Saturday, April 30, 2011

A few random thoughts, #4

Updated A headline on an AP article from a couple of days ago, in the wake of the White House's release of Barack Obama's so-called "long form" birth certificate read:
Some blacks see racism in 'birther' questions
Well, duh and dammit, of course it's racism. Of course it is. Of course the whole "birther" crap was code for "He's not one of us - you know, us." Of course it was, as the article says,
a high-level manifestation of the idea that when a black person accomplishes something great there must be something wrong.
Bottom line is that of course it was a way to say "No way a nigger could be president!" without having to actually say it or even admit thinking it.

You don't have to endorse Barack Obama to acknowledge that, you don't even have to like him, either politically or for that matter personally. If any of you have hung around here for any length of time, you doubtless know that I am no fan of his, what with having dubbed him President Hopey-Changey for his position that pretty words should be enough for us and Generalissimo Hope-Changey for his spitting on the Constitution and all.

Yet throughout this business my reaction to demands he "show us the birth certificate" has been, in essence, "Why the hell should he?" Similar issues about "natural born citizen" have come up before but never went anywhere, indeed they sank so quickly that most people won't even remember the question was ever asked: For example, John McCain was born in the Canal Zone and Barry Goldwater, GOPper candidate for president in 1964, was born in Phoenix in 1909 - three years before Arizona became a state. In both those cases, questions were briefly raised about their constitutional eligibility for the presidency but quickly disappeared at least in part because the media wouldn't take them seriously.

So what is the difference this time? Why were supposedly "responsible" outlets like CNN seen asking the White House press secretary why Obama didn't release his "long form" birth certificate?

The difference this time, as should be painfully obvious, is as plain as night and day - or, to be more exact, black and white.

So the real question here is neither one of support for Barack Obama nor one of if there was racism involved in birtherism, but why does recognizing that latter fact seem to be so damned hard to do? Why is acknowledging even thinly-veiled racism seem so hard? Why does it seem so many of our "leaders" in both government and media are afraid to say do that?

Instead, in the face of any attempt to call out the birthers, the far too-common response has been more along the lines of "How DARE you say that!" How dare you, that is, point out the lies in the lies. How dare you point out paranoia in the paranoia. How dare you point out the racism in the racism.

Why? For some, the reason is that they share the racism. For some others it's that they hope to politically or financially profit from the racism. For still others it's simple cowardice, a fear of a cost associated with rejecting the racism.

But for yet others, and perhaps the greatest number, it's a matter of just not wanting to deal with it. Of just wanting to ignore it. Of living in denial.

But racism is a disease, a social disease. You can't wish it away; you can't ignore it away; you can't deny it away. And it won't go away by being polite to it.

Yes, the birther movement was driven by and drew its energy from racism, whether acknowledged or unacknowledged. Period. And the new calls about college records and other crap are also driven by and draw their energy from racism. Period, That the racism has to try to be clandestine, to hide behind code words and appeals to unspoken base fears, is a measure of how far we've come as a culture. That birtherism exists is a measure of how far we still have to go.

Footnote: Tom Tancredo has claimed on his radio show that the White House deliberately held back release of PHC's so-called "long-form" birth certificate in order to make GOPper leaders look ridiculous.

If that's true, it worked like a charm, didn't it, Tommy?

Updated with Another Footnote: Writing in the Boston Globe back on April 14, Joan Vennochi noted that Mitt Romney has not released his birth certificate, as a result of which we don't actually know what his real first name is! OMG! Could we accept a president with a fake name? Show us your papers!

Yes, it's silly; yes, it won't go anywhere; yes, that is the point.

Thanks to Mad Kane for the tip.

And One More Footnote: On a more serious note, watch this. Seriously. I mean it. Do. I'm a white guy in his 60s which is relevant in that it means the whole birther crap didn't move me in the same very personal, very visceral way that it did those who have felt directly the repeated slaps, the daily jabs to the soul, that living in a society still marked by racism will bring.

A few random thoughts, #3

Andrew Leonard wonders, How hard can it be to tax the rich? In Salon last week he pointed to several strands of evidence - perhaps most tellingly that Paul Ryan's own constituents booed him when he said we do tax the rich - that together clearly indicate a willingness on the part of Americans to see the rich pay more.

But as far as I'm concerned, "tax the rich" is lame. Tax the rich? Screw that. Soak the rich!

Hell, screw soak the rich, impoverish the rich. Let them live like the rest of us - and I mean actually like the rest of us, living one missed paycheck from financial disaster (and maybe 32% interest rates) and for who cutting back means skipping going to the movies, not skipping flying to the Cannes Film Festival this year.

The simple fact, the simple moral truth, is that as long as there are those who don't have enough, there are others who have too much. That doesn't mean everyone has to have the same - but it does mean by all that is just that everyone must have enough.

Friday, April 29, 2011

A few random thoughts, #2

Updated So PHC* has "reshuffled" his national security team: Defense Secretary Robert Gates is retiring this summer. He's to be replaced by Leon Panetta, now head of the CIA. Panetta is to be replaced by Gen. David Petraeus, now commander of US forces in Afghanistan. Petraeus will be replaced by his deputy Lt. Gen. John Allen, formerly a commander in Iraq. And there's a new ambassador to Afghanistan: Ryan Crocker, whose last post was as ambassador to Iraq.

In short, this is no change at all. In terms of policy or impact, it's utterly meaningless. The same faces with the same attitudes, just in different chairs. It's just musical chairs where you don't take one away. Why this is supposed to make any difference is a mystery to me - because the fact is, shuffling the deck doesn't mean much if the deck is still stacked at the end. Nor does it mean anything if you're still playing with marked cards.

Footnote: I wonder if any of the inevitable encomiums that will greet Gates' retirement will mention that he was deputy director of the CIA during the Iran-contra scandal, during which the CIA actively and illegally aided the Nicaraguan contras while at the same time lying to Congress about arms dealings with Iran.

Updated with Another Footnote: Via Glenn Greenwald, I learn this: In 2006, Shrub nominated Gen. Michael Hayden to be the new director of the CIA.
Democratic Chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein [said]: "You can't have the military control most of the major aspects of intelligence. The CIA is a civilian agency and is meant to be a civilian agency."
Nancy Pelosi added that "I don't see how you have a four-star general heading up the CIA." Then-Sen. Joe Biden said he was worried that a CIA lead by a general would "just be gobbled up by the Defense Department."

Think there's any chance of them raising such objections now?

*PHC = President Hopey-Changey

A few random thoughts, #1

Bank of America - Why the hell are they still in business instead of being crippled by a massive consumer boycott driven by sheer disgust? - has announced that it's "penalty rate" on its credit cards, that being the rate they can hit you with if you are late shelling out the bucks, may be as high as 29.99%. And they're not even the highest: HSBC's penalty rate could reach 31.99%.

My gosh, doesn't the word usury have a meaning any more? Seriously, has it been excised from the dictionary? I mean, it's still there in mine but is it out of date? Is there no rate that is considered too high? No rate so high that it shocks the conscience?

Now, they say the rate would only be applied to future purchases, not old ones - but while I can't state this as fact not having seen the actual "agreement" (That's another great term, like this is supposed to be something the terms of which you actually sat down and negotiated with the bank.) but what do you want to bet that it says that future payments will be applied to old balances first, so that any new purchases will sit there gathering that 30% interest - 30% interest - the whole time?

Oh, but don't ever forget the most important thing: If you get hit with a 32% interest rate, it's all your fault.
To avoid those penalty interest rates, credit card users simply need to make payments on time, advises [Greg] McBride[, a senior financial analyst with].

Says McBride: "People complain about the penalty interest like they complain about speeding tickets. If you don't want the ticket, then don't speed."
And Howard Dworkin, founder of Consolidated Credit Counseling Service, offers this sage advice:
"The best option is to use cash. If you don't have the money, don't buy. This way, you don't have to worry about what credit card companies do, and you'll never accrue credit card debt."
Yep, it's your fault. Because if you can't pay cash, you don't buy it. (I wonder if Mr. Dworkin owns a house or a car. Or ever uses a credit card, for that matter.) Because it's all your fault, you spendthrift slacker. After all, we all know that people don't fall behind on their bills because they get sick or lose their jobs, oh no - it's because they just have no self-control. That's what we are to believe.

One other thing: Precisely because most people who fall behind on their bills do indeed do so because of real-life problems, it means that these unconscionable rates are most likely to be imposed on the people least able to pay them, trapping them in a cycle of economic serfdom.

Even so, don't you peons dare try to blame corporate greed. Your masters have told you otherwise and you must remember that just like every other assault coming from The Free Market (pbui), it's all your fault.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


This happened a couple of days ago, but I just learned about it tonight.

Elisabeth Sladen has died of cancer at the age of 63.

For those of you - and I expect there are a good number - who don't know who she was, Lis Sladen was best known for her portrayal of Sarah Jane Smith, one of the longest-running and most popular "companions" to The Doctor on the long-running BBC scifi-fantasy series, Doctor Who.

And if you can't figure out why I'd mention this, I suggest you re-check my email address.

Footnote to the preceding, This is More Important Div.

So what could be more important related to the Deepwater Horizon disaster than BP's overall scumminess? How about this:

One of the big questions investigators wanted answered is why the blowout preventer (or BOP) failed. The blowout preventer is the device, big as a double-decker bus, that sits on top of the wellhead that is supposed to seal off the well in the event of a blowout. It contains a series of rams that are supposed to be triggered in such an event that slam together with sufficient force to stop the flow of oil. Sounds good. Even looks good on paper. In fact, as CBS News put it a month after the disaster,
[t]o hear some industry officials talk, these devices are virtually foolproof.
Apparently, "industry officials" are - gasp - bullshitting us again.

First, know that BP's claim that the BOP was "tested to industry standards" is a lie:
[W]histleblower Mike Mason disclosed BP had been aware that BOP testing results were being falsified for years in Alaska. Mason disclosed that the standard five minute test to determine if the device could withstand high levels of pressure was only applied when state and federal regulators were present (50% of the time). The other half of the time, BP would reduce the testing time to 30 seconds and falsify the records to indicate that it underwent the full testing.
But here's the real point:
Why the blowout preventer didn’t work has been the subject of intense speculation and several congressional and private investigations. The primary cause for that failure, according to the Norwegian consulting firm Det Norske Veritas, was the blowout preventer's "blind-shear ram" – a massive set of steel jaws intended to completely cut through the drill pipe, crimping it in the process and sealing the well.

The reason the shear ram's jaws failed was because they encountered a situation for which they were not designed – a "buckled" section of drill pipe, bowed sideways by the enormous pressure of oil thrusting upward from miles beneath the earth, the investigators said in their final report to the Interior Department and the US Coast Guard,
released late last month.

In case that's not clear, let me make it plain: Blowout preventers do not work!

They are unreliable under exactly the sort of conditions under which they would be necessary. In Fact, according to former oil industry executive Bob Kavnar, in 2009 Det Norske Veritas said underwater BOPs failed 45% of the time. Put another way, blowout preventers are virtually guaranteed to stop a blowout - so long as there is no blowout to stop. If there is, the device can be knocked off kilter and instead of being "virtually foolproof," it becomes virtually useless.

Even beyond that, the device failed to work in more ways, not just in ram failure:
The blowout preventer below the doomed Deepwater Horizon oil rig had trouble triggering emergency disconnect functions when the rig lost control of the well....

Control pods with electronic and hydraulic cables use batteries to disconnect from a rig in emergency situations whenever power and communications to a rig are lost. That happened last April 20 on Deepwater Horizon, but the rig never disconnected from the well.
This despite the fact that the company that made the BOP, Cameron International, bragged that their model had more safety redundancies than other models.

And to, to use an old phrase, cap the climax, here's the kicker: The feds knew the things didn't work. They knew all along.
- Accident reports from the U.S. Minerals Management Service, a branch of the Interior Department, show that the devices have failed or otherwise played a role in at least 14 accidents, mostly since 2005.

- Government and industry reports have raised questions about the reliability of blowout preventers for more than a decade. A 2003 report by Transocean, the owner of the destroyed rig, said: "Floating drilling rig downtime due to poor BOP reliability is a common and very costly issue confronting all offshore drilling contractors."
It's worth going over those points again: Both government and industry have been questioning the reliability of blowout preventers for over ten years. And in that time, the devices have failed repeatedly. But still, even knowing that, even knowing about the failures and the questions, the feds granted permits for deep water wells, permits granted on the basis of "safety procedures" that the feds knew were inadequate, relying on a technology they knew was prone to failure. And even worse, they are still doing it: They continued to issue drilling permits based on the use of blowout protectors and safety procedures that pre-date the disaster.

They knew and they know - but apparently, they just didn't and still don't care: Kavnar says that the "tightened safety rules" so proudly promoted by the White House do not address the fact that the technology itself is fundamentally flawed. They don't care any more than they cared in 1998 when they decided that the devices needed to be tested only half as often as previously, a relaxed requirement that continued right through those accidents "mostly since 2005" and even through the industry's admission that "poor BOP reliability is a common and very costly issue."

So here's the question: Who or what do you think the government was protecting? The environment? The Gulf? The people and culture of the Gulf Coast? Or the oil industry?

As another old saying has it, some questions need only be asked.

Footnote: Just in case you want to think that deep-water drilling disasters are the only issue at hand here's news that
[a] government list obtained by The Associated Press shows that in addition to 27,000 oil and gas wells that were sealed with cement and abandoned without any regular monitoring, another 3,200 old wells have quietly been left unused without any cement plugging to help prevent leaks.

Without those plugs, there is little to prevent powerful leaks from pushing to the surface, so these wells could be an even greater environmental threat than wells that have been sealed and classified as either temporarily or permanently abandoned. ...

[This] means up to three-fifths of the 50,000 wells ever drilled in the Gulf have been left behind with no routine monitoring for leaks.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement resisted releasing the list for months on the grounds that it wanted first to "verify" it with the industry, even though the FOIA says requested records should be released as is except for redactions allowed or required by law, a description which surely does not cover "we want to check with Exxon-Mobil and the rest first." The agency finally released what it later claimed was an "unverified" list; the "verified" list is still unavailable.

Friday, April 22, 2011

BP = Big Putz

As I'm sure you know, Wednesday, April 20, was the first anniversary of the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. A year later, it appears that all we have gained are tarballs and lies.

There is a lot of happy talk about how the Gulf Coast is "recovering" or even, in some extreme formulations, "has recovered." It "wasn't the catastrophe some predicted," we're told, as if the idea that it wasn't as bad as it might have been makes everything okay.

But even if it ultimately develops that it wasn't as bad as it might have been, it was more than bad enough: Eleven workers were killed in what Lawrence O'Donnell accurately labeled "corporate homicide." Seventeen more were injured. The well gushed oil for nearly three months, spewing out nearly 5 million barrels - over 200 million gallons - of crude oil in the largest marine oil spill in history. And the glib dismissals of environmental damage we hear now draw on a well of ignorance, wishful thinking, and deceit, with only the proportions varying speaker to speaker.
[T]he Gulf of Mexico and its coastal wetlands are vastly complicated ecosystems. Scientists had incomplete information on them before the BP oil spill ... and it will be years before they can start to draw conclusions about the impact of the millions of barrels of oil that spewed into the Gulf.
Indeed, it has been known by researchers for months that the real damage, damage much more significant than that visible so far, will only become apparent over time as the oil and other pollutants from the leak work their way through the biosphere. Simply put, anyone who claims that the damage was limited or gone or is over or whatever is either lying or they don't know what the hell they are talking about.

And there is good reason to think that even the more obvious aspects of the story are far from over. For one thing, BP - apparently with the collusion or at least quiet approval of local and federal officials - is still restricting access to public beaches in the area a year later. Mac McClelland of Mother Jones magazine reported this the end of March:
Like some lame iteration of Groundhog Day, the hundredth time I try to pull onto the Elmer's Island access road from Highway 1 in southern Louisiana—some 200 days after the last time I tried it—I am, once again, stopped. Last year, it was cops blocking the road. Now it's private security hired by BP.

"You have to get permission from central command to come on here, and then you'll probably have to be escorted by an official," the security guard tells me.

"How hard is it to get permission?"

"Usually pretty hard." She says a local reporter couldn't get through recently.
The company's excuse for this is a steaming pile of transparently bogus claims about "safety" because "there are workers present" even when there aren't and without explaining how the threat to safety arises or if it's the workers or the reporters who are at risk. In other words, they are making the claims without even bothering to pretend that they are not lying through their fucking teeth, without even bothering to pretend that what they are really trying to do is block public knowledge of "the occasional tarballs, big as a kid's head, that [still] wash onto the shore."

Meanwhile, the money that BP promised to do research in the Gulf to check for and monitor environmental damage has still not materialized nearly a year later, with the result that important research aims - such as establishing baseline data - have already been lost.

Oh, and remember that $20 billion claims fund BP set up supposedly under pressure from the White House? Last December, Kenneth Feinberg, who is administering the fund on behalf of BP, expressed his hope that "half the money would be more than enough to pay all the claims.” Feinberg, who last month was ordered by US District Court Judge Carl Barbier to stop calling himself “neutral” or “completely independent” of BP in light of the fact that his law firm is being paid $850,000 a month to oversee the fund, has certainly been doing the job his paymasters would desire: So far, the fund has paid out $3.8 billion - less than 20% of the total available - amid charges of slow responses, repeated instances of "lost" paperwork, backlogs, underestimation of costs, and small payouts, charges serious enough that lawsuits have been filed in Florida and Louisiana alleging fraud and negligence in the handling of claims.

Feinberg says that the processing delays are all the claimants' fault, insisting that most of the 130,000 outstanding claims don't have the necessary documentation, insisting it even in the face of repeated cases of people describing submitting the same documents multiple times only to be repeatedly told by fund officials that their materials could not be found. In a statement that caused multiple Gulf Coast jaws to hit the floor, he defended his small payouts - they averaged about $20,000-25,000 - by saying they were based on the assumption that the Gulf Coast would be fully recovered by the end of next year. Which, even if it were by some miracle to prove true, would be irrelevant to the families and businesses damaged by the criminal negligence shown in the spill by BP and its partners, families and businesses that may well not make it until that time.

There may be a method to this madness, however: A little-noticed provision in the agreement to establish the fund said that any funds not distributed by the end of 2012 revert to BP. Stalls, sluggishness, and small payouts all work to BP's advantage.

Even at that, BP wants more. It actually says, if you can believe it, that Feinberg has been overly generous and on Wednesday,
[t]he oil giant filed lawsuits in New Orleans against Halliburton, which provided the cement for the well; Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig; and Cameron International, the company that made the blowout preventer.
Add in the fact that despite all the supposed deals and "accepting responsibility" bullcrap, US taxpayers will likely be on the hook for something like $10 billion in cleanup costs, it comes out that ultimately, if BP has its way, it may be the only agent involved in this environmental disaster that does not bear a cost for what was done to the Gulf of Mexico and to the people and the environment of the Gulf Coast.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The award for Least Self-Aware Statement of the Month goes to...

...Catholic League President Bill Donohue, who, reacting to Lady GaGa's new song and video "Judas" which he had neither heard nor seen, said
"She has now morphed into a caricature of herself."
Accepting the award on behalf of Mr. Donohue is Rep. John Boner, whose recent claim to be exercising "leadership" in the House was a top contender for the coveted Spit-Take Award.

I play one on TV

Updated Little light on the posting the past few days - overall, I've been doing better on my pledge to average a post a day - but there is a reason.

I've taken on a bit of a challenge: I've begun doing a weekly half-hour show of political commentary on my local cable TV outlet. Just me and a camera (or two) as I rant on about whatever it is that has me outraged or excited or annoyed or whatever that week. I flippantly described it as "a lefty Glenn Beck minus the chalkboard and the paranoia." We did the run-through on Friday; the first taping is on Tuesday.

The show is called "The Left Side of the Aisle" because we really couldn't use my preferred title, which was "Not the Glenn Beck Show." Another possible title was "And another thing...," which I had previously used in the print version of Lotus, but I decided to reserve that for occasions when I want to end the show with something that seems more silly or inane than serious (this post from the other day being a good example) or for some geeky thing and yes I do intend to include some science bits.

Although I hope to develop the show more in the weeks to come with some better production - some graphics and other eye candy, even some cutaways, etc. - right now it is, again, pretty much me in front of a backdrop doing what I do best: shooting off my mouth. The folks at the station were pretty excited about it; the guy who heads up the station told me he thought it would "get people talking," which is of course part of the idea. (He also thought it might spark someone else to want to do a show on the other side - which is of course part of the idea of public access TV, so that's cool too.)

This is going to be a real task that is going to take a good deal of work on my part. (Q: How much territory you can cover if you are talking pretty much continuously for 30 minutes? A: An effing lot.) So while I still intend the keep to that once-a-day (or more) average, those long analytical pieces for which I am justly renowned worldwide will be rather fewer until I can get this doing-a-show stuff settled into a pattern.

Wish me luck. I expect I'll need it.

Updated with the news for those who have wondered about being able to see the show that I found out today that the station is setting up streaming video of its cablecast on its website. It should be available "soon" - but of course we all know what "soon" can mean in practice. Anyway, when that is done I will post the info for the website and the cablecast schedule.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Footnote to the preceding

In an article on the House passing the GOPper budget, AP had this to say:
The vote sets up the Republicans' next round of confrontation with Obama and Democrats over must-pass legislation to allow the government to borrow more money to finance its operations and obligations to holders of U.S. bonds. For the first time, Obama acknowledged that raising the debt limit is "not going to happen without some spending cuts" insisted upon by Republicans and some Democrats.
Some people call what PHC* is doing "negotiating" or even, in the course of the boot-licking and butt-kissing that followed his Wednesday speech, "defending liberal values."

I call it "surrender on the installment plan."

*PHC = President Hopey-Changey

A tale of two articles

Last week, NBC anchor David Gregory, commenting on what he saw as PHC*'s 2012 campaign strategy, said this:
[H]e sounded very much like a Republican talking about the need to cut spending. ... He wants the American people to know ...that he is in line with what a lot of Americans want, which is less government, trimming down the size and the scope of government.
Now, in fact, according to repeated opinion polls (scroll down at the link) and even what we kept getting told was the "message" of the 2010 elections, what people are most concerned about is the economy and jobs, not "less government." Even so, Gregory expresses the views of the media elite, the pundits who are convinced that what they are most concerned about (since they do not depend on government services the way scores of millions of us do) is what everyone else is most concerned about.

So I found it bitterly amusing that these two news items appeared on the same day, Friday: One reflected the inside-the-Beltway wisdom that the real battle is over who can make their cuts in federal programs seem more in line with "what Americans want," which is, they say, "less government."
A bold but politically risky plan to cut trillions of dollars from the federal budget is coming to a House vote, with insurgent Republicans rallying behind the idea of fundamentally reshaping the government's role in health care for the elderly and the poor.
The other told a little tale of what "less government" would mean in the real world.
Half the meat and poultry sold in the supermarket may be tainted with the staph germ, a new report suggests.

The new estimate is based on just 136 samples of beef, chicken, pork and turkey purchased from grocery stores in Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Flagstaff, Ariz. and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. ...

The new study found more than half the samples contained Staphylococcus aureus, a bacteria that can make people sick. Worse, half of those contaminated samples had a form of staph that's resistant to at least three kinds of antibiotics.
This is not, I suppose, an ideal example as proper cooking pretty much takes care of the bacteria present, but it still should serve as a reminder - particularly since the FDA came into existence amid public outrage about adulterated and mislabeled foods and drugs - a reminder that "less government" includes by definition even less regulation, even less oversight, of corporate America than exists now; it means even less environmental, health, and worker safety protection; it means looser standards with fewer inspectors to enforce them. Maybe before we buy into the "trimming down the size and the scope of government" meme we should all re-read The Jungle.

Long Footnote: Admittedly, when asked directly if the federal government has "too much power," without any connection to how worried they are about that, an overall majority of those in a March Gallup poll said yes despite a rather sharp divide among Dems, GOPpers, and independents - and despite, I'd add, the overly-general nature of the question, which limits its usefulness: For example, I'd say the feds have too much power to invade privacy, too much power to wage war without public input and even over public opposition, too much power to hide secrets and conceal crimes behind "national security" excuses, too much power to restrict civil liberties; overall, the "security state" has too much power. But I'd also say the feds don't have enough power over, enough control over, for example, the corporate state.

Still, the point here is that even if people think as a general principle the federal government has "too much power," it's not something that they are overly concerned with; it's not something that registers high (or even low) on the list of immediate concerns. The "size of government" exists for most people as a philosophical question, not a political one.

On the other hand, it is worth noting that in that same Gallup poll, there were three groups that even larger majorities said had "too much power" and in those three cases, majorities of Dems, GOPpers, and indies all agreed. Those groups are big business, the banks, and lobbyists - the very people who would become even more powerful under "less government." When was the last time you heard some media pundit explaining how "Americans want" limits on the power of corporations and banks?

Thanks to Jobsanger for the link to the poll.

*PHC = President Hopey-Changey

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Be afraid, Chapter Way Too Many Now

The spreading use of arbitrary, useless security theater, practices that serve less to "protect" than to advance the ability of the state to invade the privacy of citizens at its whim, has again come to self-parody.
A Kentucky couple said Wednesday that they want the Transportation Security Administration to change how it screens children after their 6-year-old daughter was frisked at the New Orleans airport.
Yup: They patted down a 6-year old, including the fingers-in-the-waistband treatment, leaving the girl crying in its wake. If that doesn't seem idiotic to you at first glance, add the fact that
Martin Macpherson, the director of the London-based Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, said he is not aware of instances when terrorists have used children as young as 6 in an attack.
Which means the pat-down was pointless and stupid by any standard.

Here's what got me, though: The TSA says the officer followed proper procedure. However, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, says the search was "in clear violation of TSA's explicit policy not to conduct thorough pat-downs on children under the age of 13."

Hey, TSA: How can someone acting "in clear violation of ... explicit policy" be following "proper procedure?"

Footnote: The TSA claims it's "reviewing" its procedures - which is always the line we get in response to the latest nonsense to keep us compliant until the next nonsense.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

There are pinkos everywhere

Updated In perhaps the silliest fake controversy since Tinky Winky and as further proof that old right-wing inanities never die, they just find a new target, comes the news that
A J.Crew ad that shows a top designer painting her young son’s toenails neon pink has some parents and doctors seeing red. ...

“This is a dramatic example of the way that our culture is being encouraged to abandon all trappings of gender identity,” psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow wrote in a Health column about the ad.

Media Research Center’s Erin Brown agreed, calling the ad “blatant propaganda celebrating transgendered children.”

“Not only is Beckett likely to change his favorite color as early as tomorrow, Jenna's indulgence (or encouragement) could make life hard for the boy in the future,” Brown wrote in an opinion piece Friday. "J.Crew, known for its tasteful and modest clothing, apparently does not mind exploiting Beckett behind the facade of liberal, transgendered identity politics.”
So mother shares some silly fun with her young son and - what? It's the end of civilization? I think painted toenails are even dumber than painted fingernails, which I think are dumb on anyone of either gender at any age, but it takes the sweaty imagination of the true right-winger to turn pink toenails into some kind of liberal plot to destory all they hold dear.

This was too much even for Fox News Twitter users, a majority of who agreed that the critics are overreacting. The temptation now is to say or course they were overreacting; overreacting is what they do.

Updated with the best comment on the whole affair, from one Michael Reynolds and found at Outside the Beltway:
Thank God when my mother applied my fingernail polish it was tweed color. Pretty sure that’s why I’m straight.
Yeah, that must be it.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Are you seriously going to tell me you didn't see this coming?

If you didn't, then you haven't been paying attention for the past few decades.
The U.S. may consider sending troops into Libya with a possible international ground force that could aid the rebels, the former U.S. commander of the military mission said Thursday, describing the ongoing operation as a stalemate that is more likely to go on now that America has handed control to NATO.

But Army Gen. Carter Ham also told lawmakers that American participation in a ground force would not be ideal, since it could erode the international coalition attacking Moammar Gadhafi's forces and make it more difficult to get Arab support for operations in Libya.
So what was explicitly ruled out before is now merely "not ideal." And if the "stalemate" continues, how long will it be before "not ideal" becomes "under consideration?" How long after that before there are orchestrated leaks by anonymous "official sources" of "on-going planning" for sending in the Marines "just in case" it proves "unavoidable" even as "the debate continues within the White House?" And then how long before there are "last chances to avoid direct military action?"

On April 30, 1970, Richard Nixon announced a US "incursion" (his word) into Cambodia, a significant expansion of the already-unpopular Vietnam War (and part of what turned it into the Indochina War). His administration was stunned by the reaction: Mass protest almost literally exploded on campuses across the country, leading as many as 500 colleges to close down at least temporarily due to student strikes. More than 1,000 demonstrations took place. About a quarter-million people (100,000 in DC and 150,000 in San Francisco) turned out on just a week's notice to protest the invasion. Within days, Nixon had to declare a quick end to the "incursion."

Ever since then, the operatives of the national security state have worked on ways to enable them to act without causing the shock that produces massive protest. The result has been that as a general rule, the bigger the commitment or the more opposition that is expected, the more gradual the roll-out so by the time it actually happens, the public has come to expect it and be resigned to it. Sort of like the classic "frog in a pot of boiling water" story.*

Part of the inuring process here has been the talk of "humanitarian" actions, the only goal being, we were told, to "protect civilians." But what such "protection" entails has already advanced from a "no-fly zone" to what I said over a week ago
bears less the marks of humanitarian protection of non-combatants and more the marks of choosing sides in a civil war.
Those marks have only become deeper in the time since: In his testimony on Thursday, General Ham openly referred to A-10 fighters being used for close air support for ground forces and on Sunday the rebels said NATO airstrikes helped them drive Qaddafi's forces out of Ajdabiya.

The war in Libya, for us, is not about protecting civilians. It's about overthrowing Qaddafi. The insurrection merely provides a convenient cover.

The reason for the step-by-step buildup to the ground troops which the general run of opinion says will be needed to do that is easy to come by: People don't want another war.
An AP-GFK poll found that 48 percent approved or leaned toward approving US involvement [in a Libyan air campaign] while 50 disapproved or leaned toward disapproving. Similarly, a Quinnipiac poll found 47 percent opposed, with only 41 percent in support. [Both polls were from the end of March.] ...

The same AP poll found the American people have little stomach for mission creep in Libya, with 78 percent opposed to sending in American ground troops.
So if you're going to escalate, you have to turn what could be an angry 78% into a passive 78% by getting them so used to the idea that when it finally happens, the reaction will be "Oh, really? Well, we've been expecting it."

The use of "protecting civilians" as a meme is, admittedly, an effective one because it allows supporters of the war to present themselves not only as pragmatists and "clear-eyed" people who "understand the real world" but as morally superior to war opponents who would "stand by while people get slaughtered."

For example, over at Daisy's place, when the war first started she expressed some skepticism over it. Someone responded that they couldn't "really agree or disagree" and "I don't have a horse in the race." However, he wanted to point out that not acting could also have consequences.

In response, I made what I thought was a very gentle observation.
While it's easy to understand [his] underlying frustration (both doing something and doing nothing have consequences) and thus the desire to "care less," the fact is when faced with that choice you don't get to opt out. You have to accept that, as he says, either way has consequences and then make the choice you think is best.

Disapproving of death by creating more of it rarely if ever seems a good course to me. The fact that "their" side always "kills civilians" while "our" side "inflicts collateral damage" with the accompanying impression that those killed on "our" side are somehow deader than those killed on "their" side only, at least to me, emphasizes that rarity.

There is already too much death in the world. I don't want to see us add to it.
Upon which, that very commenter, who previously said he "could care less" about the issue, not only endorsed the "mission" but hauled out the hackneyed "armed robber attacking the little old lady in the house next door" argument, where, as I put it in a further comment, "tackling, arresting, or otherwise restraining someone" but without killing them is equated with "cruise missiles, bombs, and strafing runs as if the difference was merely a matter of scale."

Which, I think quite bizarrely, he insisted it is, thus making arresting one individual morally the same as killing hundreds if not many more (Are we supposed to forget that there were people inside those tanks? Apparently that depends on who was in them.) and making objection to the war identical with reciting "a dissertation on Ghandi [sic]" while a "violent predator ... dismembers granny."

Thus does killing become the same as not killing, a billy club come to have the same effect as a bomb, and ground troops "that could aid the rebels" come to be the same as impartially and humanely "protecting civilians."

Seriously: You really didn't see this coming?

Footnote: As I write this comes news that the African Union has supposedly worked out with Qaddafi an agreement "in principle" for a ceasefire, delivery of humanitarian assistance, and the opening of talks toward "political reforms necessary for the elimination of the causes of the current crisis."

I don't know how seriously to regard this; Qaddafi has previously declared and immediately violated ceasefires. Since latest reports indicate his forces have (again) been pushed out of Ajdabiya - thanks for NATO "just protecting civilians" airstrikes - he could use the momentary lack of street fighting as an opportunity show his sincerity by ordering a unilateral stand-still ceasefire, where his forces hold their positions but don't try to advance. I certainly hope for that but my advice is, don't hold your breath.

In any event, there is little hope for such a settlement since the rebels, whose bottom line demand is Qaddafi's ouster, will likely regard this, quite possibly correctly, as just stalling for time and refuse to accept it. So the war, which has largely become a stalemate with neither side able to advance very far, will go on and references to "boots on the ground" will likely increase.

I wonder how many grannies (and sons and daughters and grandsons and granddaughters) have been "dismembered" so far?

*Actually, the "frog in the pot of boiling water" thing is a myth: Beyond a certain point, the warmer the water, the more energetically the frog will try to jump out even if the water is heated very slowly. Still, the myth serves as a good illustration of the political process being used.

A few passing thoughts, #6

Updated Speaking of lizard brains and thinking, the right-wing war of the former on the latter continues apace.
In the first three months of 2011, nine creationism-related bills have been introduced in seven states—that's more than in any year in recent memory.
The states are Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, New Mexico, Texas, along with Oklahoma and Tennessee with two bills each. Four of the nine, covering three of the states, died in committee but the rest are still moving through the various state legislatures and some are given good chances of passing.

The level of understanding of the science involved can be seen in the words of Texas state Rep. Bill Zedler, who defended his bill to enable the teaching of so-called "intelligent design" (by banning "discrimination" against those who advocate it) by asking when was the last time someone found that a tornado had made a watch.

And there is Florida state Sen. Stephen Wise, who asked "Why do we still have apes if we came from them?"

I've often wondered why the fact of evolution is so hard for right-wingers to accept. It can't really be just the bizarre notion of Biblical inerrancy when the number of such true believers is clearly surpassed by those who deny the scientific facts. It seems to me, ultimately, that a lot of it is just an old-fashioned "ick" factor: They are so tied to the idea of a unique specialness in being human, so emotionally invested in the concept of their own separate, superior station, that they just can't abide the notion that we are in any way connected to other animals, even if any direct link exists in pre-history. It's a matter of "Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!"

On the other hand, it could be that they just can't help it, the poor dears. A study at University College, London, compared the brains of people who self-identify as liberals and conservatives. The liberal brains tended to be bigger in an area that deals with processing conflicting information while the conservative brains tended to be bigger in an area that processes fear and recognizes threats. So all the rejection of evolution is kind of like a grown-up - well, make that "older" - version of being afraid of the dark.

Footnote: The National Center for Science Education is a good resource.

Updated with the paragraph about different brain structures.

A few passing thoughts, #5

On the other hand, one way in which the left clearly outshines the right - one among many - is in, well, thinking.
According to a University of Michigan study published in the forthcoming issue of Public Opinion Quarterly, more people believe in "climate change" than in "global warming."

Overall, 74 percent of people thought the problem was real when it was referred to as climate change, while about 68 percent thought it was real when it was referred to as global warming.
This, of course, is despite the fact that the two terms refer to the same phenomena and often are used interchangeably within a single article. The thing is, when the results are broken down along party (i.e., Democrat vs. GOPper) lines, the entire shift in opinion depending on the term used comes from GOPpers.
While 60 percent of Republicans reported that they thought climate change was real, for example, only 44 percent said they believed in the reality of global warming.

In contrast, about 86 percent of Democrats thought climate change was a serious problem, no matter what it was called.
Meanwhile, another study reported that
[i]f you ask Republicans to shell out extra cash for a plane ticket because of a carbon tax that will make up for the trip’s environmental effects, they’re not having it.
But if you call it a carbon offset instead of a carbon tax, the study found, GOPpers will go for it as often as the Democrats, whose support did not vary with the term.

It's the old "framing" business. We just have to learn how to deal with that lizard brain that rules right-wing heads.

Footnote: A study done by a Canadian government agency and published last month in the peer-reviewed journal Geophysical Research Letters International suggests that it is already too late to keep global warming to no more than the 2˚C believed to be necessary to head off its worst effects.
The paper finds that reaching that goal would require that greenhouse emissions “ramp down to zero immediately” and that scientists deploy means, starting in 2050, to actively remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
We are not so screwed, but our children and grandchildren are.

Oh, and by the way:
Winds over the world's oceans have been blowing harder and ocean waves have been reaching higher heights over the last few decades, satellite data show.
Yeah, try to convince me that's just a coincidence.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

A few passing thoughts, #4

Rep. Louise Slaughter, we can be sure, is about to receive (in fact, already is receiving) the full-court "You! Must! Apologize!" press from the right-wing. Referring to the reactionaries' attacks on abortion rights and Planned Parenthood on Wednesday, she told a crowd of pro-choice advocates that
“I went through this as co-chair of the Arts Caucus. In 1994, people were elected simply to come here to kill the National Endowment for the Arts, Slaughter said, “now they’re here to kill women.”
To kill women by hindering their access to cancer screenings and similar preventive health care. To kill them by driving them to back-alley abortion mills. To kill them, that is, indirectly, silently, one at a time - the better for the right wing to avoid having to admit to the real-world effects of their fanaticism.

Which means that while Rep. Slaughter's statement may have been "inartfully expressed" in a more honest sense than that phrase is usually employed, her thrust - that the reactionaries want to enact policies that will result in women dying unnecessarily and prematurely - is true. She should not back down, she should not apologize, and if pressed to do so should reply "I will not apologize for speaking the truth."

One way in which the right-wing clearly outshines the left is in sheer stubbornness. It's about time we started to catch up.

A few passing thoughts, #3

Speaking of the internet and corporations,
House Republicans adamant that the government keep its hands off the Internet passed a bill Friday to repeal federal rules barring Internet service providers from blocking or interfering with traffic on their networks.
According to Rep. Greg Walden, sponsor of the bill, the internet "is open and innovative thanks to the government's hands-off approach."

In other words, the telcoms have convinced a bunch of technological troglodytes that the government has and has had nothing to do with the internet or its development and that the best way to keep the Net "open and innovative" is to enable a handful of giant corporations to effectively assume full control over what goes over the Net and how fast that data moves.

Part of the reason, of course, is that they can't imagine those corporations interfering with anything they would want to see. I wonder what the reaction would be if these GOPpers succeeded and one of the first things Verizon or Comcast or one of them did was block access to some Tea Party website.

Wait, never mind: We already know.

A few passing thoughts, #2

Invasions of privacy, loss of privacy, shrinking of the Fourth Amendment, they're all around us. For one example, the PHC* administration is criticizing industry-backed proposals to improve internet security and privacy. Those corporations are not being altruistic; they have thier own interests in mind: The relative lack of privacy protection for non-locally stored data hinders the developemnt and marketing of cloud-based services. Still, it means the White House is against improving online privacy because, they say, it'll make it harder on the cops to watch us.

On another front, moves to require drug tests as a condition for public assistance are being pushed in several states, including Florida, Pennsylvania, New York, and Tennessee. In Florida, Governor Voldemort has already made drug tests mandatory for all state employees.

However, there is class of citizens whose right to privacy must be maintained: gun owners.
The Illinois House passed a bill on Friday that would allow gun owners to have their identities shielded from public disclosure.
Although it was introduced by a GOPper, it passed by a wide margin with bipartisan support.

*PHC = President Hopey-Changey

A few passing thoughts, #1

It's hard to believe that ex-CIA agent and terrorist Luis Posada Carriles was so easily acquitted of perjury charges on Friday. This is a guy who should be charged with terrorism: Driven by his anti-communist fanaticism, he has been connected to the bombing of a civilian airliner, the bombing of two hotels in Havana, and a plot to assassinate Fidel Castro. Instead, he walks on some by comparison lesser charge.

Meanwhile, the US refuses to extradite him to either Cuba or Venezuela, both of which want to try him on the airliner charge, on the grounds that he "might be tortured" - leading those nations (and some others) to mutter about how the empire protects its own and me to wonder where in hell the US gets off being so high and mighty about torture while (just to cite the obvious) Bradley Manning still sits alone in Quantico even as the smear campaign gets going.

As a footnote, Carriles' lead attorney said after the acquittal that "This trial was not a vindication of any kind of violence toward Cuba." This despite having arguned during the trial that he
should have been allowed to retire a hero ... for his service to the country during the cold war.
If he's a hero, the 9/11 hijackers were martyrs. If they weren't, then he isn't.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Rantin' about causing a budget

Okay, so Rep. Paul Rantin' has come out with his "It's not a budget, it's a cause" budget.

And after a day of fawning over how "courageous" he was, a few media outlets started taking a look at the figures and were gobsmacked by the fact that they just didn't add up. My gosh! Reactionaries with phony numbers? Whoda thunk?

So it's already being ripped apart factually and I have no quarrel whatsoever with the analysts and think tanks (e.g., the Center for American Progress, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and the Economic Policy Institute) who have gone after Rantin's rantings. That's what they're supposed to do; that's their job and they have done it well.

I do, however, have a quarrel with the various liberal slash progressive slash lefty commentators who made and still are making the bonehead mistake of treating Rantin's pantings as something to be approached and analyzed seriously, thereby actually serving the reactionaries' strategic interests. They are being idiots.

The thing is, the only real commentary that reached beyond the painfully obvious economic failings of the "cause" has been about the politics of it, almost all of which has come down to "It won't pass." Well, of course it won't pass. Even the most whacked-out wingnuts know it won't pass. They might hope it will pass the House, they might even think that it will, given the combination of TP extremism and the typical "Shut up and do as your told" authoritarian mentality in operation within the GOPper caucus there. But still they know - of course they know - that it won't pass the Senate.

They don't care!

Don't you get it? They don't care. They really don't. The idea of such a declaration - and that's what it is, not a budget so at least give Rantin' props for being upfront about that with his "it's a cause" description - the idea is not to get it passed in any foreseeable future but to make it the basis for debate. To make it the standard to which comparisons will be made. And bluntly, with the unwitting - not to say witless - cooperation of what passes for much of the left in this country, they have already succeeded in that.

Sure you can take a critical look at the numbers, sure you can cite the analyses. But what you don't do is stop there. What you don't do it take it seriously. You don't approach it as if it was a serious proposal that was sufficiently reasonable to deserve careful rebuttal. Instead, you seek to put it outside the range of acceptable discussion.

Denounce it. Decry it. Demonize it. Call it names. They're easy enough to come by because they're accurate. Don't even just say it would "end Medicare," say it's wild-eyed fanaticism that would destroy the basic fabric of American society. Say it would decimate (probably without using that particular high-falutin'-sounding word) our economy, ruin our environment, dismember our society. Say it proves their utter disregard for the welfare of American families. Call it a program "of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich" that would plunge us back into the worst days of the Robber Barons. Call it part of a plan - no, a plot - to undo more than a century of social and economic progress. Label it a fringe document created by and for a fringe element; a rejection of American principles of justice and fairness; beyond the pale, over the top, around the bend. Insist that it does not deserve the regard of decent people.

The attack should be unrelenting. One thing the right does at which the left too often fails is to be open about what it's after. Even if the ideas are unpopular, they will repeat them over and over and over, chipping away at the opposition, making what was unacceptably radical seem more reasonable if only because it has become more familiar, it seems less outrageous because it is no longer a surprise. It's a classic way of moving the Overton window: pushing ideas that are beyond the fringe to make current fringe ideas seem more acceptable. It is strategic thinking.

By contrast, the left seems incapable of such thinking, preferring to all but exclusively focus on the question of "What might pass this year?" and then call - more properly, ask - for that instead of for what the actual goal is. In the real world, in real politics, at the end of the day you will all but always end up with something less than you asked for - which means as long as instead of demanding what you want you ask for the most you think might pass, you will inevitably end up with even less than that. More importantly, what you want will remain off the table precisely because you don't push for it, turning it into a self-fulfilling prophecy. An example was the health insurance reform bill: Single-payer, much less a national health care system, was "off the table" even before the debate began because "it won't pass." The obvious - and quite predictable - result was that even a wimpy "public option" couldn't survive.

Which brings me back to the point: The reactionaries don't care if this so-called "budget" passes because, by Rantin's own admission, it isn't one. It's a "cause." And that cause is the undoing of The Commons, the undoing of any notion of common interests or mutual responsibilities between and among citizens, the undoing of the social contract between the public and the government. That is why this document must be attacked not as a "budget" with funny numbers but for what it is: part of an immoral cause born of selfishness, greed, and indifference to injustice experienced by others. And it is also why it is a terrible mistake that actually plays right into the reactionaries' hands to treat it any other way.

Footnote the One: If you're of a religious mind, in denouncing the "cause" you might refer to Hillel's declaration that the "whole Torah" comes down to "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow." Or you might refer people to the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and call Rantin's "budget" the work of the priest or the Levite who crossed the road and passed by the injured man.

Footnote the Two: "A plot to undo more than a century of social and economic progress?" Yup. And, again, the reactionaries made no secret of it. This is a letter I wrote to my local newspaper some 16 years ago about a George Will column for January 2, 1995:
To George Will goes the honor of being called an honest man. Cutting through the nonsense of Newt and company, he opens the heart of his cohorts’ agenda: “‘Back to 1900,’” he says, “is a serviceable summation of the conservatives’ goal.”

“Back to 1900.” Back to a time before legal labor unions or effective anti-monopoly laws, a time of child labor and twelve hour work days. Back to a time before consumer or environmental protection laws, before regulations requiring safe working conditions, a time when being killed at work was a major cause of death. A time before Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment or disability insurance.

“Back to 1900.” Back to when poor people were considered genetic defectives who deserved their condition. Back before civil or voting rights laws, when wives were chattel, blacks were either “good niggers” who got called “boy” or “uppity niggers” who risked being lynched, racism (against Irish, Italians, and others as well as blacks) was institutionalized, sexism the norm, and gays and lesbians, as far as “polite society” was concerned, didn’t exist.

Back, in short, to a time when the elite were in their mansions and the rest of us were expected to know our places, live lives of servitude without complaint, and then die without making a fuss. “Back to 1900" is indeed “a serviceable summation” of the right wing’s goal, which is to undo a century of progress toward economic and social justice in order to selfishly benefit their morally stunted lives.

And if anyone thinks I’m too harsh, remember that Will’s “summation” was offered as a moderate alternative to Christopher DeMuth of the American Enterprise Institute, who proposed we “go back to the Articles of Confederation and start over.” One wonders what, given the chance, they’d do with the Bill of Rights.
That's what they're after. They said it themselves. We should say it, too.

Yet another way to know they're not on your side

This is the headline on a Faux News story:
ACORN Pleads Guilty to Voter Registration Fraud in Nevada
Omigosh! It's true! Everything the reactionaries said about those damn left-wingers was true! OMG!

So to what did the group actually plead guilty?
The violation was for unlawfully providing compensation for registering voters based on the total number of people registered.
Um. that's it? That's what the screaming headline about FRAUD was about?

Yup, that's it. Paying per signature is illegal in Nevada, in fact it's a felony, I gather on the basis that it encourages phony registrations. It appears that ACORN was in fact guilty. But of what, by which I mean, to what effect? If the charge had been something about a massive conspiracy to enable ineligible people to vote or to vote more than once in order to manipulate elections, that would be one thing. But no, that wasn't it:
The original complaint filed in May of 2009, included 26 counts of compensation for registration of voters....
It was the pay-by-signature that was the entire issue from the beginning. But to the wingnuts, it doesn't matter that it was what frankly appears to me to be a technical violation, not when it gives them the change to scream FRAUD!

Here I have to ask: Who was really defrauded in this case? The article says that among the false registrations were names of members of the Dallas Cowboys, who, I think we can assume, were not going to show up at the polls. It seems to me that the real victim here is ACORN, which wound up paying people for "registrations" which were useless both for voting and for advancing ACORN's goals, which included getting more poor people registered to vote. No matter, not when the whack jobs can screech FRAUD!

One more bit of proof of the "they're not on your side" thesis. This is the last paragraph of the article:
ACORN has long faced criticism after dozens of its workers allegedly committed voter registration fraud during the 2008 election. The group dissolved amid falling revenues last year after conservative activists posing as a pimp and prostitute caught some of its workers offering tax advice to them.
They managed to find space to include both those hoary accusations but could find no room to note that the latter case has been more than thoroughly debunked and the former cases arose because most if not all states (quite properly) require the submission of all registration forms gathered, even the ones the gathering orgaqnization believed phony. (Indeed, in at least one case, state officials knew the registrations were phony because ACORN itself flagged them as such when they were submitted.) Nor did they find space to mention that there is not a shred of evidence anywhere that any illegal votes were cast as the result of anything ACORN did or tried to do.

But I imagine that's to be expected because, after all, the truth wouldn't scream FRAUD!

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

I don't want to say I told you so, but....

Updated When the health insurance "reform" was being debated, one of the arguments offered in support was that despite its obvious shortcomings, it was a "good start" on which we would build over time. In response, others - I was among them - noted that the same arguments were made 45 years earlier on behalf of Medicare and Medicaid: They, too, were "first steps" that were sure to be followed with others, others which never came.

Instead, those other voices declared (and again I was among them), future efforts would not go toward improving the system but to defending it, not toward expansion but merely against retraction and that the pressure for changes would not come from the advocates for better access to health care but from those whose goal is forever to move backwards. I was reminded of that by the news that
Congress is poised to send the White House its first rollback of last year's health care law, a bipartisan repeal of a burdensome tax reporting requirement that's widely unpopular with businesses. Even President Barack Obama is eager to see it gone.
Present tax law requires business to file 1099s with the IRS when they purchase more than $600 in services from a vendor in a year. Under the new provision, in 2012 that would be extended to include the purchase of goods. It was intended to ensure vendors pay their taxes and was expected to raise about $25 billion over the next decade to help pay for the costs of the health insurance reform system.

But we can't have that! It's "burdensome!" It'd create "a paperwork nightmare!" Businesses are "already swamped by government paperwork!" No, no, a thousand times no! A nice bipartisan expression of support for business.

And how is the revenue to be made up?
[B]y changing another part of the health care law, requiring more families to repay tax credits designed to help them cover insurance premiums, if their incomes increase beyond certain levels.
The new law says that starting in 2014, low- and middle-income families will be eligible for tax credits to help pay for health insurance if they don't get insurance through their employers. According to the NY Times' "You're the Boss" blog, the credits are paid in advance with the amount based on prior years' income tax returns. If a taxpayer earns more than expected and so gets a bigger credit than they were supposed to, they have to repay part of it. The bill which passed today would require more people to repay more of the credit, which is expected to make up the $25 billion lost by changing the reporting requirements for businesses.

So let's recap: Congress and PHC* are about to relieve businesses of a "burden" (any cost of which, let it be noted, is a tax-deductible business expense) and thereby enable vendors to continue to get away with underpaying their taxes to the tune of billions a year, openly and avowedly by shifting the cost - one which is apparently not considered a burden - on to the shoulders of the poor and the workers who have the temerity to somewhat improve their economic condition.

I doubt even Ezra Klein is going to be able to spin that into a victory for better health care.

Updated to clarify how the credit works.

*PHC = President Hopey-Changey

Monday, April 04, 2011

Another way you know they're not on your side

In covering the nationwide rallies by unions and union supporters today, AP had this to say:
Labor unions want to frame the debate as a civil rights issue, which could draw sympathy to public workers being blamed for busting state budgets with generous pensions.
Yeah, that's it: They're just trying to "frame the issue" in order to "draw sympathy." It's like, y'know, sneaky advertising 'n' stuff. So watch out for those unions! They're just trying to "draw sympathy" so you forget that they're "busting budgets" with their "generous pensions."

When was the last time you heard, say, a corporate CEO or some right-winger or some TPer described as trying to "frame the issue?" I wonder if you ever have. Because in the dreamworld of the media, they don't. Instead, they "make arguments." Indeed, the very same article demonstrates the point:
Walker has argued that collective bargaining is a budget issue. On Friday, he signed into law a bill the strips nearly all collective bargaining benefits from most public workers, arguing the move will give local governments flexibility in making budget cuts needed to close the state's $3.6 billion deficit.
See? Walkalloveryou doesn't try to "frame the issue." Oh, no, not him. Instead, he "makes arguments" about "budget issues" and "flexibility" and "the deficit" - all of which go unchallenged.

About the only thing on which Rush Limbaugh and I agree is that "words have meanings." And the things they imply can express as much as what they actually say.

Footnote A: Something else I found interesting is that both the AP and the New York Times referred to Walkalloveryou having "signed into law" the bill stripping away collective bargaining rights from most Wisconsin public employees without finding space to mention that its implementation has been blocked by court order and so won't go into effect for months, if ever.

Footnote B: To be truly accurate, you have to say that words convey meanings. Words in and of themselves are meaningless; the meaning exists in the minds of the speaker and hearer. The words themselves are just collections of sounds (or, in the case of writing, shapes) that when spoken (or written) in certain patterns and sequences are used to symbolize certain mental concepts so the hearer can know what of those concepts are in the mind of the speaker. All of which I mention just for fun and as a flashback to my interest in clinical psychology and linguistics.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

The Disconnect from Reality Award

Updated We have a winner! The other contestants, demonstrating that their own disconnect was not total, wisely withdrew in the face of this challenge.

About two weeks ago, radical fundamentalist idiot and all-around anti-Muslim bigot Terry Jones held a self-styled "trial" of the Qur'an. The "jury" was 12 members of his own church, and they found it
guilty of five “crimes against humanity,” including the promotion of terrorist acts and “the death, rape and torture of people worldwide whose only crime is not being of the Islamic faith.”
Has he even read the Old Testament? No matter, the condemned book was then burned, with Jones, dressed in a judicial robe, overseeing. (“That actually burned quite well,” Jones said.) Anger in Afghanistan boiled over, leading to riots in which a number of people, including some UN staff, were killed.

In his winning submission yesterday, Jones said "We don’t feel responsible for that" despite having
considered the possibility that burning the text might elicit a violent response and that innocent people might be killed.
While that infantile disconnect between one's action and another's reaction despite having predicted just that reaction could have been enough to win the award, he sealed it by demanding that the United States and United Nations take “immediate action” against Muslim nations in retaliation for the deaths of UN staff and insisting that the book-burning was not vindictive and that he took no pleasure in it at all but was "obligated" to do it because he supports the US court system.

That is champion-level disconnect. Congratulations, Mr. Jones.

Updated with a few additional details.

Uninentional Humor Dept.

Headline on a piece in the Wall Street Journal:

We've Become a Nation of Takers, Not Makers

The author is Stephen Moore, senior economics writer for The Wall Street Journal editorial page, who I'm sure makes many things and takes nothing. Except, of course, sense and the cake.

Friday, April 01, 2011

The most important fact about Libya is not in Libya

I'm tired and have been struggling with a bad case of writer's block so I won't be surprised if on reviewing this tomorrow I find typos and garbled sentences. Don't you be, either.

Our war in Libya is now about two weeks old and the main thing that has come out of it so far is the conviction that Barack Obama, recently dubbed here as PHC, should henceforth be known as GHC - that is, instead of as President Hopey-Changey, as Generalissimo Hopey-Changey. He has apparently decided that the US military is his to use in any way he sees fit, any time he thinks appropriate, anywhere in the world he in his own personal, not-to-be-judged opinion thinks merited.

He has by both his actions and his words argued that he can send US military forces into combat - and don't give me any crap about "surgical strikes" or any of the rest of that bull; when you send your air force against people who can shoot back, that is combat - without even the pretense that there was a threat to the US, without even bothering to make a claim about about some danger to even a single US citizen. There was nothing - nothing except a reference to some vague, amorphous, overall "foreign policy interests." Foreign policy interests, that is, as he defines them.

He sought no approval from Congress; he did not even engage in the wimpy and meaningless charade of "consultation" - even though most of those who have commented on it have said they think that if he had asked for approval, he would have gotten it. So why not get it? Because he just goddamn didn't think it was necessary and wanted to make the point that it was not necessary. Asking for approval would imply Congress has a role in when and where the US military is to be employed - and that it precisely what he wanted to deny. "It's my air force and it'll go wherever and do whatever I want it to and I don't need your stinkin' approval. Bombs away."

Even Shrub didn't go that far: He at least claimed "getting the 9/11 attackers" as justification for his war on Afghanistan and some "imminent" (and yes, they did use that word at least twice) danger as justification for his war on Iraq. He at least went through the motions of Congressional authorization for attacking Afghanistan - which he then stretched beyond rationality to justify invading Iraq, but he at least pretended to have authorization. Not here, not any more. We have gone from a Constitutional principle that while the president, as the commander-in-chief, has ultimate authority over how military forces are deployed, Congress decides if and when they are deployed; to one where the president can respond to an immediate attack or threat before getting Congressional authorization; now to this Obama Doctrine where an attack or threat is no longer required and the whole idea of Congressional approval becomes a gray fog of "maybe at some point if it's not inconvenient for me."

You think that's overstated? It's not: During a classified briefing for members of the House on Wednesday, Hillary Clinton said the administration would simply ignore any moves by Congress to exercise its Constitutional powers. In the words of Rep. Brad Sherman,
She said they are certainly willing to send reports [to us] and if they issue a press release, they'll send that to us too.
In other words, "'Shut up,' she explained."

Barack Obama, the supposed Constitutional scholar, has shit on the Constitution and disgraced himself, the office of the presidency, and the best principles of the nation. And instead of the condemnation such arrogance, such centralization of power, deserves, it has in too many cases been ignored, downplayed, or worst cheered by people who damn well should know better but are just so happy to have a "liberal" war president ("We're not weak! We're not weak!") that they lose - or rather willingly abandon - the capacity for rational thought.

When George Bush raised the notion of "preemptive war," a policy of, as it was described, attacking real or imagined enemies before they became serious threats and so supposedly preventing such threats from arising, it was quite properly met with a chorus of condemnation from the left. But not this time. Not when PHC - excuse me, GHC - is in charge. Rather, a distressingly, depressingly, large number of ostensibly liberal or left voices have instead been a hallelujah chorus: "He's gone to the UN! He's working with NATO! That is just so totally different from Bush that it's just, just awesome! Thank you, sir, may I have another?"

Admittedly, a few of those heads have begun to clear: For one example, Rachel Maddow, who at the start of this was so awestruck by GHC's awesome awesomeness that his butt must have been wet for a week from the kissing she gave it, has lately been expressing a more hesitant tone of "Okay, now what - we got into this, how do we get out?"

Such doubts, while late, are welcome and certainly richly deserved. This war was founded (as most wars are) on platitudes and lies, so much so that even the flacks and hacks already can't make a good show of conviction in claiming it's all about "protecting civilians" like we were told at the start; indeed, it would be hard to find anyone who still makes that claim in more than the most perfunctory way. While that loss of conviction in original claims is also true of most wars, the fact that in this case it has become so obvious so quickly marks it as something special even in those blood-stained annals.

So yes, at first it was all about "protecting civilians," or so we were repeatedly told. That, it was said, required a "no-fly zone" over the eastern part of Libya which almost literally with the next breath became a no-fly zone over the whole country. The cruise missiles started flying even as the target list was being expanded from no-fly to no-planes as Libyan jets were destroyed as they sat on the ground. Then the excuse became to save Benghazi from a "massacre," the evidence for which consisted largely of blatant assertion but which was used to justify attacking Qaddafi's ground forces and his compound in Tripoli, the connection of the latter with the claimed mission going unexplained. Meanwhile, the area where "civilians need our protection" seemed to move west and east along with the rebels' advances and retreats: By last weekend the US had deployed AC-130 gunships and A-10 attack aircraft, which are designed for close air support, not for enforcing a "no-fly zone."

And now the idea of arming the rebels is being openly discussed (Obama: “I’m not ruling it out. But I’m also not ruling it in.") as it's revealed that CIA agents are and have been for some time on the ground in Libya, making contacts with the rebels and obtaining intelligence to coordinate air strikes.

Combined with the clear desire of Western (and some Arab) nations that this ultimately leads to Qaddafi being gone, all of it bears less the marks of humanitarian protection of non-combatants and more the marks of choosing sides in a civil war.

But that, despite what it means for GHC's power-grab, comes as a thrill to some, such as, for one prominent media example, Ed Schultz, whose giggling delight at seeing Libya bombed (something he has desired ever since PanAm 103 went down over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988) has become an embarrassment to at least some of us who have enjoyed his strong and long-standing pro-union, pro-worker opinions. He won't even accept calling the rebels "rebels." Oh no, he insists, they are "freedom fighters." Admittedly, part of that is him taking enjoyment in throwing the right wing's slogans back at them, but part is clearly a conviction born of his hatred of Qaddafi for having "killed Americans" (as if there were no non-Americans killed on that flight) that has lead him to the, if you will, faith-based conclusion that any opposition to Qaddafi is by definition "pro-freedom." It's a great example of truthiness, the quality of something being "true" simply because you want it to be.

But there are serious reasons to question that belief, a belief that runs far ahead of the facts. One of the purposes of those CIA agents is to gather information on the identity and goals of the rebels because Western nations don't actually know a lot about them. Der Spiegel (Germany) asked the question directly:
For the international community, the intervention is[, or at least is presented as being,] about defending the fundamental values of freedom, human rights and self-determination. But the question is: Are all those who have a say in Benghazi just as interested in freedom, human rights and self-determination?
(The phrase in brackets is my addition.)

The available answers are not encouraging.

The BBC (UK) presents some of the leading figures in the rebel council as a mix of people with real human rights credibility and former members of Qaddafi's government, who may well be more interested in jockeying for power after Qaddafi goes down or Libya breaks in two. For example, two men it cites as being seen by many as possible leaders of the rebel army and perhaps of a divided Libya are Abdul Fatah Younis, Qaddafi's former interior minister and Khalifa Haftar, who had been head of the armed forces.

While Haftar broke with Qaddafi over 20 years ago, Younis had been in charge of Libya's special forces for the past 41 years. He had served Qaddafi ever since the 1969 coup that brought the dictator to power. Now he claims to be all-out for democracy. When asked what kind of democracy, he says, vaguely and basically irrelevantly to the question,
I dream of a genuine democracy in which we Libyans can lead a five-star life,
a democracy he quite weirdly says can be easily established precisely because, as Der Spiegel notes,
Libya is a political no man's land. There are no parties or unions, and the highest form of political organization are soccer clubs. The only thing this country can draw on is the ruling elite in the leadership circle surrounding Gadhafi and his children,
a ruling elite in which Younis was a central figure for more than four decades. (So maybe his notions about democracy are not so weird after all.) On the broader front,
after six weeks of revolution, the tone is no longer being set by the youths, lawyers and professors that were there at the beginning, but also an increasing number of defectors from the old regime. Most of these men, in their ironed shirts and ties, were ministers, ambassadors, military officers or businessmen, and many of them had ties to Saif al-Islam, one of Gadhafi's sons. They all had good lives under the Gadhafi regime, and now that want to salvage what's left. Since the air strikes began, it's been clear that the end is coming for Gadhafi. So they are pushing their way to the forefront. ...

[A] quasi-president and quasi-prime minister are in place, both jockeying for position. The new prime minister is Mahmoud Jibril, whose job it is to lead the new government that may or may not exist. ... The other man, the one people call "our new president" is Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, chairman of the National Council.

The one thing that unites these two men is that both were long-time supporters of the regime -- Jibril as an economic functionary and Abdel-Jalil as justice minister. ...

The sentences [Abdel-Jalil] speaks could have been lifted directly from a Soviet revolutionary handbook. "The National Council is legitimized by the local committees made up of revolutionaries in the liberated cities and villages," he declares.
That is, the rebel government is legitimate because it is supported by the rebels who support the rebel government. In light of that logic, I suppose this next bit wasn't surprising:
Asked when elections will be held, the president replies, "We're not concerned with these details."
Meanwhile, reports of rebels in Benghazi making mass arrests as armed gangs of young men roam the streets at night looking for suspected collaborators, of mistreatment of those taken prisoner, and of killings of regime supporters have been circulating for more than a week. (Sidebar: Are we now going to bomb the rebels to protect those non-combatants? Or does the protection only apply to those we endorse? Foolish question, I know.) The city is reported to be "descending into mistrust and fear" with people afraid to say anything either for or against the rebels or the Qaddafi regime, afraid to go out at night, afraid even to give out their telephone number. There are claims of death squads on both sides.
Benghazi's central hospital admits five, sometimes 10, patients each day with gunshot wounds. Two pick-up trucks outfitted with machine guns guard the hospital entrance and photos of missing people adorn the walls.
I have to say that if none of this sets off all kinds of alarm bells for you, if for you this adds up to "freedom fighters," then your definition of "freedom" is a hell of a lot different from mine.

If the bills still aren't ringing, consider the closing words of Der Spiegel's article:
The rebels' mood, exuberant and lighthearted in the beginning, has shifted. Their rhetoric is becoming increasingly tense and they dismiss any criticism as propaganda. One former air force commander -- now "spokesman for the revolutionary armed forces" -- says, "anyone who fights against our revolutionary army is fighting against the people and will be treated accordingly."

Another man [identified by the Los Angeles Times as Abdelhafed Ghoga], also a member of the National Council, talks about "enemies of the revolution" and declares that anyone who doesn't join the rebel side will get a taste of revolutionary justice: "We know where they are and we will find them."

These are the same threats, word for word, that Gadhafi uses to scare his opponents.
None of this, of course, means that Qaddafi doesn't deserve to be booted out and spend the rest of his miserable life in one of the dank, urine-stink cells in which so many of his opponents languished and died. Nor does it mean that the rebels will not force him out, although without a major Western military involvement, that possibility seems remote. But it does mean two things: One, talk of "freedom fighters," particularly of "freedom fighters" who should be armed by the US (or by France, which is by all accounts the NATO nation most willing to do just that) when so little about the rebels is known and what is known is so disturbing, is not only ignorant and foolish, it is downright frelling stupid.

And two, for us here at home the biggest legacy of this war will be the further erosion of Congressional Constitutional authority and the continued centralization of military authority in the hands of one person, the president. Another line will have been crossed. GHC insists that this war has not established some kind of "Obama Doctrine" to be applied "in cookie-cutter fashion" (as if such doctrines ever are) but what can't be denied is that this now stands as a precedent, one he or some future president can call on whenever they think it useful, one under which the president on their personal authority can order US forces into combat on whatever pretext or for whatever purpose, for however long, deemed to be in line with their foreign policy. Not only is no "imminent" threat required, there need be no threat at all - and Congress not only need not give approval either before or after the fact but can and should be ignored completely.

And if that notion, if the continuing move in that direction that this represents and establishes, does not disturb you, then not only is your understanding of freedom quite different from mine, your understanding of democracy and the nature of a free republic is as well.
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