Thursday, July 28, 2011

Yet one more thing noted in passing

So Judson Phillips, the founder of Tea Party Nation, rambles on in the Washington Post about how
We do not have a debt crisis. We have a spending crisis. There is only one way you get to a debt crisis — you spend too much money.
Now, that last part is complete bullshit: While some people do just overspend, the way most people get into a "debt crisis" is a sudden emergency or turn of events, such as loss of a job, health issues, divorce, and so on. (In fact, health care costs are the single most common factor in personal bankruptcies, cited in 62% of cases.) Only the comfortably unafflicted such as Phillips who have never had the experience of daily calls from bill collectors or of having the idea of bankruptcy move out of the merely theoretical could continue to make the smug, condescending, and full of crap claim that he does.

But what I actually wanted to note was something else: The deceptive use of sources.

For one example, he cites a GAO report from March which he claimed showed
billions of tax dollars that were being squandered in duplicative, wasteful programs or ones that had completely failed or were fraudulent.
Um, not really, no. The primary focus of the report was on waste, yes, but it was on waste due to inefficiency resulting from programs being scattered across various agencies, leading to duplication of efforts. Not that the programs themselves, i.e., their purposes and goals, were wasteful, but that the way they functioned was. The focus, that is, was not on the programs but on efficiency.

What's more, "failed" programs and "fraud" were mentioned neither in the cover letter attached to the report nor in its summary. In the body of the report they were mentioned only in passing as among possible causes of some cases of "improper payments."

Of course, Phillips would claim he'd been accurate because the word "fraud" did appear in the report, but clearly that is not what he expressed, which was that the report gave equal stress to "failed" programs and "fraud" as it did to inefficiency and laid equal blame on them for waste - which it flatly did not. Put another way and bearing in mind my definition of a lie is "a statement made with the intent to deceive," Phillips lied.

(Interestingly, Phillips in his "we're spending too much" fury doesn't get around to mentioning that the GAO's analysis also revealed duplication and inefficiencies in so-called tax expenditures - that is, it included means of "revenue increases," higher taxes, in its proposed fixes. I wonder how he missed that.)

Piling on the "I'm citing this source thinking you won't look closely at it if at all" bullshit, Phillips doubles down with this:
The GAO found in 2008 that more than 40 percent of the purchases made with government cards were improper, fraudulent or constituted embezzlement. These credit cards are being used to purchase Xboxes, lingerie and more.
Again, a serious distortion of what the report actually says. What the GAO did was to test the internal fiscal controls of various agencies by asking for documentation that purchases had been properly authorized and that someone other than the cardholder signed for them when they came.
Using a statistical sample of purchase card transactions from July 1, 2005, through June 30, 2006, GAO estimated that nearly 41 percent of the transactions failed to meet either of these basic internal control standards.
Note well: It doesn't say a damn thing there about fraud or embezzlement; it doesn't even assert the purchases were improper. Only that they weren't properly documented.

Again, Phillips would defend himself by noting that the GAO did go on to say that the lack of proper controls had lead to "examples of fraudulent, improper, and abusive purchase card use" and mentioned some specific cases. But again, that's not the essence of what he expressed, the impression he meant to give, which rather was that the GAO found that fraud and embezzlement make up 41% of government credit card purchases. That is, he lied.

His use of sources was thoroughly if unsurprisingly dishonest.

What was I just saying about Rule #13?

Footnote: The term "improper payment" was defined by the GAO as "any payment that should not have been made or that was made in an incorrect amount (including overpayments and underpayments) under statutory, contractual, administrative, or other legally applicable requirements. Reported improper payments also include payments for which insufficient or no documentation was found."

Which means "improper payments" can be a measure of government efficiency but not as the basis for a claim that government is "spending too much." That's not only because some of the payments may have been proper but just lack documentation, but because if the government underpays, the amount of the underpayment still gets added to the total of improper payments.

Just by way of example to make that clear, leave aside cases of inadequate documentation and just think of over- and underpayments, if the GAO had found $25 billion in overpayments and $100 billion in underpayments, it would record that as $125 billion in "improper payments." But instead of meaning the government spent $125 billion too much, it would actually mean it spent $75 billion too little.

Noted in passing again

As I expect you're aware, Bill O'Reilly, the man with the perfect initials, has been frothing about how it's so, so, really really evil and wrong and just so damn liberal media protecting Islamist terrorists and attacking Christianity for that media to be calling right-wing Christian terrorist Anders Breivik "a Christian" even though that's exactly how he described himself.

Others have effectively mocked BO's asininity, so I'll leave that aside, but on my own behalf, I feel moved to point out that while it's not a perfect example, this clearly does fall within the reach of Rule #12 of my list of rules for right-wingers to use in avoiding dealing with reality:
Rule #12: Whenever faced with the evil resulting from some other winger following or acting on your arguments, accuse those who point out that fact of "politicizing a tragedy." Never, never, never admit any responsibility for the meaning or impact of your own words.
Oh, and Rule #13 fits pretty well, too:
Rule #13: When all else has failed - and even when it hasn't - lie.
That one gets used a lot, I find.

Noted in passing

So it develops that on Tuesday, Randi Zuckerberg, the marketing director for Facebook, told a panel discussion on social media that "anonymity on the Internet has to go away." Your real name should be attached to anything you say or do on the web.

Last August, then-CEO of Google Eric Schmidt said much the same thing. Their reasons were different: Zuckerberg claimed it would end cyberbullying while Schmidt fretted and fumed about a "world of asynchronous threats" where it's "dangerous" for governments to be unable to identify you.

Be that as it may, I find it let's say notable that these calls have come from high executives of corporations which have a clear financial interest in gathering increasing amounts of personally-identifying information about their users.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Footnote to the preceding

As I discussed about 10 days ago, one of the cost-cutting (i.e., benefit-cutting) measures that PHC* wants to apply to Social Security is shifting the method of calculating cost of living adjustments (COLAs) from the Consumer Price Index, or CPI, to what's called a chained-CPI. Chained-CPI supposedly tracks how consumer behavior changes as prices change, particularly how they switch to cheaper alternatives in the face of rising prices. The classic example is dropping beef in favor of chicken.

As a result of this focus on the purchase of cheaper alternatives, chained-CPI will always, by its very nature, report a lower rate of inflation than the CPI will. So switching to chained-CPI would be a stealth benefit cut for people on Social Security because while they would still get COLAs, the increase would be less than it otherwise would have been. And the effect is cumulative so the longer you're on Social Security (i.e., generally, the older you are), the bigger a gap you'll experience.

That's bad enough, but writing in The Guardian on Monday, Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, notes that the Bureau of Labor Statistics has created an index to track the inflation rate experienced by the elderly, whose consumption patterns are not the same as those younger. (For example, health care takes up a greater portion of the income of the elderly than it does of those younger.) Although the index is considered experimental, and so, as an agency-produced description of the method says, "any conclusions drawn from these data should be treated with caution," still, as Baker says,
[t]his index actually has shown a somewhat higher rate of inflation than the CPI currently used to adjust benefits. In other words, it implies that the current cost of living adjustment is too low, not too high.
That is, despite the ranting and raving of the reactionary budget hawks and their Dimcrat echoers and enablers that the old geezers have it too soft, it is more likely that we have been short-changing them for years.

And you have about as much chance of seeing that become a topic of discussion as you have of seeing the Congressional Progressive Caucus budget get front page treatment from the New York Times, which has never printed a single word about it.

*PHC = President Hopey-Changey

De basement of debasement

I really find this whole thing nauseating in the way it lays bare the utter moral corruption of our entire crop of national misleaders, but I do have to make this observation about the debt ceiling issue.

So right now we have come down to two major, pretty much last-minute, proposals. One, from Harry "Strong as a Single" Reed (not a typo) calls for raising the debt ceiling $2.4 trillion, enough to get through the 2012 elections, coupled with $2.7 trillion in program cuts over the next decade. Those cuts supposedly do not include the so-called "big three" (Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid) but the proposal also includes establishing a so-called "Super Congress," an above-both-chambers super-committee that would make recommendations for future cuts (which could include cuts in those three programs or any others), recommendations that could not be amended but would be guaranteed a fast-tracked up-or-down vote.

The other comes from John Boner (also not a typo), aka Sir John of Orange. It would cut spending $1.2 trillion while raising the debt ceiling $1 trillion, requiring another round of chicken in early 2012, just as the presidential campaign is getting into high gear. That round would involve an additional rise in the debt ceiling of $1.6 trillion, conditioned on that same Super Congress getting approval of at least $1.8 trillion in additional program cuts.

While the GOPpers rant and rave about how Boner's cuts are not cruel enough and the Dimcrats sigh with relief that Reed "protects" Social Security (for now) as if that made it acceptable, the thing I wanted to comment on is that besides the Super Congress, the proposals share one other common feature: They involve no tax hikes.

That is, they would involve no burden on the rich.

We're told we "all" will have to sacrifice - but not the rich.

We "all' will have to suffer some pain - but not the rich.

We "all" will have to tighten our belts - but not the rich.

So one thing that all our leaders - all of our national leadership - seem to agree on is that the people who have gained the most should give back the least. That those who possess the most should contribute the least. That those who caused our current straitened condition through their recklessness and greed, those who, as I said last week,
have eaten the meat and even the gristle and sucked out the marrow leaving us only the scraps they thought it too much trouble to pick up,
that those are the people too valuable, too important, too worthy, too deserving, to be expected to suffer a single scratch even as the rest of us continue to be mauled.

Nauseating may be too kind a description.

Footnote One: Several people have commented on the extra-Constitutional nature of that Super Congress, which according both proposals would consist of 12 members of Congress, six from each body and six from each party. Its extraordinary power to issue proposals that can't be changed but will be voted on would in essence, in practical if not technically legal fact, make its 12 members the equal of all 535 members of Congress (since one assumes members of the super-committee will be able to vote on their own proposals) - almost as if it were a fourth branch of government.

Which is really creepy.

Footnote Two: About 10 days ago or so I made mention of the budget plan from the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which was released back on April 6. This, unlike the bullet points and bumper stickers we see even now from the Demopublican misleadership, is a real legislative proposal.

It would balance the budget by 2014, produce a surplus by 2021, reduce public debt as a share of GDP, and reduce the deficit by $5.6 trillion over 10 years, double what Reed and Boner are proposing. And it would do it without harming the interests of real people - protecting not only Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid but food aid, student loans, unemployment assistance and jobs programs, environmental programs, housing assistance, and much more.

I said then it wouldn't surprise me if you hadn't heard of it. It still wouldn't. Which makes the question of why you haven't even more significant.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Everything you need to know in one sentence...

Updated ...about exploiting tragedies for ideological ends.

Norway was the site of what was certainly a terror attack yesterday, with a bomb going off in the capitol Oslo and a gunman shooting up a youth camp in what police believe are connected assaults. In covering the event, Reuters had this to say:
There was no clear claim of responsibility and while the attacks appeared to bear some, but by no means all, of the hallmarks of an Islamist militant assault, analysts said it was too early to draw any conclusions.
Um, then why mention it? Why couldn't it just say "Analysts said it was too early to draw any conclusions about who the perpetrators might be?" Why was it necessary to hint darkly about "Islamist militants" when there is "no clear claim of responsibility" and - weasel word on top of weasel word on top of weasel word - the attacks only "appeared" to have "some" of the "hallmarks" of Islamist extremist attacks? And what "hallmarks?" The use of bombs? "The attacks appeared to bear some, but by no means all, of the hallmarks of an IRA attack." That there may have been some coordination involved? "The attacks appeared to bear some, but by no means all, of the hallmarks of a US military operation."

More seriously, the use of guns in a shooting spree? "The attacks appeared to bear some, but by no means all, of the hallmarks of an attack by right-wing extremists."

Reuters doubled down later in the article:
Lilit Gevorgyan, analyst at IHS Global Insight, said the most likely suspects were al-Qaeda-linked or inspired groups, but added:

"As the news continues trickling in from Utoeya, however, right-wing extremist groups or even a lone perpetrator with army training or access to ammunition and weaponry could be behind the plot."
It's al-Qaeda! Except, um, maybe it's not. But it's al-Qaeda!

Eight graphs after that, eleven graphs after raising the looming specter of "Islamist militants," Reuters gets around to saying that
[t]he Oslo attacks, though hitting two targets, were not simultaneous and the delay between them left open the possibility of a single perpetrator.
But it's al-Qaeda! Run! Hide! They're everywhere! Surrender your civil liberties! And most important, be afraid!

Updated with the later news that the death toll has reached nearly 90, with seven killed in the Oslo bombing and 80 at the youth camp on Utoya Island. What's more,
[t]he Norwegian press say the man in custody for the terror attacks in Oslo and a nearby island today appears to have acted alone, and doesn't seem to have any links to Islamist militants.
He is, instead, a Norwegian national and a Christian conservative.
That may be relevant to his motives, since right-wing extremist groups have cropped up in Scandinavia over the issue of immigration, but the fact is those motives are unclear. What is clear is the bogus nature of the rush to judgment that took place in the wake of the attack.

Footnote to the Update: Credit where it's due goes to the Christian Science Monitor, which in the second paragraph of the story linked in the Update says
there was speculation in this paper and elsewhere that Islamist militants could have been involved.
No ducking of the fact of the prior coverage. I like that. Quite unlike Reuters:

At 1:58 PM EDT on Friday, in a "snap analysis," a Reuters report raised the possibility of both Islamist and right-wing terrorism, but called the former "more likely" and went on to cite various prior threats to Norway over its involvement in Afghanistan.

At 7:15 PM, in the Reuters article linked at the top of the post, the idea of right-wing terrorism was clearly downplayed and at 7:52 PM the agency ran a story describing six Islamist militant groups as potential suspects on the grounds that they had "a record of links to plots in Europe." No right-wing groups were mentioned.

At 8:08 PM came the first story that identified the man arrested as an "ethnic Norwegian."

And at 11:09 PM comes the update, which now quotes a different "expert" saying he "suspected a right-winger, rather than any Islamist group" and that it would be "very odd for Islamists to have a local political angle." There were no references to "al-Qaeda-linked or inspired groups" - nor was there any acknowledgment of, or reference, to having promoted that spin earlier. It just has been disappeared.

What remained, however, was the (apparently now irrelevant) references to prior threats against Scandinavian countries from Islamist sources.

And so it goes in mediaworld.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Another reason to note July 21

As I said in the previous post about the space program, Barack Obama doesn’t want to end the program, just redirect it along his preferred lines. He doesn’t deny knowledge, he just wants to decide what knowledge is most important for NASA to pursue. But there are too many people today who do deny knowledge, who do deny science, sometimes for the sake of profit and sometimes for the sake of ideology - but in either case it amounts to a celebration of ignorance.

Today is an appropriate time to take a look at one source of ideologically-driven celebration of ignorance that has persisted for a long, long time. Today, July 21, is the 86th anniversary of the end of the Scopes "monkey trial" - which means, of course, that the subject is evolution. Some people thought the debate ended with the ignominious conclusion of that trial, but it didn't - not by a long shot. So herewith, in note of the date, a post that sort of compiles and expands on some of my previous posts on the subject.

In the first three months of 2011 there were nine creationism-related bills introduced in seven states, more than in any year in recent memory. Those states were Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. Happily, most of those bills died either in committee or on the floor - but not all: The Tennessee state Assembly passed a bill designed to get creationism into the public schools. The state Senate is not expected to act on the bill before next year, though.

Even though most of the bills failed, the events of this year still make clear that this is by no means a dead issue.

There have been battles in other states, as well. Both Kansas and Ohio, to cite two, have seen seesaw battles with attacks on evolution education in public schools followed by (for the moment, anyway, successful) counter-attacks in favor of science that have restored evolution to the public school curriculum.

On the other hand, in 2008 Louisiana passed a bill allowing for "nonstandard materials" to be used in science classrooms, opening up a gap for creationist materials to slide through. Last month, an attempt to repeal that law fell short.

And despite the failures of most of the bills introduced this year, two members of New Hampshire legislature - New Hampshire, the state that continues to embarrass the rest of New England - have filed plans to introduce creationism bills in the next session of the legislature. One bill would require teaching of evolution in public schools as "just a theory." The other would mandate the teaching so-called "intelligent design" in public schools.

"Intelligent design," what I call "creationism in its Sunday best," is the fall-back attempt to undermine the theory of evolution used by those who persist in considering the Bible to be a science textbook but know that their real belief - creationism - will not succeed. "Intelligent design" argues, at bottom, that life is so complicated that a "higher power" must have had a hand in its development - while at the same time disingenuously claiming it's not in any way religious because the nature of that "higher power" remains undefined. (Of course, by failing to address the question of the nature of the very driving force it identifies, it's also not in any way scientific, but leave that aside for now.)

Anywhere "intelligent design" has been introduced and subjected to legal challenge, courts recognized its religious foundations and struck it down as a violation of separation of church and state. So in a fall-back from the fall-back, the trick has becomes to hide its introduction inside "modern critiques of evolution," which are to be "debated" as an exercise in "critical analysis." Evolution - surprise! - is most commonly the only area to get this "critical thinking" treatment. The Tennessee bill, for example, would require state and local authorities to help teachers develop programs to encourage “critical thinking” about the “strengths and weaknesses” of "controversial" scientific theories. The only "controversial" ideas the bill mentions as needing this treatment are evolution, global warming, and human cloning.

The net effect and of course intent of this program, especially in any sort of "debate" format, is to set such "critiques" on an equal footing with the actual theory, whereby the theory of evolution becomes just one idea among many. As a supporter of the Louisiana creationism bill said “both sides, creationism side and evolution side, should be presented, and let the students decide what they believe." That is, scientific fact becomes a matter of personal opinion, kind of like who was the greatest left-hander of all time. (Sandy Koufax! Well, ya gotta admit he at least has a good claim.)

But note that when I say "theory" there, I'm using the term in the scientific sense. When someone says "evolution is merely a theory," the proper answer is "you're right, except there is nothing 'mere' about a theory." Observations obtain data. Take that data, use it to make an educated guess about the nature of what was observed, a guess that includes a prediction of future data, and you have a hypothesis. A hypothesis repeatedly and successfully tested by verifiable predictions can become a theory.

Put another way, in science, a theory is a hypothesis confirmed by observation and/or experiment to the point where it does not require further demonstration to be accepted as valid and the burden of proof is on those who would reject it. In the case of evolution it is no longer enough - and hasn't been for a century or more - to say evolution can be doubted because we don't know every detail of the process and we haven't found every transitional fossil. Both of those are true - but the basic principle of evolution, the principle of change over time in interaction with environment driven by natural selection stands unchallenged by anything but pure assumption. Saying evolution should be doubted or questioned because questions remain is exactly - exactly - like saying the existence of gravity should be questioned because scientists who are looking to unite gravity with quantum mechanics believe that the force of gravity should be carried ("mediated") by particles called gravitons, which no one has ever found.

Evolution is a theory. It is not a guess, it is not "just an idea," it is not a hypothesis. It is a theory. Not one easily tested in a laboratory, obviously, but one whose agreement with an enormous number of observations from biology, geology, and paleontology is overwhelming.

Yes, there are arguments about the details, about the exact nature of the process, was it incremental change or punctuated equilibrium for example, how much of a feedback loop is involved (that is, as organisms change, how much do they affect their environment, thereby creating additional pressure for more change); there is good healthy (and even sometimes acrimonious) debate about all that and more. But those, again, are the details, not the structure.

What's more, it's true that strict, classic, narrowly-defined Darwinism is no longer generally accepted - but that's because we’ve learned stuff in the last 150+ years. Among things we've learned about is genetics, which provides the thing that Darwin didn’t have, the lack of which troubled him: a physical mechanism through which natural selection can work to produce change. That knowledge didn’t exist in Darwin's time, but now it does - which means the stuff we have learned since Darwin has not denied or questioned the theory of evolution, it has strengthened it. The basic principle of evolution remains and has withstood every scientific assault on it, every scientific challenge to it.

And the more we learn about self-organizing systems - the tendency of any sufficiently complex system to spontaneously organize itself into patterns - and therefore the less evolution involves the "random change" and "random chance" on which its critics charge it depends, the stronger it becomes. Bluntly, while the details are still argued, evolution itself simply is no longer a matter of scientific debate and hasn't been for some time.

The drive to change the physical reality evolution represents, or, more accurately, to change our understanding of it, comes from a collection of scientific know-nothings backed by a handful of "scientists" - almost none from relevant fields - who have, sadly, allowed their personal ideologies to trump their science training.

Evolution is a fact. It's a physical reality. In fact, evolution is the basic bottom-line principle of modern biology. And anyone who tells you different is either lying to you or has no idea what the hell they are talking about.

Despite that simple fact and unhappily, Gallup polls since 1982 have consistently shown that somewhere around 45% of the US population believes God created humans in their present form sometime within the past 10,000 years. Believes, that is, in creationism.

This is really, really sad and disturbing. You don't have to be an evolutionary biologist, you don't have to have read the research papers yourself, to know if evolution (or, in fact, any principle in science) has evidence to support it. All you have to do is know if there is a general consensus on the matter. You simply have to pay some minimal attention, especially on a question that keeps coming up, like evolution. And on evolution, that general consensus is overwhelming. But still so many refuse to see.

Certainly the carefully-crafted PR strategies of the creationists, who claim that they are only striving for "fairness" or "balance" and who in some cases claim it's really a matter of "academic freedom," are part of the reason for this sorry state of affairs. Those are the strategies which they use because deception about the science and bluster about non-existent "oppression" are the only weapons they have, since any time they get into a forum where they have to defend their argument with facts and logic instead of sermonizing and bumper stickers, they lose.

Another reason is the corporate media, instinctively choosing conflict over resolution: The "controversy" of "intelligent design" versus "Darwin" is more attractive to, is just much more fun for, editors, publishers, reporters than the dull straightforward fact that "intelligent design" is trash, an anti-science pursuit that, whenever comes up against a question to which it does not already know the answer, throws up its hands, declares "God - excuse me, some intelligent and supremely powerful but (wink, wink) unnamed force - did it," and stops trying to learn. But even that doesn't change the underlying fact that scams like "intelligent design" succeed because people want to believe them.

Which raises something else: 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, not when the number of such true believers is far outstripped by the number of those who deny the scientific facts. One reason, it seems to me, is that a lot of it is just an old-fashioned "ick" factor: Some people are so tied to the idea of a unique specialness in being human, so emotionally invested in the concept of our own completely separate and superior station, that they just can't abide the notion we are in any way connected to other animals, even if any direct link exists in pre-history. You could say 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, reported on in April, compared the brains of people who self-identified as liberals with those of people who self-identified as conservatives. The liberal brains, they found, 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 might be kind of like a grown-up - well, make that "older" - version of being afraid of the dark.

I've argued before that when people feel stressed, when they feel their personal world (i.e., the society around them) doesn't make sense or is changing in ways they don't understand, they tend to reach back for the seeming safety of old, familiar ideas, to try to recreate an imagined time when things were in what seemed to be their proper order. That is, they become conservative. And the more stressed, the more uncomfortable with the changes, they become, the more conservative they become, unwilling to face what I have previously called "the terrifying prospect of change."

Which means, sadly but not surprisingly, almost half of our population lives not only in a state of ignorance but in a state of willful ignorance, a deliberate rejection of science and knowledge. It's not often mentioned, but should be, that to embrace creationism is not only to reject evolution. It's not even to reject all of biology. It's to reject astronomy, which also posits an ancient Earth and an even older universe and depends for its findings on the accuracy of that fact. It's to reject archaeology, which uses dating methods which depend on radioactive decay, our understanding of which, again, depends on an old Earth. It's to reject chemistry and physics, which underlie the methods used by astronomy and archaeology to reach their conclusions. It is, that is, to reject the entire enterprise of science. To reject knowledge per se, to reject learning per se, to reject trying to understand the world.

So am I saying that half of my fellow citizens have been scared and confused into turning their backs on knowledge? Yes - that's exactly what I'm saying. And if you’re going to ask me what to do about that, the truth is I don’t know.

Footnote: They do try so hard to hide their real intent but it just keeps slipping out. The sponsor of one of the bills to be introduced in the next session of the New Hampshire legislature said his bill would include a “study of the proponents' [of evolution] ideology and position on atheism.” The sponsor of other said he opposed evolution because it was “a theory that we are here by accident, that there is no purpose” and having a "purpose" was necessary. That is, believing in evolution strips away your reason to live.

One reason to note July 21

So at 5:57 AM Eastern Time on Thursday, July 21, just one day after the 42nd anniversary of the first Moon landing, the space shuttle Atlantis landed at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, bringing an end to the space shuttle program. Without it, the US will have no way of its own to send astronauts into space for at least several years.

It seems particularly correct to note this event about now because just a few days ago I was at a political gathering - maybe some of you were at similar ones; it was one of those events supposedly about "getting input" but really more a way to expand their mailing list - but anyway, I was there and at the meeting the participants were asked to cite a moment they felt proud of their country or community.

For my part, I said I preferred to think of it in terms of hopeful rather than proud and I cited the example of a state legislator in Massachusetts who changed his mind about supporting an amendment to the state constitution designed to overturn the state Supreme Judicial Court decision allowing for same sex marriage on the grounds that in the year since, "nothing happened." Except for those directly affected, i.e., those who could now marry, life went on as before and all the social stresses and upheavals that had been predicted never materialized - in which case, he said, he could find no reason for the amendment. That, I said, made me hopeful because it was a demonstration of the fact that people can change for the better.

The point of raising this here, though, is that another man there spoke of the Moon landing and how he later saw a space suit of the type the astronauts used with a section cut out so you could see the multiple layers that made up the suit, each with its own purpose, each designed by a team to work with the rest. He said he was impressed with the teamwork that took and asked something to the effect of “Why can’t we still do that? Why can't we still cooperate as a nation on a big project like that?”

I didn’t say say this at the time because it wasn't relevant to the meeting, but I thought to myself "NASA still does that - all the time."

We have become rather blase about space travel; it no longer gets the headlines, no longer generates the excitement, it once did. And our whole attitude about NASA and the end of the shuttle program is frankly confused or at least a real mixed bag.

But even without the star-quality treatment space stuff got in the past, NASA has continued to do some really cool, high-level-of-cooperation-required stuff.

- In February 2001, NASA landed a spaceprobe on an asteroid. Yes, landed.
- In 2005, a NASA probe blew away a section of a comet so we could get a better sense of how and of what they - and other things in the Solar System - are constructed.
- In March of this year, another NASA probe went back to same comet to see how it had changed over the intervening years as a result of the 2005 impact.
- In fact, that probe, called Stardust-NEXT, had been launched in 1999 and by January 2006 had flown through the coma of a comet, collected samples, and flown back past Earth, dropping off a payload of those samples as it went by. It was then sent back out to that second encounter with a different comet.
- Just four days ago, a robot spacecraft went into orbit around an asteroid 117 million miles from Earth.
- And NASA is now planning a mission to fly to an asteroid, take samples from it, and bring them back to Earth.
- Two months ago, a NASA Earth-orbiting satellite confirmed a far-reaching prediction of general relativity, that of "frame-dragging," where a spinning body (such as the Earth) actually warps spacetime by "dragging" spacetime around with it.
- Go back in time: Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, launched in 1977, are now 9 billion miles and 34 years from Earth and they are still producing new data and new discoveries. Just last month, NASA reported that data from the Voyagers shows that the heliosheath, the area where the effect of the solar wind (the stream of particles emitted by the Sun) is being attenuated by interactions with interstellar space, is full of a "froth" of bubbles of magnetic energy - a very unexpected discovery, which is the best kind.

The Hubble Space Telescope, source of all those cool images (and just yesterday, discoverer of a fourth moon around Pluto) - that's NASA. The Chandra X-Ray Observatory - that's NASA. The International Space Station (the ISS) - our part of that, that's NASA.

And tomorrow, NASA is scheduled to announce the landing site for the next Mars rover.

Ah yes, the Mars rovers. On January 4, 2004, the rover named Spirit landed on Mars. It was supposed to operate for 90 days and to travel for up to a kilometer. It ran for more than six years and went nearly 8km; that is, 25 times longer and eight times further than it was originally designed to. In fact, it would have gone longer and further but over a year ago, one of its wheels broke through what looked like a firm crust and the rover got trapped in loose sand. Unable to recharge its solar cells, it fell silent. On May 25, NASA made a final and unsuccessful attempt to contact Spirit.

But that's not really the end of the story, because a few weeks after Spirit landed, its twin rover Opportunity landed on another area of Mars. Now, more than seven years and 30km later, Opportunity is still going strong.

All of this I find exciting and wondrous - because it seems to me that space exploration is one of the purest expressions of what it is to be most human, what is (if you'll pardon the bad grammar) most unique about us: The desire to know. The desire to learn, to understand; the need to have our curiosity satisfied.

And that more than anything is what space exploration is about: knowing, learning, understanding. Knowing what we didn't know before, learning what we hadn't learned before, understanding what we didn't understand before, about time, about space, about how things came to be as they are, about how they will be in the future.

Yes, there have been technological benefits, lots of them - not the least of which is that NASA's need to miniaturize components to save space and weight (and therefore fuel) was a driving force behind the development of integrated circuits. But even without those benefits, the sheer - and I use the word deliberately - glory of knowledge, of learning, would have made it all worthwhile.

But now the space shuttle program, the headliner of US space exploration for the past good number of years, is over. Shut down. Shuttered. For the next several years, the US is going to have to depend on Russian spacecrafts to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS.

Why is this happening? Because Barack Obama wants to impose his vision of space exploration on NASA.

His vision is one in which the space shuttle does not fit, a vision that wants to turn over the sort of missions the shuttles ran to private, profit-driven, corporations. So again, as has happened so many times before, the government (i.e., the public) pays for the research, pays for the development, pays the costs of ironing out all of the inevitable but unexpected kinks, does all the dirty work, and then turns over the whole thing to the same prophets of profit that brag about their derring-do and entrepreneurship and would have us bow down before The Market (pbui).

Now, let's be both clear and fair: Barack Obama is hardly the first president to do this, to want to see his personal vision of space exploration become that of the nation. Indeed, JFK's call to go to the Moon was just that. And Obama does not want to end the space program, he just wants it to focus on what he thinks it should.

But what angers me is that there is no indication that he, anymore than the others before him, went to NASA and talked to the astrophysicists, talked to the astronautical engineers, talked to the astronauts, talked to the people who know what the hell they are talking about, and asked them what they thought was most important, what they thought would be most productive. No, he just wanted his vision, the Big Dream, the Big Picture of "manned" landings on asteroids and then on Mars.

The vision of humans landing on Mars is not, standing alone, objectionable and indeed I have argued that human space flight should remain part of the space program because the idea of people actually going and seeing - even if it is only a select few who are able to physically do that - has a grandeur of its own. But as it stands now, it is a vision that substitutes grandeur for actual learning while making a greater place for the whims of private profit.

And that is why the end of the space shuttle program makes me sad and the day is worth noting.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Happy anniversary

Today, July 16, is the 66th anniversary of the beginning of the nuclear age.

The first-ever explosion of an atomic bomb took place when the bomb, known as the "Gadget," was successfully set off at the Trinity test site near Alamogordo, New Mexico on this day in 1945. It was the culmination of the super-secret Manhattan Project.

The nuclear age became the nuclear war age a few weeks later when Hiroshima was almost obliterated by a single bomb. And while we don't think much about nuclear weapons these days, and while the threat of nuclear war does not seem as great as it once did, that does not mean that either that threat or the weapons which create it have disappeared.

Everything you need to know in one phrase...

...about the demonization of entitlements. It's a bit old, but I just came across it and it still fits. From the Huffington Post:
Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security that are seen by most budget experts as long-term contributors to the nation's spiraling debt. The three programs will make up more than 40 percent of federal spending next year. If left unchecked, they will grow to more than 60 percent of federal spending by 2035, when baby boomers will be at least 70.
"Left unchecked?" "Left unchecked?" What are they, infectious diseases? A flea infestation? A toxic chemical spill? What the hell?

Everything you need to know in one sentence...

...about what's important to The People In Charge.

At a hearing of the House Ways and Means Committee about Social Security earlier this month, eminent economist Sylvester Schieber was asked to explain chained-CPI. He said:
"If the price of a Mercedes goes up … maybe you don't buy the Mercedes, you switch and you buy an Audi or something."
Or something.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Sealing our fates, Part Three

Those of you afflicted with total recall may recognize this as a sort of expanded version of a post I put up back in November. Some things bear repeating. Several times.

On Monday, Obama said Monday that he still wants
the “largest possible deal” in the ongoing deficit-reduction negotiations, and that it is possible to construct a package that would involve shared sacrifice from both sides.
Yes, we're told by oh so many voices that answers to America's fiscal challenges will involve "shared sacrifice."

"Shared sacrifice." Oh, my. What a high-sounding phrase. What a wonderful, "we're all in this together" sound bite. Group hug, gang, and a round of Kumbaya!

Well, I don't want to hear about "shared sacrifice." Not a single freaking word. Not one. Not from John Boner, not from PHC*, not even - in fact especially not - from Bernie Sanders. Because it's a pile of unmitigated crap.

Sacrifice? "Shared" sacrifice? Who the hell are they kidding - or, rather, who the hell are they trying to get away with lying to? There are a hell of a lot of people in this country who over the past few decades have done their share of sacrificing, their share and more. They have seen their wages stagnate, their real household incomes fall, their household economies maintained only by working more and more hours.

We - millions of us - have lost our jobs, six million of us so long ago that unemployment benefits are just a memory, a number that increases daily, and long-term unemployment is the worst ever, accounting for over 44% of the unemployed. We have lost our health insurance coverage and with it, often, our access to health care. Growing numbers have lost homes as foreclosures rise and rise again, foreclosures often driven by outright fraud in the banking industry, fraud which is unpunished and which by all appearances will remain unpunished so we can "look forward, not backward."

More and more of us have sunk into poverty, with the rate now at a 15-year high. We have seen our children go hungry, our futures darken, our hopes that our children will be better off than us shrivel, and discovered too often that the light at the end of the tunnel is just a neon arrow pointing down another tunnel.

And now we are being told that we "all" have to "sacrifice." We "all" must "share the burden." We "all" have to "share the pain." And we are being told this by the very people who have gained, who have gotten richer, fatter, more comfortable, more secure, even as we, like Alice, have been doing all the running we can do, to keep in the same place.

Ten percent of the total personal income in US is now taken home by the richest 0.1% of earners while the share of US national income taken home by workers has plummeted to a record low. All - all - of the increase in real national household income in the US over the past 30 years has gone to the richest 10% of the population while 90% of us have lost ground or at best held our own - and the lower down you are, the more ground you have lost. The income gap between rich and poor, between the rich even and the middle class, has been growing since the late ‘70s; it is now the largest in over 80 years - that's since before the Great Depression.

And what the rich don’t get, the corporations do. Between the second quarter of 2009 and the fourth quarter of 2010, real national income in the US, not just household income but total income, rose by $528 billion. Some $464 billion - that's 88 percent - of that growth was in corporate profits, profits used to enrich corporate executives and shareholders but not to invest or hire even as they sit on their largest cash reserves ever.

And still, still, still those who have gained over these past decades, those who have profited even as the rest of us fell further and further behind, those who have eaten the meat and even the gristle and sucked out the marrow leaving us only the scraps they thought it too much trouble to pick up, they are the ones who now dare to tell us that we "all" have to do our part, we "all" have to sacrifice, that we "all" have to give more so their stock portfolios won't be damaged in some future financial crunch.

So tell us, any of you business leaders, any of you political leaders, any of you pundits and big thinkers; tell us any of you important people, no matter who you are or where you are; tell us any of you sitting in your clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, with your white collars and cut fingernails; tell us, any of you who do not need to raise your voices in order to be heard**; tell us what you are going to sacrifice. Tell us what part of the pain you are going to bear. Not vague generalities about groups and classes with charts and graphs and bullet points, but you, yourself, personally. How great will be your "sacrifice?" How great will be your burden, your pain?

Because I say to you that if we "all" must sacrifice, if we "all" must bear our burden, if we "all" must share the pain, I say to you that the amount of sacrifice in the decades to come should be directly proportional to the amount of gain in the decades just past. That those who have gained the most should give up the most. And that those among us who have already sacrificed, already lost, have already borne their share and more, should not be expected to sacrifice at all, should not be expected to be the widow giving her two mites to the treasury until after - after, I say - you prove that you will do more than the idle rich who cast in only what they thought they could just as well do without***.

You want to talk about "sacrifice?" Fine. Show us your cards. Put up or fucking shut up.

*PHC = President Hopey-Changey
**Look up quotes from C. S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters. No link because in any I found, the relevant quote was buried in a long list of others and so the link was pretty useless. You're on your own.
***Mark 12:41-44

Sealing our fates, Part Two

In all the talk about the “negotiations” over the deficit, amid all the give and take - which really means all the White House give and all the GOPper take - there is a point which has not been made nearly clearly enough:

Barack Obama, PHC* himself, or, as my wife calls him, the Asshole-in-Chief, is talking about trillions of dollars in cuts in domestic spending as part of a "deficit reduction" deal. Contrary to what seems to be the unspoken assumption among too many, including too many who pass as "liberals" or even "progressives" these days, these are not cuts being forced on him either by political opponents or by economic reality. He wants to make these cuts. He wants to cut trillions in domestic spending. He wants to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

How do I know? For one thing, these "discussions" about the debt ceiling didn't just start a few weeks ago. They've been going on since at least February. Across that time, the White House has been doing a "Social Security is on the table no it’s not yes it is no maybe yes no" dance. If it was really "off the table" then it should have been off the table, no maybes, no "we have to look at everything" dodges involved. He was willing to cut so-called entitlements from the start.

The only reason it's not already a done deal is that he also wants some sort of at least symbolic tax increase to go along with it, the better to sell the deal to his own party which likely would break out in open insurrection otherwise and might anyway.

In the last two weeks, this has become just undeniable. On July 6, the Washington Post reported that
President Obama is pressing congressional leaders to consider a far-reaching debt-reduction plan that would force Democrats to accept major changes to Social Security and Medicare in exchange for Republican support for fresh tax revenue. ...

As part of his pitch, Obama is proposing significant reductions in Medicare spending and for the first time is offering to tackle the rising cost of Social Security, according to people in both parties with knowledge of the proposal.
Then on July 10, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said on Meet the Press that Obama is willing to cut Medicare and Medicaid.

If there was any question left about this, it should have been resolved by the news the next day that according to five separate sources with knowledge of negotiations - including both Republicans and Democrats - PHC offered an increase in the eligibility age for Medicare, from 65 to 67, as part of a deal, an offer the White House subsequently confirmed.

The effects of that change would be dramatic:
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, raising the eligibility age to 67 would cause an estimated net increase of $5.6 billion in out-of-pocket health insurance costs for beneficiaries who would have been otherwise covered by Medicare. Seniors in Medicare Part B would also face a 3 percent premium increase, the study found, since younger and healthier enrollees would be routed out of Medicare and into private insurance. Beneficiaries in health care reform’s exchanges would see a similar spike in premiums with the addition of the older population. Employer retiree health costs would also increase by $4.5 billion.
What’s more, PHC has also proposed as part of a deficit deal a change in the way that inflation is calculated in making Cost of Living Adjustments for Social Security benefits. Instead of using the Consumer Price Index, he would use what’s called "chained-CPI" which supposedly takes account of how people's buying habits change as prices rise - and which by its nature invariably reports a lower inflation rate than the CPI does.

The result of such a change would be what some people have accurately called a "stealth benefit cut." As a result of switching methods, you as a retiree would still get a COLA, but it would be less of an increase than what you would have gotten under the method of calculation used across the history of the system from the 1930s to date, so the effect is hidden - you wouldn’t see the cut.

But it is a benefit cut, even as it is designed to be an invisible one. And since the cut recurs with each COLA, the effect is cumulative so the longer you live, the deeper a cut you see. The Social Security Administration estimates that this change would put an additional 175,000 people into poverty by 2030 and nearly a quarter million by 2050.

If even after all this you still doubt that such cuts are being willingly undertaken, consider that on Monday The Incredible Shrinking O said again he wants the "largest possible deal," one that would include "meaningful changes to Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid."

But amazingly enough, you do still, even now, find among the Obamabots (and even a few pundits) the touching - or maybe pitiful - faith that this is all a game, that the White House is just putting out these proposals because they know the GOPpers won't accept them, that they just are using them as a way to show how intransigent, how unreasonable, the GOPpers are.

I call bullshit and this is why:

Remember that commission PHC appointed to supposedly look for ways to cut the deficit? The one that got dubbed the Cat Food Commission? This was from nearly eighteen months ago, a time when there was no screeching about an imminent "debt ceiling crisis." The people he chose to chair it - Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson - both were on record calling for cuts in Social Security; Simpson kept claiming that the system was about to go bankrupt. What's more, a majority of the members of the commission - and remember, he chose these people - were likewise advocates of such cuts.

And when in November the co-chairs released their own report because the commission as a whole couldn't reach the required level of agreement on the particulars? What a shock: It called for cuts in Social Security! And it called for them despite acknowledging that the cuts really wouldn't affect the deficit, the issue the Commission was supposed to be addressing.

How can anyone rationally claim that this Commission was not a setup to enable Obama to call for cuts in Social Security? And how can anyone rationally claim that he now has not put entitlement cuts on the table willingly and indeed wants to make the biggest cuts possible as part of his "largest possible deal?"

We just can’t doubt it: Barack Obama is not trying to protect Social Security, he is not trying to protect Medicare, he is not trying to protect Medicaid. He is right in line with the right-wing deficit hawks who think the real problem with our economy is that poor people and the elderly have it too easy.

In his press conference on Monday, PHC said "We have agreed to a series of spending cuts that will make the government leaner, meaner." He got that right - especially the meaner part.

Footnote: The most infuriating part of this is that, as I expect you know, Social Security and Medicare have only a minor impact on the deficit. They are financed out of payroll taxes, not income taxes, and that money is recorded as a separate account.

Both programs have reserves which are now predicted to last by the Trustees of the programs until 2036 in the case of Social Security and 2024 in the case of Medicare, reserves which are invested in government bonds - which actually means that they are helping to finance the deficit. The impact comes in a year when they run a deficit in their own accounts because then they have to redeem some of those bonds, which the general account has to pay out. For Social Security, that shortfall in 2010 was $49 billion - which is less than 3.8% of the $1.3 trillion federal deficit for that year.

By the way, note that those years when the surpluses will be exhausted is without any intelligent changes, such as removing the cap on income subject to the payroll tax for Social Security, now $106,800. Beyond that point, the tax becomes regressive: Earn to the ceiling, you pay 6.2% of your income to the fund. Earn double the amount ($213,600), you pay 3.1%. Earn $1.1 million, you pay just 0.62% of your income toward Social Security.

*PHC = President Hopey-Changey

Sealing our fates, Part One

So of course the debt ceiling (shudder, tremble, weep) remains THE BIG NEWS of the day as far as the media and the pundits are concerned - because after all, what affects the banks is surely more important than what affects tens of millions of ordinary people, like, y'know, jobs 'n' stuff. Well, seeing as who am I to question my betters, herewith Part One of a few observations on the matter.

First, a quick and grossly oversimplified lesson for those who have been in a coma the past several months. If the federal government runs a deficit in its budget one year, it finances that deficit by selling bonds - in effect, borrowing money. So now there is a debt, including the interest on those bonds. Continue to run deficits and that debt grows. The debt ceiling says the government can only owe so much money at a time. If that ceiling is reached, the government can't sell more bonds - can't borrow more money - so in the event of an annual deficit, which of course we have, the federal government will default on its debts, be unable to pay it's bills. As a general rule, this is not a good thing.

Because of this, and the fact that the US has never defaulted on a debt and US Treasury bonds are considered to be among the most secure investment anywhere, raising the debt ceiling has in the past been pretty routine. In fact, the ceiling was raised something like 16 times during the Shrub administration. But now the GOPpers, driven to a significant extent by their new crop of extremist ideologues who are opposed to government spending money on anything except their salaries and perks, figure they can use the debt ceiling like a club to attack social spending and force crippling cuts in every program they don't see as benefiting them personally.

Interestingly, however, one noted ideologue has come up with an interesting idea for dealing with the debt ceiling: Rep. Ron Paul is suggesting that Congress should tell the Federal Reserve Board to burn the $1.6 trillion in government bonds it holds. Destroy them. Don't collect any interest, don't reclaim the principal.

The Fed has bought those bonds over the last two and a-half years or so and they are part of the $14.3 trillion debt that is subject to the debt ceiling. The thing is, however, that the Fed is an agency of the federal government. Its assets are assets of the federal government. Which means the bonds held by Fed literally represent money the government owes to itself. Indeed, each year, the Fed collects the interest on those bonds and then refunds it to the Treasury.

Unlike the debt held by, for example, the Social Security Administration, there are no obligations that the Fed must use these assets to meet. No one loses their retirement income, in fact there is no direct loss of income to anyone if the Fed destroys those bonds. The government could cancel them without harm to itself or anyone else.

Comparisons between government budgets and household budgets are rarely valid, so I'm not drawing any exact correlation here, but just for the purpose of illustrating the idea, you could say it was like you took some money out of a long-term savings account to pay a bill with the intention of paying that money back in later. You keep a record of that amount, counting it as part of your total debt right along with your mortgage, your credit card balance, your outstanding car loan, whatever. If at some point in the future you say "Oh, time to be real: I'm never going to pay that savings back, forget it," you could do that without altering your economic condition one bit. You would still have the same obligations to others you had before that and still have exactly the same assets to meet them.

It's the same here: If Congress told the Fed to burn the bonds, it would have absolutely no impact on government assets - but it would reduce the debt subject to the debt ceiling by $1.6 trillion. Enough, it's estimated, to give the politicos something close to two years to blather on and maybe, just maybe, talk about something that matters.

So it’s a clever idea. So of course it will go nowhere. And there are very good reasons for that. Here’s one:

Back in April, the Congressional Progressive Caucus produced a budget - not an outline or a framework, an actual budget plan - that would not only balance the budget in 10 years, it would produce a surplus and do it without harming domestic programs. Instead it would focus on cutting military spending, ending the wars in Iraq and Afghan, and raising taxes on the rich.

It's quite possible you never heard about this plan. That's because the media almost completely ignored it. In fact, our "paper of record," the one that brags it has "all the news that's fit to print," the New York Times, has never mentioned a single word about it.

Fast forward to July 8, when Sen. Kent Conrad, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, released a budget proposal designed by committee Dems. This one would reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over 10 years, half via tax hikes on the rich and half via spending cuts, with large cuts coming in the Pentagon budget. Only - the word "only" here being used merely by way of comparison to what PHC* has proposed - $350 billion of the total cuts would come from domestic spending and only $80 billion of that from Medicare and Medicaid. Social Security would be untouched.

Other than one passing reference in an editorial, I can't find a single mention of it in the New York Times.

What did the Times have space for? In late June, it covered the announcement by the well-financed right-wing lobbying group FreedomWorks that it intended to organize its own debt commission with the intention of having some proposals by next January.

So a real budget proposal by the Congressional Progressive Caucus isn't worthy of coverage. A budget plan presented by the chair of the Senate Budget Committee is worth just a passing mention. But a tea party press release about plan for a commission that doesn't even exist yet to make proposals six or seven months from now? That gets attention.

And still we wonder why we're in the mess we're in.

Parts Two and Three later today.

*PHC = President Hopey-Changey

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Everything you need to know in one question

In this case, everything you need to know about DC attitudes about deficit reduction.

PHC* had a "Twitter town hall" today, Wednesday, and he opened it with this tweet:
In order to reduce the deficit, what costs would you cut and what investments would you keep?
So "cutting costs" is on the agenda for public discussion. Raising taxes on the rich and corporations is not.

*PHC = President Hopey-Changey

Monday, July 04, 2011

Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose

In his opening to his weekly speech, PHC* had this to say:
Government has to start living within its means, just like families do. We have to cut the spending we can’t afford so we can put the economy on sounder footing, and give our businesses the confidence they need to grow and create jobs.
A number of people have criticized that; Paul Krugman, to cite one example, described it as "the false government-family equivalence, the myth of expansionary austerity, and the confidence fairy, all in just two sentences."

But here's something I haven't seen addressed but which caught my eye: the last phrase, the "give our businesses the confidence they need to grow and create jobs" part. Yes, Krugman called it the "confidence fairy," but there's a deeper point here.

Specifically, what is this perpetual crap about having to "give business confidence?" Why are we supposed to spend our energy and our tax money in efforts to "give business confidence?" I thought the genius of our glorious Free Market (pbui) lay in its allowance for the brave entrepreneurs! The bold ones! The risk-takers! The ones who dared! And that profit was the reward, the justified reward, for the risks taken!

So what the hell is this "give business confidence" numbskullery? What is this idiotic notion that we have some sort of obligation to promise business that hey, y'know what? We'll see to it that there really isn't any risk involved, not enough to talk about, anyway. We'll see to it that yep, you can have confidence that you'll make a tidy profit risk-free.

Total barf. Companies are making record profits, sitting on unprecedented amounts of cash, and still not hiring but instead increasingly abandoning the middle class. Yet we are supposed to be worried about their confidence? We are supposed to expend our efforts on making them feel secure and protected? We're supposed to approve, even applaud, policies that locate more money to throw at the rich and corporations who don't need it by stiffing the poor and working class who do?

Give business confidence? How about giving us confidence? Or is that, like higher taxes on the rich and corporations - and I mean a real tax hike, not sniffing around the margins of itemized deductions - something that is "off the table?"

Footnote: Another Obama inanity in that speech was this:
We’ve got to cut the deficit, but we can do that while making investments in education, research, and technology that actually create jobs.
Get this straight: Investments in education do not create jobs. Investments in research do not create jobs. Investments in technology do not create jobs. Not for more than, at most, the tiny handful of additional people actually doing the educating, the researching, and the, um, technology-ing.

Demand creates jobs. And the way to create demand is to put people to work so they have money to spend to create that demand. As businesses are continuing to hoard their cash, continuing to refuse to expand or hire because they selfishly see no short-term gain in it, there is only one practical way to create those jobs to create that demand: a massive government jobs program.

But that, of course, is something else that is off the table. Because, after all, it a)focuses on the unemployed and other workers rather than on the rich and b)makes sense.

Footnote Footnote: A lot of people recorded the song from which the title here comes, but I have to admit that this one is still my favorite. But if you prefer the actual composer, this should satisfy.

*PHC = President Hopey-Changey

7/4/11 the third

And one last thing I like to post every Fourth. It's something I wrote about a trip to a fireworks display on July 4, 1969.
The 4th of July and Other Downs
The Day dawns again and it's time to love freedom. All the fascists come out to play and long hair and peace are decidedly un-American. Keep muttering things like "My country, right or wrong" and "America, love it or leave it" and you're really in. Middle-class America is out in force to celebrate liberty. Don't look now, but there's a knife in your back. A car goes by covered with flags, streamers, bunting, decals, and assorted other paraphernalia vital to your well-equipped American. Off we go to a fireworks show whose rockets sounded just like mortar fire. (Everything about the Fourth is so appropriate.) A motorcycle cop chomps away on something or other and glares at us with hatred that should have melted his shades as he leans on his bike and tries to figure a way to bust us. Red, white, and blue are the colors of the day, but be careful you don't have more red than blue or you might get lynched in the name of freedom. (You can have as much blue as you want, but the whiter you are, the better off you'll be.) Don't look now, but all the flagpoles look like spears. All in honor of the 36,000 brave boys who've given their lives to bring freedom, truth, beauty, and President Thieu to the South Vietnamese. Three cheers for Richard Nixon and six for J. Edgar Hoover, and better dead than red. The officially sanctioned day of national paranoia has come again, and all is right with the Pentagon.
I've noted with amusement was how the relative meanings of "red" (which at the time, kiddies, meant Communist) and "blue" have shifted over the years.

7/4/11 the second

The second of my annual July 4th posts, this is from a leaflet I wrote for distribution on July 4, 1975. After quoting the paragraph in the previous post, that is, the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, the flyer read:
These words should form the backdrop against which the Bicentennial should be seen. Our 200th birthday as a nation should not be a time for celebrating the status quo or for patting ourselves on the back in an orgy of national self-congratulation, but rather a time to reexamine and rediscover the truly revolutionary heritage which America has.

Even more than that, it should be a time to rededicate ourselves to the ideals of the Declaration, to recognize that it is, as the Declaration says, our right and duty to resist dramatically increasing government control of our lives. It is our duty to resist the CIA and FBI when they try to probe every secret of our lives; it is our duty to resist attempts to muzzle, restrict, intimidate, and otherwise restrain both freedom of speech and of the press. It is our duty to resist a militarist US foreign policy that destroys the life and liberty of people in other lands and a militarist US federal budget that proposes to increase spending on weapons by 30% while human needs go unmet. It is our duty to resist government policies that favor big business at the expense of the general public, while inflation and unemployment run rampant. It is our duty to resist a government that seems no longer (if indeed it ever was) interested in and dedicated to securing the "safety and happiness" of the populace.

We do not believe in violence, but we do believe in revolution - nonviolent revolution. And we believe that we are fully within the revolutionary heritage of America when we say we believe it is our duty to demand our rights and our duty to use nonviolence to make any changes necessary to secure those rights, for ourselves and for all others.
In the 36 years since I wrote that, I have been both encouraged and discouraged, hopeful and despairing. So much has changed and so little has changed, so much has been done and so little has been done.

Sometimes it seems that the only comfort is that the only reason things aren't worse than they are is because of the struggles there have been both during that time and before. So even where we have - as we have more than often enough - fallen short, we can at least say those struggles were not in vain: No genuine effort for justice ever is, no matter the outcome.

And those struggles can be nothing but invigorated when we maintain a day-to-day awareness of, and base the only legitimate patriotism on, our revolutionary heritage.

Footnote: The date for the flyer is not a typo; the official Bicentennial Year ran from July 4, 1975 to July 4, 1976.

7/4/11 the first

I have three posts that I have taken to putting up every July 4th. Take them for what you will. This is the first:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
Footnote: has some interesting background on the Declaration of Independence, including earlier drafts. Some of the changes are revealing - such as one long passage denouncing the English slave trade that was deleted.
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