Friday, April 18, 2014

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING

Another special canine edition!

Lola





















Be sure to check out Modulator's Friday Ark for more cat blogging pics!

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Nevada rancher in tense standoff with federal government over cattle on rural public lands

From the New York Daily News:

A turf war has erupted in rural Nevada as a longtime rancher and hundreds of his supporters battle the federal government, which has moved to seize cattle that graze on thousands of acres of public land.

Cliven Bundy, 68, has been embroiled in a two-decade-long dustup with the federal Bureau of Land Management, which finally sent in men armed with large guns to surround Bundy's ranch in Bunkerville, west of the Arizona and Utah border, as contracted cowboys roundup the man’s 900 beef cattle during the next several days.

The beef has built up since 1993 when Bundy, whose family has long worked the land in Clark County some 80 miles northwest of Las Vegas, refused to pay grazing fees on 600,000 acres of public land, dubbed Gold Butte, surrounding his 160-acre farm.

More here.


Crazy conservative cause celeb millionaire rancher nut in Nevada: a thief, of your tax dollars, who justifies not paying grazing fees for federally owned lands because of his "ancestral grazing rights." Whatever. A thief is a thief is a thief.

Also, creating an armed standoff with the feds, which is what happened with this last weekend, is a massive crime. It doesn't matter how much sympathy you have coming from Fox News. These are all criminals who should be in jail.  While I'm pleased that BLM agents did not take the bait on this, and withdrew, all these people need to be rounded up, the sooner the better.

That's what you do with criminals.  Round them up.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

5 Explosive Revelations Leaked from Senate Report Exposing CIA Torture

From AlterNet:

Based on CIA documents, senators on the powerful committee conducted a four-year long, $40 million inquiry into the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, which included torture tactics like the waterboarding of terrorism suspects, beatings and the smashing of suspects’ heads into walls. While the public may be aware of some of these practices due to past revelations, the information carries heavy weight because it is the Senate confirming many of those claims, which has oversight power over the agency.

The CIA’s torture program started soon after 9/11. The Bush administration signed off on what they called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” but which clearly constituted torture, a crime under U.S. and international law.

More here.

Torture is deeply immoral.  Legal briefs don't change that.  The fact that official enemies of the US might use torture, too, doesn't change that.  That we, the United States, have tortured, again and again, in this misguided and destructive "War on Terror," has left blood all over our collective hands.  I mean, we already had bloody hands, from slavery, and then Jim Crow, and from the genocide of the Native Americans, and various other imperialistic atrocities.  But at least public discourse sort of acknowledges the existence of these grave sins.  

The American torture regime, in sharp contrast, hardly registers in the public consciousness.  The men who formulated plans for, and then ordered, these mass violations of human rights walk free.  The current administration, as well as the House and Senate, seem utterly unconcerned with justice, which makes them complicit in these high crimes against humanity.  America, like Iran, Baathist Iraq, Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, Khmer Rouge Cambodia, and countless others, is now one of those nations.  We torture, and then we put medals on the torturers.  This disgusts me.  And if you're an American with a conscience and a belief in justice and morality, you should be disgusted, too.

On the other hand, sweeping this all under the carpet the way we're doing is so very America-of-the-now.  From fraudulent and thieving bankers, to professional athletes using steroids, to parents harassing teachers and administrators until their C student babies get As, to blaming the poor for the actions of capitalists, and on and on and on: in the 21st century, we Americans don't take responsibility for ANYTHING.  

It's somebody else's problem.  Actually it's not even a problem.  There is no problem.  STFU, asshole.  You're killing my buzz.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Florida artist smashes $1M vase in Miami museum

From the AP via the Tampa Tribune:

Maximo Caminero, 51, was charged with criminal mischief after Sunday’s incident at the Perez Art Museum Miami. According to a Miami Police Department arrest affidavit, a security guard told officers that Caminero picked up a colored vase by Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei. When told to put it down, the security guard said Caminero smashed it on the floor.

A police affidavit says Caminero told officers he broke the vase to protest the museum’s lack of local artist displays and because “the museum only displayed international artists’ art.”

More here.

Oh, I'm sure the guy has a point in there somewhere. It's just that I think that destroying art, for an artist, necessarily devalues art more generally, and therefore his role as an artist in society. I mean, postmodernism yadda yadda, it's a dumbshit protest, and conceptually counterproductive.

What a douche bag.

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Monday, April 14, 2014

NO, UNIONS ARE GOOD.

The only people in our society who have good reason to trash the concept of labor unions are management and capitalists, you know, real capitalists, the people who own and operate the nation. And really, it's not even good reason. It's just because they have an absurd notion that they should be able to exploit anything and anyone they want in order to make more and more money. But at least they have a motivation. Everyone else on the anti-union bandwagon are just fools. Total fools.

 As Noam Chomsky recently observed*:


"The whole system is being turned into something bought. It has very limited resemblance to democracy. It's plutocracy, and the only way to deal with this is by mass public organization to counter it, and, in fact, that requires associations. The major association that's always been in the lead on this is unions. So naturally during the neoliberal period, and, in fact, before, there's been a massive attack on unions to try to undermine and destroy them. That makes sense. They're the one major organization that allows working people, poor people, to come together to work out their programs, formulate their demands, defend their rights, to press for progressive developments elsewhere in society. So sure, they have to be wiped out. By now private sector unions are less than seven percent of the work force. So there has to be an attack on public unions because they've managed to survive, and you see that before your eyes. It's happening all over."
 

Yes, the evil bad teacher unions, among others. If you believe that, I've got some swamp land in Florida where I'm sure you'd love to build a nice retirement cottage.

*(I got this quote from a YouTube video saw back in February, and now it appears to no longer exist.  But I assure you, these are Chomsky's actual words!)

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Corporate Cash Hoarding Is Killing the Middle Class

From AlterNet, Florida representative Alan Grayson reads for us the writing on the wall:

As that finance newsletter proudly states, huge corporations don’t spend their money; they just sock it away. And the same thing is true of rich people, and banks, and multi-national corporations. The 400 individuals on the Forbes 400 list alone have accumulated more than $2 trillion in wealth, the great majority of which remains in their pockets year after year. We are ending up with enormous pools of cash that have been drained from the real economy, and are not reinvested in it. We have a national economy with a maximum possible economic output of $16 trillion each year, but much of it ends up in deep pockets with no holes, just sitting there. This creates a massive and chronic shortage in “aggregate demand,” a problem that John Maynard Keynes accurately described 75 years ago. If we allow demand to fall short, then unemployment explodes. Hence we paper over the evaporation of all that money from aggregate demand with federal deficits, “quantitative easing” and enormous personal debt.

More here.

As Marxist economist Richard Wolff has asserted endlessly, we don't have a massive debt/deficit problem due to reckless spending and a Big Government out of control.  Rather,we have a deficit/debt problem because, starting in the 1970s, we stopped taxing where the real wealth actually resides.  Adding insult to injury, a lot of that money, maybe most, which previously came into the federal government as tax revenue, is now loaned to us by the very same people we no longer tax.  Win/win for them.  Lose/lose for everybody else.  So the deficit is a bullshit "crisis" which, when you throw in militant and willfully ignorant Tea Party activists to the mix, now periodically threatens to upend the entire global economy, what with weird debt-ceiling posturing, and never-surrender budget negotiations.

But that's not even close to the end of the story.  As Grayson observes in his essay, this corporate cash-hoarding, when coupled with similar behavior from fabulously wealthy families and individuals, effectively renders inert as much as A QUARTER of the entire GDP.  That's because they just sit on this money--the old wives' tales about how throwing money at the rich stimulates the economy have been proven false by actual economic studies on multiple occasions.  So big business and the extraordinarily rich literally impede economic growth.  And when that happens, most of us suffer in countless ways.  Not them, of course, never them.

We really, as a civilization, need to get over this mindless worship of these masters of capital.  In the end, they're parasites on society, and we should squash them like the blood-sucking bugs they are.  Or tax the hell out of them.  One of those two.  Squash them or tax them.  I'm cool either way.

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

FRANK ZAPPA FRIDAY AND 70S POP MONDAY ON SATURDAY

Two of my facebook features exported to Real Art.





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Friday, April 11, 2014

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING

Sammy, Frankie, and Winkie, Living in Perfect Harmony





















Be sure to check out Modulator's Friday Ark for more cat blogging pics!

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6 Most Absurd Things Right-Wing Christians Have Blamed on Gays

From AlterNet:

“We have displeased the Lord and the earth is going to answer,” so-called prophet Cindy Jacobs warned in advance of the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act last summer. If this warning sounds familiar, it should: right wingers have a long history of blaming everything from earthquakes to recession to climate change on the advance of gay marriage, and they’re only getting more ridiculous.

More here.

Asserting that natural disasters and other bad things that have perfectly obvious causes based in material reality are, instead, manifestations of God's wrath is, at face value, utterly absurd.  But enough religious leaders continue to make such assertions, and one assumes that these leaders have constituencies here and there which more or less agree with them, that it seems reasonable to explain why, exactly, saying such things is so completely head-embedded-in-ass stupid.  And just to keep things on the up and up, let's assume for discussion's sake that the Bible is, in fact, the word of the Lord.

We do see God behaving this way in the Old Testament.  Indeed, we've got the "Creator" in this new Noah movie smiting most of humanity for their sinfulness.  There's also Sodom and Gomorrah.  So imagining that God might continue with this modus operandi even today isn't necessarily out of bounds.  There's definitely precedent.  Of course, on other occasions He commanded the Israelites themselves to commit genocide on His behalf, so it doesn't always have to be a natural disaster.  But I digress.  The point is that we have some reasonable basis for imagining Yahweh as angry, vengeful, and homicidal towards humans who offend Him--on the other hand, we don't see this so much in the New Testament, what with all its messages of forgiveness and love, but the Old Testament is a bigger book, so let's give some theological leeway to those who wish to embrace the understanding of God as Divine Homicidal Punisher of Mankind.

But there are a couple of real problems when it comes to saying this or that disaster or terrible event is God punishing this or that group for their sinful ways.

First, how do you know which disasters are God's wrath and which disasters are just disasters?  I mean, surely, some disasters are simply disasters.  You know, sometimes things blow up.  Sometimes hurricanes and earthquakes are simply byproducts of how physical reality functions.  Sometimes lots of people die in one fell swoop, saints and sinners alike.  Sure, you might be someone who believes that EVERY SINGLE EVENT AND PHENOMENON in the universe is personally orchestrated by God, which makes the concept of free will, and therefore sin, problematic, but guess what?  I'm not talking to you.  Your universe is so utterly alien to mine that I don't think we can really have a conversation about this.  I'm only talking to people who think that sometimes disasters are simply disasters.  And I'm asking these people how they can tell the difference between a God disaster and a normal disaster.

Second, what does it mean when the most obviously sinful cities AREN'T destroyed or heavily damaged by such disasters?  What happens when nothing happens at all to, say, extraordinarily gay San Francisco?  Or did God create the San Andreas fault only once it became clear how swishy the City on the Bay was going to be?  Another related question: what does it mean when cities that aren't sinful are hit with disaster?  What happens when God-fearing Kansas City gets hit with tornadoes?  What happens when bad things happen to good people?  If AIDS is punishment for sodomy, then why sweep up all the hemophiliacs?  And why did God's agent Katrina spare the French Quarter, the gayest neighborhood in all New Orleans?

Don't hand me any of that "mystery of God" crap on this, either.  You're on shaky ground from the get-go here because you have no real Scriptural support for this other than pointing to God's behavior four thousand years ago, which was then explained to mankind by prophets other writers directly inspired by God.  If you're going to push this stuff, then you need to have some good answers.  Otherwise, you're a snake oil salesman.

Or are you telling me that you're a prophet, too?

And that's really the crux here.  In order to say that specific disasters are manifestations of God's wrath, one must NECESSARILY claim to have knowledge of God's mind which has not been revealed in the Bible.  That is, anybody who makes such a claim is implicitly telling us that he has personal one-on-one conversations with the Almighty, that God reveals to him secret knowledge nobody else knows.  If you say Katrina was God's wrath, you are also telling us you are a prophet of God.

But no.  You're NOT a prophet of God.  You do not have personal one-on-one conversations in which God gives you information unknown to others.  Instead, you are a false prophet.  And I think that the Bible, in contrast to the issue of God's wrath and earthly disasters, is perfectly clear about what happens to false prophets.

Lake of fire and brimstone.  Death.  That's what you get.  So you'd best shut the hell up if you value your soul.  Clearly, being perceived as a sadistic asshole is not a disincentive.  Perhaps self-preservation is a better motivator.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2014

How the Corporate Takeover of Society Is Leaving Us Feeling Empty Inside

From the Guardian via AlterNet:

How do you engineer a bland, depoliticised world, a consensus built around consumption and endless growth, a dream world of materialism and debt and atomisation, in which all relations can be prefixed with a dollar sign, in which we cease to fight for change? You delegate your powers to companies whose profits depend on this model.

Power is shifting: to places in which we have no voice or vote. Domestic policies are forged by special advisers and spin doctors, by panels and advisory committees stuffed with lobbyists. The self-hating state withdraws its own authority to regulate and direct. Simultaneously, the democratic vacuum at the heart of global governance is being filled, without anything resembling consent, by international bureaucrats and corporate executives. The NGOs permitted – often as an afterthought – to join them intelligibly represent neither civil society nor electorates. (And please spare me that guff about consumer democracy or shareholder democracy: in both cases some people have more votes than others, and those with the most votes are the least inclined to press for change.)


More here.

As if it's not bad enough when we rent ourselves out for half the day, a.k.a. "go to work," and submit ourselves to their soft-touch bland authoritarianism.  No, they want to have it all.  Their mass media products have colonized our minds, continually feeding us concepts and ideas which serve ultimately to benefit them and only them, and it doesn't matter how twisted and warped our thoughts become as a result.  As long as they're making more and more and more money.  In addition to polluting our minds, they also ravage our precious ecology, treating the world as both an infinite resource, which it is not, as well as an infinite garbage can.  The planet's getting hotter, and there will be hell to pay for it, but we're the ones who will pay, who are already paying, not them, never them--they create carefully manged realities for themselves, gated communities with security guards who weed out undesirables like you and me.  They sell us dangerous chemicals and call it food and drink.  They squeeze our wages and make us beg for scraps from their corporate feasts.  Collectively, they are the Devil, but with really good PR.

And, of course, they've almost completely undermined any sense of democratic rule we once had.  That is, they've bought, and now own and operate, the government.  But that's old news.  The new news is that they continue to tighten their grip on the public sector: in recent years corporate forces have gone a long way towards crowding out what public discussion remains about how to best promote the general welfare through an artificially created social conceptualization of what constitutes good and bad for the people.

This shit's getting downright Orwellian.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Millions of Americans forced to work part time

From CBS News courtesy of Eschaton:

"I've been hired by this restaurant I absolutely love, but it's a part-time position," Dublin says.
She makes $11 an hour, plus tips.

In March, of the 192,000 jobs created, 30,000 were in food services. Restaurants and bars have added 323,000 workers over the past year, but Dublin is earning a fraction of what she used to make.

And

In the Labor Department statistics, Dublin falls into the category of people "forced" to work part time. There are some 7.4 million of them in America.

More here, with video.

This is what conservative views on economics have created, an enormous under-class of Americans who must live hand to mouth, and that group just continues to grow.  Meanwhile, the middle class continues to evaporate; many of them have been forced by circumstances not of their making to join the precarious working class, taking whatever job, and in many cases multiple jobs, they can find simply to stay afloat, living in fear that the slightest family financial crisis will blow it all up.  And they just keep losing ground.  Don't even get me started about how members of the working class have dropped into straight up poverty.

Triumphant conservatism in the political sphere has brought us to this sad and embarrassing situation.  Capitalism, left to its own devices, seems in no way inclined to provide the American citizenry with ways to improve its lot in life, or even to live, for that matter.  And, really, when you get down to it, that's the gist of conservative economics: leave capitalism to its own devices.  We've been been consistently moving in that direction for many years now, and forcing millions to live their lives in fear and/or poverty is pretty much all we have to show for it.

The old conservative rhetoric on this is now revealed for the shrill and hollow bullshit it is.  "Stop being lazy; get a job," that's all just insulting these days.  "Go to college" and "major in the right field" is just about as insulting, now that we're seeing up to fifteen percent unemployment in some of the so-called STEM fields.  We're not going to educate ourselves out of this.  We're not going to grow our way out of this, either, because, get this, THE ECONOMY IS ACTUALLY GROWING.  The economy gets "better" but the economic prospects for Americans get worse.  If you really believe the right-wing mythology on how this all works, then you're a chump.  And if you run around pushing these myths, then you're a dick, whether you mean to be or not.  It's no longer about individual character.  No longer about how hard you work.  About the choices you make.  It's about a broken economic system that continues to dominate the political imagination because of perceived past glories.  To tell people who are genuinely oppressed that it's their fault is being a dick, no way around it.

It's well past time to force capitalism to serve the people, rather than forcing the people to serve the capitalism.

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Monday, April 07, 2014

SKYROCKET!

In jazz, they're called standards, and there is no shame at all in that world playing songs that were written by somebody else. Indeed, the sense is more along the lines of "let's see how well they do 'Cherokee' or 'A Night in Tunisia.'" In rock and roll, however, in stark contrast, everybody's supposed to be Bob Dylan or Lennon and McCartney, and screw you if you're in a pathetic cover band.

But what happens when that cover band is absolutely incredible? What happens when their performances of well known and much loved pop and rock tunes rival the originals? How could you possibly call such a thing pathetic?

Last night I finally got around to seeing a couple of old friends, Paul English and Benjamin Hotchkiss, perform with their 70s cover band SKYROCKET! It was one of the best rock and roll shows I've ever seen. And I've seen some great ones over the years. But this was something else, to be sure. It's not simply that they were, to pull a phrase from Ween studio chatter, tighter than Steely Dan's butthole. It's also that there was a lot of real intelligence involved with how they approach the material, in terms of song choices, as well as a sort of tongue-in-cheek visual aspect that allows the audience both to take seriously while at the same time laugh at the fact that everybody in the venue is grooving to old great but sometimes cheesy pop songs.

I mean, I've never swooned to Air Supply's "All Out of Love" the way I did last night. For that matter, the moment when one of their singers - actually, they're ALL singers, and multi-instrumentalists, too - while performing Nick Gilder's "Hot Child in the City," held his mike out to the audience allowing us to sing the title line together as a crowd, well, it instantly became one of the top 25 moments of my entire life. No, seriously. It was just incredible.

There's a serious graduate thesis to be written about what this band is out there doing.

Go see Skyrocket. Go see Skyrocket. Go see Skyrocket. You'll believe in rock music again.



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Sunday, April 06, 2014

Bill Maher: John Roberts Is A 'Liar' Or Too 'Naive' To Be SCOTUS Chief Justice

From Talking Points Memo:

"They say the Constitution was created by geniuses so idiots could run it," the comedian and liberal political commentator said Friday on his HBO show "Real Time With Bill Maher." "I need to amend that. I think the idiots have found a way to break it. I do. I think the idiots have finally won over the geniuses."

More here.

I've been trying to figure out what to say about this most recent Supreme Court decision pushing us, as ever, toward plutocracy and away from democracy, but the best I've been able to come up with is "ah crap, not again." Bill Maher, however, pretty much articulates the long and the short of it. The Court's conservative wing is either stupid or total liars. Either way, we're screwed.

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Saturday, April 05, 2014

FRANK ZAPPA FRIDAY AND 70S POP MONDAY ON SATURDAY

Two of my facebook features exported to Real Art.





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Friday, April 04, 2014

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING

Stella Patrols the Front Yard




 
















Be sure to check out Modulator's Friday Ark for more cat blogging pics!

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Thursday, April 03, 2014

VOTER FRAUD? ALSO, HOW AND WHY I LIKE TO ARGUE.

A former student, conservative, and highly intelligent, private messaged me on facebook:

I see a lot of your posts and bite my tongue. You know we've always disagreed politically and I respect that. Just figured I'd share some of the right wing news. Does it make the slightest difference in your opinion?

http://m.nationalreview.com/corner/374882/nc-state-board-finds-more-35k-incidents-double-voting-2012-andrew-johnson
I replied:
You don't have to bite your tongue!  Just make a solid argument, which wouldn't necessarily persuade anyone, but it does let people know they just can't dismiss a strong opinion without some thought, which is the real payoff.

NR is a decades old conservative journal founded by William F. Buckley, who I disagree with on many issues, but I've always liked him.  Actually, he died a few years ago, but he always made arguments that liberals couldn't easily dismiss.  Lemme check this out, and I'll let you know what I think.

It probably won't make me change my mind about how the world works, but there's always the possibility that it might force me to alter an opinion here or there.  Or it might make me have to reformulate an argument or two.  There is great value in hearing what the other side has to think, if only because it forces one to think about his own views all the more.
And then I read the thing, and responded to that:
Okay, this is interesting, albeit not the sort of political debate in which I usually wish to wade.  That is, it's an argument about whether an assertion is factual or not.  I prefer to argue bedrock principles, foundational assumptions, and whether theory and ideas about the way the world works actually match those principles and assumptions, and whether such assumptions are flawed.  Yes, that does involve factual assertions, but usually I like to make sure the facts are unimpeachable. 

So, for instance, the notion that tax cuts for the rich stimulate the economy, which is widely believed by conservatives, turns out to be a very flawed assumption because economists have been studying what the rich do with the money saved by tax cuts and it turns out that the rich generally don't invest it in ways that grow the economy.  That's a fun one, to be sure, because it's amusing and intellectually gratifying to shit in the punch bowl when nobody can do anything about it.

Contrast that with wading into the scientific details of global warming with a skeptic who believes he's "done the research" and knows better than 97% of all climatologists.  We're dealing with facts, of course, but the science is pretty dense and confusing to laymen.  I don't even try to understand it in the detail these armchair "scientist" skeptics claim to do themselves.  As with most science, I feel like it's enough to trust the prevailing consensus of scientists.  But these skeptics think they can argue the science with me.  Clearly, they have no idea what they're talking about because SO MANY scientists disagree with them, but there's absolutely no way I can even start to convince them.  I just try to keep out of those.

And this thing in North Carolina appears to fall into that category.  We're talking about facts, but it's dense number crunching stuff, sort of opaque to people who aren't statisticians.  So I can't say for sure one way or the other.  On the other hand, the reports I've been seeing for a few years now seem to show that voter fraud of this variety is exceedingly rare, less than one percent, not enough to sway any elections--this is not even to mention that fraud on this scale, thirty five thousand, would be amazing if actually pulled off without anybody squealing.  So I'm skeptical.

Of course, I'm not the only skeptic on this report.  Apparently, matching names and birth dates from other states like this isn't statistically weird at all.  That is, it's probable that it's mostly coincidence.  Combine that with data collection errors, and one can dismiss the entire report as erroneous:

http://electionlawblog.org/?p=59871

But I guess we'll see how this turns out.  If the NC election board's study is, in fact, correct, it would be MAJOR.  We should know pretty quickly if there's any fire associated with this smoke.
The conversation continued a bit, going into race issues, the GOP, and the whole concept of voter ID laws versus whether or not there's actually an issue about voter fraud.  We didn't end up agreeing on anything, but it was a good conversation, a decent exchange of ideas.

What's funny is that he and I, just a couple of Texas guys, are able to do something our leaders in Washington seem to be incapable of doing: talking to each other.  You know, it's really not so difficult.  What's their deal, anyway?

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Wednesday, April 02, 2014

AOL chief ignites firestorm over 401(k) cuts

From the Washington Post:

The strange turn of events began Tuesday, when employees began learning that AOL was switching its 401(k) match to an annual lump sum, rather than distributing the money throughout the year with every paycheck as it had done before. Only employees who remain at the company through Dec. 31 are eligible, meaning that anyone who leaves midyear won’t see any of the pay.

A number of companies, including Deutsche Bank and IBM, have been cutting their retirement benefits this way, saving millions of dollars just as more Americans are relying primarily on their 401(k)s because traditional pensions are being phased out.

The changes undercut a central virtue of the 401(k) system, which in theory should make it easier for employees to switch companies and take their savings with them. Instead, with people changing jobs more frequently during the course of their careers, the loss in matches can add up to thousands of dollars each time a worker switches employers.


More here.

Rising tides don't lift all the boats when management puts holes in everyone's but theirs. That is, throwing money at the capitalists, as we've done now for thirty years, doesn't help the man who works for a living. When will we figure this out?

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Tuesday, April 01, 2014

IS RAPID TRADING RIPPING OFF INVESTORS?

Or, more simply, is Wall Street honest?  Well, I'm sure you already know what I think.  An old friend of mine, who is in the finance industry, posted this from CNBC on facebook earlier today:

Katsuyama vs. O'Brien - who won the fight?

It was the fight that stopped trading on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange—IEX's Brad Katsuyama vs. BATS Global Markets president William O'Brien on high-speed trading and 'rigged' markets.

"You want to do this? Let's do this," Katsuyama said in response to O'Brien's prodding.

"I really do," O'Brien said.

And off they went, for more than 20 minutes. Traders stood transfixed as the two argued over the very nature of the stock market and whether the average investor could even compete with the big guys.


More here, with video.

Here's the comment I left:

Keep in mind that I am a far left socialist, in the Bernie Sanders mold, and that I must necessarily be harboring some kind of bias. Having said that, I don't understand how the stock market, actually the entire finance industry, could be perceived by anybody at all as fair, or even, at this point, as good for the economy.

From the major ratings agencies designating toxic mortgage backed securities as triple A, to the entire financial press cheering the whole thing on, even while they had no idea what it was they were championing, to the fact that the industry has so much pull in Washington that none of the major players have been prosecuted, or will be prosecuted, really just the entire mess surrounding CDOs and the real estate bubble they created, to the Libor manipulations, to usurious credit cards with contract language so purposely obscure that it baffles even experts, to the oil commodities bubble of the late 90s, to the S&L and junk bond scandals of the late 80s, and on and on and on, it just seems to me that Wall Street, again and again and again, gets away with murder.

So when someone from the industry tells me that rapid mass computerized trading is not ripping off ordinary investors, he's got the burden of proof. He's going to have to explain to me why Wall Street isn't ripping me off. And he's got to do it in a way that I understand because these people shrugged off critics of the mortgage backed securities as just being stupid, which they weren't. That is, Wall Street insiders have already shown that they're totally willing to lie out their ass. And why shouldn't they? They always get away with it.

I'm lucky I've still got an IRA.
I hope that was nice.  I have very fond high school memories of the person who posted this.  And really, I have no idea what her politics are, but I assume, given her field, that she's conservative, at least on economics.  But I don't know.  We'll see how or if she responds.

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Monday, March 31, 2014

Conservatives Don't Want to Admit That Economic Inequality Is Ruining Marriage

From AlterNet:

Everywhere else, though, marriageable women outnumber the men. As Douthat concedes, chronic unemployment and mass incarceration have made a high percentage of men unmarriageable. The economy further skews the way men and women match up, with more men than women among the winners at the top of the economic ladder and more men among those who have lost ground leaving more women in the middle. As a practical matter, this means that women outnumber men in the relationship markets everywhere outside the relatively elite. Sociologists find that when this happens, men become more likely to play the field, women give up on the men and relationship quality inside and outside of marriage suffers.

More here.

Conservatives, your precious winner-take-all capitalism is ruining your precious institution of marriage. You can't have it both ways. If you're serious about more people getting married, you have to abandon your love of exploitative mass commerce. If you're serious about exploitative mass commerce, you have to quit bitching about all the single parent families out there. The two ideas are mutually exclusive. You can't have both at the same time.

So figure it out. I'm tired of hearing all the wishy-washy whining about all this.



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Sunday, March 30, 2014

How the Self-Help Industry Hustles America

From AlterNet:

We’re a nation founded on the Protestant work ethic. Our forefathers came to America with the idea that diligent efforts and thrift demonstrated both godliness and virtue — and would result in worldly success.

The self-help industry is the modern secular version of our grounding myth. It’s a $10 billion annual business that sells its services by claiming there is almost no problem — from weight loss to financial struggles — that can’t be overcome with grit, determination and willpower. 

So if you fail in your goal or fall behind: It’s your own fault. 

Self-help now has international appeal. But it still holds greatest sway in the United States where, as Thomas Frank recently noted in Salon, positive thinking is “the great American tradition.”  Post 2008,   Time magazine dubbed CNBC personal finance guru Suze Orman the “Queen of the Crisis” and radio show moneyman Dave Ramsey achieved new heights of popularity by telling Americans they are “stupid” when it comes to handling their money.''

More here.

Probably the biggest capitalist propaganda victory over the decades has been to convince most Americans that it's every man for himself. If you succeed in business, it has nothing to do with the government providing infrastructure, a market, or police, courts, etc., nothing to do with the workers you hire who actually do the work, and on and on. It's all about you. You're the one, the only one. Damn straight "you built that!"

And if you fail, of course, it's all your fault. Bankers ruining the economy, fabulously wealthy campaign donors conscripting politicians from both parties who rig the economy against you, chronic systemic opportunity-destroying poverty into which you might have been born, none of that matters. All your fault. You just didn't work hard enough, didn't go to school, acted like an idiot, yadda yadda. You lazy bums get what you deserve.

You paragons of virtue, however, are rewarded by God with great riches.

Yes, rewarded by GOD: this false point of view is virtually religious in the amount of faith required to believe it. And if this bootstraps "philosophy" is a virtual religion, then its high priests are the wretched motivational speakers. These hucksters, who are worse than drug dealers in that drug dealers actually sell a real-life product, provide circular reasoning, wrapped in a veneer of folksy "wisdom," supported with excitement and good vibes, but not evidence, aimed at convincing hotel conference rooms full of people that they can all be Bill Gates. And then, when the seminar has ended, the audience/cattle pay up for huckster books, huckster CDs, and huckster DVDs. Total suckers, handing over both their money and their minds to con men scum bags.

If Hell exists, I'm certain there is a particularly awful place there for the entire "self-help" industry.


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Saturday, March 29, 2014

FRANK ZAPPA FRIDAY AND 70S POP MONDAY ON SATURDAY

Two of my facebook features exported to Real Art.





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Friday, March 28, 2014

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING

Winkie





















Be sure to check out Modulator's Friday Ark for more cat blogging pics!

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

REALLY DUMB POLITICAL ARGUMENTS

From the Raw Story:

Koch Bros. group leader: Extending Obamacare deadline takes health care from my children

MSNBC host Chris Hayes clashed with a state official for the Koch Brothers-funded group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) on Wednesday after she claimed that extending the deadline to sign up for the Affordable Care Act by two weeks would have a negative impact on her childrens’ health care.

“It continues to not allow people to go back and change this law,” AFP Pennsylvania State Director Jennifer Stefano told Hayes. “This law has made seven million people lose their insurance.”

As Reuters reported earlier in the day, the deadline to sign up for Obamacare, as the law is commonly known, was extended until April 15 for people who have already begun the subscription process through the healthcare.gov website. As of March 17, more than 5 million people had signed up for coverage.

More here, with video.

I should count myself among the very lucky.  The vast majority of political debates I get into with conservatives on facebook do NOT play out like this one.  Indeed, what's particularly great about my conservative commenters is that they make a clear effort to listen to and consider what I'm saying.  I mean, sure, they rarely agree with me, but because I make a similar effort to hear what they're saying I usually walk away from such discussions feeling like everybody's had a genuine exchange of ideas, and that we're all better off for it.

So I'm lucky.  I don't personally have to put up with much of this crap.  But it's really sad for our republic that so much public discourse has devolved to this level of reality television shout-fests.  I mean, of course, it works both ways; I'm not simply calling out conservatives here.  I've experienced angry liberals treating right-wingers, and sometimes me when I diverge from the popular liberal consensus, in the exact same manner--although, to be fair, and speaking of television, I have to say that you see a lot more of this on Fox, the total incoherency of argument, the shout-downs, the bullying, than you do with MSNBC, but in the real world it's Americans from all points on the political spectrum.

And that's disturbing.  

This fairly recent phenomenon, rhetorical bullying disguised as discussion, has served well to crowd out a lot of actual discussion.  Which means that whatever "marketplace of ideas" this country once had, without which there can be no democracy, may very well have become so diminished as to no longer be effective.  We really must figure out how to start talking to one another again.  The nation's fate really does hang in the balance.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

After the Midterms: Impeachment?

From the American Prospect:

On the right, impeachment has become the wildfire crucible, and the purest purity test yet for those sanctified few who have managed to pass the others; that Obama hasn’t actually done anything to warrant impeachment, or at least anything as egregious as misleading a public into war, couldn’t be more beside the point. He’s Obama; his very existence calls for nullification; the historic fact of his presidency is a transgression against the national image of those Americans who more and more come to the conclusion that things started going very wrong in this country sometime around 1861.

More here

If it's for drone assassinations, illegal surveillance of US citizens, and/or refusal to charge Bush and Cheney with crimes against humanity, I would TOTALLY support impeaching Obama--of course, I would also want this coupled with, you know, charging Bush and Cheney with crimes against humanity.  But, needless to say, there's no way in hell they would impeach Obama for any of that; after all, the entire establishment is just fine with assassinations, across-the-board violations of civil rights, and pretending we don't have blood stains all over our collective hands.  Instead, it would be Benghazi, or the IRS "scandal," or immigration, or "not being Constitutional," or being "born in Kenya" rather than in the USA, whatever pisses off the Tea Party base the most.  Of course, it would all be doomed to failure because there's no way Republicans will get enough votes in the Senate to convict.

So it would just be yet another nationally embarrassing circus-of-distraction perpetrated by Republicans for reasons only they fully comprehend.  As if the pointless Clinton impeachment didn't make us look bad enough, at least there was a blowjob for everybody to freak out on: impeaching Obama, with the media and Washington taking it all seriously, would make us appear to the world as total drooling inbred rednecks.  Rednecks with more guns than the rest of the world put together.  Actually, that's kind of what we are, anyway.  

I suppose impeaching Obama wouldn't make much of a difference one way or the other.  Go for it, morons.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

5 Awful Things Nobody Tells You About Being an Actor

From Cracked.com:

Now most of you probably don't believe me, and that's fine. You've heard that the odds of success are slim, but you're different from all those other people, you have been singled out by providence for this. Parents, teachers and community theater directors have told you your entire life that you are gifted -- that you are born to make emotions with your face under camera and stage lights, a face that was too optimistic or too young to devastate with brutal honesty. Well, I can't see your faces, and I have some bad news.

Here are five good reasons your career path will make you absolutely miserable.

More here.

I take issue with the opening point, #5, in that it has embedded in it several very debatable assumptions about what it means to have a good life, what is valuable in society, and personal identity itself. That is, acting, as an art form, does, indeed, have great social and personal value, even if such value cannot be quantified in dollar terms, especially within our sick culture where commerce is prized above all other things.

Otherwise, this is spot on: acting, as a profession aimed at making money, mostly in film and television, is so screwed up that whatever is appealing to you about acting in the first place is, by and large, swallowed whole by capitalist forces we barely understand.

It's nice that I'm returning to the theater after all these years.

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Overwhelming Evidence that Half of America is In or Near Poverty

From AlterNet:

The costs of food and housing and education and health care and transportation and child care and taxes have been well-defined by organizations such as the  Economic Policy Institute, which calculated that a U.S. family of three would require an average of about $48,000 a year to meet basic needs; and by the  Working Poor Families Project, which estimates the income required for basic needs for a family of four at about $45,000. The  median household income is $51,000. 

More here.

Conservatives will never admit it, but, since the Reagan era, we've been managing the country, more or less, according to conservative economic principles.  I mean, it was something of a slow start, resisted by whatever remained of liberalism within the Democratic Party back in the day.  But by the time Clinton and the "New Democrats" were running the show in the 90s, it was ALL about tax cuts for the rich, deregulation, cutting social services, and on and on.  In short, the conservatives won, and they won big, and we've been dancing to their tune for three decades now.

I mean, sure, okay, we could go even further than this, which is what the Tea Partiers and their ilk want, cutting even more spending, throwing more money at the rich, increasing heartless cruelty toward the poor and all that, but, really, we've been moving in this direction for so long, most of my life, that we've long since essentially been there.  And, by now, if the conservatives are right, we ought to be living in something of an economic Nirvana.  We've gone a long way toward "getting the government off the people's backs."  We've allowed the rich to keep a lot more of their money, so as to invest it wisely, which, in theory, ought to have created more jobs.  Again and again.  And so on.

But, needless to say, we HAVEN'T achieved economic Nirvana.  Instead, by almost every indicator, the economic prospects for most Americans have gotten worse, not better.  Indeed, as the linked article observes, half the country is either in or near poverty.  Not only have conservative economic policies failed to achieve the promised economic prosperity, but they have also apparently obliterated whatever economic prosperity Americans had when I was a kid back in the 70s.

Call it whatever you want.  Reaganomics, neoliberalism, libertarianism, objectivism, all a total failure.  It's really quite remarkable that anybody at all continues to believe in this crap.

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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Creationists demand equal airtime on Neil deGrasse Tyson’s ‘Cosmos’ to provide ‘balance’

From the Raw Story, courtesy of a facebook friend:

Creationists held a pity party for themselves Thursday because “Cosmos” isn’t being fair and balanced to their beliefs.

“Creationists aren’t even on the radar screen for them, they wouldn’t even consider us plausible at all,” said Danny Falkner, of Answers In Genesis, which has previously complained about the show.

Falkner appeared Thursday on “The Janet Mefford Show” to complain the Fox television series and its host, Neil deGrasse Tyson, had marginalized those with dissenting views on accepted scientific truths, reported Right Wing Watch.

More here.

This is FUNNY! Damned shame that conservatives did away with the Fairness Doctrine decades ago. Now they've got to lie in the bed they made. I love it when that happens. I also love it when science prevails.  At any rate, I haven't gotten to watch the new Cosmos yet, but I'm sure I will soon.  After all, it's Cosmos.  And it's Neil deGrasse Tyson.  I just don't see how it could possibly go wrong.  I mean, okay, it's on Fox, but so was the X Files.  Actually, that's another funny, that Fox is pissing off conservatives.  Gotta love that, too.

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Saturday, March 22, 2014

FRANK ZAPPA FRIDAY AND 70S POP MONDAY. ON SATURDAY

On Facebook, I always post a pop song from the 70s on Mondays, and then a Frank Zappa song every Friday.  I think I'm going to start posting them both here on Saturdays.  Why not?





Excelsior!

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Friday, March 21, 2014

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING

Sammy





















Be sure to check out Modulator's Friday Ark for more cat blogging pics!

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Measles Are Back! Vaccine Truthers Officially a Public Health Menace

From Salon via AlterNet:

It’s back. Three years after public health officials realized that they had been preemptive in declaring that measles was eliminated in the U.S., new outbreaks of the highly infectious disease are once again cropping up in cities across the country. And it wold be a mistake, epidemiologists warn, not to take this extremely seriously.

As expected, the outbreaks have caused plenty of outrage directed against Jenny McCarthy and the crowd of parents who refuse to vaccinate their children. Writing in the Daily Beast, a pediatrician using the pseudonym Russell Saunders calls it “sheer lunacy”: “Just over a dozen years ago this illness was considered eliminated in our country,” he writes, “and this year people are being hospitalized for it. All due to the hysteria about a safe, effective vaccine. All based on nothing.”

More here.

Okay, as you may know, I'm very much into the idea of questioning the conventional wisdom on all kinds of topics, especially politics and economics.  I'm also in no way opposed to questioning something that I'm told is "science," but generally my line of questioning for that is limited to whether something is actually science or just being called science--after all, we live in an era when corporations commission "scientific" studies aimed at getting precisely the conclusion they want, an era when these same corporations use their economic might to gain influence within various governmental agencies dealing with science, such as the EPA or the FDA; prudent skepticism is necessarily a wise course of action.  

But there is no real doubt about the science on vaccines.  Vaccines, of course, have side effects.  But they also stop deadly diseases in their tracks.  And autism is NOT one of those side effects.

Why anyone, anyone at all, would take the word of a former Playboy Playmate over the word of the scientific and medical communities is beyond me, but then lots of human behavior is irrational.  I mean, people deny evolution and global warming, too, in spite of the science being totally solid.  The bottom line is that Jenny McCarthy's utterly misguided crusade against vaccines is persuading enough parents to refrain from vaccinating their children such that we are now having epidemics that we shouldn't be having.  Needless to say, that's REALLY BAD.

So if you ever encounter one of these weird and dangerous vaccine "truthers" spouting their vaccine bullshit, do me, yourself, and the human race a favor: tell these people they are literally endangering society, and tell everyone within earshot that if they believe this crap, too, and spread it to others, they're essentially killing people.  Beliefs really do matter.  And, in this case, the stakes are high, life and death.  This insane "movement" has to end right now.

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Why 'Paid-What-You're-Worth' Is a Toxic Myth

From AlterNet, an essay by former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich:

Fifty years ago, when General Motors was the largest employer in America, the typical GM worker got paid $35 an hour in today’s dollars. Today, America’s largest employer is Walmart, and the typical Walmart workers earns $8.80 an hour. 

Does this mean the typical GM employee a half-century ago was worth four times what today’s typical Walmart employee is worth? Not at all. Yes, that GM worker helped produce cars rather than retail sales. But he wasn’t much better educated or even that much more productive. He often hadn’t graduated from high school. And he worked on a slow-moving assembly line. Today’s Walmart worker is surrounded by digital gadgets — mobile inventory controls, instant checkout devices, retail search engines — making him or her quite productive. 

The real difference is the GM worker a half-century ago had a strong union behind him that summoned the collective bargaining power of all autoworkers to get a substantial share of company revenues for its members. And because more than a third of workers across America belonged to a labor union, the bargains those unions struck with employers raised the wages and benefits of non-unionized workers as well. Non-union firms knew they’d be unionized if they didn’t come close to matching the union contracts.

Today’s Walmart workers don’t have a union to negotiate a better deal. They’re on their own. And because fewer than 7 percent of today’s private-sector workers are unionized, non-union employers across America don’t have to match union contracts. This puts unionized firms at a competitive disadvantage. The result has been a race to the bottom.


More here.

When you own a business, most of your costs are fixed.  The cost of rent, various bills, supplies, raw materials, etc., are non-negotiable, more or less.  Labor, however, in stark contrast, is NOT a fixed cost.  You can pay as low of a wage as you can get away with.  And that's a pretty big deal in terms of economic theory.  Indeed, Marxist economist Richard Wolff asserts that this key factor, the arbitrariness of labor costs, is essentially how the capitalist makes his money: by paying his worker less than the value he creates with his labor, the capitalist is able to pocket the difference as profit.  The bigger the difference between the wealth a worker creates and the amount he is paid, the more money the capitalist makes.

I mean, sure, there's this intellectual construct known as the "labor market," which philosophically reduces human beings to a function of supply and demand, as with, say, pork bellies or uranium, but because most capitalists in the pursuit of common interests have devoted collectively billions of dollars over the years, through various strategies such as manipulating government, moving production facilities across the country or abroad, and others, to RIGGING this "market" in their favor, it's all something of a sick joke.

That is, a worker's REAL value is only understood in terms of the wealth he creates, NOT in terms of supply and demand, which the bogus "labor market" doesn't even accurately calculate, anyway.  So that's the context in which all discussions of labor unions, the minimum wage, welfare, wealth inequality, taxation, etc., MUST be understood: capitalists make their money by paying workers less than the value they create, and those capitalists will do ANYTHING THEY CAN to squeeze their labor AS MUCH AS THEY CAN.

Kind of makes right-wing whining about "redistribution" problematic at best, and total bullshit at worst.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

2003 Invasion of Iraq

From Wikipedia:

The 2003 invasion of Iraq lasted from 19 March 2003 to 1 May 2003 and signaled the start of the conflict that later came to be known as the Iraq War, which was dubbed Operation Iraqi Freedom by the United States (prior to 19 March, the mission in Iraq was called Operation Enduring Freedom, a carryover from the conflict in Afghanistan). The invasion consisted of 21 days of major combat operations, in which a combined force of troops from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Poland invaded Iraq and deposed the Ba'athist government of Saddam Hussein. The invasion phase consisted primarily of a conventionally-fought war which concluded with the capture of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad by American forces.

More here.

Tomorrow is the eleventh anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq.  Here are some things I hope the American people have learned since then, even though they probably have not.

1.  The government can lie, and do so very convincingly.  Indeed, the government can lie, and, by playing on patriotic themes, get the public to enthusiastically endorse that lie, and even condemn and attack, sometimes physically, the relatively few Americans who don't believe the lie.

2.  Trusted and beloved leaders can be duped into helping the government lie very convincingly, as with Secretary of State Colin Powell.

3.  When the government lies, the truth is often freely available elsewhere to anyone who cares to do five minutes of research.  That is, even though the corporate press in the US pushed the government lies about WMD, the foreign press was all over the many inconsistencies and contradictions embedded in these assertions about both WMD and Iraq's willingness to hand them over to Al Qaeda.

4.  When Americans are united in a frenzy of self-righteousness, people die.  American soldiers die.  Foreign soldiers die.  Innocent babies die.  Etc.

5.  There are profound limits to what we can do with overwhelming military power.

6.  Democracy cannot be installed by force.

7.  According to the principles of Nuremberg, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are war criminals.

8.  We Americans can be as brutal and barbaric as the vilest and most despotic regimes in history, as with torture at Abu Ghraib and our use of chemical weapons during the siege of Fallujah.

9.  Indeed, America, as a nation, is no more or less moral than any other nation, anywhere, at any point in history.

10. We made many of the same mistakes with the Vietnam War, but we repeated them again with Iraq, which means we, as a people, are absolutely AWFUL with self-reflection.

Like I said, I hope we've learned at least some of these lessons.  The public's lack of willingness to enter the Syrian Civil War indicates that perhaps we have, but, on the other hand, after Vietnam, we were gun shy for a few years, too, and it didn't take long for us to return to our war-mongering ways.

I continue to fear for my country's recklessness and arrogance.

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That Old-Time Whistle

New Krugman: 

So it’s comical, in a way, to see Mr. Ryan trying to explain away some recent remarks in which he attributed persistent poverty to a “culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working.” He was, he says, simply being “inarticulate.” How could anyone suggest that it was a racial dog-whistle? Why, he even cited the work of serious scholars — people like Charles Murray, most famous for arguing that blacks are genetically inferior to whites. Oh, wait.


Just to be clear, there’s no evidence that Mr. Ryan is personally a racist, and his dog-whistle may not even have been deliberate. But it doesn’t matter. He said what he said because that’s the kind of thing conservatives say to each other all the time. And why do they say such things? Because American conservatism is still, after all these years, largely driven by claims that liberals are taking away your hard-earned money and giving it to Those People.

Indeed, race is the Rosetta Stone that makes sense of many otherwise incomprehensible aspects of U.S. politics.

More here.

Probably the WORST thing you can call a white American is "racist."  Or, at least, among the worst things.  I mean, I hate it, too.  It really pisses me off on those very rare occasions that someone has insinuated or said that I'm being racist in some way.  After all, racism is, virtually everyone agrees, totally awful.  No one, or mostly no one, wants to be thought of as a racist.

And that puts me into a bit of a dilemma when I try to talk about race, politics, and ideology.  I'll just cut to the chase here: modern American conservatism has multiple racist notions philosophically embedded deeply within it, almost across the board.  This is undeniable, although all conservatives deny it, anyway.  They HAVE to deny it.  Otherwise, it must necessarily mean they're racists, and nobody wants to be thought of as a racist--I mean, I don't think it necessarily makes you racist just because you're a conservative; it's just that so much conservative philosophy is tainted both by basing itself on racist foundational assumptions, and by arriving ultimately at racist conclusions, and you may very well be unaware of these origins and end-points in logic.  At any rate, it makes discussion about it all problematic, at the very least.

If the inherent nature of racism within conservatism is a new concept to you, or if you just don't see how it's possible, click through and read Krugman's essay.  Or look up "Southern Strategy" on Wikipedia.  Personally, I've grown tired of explaining what's fairly obvious, so I don't feel any need to "prove" here that which is as plain as the nose on your face.  But then, that's essentially the whole point.  I must "prove" something which needs no proof, and even when I do, such proof will never be accepted.  Instead, it just pisses conservatives off all the more.

In short, we can never publicly discuss how racism has driven conservatism for AT LEAST the last three decades.  It's kind of like that Monty Python sketch where the couple tries to buy a bed, but if they say the word "mattress," the bed salesman puts a bag over his head.  And he doesn't take it off until they stand in a box and sing the English hymn "Jerusalem."  Yes, that absurd.



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