Monday, October 31, 2011

Think I'm Making Stuff Up?

When I claim, as I frequently do, that teabaggRs actively dislike facts, and prefer simplistic policy that fits on a bumper sticker, I know there are those that think I'm just some sort of blind partisan. So how about this, from a well-known Republican pollster and pundit:

Even though Cain won’t be the nominee, his candidacy tells us a lot about the psychology of GOP activists. Our team wants someone authentic, creative, fresh, bold and likeable. And we don’t have much tolerance for too many facts or too much information. In politics, a bumper sticker always beats an essay. Cain’s 9-9-9 is a bumper sticker; Romney’s economic plan is an essay. Perry’s rationale for giving the children of undocumented workers in-state college tuition rates is an essay. No hand-outs for illegal aliens is an effective bumper sticker.

Income Inequality

It's not a good term, because it's too easy for RWS™ and teabaggRs to take the real significance and distort it. Same with "redistribution." Scary. Communiss. Or maybe it's not that it's not a good term; it's that in the US, thanks to purposefully polarizing propaganda, it's become impossible to have a real conversation about important stuff.

The problem with income inequality is not income inequality; and the people who are trying to begin a discussion about it are not (well, maybe one or three are, but not generally) saying it's wrong, per se, that some are more successful than others. Few are arguing that capitalism is inherently wrong. At its most basic, the question is what is a society? What, in the US, does it mean to be part of a community? Are we? Should we be? Can you say "interconnected" and not be ridiculed as a new-age communohippantiamericanchardonnayliberal? Is the party of evolution-denial advocating a purely Darwinian society?

Talk about changing taxation so that the wealthy pay more than they are now, and there's a reflexive response from the right that you're "punishing success." "Taxing the job-creators." A pot-smoking lazy unemployed ingrate, demanding something for nothing.

But it's not about that. It's about a really basic issue, one that has become, like so much else in our politics, a parody of itself: the party of patriotism, of loving America so much it wants you to leave it, cannot think of America as a society; the family-values people don't think of America as a family. They don't, in short, think of America as America.

It's not that some people (many, many people, as it turns out) have to get along with less. I, and most people, I'd say, accept that it's impossible for everyone to be equally successful in a capitalist society. But the corollary of that is that not all people who are barely making it are in that situation because of failure of effort; it's how the system works. Or has come to work. And the question is to what extent those who are making it bigtime have an obligation -- or, to put in another way, have, in order to maintain their status, an empirical need if no moral reason -- to put more money back into the system than they currently are, in order for it to continue to exist and keep their larders larded. It's not morality. It's not ideology.

It's math.

The RWS™ and foxophiles of the world can pretend that it's about income redistribution for its own sake; they can snicker sneeringly and rage righteously and figure you'll buy it. They can simplify and distort, can claim that by definition even raising the issue is a bad thing, while ignoring the biggest income redistribution of all, occurring over the last few decades, ever since Saint Ronnie cut taxes on the wealthy. Their huffing, effective as it is on teabaggers and the rest of the willing self-destroyers, begs the question: what do we need, as a society, to survive? Where will the money come from to pay for it? By now, all parties have agreed that cuts are needed: the Dems on the committee of doom (for, because of R intransigence and cynicism, it is doomed to fail) have come up with trillions in spending reduction. Way more, in my opinion, than is consistent with securing our future, to the extent that that future depends on health care and roads and bridges and dams and colleges and high schools and teachers and cops and consumer safety and environmental protection and research and alternative energy consumption and carbon reduction and gods know what else I'm not thinking of at the moment.

If we choose economic policy that's only about cutting spending (except in defense, of course), and if that means, mathematically, that we'll have to give up on all those things I listed above (because that's where the proposed cuts are), is that a recipe for viability or is it long-term suicide? Can questions be asked without dismissing them as class warfare? Can we talk about it with the best long-term interests of the country, and not political power, in mind?

Rs refuse to increase any taxes at all on the very wealthy, while proposing preposterous tax reform that, without exception, raises taxes on the middle and lower classes, while, because of their huge additional cuts for the wealthy, netting enormously less than the present revenue. Singing the tune of the corporate wealth that pays for their elections, they've never quite answered the question: if cutting taxes on the wealthy creates jobs, where the f*ck are the jobs, in this, the lowest tax climate in decades?

This issue is not, despite what Foxobeckians want you to believe (and have convinced their sheep, like giving candy to a baby), about taking money from the rich and handing it out to the poor, neither as a matter of fact nor of some Beck-dreamt Marxism. (In fact, for Republicans -- unbelievable as it may be, it's quite the opposite.) It's about addressing reality: the country is crumbling. It's losing its edge. We're failing to educate, to innovate, to build. To provide health care. Because, to preserve the imbalance in taxation, services of all sorts are being cut back, painfully, state by state and nationally. Meanwhile the money that might pay to reverse the trend is sequestered among relatively few and, if Rs get their way, will remain there. Because, they believe, that government governs best which governs least. It's gospel, like, well, you know... And, like all R claims and fairy tales, it fits on a bumper sticker.

To the questions what does it mean to live in a society, to depend on and benefit from the work of others; what are the financial responsibilities that derive; what obligations have we to secure the future; can you fix what's wrong without increasing spending in some areas; is our current path of cutting critical spending and not seeking more revenue sustainable (forget about moral) they change the subject. Because they're fine, thanks, and don't need to think about it. It's communism, they say, handing the cue card to Fox "news" and heading for the door.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Austerity (And Chutzpah)

As teabaggRs insist we need to stop all stimulus and adopt an austerity approach, it's worth being reminded what happened in the UK after they adopted that plan about a year or so ago.

Res, as they say, ipsa loquitur.

Along those lines, in a moment of hilarity if it weren't so mind-blowing, a new fundraising mailing, from the mother of all austerity in the form of cutting benefits to the needy, Paul Ryan, contains this memorable line: “the net for the poor is coming apart at the seams and no one in Washington seems to care.”

How do you deal with people who can be this disingenuous, that unapologetically deceitful and duplicitous? So absolutely unaware. So sure -- with good reason -- that their electorate will neither notice nor care.

How To Speak Republican

A comprehensive list, well worth a click. A sampling:

  • Election: A method of selecting representatives, the fraudulence of which may be determined by the outcome.
  • Elitist: Qualified.
  • Endangered Species: Animals that have it coming.
  • Evolution: A theory of human origins that is out there.
  • Extremist (Liberal): Espousing or adhering to political beliefs that are held by only a majority of Americans.
  • Fact: Information that has been verifiably posted to a RedState comment board.
  • Forest (National): Trees that have it coming.
  • Gut: Region of the body from which decisions should be made.
  • Homosexuality: A membership-only lifestyle organization that perpetuates itself through youth recruitment.
  • Hitler: A man to whom it would be inappropriate to compare President Obama in spite of the many uncanny similarities.
  • Jesus: Charismatic religious leader and son of God; born in Bethlehem in the year 0; beliefs include love, charity, enhanced interrogation, privatized healthcare, elimination of the estate tax, and the right to carry concealed semiautomatic weapons.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Whole Cloth

Following up on a post regarding the canard that deregulation is what we need around here to get businesses on their feet, here's a piece by the newly-confirmed Assistant Secretary of Treasury for Economic Policy:

  • In the September survey of small business owners by the National Federation of Independent Businesses, more than twice as many respondents cited poor sales (29.6 percent) as their largest problem than cite regulation (13.9 percent).
  • In an August survey of economists by the National Association for Business Economics, 80 percent of respondents described the current regulatory environment as “good” for American businesses and the overall economy.
  • As noted above, in a recent Wall Street Journal survey of economists, 65 percent of respondents concluded that a lack demand, not government policy, was the main impediment to increased hiring.
  • According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, less than three-tenths of 1 percent of mass lay-offs in the second quarter of this year were due to government regulations or intervention. [2]
  • The article also includes a graph which demonstrates the identical ups and downs of markets in the US and Germany, which would suggest (I'll take her word for it) that it's not about imposition of particular regulations, but about universal market forces:

    Okay, I'll admit I can't bring much knowledge to bear on that graph; but it doesn't seem too challenging: another central economic argument of teabaggRs is, like the rest of their claims, simply made up out of whole cloth. (I've always wondered from where that expression came.)

    If it's hard to understand graphs, there's always reality (as if teabaggRs care about such things):

    Obama’s White House has approved fewer regulations than his predecessor George W. Bush at this same point in their tenures, and the estimated costs of those rules haven’t reached the annual peak set in fiscal 1992 under Bush’s father, according to government data reviewed by Bloomberg News. […]

    Obama’s White House approved 613 federal rules during the first 33 months of his term, 4.7 percent fewer than the 643 cleared by President George W. Bush’s administration in the same time frame, according to an Office of Management and Budget statistical database reviewed by Bloomberg.

    Has there ever been a campaign season like this one -- a political party, for that matter -- where literally all of the central tenets and claims are demonstrably false? And where those falsehoods seem to matter so little to the faithful?

    Wednesday, October 26, 2011

    Was Bush Right?

    Condi Rice has announced that "the Bush freedom agenda won." And it's true: we invaded Iraq, and next thing you know Gaddafi's dead. I think it's a discussion worth having. Especially since there's no way to answer the question.

    There will always be revisionists. Even among historians, I imagine it's hard to look back without unrecognized prejudices. So some guy peering over his laptop has even less credibility than that, I suppose. But let's look at what we know:

    The centerpiece of Bush's response to terrorism was the invasion of Iraq. Ironically, as it appears President Obama is about to end it (sort of), Rs are lining up at the trough to denounce his decision, saying the mission isn't accomplished. Which, you might think, has implications for those concluding Bush's agenda "won."

    His reasons for invading were -- and remain -- malleable. But let's assume it was to sow the seeds of democracy in the Middle East. The immediate reaction around that region was to recoil in horror at the "messy" democracy, as Rumsfeld called it, that was unleashed when we arrived in Baghdad. Our use of torture and detentions became a prime recruiting tool for al Queda. The death and destruction in Iraq was enormous and persists. Was this a credible template for uprisings; something to which other countries would aspire? I don't know. But it's a hard sell, and needs to be made by someone not on the hook for the wreckage, like Condi is.

    Interestingly, it was Khadafy's announcement that he'd rid himself of nukes that was pointed to as a monumental accomplishment of our invasion. Hailed as a hero by Bush and all the RWS™, taken off the terrorist list, he even became an object of admiration by John McCain. Strangely, he's also become dead; and the schema that got him -- the US supporting an actual home-brewed revolution as opposed to invading -- was successful in mere months, at a tiny fraction of the cost of Iraq. What, one might ask, inspired the Libyans to do what they did? That we didn't invade them? I can't say; but there's a huge difference in the origins of the end of Kaddafi vs that of Saddam Hussein. Maybe the idea -- as stated by Obama -- that the US would support them without ruining their country was a factor. Who knows?

    Obama's speech in Cairo could be more convincingly argued as a catalyst than the debacle of Iraq. It certainly posted the hoc (see below). Maybe, also, the fact that under Obama, we've been picking off al Queda high-ups like clay pigeons, at a rate Bush didn't dare to dream, rendering that group pretty toothless.

    The other Bush accomplishment, taking out the Taliban in Afghanistan, which I supported and by the ease of which I was impressed (he used a CIA plan developed under Clinton, doncha know), was abandoned tragically, leaving any lasting favorable international impact in the dustbin. An egregiously missed opportunity, it remains unsolved and probably unsolvable today. Motivator for democracies? Not after the first fifteen minutes, I'd argue.

    So, yeah. We invaded Iraq and Qaddafi is gone. Post hoc ergo propter hoc. I'm open to being convinced; but for now, given the fact that Iraq took trillions and an invasion and cost hundreds of thousands of lives and left the country in ruins with governance of the most questionable sort these many years later, it's hard to see it as the model for the "Arab Spring."

    And let's not forget what may be the most important factor of all: Mohamed Bouazizi, the man in Tunisia who set himself on fire. That, I think, is a pretty direct cause and effect.

    It'd be really interesting to see some sort of legitimate polling of rebels (for lack of a better term) in Egypt and Libya, addressing to what extent and in what way the US invasion of Iraq, as opposed to events in Tunisia, played a role in their revolutionary thinking. I hope it happens, because I'd really like to know.

    Meanwhile, as a somewhat relevant aside, I have this to say to those recoiling in horror that Libyans and Tunisians seem to be favoring Islamic parties after their uprisings: what did you expect them to do? Become Scientologists?

    Tuesday, October 25, 2011

    Judge Not

    There are countless examples available to confirm that the current crop of Republicans neither understand nor love the Constitution; and that they have no love whatever for the concept of democracy, as understood for generations in the US of A. Whether it's the deliberate suppression of freedom to vote (my former #1 outrage), attempting to make this a theocracy, calling peaceful demonstrations unamerican, or overt moves to ruin public education, the list is both endless and endlessly depressing.

    But the latest and most horrific wrinkle in the parchment is their relentless denigration of the idea of independent judiciary -- maybe the most important link in the chain of checks and balances -- culminating in plans directly to cut funding and power.

    Most of the Republican presidential candidates want to wipe away lifetime tenure for federal judges, cut the budgets of courts that displease them or allow Congress to override Supreme Court rulings on constitutional issues.

    Any one of those proposals would significantly undercut the independence and authority of federal judges. Many of the ideas have been advanced before in campaigns to court conservative voters.

    "... to court conservative voters." Kinda tells you what's happened to the word, doesn't it?

    A group that works for judicial independence says the proposals would make judges “accountable to politicians, not the Constitution.”

    Bert Brandenburg, executive director of the Justice at Stake Campaign, said, “Debates like these could threaten to lead to a new cycle of attempts to politicize the courts.”


    Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has been the most outspoken critic of the courts. He would summon judges before Congress to explain their decisions and consider impeaching judges over their rulings.

    Texas Gov. Rick Perry, in his book “Fed Up,” has called for an end to lifetime tenure for federal judges and referred to the high court as “nine oligarchs in robes.”

    Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann, in criticizing Iowa judges who ruled same-sex marriage legal in the state, described judges as “black-robed masters.”

    I've said before, these are not serious people. But this actually is really serious: to make the courts subservient to Congress is to throw the Constitution on the burn pile; it's to reject one of the most fundamental tenets of our democracy.

    That candidates for the presidential nomination of a supposedly important political party can make such declarations -- whether they believe them (probably) or it's just their usual political pandering -- is shocking. This is what you expect to hear -- and do -- from dictators. It should absolutely disqualify them from further consideration by any party; but most especially, you'd think, from the one that claims to own all rights to loving America and its founding principles. Trouble is, they do nothing of the sort: love America, that is. They love nothing about what has always made it great: its diversity, its educational system, its freedom of expression, its brilliant invention of shared and restrained power. Like an independent judiciary, charged with seeing to it that rights aren't trampled, and that laws are followed, even when inconvenient. It keeps us from tyranny.

    Which, I'd say, is exactly their point.

    It's horrible; it's deeply frightening; and, the way things are looking, it's only a matter of time.

    Monday, October 24, 2011

    And That's Not All...


    When I was serving in Danang, Vietnam, President Nixon announced the last Marines had left the country. I found that particularly interesting, in that my base was crawling with Marines at the time (for dramatic effect, I should say I was treating one when the announcement was made; but I probably wasn't). Thing was, they were all home-stationed in the Philippines; their status at Danang was "TDY." (Temporary Duty.) Thus, not there. Magical.

    Some may have noticed I generally approve of President Obama. But I thought of the above as he announced that all US troops will be out of Iraq by the end of the year. I believe him. I also think there'll be plenty of "contractors" there for years to come; and I don't mean guys building outhouses. I mean whatever today's version of Blackwater troops are: guys carrying weapons, ex-soldiers, wearing armor, driving military-style vehicles, doing soldier stuff. (And there will be Marines on station at the embassy.)

    It's not insignificant that troops will be gone; I'm glad for it. But it's not the whole story, is what I'm thinking.

    Which means there's even less justification (less than none) at all for the venal (even for him) comments of despicable Mitt "Tell-Me-What-To-Say-And-I'll-Say-It" Romney; and it sorta puts the lie to the complaint by the RWS™ that we're abandoning the country by following the timeline first laid out by Bush and supported by the Iraq government.

    There comes a point, after the dust settles, beyond which we can't impose our will on other countries. They have the opportunity, and we've spent enormously, painfully to give it to them; they take it or they don't. Of course, there will never come a point when anything Obama does -- anything at all -- will be acknowledged as positive by the entrenched teabaggRs, in Congress and around the country.

    Sunday, October 23, 2011


    Recently I had an email conversation with a reader about religion, in which I explained why my view of the world, of morality, of spirituality, doesn't require the idea of gods. As it happens, over on Pharyngula, there has begun a series of postings from readers about why they are atheists. I just read one that expresses a lot of what I said (and some things I'd not say) more eloquently than I did. Here's the essence:

    The world as explained by science is so beautiful it makes me weep. Literally. When I think about these tiny jiggling particles that constitute everything, when I gaze into the sky and see the vastness of the Cosmos, when I sit in my chair, smoke a pipe and consider life on Earth and try to wrap my head around the unimaginably complex processes that allowed me to form as a human being and now ponder life itself, when I try to imagine and appreciate how much we have accomplished, when I see the shrouded realm of what we do not yet know my eyes brim with tears of emotion, my heart leaps with expectation and wonder. ... It is marvellous. It is profound.


    There are also moral reasons for my disbelief. I have a firm conviction that only the morality that emerges from a deep intrinsic need to do good is worthwhile. The opposed, religious morality of punishment and reward I find unwholesome, dishonest and infantile. I do not consider people who behave acceptably because they fear eternal punishment moral...

    (The paragraph I deleted above is not one I'd have written. And I don't smoke a pipe.)

    Here's a confession: I find myself resisting describing myself as an atheist, and I wonder why that is. Since I can't claim certainty, I suppose I could use the rubbery rubric of agnosticism. But right or wrong, I can't believe there are gods (and there have been times when I'd have liked to). So why the reticence? Maybe it's fear of reprisal; it is, after all, an untidy time for people like me, whose offense is only looking at the world with clear eyes, neither willing nor able to go beyond reality and the observable; the constitutional inability to make a leap of faith, even as our country seems unstoppably heading toward theocracy. But I think it's something different.

    As I've thought about it, it seems that atheism ought to be the default assumption, for anyone. Certain things ought to go without saying. One should not have to describe oneself, for example, as a mathist. Or a gravitist. (Yes, I realize the analogy is sort of a semantic contradiction, but you get the picture.) I believe the grass grows; I believe in chlorophyll. I (sort of) understand radioactive decay, and I understand (to a degree) its relation to measuring the age of the earth. I know (mostly) why planes fly and I don't need to claim an angel holds them up; I don't think the earth rides on the back of a turtle, and it seems reasonable that anyone would assume that about me. Nor does the fact that I don't know everything lead me to fill in the blanks with imaginary answers. I can wait. Belief in the demonstrable ought to be the default baseline for anyone, and it shouldn't need a particular label.

    Okay, maybe "realist."

    Or "normal."

    It's when you begin to come up with magical explanations (ones, I must point out, that other believers in other magic will decry ferociously and consider false magic, capital blasphemy, compared to their version of it, with no sense of irony whatever), that it seems labels should be applied. I think of those judges who sentence people to wearing a sign after they stole something. People who didn't steal anything don't need a sign saying so. Not believing in gods oughtn't need particularizing any more than breathing does. I do breathe; I admit it. But it'd be strange to identify me as a breather, wouldn't it?

    A world-view ought to start with reality. Reality is enough. Reality is, for one thing, real. Realists shouldn't need to explain it, or to have (loaded) labels applied. Nor, for that matter, should they feel the need to brag about it, or get in the faces of others. Why should the world need a movement that announces its commitment to reality?

    Except for the fact that any realist can't help being shocked, worried, and appalled at the direction we're headed in the US, as magical thinking has become the basis for a major political party; as intelligence, the quest for knowledge, are considered elitist and abhorrent, actively and proudly mocked and scorned. In that party, belief in god seems to have become synonymous with rejection of science, with denialism, with economic amnesia. It needn't be thus; it wasn't always so. But those who wonder why there are suddenly a few highly outspoken and, as some have called them, "militant" atheists out there need only look at today's Republican party, its teabaggers, its "values voters" for the answer. Scary, hateful, regressive, aggressively and proudly ill-informed people.

    There's where labels belong, seems to me.

    Friday, October 21, 2011

    If You're Reading This...

    ... you've been left behind. Again.

    Is It Getting Hotter In Here?

    It's gotta be hard to be a denier. Think how much brain power could be released and used constructively, were the energy required to maintain the force field diverted to benefit mankind. Anyhow, here's but more information about climate change, confirming (as if it's needed) everything we already know. And, as my bolding below emphasizes, it's from a group made up of, and funded by, skeptics.

    FOR those who question whether global warming is really happening, it is necessary to believe that the instrumental temperature record is wrong. That is a bit easier than you might think.

    There are three compilations of mean global temperatures, each one based on readings from thousands of thermometers, kept in weather stations and aboard ships, going back over 150 years. Two are American, provided by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), one is a collaboration between Britain’s Met Office and the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit (known as Hadley CRU). And all suggest a similar pattern of warming: amounting to about 0.9°C over land in the past half century.

    To most scientists, that is consistent with the manifold other indicators of warming—rising sea-levels, melting glaciers, warmer ocean depths and so forth—and convincing. Yet the consistency among the three compilations masks large uncertainties in the raw data on which they are based. Hence the doubts, husbanded by many eager sceptics, about their accuracy. A new study, however, provides further evidence that the numbers are probably about right....

    Part of the point would be to encourage more scientists and statisticians to test the existing analyses—and a group backed by Novim, a research outfit in Santa Barbara, California, has recently done just that.

    Marshalled by an astrophysicist, Richard Muller, this group, which calls itself the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature, is notable in several ways. When embarking on the project 18 months ago, its members (including Saul Perlmutter, who won the Nobel prize for physics this month for his work on dark energy) were mostly new to climate science. And Dr Muller, for one, was mildly sceptical of its findings. This was partly, he says, because of “climategate”: the 2009 revelation of e-mails from scientists at CRU which suggested they had sometimes taken steps to disguise their adjustments of inconvenient palaeo-data. With this reputation, the Berkeley Earth team found it unusually easy to attract sponsors, including a donation of $150,000 from the Koch Foundation.

    Yet Berkeley Earth’s results, as described in four papers currently undergoing peer review, but which were nonetheless released on October 20th, offer strong support to the existing temperature compilations.

    I'll be right over there, waiting by my laptop, ready to read about Rick Perry's, et al, change of opinion.

    Thursday, October 20, 2011

    Praise America Last

    So. Let's see. We invaded Iraq, which didn't need invading, costing several thousand American lives, untold hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, and what'll end up being three trillion dollars, taking out Saddam Hussein after a few years. That, evidently, is a good thing, for which America and its then-president deserve corpulent kudos.

    We don't invade Libya, do help revolutionaries there, organize and undertake the initial strategy, then get NATO to shoulder the bulk of the remaining burden while providing intelligence and other, uh, managerial and diplomatic skills, costing not a single American life and only about a billion greenbacks. Getting Gaddafi after only a few months.* In the former adventure we lost credibility by the ton in the critical Mideast and around the world. In the latter, we've been considered helpful and positive in the same region. Mostly.

    Other than the fact that you wouldn't, you would think Rs might consider all this a good thing, for which President Obama, following an entirely different and undeniably more successful interventionist model than his predecessor, deserves something like, what's that word, praise.

    Yeah. Right. Country first.

    *And, evidently, firing the penultimate shot.

    Truth and Falsehood

    It's hard to speak in support of OWS without sounding like a socialist, which I most decidedly am not (except in the matter of health care. And police. And firefighters. And teachers. And soldiers...) On the other hand, because it's a deliberately disorganized crowd, a truly grassroots phenomenon (as opposed to Tea Party Nation, with its Koch-heads and Armey-troops), it's easy for the Foxobeckians to pick out the inevitable crazies and lampoon the whole thing. Which is exactly what they're doing.

    Gee. Wonder why?

    But isn't there a pretty obvious and obviously true point here? Do corporate interests have disproportionate influence on our political system, or do they not? Are corporate lobbyists writing critical legislation or are they not? Have major media companies become overt propaganda machines? Is the voice of the "average" voter actually being heard in Washington, are her interests fairly represented, or not? These are neither trivial nor difficult questions, and I think the answers ought to be clear to everyone. Which explains the concerted effort of the powerful to discredit the movement: unlike teabaggers, so willing to be duped into carrying water, the people out there now can see and think for themselves.

    Teabaggers have been out there for a couple of years, demanding to take their country back. Ironically, they sprung from the Astroturf in reaction to the feeble attempts of Democrats and President Obama actually to give them a piece of the action and reduce inequity: health care, consumer protection, help with college expenses. Their response, astoundingly, to the extent that they've been successful -- electing single-mindless idiots who insist on doing everything to stop producing legislation people actually need -- has seen to it that their country remains in the hands of those very corporations whose interests are in direct conflict with the teabaggers they have in the bag. But they can't, they won't see it. They want their country back, and they keep giving it away.

    It's Orwellian, except that Orwell was believable. The OWS people are pointing to the truth: our system has become skewed in favor of a very small group of very wealthy people who control nearly all the money and all the political influence in our country, whose goal is to keep it that way, by getting people like teabaggers lubed and screwed into bending the wrong way. And teabaggers, who are, in fact, among those most affected by the imbalance, are dumbly complicit, laughing off OWS at the urging of Fox "news" and the rest of the deceivers, despite the fact that OWS is singing their song, if only they could unplug their ears and open their eyes. Figure out who's getting them to laugh, and why.

    The country, indeed, needs "taking back" if it's to survive as a capitalist democracy. The business of America is, to an undeniable degree, business. But not like it's become. It's not sustainable to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of so few. History, among other things, tells us that. People who wore tricorner hats for real told us that. Because here's the thing: businesses depend on people buying stuff. If you're a capitalist, you ought to want to see workers getting a decent wage; you ought to demand measures to increase employment. So people can buy your shit. Seems obvious.

    TeabaggRs have it ass-backwards. They think companies hire if you cut taxes and deregulate. It's all they've ever said, forever. Hire people to do what? What company will hire people just because its taxes got lowered, if there's no demand for their stuff? Which ones will make more stuff after they're allowed to make it out of arsenic, if no one will buy it? Who invests in equipment to make unsellable widgets? And, for that matter, what capitalist would reject an opportunity to net more money, if raising taxes a little were the means to accomplish it? By, you know, getting more people across the threshold.

    It's the OWS people who are right: for the system to work, you need people working and receiving decent pay, along with affordable health care. So -- get it? -- they have enough money, and they're not too dead to work. Or buy stuff.

    Across the country, at the insistence of Republican legislators and voters who refuse to allow adequate taxation, teachers, cops, firefighters, road workers, librarians are being laid off. While corporate profits are at all-time highs. It can't last. They're going all in to rake in as much as they can and run, not -- who can say otherwise? -- caring at all about the future of our country (let alone the planet). It's not that there's not money to pay for teachers; it's just that the money is sequestered with the upper echelons, who weep about class warfare when the class on whom they've waged war scott-free and trickled up for decades is starting to cry foul.

    So what do Rs do? Propose a jobs plan that won't work, while refusing to accept one that will.

    Herman Cain, darling of the right, has a tax plan. Nein, nein, nein, it's called. Because it takes even more from the poor and gives more still to the rich, breathtakingly. Because the RWS™ have convinced teabaggers that poor people aren't paying their fair share, and that rich people are job-creators who need more tax breaks, those teabaggers love it. Evidently they can't read, either. Or do simple math. It's insane.

    Teabaggers and "occupiers" are both right that things are out of whack, and that the country needs to be taken back if it's to survive. Sadly, teabaggers have been fed Foxocorporate shit for so long that it tastes like chocolate to them, and they can't see back from whom the country needs taking. They're being robbed blind, and they're responding by saying, "don't shoot, here's more bullets."

    What's to be done? How can you make wealth more equitably distributed? What's fair? Well, for starters, over the objection of the people who'll never have to pay it, you need to raise taxes on upper income back to where they were a mere decade ago (lower than they ever were under Saint Ronnie), when everyone was doing just fine. Call it what you want. But it pays for those teachers, for infrastructure builders, who get a job, who have money to buy widgets, which is what makes rich people rich. Raise capital gains taxes a little; maybe, like Romney suggested before waffling again, just on income over a quarter mill. Use the money to give people health care. Corporate taxes? I admit to not knowing a lot about that. But I do know this: Bank of America just started charging to use check cards, and it reported six billion in profits last quarter.

    It's gotta start with jobs, and with decent wages. Everything else flows from that. TeabaggR policies are costing jobs, eliminating bargaining rights, lowering wages, allowing toxic crap to hurt people, creating a few very rich people at the expense of everyone else. How does that make sense to a capitalist? Oligarchs? Sure. Fascists? Them, too. But democratic capitalists? Not for long.

    The fact is, this isn't left or right, and it's sure as hell not communosocialism: it's the American dream, it's the American way. Fairness. A chance to get ahead. Buy a TV, a car, granite countertops. Materialize your life; it's what we do. But we can't do it when all the money is here. That's not pitchforks and torches, it's not hammers and sickles. It's common sense.

    Wake the fuck up, teabaggers, and head to that park by Wall Street, where you belong. Where the seeds of taking your country back could actually be sown, if you ever listen to someone other than a right-wing-screamer, and start realizing who really took it from you.

    Wednesday, October 19, 2011

    When The Facts Get Tough...

    Among the Republican presidential contenders, Rick Perry is hardly unique in his willingness to deny reality. It's just that he's a little less shy about making it obvious.

    Top environmental officials under Perry have gutted a recent report on sea level rise in Galveston Bay, removing all mentions of climate change. For the past decade, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which is run by Perry political appointees, including famed global warming denier Bryan Shaw, has contracted with the Houston Advanced Research Center to produce regular reports on the state of the Bay. But when HARC submitted its most recent State of the Bay publication to the commission earlier this year, officials decided they couldn't accept a report that said climate change is caused by human activity and is causing the sea level to rise. Top officials at the commission proceeded to edit the paper to censor its references to human-induced climate change or future projections on how much the bay will rise.

    Yet another example of today's Republicanism @ work.


    Neither Rush Limbaugh nor Glenn Beck strikes me as stupid, in the sense of having IQs outside a couple of standard deviations below the mean. Maybe it's the crowd I hang with, but I have a hard time believing either of them actually believes most of what they say. Of all the people I've encountered in my life, I can think of only one who's that hateful and paranoid and refractory to being influenced by the easily observable. If they do believe their shtick, and it's not just a way to cash in, they're -- in the case of Beck -- clinically insane, and -- in the case of Limbaugh -- painfully, Palinfully, willfully, Bachmanniacally misinformed. That either of them is given any credence by more than a handful of sociopaths in this country is beyond mystifying, beyond depressing. It's shocking, shameful, and deeply demonstrative of political end-times in which we live.

    Fungating somewhere in Texas, Beck, one might hope, is past his prime time. So his latest rant about the people of OWS, in which he claims they literally want to drag "you" into the street and kill you, probably fell on fewer, if no more deaf, ears than during his Foxiflushed heyday. But Rush is still god to millions. So his hate-blinded, deranged-titled, and foam-filled rant, wrong on all counts, about Obama sending a hundred military "advisers" to Africa was, as usual, eaten up by his listeners like that particular pie in "The Help." It's emblematic of the reflexive hatred of President Obama, and the knee-jerk willingness to believe the worst things said about him, no matter what, as long as it comes from a certifiable RWS™.

    These two guys are so demonstrably damaging (and, at least in the first case, damaged), so easily shown to be uncaring about what's true, so clearly driven by agendas of blind hate, that it's thoroughly inexplicable that they have the credibility they do; the ability, so it seems, to confer imprimatur on Republican hopefuls. That there are no parallels on the left, no such huge followings of the couple of pretenders (who fail to qualify for inclusion because, one, they generally stay within shouting distance of facts and, two, because liberals tend to eschew monolithic parroting), says a lot. But it doesn't make me feel any better.

    I read an interesting article about ideology vs partisanship, making the distinction, and arguing that whereas pure partisanship represents much of what's wrong nowadays, what's sorely lacking is coherent ideology. With a distinctive lefty bent, the author points out that partisanship allows one to criticize the other side, no matter what they're proposing, even if, as with, say, health care, it was once an idea produced on their side of the divide. He decries calls for "centrism," to the extent, at least, that what's behind it is an attempt to obscure the reality, for example, of the arguments made by those of OWS.

    That’s not to say that the obsession with centrism and post-partisanship hasn’t infected the masses to some degree as well. ... Barack Obama’s latest move on behalf of that campaign is his bizarre argument that the democratic socialist Martin Luther King “would remind us that the unemployed worker can rightly challenge the excesses of Wall Street without demonizing all who work there”. But this is no time to shrink from a bit of demonization. The best thing leftists can do to combat this sort of nonsense, then, is to help draw out and clarify the implicit class ideology of the protestors, rather than condemn them for not drawing political demarcations in the way we would prefer...

    Agree with the point or not, that's an example of consistent ideology. There's no ideology behind what Beck and Limbaugh say; just crazed hatred of the black guy in office. And liberals, no matter who they are and what they say. Rush's latest might be his most despicable ever, topping a list that ought to have long since relegated him to the reject pile of anyone who calls herself a human being.

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011

    Our "Liberal" Media

    [Click image to enlarge.]

    Palinesque whining about media bias against conservatives notwithstanding, nothing could be further from the truth; nor has it been for a hell of a long time. (Too damn long, if you ask me, given that "facts have a well-known liberal bias.") I should be glad, though -- and I am --that "neutral" coverage accounts for around half.

    File Under No Kidding

    Gee. A central theme of Republican economics is bogus? Whodda thunk?

    NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Want to help the economy and create jobs? Well, roll back those government regulations! It's a talking point trumpeted by nearly every Republican politician. But would less regulation really spur hiring?

    The story goes like this: Thanks to the Obama administration, a wave of new government regulations are strangling business to the detriment of hiring and economic growth.

    But in an economy with serious structural problems, a crippled housing marketand slack demand, is government regulation really holding back the labor market?

    Not so much, according to government data and surveys of business owners and economists.

    Only a small percentage of employers report regulation as a reason for laying off workers.

    Not that this is earthshakingly new: businesses have been saying it for a while now. To be sure, not all of them. But it's sort of self-evident that ground rules provide stability. For example, knowing your food, your consumer products, are likely to be safe means people buy without fear. That's good for business. Same with not being, oh, dead, from, oh, arsenic.

    Having worked as a health-care "provider" (love that term) I can say without doubt that there are rules that are non-productive; and presidents in modern times have all attempted to weed them out. Not entirely successfully.

    But teabaggRs, as usual, have simple answers for complex problems: eliminate all rules; especially those created in the Obama administration. Get rid of the EPA, the consumer protection agencies. Why? Surely not because it's good for actual people. Who then, one asks.

    Monday, October 17, 2011

    File Under "No Sh*t"

    Here's something quite unsurprising, given what everyone knows (except those blinded by faith-based hatred):
    Last week, John Smid, the former director of Love in Action, the country’s oldest and largest ex-gay ministry, acknowledged on his blog that, contrary to the claims of the movement he represented for decades, gay people cannot become straight. “I’ve never met a man who experienced a change from homosexual to heterosexual,” he wrote. He himself certainly has not. “I would consider myself homosexual and yet in a marriage with a woman,” he explained. He loves his wife and has no plans to leave her, but wrote, “this doesn’t change the fact that I am who I am and she is who she is.”

    The problem for certain literalist Christians is that accepting that sexual preference is not a choice means believing that god creates homosexuals. Which -- the horror! -- would also mean they deserve welcoming as worthies. So the pattern repeats, endlessly, whether it in the form of homophobia, climate change denial, creationism: when obvious reality threatens chosen belief, they -- quite amazingly -- reject that reality. If my religion demanded that I reject chlorophyl as the explanation for why grass is green and when leaves turn color, I'd drop that religion like Leon Lett does footballs.

    It seems such a no-brainer.

    Sunday, October 16, 2011

    First They Came For Limbo...

    Really? Hell is a negotiable concept? Who knew? Wonder what -- or who -- is next?

    ...The Pew Center on Religion and Public Life’s 2007 Religious Landscape Survey found that only 60 percent of Catholics believe in hell. While comparable to mainline Protestants (56 percent), that’s far below the 82 percent recorded by evangelical Protestant churches.

    Though the discussion of hell as a place to be feared has seemingly disappeared in Catholic parishes, schools, and homes, the debate over hell’s existence, and whether anyone actually goes there, has been reignited among evangelical Christians, most of whom continue to affirm that eternal damnation is the fate of any person who does not make an explicit personal commitment to Christ....

    ...In his recent book Love Wins (HarperOne), evangelical pastor Rob Bell recalls how his church sponsored an art show on the subject of peacemaking. One artist included a quote from Mahatma Gandhi in her work. Someone attached a piece of paper to it that read, “Reality check: He’s in hell.”

    “Really?” writes Bell. “Gandhi’s in hell? He is? We have confirmation of this? Somebody knows this? Without a doubt? And that somebody decided to take the responsibility of letting the rest of us know?”

    Well, of course some of us have been pointing out certain, uh, inconsistencies for a long time. But that's not really the point. The point is that any belief -- all belief -- is rubbery and non-stick. People pick and choose all the time: they claim, for example, that the Bible makes homosexuality an abomination, but they fudge all sorts of other literalism. Only a few of those claimers, far as I know, kill their kids for dishonoring the sabbath...

    Such arguments reveal the obvious: not only is everyone's faith a distillation, personally brewed to fill the bill; in that regard, all beliefs are the same. People believe adamantly in their own particular recipe, edited and modified unconsciously, while disregarding all those whose faith differs. And vice versa. (Not "disregarding," for far too many: actively hating. Wanting to kill, not rarely.)

    So why not just admit it? Your faith works for you, someone else's works for her, and you need to just keep it to yourself. You don't like gay marriage? Fine. Don't marry one. You don't like knowing the earth is billions of years old, don't find it amazing and wondrous that humans evolved from previous primates? Okay. But don't feel the need to make everyone else around you stupid so yours stands out less, okay?

    In a recent comment on a religious post I was (I'm pretty sure) chastised for opinionating about that in which I don't have expertise. But here's the thing: when it comes to religion, like the kid looking at the unclothed emperor, I think it takes someone not in the thrall to point out certain things others simply can't -- by definition -- see. If you're a believer in whatever, religionwise, there are certain givens that not only can't be questioned, but the idea of and the tools for that questioning literally don't exist.

    And yet, there's the late-breaking news: hell is fungible. (Especially, one might assume, if it's taking a cut of the tithe.) Religious "leaders" discuss how many angels dance on the head of a pin, while religious "scholars" argue whether the pinhead is bigger than you think it is. It's self-fulfilling silliness. Expertise.

    I'll never stop saying it: I think religious belief is fine, because I recognize the human need, and the fact that, for whatever reason, most people can't seem to get along without it. In a soulless (which is not to say purposeless) world, in the face of death, it helps. I know it does. It needn't; but it does.

    Yet as examples abound of internal inconsistencies, of impossible rationalizations to keep it all going, might it not be possible (answer: no) at least to get to the point where people can accept their own needs as their own, and stop trying to turn the country into an echo chamber?

    Wouldn't it be nice?

    Friday, October 14, 2011

    Must Read

    What is "Occupy Wall Street" about? There are non-trivial matters; very non-trivial. Sadly, but as usual, the right-wing propaganda machine has been very effective in trivializing it, using the inevitable scatterbrains that fill any populist crowd as proof that it's meaningless. Why would that be, one wonders? Why would the uber-powerful corporations and the media and the political party in their bag want to quash any effort actually to address the inequities of our system, as they increasingly favor those very corporatists?

    From a site that's hardly a lefty rag comes this extensive article, citing graphically the trends that are at work (or lack of work.) It's worth a read. These are serious issues that deserve serious discussion, as opposed to the concerted efforts of Fox "news" and its subsidiaries in Congress to laugh it off.

    Do they have legitimate gripes?

    To answer the ... question ..., yes, they have very legitimate gripes.

    And if America cannot figure out a way to address these gripes, the country will likely become increasingly "de-stabilized," as sociologists might say. And in that scenario, the current protests will likely be only the beginning.

    The problem in a nutshell is this: Inequality in this country has hit a level that has been seen only once in the nation's history, and unemployment has reached a level that has been seen only once since the Great Depression. And, at the same time, corporate profits are at a record high.

    In other words, in the never-ending tug-of-war between "labor" and "capital," there has rarely—if ever—been a time when "capital" was so clearly winning.

    The article includes more than a dozen very telling graphs.

    While CEOs and shareholders have been cashing in, wages as a percent of the economy have dropped to an all-time low:

    These are issues that, so you'd think, would be of concern to everyone not in that vaunted 1%. You'd be excused if you thought such concern would cross party lines, and that even teabaggers would smell a rat. Accustomed as they are, however, to accepting as literal truth the Gospel of Glenn, the falsehoods of Fox, the rantings of Rush, they let themselves be used, once again, as cannon fodder.

    To discuss such issues as economic disparity is, in their lights, to be a socialist, a communist. And yet, it seems self-evident that if trends continue, our democracy (already mostly a figment) and our brand of capitalism (formerly the engine of the American dream) will perish from the earth.

    A Fine Man

    Feynman was a Nobel Prize winning physicist, among many other things. Among my favorite quotes of his, regarding religious belief and skepticism, is "I can live with doubt, and uncertainty, and not knowing. I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong."

    Thursday, October 13, 2011


    No Scream? Ice Cream!

    Might be worth a read:

    What is the best way to break a terrorist? Waterboarding? Stress positions? What about pizza, ice cream, or sugar-free cookies?

    The most surprising element of former FBI interrogator Ali Soufan's memoir, The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda, is how receptive terrorists are to food. When Soufan takes L'Houssaine Kherchtou, an Al Qaeda fixer, out for pizza, Khertchou tells him he's "not an Al Qaeda guy anymore." Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-Owhali, who helped facilitate the bombing of the American embassy in Nairobi in 1998, spills the beans after being plied with cookies and Meals Ready to Eat. Tariq el-Sawah, captured at Tora Bora and currently detained at Guantanamo Bay, has a fondness for ice cream. And in the desperate hours immediately following the 9/11 attacks, Soufan wears down the diabetic Abu Jandal, a former bodyguard for Osama bin Laden, with sugarless cookies, establishing that Al Qaeda was indeed responsible for the 9/11 attacks.

    All together now: what a horrible person Dick Cheney is.

    How much further in the fight against terrorism might we be, had we not, in the face of all evidence, descended to their level, using techniques whose purpose has always been to force false confessions? And yet Dick and his demon spawn travel the country still, welcomed to the air, rewriting history like the Texas Board of Education.

    Popular posts