Saturday, April 28, 2012

Jury Finally In: The Republicans Are to Blame

First, a note on my previous post on delusional Republicans. I intended to portray the non-professional Republican Party members -- you know, the real Americans -- as the deludees and the professional Republican Party members -- elected politicians, Rush Limbaugh, most anyone on Fox -- as the deluders, and I hope that distinction is clear. Some might see this as cynical or that it belies the legitimacy of the-stupid-or-evil polarity, but I don't see it that way. The stupid-or-evil polarity applies only to the professional class and is meant to shed light on the motivation of the professional right. The stupid professionals shouldn't catch a break, and the evil professionals are responsible for the bulk of damage they do to those suckers who fall for their schlock. Those bastards should be called out and fought to the last ditch. But it doesn't excuse the suckers.

Voters captured in their native habitat.

No, with a bit of sadness, I have to admit I'm calling the Republican grassroots and the right-leaning independents stupid or ignorant. The stupid-or-ignorant polarity is a real phenomenon, though the notion of willful ignorance can't be forgotten. Some people just long for a time when blacks knew their place and women didn't compete with men for jobs -- and knew their place, too, which was in the nursery or the kitchen. That wish to return to "traditional values" is a powerful draw, especially for the disenfranchised, the displaced. That's why it's so prevalent in the South and among the less educated.

I intend that statement of belief. It's backed up by studies and facts. I don't have to like it, and I don't. That's why I spent a large part of my life in the field of education. I wanted to fight ignorance and stupidity. Like Paul Krugman -- with whom I share an affinity if not stature -- I fear I might have failed. But to paraphrase Martin L. King, the arc of education is long and bends toward knowledge -- and illumination.

*               *               *               *

Now, back to my regularly schedule post, one that I offer with unbounded joy. It turns out that two leading centrist political scientists, one from a centrist Washington think tank and the other from a conservative version, have thought long and hard about it and come to the conclusion that the Republican Party has flown off its wheels, much to the detriment of the federal government's ability to do its job, which, unsurprisingly, is to govern. And it's published on the front page (web version, at least) of the Washington Post!

And there was great joy and celebration throughout the land.

Here's a link to the lengthy and scholarly article, co-authored by Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institute and Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, entitled "Let's just say it: The Republicans are the Problem." Here are the money paragraphs:
We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.
The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.
When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.
 That's pretty heady stuff for someone like me who came to this conclusion long ago but wondered why the "liberal media" never acknowledged it. Mann and Ornstein have a recommendation to said media:
We understand the values of mainstream journalists, including the effort to report both sides of a story. But a balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality. If the political dynamics of Washington are unlikely to change anytime soon, at least we should change the way that reality is portrayed to the public.
Our advice to the press: Don’t seek professional safety through the even-handed, unfiltered presentation of opposing views. Which politician is telling the truth? Who is taking hostages, at what risks and to what ends?
 Again, heady stuff. Another treat from the article was this link to an article on Truthout written by a Mike Lofgren, a lifelong Republican and a veteran of 28 years as a congressional staffer. Here are his money paragraphs:
To those millions of Americans who have finally begun paying attention to politics and watched with exasperation the tragicomedy of the debt ceiling extension, it may have come as a shock that the Republican Party is so full of lunatics. To be sure, the party, like any political party on earth, has always had its share of crackpots, like Robert K. Dornan or William E. Dannemeyer. But the crackpot outliers of two decades ago have become the vital center today: Steve King, Michele Bachman (now a leading presidential candidate as well), Paul Broun, Patrick McHenry, Virginia Foxx, Louie Gohmert, Allen West. The Congressional directory now reads like a casebook of lunacy.
[ ...] It should have been evident to clear-eyed observers that the Republican Party is becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult, or one of the intensely ideological authoritarian parties of 20th century Europe. This trend has several implications, none of them pleasant. [emphasis mine]
 Read the whole article, long as it is. Since Lofgren's a Republican and one who was on the inside for much of his career, when he speaks it's with the knowledge of the inside game, making it all the more visceral and frightening in its clarity. It explains in vivid detail both the deception and the implications.

Even if I'm an avowed archenemy of today's Republican Party and the conservative movement in general, I, too, am almost wistful for the quaint days when even Barry Goldwater was a moderate compared to today's rabble. The realization that Richard Nixon, for all his foibles, was by today's standards a liberal with good intentions for the country, though he pursued them with an evil vigor.

Holy shit, another voter.

There's more literature out there about this descent by one of America's two great parties into an insurrectionist party that obstructs with guerrilla-like tactics. Lofgren quotes John P. Judis of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace writing in The New Republic:
Over the last four decades, the Republican Party has transformed from a loyal opposition into an insurrectionary party that flouts the law when it is in the majority and threatens disorder when it is the minority. It is the party of Watergate and Iran-Contra, but also of the government shutdown in 1995 and the impeachment trial of 1999. If there is an earlier American precedent for today's Republican Party, it is the antebellum Southern Democrats of John Calhoun who threatened to nullify, or disregard, federal legislation they objected to and who later led the fight to secede from the union over slavery.
That didn't work out well for the secessionists, did it? Thanks to the NRA, the right is easily better armed than the left. So I hope it doesn't come to actual insurrection. In today's climate, where money is the overwhelming ticket to power, the battle will more likely be played out in the political theater of war than a real battlefield.

Yet, there are calls from the far left, the Occupy movement in particular, to come together behind the barricades, and the Tea-Party freshmen in the House of Representatives still fight with the fervor of the true believer and when offered the chance to close down the government over a simple debt-ceiling vote, crying, "Bring it on!"

Oops, wrong barricade.

Where this all ends remains clouded in mystery, but how we got there is not. Hopefully the media will take the advice of Mann and Ornstein before it's too late. We need a long and healthy dose of reality to restore us to anything resembling a functioning great nation.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Mitt Romney Gets Past Etch-A-Schetch Label

It's all over. Where am I?

Wow. I'm moving to Utah.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Republicans, Delusion Is Thy Name

When someone takes a look at an ideology, which is already an abstraction -- the driving philosophy behind concrete actions -- and makes certain assumptions about its validity, one must decide more than the ideology's efficacy. One must not so oddly enough also examine the motivation and inspiration for advancing that ideology.

Since I'm of the view that politics is money and power (not so original an idea), when I observe what the Republican Party puts forth as its agenda for our national future, I have to ignore the white noise of political obfuscation to get to the nub of their intentions, as it were. Politics has a great deal of white noise to it. Conservatives are better at managing this white noise. In fact, it's their stock in trade.

What do I mean by that? As rhetoricians, conservatives have long outstripped liberals. One only needs to realize that conservatives treat the word "conservative" as though it were deified, while treating "liberal" as if it were gum stuck underneath a theater seat for forty years. And they've done it so consistently that it has taken on the status of a zombie lie. It's almost impossible to kill, leastways by actual liberals.

So, as I take on the conservative memes, I already feel at a disadvantage, one that we progressives have to actively and fervently shake. We can only be successful by treating the word conservative more the way it deserves to be treated in the current context.

What passes for conservative thought in the current political mainstream can be summed up in one word: delusion.

 (I want to add parenthetically here that the word "conservative" could have an acceptable, even welcome, connotation. For instance, conservatives could be and should be an ideology that actively supports conservation and preservation of the environment; that wishes to control debt but is willing to engage in Keynesian stimulus to protect a weakening middle class in order to underpin and stimulate broader, sustainable, economic growth; that realizes the value of an educational system that preserves the longstanding American advantage in university and government-driven research and development; that understands that the health of the nation's workers would benefit business interests by increasing productivity. For reasons that should be painfully obvious, "conservatives" represent no such ideals.)

Now, the first challenge to be faced, once one realizes that the conservatism of the Republican base, the so-called tea party adherents, is delusional is to come to grips with why it is so. It's not so stunning an insight: the Republican base is delusional because its leaders have promulgated the delusion.

What are the tenets of this delusion? a quick laundry list of Republican ideals as we head into this election year:

Lower taxes are always good. Who cares if this lower-taxes concept means we have to constantly be lowering taxes to live up to this proposition. When we do this, we have to cut services to people. These services are known as public goods. What are some of these public goods? Education, civil and criminal justice, public safety, public health, the social safety net, clean water, clean air, land management, air traffic control, regulation of commerce, financial regulation, communications regulation, international diplomacy, and defense. Why delusional? If we are always cutting taxes, we are always allowing these public goods to degrade. And they are, rapidly. According to Republicans, this is good for the country. No, it's good for the wealthy who don't care about public well-being.

Okay, a bridge collapsed. But taxes are low, so it's all good!

Private sector solutions are always better. Leave it to the private sector. Why delusional? Private-sector solutions must always turn a profit. Without it, there is no private motivation. When the private sector handles the role of government in the area of public goods, these goods generally cost American citizens more money. This in not actually conservative thinking. 

Private prisons: $46.73 per prisoner per day. Public prisons: $42.36 per day. Free enterprise win!

Government spending is inherently bad because it leads to public debt, which is also bad. Therefore, we have to lower taxes -- generally on the wealthy -- to reign in public spending. Why delusional? Lowering taxes while lowering public spending leads to the same level of debt. The debt remains the same while the general welfare declines and living standards fall.

Not complicated: too much spending, higher deficit; not enough spending, higher deficit! Capiche?

Private-sector jobs are better than public-sector jobs, therefore shrinking government by slashing spending is good, even if it eliminates jobs. Why delusional? A lost job is a lost job, and a federal, state, or local government worker laid off because of slashed spending doesn't pay taxes, leading to both lower consumption and lower tax revenue, leading to slower economic growth and higher public debt, with multiplier effects (I lose my public teaching job, I don't pay taxes or into Social Security or Medicare, I don't buy a new car, so someone isn't needed in Detroit, who then doesn't buy new tires, etc. and etc.). Big Government shrinks, everything shrinks, even in the private sector. Also roads go unpaved, bridges fall apart.

These people were not taxpayers, whether laid off by U.S. Steel or County Parks and Rec.

Environmental regulation is bad for the economy, bad for business. While this is demonstrably true in certain cases, it depends on your viewpoint. For example, air-pollution-control devices on cars, factories, and power plants can be seen as reducing profits for companies -- no, because companies move the costs to consumers -- or raising costs for consumers -- not necessarily, because paying for your asthmatic son or daughter ain't cheap -- but the overall cost of higher air pollution will inevitably be borne by all. The delusion? What's good for business is good for the nation as a whole. Not! Have you been to Beijing lately? Even the Chinese boil their tap water before drinking it. But Chinese economic growth is great!

The Chinese have kept their business costs down by not regulating air quality. GDP win!

Socialized medicine is bad, even evil. If we call it the "public option," Republicans will still cringe and give you that are-you-a-communist look. "Health care is best left to the private sector where competition will lower costs." Why delusional? The U.S. has the highest healthcare costs in the world while being 37th in healthcare outcomes. By every possible measure, U.S. healthcare is not the envy of the world. What's the most delusional aspect of Republican talking points on this subject? That's easy: "America has the best healthcare system in the world." Bunk. Medicare, very much a government-run program, has the best record of controlling healthcare costs in America.

Americans don't live as long, but we spend a lot trying to. Greatest country on Earth?

The government should not mandate that any business, religious or not, must provide insurance with no-copay for women's preventative healthcare, including contraception, testing, and other gynecological services. Republicans insist on this, saying that it is a matter of religious freedom. Why delusional? The Obama administration does not demand that churches and their legitimate religious institutions provide such services. It only directs church-operated institutions that directly serve the public, such as universities and hospitals, provide such insurance. And, as an extra layer of insulation, the insurance companies themselves must bear the costs of such preventive services. 98% of all American women use such services at some point in their lifetimes. Women then have to bear costs that men do not. That's discrimination pure and simple. But violation of religious freedom feels better to the Republicans, even if no one is forced to violate their beliefs on whether or not to use contraceptives.

All that government money going to abortions. Oh, ah, 3%? Oh, that's right, by law, none.

Man, religious women sure don't use contraception. You betcha!

Clearly our country doesn't use preventive measures to avoid pregnancy.

The wealthy in this country are the job creators, so lowering taxes on them gives them more money with which to create jobs. Why delusional? The U.S. has low taxes on the rich already, and we've had many economic booms when taxes were higher. What creates jobs are customers. The principal customers of American business is the middle class. Income equality has never been greater -- the richest 20% of the U.S. population own 85% of the nation's wealth, while the other 80% own the remaining 15%. That 80% includes all of the middle and lower classes. Where are the customers that will spur the economy to create jobs?

Co-owned by Larry Ellison and David Geffen. Think of the jobs they created for the crew! (Probably illegals, saves money)

The Republicans hate illegal immigration and want to stop it. This is a major delusion. Republican leaders love immigrants from south of the border. Undocumented workers create downward pressure on wages and take jobs away from low-skilled U.S. citizens. Study after study confirm this. If the Republicans are the party of business, they want more illegal immigration. That's why they've resisted immigration reform. They like the status quo. It's my opinion that the most extreme members of the Republican coalition are making trouble for the greater Republican interests by passing laws like the one in Arizona that would drive away illegal immigrants. Maybe they're just getting wise and making room for low-skilled Americans to take back their jobs at Taco Bell, McDonald's, and Burger King.

Finding workers outside a Home Depot. What carpenters union?

Spending more on defense than all the other countries in the world keeps us safe. Being able to win any war anywhere makes us the most powerful nation in the world. Why delusional? From Reagan to Bush the Greater to Bush the Lesser (and even Clinton in between and Obama as the capper), we've spent enough money on defense to pay off our national debt many times over. And yet 19 guys leveled the Twin Towers killing 2,606, smashed into the Pentagon killing 125, and destroyed four planes killing 246 more people. Meanwhile, we lost over 50,000 in Vietnam. Why? We lost 4,486 lives -- with 33,184 wounded -- in Iraq. Why? We've lost 1,857 lives -- with 15,322 wounded -- in Afghanistan. Why? Let's not even go into the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan civilians who've died. Still, why? Are we safer? Really? Generally, we just piss off most of the world by our military aggression. (Examples of good outcomes? Two military operations carried out under President Clinton, in Bosnia and Kosovo, ended bloodshed in those two regions without the loss of a single American citizen. That's a model for military intervention.)

Holy shit. I'm here because? Oh yeah, the projection of American power. Booyah!

Here's the one delusion that binds them all: if we preserve the individual imperative, if we prevent government from taking over our lives, then we as a nation of individuals with individual prerogatives will prosper. Why delusional? Nations that maintain strong democratic ideals yet restrain individual prerogatives for the greater good fare better in today's world. Examples of this are Japan, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Bhutan, Luxembourg, Iceland, Netherlands, Australia, Switzerland, Canada, and New Zealand. The U.S. never is ranked near the top of healthy and happy countries, even when reported in such conservative magazines as Forbes and Businessweek. The U.S. has one of the highest poverty rates of any developed country in the world. Most measures place the U.S. as having the 23rd highest poverty rate in the world. That's out of 196 countries.

We're number, ah, 23rd! highest in poverty. Oh well, home sweet home.
If Republican leaders are dishing out the talking points that are meant to delude, who are the effective targets?
  1. Some call them the Tea Party.
  2. Some call them the Republican base.
  3. Some call them the Real America.
  4. Some call them the Heartland.
  5. Some call them white, non-college-graduate evangelicals.
  6. Some call them white Christian males, mostly from the South.
  7. I call them the victims of the echo machine, the good ole boys pissed that a Negro got over on them and got elected president while they were so busy drinking Lone Star that they flunked their third attempt at the GED.
  8. I call them the dead-enders, the 28% who still think George W. Bush was a good president.
  9. I call them the people who think as long as taxes stay low they'll be even richer when they win the lottery, even though chances are they'll spend more time hating that Indonesian Muslim Hawaiian black man in the White House than they will trying to figure out why they don't have a pot to piss in and why there are so many fucking tornadoes.
  10. To be honest, I bet thousands of them make $160,000 a year working for Archer Daniels Midland Group or John Deere Tractor or Monsanto, or some such decent living, while drinking on the weekends with friends in downtown Kansas City, wondering why they should pay for the fucking bastards, forgetting that they went to public schools all their lives (paid for by other fucking bastards), and drive up and down the Interstate highways (paid for by other fucking bastards). Oh, you get the point.
How do I know all this? I know it because I've been around the bend with my eyes open, and I recognize zombie lies when I see them. Oh, and I'm someone who doesn't mind paying for the fucking bastards because I'm a liberal who loves public goods, and social programs, and paying into Social Security and Medicare, and plan on fighting for a single-payer healthcare system like those I experienced while living in the Netherlands and Japan, where they are healthier and happier and live longer than the citizens in the Greatest Nation on Earth. I was even sick, really sick one time in France, and the doctor who cured me didn't even charge me because it was too much trouble figuring out what the hell to charge a foreigner. And besides, he was well-paid and happy and healthy, even though he lived in France, fucking France.

Oh, and I've listened to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, and a whole bunch of white, Christian radio asshats, and they suck. And if you listen really carefully, they are completely delusional and their main message is hateful, and you're gay or a Jew or Satan and my Jesus is the bad-ass Jesus, you know, the one who loves guns, the death penalty, and hates the poor and welfare and public goods, and loves the rich, and my Jesus can kick your ass. (But I'm pro-life!)

So, deluded victims of the dead-enders whose heads are stuck way up into the right-wing, Republican echo chamber, please stop. Please reevaluate. Please research, study political systems and social outcomes around the world. Examine the way people do stuff in other countries. Compare them to how we do stuff in the U.S. and check the statistics that shine a light on the outcomes. If you do this with an open mind, you just might emerge from the dark side, the wasteland flattened by those who would, and have, deluded you. Get a real, fucking education. And join human society. We're waiting.


Finally, something makes sense. G'night.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Rush Limbaugh Is a First Amendment Coward

Limbaugh had his company demand that YouTube pull this compilation video on Rush's distemper tantrum about birth control. As Kos at Daily Kos makes clear, the below video is fair use -- pieces of works in the public, copyright realm can be excepted for critique. So critique this, Limbo:

And Rush, if you're going to beat up on a nice lady from Georgetown, don't be a coward. So folks, let this video go viral. Maybe Limbaugh's reputation will at least catch the flu.

(h/t Kos).

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

My Stance on Guns

Regular readers might quickly surmise that I'm about to reveal something entirely predictable, and they'd be right. I think guns, by and large, should be illegal.

These guns are legal?? In America?? That's right.

My thoughts about guns have never evolved. My position hasn't changed since my first coherent thoughts about the subject, which I assume took place sometime in high school. In fact, I can't remember a time when I thought guns were either cool or necessary. I do, however, remember enjoying BB and pellet guns as a child, and I remember enjoying target practice in ROTC (yes, I spent a year in ROTC at Santa Clara University; it was mandatory in 1966). And I remember enjoying shooting bottles and tin cans with my friend John's 22-caliber rifle. All fun.

I'll be blunt. Hitting baseballs with a baseball bat is fun. Hitting humans over the head with a baseball bat is not (not for me, at least). Shooting at targets is fun. Shooting at people is not.

There is the self-defense argument about guns. They make a certain amount of sense, they really do. There is no question you could defend yourself better with a gun -- in certain situations -- than you could with, say, a rolled-up newspaper. But self-defense has nothing to do with my general proposition about guns.

Which is: Guns, on the whole, cause an inordinate amount of violence, death, and suffering. If you took away the right to own almost all guns, the reduction in violence, death, and suffering would be dramatic. I can't think of a single, intelligent person who would, or should, dispute this.

I found this picture of Rick Perry both fascinating and repulsive.

Oh, I can feel the arguments building, the key one being that if you outlaw guns, only outlaws with have guns. That's true as far as it goes, but until you outlaw guns, you'll never keep them out of the hands of outlaws.

So here's a better statement. If you outlaw guns, eventually even outlaws won't have guns.

In general, a gun makes a person dangerous. When I look at a police officer, I'm immediately aware that one of the things he can do very quickly is shoot me. It might not be likely, but a police officer is more likely to shoot me than a barista at a Starbucks. Just saying.

It's exactly the same with girlfriends. A girlfriend with a gun is much more likely to shoot me than a girlfriend without a gun. That goes for next-door neighbors, mail carriers, school teachers, and Neighborhood Watch volunteers. No gun, no shootee-shootee.

The NRA, which loves guns to death, is a toxic, hyper-dangerous outfit that represents the worst of the American spirit. I believe it takes a brave person to disarm or to not arm at all. I'm not going to call gun owners cowards, that wouldn't be prudent. They might get mad and shoot me. If you are a member of the NRA, please don't get mad and shoot me. But I do believe you are bad for the country, even if you are not a coward.

My sense is that Martin didn't think America's strength lay in the freedom agenda for guns.

My heroes don't need guns. My favorite countries don't need armies. Yes, I'm a pacifist. But there's more to it than that.

I believe that owning a gun raises the probability that harm will come to you. There are exceptions to this premise, but let me offer a few prebuttals:
  • If you have a gun and pull it on someone, you have to be prepared to use it. Otherwise, they just might take it away from you and use it on you. I would hesitate to use a gun on someone. Therefore, I'm not a good candidate for operating a gun.
  • If you feel you're more prepared than I to use a gun if necessary, I believe there is still a greater likelihood that you'll use it unsuccessfully. You're very likely to miss and hit the wrong person or shoot a person that probably meant you less harm than you thought. There are all kinds of things that can happen when you pull out a gun. Having everything end up hunky-dory isn't the most likely outcome. If that's so, you shouldn't pull out a gun.
  • A common outcome with guns is that they're stolen and end up in the hands of, yes, outlaws. Another common outcome is that a kid finds it and kills self or another kid.
I could go on, but I can hear the arguments firing up. We've heard these arguments too often. You don't need me to recite them. I don't buy any of them, except for one, and that's the one that involves hunting. That one I can buy.

I've never been hunting, but it seems to be an honorable pastime. I know and respect the arguments that it's brutal and cruel. Since I'm a carnivore, those arguments fall on deaf ears. If I'm going to eat it, I should have the courage to kill it. Frankly, aside from killing a lot of fish in my time -- and a few abalone, too -- I'm not too keen on hunting and killing game. But if I needed to, I could kill anything that we commonly accept as food, you know, cattle, pigs, sheep, deer, chickens, ducks, geese, etc. In the right setting -- you know, like right after the apocalypse or something -- I'd be plenty capable of shooting to kill -- the aforementioned animals, that is. I don't relish it, but I could do it.

So, there has to be some exception to the ban on guns, and that's rifles that can be used for hunting. These should only be sold to licensed hunters who, ideally, would have to undergo some kind of training and certification process.

Realize, however, that in the world I'm describing, that's it. All other kinds of weapons would be banned. Period. No Uzis, no Glocks, no assault rifles, no clips, no nothing. Just selected, carefully considered hunting rifles available only to adults with the proper training and certification. I can imagine some kind of certification for younger folk, but the idea of hunting rifles in the hands of someone less than 16 frightens me and should frighten you, as well.

I know, a lot of people automatically think the world I'm describing is a sissy world in which the government could easily become tyrannical and worse than Big Brother. I don't buy that suggestion for a minute. I believe in the power of non-violence and organized, non-violent, civil disobedience.

Remember, Gandhi chased the British out of an entire sub-continent with non-violence. The Egyptian Arab Spring overthrew Hosni Mubarak essentially without violence. The Berlin Wall came down without a shot being fired. The Soviet Union ended with a few bangs and a lot of whimpers. I could go on and on. And you know I could. We don't need guns for freedom. We need courage for freedom. That's all. Full stop.

They're young, weird, and Japanese. They don't need guns. Neither do we. Really.

Consider this:
  • Gun violence claims 30,000 lives each year, on average, in the U.S.
  • Japan, on the other hand, bans all guns and swords (that's right, swords). Japan, with a population of 125,000,000, not quite a third that of the U.S., nonetheless has an average over the last decade of about 40 gun homicides a year. 40!
  • The UK, which banned all handguns after the massacre of 16 schoolchildren in Scotland in 1996, now has a gun death-rate nearly as low as Japan. So this isn't so much of a "culture thing."
  • Gun laws are a bit looser in Canada, and the statistics show it. They have almost four people per 100,000 die by intentional gun violence each year, as compared to 13.47 per 100,000 in the U.S.
  • The U.S. incarcerates the greatest percentage of its citizens of any country in the world. Gun violence is a great driver of this incarceration rate.
  • The U.S. also has, on average, 80,000 wounded by gun violence each year. A shocking statistic is that roughly 80% of gunshot victims are uninsured. Who pays for them? You and me and all the taxpayers, that's who.
  • Total estimated medical, legal, and societal costs of gun violence in the U.S. has been estimated at $100 billion a year.
(All statistics were from reputable sources and vary a bit in the source year, though all statistics are from 1998 or more recent years.)

Again, I could go on and on. After considering everything I've said, I should hope that it would be obvious that we'd be a thousand times safer if we banned guns like most other advanced and civilized countries do. I favor it. I implore all Americans to consider it.

As for myself, I've never owned a gun and never will.

American gun rights in action, militia-style.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Mitt Romney's Our Kind of Guy, Right?

Robert Reich explains how private equity firms like Mitt Romney's work:

Kind of easy once you look at it that way.


Friday, April 13, 2012

My War on Ann Romney!

Actually, I don't have a war on Ann Romney. Just thought I'd title this piece using the mode o' the day.

Still, I know silly when I see it. So, any support for Ann Romney because of how hard she worked as a stay-at-home-mom is nothing short of ridiculous. Sure, anyone who lives a reasonably decent life deserves average respect and courtesy, especially if they haven't shot someone like Trayvon Martin dead for no good reason, but that doesn't mean there isn't a lot of hypocrisy flying around in the heads of the Romney campaign brain trust. So let's examine this issue in words and pictures:

The hard years.

“They were not easy years. You have to understand, I was raised in a lovely neighborhood, as was Mitt, and at BYU, we moved into a $62-a-month basement apartment with a cement floor and lived there two years as students with no income.
“It was tiny. And I didn’t have money to carpet the floor. But you can get remnants, samples, so I glued them together, all different colors. It looked awful, but it was carpeting.
“We were happy, studying hard. Neither one of us had a job, because Mitt had enough of an investment from stock that we could sell off a little at a time.
“The stock came from Mitt’s father. When he took over American Motors, the stock was worth nothing. But he invested Mitt’s birthday money year to year — it wasn’t much, a few thousand, but he put it into American Motors because he believed in himself. Five years later, stock that had been $6 a share was $96 and Mitt cashed it so we could live and pay for education.
“Mitt and I walked to class together, shared housekeeping, had a lot of pasta and tuna fish and learned hard lessons."
--Ann Romney

Not a stay-at-home mom, not in a "lovely neighborhood."

 Want to examine motherhood, especially single motherhood in the U.S.? Read these statistics from a March, 2012 study by Legal Momentum, The Women's Legal Defense and Education Fund:
Prevalence: Single motherhood is very common. Around half of today’s mothers will spend at least some time as the sole custodial parent. At any one time, almost one quarter of mothers are single mothers.
Characteristics: Around 45% of single mothers have never married, around 55% are divorced, separated or widowed. Half have one child, 30% have two. About two fifths are White, one third Black, one quarter Hispanic. One quarter have a college degree, one sixth have not completed high school.
Employment: At any one time, about two thirds of single mothers are also working outside the home, a slightly greater share than the share of married mothers who are also working outside the home. However, only two fifths of single mothers are employed full-time the entire year, and a quarter are jobless the entire year.
Income: Half of single mother families have an annual income less than $25,000. Median income for single mother families is only one third the median for married couple families. Only one third of single mothers receive any child support, and the average amount these mothers receive is only about $300 a month.
Poverty: Two fifths of single mother families are poor, triple the poverty rate for the rest of the population. The majority of poor children are in single mother families. Child poverty is linked to school dropout; to negative adult outcomes including joblessness and ill health; and to reduced economic output estimated to be about 4% of Gross Domestic Product.
Hardship: Two fifths of single mother families are “food insecure,” one seventh use food pantries, one fifth have no health insurance, one third spend more than half their income on housing. Three quarters of homeless families are single mother families.
Welfare & Food Stamp Receipt: Although two fifths of all single mothers are poor, only one tenth of all single mothers receive cash welfare assistance. Two fifths of all single mothers receive Food Stamps.
Compared to Single Mothers in Peer Countries: The single mother poverty rate in the U.S. is far above the average in high income countries even though the single mother employment rate in the U.S. is also above the average. Less generous income support programs in the U.S. help explain the exceptionally high poverty rate for single mother families in the U.S.
 Let's see if we can find a chart that demonstrates how the U.S. compares with other countries like us when it comes to poverty and single mothers:

I'm glad we're so good at poverty. Oh wait...

Now, let's revisit our celebrated mother, Ann Romney:

The young Romney family after the hard times when he had to sell some of his stock to get by.
“Another son came along 18 months later, although we waited four years to have the third, because Mitt was still in school and we had no income except the stock we were chipping away at. We were living on the edge, not entertaining. No, I did not work. Mitt thought it was important for me to stay home with the children, and I was delighted.
“Right after Mitt graduated in 1975, we had our third boy and it was about the time Mitt’s first paycheck came along. So, we were married a long time before we had any income, about five years as struggling students. …
"Now, every once in a while, we say if things get rough, we can go back to a $62-a-month apartment and be happy. All we need is each other and a little corner and we’ll be fine.”
--Ann Romney

A single mother at a jobs fair.
 Currently, what's the fate of single mothers in our society?
In 2010, the first full calendar year after the Great Recession, nearly 41 percent of the nation's single mothers with children under age 18, like Williams, lived on incomes below the federal poverty line. (Federal poverty measures differ according to family size.) New data released by the Census Bureau on Tuesday shows that few Americans fared well in 2010. About 46 million remained in or fell into poverty. The nation's median income dropped to levels unseen since the mid 1990s. But the percentage of single mothers with children under the age of 18 who are poor outstripped that of almost every other group.
"We have a long history of distinguishing between the 'deserving poor' and the 'undeserving poor' in this country,” said Joan Entmacher, vice president for family economic security at the National Women's Law Center, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank and advocacy group. "For a lot of people, single mothers are so far outside their idea of the deserving poor that they can hardly think straight about what might be done to help these mothers or the millions of children that live with them."

 In the meantime, where did Ann Romney raise her boys?

Here in Belmont, Massachusets during the Bain years.

Here in La Jolla, CA (they're tearing this down to more than double it in size.

And here in Park City, Utah. (Kinda small, though. Only 11 acres. Guess that's why they sold it.)

And here on Lake Winnepesauke, New Hampshire

Not here in Boston. Kids were grown.
WASHINGTON -- For a woman with three houses and sixteen grandkids, Ann Romney doesn't have very much help around the house, according to her 2010 tax return.
IRS forms released Tuesday by Mitt Romney's presidential campaign show that despite reporting income of $21.7 million, the couple paid only $20,603 in taxable wages for household help in 2010. This figure was divided among four women: Rosania Costa ($4,808), Kelli Harrison ($8,667), Susan Moore ($2,238) and Valerie Cravens Anae ($4,890).
According to a number of Boston-based domestic staffing agencies, the salary range for a housekeeper is between $20 and $30 an hour, which adds up to an annual salary of $40,000 to $50,000 based on forty-hour weeks and two weeks of paid vacation a year.
But this number is only for one house, and the Romneys have three houses -- a 2,000 sq. ft. townhouse in Belmont, Mass., a 5,400 sq. ft. lake house on 11 acres in Wolfeboro, N.H., and a beach house in La Jolla, Calif., that is undergoing renovations to double its size.
Even if the Romneys avoided spending time in La Jolla in 2010, they spent plenty of time in New Hampshire, with regular visits in the summer from five sons and their families.
Yet the Romneys still paid only half of the lowest range of an average housekeeper's salary, which raises the question of who cleaned the Romney houses the other 50 percent of the time. A Romney campaign adviser declined to respond to questions from The Huffington Post about the housekeeping salaries.
Here's a link to a story about a nanny/maid, Juanita, that took care of young Ann. Apparently, she had a privileged upbringing. This is getting a little funny.

Here's something not funny:

Denise Bowie (L), 21, watches her one-year-old daughter Genelle practice walking at Hope Gardens Family Center, a shelter for homeless women and children, run by Union Rescue Mission on 77 acres (0.31 square km) of countryside away from Skid Row, on the outskirts of Los Angeles, California January 25, 2012. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

We can stop worrying about them now.

Obama's War on Romney, Take 1

There's a reason I smile a lot.

Maybe it isn't Barack Obama who's so smart -- maybe it's his campaign team -- but a day after Mitt Romney finally got some traction with his attempts to mend his women deficit, the president releases his and his wife's 2011 tax return, showing that he paid 20.5% of his income in taxes. That beats the hell out of Mitt Romney's 13.9%.

And who wins the news cycle going into the weekend? Obama/Biden, that's who. There might be a minor residue remaining of the Hilary Rosen kerfuffle, but by the Sunday shows, the tax fairness issue will have been reasserted.

Take that, Mittens!

What's  a candidate supposed to do if he can't sustain faux outrage longer than 10 minutes?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

I'm a Better Christian Than Rick Warren, and I'm an Atheist!

Jesus, hear my prayer today, that they don't figure my bullshit out quite yet.

Here's Rick Warren (on fucking Easter!) sharing with ABC his deeply held Christian beliefs:
Well certainly the Bible says we are to care about the poor. There's over 2,000 verses in the Bible about the poor. And God says that those who care about the poor, God will care about them and God will bless them. But there's a fundamental question on the meaning of "fairness." Does fairness mean everybody makes the same amount of money? Or does fairness mean everybody gets the opportunity to make the same amount of money? I do not believe in wealth redistribution, I believe in wealth creation.
Mm-kay. In this week's edition of What Would Jesus Do, let's go to the tape (er, Bible):

And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. --Matthew 19:24

Jesus looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "One thing you lack. Go, sell whatever you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me, taking up the cross."
But his face fell at that saying, and he went away sorrowful, for he was one who had great possessions. Jesus looked around, and said to his disciples, "How difficult it is for those who have riches to enter into the Kingdom of God!"  --Mark 10:19-20

One of the multitude said to him, "Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me."
But he said to him, "Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?"
And he said to them, "Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."
And he told them a parable, saying, "The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully;
and he thought to himself, `What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?'
And he said, `I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods.
And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.'
But God said to him, `Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?'
So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God."   --Luke 12:13-21

Jesus to the rich young man: Dude, WTF!

Jesus would be saying that to Rick Warren, if, uh, you know, there was a God...and, uh, if Jesus wasn't, uh, stardust by now.

Modern Families

One portrait of a modern American family:

The Romney family at their vacation home

The vacation home at Lake Winnepesaukee, New Hampshire

"Just a couple of weeks ago in Kansas, President Obama lectured us about Teddy Roosevelt’s philosophy of government. But he failed to mention the important difference between Teddy Roosevelt and Barack Obama.  Roosevelt believed that government should level the playing field to create equal opportunities. President Obama believes that government should create equal outcomes.
"In an entitlement society, everyone receives the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort, and willingness to take risk. That which is earned by some is redistributed to the others. And the only people who truly enjoy any real rewards are those who do the redistributing—the government.

"The truth is that everyone may get the same rewards, but virtually everyone will be worse off."
--Mitt Romney
 "I stand ready to lead us down a different path, where we are lifted up by our desire to succeed, not dragged down by a resentment of success."
--Mitt Romney

Another portrait of a modern American family:

An American family not at their vacation home

Not vacation homes in Portland, Oregon

"The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity, on the ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart -- not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good."
--Barack Obama
"I think that one of the things that we all agree to is that the touchstone for economic policy is, does it allow the average American to find good employment and see their incomes rise; that we can’t just look at things in the aggregate, we do want to grow the pie, but we want to make sure that prosperity is spread across the spectrum of regions and occupations and genders and races; and that economic policy should focus on growing the pie, but it also has to make sure that everybody has got opportunity in that system."  
--Barack Obama

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

I've Been Soft-Selling My Core Beliefs. Not Anymore.

Over the past few days, I've been trying to sort out a strategy for the U.S., my country, to adopt as we move forward to a more prosperous and peaceful future. What I've watched myself do is sell myself -- and my core beliefs -- short.

Why? What's happening? What am I doing? I’ve been talking myself into being a Democrat, that’s what. I’ve been trying to ramp my own sense of purpose up in a way that lets me support the Democratic Party in the 2012 elections. Okay, I’ve succeeded, I’m going to support the Democratic ticket from here to the voting booth in November.

But it’s simply not enough. It’s not that I don’t trust my party, the party that I’ve supported since 1964, when as a 14-year-old avowed supporter of Lyndon Johnson I went door-to-door campaigning for him. I believed in the Democratic Party then, and I believe in it now. But there is a huge difference in the way I feel now and 50-odd years ago.

The Democratic Party’s platform and performance is a bare-minimum starting point fraught with all kinds of shortcomings. There are a growing number of people that mock the difference between the parties as inconsequential. I know. I’ve posted some diaries at more intensely liberal sites like firedoglake and gotten flamed in comments for being milquetoast (not exactly the word they chose).

Reading yesterday – Glenn Greenwald was hosting guest bloggers – I realized the source of my discontent and the reason I got flamed at firedoglake: Supporting the Democratic Party and calling for a bigger tent that includes the 99 percent is not enough, not by a long shot.

I repeat: I’m going to vote the Democratic ticket. Big whoop. That’s like maintaining pressure on a serious wound to hold down the bleeding and then deciding to forgo the trip to the hospital. I’ll likely bleed to death at that rate. We all could. No, to effect real change, we’ve got to stand our ground, we’ve got to stop the bleeding. Then, we’ve got to set the stage for real healing and a real return to health for the whole nation.

And it’s not like ripping off a scab. It’s like staunching a mortal wound. It’s that important. I’m not even sure I know all it will take, but I do know where to start. The first step, like all efforts at rehabilitation, is to be brutally honest. Here goes:
  •  Stop being afraid of language. For me, that means admitting, even reveling in, the fact that I'm an avowed socialist. It's not a dirty word. It's an apt description for someone who supports public solutions to public problems. I admit finding a suitable label isn't a substitute for action, but it's a place to come from. And, BTW, liberal, progressive, socialist, it's all about the same thing, and that's pressing for the advancement of public goods. Such belief is not, regardless of conservative talking points, antithetical to private enterprise. One thrives because of the other.
  • I speak of healthcare as a human right, and it is. Therefore, my only acceptable solution, given that I'm a socialist and a humanist, is a single-payer system. What's more, we already have an effective example of single-payer, and that's Medicare, an apt name for the cradle-to-grave system we should already have.
  • Equality, equality, equality, in every way imaginable. I don't need to spell it out.
  • Due process, rule of law, no exceptions just because you're rich and white. Just no exceptions. Armed robbers and too-big-to-fail bank CEOs should share the same cell, if they're caught with their hands in the cookie jar. (Why does that sound weird? Because it doesn't.)
  • War crimes and crimes against humanity should be tried in the International Criminal Court, which we should be participating in with great relish. The fact that we don't doesn't make us an exceptional country, it tells the world we as a people accept that we're basically, uh, cowards. The reason we don't participate in world bodies like the ICC is that we wish to be free to behave like criminals, regardless of how many conventions and treaties we sign on to. Anybody with an ounce of brains or a sense of common decency knows that about us and knows why we won't cooperate. We wouldn't be able to bomb and kill people at will. We'd be forced, at least, to behave in an justifiable and explainable manner.
  • Republicans -- conservatives, whatever -- used to be colleagues with which we could and did have reasonable disagreements. No more. They're tools of the plutocracy and pimps for the rich. They have no reasonable purpose other than to steal as much money without doing time as they can. They have utter contempt for the poor, near-poor, and the middle class. Their messaging has evolved to the point that we shouldn't have straight faces while listening to them. They are among the most irreligious people on the face of the planet, their faux religiosity notwithstanding. Take them seriously, yes, but don't engage them as if they didn't know the larceny in their own hearts. They do, and we should act like it at all times. We can be civil but not cowardly. Confront the bastards mercilessly.
  • Our problem, those who align with the Democratic Party, is that the Democrats are only marginally better. We can't delude ourselves. It's okay to support the Democrats as far as it goes, but don't believe for one minute that the party as a rule goes one-tenth of the way it needs to in order to accomplish what this country desperately requires. So the other nine-tenths needs us to move forward boldly and be prepared to leave the Dems in the dust. Seriously. An example: Jay Rockefeller. Nuff said.
  • Give in to the fact that as a country we can't really take the cure until we give up our warlike ways. We must become a nation of peace, similar to Japan and Germany (no irony there). Hell, China has been, once free of Mao, a far more peaceful country than the U.S. Shocking, when you think of it. War is for cowards. It takes some real guts to give up our guns. Let's keep a good self-defense force and chuck the rest -- and join the civilized world. I'm tired of being a cowboy, or at least being forced to ride with them. An example: Rick Perry. Nuff said.
  • On a final note for now: We've been behaving very badly as a country of late because of the way we've used the War On Terror to justify the destruction of the Bill of Rights. Oh, fine, we can still carry guns and kill each other in random, indiscriminate ways (and some rather discriminating ones as well), but by and large our Fourth Amendment rights are in tatters, and the right to free speech and assembly are rapidly becoming a joke, were it not so tragic. Free speech zones! WTF! Freedom to assemble and demand a redress of grievances, my ass! An example: Michael Bloomberg and NYC under Ray Kelly. Nuff said.
I could go on and usually do, but enough for now. Over the coming weeks as we get further into the election year and hopefully further into the resurrection of the Occupy Movement, I'm going to cut the crap out of my weak-tea liberalism and move toward the real deal. It starts with admitting the truth and standing up to the man. How we all do that can be a matter of style, as long as we're not simply pandering or, more like it, whimpering. Tea Party people, you wanna take back the country? From whom, for what? You already have taken it back and you don't even know it. Why? Because the Republicans stole it from you while you were busting up town-hall meetings, that's why.

It's the Left who have lost the country, and I hope, as we come to reclaim it, we show you what a real patriot looks like. I've got a feeling I'm not the only one who is mad as hell.

And it starts with being mad as hell at myself. Count me back.

Monday, April 9, 2012

What If We Stand and Fight?

After spending time determining what I believe -- in the public-policy sphere -- I offered the proposition that the U.S. might not be the place to look for an advanced (or at least advancing) society. We might best just move to where the cool people are, like the Netherlands or Denmark. Some might think of that as pragmatic. Others might think of it as cowardly. I understand why either might be valid.

What if, as the Republicans might suggest, you decide not to "cut and run?" What if we decided to stand and fight? What form then does our struggle look like?

If only it were true...

In taking the position that we couldn't turn to violence, where we follow the lead of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi (you know the drill), I'm left to say our fight has to be a political one, using the tools our Constitution -- and the state constitutions and local ordinances that derive from it.

Eric Alterman wrote a fascinating and spot-on critique of the recent liberal strategies in his New York Times piece called "Cultural Liberalism Is Not Enough." Here's the money quote of his thesis:
In other words, economic liberalism is on life-support, while cultural liberalism thrives. The obvious question is why. The simple answer is that cultural liberalism comes cheap. Supporting same-sex marriage or a woman’s right to choose does not cost the wealthy anything or restrict their ability to become wealthier. But there is more to it than that.
The "more than that" is all about this:
The failure of liberals to plan for the failure of their plans — what Saul Bellow once called the “Good Intentions Paving Company” — resulted in a bitter, resentful scramble for the remaining scraps. Liberal politicians proved unable to face up to the harsh realities. “The great liberal failing of this time,” Daniel Patrick Moynihan observed as early as 1968, was “constantly to over-promise and to overstate, and thereby constantly to appear to under-perform.” This not only alienated key constituencies, but it also diminished the trust between the governing and the governed that previous generations of liberals had worked so hard to earn.
 The problem is not that liberals had it wrong. We just over-promised. Interestingly, Ronald Reagan over-promised: His supply-side, tax-cutting, "Morning in America" agenda delivered us a gargantuan national debt. Since, however, that debt financed a decent economic boom -- 80 percent of which ended up in the hands of the wealthy where it largely remained -- conservatives have been able to crow ever since.

Now, I knew how to over-promise!

Conservative pragmatists like George H. W. Bush paid for their pragmatism by being voted out. Clinton was luckier. His pragmatism, which led to the first federal surplus in generations, was fought tooth and nail. His economic boom was fueled not by debt but by over-investment in the dot-com dream, which did lead to a minor recession at the beginning of the George W. Bush years.

Next, W. fueled his tepid economy with tax cuts and deficit-funded defense spending. Since none of those tax cuts, primarily for the wealthy, did much trickling down, what passed for economic growth for much of his last six years was funded by private debt, especially in the housing markets. This bubble popped, not only bringing our country -- and much of the world -- to its knees but also exposing the shadow banking industry for what it was: a giant Ponzi scheme financed by mortgage-backed securities and credit default swaps that turned out to be largely a fantasy world of funny paper.

"Hey Geitner, if we give some back, can we do it again later?"

Barack Obama, tagged from the beginning by the lunatic fringe as illegitimate, much as Bill Clinton was, did his best to get a stimulus package through that could do some serious Keynesian magic. Some say it was worthless (that view is demonstratively fallacious), some say that is saved our economy, though not doing nearly enough, and some say that Obama never fought for a package much larger, saying that it was the best he could do. Some leaked memos unfortunately paint a portrait of a less ambitious Keynesian.

Still, combined with TARP, bailouts for the auto industry, ample unemployment compensation extensions and payroll tax holidays, Obama was able, in concert with the Fed's various quantitative easing programs, to get and keep our economy out of the ditch -- just barely.

Many of us, watching this process, came to realize that Barack Obama was the moderate he appeared to be, if you were actually listening to him back in '08, his inspirational rhetoric notwithstanding. Am I disappointed? With his failure to hold the previous administration responsible for crimes against humanity, yes. With his continuing acquiescence to the expanding surveillance society and tragic softening of our 4th Amendment rights, yes. With his war on government or journalistic whistle-blowers, yes. With his less than heroic but at least pragmatic health care solution, yes. I haven't found any way around this disappointment other than to concede that the conservatives are so much worse. And that's slim comfort.

I'm moderate, so neither side likes me much. You'd think I would have foreseen that.

As Obama ratchets up the rhetorical games -- showing some serious populist outrage, which is heartening -- and Mitt Romney lets the "centrist" rhetoric slowly -- and not so Etch-A-Sketch-like -- seep into his speeches, we head into the general election with a very slippery contest. Obama is actually a recognizable version of his rhetoric, and he appears more genuine in his abandonment of appeasement. From my perspective, I've no choice but to vote for him. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, is nothing other than one, basic litmus test: you dip a strip into him and it comes out either red or blue. It's up to you to decide. His game is that he doesn't want anyone to actually know what the colors mean. I hope he doesn't succeed with this charade.

A liberal would never vote for Romney. A conservative has no choice but to. The so-called independents who aren't actually in the middle (there is no middle) are Romney's targets. "What do you want me to be? I'm him!" is the core of his message. Listen or take him seriously at your peril.

I hope President Obama does get mad, does get honest, and stands up and fights. As tepid as my support is (and I do support him), a mad-as-hell Obama that calls out the conservative agenda is an easier candidate to stand with. I'll grant him that. I'll stand with him, hoping he leads rather than follows. Which it will be isn't apparent yet.