Thursday, June 30, 2011

But For A Couple Of Details...

More from The Onion:

WASHINGTON—In a strong rebuke of President Obama and his domestic agenda, all 242 House Republicans voted Wednesday to repeal the Asteroid Destruction and American Preservation Act, which was signed into law last year to destroy the immense asteroid currently hurtling toward Earth.

The $440 billion legislation, which would send a dozen high-thrust plasma impactor probes to shatter the massive asteroid before it strikes the planet, would affect more than 300 million Americans and is strongly opposed by the GOP.

"The voters sent us to Washington to stand up for individual liberty, not big government," Rep. Steve King (R-IA) said at a press conference. "Obama's plan would take away citizens' fundamental freedoms, forcing each of us into hastily built concrete bunkers and empowering the federal government to ration our access to food, water, and potassium iodide tablets while underground."

"We believe that the decisions of how to deal with the massive asteroid are best left to the individual," King added.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Bernie And The Bottom Line

Bernie Sanders' speech on the Senate floor. (The entire speech is much longer than the above clip.) This is exactly what it's all about. If only people would stop, listen, and think:

Mr. President, this is a pivotal moment in the history of our country. In the coming days and weeks, decisions will be made about our national budget that will impact the lives of virtually every American in this country for decades to come—and the time is now for the American people to become significantly involved in that debate and not leave it to a small number of people here in Washington.

Mr. President, at a time when the wealthiest people and the largest corporations in our country are doing phenomenally well, and in many cases have never had it so good, while the middle class is disappearing and poverty is increasing, it is absolutely imperative that any deficit-reduction package that passes this Congress not include the horrendous cuts, the cruel cuts, in programs that working people desperately need, that are utilized every day by the elderly, by the sick, by our children, and by the lowest income people in our country, that the Republicans in Congress, dominated by their extreme rightwing, are demanding...

...So, today, I am asking the American people that, if you believe deficit reduction should be about shared sacrifice; if you believe the wealthiest people in our country and the largest corporations should be asked to pay their fair share as part of deficit reduction; if you believe that, at a time when military spending has almost tripled since 1997, that we begin to take a hard look at our defense budget; and if you believe the middle-class and working families have already sacrificed enough, I urge you to make sure that the President hears your voice--and he needs to hear it now.

Sadly, as Congressional Rs -- and recent comments here -- have clearly shown, today's so-called conservatives are as far from the ideas of shared sacrifice and of looking to future needs as Newt Gingrich has been, lately, from Tiffany's.

Willing to anger their base, Obama and Democrats have, as usual, gone far beyond half-way, proposing five dollars of spending cuts for every dollar of revenue increase. Republicans have said they'll accept no tax increases at all, even changing the definition of "compromise." It's inarguable: they're concerned about enriching their wealthy supporters and about their own reelections, and not at all about the long-term needs of the country. And they're confident they can (because they always have), with the help of their propaganda outlets at Fox "news" and RWS™ radio, convince their gullible and fact-averse supporters that they can have everything for free.

It seems obvious that nothing will change the attitudes of the current crop of teabaggRs; the only question is whether there are enough thoughtful conservatives out there to diselect this selfish and dishonest bunch in favor of people who will, like many Democrats, be willing to put country above politics.

Because if all you care about is tax cuts (except ones proposed by our president!), knowing the effects it'll have on education, infrastructure, research, and help for the needy, it means you're willing to kiss the future goodbye. It means you simply don't care.

Press Conference

Sure, I've been critical of the president lately. But I must say, whenever I see him answer reporters' questions (without a teleprompter!!) I'm glad he's the one in the White House.

Of all the R candidates, the only one who comes even close to Barack Obama in intelligence and reasoned approach to things, is Jon Huntsman, who at least has some credibility in some areas; but, one would think, has as much chance of getting the nomination of the party of hatred and magical thinking as I do.

Another Statement Of The Obvious

From a website with which I hadn't been familiar until a financial advisor linked me to it:
Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face! It looks like the Republicans are going to get their pound(s) of flesh from the debt ceiling discussions. And the economically ignorant Democrats are going along for the ride. President Obama’s fundamental lack of understanding with regards to the current economic predicament in the USA (the balance sheet recession) is going to result in spending cuts in order to avoid the mythical insolvency of the USA. According to the Associated Press, the President is in talks to make a “significant” reduction in the size of the deficit...

...In short, these politicians have absolutely zero clue how the US monetary system actually functions. They have failed to properly diagnose our problems (a balance sheet recession) and are now implementing policy that will prove destructive. All in the name of a bankruptcy that can only happen if they decide to let it happen! So buckle up America. In their fight for power the politicians are about to “help” us avoid a technical bankruptcy while bankrupting us economically....

... If the United States implements a policy of austerity there is little doubt that the economy would continue to contract again, unemployment would increase and the economic malaise would worsen.

Seems balanced. Having said I'm not familiar with the site, called "Pragmatic Capitalism," I'll give it ricochet respectability by saying the guy who sent it to me is smart as hell about the economy; and I'll quote what they say about themselves:
This website was founded to provide investors with a totally unbiased professional perspective on Wall Street. We provide research, indicators, and news that the mainstream media leaves largely unnoticed. We have just one agenda at Pragmatic Capitalism: helping investors decipher information in a way that helps them create an investment plan that produces superior market returns. We don’t care for the bull side or the bear side – only the right side.

And, of course, they're saying what the vast majority of economists (as well as myself) have been saying: the R plans will be our ruin. They blame Obama's caving to their insanity on a fundamental misunderstanding of the economy. I can't argue with it; but -- at least based on what he said when he first spoke out for the stimulus -- I think the president does know what's needed. What drives me crazy is his reluctance to stand up and say what must be said, over and over, like the Rs do with the help of their propagandizing media noise machines. But in his case, he'd be telling the truth; and, most likely, with the rest of the media not caring.

President Obama's problem is he believes in democracy and the need for compromise; and the teabaggRs simply don't. That's what he fails to understand.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Like A Rug

What is it with lying females and teabagger love?

As Sarah Palin, serial liar, plots the next way she can use her kids as props and then complain about media not leaving them alone, Michele Bachmann is on the rise, floating on the clouds of disinformation regularly steaming from her head. Like Palin's, Bachmann's lies cover the gamut from so silly and obvious that it makes you wonder why she bothers, to so outrageous that you wonder how she retains any credibility on anything from anyone; even teabaggers, you'd think, would have their limits. (Yeah. Sure. Right.)

Evidently not. She's their goddam hero. Heroette. Heroess. Hear. Oh?

Here's but a small sampling. It doesn't include such whoppers as those reeducation camps, but it does mention her fraudulent denial of income from her government-supported family farm; and it finishes off with her claim that under Obama there's been only one permit issued for oil drilling. (When she said it, the number was actually around 250. As she repeats it, it's over 300.) Bob Schieffer asked her directly about the falsehood last Sunday; she refused to answer, changed the subject, lied some more.

Here's another sort of wimpy list. And another. Reality-based people notice, and speculate:

When there is a misrepresentation of the truth, even if the tranmitter of said falsehood is unknowing of its false nature, then the recipient has been misled. But Michele Bachmann tells falsehoods as a matter of course, so it is difficult to believe that she could be so willfully blind to her own false comments, especially when the erroneous or false facets of her comments are constantly being brought to her attention by the media. Could it truly be that she does not know or understand that she is lying or spreading false information? Given her education and training in legal matters (she has a doctorate in Tax Law), although plausible, being oblivious or unknowing is incredibly difficult to believe.

It is more likely that Bachmann's ideology trumps her moral values, that promoting her evangelical right-wing political agenda supercedes everything else -- and that would include honesty.

Hard to know, isn't it? When people like Palin and Bachmann lie so easily and so constantly, you have to wonder what pathology is involved. Is it deliberate? If so, it says a hell of a lot about how they view their supporters (and even more about the supporters themselves). Maybe it's a form of sociopathy; as the writer says, they simply don't care and will say or do anything to get what they want. Whatever it is, it doesn't get at the most important question, which is this:

Why in the name of their god don't their supporters care? Do they love them in spite of the lies, or because of them? Or, because they're mostly viewers of Fox "news," which sells Sarachele like lemonade on a hot day, spins them like cotton candy, is it that they simply have no idea they're being lied to?

Irrelevant, probably. Teabaggers have long since loosed their hold on reality, if they ever had it. Truth simply is of no concern to them. Lying isn't a bug: it's a feature.

[Addendum: a friend forwarded this piece, more entertaining, as usual, than mine.]

Freedom Is Tyranny; War Is Peace

Predictably, RWS™ are aghast. It's tyranny. TYRANNY!!

It's a perfect lens through which to view the current state of conservatism, as manifested in teabaggRs: when anything happens with which they disagree, for whatever reason, no matter what it is or how it happened, it's tyranny. It's evil. So it has been since the election of that black guy. Not to get their way, in a democracy, is the same as living in North Korea. Seriously. That's how they see it. (I do recognize the relatively lonely voice of reason among today's conservatives. It's just that they have virtually no influence over what constitutes the Republican party any more.)

Okay, let's think for a minute. If straight people were forced to marry someone of the same sex, that would be tyranny. If only gay marriage were allowed, if churches were forced to allow gay marriages, that would be tyranny. And, by golly, by the same reasoning, when gay couples are prevented by the state from marrying, that's tyranny, too.

But when duly elected representatives, after years of public debate, pass a law which broadens freedom and which has no effect whatsoever on anyone not previously prevented from enjoying that freedom, takes nothing away from the majority while allowing a minority to share in a freedom previously denied -- what ever the hell that is, it sure as hell is NOT tyranny.

That anyone who lives in our democracy and claims to be a patriot could see it as such says everything you need to know about person and the movement of which he or she is a part. In short, it tells you that person, that movement, absolutely does not believe in American democracy. Or minority rights. Or compromise. Period. No counter argument to be made. This isn't even hard: allowing same-sex marriage has a positive effect on many, and a negative effect on none. No one. My son still plans on marrying his girlfriend. I do not plan on getting divorced. Churches are free to open their doors to gay marriages, or keep them closed. Followers of Jesus and his message of love can still hate to their hearts' content.

Nothing bad happened to anyone, no one's will got imposed on the unwilling, no person became forced to do something they don't want to do. Nothing was taken away from anyone, by anyone.

Tyranny, they call it. With such people, there's no reasoning; and they're the ones in charge of our House of Representatives and state houses across the land, stamping their feet and saying no to anything at all which is not 100% to their liking. They insist on imposing their entire agenda on every person, unchanged, unyielding, unconcerned about anyone who objects or is adversely affected, for any reason at all.

Some would call that tyranny.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Libya Made Simple

[The latest from Tom Tomorrow. Click image to enlarge.]


While we've been having an "I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I" discussion about budget issues here, Brian Baird, a former Democratic Congressman from my state was working on an opinion piece which was published yesterday in our local paper. The outlines of his solutions are exactly what I -- along with every thoughtful politician, economist, and blogger (which, sadly, excludes a few Ds but the entire panoply of teabaggRs) -- have been saying forever:
... Whether the challenge is energy, health care, national security, education or the economy, when our nation is in serious trouble every American needs to ask, "How can I help?"...
... More Americans now recognize our national debt as a problem, but when asked if they are willing to do something personally to lower that debt, either through reducing entitlements or paying higher taxes, the answer quickly becomes "No. Let someone else deal with it." This duality is now playing out in potentially damaging form in the context of pending votes to raise the debt limit.

Here is the honest truth: We must lower deficits and reduce our debt, but it will require reduced government services, stronger economic growth and higher taxes. ...
To understand why, consider that of all the government spending in a year, about two-thirds goes to the big entitlement programs -- Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. ...

Close the national parks; stop the wars; terminate all military activity or spending anywhere on earth; don't pay our troops; close the Everett home port, Whidbey Island air station, Bremerton, Bangor, and Joint Base Lewis McChord; stop the Boeing tanker along with all other weapons programs; open the borders; close the veterans hospitals; terminate all federally funded highway, dam, levee and other construction; cancel all federal emergency and disaster relief; end the space program; close the federal prisons; stop all foreign aid; eliminate federal health and science research; terminate federal education grants, loans and scholarships.

Even if we zero out all that and more, spending would still exceed revenues and our debt would continue to grow.

Several years ago I suggested to a colleague that both political parties should remember the scene in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" when the pair has no choice but to jump off a high cliff together into a raging river below...

My colleague's response was telling. "No," he said, "I think we'd rather just watch you jump off the cliff by yourself."...

...If we are serious about reducing the deficit, everyone has to be part of the effort, which means everyone, at all income levels, should contribute more in taxes. When Republicans say no one should pay higher taxes and there should be further cuts for the wealthy, they cannot honestly claim to be serious about the deficit. President Obama and the Democrats are only slightly less disingenuous when they propose raising rates only on those making more than $250,000 per year. ...

Among his solutions is doing away with the entire tax system and replacing it with a "simplified, graduated national sales tax." I guess it would depend on how it's graduated: I've always thought sales taxes are much harder on the less wealthy. But that's not the point.

The point is that as it is, we're getting nowhere. And whereas it's true that Ds are not guiltless, as I've said many times, it's Congressional Rs that are the most unwilling to give anywhere, on anything. And they don't even try to hide it. Moreover, they justify their intransigence with lies.

Brian Baird quit Congress in his prime. Given what he'd been up against, it's not hard to imagine why.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Start Spreading The News

Andrew Sullivan, predictably, says it much better than I could:

The fact that New York State has just become the sixth (plus DC!) to grant gay citizens the civil right to marry is a BFD. I say that having observed and participated in this process for two decades.

It's a BFD because a Republican-led State Senate passed this law. Yes, the partisanship is massively lop-sided, but the conversion of a few Republicans is what will have made this possible. The credit for that goes to one of the most determined, consistent, professional and impassioned campaigns we have ever fought for marriage equality. Going outside traditional Democratic party lobbies to appeal to those on the other side who are open to our arguments was essential. Yes, Tim Gill, take a bow, wherever you are. Bill Smith, you remain my hero. Governor Cuomo, by all accounts was magnificent at the politics and Mayor Bloomberg and critical Republicans and Democrats and all factions and groups in the gay movement - even HRC! - pulled together. That the most passionate opponent was a Democrat and the most powerful were Republicans helps scramble the attempt by the Christianist right to coopt conservatism for their reactionary theology...

... It's a BFD because it also insists on maximal religious liberty for those who conscientiously oppose marriage equality. A gay rights movement that seeks to restrict any religious freedom is not worthy of the name. And it makes me glad that we largely avoided anything that looks like that strategy, and that last-minute negotiations were flexible enough to strengthen the protections for religious groups, churches, mosques, synagogues and the like. The gay rights movement is about expanding the boundaries of human freedom - and that must include religious freedom if it is to mean anything. We have come such a long way from the 1980s when religious groups were always seen as enemies, rather than as potential allies.

It's a BFD because the public leadership of this campaign was heterosexual...

Friday, June 24, 2011

Cantor Can't

And speaking of the economy, to no one's surprise Eric Cantor has bolted from the "bipartisan" "negotiations" on the "budget." Damn Democrats want to raise a little revenue to pay for our basic needs. Republicans say no deal to that: they simply don't care about anything but tax cuts for the wealthy. I don't see how anyone can argue with that statement. I wonder how he'd explain what was wrong with tax rates before Bush got hold of our thriving economy.

I've said it before: it's obvious that tax rates that are too high would destroy the economy. Taking the extreme case of 100%, we'd have full agreement across the board. Likewise rates of 0% (although I'm certain there are teabaggers who'd be perfectly happy to watch the country crumble around them as long as they had theirs...

Anyhow, we can all agree it's a matter of finding a zone in which there's enough revenue to do what's needed, and enough incentive for people to work and produce stuff. It's obvious to everyone except the ideologically blind that we're not in the zone. Keeping taxes where they are -- forget about the further cuts teabaggRs want -- it's apparent that the sort of cuts to achieve balance will rob us of our future, as infrastructure crumbles, education continues its decline, research goes unfunded, and the environment is left to putrefy. It's happening already, and the Rs are barely into their plot plan.

So it's a choice. If these guys, the teabaggRs, have their way, we'll see the end of everything we need as a country, other than fur-lined coffers for the very few. I've not seen any credible breakdown of how we pay for the aforementioned basics if Rs hold sway; in fact, it's clear they don't want to pay for those things. Or, their god forbid, such fluff as medicaid, WIC programs, or any other ways to help their fellow citizens.

Of course, we could elect people who'd like to see the government function, who value the country enough to pay for its needs. It's not as if anyone is talking about going back to the tax rates we had under Ronald Reagan, after all. Patriotism isn't about playing dress-up. It's about doing the hard stuff that democracy demands. Teabaggers, and the people they've elected, are the furthest thing from patriots that anyone could imagine. It's selfishness and nothing more. (Okay, misinformed stupidity, too. I'll give you that.)

Against that statement there's simply no argument to be made.

[I've read speculation that the walkout is a defacto recognition that tax hikes are, in fact, inevitably necessary, and that Cantor (and Kyl) simply don't have the balls to be the ones to agree. They're kicking it up to Boehner and McConnell. Could be, I suppose. If it's true, and it happens, I'll take back some of what I said. About teabaggRs; but not about teabaggers.]

[On the other hand, it looks like it ain't gonna happen. My bad. Boehner might rise to the occasion? What was I thinking?]

We're past the point of no return. Like the man said, the Republican party is now made up of and supported by idiots. We're screwed. Totally and completely screwed. If the unlikeliest of outcomes transpired in 2012, and people woke up, made a choice for the future of the country, and Ds regained control of both houses -- even then, it might well be too late.


As long as we're enumerating things teabaggRs believe that are demonstrably and dangerously wrong (and I was), I received a missive from my investment guy the other day, which referenced the most recent commentary of Bill Gross, co-founder of PIMCO and, evidently, a highly respected voice in financial and investment matters. As if to confirm its importance, several sites which I visit regularly have referred to the article as well. The whole piece is here. In it, Mr. Gross takes on both congressional Ds and Rs, but the thrust is about the false argument by Rs that government doesn't create jobs, private businesses do.

Solutions from policymakers on the right or left, however, seem focused almost exclusively on rectifying or reducing our budget deficit as a panacea. While Democrats favor tax increases and mild adjustments to entitlements, Republicans pound the table for trillions of dollars of spending cuts and an axing of Obamacare. Both, however, somewhat mystifyingly, believe that balancing the budget will magically produce 20 million jobs over the next 10 years. President Obama’s long-term budget makes just such a claim and Republican alternatives go many steps further. Former Governor Pawlenty of Minnesota might be the Republicans’ extreme example, but his claim of 5% real growth based on tax cuts and entitlement reductions comes out of left field or perhaps the field of dreams. The United States has not had a sustained period of 5% real growth for nearly 60 years.

Both parties, in fact, are moving to anti-Keynesian policy orientations, which deny additional stimulus and make rather awkward and unsubstantiated claims that if you balance the budget, “they will come.” ...

... Well, commonsensically and anecdotally, I know of no family who, after watching the Republican candidates’ debate in New Hampshire, went out the next day and bought themselves a flat screen under the assumption that their Medicare entitlements would be cut in future years and the U.S. budget balanced. ...

...Additionally and immediately, however, government must take a leading role in job creation. ...

In the near term, then, we should not rely solely on job or corporate-directed payroll tax credits because corporations may not take enough of that bait, and they’re sitting pretty as it is. Government must step up to the plate, as it should have in early 2009. An infrastructure bank to fund badly needed reconstruction projects is a commonly accepted idea, despite the limitations of the original “shovel-ready” stimulus program in 2009.

It makes so much sense that even a non-economist like myself has been arguing for it since the stimulus was just a gleam in Obama's eye: too much in tax cuts, not enough in infrastructure spending.

And yet, precisely because it makes so much sense, it'll never happen as long as teabaggRs control the House. What's good for the country, what works, what is needed whether it fits their encrusted ideology or not -- is simply off the table. Unless it fills the pockets of the wealthy Republican sponsors, good ideas from reasonable people are like tea in Boston harbor: sunk.

[Addendum: hardly liberal, the WSJ weighs in in similar fashion.]

[And, finally, Ds are beginning to state the obvious: Rs don't want the economy to recover before the election. Screw the country? Who cares? As long as it might get them votes.]

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The One

War Powers

This bothers me a lot:

It has now been over three months since the first NATO bombs fell on Libya, yet President Obama has failed to request Congressional approval for military action, as required by the War Powers Act of 1973. The legal machinations Mr. Obama has used to justify war without Congressional consent set a troubling precedent that could allow future administrations to wage war at their convenience — free of legislative checks and balances.


Last Sunday was the 90th day of bombing in Libya, but Mr. Obama — armed with dubious legal opinions — is refusing to stop America’s military engagement there. His White House counsel, Robert F. Bauer, has declared that, despite the War Powers Act, the president can continue the Libya campaign indefinitely without legislative support. ...

Since the 1930s, it has been the job of an elite office in the Justice Department — the Office of Legal Counsel — to serve as the authoritative voice on matters of legal interpretation. The approximately 25 lawyers in this office write legal opinions after hearing arguments from the White House as well as other executive branch departments...


This pre-emptive move was not unprecedented. During George W. Bush’s administration, shortly after 9/11, the White House counsel, Alberto R. Gonzales, led an ad hoc war council that included State and Defense Department officials. It was in this hyper-politicized setting that John Yoo, representing the Office of Legal Counsel, prepared his notorious “torture memos” for President Bush’s approval.


From a moral perspective, there is a significant difference between authorizing torture and continuing a bombing campaign that may save thousands of Libyans from slaughter by Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. But from a legal viewpoint, Mr. Obama is setting an even worse precedent.

Although Mr. Yoo’s memos made a mockery of the applicable law, they at least had the approval of the Office of Legal Counsel.


This is a Beltway detail of major significance...


Allowing the trivialization of the War Powers Act to stand will open the way for even more blatant acts of presidential war-making in the decades ahead....

It's also not unprecedented that presidents who have trouble dealing with domestic issues because of Congressional ineptitude or rank politics turn to foreign policy -- and wars -- where they have a freer hand. (I can relate: the operating room was always a [too-brief] sanctuary from the oppressive exigencies of the office; in it, I was pretty much in charge of what happened.) But if abuses were horrifying when it was President Cheney and his lackeys committing them, it was not unexpected. For Barack Obama to be dragging us down the same path is extremely disappointing. (I acknowledge that not all experts find fault with Obama's rationalizations.)

I don't (yet) doubt his noble intentions, to save the slaughter of innocent Libyans. But if he, with his Harvard Law Degree and presidency of its Law Review, can't resist the siren pull of unfettered power, free of congressional constraints, then what can we expect when the next Cheney gets in there? Or, worse, a Palin or a Bachmann or, god help us all, a Newt Gingrich. (Thankfully, that last possibility seems so remote that I'm almost -- but can't imagine ever actually -- starting to feel sorry for the guy.)

So here's an idea: how about a law that requires a president, when he or she sends American forces into action, no matter the status vis a vis the War Powers Act -- any action whatever -- he or she must address a representative and large gathering of the troops, their spouses, their kids, their parents, and say this to them, looking them in the eye:

I, your president, have chosen to send you to war, knowing some of you will die, and that many more of you will returned gravely wounded, maimed for life. And I recognize that nearly all of you who come home will bear psychological damage for the rest of your days. I have chosen to do this, acknowledging the human toll of my decision, for the following reasons...

Or something like it. And when he or she is finished, he or she must shake the hand of every soldier, every spouse, every child and parent in the room, saying, "I hope you make it. I hope your daddy or mommy makes it, I hope your child makes it." While promising -- with the power of laws not yet written, thanks to our fiscally "responsible" but oh, so patriotic Congress -- to take care of every one of them in whatever way necessary, for as long as it takes.

[Addendum: I just saw this cartoon, which I'm unable to embed. Worth a watch.]

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Coffin, Meet Nail

It's been pretty well hashed over by people with more audience than me, but it still seems worth a brief mention. After Jon Stewart's appearance on Fox "news" the other day, there can be no argument -- none! not even by the blind sheep that have claimed fairness and balance in the face of all the evidence -- that Fox is anything but a propaganda organization, with an explicit right-wing agenda. If the revelations that slipped from Chris Wallace's mouth like saliva from a stroke victim's weren't enough, the stuff which they cut out and, like pretty much everything else they falsely manipulate, which is available within the intertubes, is dispositive. Not that they haven't done it before.

If Fox "news" weren't so obviously a fraud, so clearly bent on destroying progressive politics by any means necessary, including -- especially! -- by lying and distorting and ignoring and deceiving, treating its audience like the willingly ignorant that they are, this whole thing would be pretty funny. Exposed by a comedian. Forced to edit out their own damnation, while denying they ever do such a thing. Claiming the high ground by comparing themselves to Lisa Lampanelli and a cop in short shorts. Oh, man. Man oh man.

However, it's sad. Really, really sad. Because no matter how clear it is that they're being taken for a ride to a place where their own interests mean nothing, the Foxobeckians among us have neither the tools nor the desire to be enlightened. And thus my pessimism that we'll get out of this alive.

[Addendum: here's a little followup by Jon Stewart. And here's a take on whether he was actually wrong.]


The keystone in the arch of incompetence that overlies all of modern Republicanism since Lord Ronald is the statement, repeated endlessly by all adherents and perhaps even believed by a few of them, that "tax cuts pay for themselves." It's really the perfect basis on which to judge them, because it exemplifies everything they've said or done in the last thirty-some years. It's without evidence, it's patently false, it's highly damaging to our future. And it's accepted as the gods' truth.

Once again, here's Ronnie's own economic advisor, truth-telling into the hurricane headwinds:

Republicans claim to be deeply concerned about the budget deficit and the national debt, yet repeatedly demand additional large tax cuts. For example, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, supports a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution but also wants an $8 trillion tax cut. He rationalizes this contradiction by asserting that his tax cut will not actually lose any revenue. As Pawlenty told Slate reporter Dave Weigel on June 13:

“When Ronald Reagan cut taxes in a significant way, revenues actually increased by almost 100 percent during his eight years as president. So this idea that significant, big tax cuts necessarily result in lower revenues – history does not [bear] that out.”

In point of fact, this assertion is completely untrue.


This is not surprising given that no one in the Reagan administration ever claimed that his 1981 tax cut would pay for itself or that it did. Reagan economists Bill Niskanen and Martin Anderson have written extensively on this oft-repeated myth. Conservative economist Lawrence Lindsey made a thorough effort to calculate the feedback effect in his 1990 book, The Growth Experiment. He concluded that the behavioral and macroeconomic effects of the 1981 tax cut, resulting from both supply-side and demand-side effects, recouped about a third of the static revenue loss.


Republicans also assert that the tax cuts of the George W. Bush years paid for themselves. On July 13, 2010, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said that there was no net revenue loss from any of the Bush tax cuts, in defense of an earlier comment by Senator John Kyl that all spending increases must be offset so as not to increase the deficit, but tax cuts need never be offset. Said McConnell:

“There's no evidence whatsoever that the Bush tax cuts actually diminished revenue. They increased revenue, because of the vibrancy of these tax cuts in the economy. So I think what Senator Kyl was expressing was the view of virtually every Republican on that subject.”

This is a view not shared by economists who worked for Bush. For example, Alan Viard, senior economist at the Council of Economic Advisers during Bush’s first term, told the Washington Post in 2006, “Federal revenue is lower today than it would have been without the tax cuts. There’s really no dispute among economists about that.”

We're truly at the Mad Hatter's tea party. (Rich, huh?) Half our country is in the thrall of a political party whose central philosophy is demonstrably false; and yet -- presumably because it's such a happy thought that promises everything will be fine, not only with no sacrifice but with the actual opposite -- that party has managed to gain the ability to grind our government to a halt.

It was a cliché before it was ever uttered: you're entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts. And yet here we are. The power of lies is irresistible, evidently; the more so the tougher the times. When times get tough, the tough get... drowned out. How easy, how appealing: the country is broke, we need money to fix our infrastructure, to educate our kids, to fight our wars. And guess what? There's great news!! The solution to everything is to cut taxes. Eat our crap and we'll give you cake, too. Ronald loves you. Be selfish, ignore reality. And you'll still get into heaven, right here on earth. Sign me up and send me a teabag.

What hope can there possibly be when a major political party is based on a lie, pushes the lie, has the lie reinforced by a propaganda conglomerate run by the only people who benefit from the falsehood, and is swallowed whole, drunk deep and steaming, because it promises free and sweet tea for everyone? This is a world that makes no sense, except as one visited by Alice. Or Lemuel Gulliver. The US of A, the fuck-yeah exceptional: overtaken by magical thinking, dancing to its own destruction.

It's absolutely amazing; and, except for the fact that it's being enabled by a form of religious fundamentalism, it defies explanation. The question is, do the purveyors know they're lying, or, as with their other ignorancii, such as their reckoning of the age of the earth, on evolution, and their stand on global climate change, have they actively suppressed facts to maintain the beliefs it takes for them to stay happy in a complicated world?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Drawing Conclusions

He doesn't have much to say about how to get there, but it's not bad for a couple minutes' worth, the attention span of the average teabagger, I'd guess. And were they to note who sponsored the clip, they'd run away even faster than their usual retreat from facts.

Waste of breath, most probably.


A while back I wrote a post about medical bogosity and other logical failures, such as teabaggerism, which I called "Spotting Virgins." According to my statcounter, the post is the second most searched of any I've written.

And here's what's really weird. The vast majority of the searches come from such places as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and other mostly Islamic countries, where repression of women is the norm. Of the last few visitors to that page, the origins were Pakistan, Indonesia, Qatar, Bahrain, Netherlands (2!), Saudi Arabia (2), Korea, Egypt, Serbia, Iran, UK (2). And Texas. Waco, Texas.

I don't know what it means.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Brain Grains

Regarding the many data that suggest inborn differences between liberals and conservatives and how they process information, here's another bit; an article about an article.

Here, we present the first genome-wide analysis of Conservative-Liberal attitudes from a sample of 13,000 respondents whose DNA was collected in conjunction with a 50-item sociopolitical attitude questionnaire. Several significant linkage peaks were identified and potential candidate genes discussed.


The rather amazing result–for any of us who stops to think about the incredibly vast distance between the genes we are born with and our political attitudes as adults–was that three regions were found to be linked in a way that was “significant” (one reaching the most stringent test of it) and one was linked in a way that was “suggestive.” (The technical stuff on all of this is in the paper.)

What could this mean? Well, as the authors write:

As we identified four regions of interest, and one that meets the strictest criteria, our findings are consistent with what might be expected if the genetic component of variation in Conservatism-Liberalism resembles any other polygenic human trait, for which the genetic resemblance between relatives can only be resolved reliably into the effects of a large number of genes with small effects that typically cannot be identified by linkage.

In other words, no gene is acting directly to determine our political views–there is no “liberal” or “conservative” gene–but there might be a combination of genes acting together that somehow predispose us to have particular politics... The authors couldn't resist speculating here:

Thought organization, information processing, capacity for abstract thought, learning, and performance are related to blockage of NMDA. Of particular interest to political ideology is the relationship between NMDA and performance on the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test (WCST). The WCST is a neuropsychological test of the ability to display flexibility in the face of changing schedules of reinforcement. By definition Conservatism and Liberalism have much to do with flexibility of opinion in the face of a changing world. (emphasis mine)

Though the accumulation of this stuff tends to support my own perceptions that liberals and conservatives are different animals (and that when it comes to the above-mentioned flexibility in facing a changing world, liberals are far better suited and more committed to factuality), in the end it's pretty bad news.

I'd like to believe that the thought processes demonstrated by the occasional and fleeting conservative commenters here don't represent the best that conservatism has to offer; our problems are too serious to be ignored in the way commenters ignore what I say, only to make asinine and unrelated retorts that they presumably consider highly effective counters. (In the name of preventing their own embarrassment, and bleeding eyes in the rest of us, I've rejected many.) I'd like to believe that in a fast-fading future, as even conservatives are forced to realize there are facts out there that demand serious attention, it's still somehow possible to work together on solutions. But evidence is against me; and I'm nothing if not evidence-based.

No, it's not easy to be optimistic. If the comments here from conservatives are particularly vapid, there's no evidence in the halls of congress or in the polling places of teabaggers that they're very much beyond the mean. Nor does it help in any way to recognize that it might not be their fault, that they were born this way. If half our country is genetically and anatomically unwilling and unable to address issues logically, cooperatively, with our common future in mind, it really doesn't matter what their excuse is. We're screwed either way.

One is left to wonder how it came to this: what accounts for the evolution of the conservative brain? There must have been, at some point in our development, a use for people whose certainty in their own rectitude was unmoved by contrary evidence. In simpler times, when survival was about not being eaten alive, ultra-concrete thinking, lack of subtlety, might well have been determinative: stay or run; friend or foe; wind in the willows or tiger in the trees. Nowadays, though, the tigers in the tall grass are of a different stripe. Nothing in the evolution of the conservative brain came from or prepared for dealing with such complexities as anthropogenic climate change or globally-connected economies; in bygone eons, selfishness meant hoarding stones for throwing, which was probably a good thing. But now it's become derivatives trading and insufficient tax revenue, xenophobia and religious fundamentalism. Selection for reactionary thinking stopped being useful when we moved out of caves. But by then, it was too late. The advent of civilization meant the time for deselection had passed.

Perhaps we should acknowledge conservative thinking for getting us safely to the stone age. I know I, for one, will always be grateful. So, thanks for that.

But these times demand more of us. Like the advent of rational medicine, which has removed survival pressure to make appendices extinct, conservatism remains from a pre-sapiens era. Now, the problems of modernity have come upon us too fast for the pace of evolution, with the only possibility of genetic elimination of such a dysfunctional cerebral subset being extinction of us all.

Oh well. Whacha gonna do?

There are darkly amusing ironies, however: it's only evolutionary theory that can explain the development and persistence of the grouping of mind-behavior that subsumes all evolution deniers. The need to reject the evidence that sexual preference is inborn is inborn. And it's the very liberal thought that today's conservatives so vehemently reject, which assures their continued ability to walk among us, tolerated, relics and reminders of a time which most of them claim never existed.

[Okay, yeah, a certain amount of tongue. In cheek. But people with more credibility than mine also see the descent of the Republican party away from reality, and wonder how it happened.]

Friday, June 17, 2011

He Hated America

(The above quote might or might not actually be real.)

As the lunatics rave about President Obama's unAmericanism, about how he's been sent to destroy us all, with no evidence to point to (and lots they need to ignore on the opposite side of the ledger), we keep learning about how truly destructive was his predecessor, how he demonstrably DID do things counter to everything for which our country stands:

WASHINGTON — A former senior C.I.A. official says that officials in the Bush White House sought damaging personal information on a prominent American critic of the Iraq war in order to discredit him.

Glenn L. Carle, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer who was a top counterterrorism official during the administration of President George W. Bush, said the White House at least twice asked intelligence officials to gather sensitive information on Juan Cole, a University of Michigan professor who writes an influential blog that criticized the war.

In an interview, Mr. Carle said his supervisor at the National Intelligence Council told him in 2005 that White House officials wanted “to get” Professor Cole, and made clear that he wanted Mr. Carle to collect information about him, an effort Mr. Carle rebuffed. Months later, Mr. Carle said, he confronted a C.I.A. official after learning of another attempt to collect information about Professor Cole. Mr. Carle said he contended at the time that such actions would have been unlawful.

One word: Joewilsonvalerieplame.

I read Juan Cole a lot during the buildup and carrying out of the Iraq war. I found him to be thoughtful, knowledgeable, credible, and persuasive; an academic, not a frother-at-the-mouth. Which was the problem, I guess, for an administration that prided itself in breaking from the "reality-based community." It's the sort of thing that ought to send chills down the spine of every American, and most especially those conservative, Constitution-loving Republicans.

Yeah. Right.

I'd like to understand to what evidence those who claim Obama hates America would actually point. While they're preparing their response, I'll offer a little help: sadly, Obama has been continuing far too many of the destructive policies of George Bush. To the extent that he is, one could make the case that he's unAmerican, all right (and just for writing that, I could be in trouble, pitifully small blogger that I am.) Anyhow, that's what I find so incredible: those who see Obama as anti-America do so, it seems, based on some fever dream of his otherness, never raising his following of certain Bushian authoritarianism and wars, which, I guess, was okay as long as it was a white guy doing it. Instead, they imagine some plot so secret, so brilliant, so covert, that there's actually no evidence for it at all. Rescuing the auto industry: devious destruction. Turning around the trend of job losses: subtle subterfuge. Trying to get health care for all Americans: maniacal mendacity... well, I don't know what you can say about that... What more hateful goal could there be? I mean, the whole thing is dazzlingly devilish: destroy America by saving it. It's juicy genius. It's calamitous collusion. It's the opposite of Vietnam.

Ironically, it's the stuff President Obama is doing to continue the constitutionally questionable and militarily futile policies of George Bush that're the only areas in which a few conservatives have given him credit.

Explain that, will somebody?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Need More?

(Interesting side note: I was in med school in Cleveland when the Cuyahoga River burned.)

Dining On Delusion

When we hear someone interesting say something thought-provoking, either my wife or I will say to the other, "We should have him (or her) over for dinner." We have quite a guest list.

My new hero, Bruce Bartlett, conservative economist and former economic adviser to Ronald Reagan, has once again thrown the cold water of reason on the fanned flames of fantasy finance.

When Republicans talk about economic growth, they tend to talk as if there is only one factor that affects it: tax rates. Thus, last week former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, put forward an economic plan that he said would raise growth rate of the real gross domestic product to 5 percent per year from its historical level of about half that. His only specific proposal for achieving this ambitious goal was to slash tax rates on the wealthy.

Pawlenty would cut the top individual income tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent, cut the corporate rate from 35 percent to 15 percent, and eliminate completely all taxation of capital gains, interest and dividends – the principal sources of income for the wealthy. Implausibly, Pawlenty asserted that despite reducing revenues by some $8 trillion over the next 10 years – from the lowest level of federal revenues as a share of GDP in 60 years – that his plan would balance the budget. I could find no data or analysis of how Pawlenty’s plan would actually achieve this goal.

My purpose today is not to criticize the particulars of Pawlenty’s plan, which is very much in the Republican mainstream, but rather to talk about the nature of economic growth and how one-dimensional the GOP view is. The truth is that economists know a lot about what causes growth and what policies will raise the growth rate, and tax rates have a far smaller role than most people and all Republicans believe.


To present the textbook view of what determines long-term economic growth, I turned to an actual textbook by Harvard economist Gregory Mankiw, who served as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers for George W. Bush.


What matters for business investment is not the corporate tax rate, but the ultimate tax rate on capital including the tax on the corporation’s owners, the shareholders. In 2003, that was almost 58 percent – 35 percent at the corporate level and as much as 35 percent at the individual level. Now, that combined rate is at most 45 percent because in 2003 the tax rate on dividends was reduced to a maximum of 15 percent.

Unfortunately, there’s no evidence that the 2003 tax cut did anything to stimulate corporate investment. Indeed, according to the Federal Reserve, nonfinancial corporations have increased their holdings of liquid assets to $1.8 trillion from $1.2 trillion since 2003. Thus it’s implausible that a further reduction in the corporate rate, as Pawlenty and other Republicans favor, would do much to raise investment.


The bottom line is that neither taxes nor spending by themselves are the most important government contribution to the investment climate; it’s the budget deficit. Consequently, a reduction in tax revenue which raises the deficit is unlikely to stimulate domestic investment because more money will have to be borrowed from abroad. Conversely, a tax increase dedicated to deficit reduction could well be stimulative, as was the case with the 1982 and 1993 tax increases. Contrary to Republican dogma, rapid growth followed on both occasions.


It's his conclusion that really is a cry in the wilderness, and one which I've hollered, too, many times. What's needed is the exact opposite of teabaggR fiscal policy, and their failures are going to kill us all:

If we want to raise the long-term rate of growth, we have to go back to the textbook and increase saving and investment, channel more public investment into education and basic infrastructure, and do everything in our power to promote scientific research and technological advancement. It’s not sexy and it takes a lot of time, but it works.

And yet it constitutes everything the Rs are cutting, in the name of enabling giveaways to the wealthy. But the most amazing part of all is that we stand around with teabags up our asses, watching it happen, thinking we're sitting on one of these.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

They Were Right

Turns out Michele Bachmann and Glenn Beck were right about Obama's reëducation camps!

Well, almost right. Right concept; wrong guy.

This summer, you can have your kids teabagged! In Florida!! (Seems the perfect followup to this morning's post, nein?)

... The organization, which falls under the tea party umbrella, hopes to introduce kids ages 8 to 12 to principles that include "America is good," "I believe in God," and "I work hard for what I have and I will share it with who I want to. Government cannot force me to be charitable."


"We want to impart to our children what our nation is about, and what they may or may not be told," Lukens said.

He said he was not familiar with public school curriculum, but, "I do know they have a lot of political correctness. We are a faithful people, and when you talk about natural law, you have to talk about God. When you take that out of the discussion, you miss the whole thing."


One example at Liberty: Children will win hard, wrapped candies to use as currency for a store, symbolizing the gold standard. On the second day, the "banker" will issue paper money instead. Over time, students will realize their paper money buys less and less, while the candies retain their value.

"Some of the kids will fall for it," Lukens said. "Others kids will wise up."

Another example: Starting in an austere room where they are made to sit quietly, symbolizing Europe, the children will pass through an obstacle course to arrive at a brightly decorated party room (the New World).

Red-white-and-blue confetti will be thrown. But afterward the kids will have to clean up the confetti, learning that with freedom comes responsibility...

Mmmmmm...... Candy....

Voucher Groucher

One thing I've always admired about Republicans is their ability with messaging. Take a complicated issue, boil it down to a dark reduction of few words, misleading though they may be. Empty the subject of all meaning, until it fits perfectly inside the head of a teabagger. Abortion: pro-life. Raising taxes: punishing success. School vouchers: let me choose my future. Democrats, meanwhile, partially because they acknowledge complexities, partly because they care about actually workable solutions which of necessity require lots of words, party because they're nothing if not disorganized, and partly because they're painfully inept, would lose the bumper-sticker wars if they were claiming the sun is hot.

Once again putting first things last, newly enabled by the recent elections based on fear and disinformation, teabaggRs are turning their attention to one of the above: school vouchers.

I'll admit from the outset: I'm a little prejudiced in favor of public schools. I had the good fortune to attend nothing but good ones, including the first high school in the US to offer four years of Russian (you know, when such things as language were valued), of which I partook. My wife has been on the local school board for fourteen years, in a district where more than fifty languages are native-spoken; and I've seen from close up how devoted to and successful they are at engaging and attending to all the kids, from ESL to alternative high schools, to remedial programs, to gifted and accelerated ones. All that, despite the punitive and paradoxical demands of NCLB.

From my cynical point of view -- born of a keen sense of reality, I'd argue -- the school voucher movement is mainly and mostly about getting the rest of us to pay for religious education. Whether it be overtly religious, or merely the Texas-style pushing of right-wing anti-science and ahistorical propaganda, it's the same thing: teabaggRs want their kids to be as clueless as they are. They want their kids systematically robbed of the ability to think for themselves, lest they acknowledge reality. Not to mention they don't want them hanging around with any non-white or non-Xtian or non-hetero or immigrant kids.

And they want me to pay for it.

Well, they argue, as it stands, kids are already being propagandized, in public schools; and, on some level, I'd agree it's true, by some definition. They're being taught to open their minds, to accept differences among people. They're being taught science which is discordant with biblical literalism. And, yes, they're being taught a version of American history that's at odds with the tricorner view. The version that includes certain truths that might cool hot tea.

You can lead a teabag to water but it won't dip itself. I think it's important to a society that wants to move forward to have curious and original and open-minded people, ones in whom their education has been sewing seeds rather than digging up roots; and replacing them with petrification. There are plenty of examples of societies in which the latter occurs; need I mention them?

In this society, an obligation to provide public education has always been paramount. There's plenty of room for arguing what constitutes proper education; and it's certainly true that we're failing to provide it for many. On the other hand, I'd argue our brightest are as bright as any; and the data that show us failing include our attempts to educate all, including -- especially -- the ones that most surely will not be attending teabagger-planned voucher-based schools.

Which, of course, is the teabaggRs' point: we don't want our kids slowed down by those, you know, other kinds of children. It's not wholly unreasonable. Indeed, it'd be easier to argue against vouchers if we weren't being overtaken by those to whom any tax is anathema, by whose votes public education is being forced into further decline. (Almost as if that's their aim, huh?) But what's their end point? Poorly-funded public schools, containing only the hardest to educate, attracting the least interested teachers (there'll always be exceptions but how many?) And fancy private schools, basking in high selectivity and low accountability, cranking out creationist global-warming deniers who believe Paul Revere was protecting the Second Amendment by ringing bells.

We can't keep people from building schools and bathing their kids in mindlessness. But from where I sit, we shouldn't have to pay for it. Teabaggers have plenty of sources for funding their schools, including the billionaires behind their so-called grass-roots movement, and the ones getting tax breaks from their monetary dogmata. Without a public nickel, they could be swimming in cash. So go where the money is. Keep your hands in their pockets, where they've always been, whether you knew it or not. (Takes a better education than you want, to have noticed.)

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