Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ruth Marcus: I've Got a Potty Mouth!

Ruth Marcus has set me free. I've been cautious about the potty-mouth thing here on the blog because I wanted to sound legit. There, I've admitted it. But Ruthy, old gal, you've liberated me. Wanna see? Okay, here goes:
  • The Roberts Court sucks. #theyblowalot
  • Paul Ryan really sucks. #hereallyblowsalot
  • Rupert Murdoch sucks. #hereallyblowsalottoo
  • Fox News sucks. #theyblowalot
  • The GOP candidates suck. #everybodyknowsthat
  • The .01% richest Americans suck. #everybodyalsoknowsthat
  • The job creators really suck. #nobodyhasafuckingjob
  • The Roberts Court really sucks. #blowsthemost
I'd add some links so you know I've researched that, but I don't have to because #everybodyknowsthat, they really do. The only people who don't know that are other people that suck. And I'm sure #everybodyalsoknowsthat.

God, when it comes to "worst person in the world" contests this week, we've got some contenders! Besides Ruth Marcus -- she's just pathetic, really should take a pill -- I'd like to nominate Lisa Riniker, the Wisconsin DA that filed a felony first-degree sexual assault charge against a six-year-old boy who played "butt doctor" with a five-year-old girl. It appears that he may have, sorta, touched her butt during the game.

I didn't make this up, and because of that, I have no choice but to create a new hash tag for Lisa Riniker: #morethanblowsalot.

Full disclosure: When I was six, I played doctor with a five-year-old. I went on the lam on my bike for a while and got a stern talking-to when I got home. Boy, I didn't do that again. Or at least I didn't until I actually figured out what sex was, which was mu-u-ch later.

Fuller disclosure: Thanks to the Catholic Church -- I went to Catholic schools -- I was almost fifteen before I had the vaguest notion about sex. The Catholic Church sucks. #okayyouknowthedrillillstop

Fullest disclosure: I finished my work-a-day-world career (I still may do stuff for money) as a high-school teacher, and I hated it when they searched kids backpacks, or suspended them or even expelled them for having a quarter joint in their pocket, or for coming to school with beer on their breath, or for getting caught having sex behind the portables. Should kids do that at school? Of course not. Do they? Of course they do. Will they stop because of a million lectures from Ruth Marcus? Maybe, just to #gethertofuckingshutup. (Actually, of course, never.)

Seriously, we have too many old fogies that still get to write for actual newspapers and magazines that haven't completely disintegrated. But if they're allowed to keep it up, they'll have no one but themselves to blame if people stop listening to them. Okay, I have abandoned them, except to monitor them, somewhat in the way that Jon Stewart and his writing staff do, since they are absolutely dependent on both the political class and the chattering class to stand and deliver material to him, which they mindlessly do on a silver platter.

Okay, fine with the fun and games. There was something that Charles P. Pierce included in his post linked above that stung me:
Because of our idiotic war on drugs, we are raising a generation of schoolchildren who are going to graduate from high school without knowing they have any rights that anyone in authority has to respect. The case Marcus cites — Tinker v. Des Moines — has gradually been whittled away through the very loophole that Marcus cites about how speech can be suppressed that will "disrupt the work and discipline of the school." You can drive a truck through that phrase, as the Supreme Court did in 2007 when it ruled against student speech in the famous "Bong Hits For Jesus" case.
Just reading that makes me want to spit. Got a problem with that, Ruthy?

A United Field Theory of Woe

Maybe it's just the times, or maybe it's because we're in an election cycle. Or maybe it's just that we've been dealing with so much for so long that a critical mass is being reached. But I'm having difficulty compartmentalizing all the areas in which our country -- and the world -- is deteriorating.

A lot of us still judge our nation the old-fashioned way: is the American Dream intact? Are we a nation of laws? Are our constitutional rights just as sacred as they've always been? Can the humblest American still rise to the top, even become president?

We baby boomers were raised this way, to believe that we'd win the Cold War, that it was my country right or wrong, that if we were good, we'd die and go to Heaven. At least we'd all try hard, go to college, get a job, get married, buy a house, accumulate wealth, then retire, and, with a bit of luck, not die right away from cancer or heart disease.

How much of that was ever true? Answer: some of it, though really not much. It's not being paranoid at all to feel that all our values and opportunities, however ephemeral to begin with, are either under attack or so seriously degraded as to have become meaningless. In many ways, it's good riddance. A lot of our belief system was tied up in fallacies of American exceptionalism and superstition.

Here's a checklist of 1. it was never real, and 2. it was real and we're screwed:
  • We won the Cold War, but it was unnecessary, extremely costly, and, in the end, a mistaken strategic choice. (Talk amongst yourselves.)
  • There is no Heaven (thankfully, then, no Hell).
  • There is no American Dream apart from the usual menu of choices and outcomes afforded the citizens of any developed nation.
  • We are a nation of laws, well, at least for schlubs. For the elite? Not so much. For perceived terrorists? Forget about it.
  • Our society is deteriorating on an alarming number of levels (reminder: I'm not paranoid). You do the math.
  • If you put Marshall McLuhan and George Orwell together, we're screwed. Case in point: Rupert Murdoch.
  • We live in an ever-increasing surveillance/police state.
  • The predominant direction of the U.S. under the sway of the rich and powerful is for us to become a less healthy society, with rollbacks of environmental law and protections, with declining access to healthcare and public services, as well as diminishing economic security.
  •  Because of the crisis, we're moving from an ownership society to a landlord society.
Captain Kirk for president?
 Okay, I know, a lot of the problems those of us on the left have stem from a belief system that might be called Star Trek Syndrome. We think that the human race is evolving toward a time when there will be a Federation, the ultimate political entity living by a superior ethical consensus, and we will be better than the Klingons or the Romulans, and we will ultimately Defeat Them.

Okay, that's so unrealistic, but that doesn't make Henry Kissinger's Realpolitik moral, where we weigh the pros and cons and conclude that murder and mayhem is acceptable because this is the Real World and the hippies should just fucking grow up.

They hate us for our freedom?
And, hey, what's with the conservatives and their "you can have my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands" brethren and the general conservative "liberal judges are activists hellbent on destroying My Constitution," yeah, what's with the right loving the Patriot Act and anything that does strengthen the expanding police state, or legitimize torture, or indefinite detention without hearings? Really, what's with that obvious disconnect??

The Occupy movement (in danger of shriveling up and dying) and the Tea Party (okay, already shriveled up and dead) are two sides of the same discontent: we've been suckered into giving away whatever freedoms we had while acquiescing to the biggest mass mugging the nation and the world has witnessed since, well, the last mass mugging leading to the crash of 1929.

Oh yeah, right!...
I wish I was paranoid and that the historical record didn't make what I've related factually true. We are approaching a unified field theory of woe, one in which the pieces of the puzzle of our utter and eventual decline are starting to get assembled.

There are ways out of this mess, and though there may not be green shoots economically speaking, there might be green shoots of an emerging Mad as Hell movement that could turn this around. But right now I'm too bummed to talk about it.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Blogs I Read and Why

When I first discovered blogs in 2002, I was curious about them and danced around the web paying only occasional attention. The election year of 2004 changed that, and I'm sure it cemented my view of blogging as vital journalism for the future. Of course, as happens in life, the future is now and in fact is rapidly becoming the past. Blogging is no longer cutting edge. It's real, has a market, and a wide distribution of excellent, good, okay, and extraordinarily bad blogs.

I split my time between news -- NY Times, WaPo, Huffington Post (not really a blog anymore), SFGate, Yahoo!, Reuters, etc. -- and the various opinion sections of these newspapers and news services. The rest of the time I'm in the blogosphere where I can count of several things: well-attenuated opinion, links to breaking stories I might not catch otherwise, real passion for politics and economics, stridency that elevates, and often great pieces with strong dashes of wit and humor.

The several go-to blogs I read even before the coffee is ready serve a variety of purposes and why I rely on them:

Eschaton -- Here's the home of Duncan Black, or Atrios, the screen name under which he writes. Atrios has a near-perfect mix of humor, scorn, politics, economics, and insight. He's often at his funniest when he the most pissed. Maybe it's because he's from Philadelphia that he blogs in short bursts -- a style my girl friend, who's from Philly, prefers; she thinks I run on and on and... -- and gets a lot of mileage out of his brevity. I also like that he writes from a center-city point of view, and talks about walkable neighborhoods and effective transit policy, and in general the things that are often forgotten in political debate. Atrios doesn't give much of a damn for the horse-race aspect of politics and views the stock market and its machinations as just another day at the dog track, as he puts it. Life isn't a bowl of cherries at Eschaton -- economics (Atrios holds a PhD in it) is, afterall, the dismal science, especially these days -- and he doesn't sugarcoat anything, but he does wrap it up in enough acerbic wit to make it palatable.

The Conscience of a Liberal -- This is New York Times columnist and Princeton economics professor Paul Krugman's blog. He generally sticks to things economic, but that's so political these days that it's hard to keep them separate. It helps that I'm a Keynesian, saltwater economics fan, but I find Krugman very helpful in steering me to the heart of most political debates, which generally are struggles for money and power at their core. I like Krugman's clarity and his enthusiasm -- jeez, he must work 26 hours a day -- and I like that he doesn't pull punches and yet never seems uncivil, regardless of the occasional choruses of claims that he's "shrill." I find Paul Krugman, his blog and his columns, to be indispensable.

Talking Points Memo -- Josh Marshall has put together a damned fine political reporting blog. Sure, he's on the progressive side and offers a good dose of opinion, but he's sensible enough to mix in enough legitimate reporting to provide a good factual basis for his point of view. It's a full-service site dealing with politics on both the policy and horse-race sides. He's a good place to stay up on the polling, especially when we get closer to the end of election cycles. Josh has built a really decent brand by hiring a competent staff of reporters, and has extra features, like Idea Lab, TPM DC, and TPM 2012. I think TPM might have been the very first blog I started following in 2002 or early 2003.

Daily Kos -- Marcos Moulitsas' blog is probably the most political of all the progressive blogs, but that's not a bad thing. If you want to get down to the nuts and bolts of elections -- and how to win them -- Daily Kos is your kind of place. It does its own polling, follows races district by district, state by state. It's got a number of recurring features that are as informative as they are entertaining. Marcos (Kos for short) has brought together a great extended family of writers, bloggers, and commentators from across the U.S., as well as hosting lots of diaries, some of which get featured from time to time. So drop by, get involved, and get political (they cover science and nature, too).

Glenn Greenwald -- I don't know whether to call Glenn a columnist or a blogger, but his coverage of constitutional and human rights issues is as passionate as anywhere on the web. A constitutional lawyer by training and experience, he speaks with great disdain for the general permissiveness that's evolved here in the U.S. toward torture, warrantless wiretapping, and the easily observable march toward a true surveillance/police state. Glenn Greenwald is not always -- in fact very rarely -- a walk in the park, but I appreciate his grasp of the seriousness of the issues stemming from the Bill of Rights, in fact all human rights. He's in many ways the conscience of the country.

The Dish w/ Andrew Sullivan -- The only regular blog I visit that's not progressive is Andrew Sullivan's. I know he's not everyone's cup of tea, especially because he's been around long enough as a journalist and editor to have pissed off a number of people -- it didn't help that he favored the Iraq War, though he's thoroughly recanted -- but I like him because he's a conservative who called out the Bushies for the vile thugs they were long before any other conservative did so. He live-blogs debates as well as anyone does, and he brings a wide range of opinions to his site. He doesn't allow comments but does quote his readers often enough. And let's face it: he's probably the only gay expat Brit devout Catholic with HIV in the blogosphere, though I could be wrong. But he does have his own unique perspective. Finally, when he latches on to an evolving story, like the Iranian Green Revolution, he covers it like a blanket.

The Big Picture -- Barry Ritholtz is an oddity: a stock trader who doesn't buy the Wall Street Journal bull. I know, there's more than one of him, but very few blog with the wit -- and hint of progressivism -- that Barry brings to his views on the markets. He claims for his site a "macro perspective," which is demonstrably true daily. I don't get stock picks from him, for he doesn't offer them. What he does is explain the macro-climate of the economy, which helps readers understand why the markets might do what they're going to do, and then offers technical analysis that informs how he'd deal in such an environment. I don't always get what he's up to, but I love the way he busts the chops of the Very Serious People that push zombie lies in order to throw fairy dust in everyone's eyes. Barry's wisdom is one very necessary piece in the puzzle we need to solve in order to save the world (if that's even possible).

Informed Comment -- Professor Juan Cole of U. of Michigan espouses on things in the Arab world and generally offers news and insight we wouldn't have access to. With the Arab world blowing up from Libya to Yemen to Egypt to Syria and beyond, Cole's perspective is invaluable. When something blows up in the Middle East, I go to Informed Comment.

I could go on and tell you that I also visit a host of other sites almost daily, such as firedoglake, First Draft, Hullabaloo, Balloon Juice, Media Matters, Washington Monthly, Think Progress, Ezra Klein, and so on, and they're mostly all in my blog roll on the right sidebar. I don't list -- and rarely visit anymore -- those conservative sites I used to visit occasionally to maintain "perspective." I don't do that much anymore unless I'm in search of a hoot.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving Is Over

Well, almost. I love holidays. They give you a chance to feel good, specifically about family and more generally about your world, however wide that is.

I admit, though, that I don't spend too much time sorting through what I'm thankful for, mostly because the exercise too often turns into a self-directed puff piece. Even a statement like "I'm grateful to have all of you here together" might sound like an outpouring of love for friends and family, but more likely it ends up sounding like a "I rate cool friends and family" statement. A private "I'm glad you could come" might better do the trick.

I guess my real, and personal, problem is that I don't like to all of a sudden feel like I'm in a Diane Keaton movie. I just can't pull it off.

Still, when Juan Cole, a professor/journalist/Middle-East expert I admire, gave his list of things Americans can be thankful for, I was happy to be reminded. Also, his list was outward-looking and therefore humble.

His landscape of gratitude was different from mine but included events and trends I should have noticed. It is good that the Iraq War is over. We do, because of cable news and a pervasive hysteria that I've never understood, fail to recognize that crime continues to decline and is at a 48-year low. Many of the hotspots in the world, including the Middle East and the India-Pakistan conflict are slowly being mitigated. There are awakenings of democracy in the Arab world, and Al-Qaeda is on the run, if not nearly gutted. And, yes, there are a near-constant set of health breakthroughs that portend a better and more prosperous ripening of old age at a time when the baby boomers could sure use it.

Thank you, Juan, for perking me up. I'm grumpier and more self-centered and likelier to think that "I'm glad the roof on my condo is holding up" than to be pleased that world peace is expanding, however slowly. And I do let my disdain for what passes as economic policy, here and abroad, cover up the fact that I, personally, and my little town of Sonoma more generally, seem to be in pretty fine spirits most of the time. I've pursued happiness and for the most part have found it. I'm lucky, I guess, and grateful.

Even that, though, sorta pisses me off because, dammit, I am egalitarian and wish that more people were being treated fairly and given the opportunity to make it in this world. It's galling that Our Galtian Overlords, as Atrios puts it, wreak havoc, then grab their bonuses and cut and run. There's a lot of heartbreak left in their wakes. And that heartbreak is real and involves real people, by the millions.

It's no less disturbing that it's happening to greater and lesser degrees in Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Iceland. Nor is it less disquieting that Europe's Galtian Overlords demand that loser countries pay some respect by suffering in silence. I'm a great admirer of the German juggernaut, hell, I've got a VW to prove it. But do they have to force such absurd prescriptions on their Southern European brethren, such as Paul Krugman, in true Atrios fashion, laid out in his blog last week:

1. Slash government spending

2. ??????

3. Prosperity!

I've never taken a single econ class in my life, and I can figure out the paradox of thrift and attest to its validity as a concept and, what's more, its complete applicability to this time and place. So, why in hell do the conservatives here and abroad, want to ignore the simplest of principles and demand austerity and reduced government spending at a time when doing so is wildly counter-productive? It does cause one to dredge up the old stupid-or-evil Richter-scale measure of the character of those at the helm of government, and the results can't help but be a good dose of both!

The most generous judgment is that we are ruled by incompetents who go out of their way to prove the validity of the Dunning-Kruger Effect -- which, roughly, states that our self-confidence in our abilities rises in reverse proportion to our competence -- and that they truly wish the best for us but are just damned shitty at getting it for us.

Trust me, I'm not that generous. Our leaders are money-grubbing, power-hungry hacks who will do anything to keep the money stream flowing into their pockets. The difference between the liberal elite and the conservative elite is a crucial one, though: the liberal elite know that it's in their self-interest to spread the money more widely around society, while the conservative elite believe that the poor are scum that deserve to suffer. They both, however, think they deserve to rule and accrue more money and power.

Self-interest is a slippery notion, hard to grasp and oddly elusive. I remember waiting one day in a Midas Muffler shop for my car to get finished, and I watched the proud shop owner play the whistle-while-you-work entrepreneurial schtick to a tee, glad-handing every customer who came through his door and answering telephone calls and getting us coffee, all the while producing a steady stream of ain't-the-American-Dream-grand patter and "your car'll be done in a minute, buddy!"

One anecdote he shared was how proud he and his wife were that they had just driven their daughter down to Dominican University to start her college days. No doubt he was justly proud, having worked hard to provide for his child's future.

But it wasn't long before he started bitching for some reason or another about the deadbeats the hardworking class had to put up with. His muffler shop was in Vallejo, a middle-lower-middle-class town with a hearty dash of minorities, sitting kitty-corner across the bay from San Francisco. "What I want to know is," he asked, assuming I'd quickly agree, "why do we have to pay for the poor bastards?" (I think this was during the Clinton-era welfare-reform debate.)

I sorta smiled and nodded, mostly as an alternative to what I really wanted to do, which was to say, "Well, maybe so we'd have a healthier, more broadly successful society and so one of those poor bastards doesn't have a bad day and rob, rape, and murder your daughter, maybe that's why."

That was a less-merry way of saying we're all in this together, so I held my tongue.

So you can well imagine that, in spite of enjoying the holidays with friends and family, I'm glad Thanksgiving is over. I'm not a I'm-glad-I've-got-mine kind of guy (though I am glad), so I'm deeply upset about those who, through no fault of their own, don't have theirs, and just as upset that there's a stupid-or-evil class of overlords hellbent on denying others their chance. This is a kind of reverse-engineered American Dream, in which the stern father derides the son, saying "You have no one but yourself to blame!" before throwing him out of the house with a curt "and don't come back until you've made something of yourself!"

Somewhere out there are future leaders with a sense of balance, who just might realize that urging people -- or governments -- to cut back or "tighten your belt" in a recession is like throwing gasoline on a campfire. I doubt they'll step forward before Christmas. So don't be surprised if I lay it on a little heavy with the brandy in the egg nog. Did I say I like the holidays?

I do, just maybe not during an election cycle in the midst of a severe economic downturn, with a Socialist Fascist Kenyan Muslim in one corner and St. George in a Newt suit in the other.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Fox News Epitomizes Disinformation, and It's Quantifiable!

Do you remember the study back during the 2004 presidential election, called "The Separate Realities of Bush and Kerry Supporters," that discovered that those favoring Bush or Kerry had broadly different views of reality, especially concerning the rationale behind the Iraq War? I do, and every time I see another example of blatant factual distortion on one of Fox News' shows -- on both the news and opinion features -- I try to imagine Fox fans sorting the different items into the cubby holes of their minds and coming up with a reality that works for them, enough for them to be satisfied and coming back for more.

Key quote from the old study:
It is normal during elections for supporters of presidential candidates to have fundamental disagreements about values (such as the proper role of the government) or strategies (such as how best to defend US interests). As we have seen, the current election is unique in that Bush supporters and Kerry supporters have profoundly different perceptions of reality.
I got this reality thing wired.
So why is this the case? And, more specifically, why are Bush supporters holding so clinging [sic] so tightly to beliefs that have been so visibly refuted? As discussed, one key possible explanation for why Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq had WMD or a major WMD program, and supported al Qaeda is that they continue to hear the Bush administration confirming these beliefs.
How the hell did he do that?
Another possible explanation is that Bush supporters cling to these beliefs because they are necessary for their support for the decision to go to war with Iraq. Asked whether the US should have gone to war with Iraq if US intelligence had concluded that Iraq was not making WMD or providing support to al Qaeda, 58% of Bush supporters said the US should not have, and 61% assume that in this case the president would not have. To support the president and to accept that he took the US to war based on mistaken assumptions is difficult to bear, especially in light of the continuing costs in terms of lives and money. Apparently, to avoid this cognitive dissonance, Bush supporters suppress awareness of unsettling information.
It's not much of a stretch to apply this state of affairs to today's conservative base of the Republican Party, or to the vast majority of Republicans in general. It explains why there was such fervent support during the brinkmanship of the debt-ceiling debate. Surely the congressional leaders assumed that the base would either turn on them if they didn't go to the edge of disaster to get their way on the issue of the debt -- a fake issue that allows Republicans to attack the funding of social programs that would require taxing the rich to sustain them -- or, politically, they could count on the base's support in order to endanger the country just to stomp Barack Obama into the ground.

It's important to keep in mind that reasonable observers, whether you approve of Obama's performance or not -- I consider it mixed, though I continue to support most of his efforts -- would attest to his common decency and, one would hope, would recognize that he's clearly a centrist, not a wild-eyed, Kenyan Socialist Muslim. This outlook is only held by those who have been bamboozled into holding these beliefs, and I would make book on the likelihood that the bamboozlers like Karl Rove, Ari Fleicsher, Dick Armey, and the Koch brothers with their super PACs, as well as the Republican congressional leadership and presidential candidates, don't believe for a minute in the pablum they're pedaling to the base. The conservative base is dependent on this diet of bamboozlement because it needs it to support their own narrative, the one that explains why they, as Southern White Christians or disenfranchised, Midwestern blue-collar workers don't have much of a future, and how it's somebody else's fault. A black man who they find above them in rank fills the bill to a tee.

It is the nature of true believers that reality takes a back seat to their desired outcomes. If they want Armageddon for Obama, it's okay to risk Armageddon for America. This is similar to Timothy McVeigh's acceptance of "collateral damage" when expressing little to no regret that children in a daycare center died in his explosion in Oklahoma City. This comparison may sound extreme, but it's apt. Why else would the Republicans risk such dire consequences to harm the Obama administration?

The reasoning may be found in this conclusion to the study:
Bush appears to assume that his support is fragile. He refuses to admit to making any mistakes. He admits that he was surprised that WMD were not found, but does not say that the most reasonable conclusion is that they were never there and continues to talk about “disarming” Iraq. He asserts that he never said that Iraq was directly involved in 9/11, but maintains that there were contacts with al Qaeda in a way that implies that they were significant. Most telling, his supporters as well as his opponents overwhelmingly say that they hear him still saying that Iraq had WMD and supported al Qaeda. To remain loyal and bonded to him means to enter into this false reality.
Bush may be right. Admitting his mistakes may shatter his idealized image in a way that some supporters may not forgive. But there also risks in succeeding in getting elected based on false beliefs. The number of people in the public who see through the illusion will likely continue to grow, eating away at the implied mandate of an election. Further, the cohesion of society can be damaged by a persisting and fundamental division in the perception of what is real, undermining pathways to consensus and mutual sacrifice, and making the country increasingly difficult to govern.  [boldface mine.]
We all remember the days after the 2004 election when Bush claimed a mandate -- which really didn't exist -- and went after Social Security only to crash and burn. The Iraq War was an utter disaster, and as the casualties mounted his popularity waned. Hurricane Katrina was the nail in the coffin. His presidency was a house of cards that couldn't withstand the withering of his true-believer core.

In fact, the Bush presidency was so bad a black man was elected president! I've always been struck by this fact. The presence of a black at the helm of the ship of state was so traumatic to the white Christian Southern base of the Republican Party that this malleable group was ripe for manipulation by the dark political machinations of the Republican leadership epitomized by Mitch McConnell, who famously said, "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." Help the country get out of the worst recession in 80 years?? Meh.

Now comes the kicker. There's a new study out that lets the cat out of the bag about Fox News viewers:
Fox News viewers are less informed than people who don't watch any news, according to a new poll from Fairleigh Dickinson University.
The poll surveyed New Jersey residents about the uprisings in Egypt and the Middle East, and where they get their news sources. The study, which controlled for demographic factors like education and partisanship, found that "people who watch Fox News are 18-points less likely to know that Egyptians overthrew their government" and "6-points less likely to know that Syrians have not yet overthrown their government" compared to those who watch no news.
 When I tried to come to terms with why Bush's true believers were impossible to bring back into the reality-based fold, or why the Tea Party people could actually believe the tripe about death panels, or why people demanded to see Obama's birth certificate, or why any of the memes and disinformation and zombie lies lived on -- and still do -- I was missing the point. Fox News doesn't simply feed the beast, it starves it. Watching Fox News doesn't simply create a different reality, it actually surgically removes one from reality.

And the result is quantifiable, and bad for the country, I don't have to tell you.

Jeez, we've got work to do.

Roger Ailes: Fox News makes you dumber? Bonus!

Afterthought: Just a reminder how disconnected from reality the Bush administration was and how hubris can destroy otherwise functioning minds, and, further, how this arrogance can be used toward destructive ends. Remember the famous statement, made by an anonymous aide but later attributed to Karl Rove, that was quoted in a New York Times Magazine article by Ron Suskind on October 17, 2004:
The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." ... "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."
 How'd that work out, Karl?

Ask me if I give a crap.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I Love Financial Advice

I also occasionally give it. I don't like to, but when friends ask, I tell. This is partly because I'm known for doing my own investing and I haven't sucked. But that might be dumb luck. It's hard to tell. I used to watch the investment shows, like Nightly Business Report and Wall Street Week. I still like such shows -- Wall Street Week is long gone -- but I'm wary of advice. Listening to advice from name financial advisers is why I own Nokia, for instance. Nokia! Why?

I like the idea of experts, but that's about where it ends. I think it's better to sort things out without them. I'm actually only talking about financial experts. I've learned a lot from academics on a host of subjects. Some can really be relied upon.

So what can we make of two articles I found on the web this morning?

Very slow growth 2012 then long bear to 2020 -- Commentary: Decade of woe for stocks, time to buy bonds (MarketWatch)

John Paulson: Sell Bonds; Buy Stocks; Double Digit Inflation Coming (Forbes)

The titles say it all! So, what's a guy or gal to do? I just retired, and I'm long on stocks. I'm a buy-and-hold guy, and I like high-yield equities, which is why I never bought high fliers like Apple, Amazon, and Google. Oh well, spilled milk. Get over it.

I did make some good choices and I'm actually up even though I bought a bunch in 2007. 2007! Why'd I do that? Don't ask.

Anyway, I'm long equities, I just retired, so I'm slowly swinging more into bonds. I have to. Everyone says I have to. I believe them. Lousy time to buy bonds, so I'm going slow. But I'm doing it.

Two such contradictory articles in one day -- from reliable sources, too -- make it really crazy to think about this stuff. The thing I do that keeps me from being crazy is to have a long view. Harder when you're older, but you have to. The other thing I do is listen to economists more that market analysts. If I can grok the economy, I can make intelligent choices. I think.

(grok: from Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, a verb, meaning to understand deeply, with little or no distance between the knower and the known) Great word, I use it like it was real.

Okay. The one thing I'll say that resembles advice or, at best, analysis, is that I don't buy John Paulson's view of double-digit inflation in 2012. Just don't buy it. I guess he's one of those inflation hawks Paul Krugman keeps warning us about. Frankly, I'll listen to Krugman first. I buy his arguments is all.

Bad time to be doing this, but I have to get my yields in a row. But I'll go slow, remind myself that at least I'm not buying Nokia.

Afterthought: It's weird being a supporter of Occupy Wall Street and an investor at the same time. There is, actually, no conflict. It might not be smart to play the dog track -- as Atrios calls the markets -- but you can't sit on .5% CDs. So whaddya gonna do? Be long equities, get into bonds, and donate to the Occupiers.

Newt Gingrich Is On Fire

Sources: Gingrich set to propose shipping national debt to Mars at tonight's debate.

Newt Gingrich is the frontrunner in the Republican contest for presidential candidate. He has this status because he isn't a flip-flopping, cardboard-cutout, Mormon Ken doll named Mitt. If you believe the media narrative -- not always wrong -- the theme of the Republican campaign so far is "anyone but Mitt."

A case -- and a media narrative -- could be made that Mitt Romney is still the frontrunner even though he's behind Gingrich in the polls. Why? Two reasons: one, Gingrich can't beat Obama and Romney might be able to, and, two, anyone who has listened to Newt Gingrich in the last decade knows he's going to convince voters he's mad as a hatter. Romney, on the other hand, will be able to convince voters he's sane. Not any more trustworthy, but at least sane.

So why is Gingrich currently polling on top? It's simply because the Republican base is "dating" him. Sure, he's the same clown he's always been, showing up at every dance, enthusiastically assuming everyone wants to dance with him or listen to his extraordinarily, fundamentally earth-shattering new ideas that will change Washington forever, even though anyone who even paid the slightest attention would know that he's been sucking on the Washington teat for as long as, well, almost as long as Pat Buchanan.

Soon enough, the powers that be in the Republican Party will acknowledge what a smarmy quack he is  -- even if his actual ideology is lockstep with the rest of the pack -- and usher him out as quickly as possible. They might even succeed, but you never know. What if the base just can't stomach Romney? What if the base refuses to listen to the grown-ups, you know, like Karl Rove or Judd Gregg, and go all in with the huckster?

We shouldn't say it's hard to imagine. But the knives are already out. Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post's arch-conservative blogger, just called him "a font of loony ideas," just because he suggested yesterday that we could transform poor neighborhoods by abolishing child labor laws, which he decried as "stupid."

See for yourself:

Good on ya, Newt. At this rate we won't have you to kick around much longer, and we were just getting used to having you around. Keep coming up with these extraordinarily, fundamentally breathtaking sea changes, and the Koch brothers will personally put a contract out on you.

But at least you were on fire for another fifteen minutes. But we progressives were rooting for you, Newt, we really were. Why'd you have to screw it up?

What if we're wrong, what if you've got staying power? What if they like you, really really like you? We can only pray.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Big Lie #2: We Believe in Liberty

We don't believe in liberty. We believe that peace and freedom comes at the barrel of a gun. We may believe in free capital markets (something we should not), but we don't believe in the free market of ideas.

If we did, we wouldn't crack down so heavily on protesters, most especially non-violent ones. Let's go to the video. As you watch, ask if this is your America.

UC Davis last Friday:

Here's UC Davis Chancellor Katehi walking to her car:

Seattle last week:

Cops beat Iraq War veteran Kayvan Sabehgi at Oakland last month:

The same police action:

The Big Lies and the People Who Believe Them

Tea Partiers: Headed for the 1%? Not on your life.
First and foremost point: don't be one of them, the people who believe the big lies. The big lies are the product of media narratives supported by willful ignorance. They are not the product of conspiracies, except perhaps to the extent that secret money funneled by political operatives from fabulously wealthy individuals is used to manipulate the ignorant and easily misled. Don't be one of the misled.

I was going to write first today about the Occupy Movement and the police state that it has revealed, and I will. But what captured my imagination today was a Huffington Post blog by Jeffrey Sachs, a professor of economics at Columbia University. He framed our reality in a profound way. There is a Big Lie -- that we can't afford to raise taxes on the rich -- that is supported "gleefully" by the Republicans and "sheepishly" by the Democrats. How true. He adds:
The key to understanding the U.S. economy is to understand that we have two economies, not one. The economy of rich Americans is booming. Salaries are high. Profits are soaring. Luxury brands and upscale restaurants are packed. There is no recession.
The economy of the middle class and poor is in crisis. Poverty and near-poverty are spreading. Unemployment is rampant. Household incomes have been falling sharply. Millions of discouraged workers have dropped out of the labor force entirely. The poor work at minimum wages to provide services for the rich.
There are two forces that account for this deep divide. The first is globalization. Manufacturing employment peaked in 1979, with jobs and factories increasingly shifting overseas. For a while, the housing bubble provided construction jobs that partly offset the loss of manufacturing jobs. Now the housing bubble has burst. Good jobs for young people with a high-school diploma or less have disappeared.
 Sachs goes on to say that an important aspect of the Big Lie is that we'd be worse off if we were more like Europe, with its high taxes. Where the taxes are highest, northern Europe, the economies are sound and in fact in most every way superior to ours:
The lowest macroeconomic misery is in Northern Europe. Norway has the lowest score, followed by Switzerland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, and Demark. All seven countries have lower unemployment rates, smaller budget deficits as a share of GDP, and lower foreign deficits as a share of GDP, than the U.S. We look pretty miserable indeed by comparison.
VW factory in Dresden, Germany

 I had the pleasure of living most of a year in the Netherlands in 1971-72, and the experience made me aware of how much more civilized Northern Europe is compared with the U.S.  Things have only gotten worse in the U.S. in the four decades since. It's not an accident. Our priorities are all out of whack.

So, to simplify: the Big Lie is just that. The Republicans under Reagan and George W. Bush forced massive tax decreases on the rich -- W.'s father famously raised them, modestly, and Bill Clinton raised them, more substantially, leading to a period of enormous growth and government surpluses by 2000 -- and the result is the rich are richer and the poor are poorer. The rich keep more of their money, and it doesn't trickle down. If it did, we'd know by now.

Big Lie #1, then, is we can't tax the rich more. The fact is we can, and we must. If you're falling for the media narrative that the Occupy Movement doesn't have any goals, don't fall for it any more. The 99%-ers want the rich to pay more. So do I, and so should us all, including the rich, who would also benefit.

Who believes the Big Lie? The people who expect someday to be among the 1%. Why is it foolish to believe that we'll get there? Because so very few do. How many of us will? About 1%. Pretty bad odds. Don't play the game. Don't believe the Lie. Vote your circumstances, not your dreams. If your dreams come true, so much the better. In the meantime, work to restore balance to our society. Our future depends on it.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Why Our System Is Broken: Media Narratives

We can break our society into pieces, not like the "estates of the realm" as in the Middle Ages -- the clergy, the nobility, the commoners -- but into well established sectors. We've got the public sector, comprised of government and its related functions, the private sector, which constitutes most of private enterprise, and the media, which can be both public and private, obliged to report current events and document history.

I no longer think of religion as a sector of society. In the American system, religion does not belong in the public sector; therefore its home is in the private sector, even if its special tax status sets it apart.

In any event, the role of the media, especially in a media-centric world, is vital. That's why our founding fathers put freedom of the press alongside freedom of speech and religion among our first guaranteed rights.

Now, I've studied enough history to know that the press has not always been sacrosanct and safe from the scourge of error or misguided opinion. I understand the vitriol that was thrown back and forth in the press during the political battles in early America was of such a nature that we would blanch if subjected to it today. Current TV political ads do stoop quite low, but they are not technically media in the sense of journalism.

But something has gone very much wrong with our media today, and until we fix it we will suffer from it. What's wrong with the media today stems, at best, from a misconception: that the media needs to be impartial. It also suffers from just what impartiality means.

Here might be a good example. If a man shoots a cop while trying to escape capture in the aftermath of a crime, it's fair to report that "witnesses said they saw the suspect emerge from the car guns blazing. The police officer appeared to be hit several times by that first barrage." It would not be proper to continue to say "witnesses were unclear on whether the officer made any attempt to duck or whether he 'had it coming'," you know, just to provide balance.

Unfortunately, that how a lot of our reporting, especially political reporting is managed today. And I do mean "managed."

Where it's most grating is in the reporting of political processes in which one side is clearly engaging in obstruction, while the other is attempting to fulfill a policy that has broad support. For example, it's clear that the Republican members of the deficit-reduction so-called Super Committee are not proceeding in good faith when they raise some taxes (finally) while cutting enough taxes for a net loss of revenue, and then still call for substantial cuts in social programs. It's also clear that the Democrats have signaled a willingness to cut spending on social programs AND raise taxes to reach deficit reduction goals.

That's essentially what's been happening. But to hear the media reports, it's a "both sides have been unable to come to any meaningful compromise that would satisfy the majority of Americans who reside in the middle of the American politique."

We hear this even though the Democratic deficit-reduction plan is actually a centrist position. What's more, polls routinely point out that strong majorities favor this position.

Another current maddening example is that the Occupy Movement has no leaders and no explicit goals or principles and thus can't bring meaningful change. While it's true that no strong leaders in the movement have emerged, it's absolutely clear that Occupiers have a very clear principles and goals: they are unhappy that the wealthiest 1% of Americans control 40% of our country's wealth. The 99%ers are unhappy that the banks are foreclosing on thousands and thousands of homes to a great extent because they made it too easy to borrow money. A good solution would be to make it easier to pay back these loans. Everybody wins: banks make some money, and people keep their houses.

I could go on, but I think you get the point. We all know what the 99%ers want, and a lot of us want that, too. Even the tea partiers, whose inchoate message was eventually amplified by astro-turf organizations and their money, would and should agree with a lot of the message of the Occupy Movement.

Here's another example of the damage media narratives do. If the NYPD says that they worried about public safety, and that's why they're going to shut down the camps, well, the media just dutifully reports it. If a media outlet can cobble together a handful of reports that support the idea that the Occupy Movement has turned violent, then that's what you'll hear: endless reports of a fight here and knife drawn there, and murder that took place near an encampment, no matter whether it's eventually shown to be unrelated to the movement or its adherents. When the media ordains a narrative, it's hard to get them off it. This is how editorial directors gets so much power. If Bill Keller thinks the OWS folks are dirty hippies, they'll be dirty hippies, as if that's a bad thing.

Here's Paul Krugman:
Right now, the campaign against OWS basically tries to get working Americans to turn on the movement, even though most people support the movement’s goals, by trying to make it seem as if the protestors are people not like you — whereas the plutocrats are. Hey, this has worked many times in the past; that’s the whole point of “What’s the matter with Kansas.” And it can operate in many directions: OWS should be shunned because they’re dirty hippies, Elizabeth Warren is not-like-you because, horrors, she’s a Harvard professor.
 Pretty much. And Glenn Greenwald:
As Stelter correctly noted: “Much of what is said on television about the Occupy Wall Street movement is opinion. Some is factual. And sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference.” That is at least part of the reason that public opinion is souring on the movement. But as usual, the problem isn’t that people are watching falsehoods from Fox. The problem is that so much of what Fox spouts is also found — often first — in The New York Times.

I don't doubt that the media creates narratives as a tool to package stories in order to organize the story for its listenership, readership, or viewership. In that, I'm sure they often mean well (exception that proves the rule: Fox News). The problem is that narrative creation and management are so open to manipulation, and even well-intentioned editors can create narratives that are counterproductive to the service they wish to provide.

What's painfully true is that these narratives can go off the rails. The run-up to the Iraq War is a case in point. You don't need me to remind you of how that worked. Another painful example: the "Mission Accomplished" debacle with Bush on an aircraft carrier was accompanied by a narrative that this cowboy deserved his swagger because he "looked at home in a flight suit." Everyone was too enamored of the narrative to ask the question, "What mission was accomplished?" We all too soon found out. Thousands of lives later and nothing has been accomplished for certain.

To wrap this up: This quest for fairness in the media has caused a portion of viewers, listeners, and readers to issue knee-jerk reactions, such as "THAT REPORT WAS BIASED. THE NEWS IS SUPPOSED TO BE BALANCED. LIBERAL MEDIA AT ITS WORST@!!" Unfortunately, consumers these days mistake reporting for opinion and vice versa. And we have the media to blame for that.

If the Republicans are full-bore obstructionists, report that. If Democrats are milk-toast negotiators that reveal their hole cards right at the beginning and thus always end up losing, then report that. If the result of that is going to be another defeat for Obama, then report that.

If the cops start busting heads at an otherwise peaceful demonstration or occupation, report that. Don't report that "Mayor Bloomberg has finally lost patience with the demonstrators and has, in spite of his respect for free speech and right to peacefully assemble, decided for public safety's sake to clear the park." Especially don't say that if, in fact, he sends in police in riot gear with pepper spray in hand and truncheon on the belt ready to bust heads in the middle of the night while cordoning off an area of New York as a "no press zone." That shows no respect for the First Amendment whatsoever.

What you can do:
  • Watch carefully for the narrative and see how it's forming. Test the narrative and its various components. If the facts don't bear out the conclusions upon which the narrative rests, ditch the whole thing and compose your own narrative.
  • Accept that reporting can express facts and draw conclusions. A sentence like "The Republicans continue to resist all efforts to raise taxes as part of any package and have, in effect, shut down the entire process, leading many observers to voice concerns that chances of any solution are slim to none," actually is reporting that includes a logical conclusion drawn from observable facts. It's not opinion foisted on us by the "lamestream media."
  • Accept opinion for what it is. I don't care for David Brooks, but he is an opinion writer and thus has a right to free expression. Wise men accept this with grace (okay, I occasionally swear at him when he's on the TV) and don't confuse reasoned opinion with the kind of wild distortion of facts as practiced by professional bamboozlers like Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh. Their stock-in-trade is truth distortion. Without it, their whole jig would be up.
  • Educate yourself. If you hear that the Fed is going to enact QE3, find out what that means. Figure out if it's fiscal or monetary policy at work. Find out if it makes good sense to you. Become knowledgeable about the things that will help our society work better. The Internet is, obviously, a great place for this research. Start by reading the economics blogs listed on the right sidebar of my blog.
 As an example of educating oneself, I offer a page on the Internet I found at a site called on media and political bias. Read the whole thing (not long), but here's a tease:
Narrative bias: The news media cover the news in terms of "stories" that must have a beginning, middle, and end--in other words, a plot with antagonists and protagonists. Much of what happens in our world, however, is ambiguous. The news media apply a narrative structure to ambiguous events suggesting that these events are easily understood and have clear cause-and-effect relationships. Good storytelling requires drama, and so this bias often leads journalists to add, or seek out, drama for the sake of drama. Controversy creates drama. Journalists often seek out the opinions of competing experts or officials in order to present conflict between two sides of an issue (sometimes referred to as the authority-disorder bias). Lastly, narrative bias leads many journalists to create, and then hang on to, master narratives--set story lines with set characters who act in set ways. Once a master narrative has been set, it is very difficult to get journalists to see that their narrative is simply one way, and not necessarily the correct or best way, of viewing people and events.
 Rhetorica is the site of Dr. Andrew R. Cline, Assistant Professor of Journalism at Missouri State University.

 Update. Dan Beucke of BusinessWeek actually offered what I view as a balanced analysis of OWS so far. Check it out.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Education Is An (Optional) Human Right

Any civilized nation must provide a free, quality education. I believe that should go all the way to the 16th grade, to a bachelor's degree.

Here is the nub: to what point should an education be mandatory? If one does not want to be educated, to what extent should one be forced?

Here in California it's mandatory to attend school -- or an equivalent, such as home schooling -- between the ages of 6 and 18, unless one has reached the age of 16 and has "graduated from high school or passed the California High School Proficiency Exam (CHSPE) and obtained parental permission to leave." (California Education Code)

All states follow roughly the same practices, though most end mandatory attendance at 16. Colorado was late to the party, apparently having no law concerning mandatory school attendance until 2006.

A quick look at laws in Europe and Asia confirm that all countries have compulsory education from roughly 5-7 until 14-18, corresponding to something like our high-school level. Mexico is a low-end example, requiring schooling only through the 9th grade, or the end of junior high.

Many countries around the world don't charge university tuition. Most western European countries have tuition-free university education. Britain is an exception, charging up to $14,500 at public universities. Germany now charges a 1000 euro entrance fee. Australia, free until recently, is around the middle in price. Canada tuition levels are the lowest among the English-speaking countries, including the U.S.

As institutions go, this is not as good as a school.

I could go on, but the main point is that an education is vital to the success of the individual as well as the nation. Beyond assuring that a citizen enters adulthood with the knowledge and skills to fully participate in society, states and nations cannot insist that citizens become educated beyond what their imaginations require. Thus, those who have passed beyond the mandatory measures can opt out of further education.

That's why it's wise to make a university education free or attractively low-priced. And I'm not speaking about private universities: they're free to charge as much as they please. No, as long as we have a decent public-sector educational system, I could care less what Harvard charges.

Education as a right is so well-understood that it's non-controversial. That's good. And here is not the place to charge that Texas and Kansas, for example, have a bad habit of trying to re-write history and science curricula to suit their political and religious agendas. Let's just say that's not good, and they should rethink their practices..

(As an aside, almost all countries have some level of compulsory education, with Eastern Europe, Africa, South America, and the developing countries of Asia having somewhat shorter lengths required.)

I'm glad that education seems to be highly regarded around the globe, making it easy to consider it a basic human right. Beyond that, I can only offer that my life has been immeasurably richer for the learning I've done, and I can't imagine a point where I'm done with it. Living is learning, and I recommend it to absolutely everyone. In fact, an individual or nation's significance is in inverse proportion to its general state of ignorance.

On a personal point of observation: if there's a case to be made to require an even more robust education for American citizens, one only needs to read the comments on websites, whether blogs or mainstream media, to realize why. A mind may be a terrible thing to waste, but a wasted mind is a terrible thing to display in public.

Think before you share your thoughts, please. I'm only saying.

Mylenek, a moron, prepares to publicly address the "dumbest shiz [he's] evr seen!!!1!"
(thanks to the Onion)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Occupy Movement Brings Out a Police State for the First Time Since... speech "zones" were invented in the Bush era. Remember those? (Link goes to The American Conservative. Guess they do sometimes get all squishy about free speech):

Oh, Big Daddy President, bless you for my free speech!

Yes, I was a hippie in the Vietnam era, and, yes, I did some protesting, even going so far as some of that non-violent civil disobedience -- which got me thrown out of Santa Clara University for a while -- and, yes, I remember Police rioting even then. Anyone else remember?

I bring up these two facets of protest, back in the day and during Bush's time, to remind us that there's nothing new under the sun, even as it looks pretty dark in our encroaching police state. As The American Conservative reported in 2003, here's how it was:
When Bush travels around the United States, the Secret Service visits the location ahead of time and orders local police to set up “free speech zones” or “protest zones” where people opposed to Bush policies (and sometimes sign-carrying supporters) are quarantined. These zones routinely succeed in keeping protesters out of presidential sight and outside the view of media covering the event.
Sound like free speech to you?

Last night, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave the orders to clear Occupy Wall Street from Zuccotti Park, he made sure that the police also kept the press out. A Mother Jones reporter, Josh Harkinson, was able to hang in the park for a while:
"I'm a reporter," I told him.
"This is a frozen zone, all right?" he said, using a term I'd never heard before. "Just like them, you have to leave the area. If you do not, you will be subject to arrest."
By then, riot police were moving in, indiscriminately dousing the peaceful protesters with what looked like pepper spray or some sort of gas. As people yelled and screamed and cried, I tried to stay calm.
"I promise to leave once the arrests are done," I replied.
"This is a frozen zone," one cop insisted. "You could be injured." His meaning was clear.
"No, you are going to leave now."
He grabbed my arm and began dragging me off. My shoes skidded across the park's slimy granite floor. All around me, zip-cuffed occupiers writhed on the ground beneath a fog of chemicals.
"I just want to witness what is going on here," I yelped.
"You can witness it with the rest of the press," he said. Which, of course, meant not witnessing it.
"Why are you excluding the press from observing this?" I asked.
"Because this is a frozen zone. It's a police action going on. You could be injured."
His meaning was clear. I let myself be hustled across the street to the press pen.
"What's your name?"
His reply came as fast as he could turn away: "Watch your back."
At least NYPD didn't riot...

The Occupy Oakland protesters were thrown out of Frank Ogawa Plaza just about the same time, as were occupiers in over a dozen cities across the country. Jean Quan, mayor of Oakland, let slip that "I was recently on a conference call with 18 cities across the country who had the same situation where what had started as a political movement and a political encampment ended up being an encampment that was no longer in control of the people who started them.”

Tehran or Oakland? Not sure?

Finally -- at least in the reporting vein -- UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau said about the violent police response to the Occupy Cal protesters in front of Sproul Hall this past weekend:
It is unfortunate that some protesters chose to obstruct the police by linking arms and forming a human chain to prevent the police from gaining access to the tents. This is not non-violent civil disobedience.
 To which I can only say: You've got to be shitting me. How much do we pay this guy? (As of 2010, his salary is $436,800, plus perks [house, car, etc...])

I watch this and, like Paul Krugman, it makes me sad and disturbed. I've made it clear that I favor the Occupy movement's sentiments, that income and power is shifting precipitously to wealthy elites, that corporate greed is degrading and unfair, that poverty rates and unemployment are a direct result of policies that we knew were not wise -- except perhaps in the gated communities in the wealthy suburbs.

I believe a progressive platform can be built on these beliefs and that we can save the country. I'm made all the more sanguine by recalling that we experienced this in the past -- anyone remember 1929 and the income inequality that preceded the crash? -- and we were able to undo it. Can we do it again? I don't know, but the labor movement of the 1930s was propelled by the stresses of the Great Depression. We need another movement, a progressive one, inspired by the revulsion the 99% feel in 2011 after years of unemployment, foreclosures, and sheer dread at our prospects. Will it happen? I don't know, but watching billionaires like Michael Bloomberg show themselves as the oligarchs they are gives me hope that we will get mad as hell and not take it anymore.

Start by:
  1. Unionizing.
  2. Ditching the big banks.
  3. Abandoning big corporations (don't buy, don't work.)
  4. Not voting for anyone who is clearly a tool of the corporate world.
  5. Letting your elected officials know you're on to them.
  6. Protesting, protesting, protesting.
  7. Keeping your money away from the dog track (stock market).
  8. Supporting single-payer healthcare. (Biggest financial reform we could make.)
  9. Spending as much money as we can on locally produced, non-big-corporate goods as possible.
  10. Demanding Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid remain the way they are (or better), even if going back to the tax rates before 1980 is necessary (no, they're not scary).
  11. Insisting that the financial system is properly regulated (lower them margins!).
Okay, there's my 11-point plan. You got one? Well, get on it. We've got some oligarchs to hound.

PS. If you're in the Tea Party, start looking around. If you aren't rich, think about your prospects of reaching the 1%. If it's not likely, you're more like us, the 99%ers, than you think. Join us. Don't be hornswoggled. It's not too late.

Hey, Occupy Movement, we got your leader right here...
Afterthought: The NYPD's "stop and frisk" policies seem to be pure police state tactics. The New York Civil Liberties Union has analyzed its practice here, and Columbia University did a study -- in which disparities by race were evident -- and you can read it here. I bring this up because, when Zuccotti Park was opened up after the recent raid, it was surrounded by barricades and those wanting to enter were subject to stop and frisk at law enforcement's discretion (as announced in advance). Intimidation prior to any act as a matter of stated policy is the definition of a police state. Anyone disagree? Is this America, Mitt Romney's "exceptional country?"

Update: Digby digs up the darker, back story of the national coordination on ending the protests, involving the FBI and Homeland Security. Not good, must read.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Truthiness of the GOP Is Debatable

I've made it a point not to obsess over the GOP debates this year. Yeah, they've been reliable car wrecks by the side of the road, making it hard not to look to spot the injured. But if there are any injuries, it's more likely than not the truth that suffers. Though Rick Perry has sorely tested that thesis.

I'm a partisan. I want more Democrats than Republicans to get elected, and I try to be explicit when discussing why. I'm reasonably good at avoiding name-calling. And yet I can't help but be shocked by the vapidity of many of the answers when I view the tape. It's shocking, is all.

I should like the messes the candidates get into, such as when Michele Backmann, Herman Cain, and Rick Perry explain that in spite of U.S. and international law -- which the U.S. is a signatory to -- they continue to promulgate waterboarding as a viable tool in our interrogation arsenal, in spite of, well, everything. If they were credible candidates I'd be worried. And as a partisan, I should be happy that they continue to muck up the GOP brand.

A reminder issued by Scott Pelley last night: even John McCain condemned waterboarding in his election try in 2008.

I remember when Dick Cheney warned in 2004 that if John Kerry were elected president, we were likely to get attacked again. It made no sense. Still, John Kerry didn't get elected.

Channeling Cheney, there was Mitt Romney in SC declaring that if Obama is reelected Iran will surely have the Bomb. If Mitt is elected, he'll magically make it not so. Right.

Of course, that doesn't make sense. It's just, well, truthiness, as Stephen Colbert has instructed us. Here's how you do it: sound plausible and utter it with conviction.

If I'm elected, men will wear white boxers. If Mitt Romney is elected, they'll all turn pink. And I know what I'm talking about.

See how easy truthiness is?

“We have a president right now who thinks America is just another nation,” said former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. “America is an exceptional nation.”

Pink boxers, Mitt.

The candidates also attacked Obama for pulling the troops out of Iraq, which he's doing while following a status-of-forces agreement forged in the Bush administration. Of course, any of the GOP candidates could have strong-armed the Iraqis into letting the troops stay.

Yep, pink boxers.

There is not much else that was memorable at the Republican debate in SC. Seriously. With one exception: the audience applauded when Cain, Bachmann, and Perry went all waterboarding on us. That might set a record for the greatest number of weird stuff happening at debates. First, it was cheering when Rick Perry was asked about his highest-in-the-nation execution rate in Texas. Then it was shouting "Yeah!" when it was suggested that people who died because they didn't have health insurance deserved it. Finally, there was the booing of the gay soldier. Real classy.

Let's review: the GOP debate audiences have, variously, cheered executions, support the deaths of the uninsured, booed gay soldiers, and endorsed torture. I hope their moms weren't watching -- and that the voters were.

There is one conclusion I have yet to consider. Is what's on display on the stage of these debates -- and in the audiences -- emblematic of the true feelings of today's GOP? If it is, they, or we, are in trouble.

You know, like Mitt Romney's foreign policy

 Update: Today, Senator John McCain announced that he was "very disappointed" with the endorsement of waterboarding as an "enhanced interrogation technique."

"It's contrary to America's traditions," he said. "It's contrary to our ideals. That's not who we are. That's not how we operate. We don't need it in order to prosecute the war on terrorism. And we did the right thing by ending that practice."

Also, since Mitt Romney didn't weigh in on the subject during the debate, I kept him out of the controversy. However, The Washington Post reported today that:
Mitt Romney did not weigh in during the debate, but aides later told reporters that the former Massachusetts governor does not believe waterboarding is torture and did not rule out its use in a Romney administration.
So, there you have it. Gingrich, by the way, seems to have fallen through the cracks, on torture anyway. But according to a PPP poll out today, he's the frontrunner, with 28% to Cain's 25%. Romney slips to 3rd with 18%. Remember, Gingrich was all but written off months ago, by Republicans! Yowzah.

My lead's gonna be thi-i-s-s big!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Castles Made of Sand, Castles Made of Hot Air

This morning I was struck by a comment left on the The Week magazine site pertaining to an article about whether Mitt Romney's near-cloning of Paul Ryan's poleaxing of Medicare amounted to the resurrection of the Democrats' plan for a public option for healthcare. In addition to privatizing Medicare while handing seniors vouchers, which won't cover the cost of private insurance, Romney adds a public option to the mix, allowing seniors to retain the old Medicare as an option, but only to the extent that the cash voucher would allow. In other words, it's virtually certain that the voucher amount won't be able to pay for what Medicare provides today. The comment by nem0.n00ne on The Week read:
Yea Rick [another commenter], the secret of a successful business is to have your customer base die. That's a really brilliant business plan....... If you really believe that government civil service drones will take better care of you than the market, I suggest that you move to the reservation of any American Indian tribe without a casino and see what that does for your life expectancy.
Rick had said:
Uggh. The power of the market? Puh-leaze. It's in your insurers [sic] best interest that, if you get really sick, you die quickly. I don't want the "market" looking out for my health.
Okay, let's take a look at that. Our market-based solution versus a mix of market-based, single-payer, and government healthcare systems (click for larger version):

And to remind us of the outcomes (click for larger version):

And our life expectancy relative to our expenditures compared to other countries (click for larger version):

So, what I want to know is whether our friendly commenter at The Week would stand by his comment. The facts have been available for all to see that we shouldn't be comparing our healthcare results to Indian reservations. We should be comparing them to the rest of the world.

It's clear our system sucks. What's not clear is how we get the truth out.

Speaking of the truth, is there any in this new ad (supported by an ad by of $600,000) by Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS? See for yourself:

Here's the actual video stolen and misrepresented by Rove:

As Digby said in her reaction to the ad:
This isn't ideological. It's sheer lizard brain tribalism. I don't know if Rove has found the right buttons to push, but considering what we're seeing and reading from Fox and the Murdoch papers (not to mention the blogospheric fever swamps like Powerline) I'd have to guess they know their audience. The questions is whether there are enough of them to make a difference. Massachusetts is obviously going to be one of the battlegrounds.
 With Rove and unlimited corporate expenditures, it's looks like we've got to get ready for some real trench warfare. It used to be called politics. I'm not sure what we should call it now.