Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Wall Street greed fueling high gas prices

From CNN, the only socialist serving in the US Congress, Vermont's Senator Bernie Sanders, weighs in on what's really causing those absurd gas prices:

But there's another reason for the wild rise in gas prices. The culprit is Wall Street. Speculators are raking in profits by gambling in the loosely regulated commodity markets for gas and oil.

A decade ago, speculators controlled only about 30% of the oil futures market. Today, Wall Street speculators control nearly 80% of this market. Many of those people buying and selling oil in the commodity markets will never use a drop of this oil. They are not airlines or trucking companies who will use the fuel in the future. The only function of the speculators in this process is to make as much money as they can, as quickly as they can.


Just last week, Commissioner Bart Chilton, one of the only Commodity Futures Trading Commission members looking out for consumers, calculated how much extra drivers are being charged as a result of Wall Street speculation. If you drive a relatively fuel-efficient vehicle such as a Honda Civic, you pay an extra $7.30 every time you fill your tank. For larger vehicles, such as a Ford F150, drivers pay an extra $14.56 for each fill-up. That works out to more than $750 a year going directly from your wallet or pocketbook to the Wall Street speculators.

So as speculators gamble, millions of Americans are paying what amounts to a "speculators tax" to feed Wall Street's greed. People who live in rural areas like my home state of Vermont are hit harder than most because they buy gas to drive long distances to their jobs.

More here.

So, this is capitalism? We're supposed to love it because we're a capitalist lovin' people? Well, not really. Any free market fundamentalist will readily agree that one of the few areas we need government intervention is to prevent monopoly, which essentially destroys the free market, rendering the laws of supply and demand utterly moot. You see a similar situation when too many speculators, or only a few speculators with shit loads of money, get into a particular commodity market. Supply and demand go out the window; the free market becomes a joke. The rational consumer is displaced by guys with money to burn, who run up the price of said commodity with their ability to outbid people who actually plan to use that commodity. That means that actual users have to pay far more for what they want than it's actually worth.

And that's not capitalism. That's no free market. Nonetheless, that's what's happening in the oil market right now. Speculators, investor middle men, are buying up eighty percent of all oil produced, which necessarily runs up the price, making it appear that there is a high demand, when, in fact, there is not. But the higher prices are certainly real, and these despicable middle men are pocketing the difference when they sell off what they had bought previously at lower prices. Like Sanders said, it's a "speculator tax" that goes directly into the hands of asshole rich guys.

And, like Sanders observes later in his essay, we could pretty easily put a stop to this simply by requiring that buyers take physical possession of the oil they buy, that is, keeping speculators out of the market, or, at least, minimizing their presence. But the "free market" lobbying forces, and stupid fucking Congressmen who don't even understand the economic system they think they champion, won't allow it. You know, because they're fucking stupid.

Really, this is all par for the course.


Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Had a thought after encountering this amusing video on facebook:

Here's the comment I left:

While funny, I think this guy's got it totally wrong on tech and happiness. I remember a Jetsons episode from the 1960s when George was sitting at work just pushing a few buttons exclaiming, "Man, these three hour work weeks are killing me!" Nice vision of the future, but it didn't happen. Instead, high tech has been aimed at getting us to take our work home and on the road with us, herding us into highly competitive, highly consumptive lifestyles which increasingly isolate us from one another, all the while ramming offensive mass media product down our throats that encourage vanity, narcissism, and petty vengeful behavior. In short, technology is neutral; what matters is how it is used. In reality, it's being used to destroy our humanity. And that's why we're unhappy.
I mean, Louis CK is right to observe the contradiction between the scientific marvels of the era in which we live and everybody's seeming lack of a meaningful existence, but really, when you think about it, has all this tech done anything to actually make us happy? It's made a few aspects of existence a bit easier, to be sure, but it's also made other aspects of our lives more complicated and difficult at the same time. That's because the people who own the tech aren't really concerned with improving our lives as much as they're concerned with making money while at the same time perpetuating and expanding the exploitative capitalist social context in which they make their money. I, for one, am not nearly so excited about my flat screen TV as I am worried about the fact that I don't have health insurance. I'm not as blown away by my cell phone as I am creeped out by the fact that anyone who has my number can suddenly swoop down into my life and command my attention with no heads-up at all, or that my movement can be tracked by phone companies and police just because I've got a hand-held device in my pocket. I'm not as wowed by supersonic air travel as I'm scared shitless that global warming will destroy civilization. And on and on and on.

The really infuriating thing is that, if the powers-that-be wanted it, we really could be living in a futuristic society akin to the Jetsons. But that's not how capitalism works.


Monday, February 27, 2012


From New York Magazine, Frank Rich reminds us of the historical liberal complicity with homophobic forces:

Whitewashing Gay History

The second thing that’s wrong with the picture is far less obvious because it has been willfully obscured. In the outpouring of provincial self-congratulation that greeted the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York, some of the discomforting history that preceded that joyous day has been rewritten, whitewashed, or tossed into a memory hole. We—and by we, I mean liberal New Yorkers like me, whether straight or gay, and their fellow travelers throughout America—would like to believe that the sole obstacles to gay civil rights have been the usual suspects: hidebound religious leaders both white and black, conservative politicians (mostly Republican), fundamentalist Christian and Muslim zealots, and unreconstructed bigots. What’s been lost in this morality play is the role that many liberal politicians and institutions have also played in slowing and at some junctures halting gay civil rights in recent decades.

More here.

I have an indelible memory of former Senator Sam Nunn (D-TN) self-righteously and publicly excoriating President Clinton's plans early in his first term to allow gays to serve openly in the military. Nunn was on the Senate Defense Committee, chairman, I think, too, and was obviously pissed off that the new Baby Boomer President would use our armed forces for "social experiments." Yeah, that's the same phrase we now identify almost exclusively with Republicans talking about the end of DADT, but Nunn and lots of other Democrats were all saying the same thing back in the early 90s.

It was something of a wake-up call for me. I had only recently decided I was a liberal, only recently starting to vote for Democrats instead of Republicans, and I was put through some definite cognitive dissonance upon my realization that the words "Democrat" and "liberal" do not walk hand in hand. I mean, in spite of years of conservative rhetoric to the contrary. In the end, of course, Clinton backed down, and instead we got Don't Ask Don't Tell, which, bizarrely, led to a massive uptick in witch hunts against gay service personnel. I continue to be outraged by the whole fiasco.

But Rich's essay observes well that liberal complicity over the years with the forces of homophobia was never simply about Southern conservative Democrats. Shitloads of bona fide liberals, on other issues, have played the anti-gay card, too. My take is that more than a few of these types were actually supporters of gay rights in their personal lives, but were too afraid of taking a stand in their public lives--others were just plain homophobes, and behaved accordingly. But it's the former group that infuriates me the most. When getting reelected is more important than morality, and that's what civil rights issues are, morality, then you may very well have some portion of official governmental power, but you're no leader. You're a piece of shit.

Don't get me wrong: I don't like the homophobes, either, but refusing to do what you know is right for reasons of personal gain is nothing short of despicable. Actually, the Democrats, as a party, continue to suffer from this on a whole host of other issues.


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Conservative Chickens Come Home to Roost

The current occupant of Rolling Stone's Hunter S. Thompson Gonzo Journalism chair, Matt Taibbi, furthers the analysis of the GOP's self destruction:

In Spinal Tap terms, the rhetoric by the time Obama got elected already had gone well past eleven. It was at thirteen, fifteen, twenty …. Our tight little core of Real Americans by then had, over a series of decades, decided pretty much the entire rest of the world was shit. Europe we know about. The Middle East? Let’s "carpet bomb it until they can’t build a transitor radio," as Ann Coulter put it. Africa was full of black terrorists with AIDS, and Asia, too, was a good place to point a finger or two ("I want to go to war with China," is how Rick Santorum put it).

Here at home, all liberals, gays, Hispanic immigrants, atheists, Hollywood actors and/or musicians with political opinions, members of the media, members of congress, TSA officials, animal-lovers, union workers, state employees with pensions, Occupiers and other assorted unorthodox types had already long ago been rolled into the enemies list.

Given the continued troubles and the continued failure to return to good old American values, who else could possibly be to blame? Where else could they possibly point the finger?

There was only one possible answer, and we're seeing it playing out in this race: At themselves! And I don’t mean they pointed the finger "at themselves" in the psychologically healthy, self-examining, self-doubting sort of way. Instead, I mean they pointed "at themselves" in the sense of, "There are traitors in our ranks. They must be ferreted out and destroyed!"

This is the last stage in any paranoid illness. You start by suspecting that somebody out there is out to get you; in the end, you’re sure that even the people who love you the most under your own roof, your own doctors, your parents, your wife and your children, they’re in on the plot. To quote Matt Damon in the almost-underrated spy film The Good Shepherd, they became convinced that there’s "a stranger in the house."

This is where the Republican Party is now. They’ve run out of foreign enemies to point fingers at. They’ve already maxed out the rhetoric against us orgiastic, anarchy-loving pansexual liberal terrorists. The only possible remaining explanation for their troubles is that their own leaders have failed them. There is a stranger in the house!

This current race for the presidential nomination has therefore devolved into a kind of Freudian Agatha Christie story, in which the disturbed and highly paranoid voter base by turns tests the orthodoxy of each candidate, trying to figure out which one is the spy, which one is really Barack Obama bin Laden-Marx under the candidate mask!

More here.

I think that the conventional wisdom on what's been going on in the Republican primaries is that it's something of a battle between the so-called "establishment" and the much more conservative base, and this is true. However, that barely scratches the surface. Taibbi traces the history of the Conservative Movement's early days during the Reagan era all the way to today's intense paranoia and anger, and compares it to an addictive drug whose users always need more to get that high they experienced upon first use. Indeed, the story of modern conservatism is one of massive promises offered by politicians, only to be followed by let-down after let-down once these politicians get into office. And, even though the GOP continually lets its base down, or perhaps because of it, the angry, paranoid rhetoric is always there, always ramping itself up, always pulling the faithful back into the fold.

But how do you top yourself once you're at the top? You don't. You either take over, like the Nazis did back in Wiemar Germany, or you collapse into utter absurdity, like the GOP is doing now. I mean, really, their moment lasted for a couple of years after 9/11, but they just weren't fired up enough at that point, which is hard to believe, given how psychotic the rhetoric was, but apparently true.

Personally, I don't really see anything saving the Republican Party, as a political entity. I mean, sure, Fox News and Rush Limbaugh will continue to ramp up the rhetoric for years to come, and there will always be that twenty percent or so of the electorate that fumes with righteous white indignation, but I don't think they're really capable of winning national elections, anymore. I'm also starting to believe that they're going to have increasing difficulties taking or keeping either house of Congress. It could just be wishful thinking, but I really do believe that social issues will become obsolete, the Democrats will ultimately be the new conservative party, on economics at any rate, the Republicans will just become a nuisance, and, hopefully, a new liberal party will arise from all the wreckage.

I hope.


Friday, February 24, 2012



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



From the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson, who I have grown to love watching his pundit stints on Maddow the last couple of years:

Gulf War III isn’t an option

We’ve heard this quickening drumbeat before. Last time, it led to the tragic invasion and occupation of Iraq. This time, if we let the drummers provoke us into war with Iran, the consequences will likely be far worse.

Rat-ta-tat-tat. Weapons of mass destruction. Boom-shakka-boom. A madman in charge. Thump-thump-thump. Mushroom clouds.

Tune out the anxiety-inducing percussion and think for a minute. Yes, there are good reasons to be concerned about the Iranian nuclear program. But it doesn’t follow that launching a military attack — or providing support for an attack by Israel — would necessarily be effective, let alone wise. The evidence suggests it would be neither.

To get that evidence, click here.

I don't agree with every single bit of Robinson's analysis of the situation, but it's some good stuff, so check it out. I mean, after all, I do agree with his conclusion: attacking Iran is fucking stupid. But I do want to throw out there some of my analysis, which is apparently not at all within the mainstream US public discourse, but should be. And it's really simple, just a couple of points.

First, Iran sat on the sidelines and watched as the US conquered with impunity its neighbor and former enemy, Iraq, which insisted, correctly, that it had no weapons of mass destruction. Iran also watched from the sidelines as North Korea, at around the same time, boldly declared to the world that it does have weapons of mass destruction, nukes to be precise, and dared the US to invade. Put yourself in Iran's shoes. If you walk away from witnessing the behaviors of Iraq and North Korea vis-a-vis the United States and don't try to develop nuclear weapons, you're fucking stupid. That is, it is mind-numbingly clear that nuclear weapons successfully deter American aggression. In short, it is the Iranian government's responsibility to create a nuclear arsenal.

Second, Israel already has a nuclear arsenal, and much of it, you can be sure, is aimed at Iran. The history of nations armed with nukes teaches essentially the same lesson as the one in the paragraph above: if you want to deter a nuclear strike on your homeland, you'd best have the capacity to fire back. Again, under these circumstances, Iran's responsibility to its people is to go nuclear.

Now I know that a lot of Iran's diplomatic rhetoric is downright disturbing, all the Great Satan shit about the US, all the wipe Israel from the face of the Earth crap. Of course, when compared to Israeli and American rhetoric on foreign policy, "Axis of Evil" and similar shit, Iran's really isn't too terribly different. But the bottom line here is that the Persian nation has some damned good reasons for wanting to have nuclear weapons, and until we address those reasons, until we move beyond the hypocritical "Iran bad; nukes bad" framing of the issue, we're stuck here. Or, worse, we could end up stuck in another stupid fucking war, this one potentially far worse than Iraq or Afghanistan because Iran has a real army and can cause some major fucking damage.

I'm well aware nobody gives a shit what I think about this.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Santorum: Mainline Protestant Churches Are in the Grip of Satan

From AlterNet:

Kyle Mantyla of People for the American Way's indispensable Right Wing Watch has come up with an audiotape of a Rick Santorum address to the students of the conservative Catholic Ave Maria University in Florida, delivered in 2008. It's an altogether remarkable speech depicting Rick as a leader in a "spiritual war" against Satan for control of America. Much of its involves the usual right-wing stuff about the conquest of academia (outside bastions like Ave Maria) by the forces of moral relativism, but then there is this Santorum assessment of mainline Protestantism:

"[O]nce the colleges fell and those who were being educated in our institutions, the next was the church. Now you'd say, 'wait, the Catholic Church'? No. We all know that this country was founded on a Judeo-Christian ethic but the Judeo-Christian ethic was a Protestant Judeo-Christian ethic, sure the Catholics had some influence, but this was a Protestant country and the Protestant ethic, mainstream, mainline Protestantism, and of course we look at the shape of mainline Protestantism in this country and it is in shambles, it is gone from the world of Christianity as I see it."

More here.

For everything I've said about respecting religion simply because it is culture, and because it is deeply embedded in people's sense of identity, I have to admit that statements like Santorum's make it really difficult to bite my tongue. That is to say, fuck you Rick Santorum. Fuck you and your piece-of-shit, sanctimonious style of Catholicism. I mean, it's one thing to call out the Mormons, who do, indeed, have massive theological differences with almost all of the rest of Christianity. But to call out denominations that do subscribe to the basic foundational principles shared by almost all of Christianity, simply because you do not like their politics, well, that's some cruel bullshit.

And let's get this straight. When Santorum says that Mainline Protestants have "fallen away from Christianity," he's essentially condemning them to Hell. That's what happens when you aren't a Christian; you go to Hell. All this because Mainline Protestants like to stress Jesus' compassion for the poor and suffering instead of stressing what Santorum prefers, controlling women's bodies, oppressing homosexuals, and war, war, war. I mean, from my recovering Southern Baptist point of view, it seems to me that the Mainliners are far more in keeping with Christ's message and deeds than scum bags like Santorum, but then, what do I know? I'm no longer a Christian. So I'm going to Hell, too, I guess.

But at least I'm going with a clear conscience.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club

From Wikipedia:

The Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club (founded 1916) is a Carnival Krewe in New Orleans, Louisiana which puts on the Zulu parade each Mardi Gras Day. Zulu is New Orleans' largest predominantly African American carnival organization known for its blackfaced krewe members wearing grass skirts and its unique throw of hand-painted coconuts.

More here.

And that's what I'm going to be attending bright and early tomorrow morning. Of course, that will probably be after marching in from Bywater to the French Quarter with the Society of Saint Anne, which I've done now every Fat Tuesday since 2008--I'll be dressed as a sperm with a sign tacked to me saying "LIFE BEGINS AT EJACULATION," protesting, of course, stupid bullshit Republican politics on the issue. Anyway, I've never seen the Zulu parade before, and reports from friends who have seen it make it sound like it might be the best. To me, at least. I mean, bloody hell, fucking Louis Armstrong was fucking King of the Zulus back in 1949. This one's got some history and culture associated with it, for sure.

Pictures later, of course. But not tomorrow night, which I'm probably going to take off from blogging. After all, I'm drinking all day, and walking around, too. I'm gonna be tired.

Anyway, enjoy Louis Armstrong's "King of the Zulus" until I return. It's a good song:

Happy Mardi Gras!


Sunday, February 19, 2012


I mean, among lots of other things. But seriously, remember that, as far as the plot goes, the entire point to their cross country journey on motorcycles from Los Angeles to New Orleans is to go to Mardi Gras!

Yeah, that's right. I'm getting in the mood.

Anyway, for your illegal viewing pleasure, here is, in full, until they yank it off Youtube, the 1969 winner of the Cannes Film Festival's top honor, the Palme d'Or, Easy Rider:

If you just want to see the footage of the cast wandering around actual and real Mardi Gras festivities circa 1969, clip forward to around 1:15 or so, and watch until 1:18 or thereabouts. From what I can tell from my own revelries here in NOLA, things haven't changed that much in forty years, but it is pretty vintage looking in lots of ways.

Happy Mardi Gras!


Saturday, February 18, 2012

MY FAVORITE INSTRUMENTAL BREAK OF ALL TIME... in this song, Frank Zappa's "Fifty-Fifty":

I first came across this one, from FZ's 1973 album Over-Nite Sensation, during my second year in college, when I and it seemed almost all of my friends were voraciously ingesting as much Zappa as we could. At first, I noticed only the song's violin solo because it sounded remarkably like Jean-Luc Ponty, a jazz violinist who I had gotten into a few year earlier when I was in high school. I checked the liner notes, and, sure enough, it was Ponty. Upon repeated listenings, I started to really groove on how it fit so nicely between a synth solo, played by jazz pianist George Duke, that sounded like a mad calliope, and a guitar solo that has to rank among Zappa's finest. Then I started to really dig the entire solo section.

The song itself is simply a setup with some closure, a sort of manic and bluesy, but simple, tune, sung by a guest vocalist in the style of Screamin' Jay Hawkins, existing only to justify that fabulous instrumental break. And for this purpose, the song does its job. Really, that was something of a Zappa method of operation: song as platform for brilliant soloing.

Do check it out. And pay close attention when the mad calliope starts!


Friday, February 17, 2012



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


Tea Party Demands That Schools Not Teach All Men Have Inalienable Rights

From Politics USA:

The other subject matter on the page displayed a website that listed 24 things that government schools dare not teach. Examples 1, 2 and 3 were staring back at me. The first ‘thing’ the schools DARE NOT TEACH was that all men were endowed with certain unalienable rights (I’ve compressed a bit). The second ‘thing’ the schools DARE NOT TEACH was that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men and finally, schools DARE NOT TEACH the meaning of liberty.

More here.

It is important to note that this comes from a local Tea Party rally, and is probably not some sort of official statement on their part at the national level. However, it is also important to note that such attitudes are very likely shared by most of the Tea Party faithful. That may be a little weird because the TPs are such Constitution fetishists: even though the phrase "inalienable rights" doesn't actually appear in the Constitution - Thomas Jefferson coined it for the Declaration of Independence - it is a notion deeply entwined in modern jurisprudence when it comes to the Bill of Rights, which is in the Constitution. Of course, Tea Partiers don't really understand the Constitution they cherish so deeply, so it's probably not that weird.

The above linked essay doesn't really explain why the Tea Party might oppose teaching foundational concepts behind the notions of American liberty and freedom, but I assume these people view anything coming out of the public schools as somehow tainted by communism or something, and therefore the opposite of freedom and liberty. Kind of reminds me of an argument I had with a pro-lifer at a street demonstration in front of an abortion clinic years ago: I told him the Bible said nothing about abortion; he told me I was using a "New Age" Bible that had perverted the sacred Word of God--in fact, the Bible says nothing about abortion, but that never stopped the pro-life movement from saying it does.

But, hey, I can tell you today that the Tea Party has absolutely nothing to worry about!

That's because, even though public schools do, indeed, teach the Declaration of Independence, as a text, it is done in the most eye-glazing and meaningless way. It's just words to be memorized and regurgitated for the test. There is, and can be, no understanding of what "liberty" means. There is no understanding of what it means for regular people to depose an authority and replace it with something better. As always, in the public schools, authority, discipline, and order dominate everything, and that reality drowns out what essentially amount to abstract concepts on a piece of paper. That is, to paraphrase a line from the indy film Schooled, we teach democracy from an authoritarian classroom. If kids want to understand freedom, they have to figure it out on their own 'cause they sure as hell aren't getting it in school.

I mean, the Tea Party, in itself, is a living example of this.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

As teacher merit pay spreads, one noted voice cries, ‘It doesn’t work’

From the Washington Post:

Two weeks later, the researchers observed that the children in the second and third groups — who had either been given an unexpected award or no award at all — drew with as much enthusiasm as they had before the experiment. But the children who had been offered the reward showed less interest and spent less time drawing.

Other scientists replicated these findings through different experiments, proving the effect with not just children but adults, as well.

In 2010, the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University published what it termed the first scientifically rigorous study of merit pay for teachers. Researchers found that teachers in the Nashville public schools who were offered bonuses of up to $15,000 a year for improved student scores on standardized tests made no greater gains than teachers who were not offered merit pay.

Tangible, extrinsic rewards can dampen intrinsic motivation, Pink said, noting that these findings have been repeated in dozens of experiments over the decades. “The science on this is robust,” he said. “And it’s also among the most ignored.”

What does work?

Pink said research shows that people who hold jobs that require creativity and sophisticated problem-solving perform best when they have autonomy, an opportunity to master something and a sense of purpose.


“And how do you create those conditions? How do you motivate people? Do you do it through merit pay? No, it doesn’t work. You do it by engaging them with teamwork and a purpose and a meaningful life.”

The national debate over merit pay is a distraction from the challenges faced by the American educational system, Pink said, days after the Rockville event. “Well-intentioned public officials want to do something, and they look at [merit pay] as a silver bullet. The real problem is poverty,” he said.

If politicians want to improve academic performance, they should “reduce teenage pregnancy, give excellent prenatal health care and provide universal preschool — and test scores will go up,” he said. “But that’s a lot harder to do, and a lot more expensive than merit pay.”

More here.

Of course, my longstanding objection to the concept of merit pay for teachers is that it is based on standardized test scores, which correlate so strongly with socioeconomic status that you might as well, as one SAT official once joked, throw out the scores and simply write in parental incomes, which would give just about the same results. So it would be "pay" but it wouldn't have much to do with "merit," given how utterly skewed the process is for determining what constitutes "merit." That is, teachers in bourgeois neighborhoods all look pretty good because of the students they're teaching, while teachers in poor neighborhoods look pretty bad for essentially the same reasons. No merit there, which makes merit pay something of a joke.

Generally, however, I haven't been particularly opposed to the concept of merit pay for teachers, given a decent way to figure out exactly what constitutes merit. And that's pretty hard to do because learning is so extraordinarily abstract. Indeed, it often takes a decade or more after a teacher has taught a particular student to really see what kind of effect came from that relationship. Little did I realize, however, that learning is so abstract of a concept that merit pay just doesn't work in terms of motivating better teaching.

And really, that kind of makes sense. Making money, getting rich, while there are certainly practical reasons for accumulating money, being motivated by that and that alone, or even mostly that, is pretty base, and kind of antithetical to the very humanistic spirit of universal education. That is, I've believed for many years that I prefer the doctor who is motivated by compassion and a deep desire to heal and serve humanity than the doctor who went into medicine in order to make a lot of money. Same with teachers. When a teacher's desire is to serve humanity, that's where the focus is; when a teacher is in it for the money--yeah yeah, I know, just bear with me for a moment--the focus is on making money, rather than uplifting and edifying. And because it's so extraordinarily difficult to actually quantify educational success, motivation-by-money is certain to take teachers in truly weird directions, gaming the system and whatnot.

But really the big problem here is the political discourse's tendency to view education as some sort of business. It is not. Business aims to make a profit. Education aims to make better human beings. The two concepts are incompatible.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Gregoire signs same-sex marriage bill

From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, courtesy of Crooks and Liars:

An emotional Gov. Chris Gregoire signed legislation Monday making Washington the seventh state to legalize marriage between same-sex couples, declaring it was time "to make history in this great state."

Gregoire's voice broke as she descrbed conversations with her two daughters, who told her that marriage equality was "the civil rights issue of their generation . . . Thank you to that younger generation and my two daughters."

The governor presided at a ceremony in Olympia, joined by legislative leaders and the longtime same-sex partners of such lawmakers as Sen. Ed Murray and Reps. Jamie Pedersen and Laurie Jinkins.


There was coast-to-coast action on marriage equality Monday. As Gregoire signed Washington's bill into law, the New Jersey State Senate voted 24-16 to legalize same-sex marriage in the Garden State. State Assembly approval is expected. But Republican Gov. Chris Christie says he will veto the legislation.

Ex-Sen. Rick Santorum, a scathing critic of marriage equality, will meet this afternoon in Olympia with opponents of the bill Gregoire signed into law. The Republican presidential candidate holds a rally with supporters tonight at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma.

More here.

I'm really thinking that this has now reached snowball status. That is, there's no stopping gay marriage now. Really, it's just a matter of enough anti-gay people dying off such that there's not enough of a constituency to which politicians can pander their homophobic rhetoric. And that seems to be happening quickly. I mean, really, we don't have to worry much about young people: brought up on MTV and other gay-friendly media, most teens and twentysomethings just don't give a shit if people are gay or not--sure, there are some anti-gay psychos among the young, but they're definitely in the minority. It's the over thirty crowd that has most of the anti-gay attitudes, and even with them, those attitudes have changed drastically over the last twenty years. Two more decades and most of these people are gone and it's no longer an issue. Gay marriage will be the norm.

Of course, this all may happen more quickly than that. It's very likely that a gay couple who was married in one state will one day sue to have their marriage recognized in a state that hasn't yet legalized it. From there it's a straight shot to the Supreme Court, which has already laid the groundwork for legalizing gay marriage in Lawrence and Garner versus Texas, the gay sodomy decision, which for the first time declared homosexuals to be a distinct social group under the equal protection clause. I mean, the conservative bloc on the Court often rules arbitrarily, but then sexual orientation is increasingly a non-partisan issue.

I guess we'll see how this all works out, but mark my words, it will all work out, sooner or later.


Monday, February 13, 2012

Severe Conservative Syndrome

I can post two Krugman columns in a row, can't I? From the New York Times:

How did American conservatism end up so detached from, indeed at odds with, facts and rationality? For it was not always thus. After all, that health reform Mr. Romney wants us to forget followed a blueprint originally laid out at the Heritage Foundation!

My short answer is that the long-running con game of economic conservatives and the wealthy supporters they serve finally went bad. For decades the G.O.P. has won elections by appealing to social and racial divisions, only to turn after each victory to deregulation and tax cuts for the wealthy — a process that reached its epitome when George W. Bush won re-election by posing as America’s defender against gay married terrorists, then announced that he had a mandate to privatize Social Security.

Over time, however, this strategy created a base that really believed in all the hokum — and now the party elite has lost control.

The point is that today’s dismal G.O.P. field — is there anyone who doesn’t consider it dismal? — is no accident. Economic conservatives played a cynical game, and now they’re facing the blowback, a party that suffers from “severe” conservatism in the worst way. And the malady may take many years to cure.

More here.

And I don't really have much to add to that, it was put so succinctly.

Except for maybe the influence that Fox News and right-wing radio have had on the process. Indeed, conservative media actually have slightly different goals from conservative politicians: while politicians seek office and the power that comes with it, the media crave ratings above all else, and the best way to get good ratings is to ramp the conservative narrative up to blockbuster/disaster flick status, creating a product that is as entertaining as it is political. And the conservative media is where the conservative rank and file have been taking their cues for at least a decade now.

That is to say, Rush Limbaugh and his ilk have literally wrested control of the GOP away from its traditional monied establishment. Conservative media lead the Conservative Movement now, which is why conservative ideas are as absurd as anything you'll find on television today. Jersey Shore politics. I guess.

At any rate, that's what they get.



...Mr. Spock!


Sunday, February 12, 2012


From the New York Times, the latest Paul Krugman:

Money and Morals

Still, something is clearly happening to the traditional working-class family. The question is what. And it is, frankly, amazing how quickly and blithely conservatives dismiss the seemingly obvious answer: A drastic reduction in the work opportunities available to less-educated men.


So we have become a society in which less-educated men have great difficulty finding jobs with decent wages and good benefits. Yet somehow we’re supposed to be surprised that such men have become less likely to participate in the work force or get married, and conclude that there must have been some mysterious moral collapse caused by snooty liberals. And Mr. Murray also tells us that working-class marriages, when they do happen, have become less happy; strange to say, money problems will do that.

More here.

When I heard a few years ago that single parent families were on the rise among white Americans, I hammered the last few nails into the coffin that was the notion that the same demographic shift among African-Americans beginning many years earlier was somehow about black culture, a notion that was always, at the very least, troubling. It's just that there didn't seem to be any persuasive competing narratives; everybody, including lots of African-American leaders, seemed to think that the phenomenon of the single black mother had something to do with life attitudes among black people.

But for a long time, even though I halfheartedly accepted this pseudo-sociology, it presented nagging questions. Yes, we're all individuals, all of us making individual decisions about how we live our lives, but when millions of individuals all independently make the same choices, there are definitely social forces at play. But what were those social forces? The vague "black culture" concept was unsatisfying at best, and potentially racist at worst. And if it was "black culture" pushing African-American women into single motherhood, what changed? Black families had been relatively stable for generations until the 60s or 70s, and I don't recall any aspect of the Civil Rights Movement or any other political and cultural movements of the era that championed the notion of the single parent family. To accept the "black culture" explanation that even hooked Bill Cosby, you have to have a pretty vivid imagination. You have to pretend that feminism, or the sexual revolution, or welfare, or the end of Jim Crow, or something, pushed an idea that, if you go back and look, nobody was actually pushing.

But here's something that was happening in that era: good unionized jobs were slowly starting to disappear, which affected wages and benefits for the entire work force, union or not. As usual, whenever there is any sort of painful economic shift, Americans of color were the first to suffer. And that lack of good jobs for black men now stands alone as the sole persuasive explanation for the dramatic rise in black unwed mothers. Indeed, in the above linked essay, Krugman goes on to cite the work of sociologist William Julius Wilson, who accurately postulated in the mid 90s that this was exactly what happened.

Thing is, the same economic trends, the dismantling of the middle class, and the massive push of the American work force into the shitty service sector, have continued unabated since the 70s, affecting white men today in exactly the same way it affected black men thirty or forty years ago. In short, Reaganomics is literally destroying the American family, and it's completely obvious now.

So conservatives can wag their fingers, shame the American people for not being married, offer bullshit marriage initiatives, insist that marriage is the key to success, but until they couple that rhetoric with a plea for economic justice, they're barking up the wrong tree. Because only a good economy that shares its rewards with everybody will give Americans realistic family opportunities.


Friday, February 10, 2012



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


Here Comes the Culture War!

From the New Yorker (by way of facebook, I think):

In recent weeks, the Republican candidates, cognoscenti, and congressional leadership have all made it increasingly plain that the culture wars have not been relegated to the days of the Reverends Falwell and Robertson. Mitt Romney is tweeting furiously about the Administration’s “attacks on religious liberty.” Speaker John Boehner said on the floor of the House that Obama is forcing Catholic hospitals and charities to “provide services they believe are immoral”—i.e., an “attack on religious freedom.” Rick Santorum called Obama “hostile to people of faith, particularly Christians, and specifically Catholics.” Michael Gerson, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, wrote in the Washington Post that “radicalism and maliciousness” has led the Administration to issue an “edict delivered with a sneer.” Gerson concluded, “The war on religion is now formally declared.”


Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum are intent on fanning any ember of cultural anxiety, fear, or resentment that can be found. The more the economy shows signs of life—however slight, however deceptive in many ways—the more the Republicans, and their media champions, are likely to resort to the kind of battles outlined in Bill O’Reilly’s 2006 book, “Culture Warrior,” which posited a country divided between decent, hard-working people of faith and pernicious secular liberals—a small but powerful Soros-funded minority that knows only contempt for “traditional American values” and wants to mold the country into “the image of Western Europe.” (Note how, in the Republican debates, the word “Europe” is made to sound like the embodiment of “Soviet.”)Link

More here.

It's tempting to say that culture issues are what Republicans resort to when they got nothin'. But that's not true. Since Nixon figured it out back in the early 70s, divisive culture wars are the method by which the GOP gets Americans to vote against their own economic interests. I mean, the Republicans are, in the end, the party of rich people. How the hell do they get regular Joes to vote for candidates who will almost certainly fuck over the people who voted for them? You throw semen-spurting gays at them. You construct mythologies about lazy black people living large on your tax dollars while you toil away in the Spice Mines of Kessel. You turn obscure academics into a fifth column of communists who want to eat your babies. You reconfigure the Mexican immigrant who washes dishes at the restaurant where you dine into a member of a secret conspiracy to take back all the territory seized by the US during the Mexican War back in 1845. You change the capitalist created phrase "happy holidays" into a liberal plot to destroy Santa and Jesus. And on and on and on.

The reality is that the culture wars, if that's what you want to call the retarded demagoguery that is now bedrock Republican rhetoric, never really went away. Conservatives are always fanning the flames. Frankly, I can't see much of a difference between what Republicans are saying today about our culture and what they were saying twenty years ago. It's always here.

The good news, as I see it, is that this shit seems to be losing traction. MTV, and lots of other programming, made a lot of young people sympathetic towards the GLBTQ community. Everybody has premarital sex now. Nobody really gives a fuck about communism anymore because nobody is really communist anymore. People don't give a shit if you smoke pot. And, even though most Americans self-identify as Christians, they don't really feel like preachers, priests, and theologians really speak for them. And, oh yeah, racism and xenophobia are now decidedly cultural niches, thoroughly condemned by the mainstream.

In short, the Republican dumbshit constituency, composed of middle and working class paranoid white people, is getting old and smaller in numbers. In a decade or two, cultural wedge issues won't work anymore.

I hope I live long enough to see it.


Thursday, February 09, 2012

Obama Girl Amber Lee Ettinger says she's not sure how she'll vote

From Politico courtesy of Digg:

She has her own critiques of the man she once supported.

“I haven’t really decided which way I’m going to go yet,” said Ettinger when asked who she’s going to vote for. “I’m still keeping my eyes and ears open. I certainly don’t dislike Obama. I think he’s done a lot of really great stuff, but he doesn’t get enough credit for the things he does. What he does is just never enough. For me, being Obama Girl, it’s hard because I get people saying, ‘switch to the other side! Make videos for Ron Paul! Why are you with Obama? He sucks!’”

“I want what this country wants. I want this country to be better. I want everyone to have jobs and for gas prices to go down.”

Her biggest critique of Obama, however, isn’t political; it’s personal: He’s never said, “thanks.”

“It makes me upset, I’m not going to lie,” Ettinger said. “I kind of took it as a personal thing. Maybe I shouldn’t have.”

More here.

Obama Girl always fucking sucked.

Her bizarre, contemporary R&B, sexed-up, Youtube videos back in 2008 did nothing but encapsulate the whole mindless good vibe liberal mania about Barack Obama, pushing the sick belief, on which he coasted into the White House, that he somehow possessed the magic formula capable of obliterating deep differences between left and right, which would usher in an era of hopey-changey goodness. Needless to say, that didn't happen. Actually, it was obvious at the time to anybody who thought about it for two seconds that Obama couldn't deliver on this bullshit because, you know, there's no such thing as magic.

Indeed, the reality, then as now, is that Obama is a neoliberal, a strong supporter of the corporate state, who came to Washington to save the status quo, rather than change it. And, to some extent, he was up front about it, if you took the time to actually read the policy positions he had posted on his campaign website. But he certainly allowed liberals to think he was all about change, and fucking retarded Obama Girl was at the vanguard for this passive aggressive deception.

She represents everything I hate about the US political system. She is without substance, thought, or ideology, a sexualized piece of plastic pop culture product pretending to be something real. Indeed, her waffling about how she will vote this November is as petty as the concerns of The Jersey Shore's cast: she's disturbed because the President didn't thank her for her internet antics.

Stupid narcissistic bitch.


Wednesday, February 08, 2012


...Captain Kirk!

Yeah, I finally got my new calendar.


Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Louisiana congressman duped by The Onion's Planned Parenthood satire

From the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

The Hill, a Washington, D.C., publication that covers Capitol Hill, reports that Louisiana Rep. John Fleming's office posted a story Friday from The Onion, a satirical publication, which reported Planned Parenthood opened an "abortionplex." The Onion's story, which was months old, had been re-posted on the paper's website after the controversy over the Susan G. Komen Foundation's funding of Planned Parenthood breast cancer screenings erupted last week.

More here.

In order to understand just how truly fucked up this is, you've got to read the Onion piece here. If you think it's funny, that's because it's supposed to be. It's comedy, satire, in particular. The dynamic of the piece is that it takes what are presumably pro-life views about the venerable women's health organization Planned Parenthood, and ramps them up into the stratosphere. That is, the Onion story isn't supposed to actually represent anybody's actual point of view at all. It presents a warped and fucked up pro-life view so as to criticize the actual pro-life point of view.

So, in order to understand the story as actual news, you have to already possess the warped and fucked up version of the pro-life point of view before reading it. That is, perhaps the Onion could have gone much, much further with its satire because it's looking like what I'm calling the "warped and fucked up" point of view may very well be some pro-lifers' point of view. And that's pretty frightening.

Atrios over at Eschaton says in regards to the Onion piece that for some pro-lifers "not only are abortions such an easy procedure that lazy sluts would prefer to go out and have them all the time rather than bothering with birth control, but that there's actually something fun and enjoyable about them." Maybe.

To be honest, the most rabid of pro-lifers are so weird and monomaniacal that I don't even pretend to understand them. I mean, I've talked with lots of anti-abortion people over the years and I fully understand their not entirely unreasonable position that abortion is tantamount to murder, but a few of them, and certainly leaders in the movement whose words I've heard on television or read on the internet, are bat-shit crazy, and I'm just not qualified enough in psychology to even begin to render a diagnosis as to what ails their fucked up minds. That is, if you think abortion is some kind of joyous occasion for the women who have them, and that's why we need to make the procedure illegal, there's something else going on besides taking a principled position on an important issue.

What's particularly disturbing is that Fleming is a Congressman, which means his opinions are far more important and influential than those of the rank-and-file crazies. The inmates really are running the asylum.


Monday, February 06, 2012


From the American Prospect:

A war anniversary that U.S. wishes to forget

Insurrection doesn’t begin to describe the full-fledged war that lasted three years, with more than 100,000 Americans involved. Depending on the accounts you read, the Filipino civilian death toll ranged from 250,000 to as high as 1 million, counting those who died from disease or starvation.

The war was an American betrayal. Nationalists, under Emilio Aguinaldo, had broken off from Spain and, relying heavily on a promise of U.S. support during the Spanish-American War, started their own independent republic in 1898 — the first in Asia. That promise was broken when the McKinley administration sought the Philippines as a colony and tapped into a new patriotic fervor for American Imperialism.

More here.

Our war to annex the Philippines barely gets a footnote in American history classes. But it's fairly typical of US warmongering behavior, typical in its bloodiness, typical in its betrayal of our deepest national values, typical in its underhandedness--indeed, the Filipinos believed we were there to liberate them from Spanish imperialism, instead of simply taking over, because that's what we told them. Indeed, from the moment we had our shit together as a nation, we've been conquering brown skinned people, from Native Americans, to Mexicans, to Filipinos, to Vietnamese, to Iraqis and Afghans.

How on earth have we been able to reconcile our love for democracy and justice with our love for killing non-white people and taking their land? Answer: we haven't. We haven't even tried. We just sort of allow two contradictory cultural strains to exist in our hearts simultaneously, without questioning it. And it gets us into trouble, deep trouble, again and again, in countless ways.

I wonder if we'll ever get this figured out.


Saturday, February 04, 2012

Arizona State Lawmaker Proposes Holiday For White People

From the Huffington Post:

After a Latino state legislator proposed a Latino American Day, lawmaker Cecil Ash stepped up before the legislature to suggest a holiday for white people. Seriously.

This is, after all, the land of S.B. 1070, the contentious and draconian immigration enforcement bill that has been mired in legal deadlock since it was signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer (R) in 2010. The legislation, considered the strictest of its kind when it was passed, is to be ruled upon by the Supreme Court later this year.

It's also home to Russell Pearce, the former Republican state senator credited with laying down the framework for the state's controversial immigration law.

And who can forget the ever-graceful Brewer, stateswoman and author, wagging her finger dismissively in the face of President Obama at an airport in Phoenix last month?

And the swashbuckling Sheriff Joe Arpaio lives there, too. He proclaimed himself "America's Toughest Sheriff," and now finds himself ensnared in a U.S. Justice Department investigation accusing his department of racially profiling Latinos, basing immigration enforcement on racially charged citizen complaints and punishing Hispanic jail inmates for speaking Spanish.

More here, with video.

Of course, it's very tempting to just say that there are a lot of racist weirdos in Arizona, which is true, but I think this white history month concept is fairly typical of how lots of white Americans understand identity politics. That is, lots of white Americans don't understand identity politics at all.

In brief, the reason there are various ethnic holidays and observances, ethnic studies classes, ethnic history months, affirmative action, racial and ethnic advocacy groups, and on and on, is because the dominant culture in the US is overwhelmingly white. So the idea behind all the identity stuff is to sort of bring non-white points of view into the mainstream, ideally creating a more inclusive society that values all cultures existing within our borders, with numerous side benefits, such as getting Americans more used to living and working with each other.

This isn't rocket science; it's a simple concept. But when people call for a white history month, or a white people's day, or affirmative action set asides for white people, they're at the same time revealing intense ignorance of the whole identity thing. To these people, observing the value of non-white American cultures is a liberal plot to take away status and power from whites.

Now, to be fair, there are some very good reasons that the white history people
feel like they're losing power and status relative to non-whites: conservative economic policies have for some three decades been making American workers, most of whom are white, work much harder for less pay and security than in previous generations. If you have some residual racist tendencies in the first place, and don't understand politics and economics in general, it's easy to go a bit racist, and blame all the brown people. But throw in four decades of GOP rhetoric reinforcing this notion, that non-white people are taking from white people, and you bring in angry whites who have no residual racist tendencies at all, dupes with reasonable grievances aimed at the wrong parties.

Really, this has been a winning formula for the Republican Party for many years, and one wonders if they could even win elections if there were no racism to stoke so as to deflect from their anti-worker, pro-wealthy policies.

At any rate, such widespread ignorance about the actual nature of identity politics does everybody a disservice. The news media and the schools have done a lousy job explaining things. It's pretty easy for the uninformed to resent the situation, given the near total lack of information on the overall dynamic.

On the other hand, especially given the fact that, while white, the dominant American culture is now mass media driven, and therefore something of an artificial construct, I would welcome an honest dialogue among whites about what it means to be white in a pluralistic society. That's something else we never seem to think about. I mean, in a healthy way.


Friday, February 03, 2012



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


Santorum to Sick Kid: Don't Complain About $1 Million Drug Costs

From Crooks and Liars:

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum told the mother of a child with a rare genetic disorder on Tuesday that she shouldn't have a problem paying $1 million a year for drugs because Apple's iPad can cost around $900.

Speaking to more than 400 people at Woodland Park, Colorado, the former Pennsylvania senator said that demand should set prices for drugs.


"Look, I want your son and everybody to have the opportunity to stay alive on much-needed drugs," Santorum insisted. "But the bottom line is, we have to give companies the incentive to make those drugs. And if they don't have the incentive to make those drugs, your son won't be alive and lots of other people in this country won't be alive."

More here, with video.

It's tempting to dismiss it as more Santorum kookiness, but this is fairly typical of the right-wing view on health care. That is, for conservatives, economic orthodoxy trumps compassion and decency. Always. It is more important to worship capitalism than it is to heal the sick and feed the hungry.

And that's what the situation described above actually is, the worship of capitalism. I mean, the equation Santorum sets up here, survival of the capitalist system versus the need to avoid bankruptcy, or to avoid death, is totally false, generally speaking. For starters, a lot of these super-expensive drugs sold in the US sell for greatly reduced prices on the global market simply because other nations don't worship capitalism the way we do, and tell Big Pharma that if they want to do business in within their borders they can't charge that much. And guess what? The drug companies still make a profit. Furthermore, US health insurance companies, as well as the VA, don't have to pay that much, either, because they use their massive purchasing power to bargain for lower prices. Again, the drug companies make a profit selling at these lower prices.

But Santorum's real, and by "real," I mean "false," knockout punch here is invoking the drug companies' go-to justification for price gouging, "research." That is, capitalist worshipers always assert that Big Pharma just has to price gouge because they need the money for research, and without all that research money, they won't be able to sell us the latest version of Prilosec or Prozac or whatever chemical to which they add a new molecule so as to create a new patent and start the price gouging cycle over once again. And apparently America, the only market that puts up with this shit, is also the only market that has to pay for all that "research."

Well, I don't know the exact percentage breakdown off the top of my head, but I do know that a lot of drug research, but not all, is done at universities and other federally supported scientific institutions: generally, the patents on these drugs, researched using taxpayer dollars, are simply handed over to Big Pharma, for free, ready to be manufactured and distributed at exorbitant costs to the US market. Licensing these patents, with strict regulations on prices, rather than just giving them away to greedy corporations, would be a nice start for dealing with this issue, but it wouldn't solve the problem entirely.

Frankly, I think the real solution is putting all drug research into the feds' hands. Either that, or just straight-up funding private research using federal dollars, with lots of strings attached, of course, particularly on prices in the US market. In other words, worship of capitalism and good health care for the population are simply incompatible. You've got to go socialist to some extent. And that's the point, really. The economics of health care are just fucked up when you try to push them into the neoliberal platitudes of a college freshman intro to econ class. Health care, academically speaking, is an advanced course.

Unfortunately, our public dialogue on health care, which is dominated by conservative retards, is decidedly eighth grade. Our fucked up system will probably be the death of me one day.


Thursday, February 02, 2012

Taliban will rule Afghanistan again, says leaked US military report

From the Guardian:

The Taliban, backed by Pakistan, are set to retake control of Afghanistan after Nato-led forces withdraw from the country, according to reports citing a classifed assessment by US forces.

The Times described the report as secret and "highly classified", saying it was put together last month by the US military at Bagram air base in Afghanistan for top Nato officers. The BBC also carried a report on the leaked document.

"Many Afghans are already bracing themselves for an eventual return of the Taliban," the report was quoted as saying. "Once Isaf (Nato-led forces) is no longer a factor, Taliban consider their victory inevitable."

The document stated that Pakistan's security agency was helping the Taliban in directing attacks against foreign forces – a charge long denied by Islamabad.

More here.

After ten years, numerous deaths, and untold billions of dollars, we're going to lose, whatever that means. I say "whatever that means" because I never really knew what "winning" was supposed to be. I mean, at first, it was all about getting Bin Laden, but then it turned out that he wasn't even in Afghanistan. Then we got him, and the mission seemed to be "nation building," again, whatever that means. But we can't even do that, if part of "nation building" means establishing a stable government that is friendly to US interests. And the Pentagon knows we can't do it.

Actually, it's been clear for many years that we wouldn't be able to effectively "nation build" in Afghanistan. Indeed, it was clear to many before we even invaded.

So that leads to a very reasonable question. If we're fated to fail in Afghanistan, and the US government is well aware of that fact, why the hell are we still there? And, for that matter, why do we consider Pakistan to be our ally? I mean, they're training the Taliban, who are apparently fated to take over Afghanistan again. How can Pakistan be our ally? None of this makes any sense. It's never made any sense. There has been no profit, no gain at all from our time in Afghanistan. Are we really such a fucked up people that we can hoot and holler for a war for no reason other than making ourselves feel like badasses because terrorists destroyed some buildings?

Absurdity and irrationality and murder are the zeitgeist. We might as well be a bunch of chimps.