Monday, September 29, 2014

Who Knew? Americans Don't "Get" Income Inequality

We used to dream about these kinds of digs. Nowadays, fuggitaboutit.

I've always suspected that the reason the white working class would support the conservative Republican agenda is because they don't make substantive connections. They don't understand that tax cuts mean loss of services, often services they were quite used to their whole lives. Example of a connection they miss? Their taxes go down $20 a month, but the free sports program they enjoyed in their youth now cost them $150 for each of their children to participate in. High-school graduation that might have cost $5 when they were young now costs them $300 per kid. The prom? $100. The DMV? A ticket for a red light? Interest rate on a credit card? Living with your 75-year-old parents when your unemployment insurance runs out? And so on.

But they got that $20 a month tax cut! Tax cuts good! The white working class doesn't notice -- or they simply discount by rote -- that the vast majority of tax cuts go to the wealthy. And so it goes with incomes, especially new income. The very wealthy get a hold of the vast majority of the new money:
The rallying cry of the Occupy Movement was that the richest 1 percent of Americans is getting richer while the rest of us struggle to get by. That’s not quite right, though. The bottom nine-tenths of the 1 Percent club have about the same slice of the national wealth pie that they had a generation ago. The gains have accrued almost exclusively to the top tenth of 1 Percenters. The richest 0.1 percent of the American population has rebuilt its share of wealth back to where it was in the Roaring Twenties. And the richest 0.01 percent’s share has grown even more rapidly, quadrupling since the eve of the Reagan Revolution.
It's bad enough that the rich are getting filthy richer, but it's worse that Americans don't seem to know it:
In their study, Norton and Kiatpongsan asked about 55,000 people around the globe, including 1,581 participants in the U.S., how much money they thought corporate CEOs made compared with unskilled factory workers. Then they asked how much more pay they thought CEOs should make. The median American guessed that executives out-earned factory workers roughly 30-to-1—exponentially lower than the highest actual estimate of 354-to-1. They believed the ideal ratio would be about 7-to-1.
“In sum, respondents underestimate actual pay gaps, and their ideal pay gaps are even further from reality than those underestimates,” the authors write.
Americans didn’t answer the survey much differently from participants in other countries. Australians believed that roughly 8-to-1 would be a good ratio; the French settled on about 7-to-1; and the Germans settled on around 6-to-1. In every country, the CEO pay-gap ratio was far greater than people assumed. And though they didn’t concur on precisely what would be fair, both conservatives and liberals around the world also concurred that the pay gap should be smaller. People agreed across income and education levels, as well as across age groups.
What's a bit funny -- considering how Americans, at least conservative ones, hold a certain contempt for European-style socialism -- is that, when offered a chance to choose between living in a country like the U.S. or Sweden, Americans chose Sweden (in sort of a blind taste test):
This is the second high-profile paper in which Norton has argued that Americans have a strikingly European notion of economic fairness. In 2011, he published a study with Duke University professor Dan Ariely that asked Americans how they believed wealth should be split up through society. It included two experiments. In the first, participants were shown three unlabeled pie charts: one of a totally equal wealth distribution; one of Sweden’s distribution, which is highly egalitarian; and one of the U.S. distribution, which is wildly skewed toward the rich. Then, the subjects were told to pick where they would like to live, assuming they would be randomly assigned to a spot on the economic ladder. With their imaginary fate up to chance, 92 percent of Americans opted for Sweden’s pie chart over the United States.
Leave it to Paul Krugman to be right on top of this enigma, with his column today:
So Americans have no idea how much the Masters of the Universe are paid, a finding very much in line with evidence that Americans vastly underestimate the concentration of wealth at the top.
Is this just a reflection of the innumeracy of hoi polloi? No — the supposedly well informed often seem comparably out of touch. Until the Occupy movement turned the “1 percent” into a catchphrase, it was all too common to hear prominent pundits and politicians speak about inequality as if it were mainly about college graduates versus the less educated, or the top fifth of the population versus the bottom 80 percent.
And even the 1 percent is too broad a category; the really big gains have gone to an even tinier elite. For example, recent estimates indicate not only that the wealth of the top percent has surged relative to everyone else — rising from 25 percent of total wealth in 1973 to 40 percent now — but that the great bulk of that rise has taken place among the top 0.1 percent, the richest one-thousandth of Americans.
So how can people be unaware of this development, or at least unaware of its scale? The main answer, I’d suggest, is that the truly rich are so removed from ordinary people’s lives that we never see what they have. We may notice, and feel aggrieved about, college kids driving luxury cars; but we don’t see private equity managers commuting by helicopter to their immense mansions in the Hamptons. The commanding heights of our economy are invisible because they’re lost in the clouds.
So, education is the key to everything. How you educate the numbingly ignorant is a daunting task, but we need to keep trying. It would help if the one political party of a size decent enough to get stuff done -- the Democrats -- would be willing to mount a truly populist messaging campaign until the working class woke up. And let's not be confused: The American working class is not just the lower classes. Increasingly, it's the middle-middle and the upper-middle classes that are losing out to the wealthy. The phase "you can't get there from here" is starting to have real pertinence in today's economy.

You want to get a college education and make something of yourself? Don't bother. You can't get there from here.

How to get home to the Hamptons...

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Who Let All the People of Color and Women into the Cabinet Meeting?!?

You know, I bet it was a black man.

What's going to happen when we elect a woman president?

Hmm... Shudders for some, I'll warrant.

When White Men Ruled Our Country

Here is a picture of a cabinet meeting during Richard Nixon's presidency. I wanted to share it with the white males who long for the day when they, and only they, ran things. Weird, huh?

A black man slipped into this meeting. He doesn't have a "seat at the table," though. Wonder what he's doing there.

Would we want to go back to those days, even if we could? I can't imagine why, but then I can imagine there are those out there in the Heartland -- what's that exactly anyway? -- who would like it so.

Sorry, white guys. Those days have passed for good.

Note. I just thought about those days. We were in a war in Vietnam, a Cold War with the Soviet Union, a continuing arms race in which both sides spent billions on nuclear weapons, we were soon to enter a phase of stagflation that left our whole nation reeling, and then came the doubling of gas prices, twice, in one decade. Wages have been stagnant ever since. Happy days!

Nice going, white guys.

Friday, September 26, 2014

America Is the Greatest Country on Earth, Except for All the Takers

I'm a fan of Paul Krugman, and he's my go-to guy when in most things economic, including the subject of income inequality. I could, of course, get what I need from any number of left-of-center economists, like Dean Baker, Jared Bernstein, Brad De Long, Joe Stiglitz, Robert Reich, and Noah Smith. The list goes on.

Not surprisingly, those of the right side of the political spectrum hold quite nearly opposite views in this area. They either deny that income inequality is that big of a deal or find ways to blame it on the losers. This puts them squarely in the "it's the poors who are lazy and deserve what they get" camp, which of course is occupied by Mitt Romney, John Boehner, Rick Santorum, Paul Ryan, and the Republican Party in general.

It's funny that the Republican Party, which spends a good deal of its days saying variations of "America is the greatest" this-and-that, would find that the "greatest country on Earth" has about fifty percent of its citizens defined as "takers."

Where, then, is the proof that America is the greatest at anything except malingering? Riddle me that, Republicans.

You can't, except to change the subject. Weird, huh? Now, back to the right-wing economists. Where do they stand on income inequality, as exemplified by the figure above? Why on Earth did the top 10 and the bottom 90 diverge back in about 1980? Stanford economics professor and darling of conservatives, John Taylor, has an explanation:
A large body of research documents that returns to education started increasing in the 1980s as evidenced by the growing college and high school wage premium. If the supply of those completing high school, with some going on to college, had increased to keep pace with the increase in returns, it is unlikely that we would have seen such a large widening of the distribution. But supply did not increase. High school graduation rates hit a peak around 1970 and then started declining. The US international rank in test scores fell.
The source of the income distribution problem is thus related to a poor education system. We are restricting educational opportunities, especially for those who are disadvantaged.
In other words the explanation for the widening inequality is the restriction of economic freedom rather than the promotion of economic freedom. Economic freedom did not mean economic freedom for all. Remember the students from the movie “Waiting for Superman”: Bianca, Emily, Anthony, Daisy, and Francisco who had such a small chance of winning the lottery to get into a school that would open up such opportunities? Adhering more closely to the principles of economic freedom requires giving those kids more freedom of choice.
See what he did there? It's all about education. the "greatest nation on Earth" has a poor education system that doesn't produce enough high-school graduates. The solution to this is exemplified by the movie "Waiting for Superman," a deeply flawed portrait singing the praises of charter schools. Read this about its inaccuracies. Taylor's suggestion that "adhering more closely to the principles of economic freedom requires giving those kids more freedom of choice" would solve our education system is a barely cloaked promotion of charter schools -- which often under-perform local regular public schools -- while also an attack on unions and a clear push for private-school vouchers so beloved of the Republicans.

As for those declining high-school graduation rates? In April of this year, Arne Duncan announced that the nation had hit its highest graduation rate in history. Weird, huh? And what about this?

John Taylor is right! Graduation rates declined beginning around 1975 before rebounding in 2000 and moving higher by 2010. So Taylor proves absolutely nothing.

To reiterate: John Taylor blames income inequality on something that barely happened, which could be fixed by charter schools, which have a very spotty record of improving anything, and if we'd only grant "school choice," then, boom!, we fix income inequality.

He teaches at Stanford but also is a fellow of the conservative Hoover Institution. And this is the drivel he produces when asked about income inequality. I wonder which side he's on?

Wonder no more.

Just a reminder: The richest man in the world, Bill Gates, is a college dropout. So was Steve Jobs. And so is Oracle's Larry Ellison. Clearly, education is where the ultra-rich get their advantage.

Dropping out of college ruined Bill Gates' chances of making the top .0001 percent.

The Moral Corruption of Banking Regulation

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York

There is some moral corruption in America that we can't lay at the Republicans' feet, unless the fact that Ben Bernanke is a Republican has any merit, a rather weak suggestion.

This story breaking this morning of the Fed's rather limp regulation of banking behavior is a major scandal. Because it doesn't involve sports, guns, or sex, it probably will reach the Richter scale of scandal of about 2. By which I mean it'll be forgotten five minutes after Meet the Press fails to mention it this Sunday. Hope I'm wrong.

Read Michael Lewis' explanation of it on Bloomberg this morning. He's pretty good at making sense out of stuff the public -- or even the Fed! -- doesn't usually understand.

We are ruled, as Atrios says, by idiots. Wish he was wrong.

The Corruption of American Airwaves, Fox News Edition

This Outnumbered screen capture tells you all you need to know about
the tenor of show, from the graphic graphic to the legs, legs, legs.

There once was an "equal time" restriction on American television, meaning if you gave fifteen minutes to a Republican, you had to give fifteen minutes, then, to a Democrat. The price of access to American airwaves was political neutrality. That ended with cable, which doesn't need federally controlled bandwidth to operate.

Fox News shows why it has almost single-handedly corrupted any sense of political neutrality among news providers (though CNBC and Fox Business News gives it a run for its money):

I suppose the conservative echo chamber has produced such crazy echoes that few inside the bubble would realize that Eric Holder has championed a lot of reasonable causes and cases in the judicial world during his tenure. I have trouble with his going soft on the banksters -- who didn't? -- and his position as an enabler of NSA and Patriot Act shenanigans was deeply troubling. But you'll notice that this Fox panel raised no objection to those areas of his legacy. They drone on and on about, well, listen to the video. Deeply stupid and uninformed -- except for Outnumbered host Kirsten Power's takedown of the non-existent New Black Panther Party non-scandal on an election day in Philly, where nothing happened except in the universe of Fox News.

This kind of obnoxious talk doesn't exist on MSNBC, despite the media's obsession with false equivalency, unless, of course, you're talking Morning Joe, MSNBC's only conservative show. Joe Scarborough can get pretty nasty.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Republican Party Is Morally Corrupt: Who Is the Rush Limbaugh of the Democratic Party?

Rush is not one of a kind. There are dozens of Republican trash talkers.

The fact is, there is no Democratic equivalent of Rush Limbaugh, or Michael Savage, for that matter. Dems don't roll that way. What did liberals get when they went after the political airwaves with Air America? Rachel Maddow, Al Franken, and Ed Schultz. That's a Dream Team of garbage mouths but only if you're living in a tea-party fantasy. They're decent folks, and everyone knows it, even if you are of the conservative persuasion.

No, Rush is a different animal. Give me one good reason why this should be anywhere on American radio, let alone back in early 2012 when Rush was practically ruling the conservative base:

Tell me the Democratic equivalent of Rush Limbaugh. You can't. And don't tell me Rush is so over now that he's lost a bunch of sponsors and listeners, as well. He was your guy then. Who's your guy now? Bill O'Reilly? Don't get me started.

A Simple Indictment of Income Inequality and Capitalism

Oracle chairman Larry Ellison's yacht. Looks nice when docked at his Hawaiian
island, Lanai. (Yes, he owns his own island, but then so does Richard Branson.)

Paul Krugman reacts to the reaction to another David Brooks column that deserves chuckles and frowns, not by attacking Brooks but by commenting on the wastefulness of people having too much money. Why do some want to have money they'll never have time or inclination to spend? Status, vanity, is your answer.
And one more thing: think about what this says about economic growth. We have an economy that has become considerably richer since 1980, but with a large share of the gains going to people with very high incomes — people for whom the marginal utility of a dollar’s worth of spending is not only low, but comes largely from status competition, which is a zero-sum game. So a lot of our economic growth has simply been wasted, doing nothing but accelerating the pace of the upper-income rat race.
At least when Larry Ellison or David Geffen or some uber-rich guy spends their money, there's some marginal utility to it, regardless of how unseemly it might appear. But much of the acquired wealth of the top .1 percent just sits there, doing nothing and certainly not creating jobs. But then we knew that. A commenter on Krugman's post this morning put it well:
So we know that before the depression of the 1930s there was extreme inequity - The Gilded Age. The response was high taxes on the rich and social programs. These tiny little bandages over the gaping wound of capitalism worked from the late 1930s to the late 1970s a mere 40 years, hardly the blink of an eye. Then - as is ALWAYS the case with capitalism because it is like a robot unthinking and unable to do anything else the bandages which were little more than palliative were removed and capitalism prevailed.

Yet, we hear from many that taxing the rich and making social programs more robust will solve everything.

History shows us what a failure these remedies are against the giant machine (robot) of capitalism which is incapable of doing anything except concentrating wealth into very few hands.

Is it really impossible for anyone to come up with an economic system which distributes the fruits of labor and invention properly the first time instead of a system which gives capital in vast amounts to 85 people while 3 billion have no water or toilets and then has to be redistributed (or not)?

The evidence of the stupendous failure of capitalism is everywhere to be seen [sic] redistribution is a con. Yet people ideologically cling to capitalism just as some cling to discredited austerity or others deny climate change.
That's mighty Marxist of you, commenter. Actually, it's not, and contrary to the legions that condemn a Marxist view of history (Marx was primarily an historical philosopher, not a revolutionary), Marx had a lot right with his criticisms of capitalism. Unfortunately, the Bolsheviks ruined Marxism for the rest of us, but another commenter on Krugman's post gives us the straight poop on how to fix capitalism:
Then why does capitalism and social democracy go hand in hand in nations like Sweden, Germany, Finland, Denmark, France, et al? Of course, in comparison to the US, it's because they are racially much more homogeneous, thus depriving the parties of plutocracies one of their principal attack points ("those people"). Capitalism is a monster in an inadequately regulated state. The answer is not to assume we can't tame it. The answer is to have multiple power centers, checks, and balances.
Even in our nation with plenty of dark-skinned "those people," the real "those people" are the vaunted 99 percent, otherwise known as the rest of us. So, under our brand of capitalism -- practiced by much of the developed world -- we are so screwed. We don't need Marx to tell us that (but it helps).

The home of David Brooks' fellow columnist Thomas Friedman. His wife's money, but...

Note. In keeping with my theme of the Republican Party's moral corruption, let's remind ourselves of what one of their 2012 presidential aspirants, former senator Rick Santorum, thinks of income inequality:

Here's an example of one of those "small towns all across America" Rick Santorum speaks of, after agribusiness gobbles up all the family farms:

Equality of opportunity in the Texas Panhandle.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Republican Party Is Morally Corrupt: Climate Change

One of the more depressing aspects of the American political scene is watching our inaction on climate change and global warming. The main roadblock has always been the Republican Party, and everybody knows it. The Republican objections -- also known as their strategies for preventing action -- are essentially two-fold: One, it's not really happening, and, two, halting it would be too damaging to our economy.

Neither are true. (What's a little funny is that in order to put a price tag on the economic damage caused by fighting climate change, you have to acknowledge that we could fight climate change. Weird, huh?)

  • The scientific consensus on climate change and its causes approach 100%. There is no controversy, there is only denialism and obstruction by the Republican Party. Here is a good NASA site on the nature of the consensus. Here is a classic conservative attempt to misinform and propagandize in the National Review. Note that its author, John Fund, quotes only the Wall Street Journal, the libertarian Cascade Policy Institute, and the conservative and libertarian Heartland Institute to make his case. Seriously?
  • As for the expense of fighting climate change, that's another straw man. The price of alternative sources of energy continue to fall, and the economic benefits of participating in the alternative energy technology economy continue to grow. Alternative energy projects continue to spread across the globe because many countries do take global warming seriously. Germany is getting 75%, as of this May, of its peak electricity needs from renewable sources. They have a growing economy with much lower unemployment that the U.S. Not exactly destroying its economy, is it? It's helping to grow its economy, and we here in the U.S. could do it, too. Instead we let other nations lead the way.
  • Jimmy Carter put solar panels on top of the White House, and Ronald Reagan contemptuously tore them down, setting back U.S. renewable energy policy for a generation. This makes Ronald Reagan a conservative icon without peer? Apparently, but it didn't help our economy. Denmark picked up the slack and still leads the world in wind turbine manufacturing. GE-Wind and special tax credits are helping the U.S. to catch up. Although photovoltaic panels are manufactured here in the U.S. by a number of companies, China now vastly out-manufactures the U.S. in that area, too. Among the current top-ten solar-panel manufacturers in the world, most are Chinese, some are Japanese, and only one, First Solar, is American, though much of its manufacturing is abroad.
Meanwhile, the Republican Party fights tooth-and-nail to protect the coal industry, and one of their top priorities, firmly resisted by President Obama, is the Keystone XL pipeline project, which would carry Canadian tar sands to the American South. Tar sands oil is dirty to produce, dirty to refine, and dirty to burn. Good strategy, Republicans! It's so good for America, so good for the world!

Actually, it's not. I featured this article in a recent blog post. Read it to understand the morality upon which mitigation (versus adaptation) of climate change factors is based.

To close, let's look at what Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla), the Republican's point man on climate-change denial, said recently:

Holy crap. What makes this morally corrupt it that it sacrifices today's health and tomorrow's very survival upon the altar of economic advantage for the Republican Party. Its goal is not a better human race but a better bottom line for their cronies. What makes it all the more heinous is that we may win economically in both the short- and long-run by working to mitigate carbon and greenhouse gas emissions. Why don't we? Simple: The Republican Party, and that is immoral.

Today's Republican Party Is Morally Corrupt

These two guys and, hell, the whole lot of them.

I don't say this lightly, and I admit the charge that a political party with whom I disagree on every policy position is morally corrupt might seem non-controversial, especially among members of my progressive-liberal-socialist tribe. I also feel comfortable inside the Democratic Party's big tent. There's room for radical progressives in there.

My tribe doesn't need to hear this, though it might help to rile them up to be sure to vote this November. I would hope to reach true independents whose fiscal conservatism pulls them to consider voting Republican. Don't do it! They're morally corrupt, and, to make matters worse, they're not actually fiscally responsible (they never met a war they wouldn't fund with deficit spending, admit it).

Now, as we approach the 2014 midterms, I find it a compelling use of my time to make it clear: On every level I can identify, the Republican Party has morphed, over the past decades, into an institution that is essentially morally corrupt. I'll write posts on every issue that demonstrates this.

Of course I'm not talking about every single Republican in the country simply because I don't know them. So I'm directly targeting the political leaders and the punditry that promote the Republican message. I could use the terms conservative, tea party, even libertarian somewhat interchangeably, but Republican works just fine. The party has essentially distilled itself into its most rabid, tea-party form. The Republican base and the politicians and pundits (including its blogosphere) have devolved into an entity whose near-total moral corruption is obvious.

And I can -- as anyone who possesses a moral compass -- offer empirical evidence across a broad set of policy statements and political positions of the GOP's immorality. Here's a list of areas in which moral corruption rules Republicanism:
  • Climate change.
  • Health care.
  • Labor.
  • Cutting Social Security and Medicare.
  • People of color (yeah, they're pretty much racist, face it, they're predominantly white for a reason).
  • Women's issues.
  • The plight of the poor.
  • The economy.
  • Tax policy.
  • Campaign finance.
  • Anti-science, anti-intellectualism, historical revisionism to whitewash American history and its role in the world.
  • Public education.
  • Stance on technological advances versus fossil fuels (drill, baby, drill).
  • War and the military-industrial complex.
  • Obsession with guns.
  • Use of the First Amendment to promote religion instead of using it to enforce, as the founding fathers intended, the separation of church and state.
  • Favoring business over just about anything, pushing privatization while destroying public institutions.
  • Encouraging the growth in student debt, opposing means of mitigating it.
  • A consistent willingness to mislead, misinform, and deceive in order to move their policy prescriptions forward.
Okay, some members of the Democratic Party don't distinguish themselves, either. Rahm Emmanuel and Andrew Cuomo come to mind. But their antics tend to resemble Republicanism rather than actually corrupt Democratic Party ideals. Even blue dog Dems tend to err by promoting Republican ideas in order to cling to power. I'd work to replace the Emmanuels, the Cuomos, and the blue dogs with better Democrats, but never, ever with Republicans. Liberal Republicans like Everett Dirksen, Jacob Javits, and Nelson Rockefeller simply don't exist anymore. They'd be Democrats today.

So, until the election, I'm going to hammer on the morally corrupt and repugnant Republican Party, and I'm going to relish the opportunity.

Oklahoma's Sen. James Inhofe: The poster child for anti-intellectualism.

Note.  I could, like Republican governor Bobby Jindal, refer to Republicans as "the stupid party" instead of the morally corrupt party. But in the evil/stupid dialectic, I've always considered it polite to not call them stupid. So morally corrupt it is.

Monday, September 22, 2014

A Wee Thing of a Girl Shows Her Power

Is the world ready to let her have power? She might not care.
She has it already. Now for the rest of us...

Emma Watson, in her new role as U.N. Women Goodwill Ambassador, recently spoke at the United Nations to announce her new initiative, He for She.

After watching the speech, my question is, what part of what she said is in any way contestable? Who would not want to help her, and women, and mankind, along with her project, women's equality?

Of course, though slight in form, Emma Watson is no "wee thing of a girl." She's a woman who, so far in life, has handled herself with grace and dignity. She now embraces a larger role, one that is easily characterized, at least in its current state of evolution, as Sisyphean in scope.

So, answers to my questions are: Nothing in what she said is contestable; no one should want not to help her in her quest. But the state of women's equality in the world says that many stand against her, either openly or through sheer acquiescence.

As a lifelong male feminist, I'm all in with Ms. Watson's project. I just hope my implicit gender bias, like my implicit racial bias, doesn't make me the fool too much more in life.

I'm for you, and your cause, Emma Watson. It's a human cause, and there's no bigger one.

Malala Yousafzai: Another girl as large as the world. More like her, please.

Wow. Pope Francis Stands for Religious Freedom

Francis has this messaging thing down pat, don't you think?

I'm a fallen-away Catholic, as in don't-believe-a-word-of-it-anymore, but I like good popes and don't like bad popes. God's Rottweiler, Benedict XVI, didn't do it for me. From the minute Pope Francis took the stage, he's been uniformly delightful and reassuring.

He rides around in a Ford Focus, for Christ's sake.

He really won me over with his "Whom am I to judge?" comment on gay priests. That was a start toward reconciliation and inclusion. This past weekend in Albania, however, Francis really broke new ground with this (thanks, ThinkProgress):
Let no one consider themselves to be the "armor" of God while planning and carrying out acts of violence and oppression! May no one use religion as a pretext for actions against human dignity and against the fundamental rights of every man and woman, above all, the right to life and the right of everyone to religious freedom!
Beyond the clear message against violence, did he just say "right to religious freedom?" I think he did. He's already telegraphed that there is more than one way to get to heaven. That's already a blow against orthodoxy. But to out and out say there's a right to religious freedom, alongside the right to life, well, wow. Yes, his main thrust was against the hyper-violent religiosity of ISIS, but to wrap his stand in religious freedom is, again, very welcome in a world that keeps drawing lines. Francis is sweeping them away, and that's good guidance to his billion-plus flock.

Nice going. I'm not following you to heaven, Francis, but I'd hitch a ride in your Focus here on Earth.

Not kidding about the Ford Focus.

Hillary's Running. Now We Know on What.

HRC's been running forever. But we knew that.

TPM's Dylan Scott, a reporter I've enjoyed since he's matured at Josh Marshall's formidable site, has smartly laid out what Hillary Clinton is going to run on in 2016:
When Hillary Clinton spoke about women's economic issues last week at the Center for American Progress in Washington, the attuned listener might have caught a few phrases that sounded familiar. Laments about the fiscal plight of waitresses, bartenders, and hair stylists. The need for Americans to not only be able to get to the middle class, but stay there.
Read Scott's piece. It maps out a set of policies that can do double-duty by preparing an attack on the GOP as a whole while separating herself from the currently unpopular Barack Obama without attacking an administration in which she worked for four years. After all, Obama's failures can be laid at the feet of recalcitrant Republicans in Congress, a message that has the added power of being true.

I have misgivings about Clinton's centrist stances in some areas, but I don't worry about her intentions in the area of social and economic equity. I can support her because of that. This TPM piece is reassuring to those wavering on HRC. And that means it's a pretty wise bit of positioning on her part as 2016 looms.

Who's Winning the Social Revolution? Not the Conservatives.

Same-sex marriage isn't the only item on the social-revolution agenda, but it's big because it's emblematic of how far we've come as a nation in terms of tolerance and acceptance, which precedes equality. I suppose we shouldn't declare victory just yet, as a Supreme Court test may be in the offing, though I can imagine, as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg has, that the Supremes might only step in if the appellate level forced them to.

We've had a great churning in all things political and cultural in America in the last thirty to fifty years, with conflicts flaring up all over the place during the Obama years. Conservatives are at the "man the barricades" stage of the fight against anything not treasured by white Christian males and their submissive wives, but the fact is, much as they've made a decent stand in the political and economic arenas -- they may yet lose those issues come 2016 and beyond -- they may have already lost in the social areas. Let's take a look:
  • Marriage. Acceptance of same-sex marriage, while monumental, is only a facet of a larger upheaval. Don't forget cohabitation was a big deal and only began to be accepted in the 1970s. I still remember nervously greeting my parents at the front door of my home I shared with my girlfriend in those heady days of the early 70s when lots of social taboos were falling. Remember, it was only a few years earlier that I was still getting attacked on my college campus by football players for having long hair. Weird, huh? Anyway, mixed-race couples were rare, too. Now they're broadly accepted and acceptable.
  • Sex in general. It's still messy, and in places like Texas abstinence-only sex education still prevails and the HPV vaccine is still resisted in conservative states because it's feared girls will have sex earlier now that they won't die from it -- Michelle Bachmann, you absolute tool -- but, for better or worse, you only have to look at how stars like Beyonc√©, Jennifer Lopez, and, heaven help me, Miley Cyrus dress for battle to see how highly sexualized our society has become. Another way of putting it is sex is getting less icky all the time, in spite of all the conservative hair on fire. Sorry, we don't feel guilty anymore, and that's a blessing.
  • Might as well throw in don't-ask-don't-tell, forced on us by Sam Nunn back in the early Clinton years. By now it's a relic.
  • Birth control. This may look dicey, but Hobby Lobby is a demonstration of just how much the religious right has lost this battle. Obamacare placed it front and center, leading to the dismal and absurd Supreme Court ruling -- legacy-wise, they'll rue the day -- but I foresee this as a turning point. The anti-sex crowd will flail away, try this and that, but as Obamacare gets set in stone -- too much of it is good for people and they'll come to rely on it, the conservatives' greatest fear -- people will get used to the free-birth-control mandate and forget the bitter battles.
  • Abortion. This is not an outright victory, by any means. In the blue states, the battle is pretty much over, and in the red states, the legislatures and governors try different tacks, to greater or lesser success. The courts have helped the pro-choicers hold the line. At some point, though, conservatives might abandon this fight as they look to find a way to stop alienating women.
I'd like to jump out of this list to note that, yes, everything so far seems to be about coupling, sex, and childbirth. Some social revolution you got there, guy, some might say. But need I remind you that it's in these most intimate and private arenas that religion aims to interfere the most. To the extent that it can no longer control the narrative, religion loses and, yes, sex wins. Weird, huh? But true and central to liberty, you know, the kind the left likes. (Don't tell anyone, but the right, even the religious right, has just as much sex -- of any variety -- as the rest of us do. The problem with abstinence-only? That's right, hardly anybody abstains. Hah!)

I've gone on enough for now. Racism, women's rights, equal opportunity, income inequality will have to wait for another discussion. But in the core issues that shape our most intimate and familial relationships, the right is going to have to throw in the towel. The war is all but over. Don't tell Texas or Kansas. They probably don't want to hear it.

Sorry, religious right. As Dylan said, your sons and your daughters
are beyond your command. They're dancing to a different drum. 'Bout time.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Progressivism of the Republican Party (What?)

Ted Cruz: not a member of the Party of Lincoln? You got that right...

Here's a fascinating view of the three principal progressives of the Republican Party:
How did the progressive Republican Party of Lincoln, Roosevelt and Eisenhower become the reactionary party of Ronald Reagan, the tea party and Paul Ryan?
There is nothing random about these ideological shifts. They reflect the party’s — and the nation’s — central unresolved problem: the tension between equality of opportunity and protection of private property.
This tension has driven American politics since the nation’s earliest days. The Declaration of Independence promised citizens equal access to economic opportunity. This was the powerful principle for which men were willing to fight the American Revolution, but it was never codified in law. When the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution, they assumed that the country’s vast resources would ensure equality of opportunity. Worried instead about stability, they enshrined in the Constitution another principle: that property rights must be protected.
Do read this lengthy yet pithy piece. It's brilliant in its conception and accurate in explication. An important thing that it accomplishes is explaining how the Republican Party of today is disconnected from the progressivism of the iconic Republicans of the past. Republicans are fond of declaring themselves "the Party of Lincoln," forgetting the part of the cycle where they abandoned Lincoln's views. So it was with Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower. The party has abandoned Roosevelt's trust-busting and turning of federal lands into national treasures, just as it's currently so resistant to Eisenhower-sized infrastructure projects like our national highway system. He did build that.

Why? Progressivism is expensive, especially for the rich. And, since Reagan, Republicans are increasingly the party of entrenched power and wealth.

Progressivism, it must be noted, is only expensive at the front end. At the back end, it's wealth shared by all. Highways, bridges, ports, and airports contribute to everyone's well-being, mostly especially the wealthy who literally profit by them.

How is this not clearly understood by the whole world of policy makers, let alone the electorate? Maybe it actually is, with the classic Upton Sinclair frame clarifying things:
It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.
Yep. Only I'd paraphrase it:
It is difficult to get a Republican to remember something, when his current ideology depends on his not remembering it.
That's about right.

Paul Krugman Reacts to John Boehner the Way We'd Expect

(Updated below)

Playing to the base is easy. Creating jobs without doing anything is hard.
So what does John Boehner do? Legislate? Naw...

I don't know how you expect Paul Krugman to react to comments by John Boehner, comments that an ordinary human should find repulsive but that the Republican base would consider the cornerstone of their fiscal view, but I'm not surprised that Krugman countered Boehner with facts, not a diatribe:
But I’m sticking my toe in for the moment — and whaddya know, oops, he did it again. John Boehner says that unemployed Americans are pretty clearly malingerers, bums on welfare who have decided that they don’t feel like working:
“This idea that has been born, maybe out of the economy over the last couple years, that you know, I really don’t have to work. I don’t really want to do this. I think I’d rather just sit around. This is a very sick idea for our country,” he said.
“If you wanted something you worked for it,” Boehner said, adding, “Trust me, I did it all.”
I could point to the overwhelming economic evidence that nothing like this is happening — after all, if what we were seeing was a mass withdrawal of labor supply, we should be seeing wages for those still willing to work taking off. What we actually see is this:

Boehner's theory notwithstanding -- that the poor are lazy and hiding inside their gilded cage because they don't need no stinking job -- the truth of the matter is that there are no jobs to hide from. If there were jobs to shun amid a shrinking workforce, wages would go up as businesses chase increasingly unavailable workers. That's econ 101, as they say.

What, wages are down and flat as a pancake throughout this jobless recovery? Yes. So Boehner is playing to his base, which, educated by Fox News, eats it up with a spoon. That doesn't make it true or even rational, but when was that a requirement?

Boehner's views are nonsense, but his stating them in the run-up to what might be the last election that can be swayed by the angry white men vote is not. It's carefully calculated. But as Lindsey Graham said, it's a strategy rapidly approaching its sell-by date.

Update. Krugman contemplates a little more Boehner.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Fox News View of Poverty

Here is the clearest expression of the conservative view concerning why we have poverty in America:

In all fairness, this is not crazy talk. This a clearly expressed viewpoint that, as Stuart Varney says, "It's a culture of poverty, a culture of dependency." Conservatives label the poor as people content to stay in their "gilded cage" of welfare payments because they don't need to work. This viewpoint is not based on either the studies of poverty, welfare recipients, or the reality that welfare barely keeps food on the table or a roof over the heads of the poor. Clearly neither of them know what poverty is like -- or they don't want to admit that they know because it would undermine their thesis.

But, at least, it appears to be an expression of sincerely held beliefs. O'Reilly seems in agreement with Varney. None of it is based on the reality of life amid growing income inequality and shrinking opportunity in America. Varney also maintains that the poor have to literally be pushed out of welfare -- by sufficiently lowering the amount of welfare payments -- or the poor won't even attempt to acquire the skills they need. His thesis is that we can help the poor by giving them less help.

Regardless, both of these prominent Fox commentators come across as very mean-spirited and elitist, as do many headline conservatives like Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, Rand Paul, and the rest. Moreover, it's unlikely that a Republican with a dissimilar view will be tolerated in the 2016 lottery. A touch of bleeding heart, and you out of the running.

This video shows the inner heart of the conservative view. No? O'Reilly and Varney are talking about America. But what about the human condition? Does America have its own unique way of failing, or is it universal?

At least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day.Source
Read more about poverty here, then ask yourself whether the poor universally are responsible for their situation, or are the American poor uniquely lazy, shiftless, and uninterested in a better life?

Then, one would hope, you'd begin to realize that the conservative view is heartless and unnecessary. We can all do well and help the poor out of poverty. We should do it because it's moral, and it's good business (the poor spend every cent you give them almost immediately. Stimulus anyone?). What would happen to U.S. GDP if we provided a guaranteed income? What happened when they tried it in Manitoba?

Would Stuart Varney and Bill O'Reilly suffer brain hemorrhages if we tried it? I wouldn't be surprised.

Just Before the Midterms, a Look at the GOP Status Quo

Paul Ryan gets credit for being the intellectual wonk of the GOP. He's
actually its leading hack. Nice work. But Boehner wants his job back.

If John Boehner wanted to establish the true colors of the Republican Party as we head into the midterms -- Congress actually recessed this past week until the elections -- he certainly did it with gusto. We'd almost forgotten his contempt for the less fortunate.

Boehner comes off, often, as an incompetent who runs his party because no one else apparently wants to. Still, I think I know what he's doing here as he leaves a statement meant to reverberate across the country until November 4th:
“This idea that has been born, maybe out of the economy over the last couple years, that you know, I really don’t have to work. I don’t really want to do this. I think I’d rather just sit around. This is a very sick idea for our country.”
(There's a video of this here. Embedding is restricted for the moment.)

This is John Boehner's 47% statement, an echo of both Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan's famous makers and takers remark. Is this an accident? Did Boehner accidentally broadcast the Republican contempt for the unfortunate?

Yes, yes he did. And it's catnip for the Republican base. It's a reminder that they're the winners -- the makers -- and the Dems are the losers -- the takers. In fact, even unemployed GOPers assume they're the winners, they just don't have jobs. I don't know how this works. Someone, I'm sure, can explain it to me. Of course, unless only Dems are unemployed. Hard to call.

Anyway, the battlelines are being drawn.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Bamboozler, Bamboozle Thyself

Dr. John P. Holden
Today's ThinkProgress has an excellent post that demonstrates how GOP climate-change deniers construct their bamboozling. Watch the videos to see them in action and how easily the president's science advisor, Dr. John P. Holdren, counters their tactics, which include not only the nonsense but the rudeness we're all but inured to by now.

Oh, and there's a bonus from ThinkProgress on Bobby Jindal. I had pointed out his bamboozling on climate change and his dodging on evolution in spite of his Rhodes Scholar status. Now TP reminds us that Jindal was a biology major in college. Figures.

Enjoy. Thanks, TP.

Football Players Are Not Role Models

Football is a violent sport, and those who play it run the gamut from graceful artists -- a Jerry Rice, a Joe Montana -- to thugs -- anybody remember Otis Sistrunk? Sure, some of the best in the sport resemble a role model, but mostly the game is a celebration of barely controlled violence. It's one of the things people like about the game.

Throughout the years of watching the game -- I'm a fan, now one with buyers' remorse -- I remember the satisfaction, the thrill, Ooh, what a great hit!, that melted to horror when it was one of the terrifying blows, like the one that ended Joe Theismann's career or paralyzed Darryl Stingley.

Now that a new scrutiny is bearing down on the sport -- it was barely beginning to deal with head trauma -- because of the domestic violence issue, more is being written and talked about than ever. One aspect is the discovery of trouble in River City in what has become the biggest sport in America. Who would have thought?

One problem is this notion that athletes are role models. It's not nonsense, for young people do admire athletes, musicians, and singers, but it's also baloney, too, because athletes, musicians, and singers fail at being decent humans at the usual regular rate. In fact, they fail at a heightened rate, because of the spotlight, because of the steroids, because of the drugs, because of the narcissism.

I caught this morning's article in the Washington Post of the hypocrisy, if you will, of American star goalie Hope Solo, who's in trouble over an alcohol-fueled violent episode at a family home in which she may or may not have smacked two relatives around. Her case comes to trial in November.

Here's a key graph or two in the WaPo story:
Unlike some of the biggest NFL stars, Solo, who is their counterpart in women’s soccer and someone touted as a role model, quietly goes about her business of keeping soccer balls from going into the net. NFL stars like Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, Jonathan Dwyer and Adrian Peterson were banished after massive sponsor, political and fan pressure, but Nike, for instance, has remained silent on Solo.
While U.S. Soccer doesn’t have the same high profile as the NFL, how do the cases differ? Aren’t women’s soccer players just as much role models as male football players? The goalkeeping record is an an important one, both for Solo and for women’s soccer, but does it really trump an accusation of domestic violence? Why is the notion of awaiting due process so inconsistently applied? And why aren’t more people talking about the fact that domestic violence isn’t simply an issue of men against women?
Hope Solo: Getting drunk and going
off on your relatives was a bad idea.
This idea of athletes as role models has always bugged me. I get that the NFL puts certain clauses into their contracts that essentially make their players talk to the media, agree to parade themselves at local kids' hospitals, and generally agree not to be assholes in public. A contract is a contract. You sign it, you abide by it. I don't know what's in Hope Solo's contract. Maybe it has a "don't be an asshole" clause, too.

And kids will look up to them. Adults will swoon over them, as well. Fine. But what's the track record here? For every Derek Jeter, there's a Barry Bonds. For every Eli Manning, there's a Michael Vick. There's Mia Hamm, there's Hope Solo. In music, do I need to mention Chris Brown, Justin Bieber, even John Mayer (major guitarist, major tool)?

People are role models until they're not. That's life. If your contract says you're outa here if you screw up, then you're outa here. If it doesn't, fix yourself, and continue what you do. If you're a big enough jerk -- and this goes for any career, from teacher to lawyer to company president -- you can't expect to hang on to your job.

I'm a second chance guy. I know I've had a few, and I was happy to see Michael Vick make a comeback, in spite of the horrible nature of his infractions. But he did his time, he apparently learned a lesson, and he came back. It's the repeat offenders, the Lindsay Lohans, that deserve shunning if not both our contempt and our compassion. We admire these people, then we feel sorry for them, then we want them to go away.

The second chance, the comeback story, we like these. People deserve them when they earn them. I hope Hope Solo processes her problems and goes on to set records and thrill fans. If she doesn't, it'll most likely be her own fault. But let's stop confusing standards of "role model" with what's in the contract. We're all flawed. But there's a certain blood lust when it comes to celebrities: We hold them up, then we knock them down with gusto. It's a bit disgusting, and it should stop.

Lindsay, you were a role model until you weren't.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Rush Limbaugh Sets the Bar WAY LOW, Word Salad Edition

Yes, this is word salad at its most inane. Liberals are bullies, Republicans are battered wives, whenever there are riots liberals demand that we understand the rage, and Rush Limbaugh has the, er, facts to prove it:

Celebrations that get out of hand after a city's team wins a championship is a political event, and the liberals will call for peace, love, and understanding. Rush, you're really onto something here! Run with it, Rushbo! You're making so much sense!


Everybody Has An Echo Chamber. It's Called Your Tribe.

I grew up white. Most white people do. I've met a couple white people who grew up black -- wait a minute, no I didn't.

Same goes for blacks mostly. There are ghetto blacks, southern rural blacks, and Ivy League blacks, and blacks that strike me as being as mainstream as you or I. To call them "white" would be an insult or at least somewhat stupid.

The same also goes for Hispanics and Asians. A Venn diagram would show where we all intersect, and that would be interesting. But by and large we tend to self-segregate. I've been around the world and lived in both Europe and Asia. People self-segregate everywhere. I stayed in the Jewish Quarter in Vienna. See?

We settle into tribes and grow up members of those tribes. There are exceptions but not enough to change the math. Wish it was different.

Ferguson and the shooting of Michael Brown -- very much like the shooting of Trayvon Martin, in a sense -- brewed quite a conversation across the nation. But blacks and whites are having very different conversations from one another. This Slate article frames it well:
When asked if “the shooting of an African American teen by law enforcement in Ferguson, Missouri” was justified, 62 percent of whites said it was, along with 35 percent of blacks. The “noes” were a mirror image: 65 percent of blacks—and 38 percent of whites—said it wasn’t justified.
This, more than any result in the survey, is astonishing. Remember, we know little on the circumstances that led to Brown’s death. At most, we have witness reports, which say Brown had surrendered when he was killed, and the testimony of Officer Darren Wilson, who says he was attacked by the teenager. It’s impossible to say anything for certain, but my hunch is that this divide has a good deal to do with implicit racial bias and the divergent views of law enforcement among whites and blacks.
 I have implicit racial bias. Wish it was different. Too late now. During this "conversation," I've found white friends who maintain they have no racial bias whatsoever. Judging by their apparent sincerity, I don't doubt they believe what they're saying. I, though, doubt what they're saying.

We don't get to grow up in a white suburb, go to a university dominated by white people -- most certainly by white professors -- and get jobs in professions disproportionately dominated by white people and end up bias-free.

I don't say this to accuse my friends, who I think just want to wish us into a post-racial world. When Barack Obama was elected president, we all had visions of post-racial sugar plum fairies dancing in our heads. Maybe, just maybe...

I joked that George W. Bush was such a bad president that we elected a black man president. There's a lot of truth in that. How the white-dominated, Republican-Party tribes treated the first black president since then tells a very compelling story. And that story should be titled, "We Don't Live in a Post-Racial World. Sorry."

Racial bias works in subtle ways. I once went shopping at an auto parts store, and a young, well-groomed black man assisted me in a very professional way. I thought, "this young man wants to make something of himself, and I bet he does it." I was impressed, seeing someone not satisfied with staying in the ghetto. The city I was in had a substantial black population, which was essentially ghettoized.

It wasn't long before I realized I wouldn't have had the same impression if it were a young white man. I would have viewed the white man as being in a normal groove, so to speak. But the young black man, well, he was making something of himself. See?

I felt self-busted, and should have. It works the other way, too. I see a couple of young blacks on the street, and I don't get nervous, I just get maybe guarded, hyper-alert. Two white kids? Not so.

It sucks, but it's why we hear of white cops shooting young black men more than we hear of black cops shooting young white men. And when we do hear about these shootings, we self-sort pretty fast, as the Slate article and the poll it cited show.

My point is that it's bad enough that we innately support our tribe, at least in the sense that it distorts reality in ways that are destructive to our collective society. It's sad, and it'll always be that part of life that quietly torments me. Wish things were different. But they aren't, and they won't have changed much before I die. A whole lifetime, lived within the confines of my tribe, regardless of any efforts to pretend differently.

I guess it's human nature, but I don't have to like it. Deep inside, I'm for everyone. So tell me again why I've self-sorted into a lily-white town in California wine country. Beats me. I'm just living.

I was doing research about nearby Napa Valley, and I found out that the early
vineyard workers were Chinese. Then they were supplanted by the Italians.
Decades later, the Mexicans took over. Just how does this work? Hmm...

Note. Rereading this, I should mention that there are hints of progress on the integration front all around. I can imagine a post-racial world. If we don't destroy the planet -- hard to imagine we won't -- humans will amalgamate. It's bound to happen. In the meantime, there's a lot of vive la différence going around. We're different, our various tribes, and the interplay among cultures is a rich experience. Life as it is can be beautiful. I just get pretty down hearing about the next dead black kid, and the next dead black kid. Pretty dismal, for now.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Yes, I Turned Out Fine, but Not Because Dad Smacked Us Around

I went to Catholic school. My teachers struck me? Oh yeah, with relish.

There wasn't a time I was beaten at school that I thought, "This is the right thing to do, it'll learn me!" But corporal punishment is pretty much finished in schools, except in the heathen states. Notice I didn't say "Southern" but I could have said "red," except for purple Colorado.

Thought experiment: Imagine a coherent reason red states permit teachers and administrators to beat kids in school. To extend and differentiate, imagine why blue states would decide differently.

Anyway, I was going to talk about my Dad, who passed away nine years ago. He was the model of the less involved parent, puffing on his pipe or cigar while my Mom ran the household (and held down a job, and reached a higher professional status, I might add, though my Dad did just fine). He did take over when it came to punishment. He mostly dealt in controlled blows, a painful swat in the bedroom for being late for dinner, etc.

It didn't add up to much, and we weren't in fear of Dad. My oldest brother got the worst of it, my middle brother got none of it for some reason, and I was smacked a few times. Dad did lose his temper, which accounted for the few times that we were smacked in full view. These were few but particularly shocking.

I assumed he was raised similarly in Euclid, Ohio, and I didn't take it personally, except for one thing: It permanently alienated me from having much, if any, affection for him. I loved my Mom, and, while not fearing him, at least I didn't have any warm feelings for him.

(...adding that, in the end, I've come to believe he did the best he could by us, which was not bad at all. He was a man of his day and age, and I can imagine many people feeling the same about their parents.)

Nothing good came of my Dad smacking me. I never even dreamed of striking my kids, and I can't think of a single outcome for them that would have improved had I done so. Not a single one. I will say that I ran against the grain, apparently. Kids who suffer corporal punishment tend to do the same. I consciously decided I would never do it. I'm happy I didn't.

So when I hear the chorus of "My Dad smacked me, and I turned out okay" from the usual suspects -- Hannity et al -- I assume that they're missing one aspect of this: They're not okay, and their assholery tends to prove it. If you've ever watched Hannity interview someone he constitutionally disagrees with, you see his rather violent tendency to bully. Where did that come from?

We don't need to ask. Anyway, don't hit your kids. It's unnecessary and nothing good comes from it. We hit our kids out of weakness, not strength.

Pretty much predictable.

This Is How American Presidents Roll. Who Could Have Predicted?

Benjamin Netanyahu: Not a man of peace, not a partner with the U.S., except, uh...

Edward Snowden is, hopefully, the gift that keeps on giving:
Among [Snowden's] most shocking discoveries, he told me, was the fact that the N.S.A. was routinely passing along the private communications of Americans to a large and very secretive Israeli military organization known as Unit 8200. This transfer of intercepts, he said, included the contents of the communications as well as metadata such as who was calling whom.
Typically, when such sensitive information is transferred to another country, it would first be “minimized,” meaning that names and other personally identifiable information would be removed. But when sharing with Israel, the N.S.A. evidently did not ensure that the data was modified in this way.
Mr. Snowden stressed that the transfer of intercepts to Israel contained the communications — email as well as phone calls — of countless Arab- and Palestinian-Americans whose relatives in Israel and the Palestinian territories could become targets based on the communications. “I think that’s amazing,” he told me. “It’s one of the biggest abuses we’ve seen.”
t appears that Mr. Snowden’s fears were warranted. Last week, 43 veterans of Unit 8200 — many still serving in the reserves — accused the organization of startling abuses. In a letter to their commanders, to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and to the head of the Israeli army, they charged that Israel used information collected against innocent Palestinians for “political persecution.” In testimonies and interviews given to the media, they specified that data were gathered on Palestinians’ sexual orientations, infidelities, money problems, family medical conditions and other private matters that could be used to coerce Palestinians into becoming collaborators or create divisions in their society.
The veterans of Unit 8200 declared that they had a “moral duty” to no longer “take part in the state’s actions against Palestinians.” An Israeli military spokesman disputed the letter’s overall drift but said the charges would be examined.
The rule of law in America -- I'm talking on so many levels here -- is quite nearly over, except for the peons (more on that later). The NSA vacuums what they want, through ingenuity, theft, and threats to organizations like Yahoo!, and distributes it where it can do the most damage.

I just wrote about the immorality of not acting on climate change. Our corruption extends way beyond just what will destroy the planet. In the meantime, we corrupt ourselves in ways trivial yet horrifying.

If all that is left is a narrow chance that we can vote these bastards out, then do it. That can only be on the congressional level. Our "heroes," like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton -- should she win in 2016 -- cannot be counted on to pass up on the corrupt abuse of power. It's the way presidents roll, especially since we've let them get away with it. What fuckers, our fuckers.

Barack Obama in Berlin, when we had a reason to believe.

Note. I'll take Obama, and even Clinton, over anything the other side has got, and I will actively support them. But I'm not blind. We've come a long way, baby, since hope and change. As Atros says, who could have predicted? From now on, all of us can.

Not Acting on Global Warming: Is It Immoral?

I've recently researched scientific opinion and discovered that there is a near-100% consensus that global warming is real -- about 96% think it's 100% man-made, while about 4% believe it's 50% man-made.

Then there are the rabid denialists, also known as conservatives. This would be a simple political observation if the effect on policy of the denialists weren't so dire.

Here, now, is another viewpoint: Accepting the scientific consensus  -- and who shouldn't? -- we are left with what amounts to two choices, mitigation or adaptation. There are varying degrees between these two choices, but the extent to which one chooses, as an individual or a nation, what we do is some position between the two poles.

Last night on Daily Kos, I found a clear-eyed expression of just what our choices mean:
Climate hawks are familiar with the framing of climate policy credited to White House science advisor John Holdren, to wit: We will respond to climate change with some mix of mitigation, adaptation, and suffering; all that remains to be determined is the mix.
It’s a powerful bit of language. It makes clear that not acting is itself a choice — a choice in favor of suffering.
But in another way, Holdren’s formulation obscures an important difference between mitigation (reducing greenhouse gas emissions to prevent climate effects) and adaptation (changing infrastructure and institutions to cope with climate effects). It makes them sound fungible, as though a unit of either can be traded in for an equivalent unit of suffering. That’s misleading. They are very different, not only on a practical level but morally.
With every ton of carbon we emit, we add incrementally to the total concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. That total is what determines the effects of climate change. By emitting ton of carbon we are, in a tiny, incremental way, harming all of humanity, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.

Conversely, however, every ton of carbon emissions we prevent or eliminate benefits, in a tiny, incremental way, all of humanity, especially the poorest and most vulnerable. Say I pay $10 to reduce carbon by a ton. I bear the full cost, but because all of humanity benefits, I receive only one seven-billionth of the value of my investment (give or take).
In other words, mitigation is fundamentally altruistic, other-focused.
In fact, I’ve understated the altruism. Remember the famous carbon time lag: Carbon emitted today affects temperatures 30 (or so) years from now. So mitigation today doesn’t actually benefit humanity today; it benefits humanity 30 years in the future, when the carbon that would have been emitted would have wrought its effects. It benefits people who are both spatially and temporally distant. That’s almost pure altruism.
(Note:  I’m putting aside the present-day co-benefits of mitigation policies. Obviously they are important! And I’ll get to them in a minute. But for now I’m talking purely about reducing carbon for climate’s sake.)
Adaptation is nearly the opposite. It is action taken to protect oneself, one’s own city, tribe, or nation, from the effects of unchecked climate change. An adaptation dollar does not benefit all of humanity like a mitigation dollar does. It benefits only those proximate to the spender. A New Yorker who spends a dollar on mitigation is disproportionately preventing suffering among future Bangladeshis. A New Yorker who spends a dollar on a sea wall is preventing suffering only among present and future New Yorkers. The benefits of adaptation, as an iterative process that will continue as long as the climate keeps changing, are both spatially and temporally local.
This excerpt is from an article entitled "Preventing climate change and adapting to it are not morally equivalent." Read the whole thing here. But the point is clear: When we mitigate climate change, we act morally and globally. When we stop burning coal as a nation, the entire world benefits. But when we choose only to adapt, we act locally, to the detriment of the world community.

When we decide to build sea walls to preserve our coastlines -- the Dutch would be great at this -- we save our coasts but do nothing for the coastlines of Africa and Asia and anyplace too poor to adapt. They will suffer more.

The bottom line is that this is a moral choice. Beyond the obvious point that conservatives tout their Christian views as driving their actions in life -- leaving them wide-open to charges of hypocrisy -- the only thing preventing them from viewing themselves as morally corrupt on the issue of global warming is outright denial.

It's funny, and tragic, that so far it's the choice they've made.

It might be easy to pick on Mario Rubio because he's gone the Bobby
Jindal way with a "How can I know, I'm not a scientist" to justify his
climate-change denialism. But what conservative hasn't adopted the view?
Which GOP presidential hopeful can risk another position? Not a one.
What does that say about the moral choices they are making?