episode is way less of an indictment of the administration than Rs would like it to be, although I suppose there could be more to come out; but all in all, there'a a lot of blush coming off the rose. Lots of high fives, no doubt, in teabaggR cloak rooms in D.C.

Even though the "spying" on the press in the name of leaks is hardly something unique to Obama, it's pretty darn concerning. At least the data were subpoenaed, as opposed to when Bush started it. Also, it's amusing (if that's the word) that the investigations of the specific leaks to AP were begun by Holder on demand of Congressional Rs, who, now that he did it, are calling for his head. Almost as if they're cynical hypocrites.

As others have written, if nothing else, it all makes gridlock even tighter: how can any teabaggR cooperate in any way with Obama now? Not that they would have... But I think we've seen all we're gonna see of progressive legislation from here on out. And I have the feeling that Obama knows it, too; and, other than during his impeachment, he'll spend as much of the rest of his time as possible out of D.C. I know I would.

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

This Is Huge



Evidently, it matters greatly whether you use the word "extremist" or "terrorist."


House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) on Thursday called on the White House to release an email from a State Department official who, he claimed, attributed the deadly September attack in Benghazi, Libya to "Islamic terrorists." 
But the New York Times obtained a copy of the email, written by senior State Department official A. Elizabeth Jones, who actually made reference to "Islamic extremists," not "Islamic terrorists." 
Obama administration officials told the Times that it is important to draw a distinction between the two characterizations, "because while the White House did not initially characterize the attack as terrorism, senior officials, including Ambassador Susan E. Rice, acknowledged the possibility that extremists had been involved in the assault."
It's still not clear to me who used what term when, and who's accusing whom of what; but whoever it was and whenever and whatever, it's pretty damn awful. Or great. Or something.

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It Gets Worse...



The IRS scandal is pretty awful, and I'm glad President Obama has spoken out on it, forcefully. Whoever was responsible, they're a bunch of idiots. If the White House were behind it, Obama would deserve whatever he got as a result. (Even The Wall Street Journal says he wasn't, though.)

But there's more: turns out the IRS also targeted a church for speaking out against the White House right before the election. I'd say that's definitely an impeachable offense. Oh, wait:


Stepping up its probe of allegedly improper campaigning by churches, the Internal Revenue Service on Friday ordered a liberal Pasadena parish to turn over all the documents and e-mails it produced during the 2004 election year with references to political candidates.
All Saints Episcopal Church and its rector, the Rev. Ed Bacon, have until Sept. 29 to present the sermons, newsletters and electronic communications. 
The IRS investigation was triggered by an antiwar sermon delivered by its former rector, the Rev. George F. Regas, at the church two days before the 2004 presidential election. The summons even requests utility bills to establish costs associated with hosting Regas' speech. Bacon was ordered to testify before IRS officials Oct. 11.
I don't defend what the IRS evidently did regarding right-wing groups. It's appalling. But it's also true that having tax-exempt status requires the following of certain guidelines. I don't doubt that there are phony baloney "non profits" all along the political spectrum, and, applied fairly, they all deserve scrutiny.

Ask me, churches of any sort ought not be tax exempt. God will provide, right?

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Monday, May 13, 2013

So Obvious, All Of A Sudden




All you have to do is ask the right question.

Marx My Words



You can't say stuff like that without being called a Marxist. I can't, anyway. But here's the obvious thing that teabaggers can't seem to get through their conspiratorial Foxobeckian heads: when enough "average" people are unable to make financial ends meet; when they don't have a little extra jingle in their pockets to buy stuff, those CEOs can't sell it. And then the system breaks down.

It's in order to preserve capitalism (or, as they prefer to call it in Texas, because "capitalist" has ugly connotations, "free markets") that people are raising alarms about the enormous and getter enormouser wealth gap in this country. No one -- no one with any credibility, or ability to make it happen, anyway -- is calling for some sort of sweeping leveling of income. Paying a McDonald's worker the same as a skilled machinist. Or A-Rod. But what if CEOs only made, say fifty times their workers? Or twenty? Couple million a year ought to get most people by, right? What if businesses, like Henry Ford did, figured that their workers ought to make enough to buy the products they make? Wouldn't they, in the long run, recoup much of the increased overhead in greater sales to more people with the wherewithal?

So, how do you make such a thing happen? Clearly, in the US of A, with teabaggRs pulling the strings, you don't. Because communism. Because something. But, as with pretty much everything else they're espousing, in the long run they're dragging us down the path to ruination. Climate change denial. Disuneducating our kids. Suppressing workers' right. Tilting the scales more and more toward those with the most power. It might work fine in their lifetimes. But the next in line, even their own kids? Sorry. Not important. Besides, by then they'll all be raptured up, right?


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sunday Sermon




Sunday Column



Here's my latest in our local paper. I might cool it down for the next couple of ones...

Back in the mid 1800s there was a political party that called itself the “Know Nothings.” Ahead of their time, they were anti-immigration and pro religious purity. Eventually they disappeared, reanimating in our time, morphing into the “You Shall Know Nothing” party;” although I believe they prefer “Republican.” 
Some people don’t like it when I say things like that. But in the 1850s the name was meant ironically; today’s version flaunts know-nothingism like a banner. For today’s Republicans, to whom true conservatism is as foreign as whatever it is Sarah Palin sees from her porch, proscribing knowledge is an organizing principle. To see what I mean, let’s have an edifying look at several examples. 
Wyoming’s governor has asked President Obama not to explore the environmental impact of burning coal. Congressional Republicans kiboshed funds to study gun violence. Texas Republicans banned any mention of rising sea levels from assessments of climate change; cut the words right out of a report. North Carolina Republicans made it illegal to use sea level predictions in developing coastal management policies. A Republican congressman on the House Science Committee (!) calls science “lies from the pit of Hell.” Included in the Texas Republican party platform (Texas: it’s columnist gold) is this memorable statement: “We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills, critical thinking skills and similar programs … which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.” Imagine that: challenging students’ “fixed” beliefs by teaching them to think, exposing them to stuff their parents didn’t! 
“What a snob,” said Rick Santorum of Obama’s plans to help kids get education beyond high school. Sarah Palin mocks educated people for a living. (Full disclosure: she crossed a line with me when she derided fruit fly research, in which discipline I did my honors research project in college.) When Jon Huntsman warned Republicans not to become the anti-science party, he was ejected from presidential candidacy faster than Mitt Romney’s money hied to the Cayman Islands. Last November, Congressional Republicans squelched a nonpartisan report from the Congressional Research Service that found no correlation between top tax rates and economic growth. 
There’s more: A Republican congressman is introducing legislation banning the Census Bureau from collecting demographic and economic data, despite their critical importance to both public and private agencies. House Republicans have managed to restrain the National Science Foundation from doing social science research; and one of them (a Texan!) has proposed subjecting ALL research to Congressional approval, as opposed to scientific peer review. Bye-bye small government, hello Politburo! 
Everyone tends to ignore, let’s call them, inconvenient truths. But there’s only one political party methodically preventing them from being known, while characterizing intellectualism and quality education as some sort of fey elitism. From their propagandists of the airwaves to their elected officials, hiding the truth and making up falsehoods (reeducation camps! birth certificates! jihadists in the White House!) isn’t the occasional outlier, it’s the factory setting. Plan A: suffocate unwelcome information at birth; Plan B: block new facts from conception. In what way is this conservatism? How do thoughtful conservatives rationalize associating with a party that aggressively expurgates knowledge? If it bothers them, why aren’t they saying so? These aren’t made-up accusations; they’re visible to the naked eye. Where’s the outrage? Or embarrassment. 
Throughout the country, public education is under attack by Republican legislatures (some calling it “mind control”), cutting funding, seeking to give religious beliefs equal time in science classes. (Fun project: Search “4th grade science quiz dinosaur.” Then define “mind control.”) The charter schools movement threatens to become a Trojan horse for public funding of retrogressive or religious education (happily, the Louisiana Supreme Court just declared Bobby Jindal’s plan unconstitutional), producing kids deliberately taught not to think. (Texas out-bagged that cat.) It’s as if Republicans have concluded that informed people will no longer vote for them. 
And here’s the irony: neither recognizing nor acknowledging it, today’s Know Nothing Party counts on liberals to save them from themselves. Because it sure won’t be products of their redaction-based education, or people they’ve blocked from knowing stuff, who discover a cure for cancer, who solve our energy problems, negotiate a treaty, or make the next technological leap. As long as there are liberals who value education and respect science, today’s Republicans can indulge their culture of censorship and denial, while the rest of us strive to secure the future for everyone, against the tide, facing facts.
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Friday, May 10, 2013

Beauty



No message. Just a gorgeous pic of an annular eclipse, low enough that there's elliptical distortion. Image from here (which happens to be a phenomenally cool blog by a smart and skeptical scientist.)



S.C. Goes WIth Sanford



Yep. Pretty much says it all. Some things are more important than honesty, morality, or competence.




Thursday, May 9, 2013

Problem Solved



Having written, in my Sunday newspaper column, about our puzzling acceptance of gun violence in this country, I've heard from a few people pointing out that gun violence is actually down over the past few years. So, they're implying, we don't need to do anything. It's all good.

In other words, according to them, we've reached the ideal level of gun violence. The perfect number of kids killing themselves or their siblings accidentally, the optimum amount of murders by firearm. Whatever the amount is, it's just right. We've hit the nail on the head. No need to attempt to keep even one more gun out of the hands of a psychotic or known criminal. Hey, even terrorists. I mean, because, you know, we've got it just right.

Makes sense to me.

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The Quagmires Just Keep On Coming



John McCain and Lindsey Graham would have us believe it's a simple proposition: do something in Syria. What that something might be, they'd haven't exactly specified, but it sure oughta be something, and it oughta be just right.

For those not seeking the political spotlight or the scoring of political points, the situation is a little more complex. If ever the term "damned if you do, damned if you don't" had meaning, well, this is it. As it was, of course, in Iraq and Afghanistan. Or, maybe it was (and is) "damned if you do." I mean, really: how many times do we need to intervene in tribally fractured and embittered countries before we figure out we have no control over what happens next?

Anyhow, there's a really good article in The New Yorker that goes into lots of detail, making clear how non-McCain-easy the problem is. For one thing, the rebels our war-mongers are so anxious to arm are anything but our pals:


... On April 10th, a man calling himself Abu Mohammad al-Julani posted an audio recording on YouTube in which he pledged the loyalty of his organization, known as the Al Nusra Front, to Al Qaeda in Iraq. “We look forward to bringing back Allah’s rule to his earth,’’ he said. Al Nusra, the most radical of the Syrian rebel groups, announced its formation in January, 2012, when six senior members of Al Qaeda in Iraq were dispatched to Syria. According to a Middle Eastern official, a number of them had worked as lieutenants for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the founder of Al Qaeda in Iraq, who was killed by a U.S. air strike in 2006 after directing a campaign that killed hundreds of Americans and Iraqi civilians. “They just moved over to Syria,’’ the official said. To better insinuate themselves into local society, they adopted Syrian-sounding names.
In barely a year, Al Nusra has grown into the strongest rebel group, with several thousand fighters carrying out operations in every region of the country, marking their territory with a black banner, like the one used by Al Qaeda in Iraq, that reads, “There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet.” Intelligence officers say that Al Nusra’s leaders have learned from the mistakes they made in Iraq, where Al Qaeda’s bloodlust so alienated Iraqis that they turned to the Americans, splitting the insurgency...
The article includes lots of history of the US in that area, and a lot more detail of what's going on. The reporter, Dexter Filkins, is, in my opinion, one of the best on the subject. It's really worth a read, especially for those inclined to think we're overdue for another adventure.

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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Benghazi



Seems like the administration might have some explaining to do, after all. Maybe Fox "news" and the people for whom it's the mouthpiece have been right on this one. If so, it'll piss me off majorly; at the administration, not at the truth-tellers:


Gregory Hicks, who was the top deputy to the slain U.S. ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, will say his in written testimony that a second team of special operations officers were told not to fly to Benghazi on the evening of the attack.That team was scheduled to depart on a C-130 airplane to Benghazi that eventually took flight at 6:00 am on the morning of September 12. Less than one hour earlier, a round of mortar fire killed two CIA contractors—Glenn Doherty and Tyrone Woods — standing guard at a CIA annex in Benghazi.
While a team of CIA contractors from Tripoli did arrive in Benghazi late in the evening of the attack, Hicks' testimony sheds new light on the military's response to the attack as it was taking place. The testimony from Hicks, who served as chief of mission for the U.S. embassy at Tripoli after Stevens was killed in the initial attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, contradicts what senior Obama administration officials told Congress in briefings last year.
Of course, there are other points of view, too. So I guess we just have to stay tuned. And, something else amazing I just read: even Fox and Friends, the trio to whom no conspiracy theory is too crazy, the gang of gasping egregiousness, finds reason to wonder if a massive coverup is really possible. Now I don't know what the hell to think. I mean, really! Fox and Friends isn't so sure anymore....?? I think I've crossed into another universe.



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Why Were Screwed, Version Who Can Count 'Em



Game-playing as substitute for progress. Maybe there's a righty version of it that does them honor, but by this account, it's right wing bullshit in extremis.


For about three years, congressional Republicans had a talking point they were quite fond of: they wanted Congress to pass a budget through "regular order," but Senate Democrats have made that impossible by failing to pass a budget. In an interesting twist, GOP lawmakers have abandoned their own talking points -- and Democrats have picked them up.
...
First, let's back up and explain what "regular order" is. The budget process is supposed to follow a certain trajectory: the House approves its budget blueprint, then the Senate does the same, and a conference committee featuring members from both chambers get together to work out the differences. There are no secret deals, no shutdowns, and no stopgap measures -- just good ol' fashioned policymaking through a process that's been in place for many decades.
...
...
What Republicans are now seeking is some kind of pre-negotiations negotiations in which Democrats accept parameters of budget talks before there are actual budget talks.
In effect, Paul Ryan and his allies are telling Dems, "Accept the terms of our talks beforehand, or we won't talk at all." 
Again, keep in mind what Republicans said was their top priority: an open and transparent budget process through regular order, without special deals negotiated in secret. Republicans are instead now saying they want a closed budget process that abandons regular order, and which is reliant solely on deals negotiated in secret.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Charity Begins At Homeless


Clever guy, that. He says the atheists are winning.


More To The Story?



If this is true, you'd think it might give warmongers like McCain and Graham pause; and would make President Obama's decision to wait for more information seem wise:


UN human rights investigators have spoken to the victims of Syria’s civil war and gathered medical testimonies which point to the Syrian rebels having used sarin nerve gas, while any allegations of its use by the government remain unsubstantiated.
The United Nations independent commission of inquiry on Syria has concluded that no evidence of the use of sarin by Syria’s government troops has so far been uncovered, said the lead commission member Carla Del Ponte on Sunday.
On the other hand, this is America in 2013, where the scoring of political points overrides everything else, at least for one party. And where it doesn't matter what our president does, or doesn't do: the right-wing scream machine will find a way to demonize it. And, of course, the report comes from the UN, so Nazi communist terrorist America hater.

[Added: more commentary and info]

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Sunday, May 5, 2013

America The Shootiful



Here's another of my Sunday columns in our local newspaper. Given Wayne LaPierre's latest, I'm expecting a certain amount of pushback.
“Five dead in Federal Way Shooting.” “Man killed, woman wounded in Maple Valley shooting.” “Man in serious condition after Burien shooting.” “Three die in shooting at Auburn tavern.” “Two men wounded in West Seattle shootings.” “Woman accused of fatally shooting man in Lynnwood.” “Seattle parks worker pleads not guilty in shooting.” “Man in custody after Spokane Valley shooting.” And this mind-blowing one: “Parking space a factor in fatal Lakewood shooting.” That’s but a partial list of recent local gun-related headlines, and I excluded accidents. Nationally? Since the slaughter of those kids in Connecticut, there’ve been around 4,000 deaths from firearms in the US. And since 1968, there’ve been well over 1,300,000, which is more than in all US wars combined. 
 I’ve already acknowledged that the barn door is way past closing, that there’ll never be courageous new federal gun laws or even not-so courageous ones. Lying about non-existent gun registries, and using Senate rules, per usual, like a blunt object, Republicans (and four Democrats) recently blocked a puny attempt to extend already-existing background checks to gun shows and internet sales, despite support for the measure by ninety-percent of Americans, including eighty-percent of gun owners. “The world’s greatest deliberative body,” they call themselves. 
A recent study showed that states with the most lax gun laws have the highest rates of gun violence and suicide; so maybe I’ve been wrong in saying that it wouldn’t matter anyway. If so, it might be the last time we hear about it, because Congressional Republicans, breeding true, have also seen to it that no more federal funds can be spent on such research. 
 Still, if only as an academic exercise, it’s worth pondering: why, among civilized countries, are we the only one where shootings are so commonplace? How is it that America, which has led the world in so many good things, threatens to lead in gunplay, too; has evolved a culture in which firearm ownership is as deeply embedded as breakfast? Why do so many Americans feel the need to be armed to their gums? Our response to Sandy Hook: bulletproof backpacks for school kids; calling for teachers to carry weapons, legislators to wear bulletproof vests. Alone in the elsewhere not-so-wild West, our politicians uninterested in or incapable of changing (like Australia’s did), the U.S. is coming to look like Afghanistan. Murder by the daily dozen, siblings killing siblings by accident: Hey, just the price of doing business. A fair trade for staving off some imaginary government overreach.  
How did we get from the belief by our founders that settlers should have muskets, to where we are today, fearsome weapons sold like bananas, to anyone, anywhere; where even minimal rules governing that corrosive commerce are shouted down in paroxysms of paranoia? And don’t tell me the real problem is video games or Hollywood movies, or mental health. In Japan, where video games are as everywhere as sushi, where American movies play and their own are just as brutal, people tend not to kill each other particularly much. Same with the British, the French, even the Germans! And I bet they even have sociopaths. Unarmed, elections happen there, oppression-free. No, there’s something that makes America exceptional. Here, there’s pervasive right-wing mongering of and buying into fear; and what’s curious is how mainstream it’s become. The cold-dead-hands, they’re-coming-for-us crowd; the disinformed, Foxobeckian pretend patriots; the believers that regulation presages confiscation. If they’re in the minority, they seem to have all the power.  
Good for that local homeowner and his .22, who held an intruder at bay, and who, no doubt, would’ve passed a background check. What worries me is the tailgating anger management reject reaching for his piece. Because, increasingly, people are doing nasty, selfish things: tossing trash out their windows, running red lights, refusing to yield, flashing fingers and looking mad. Mad enough to kill over a parking space. 
 Coarseness and fury seem the rule nowadays. And these aren’t criminals, they’re ordinary people; and the more ordinary such behavior becomes, the more concerned I get. Because this is America, land of the heavily-armed, land of fire, ready, aim; land of conspiracy theories and omnipresent anger, especially among those who feel the need to take their country back… from THOSE people, whoever they are. It’s not those unmarked tanks rolling into town that’ll get us. It’s us. The aggrieved and seething, grabbing a gun, getting even. It’s not about what’s legal: it’s about who we’ve become.
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Friday, May 3, 2013

A Really Good Good 'Ol Boy






Maybe hearing it from this guy, who identifies himself as a fiscal conservative, will open an eye or two. But I doubt it. Because as we've already seen, teabaggRs are only interested in preventing the President of the United States from getting credit for anything good.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

More Insight



For more confirmation that we are most sincerely screwed, as referred to in the preceding post, there's this bit of candor from R Senator Toomey, on why gun legislation failed:


So why did GOP senators put aside common sense and popular will? According to Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who co-authored the bipartisan measure, it wasn't just about the gun lobby -- some of his Republican colleagues didn't want to "be seen helping the president."
"In the end it didn't pass because we're so politicized. There were some on my side who did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it," Toomey admitted on Tuesday in an interview with Digital First Media editors in the offices of the Times Herald newspaper in Norristown, Pa.
Clearly, for today's Congressional Republicans, it's not about governance, nor about what's best for the country. It's about their most narrow and narrow-minded self interest and prejudices, and nothing more.

Simply and correctly put, they're a bunch of assholes.

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Says It All



What more do you need to know about the state of our politics than the results of this newly-released study of light bulbs and behavior:


Abstract

This research demonstrates how promoting the environment can negatively affect adoption of energy efficiency in the United States because of the political polarization surrounding environmental issues. Study 1 demonstrated that more politically conservative individuals were less in favor of investment in energy-efficient technology than were those who were more politically liberal. This finding was driven primarily by the lessened psychological value that more conservative individuals placed on reducing carbon emissions. Study 2 showed that this difference has consequences: In a real-choice context, more conservative individuals were less likely to purchase a more expensive energy-efficient light bulb when it was labeled with an environmental message than when it was unlabeled. These results highlight the importance of taking into account psychological value-based considerations in the individual adoption of energy-efficient technology in the United States and beyond.
What was done (it's not clear from the above, but is better described here) was this: they showed groups of liberals and conservatives some light bulbs; first, they were labelled with data about energy efficiency. Even if the efficient bulbs (CFLs, the kind Michelle Bachmann hates) cost a little more, the two groups were equally as likely to choose the CFLs. Until the labels included references to protecting the environment. Then, conservatives (new groups of each) were way less interested in purchasing them.

The study seems more interested in the implications vis a' vis marketing; to me, it's much more than that. We've become so knee-jerk polarized that it overrides what would otherwise be decent instincts in people. And by "we" and "people" I mean the right wing of our country, brought to madness by the constant spewing of hate and derision and disinformation from their so-called "news" sources and political heroes. They'd rather abnegate something they instinctively know is right, rather live in a cesspool, than be seen as agreeing with a liberal about anything. Or so one might conclude.

How can anyone think we're not totally screwed?

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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Flipping Out



The video confirms something I've wondered for a long time: why do high-jumpers do the Fosbury flop when it seems this would clear a much higher bar? At least as important as pondering Sarah Palin's latest, right?

He's Toast



Poor Chris Christie: sometimes he just can't help telling the truth, when what his party prefers are lies.


HIGHLANDS, N.J. -- Gov. Chris Christie said Monday that President Barack Obama "has kept every promise he's made" about helping the state recover from Superstorm Sandy. 
Hours later, Obama's housing secretary approved New Jersey's plans to spend $1.83 billion in federal money to help the state rebuild and recover from the storm. 
Speaking on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program six months after the deadly storm, the Republican governor said presidential politics were the last thing on his mind as he toured storm-devastated areas with Obama last fall. 
When it comes to helping New Jersey rebuild from the storm, "the president has kept every promise he's made," said Christie, widely considered a potential candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. "I think he's done a good job. He kept his word."

I don't know if he has presidential aspirations; but if he does, he can kiss them goodbye, unless he runs as an independent. He has impure thoughts.

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