Sunday, March 31, 2013


It's that time of year again.  I wrote this a decade ago:

Today, most of America celebrates Easter. This means that America also celebrates its dedication to rigid, absolute concepts of good and evil, reward and punishment. This is no overstatement: “tough on crime,” harshly condemned sex scandals, boot camps for youth, and numerous other American social and legal institutions are the rotten fruit of the diseased tree of Christian morality—the dangerous oversimplification of terrorism as performed by “evil doers” results from this morality. I cannot be happy on Easter Sunday; there is nothing to celebrate. In fact, the reverse is true. Because this wildly popular, yet utterly misguided point of view results in so much unneeded suffering and pain, Easter makes me sad.

Read the rest here.

I'll do my usual best, however, to avoid sadness on Easter Sunday, simply by trying not to think about it.  I'm working a dinner shift, which will probably be pretty dead, given that most Easter celebrating is a daytime thing.  So it ought to be pretty easy to keep this celebration of torturing non-believers in eternal hellfire out of my mind.

I wrote this on a facebook comment thread earlier tonight because a guy was copping attitude with my girlfriend about zombie Jesuses in her newsfeed.  And she wasn't even pushing the idea, just noting its existence!  People are so sensitive.

With all due respect, to you, and to everybody really, Easter is absolutely the theological lynchpin on which the entire Christian faith is based. And that would be a benign enough statement in itself, but the ramification of the resurrection is that "all have sinned," and are worthy of nothing less than eternal torture and damnation in hellfire. How should a non-believer react to what is essentially an in-your-face condemnation, to TORTURE, for ETERNITY, all day long? I'd be offended, myself, if I didn't realize that the vast majority of Christians are totally clueless as to how extraordinarily offensive such a holiday must necessarily be to the non-believer.

I hear you, David, about respect. But the reality is that religion, in addition to being culture, and a way that people identify themselves, is also ideology. And Christian ideology has embedded deeply within it a horrifying and profoundly offensive statement that if one is not part of their fellowship, one is worth less than dog shit.

Personally, I think likening the resurrected Christ to a zombie is rather mild criticism, given what's at stake, philosophically speaking.
Anyway, for what it's worth, happy Easter.


Friday, March 29, 2013



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


The Day That TV News Died

New Chris Hedges:

The celebrity trolls who currently reign on commercial television, who bill themselves as liberal or conservative, read from the same corporate script. They spin the same court gossip. They ignore what the corporate state wants ignored. They champion what the corporate state wants championed. They do not challenge or acknowledge the structures of corporate power. Their role is to funnel viewer energy back into our dead political system—to make us believe that Democrats or Republicans are not corporate pawns. The cable shows, whose hyperbolic hosts work to make us afraid self-identified liberals or self-identified conservatives, are part of a rigged political system, one in which it is impossible to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, General Electric or ExxonMobil. These corporations, in return for the fear-based propaganda, pay the lavish salaries of celebrity news people, usually in the millions of dollars. They make their shows profitable. And when there is war these news personalities assume their “patriotic” roles as cheerleaders, as Chris Matthews—who makes an estimated $5 million a year—did, along with the other MSNBC and Fox hosts.

It does not matter that these celebrities and their guests, usually retired generals or government officials, got the war terribly wrong. Just as it does not matter that Francis Fukuyama and Thomas Friedman were wrong on the wonders of unfettered corporate capitalism and globalization. What mattered then and what matters now is likability—known in television and advertising as the Q score—not honesty and truth. Television news celebrities are in the business of sales, not journalism. They peddle the ideology of the corporate state. And too many of us are buying.

More here.

Hedges pegs the death of TV news to the day MSNBC consciously fired Donahue for being anti-war.  And that was certainly a watershed event.  But the industry had been headed in that direction for at least a decade.  I would personally assert whatever point it was in the 1980s when media corporations decided that the news ought to make a profit instead of being offered as a public service.  From that point on, it all just got fluffier and fluffier, ever more sensationalistic, ever more simplified.  Of course, even before that, one could clearly see the corporate influence on television news product--there have always been forbidden topics and ideas on TV news.  But whatever semblance of objectivity there was, whatever mission existed previously to inform the nation's citizens on important issues of the day, that all started to decline when the news shifted from being informational to being entertainment.

That is, if the news wasn't dead before the firing of Donahue, it was certainly on life support for a very long time.

But yeah, it's all a joke now.  I mean, I like Rachel Maddow and all that, but even she plays by corporate rules, even she offers the Democratic Party's version of liberalism, a sort of inoffensive "liberal lite," one that might take on a particular corporation or business figure or wealthy campaign donor, but never questions the system in its totality, never really puts the dots together in a compelling and meaningful way.  Indeed, Maddow's overall message is that the system has some flaws, not that it's completely corrupt and broken.  She, too, is a salesman for the corporate state.  And she's compensated for it quite well, thank you very much.

If you think you know what's going on because you watch MSNBC, you're sadly wrong.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

 Kansas bill calls for HIV positive people to be quarantined

 From Gay Star News courtesy of a facebook friend:

Kansas House Bill 2183, which has passed in the Kansas Senate, will update the state’s public health statute by allowing quarantine of Kansans with ‘infectious diseases.’

Senator Marci Francisco attempted to restore an amendment providing an exclusion for people living with HIV/AIDS, saying the disease is not spread through casual contact and the bill could permit discrimination.

Cody Patton, Executive Director of sexual health charity Positive Directions, said: ‘We live in a very conservative state and I’m afraid there are still many people, especially in rural Kansas, that have inadequate education and understanding concerning HIV/AIDS.

More here.

Yes, what's the matter with Kansas, indeed.  No, this is not from the Onion.  The mind-boggling, jaw-dropping thing is that this is real life.  Kansas wants to lock up people who are HIV positive.

You know, if it's Ebola, fine.  Smallpox, go for it.  Andromeda Strain, we'd be crazy not to.  But not HIV.  It just doesn't work like that.  But what's totally infuriating is that this is a conversation for 1983, not 2013, not thirty years later.  We already know this.  We already know that it is a grave infringement on the human rights of people living with HIV to lock them up.  We've known this for decades.  We've KNOWN it.  This is total lunacy.

It is impossible for me to not group such insanity together with all the recent psychotic right-wing commentary about rape and birth control, and about voting rights.  I know there are sane conservatives out there, good Americans with whom I have political disagreements, but who are also, no doubt, as horrified as I am about how many of their right-wing fellow travelers are trying to reopen extraordinarily important questions about civil and human rights which have long been settled.  What the hell is going on here?  Who the hell are these lunatics?

Why on earth is there a vocal percentage of the US population that would have us return to the Dark Ages?

We like to think of ourselves as the greatest country in the world.  But we're not.  We have totally deranged citizens in our midst.  And they have political power and the will to carry out their sick and twisted social fantasies.  There is a cancer on our nation.  It needs to be cut out of the body politic.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013


From Pressing issues courtesy of Daily Kos:

10 Years Ago: When MTV Banned the B-52s 

I'd forgotten about this but surely we must mark this date, ten years ago today, when MTV, less than a week into the U.S.-Brit invasion of Iraq, banned the playing of any music videos with "war" lyrics or images--and the entire catalog of the B-52s.  Neil Strauss reported at the time for the NYT:  "Though images of war are dominating television screens, one channel is not having it. The day after the war in Iraq started, a memo was distributed through the offices of MTV Europe by its broadcast standards department. In the memo, Mark Sunderland, one of the department's managers, recommends that music videos depicting ''war, soldiers, war planes, bombs, missiles, riots and social unrest, executions'' and ''other obviously sensitive material'' not be shown on MTV in Britain and elsewhere in Europe until further notice. 

More here.

I never knew about this in the first place, but it's not surprising.  While the American people and political establishment were freaking out in the years after 9/11, the media business ramped up to eleven one of their usual mandates, sucking up to power.  Clear Channel hosted pro-war rallies, and banned numerous songs.  Country group the Dixie Chicks were blackballed for daring to criticize Monkey-face Bush.  MSNBC fired Donahue explicitly because he was anti-war.  CBS news anchor Dan Rather went on David Letterman and told the world that Bush was his "commander-in-chief" and that he would "line up" wherever he ordered.

In short, the media business was pounding the nation with pro-war messages.  Propaganda, pure and simple.

I've heard that back in the Cold War days, media critics would observe that, when compared with the Soviet system, US propaganda was far more effective, in that the Russians knew the news they were receiving was bogus and pro-government, while we simply saw the news as the news.  The fall of the Berlin Wall didn't change that one bit.  Most Americans continue to see the news as news--I mean, there's the whole "liberal media" thing, of course.  But, by and large, the media business pushes an ideological agenda that favors the American power structure.  They do it now, and they will continue to do it for the foreseeable future.

It is only in times like the post 9/11 era and the run up to the Iraq invasion, you know, times of absolute absurdity, that the propaganda is obvious, and even then it is highly influential.  But make no mistake.  Even when times are not absolutely absurd, they do the same thing.  Always.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Offensive Things Antonin Scalia Has Said About Homosexuality

From Think Progress via AlterNet:

Murder, Polygamy and Cruelty to Animals: In Romer v. Evans, the Court held that Colorado could not enact a state constitutional amendment motivated solely by animus towards gay people. Scalia saw no problem with laws enacted with such a motivation — “The Court’s opinion contains grim, disapproving hints that Coloradans have been guilty of ‘animus’ or ‘animosity’ toward homosexuality, as though that has been established as Unamerican. . . . I had thought that one could consider certain conduct reprehensible–murder, for example, or polygamy, or cruelty to animals–and could exhibit even ‘animus’ toward such conduct.”

Drug Addicts and Smokers: In the same opinion, Scalia suggested that a law which relegates LGBT people to second-class status is no different than any other law “disfavoring certain conduct.” Anti-gay laws, in Scalia’s view, are no different than laws disfavoring “drug addicts, or smokers, or gun owners, or motorcyclists.” His decision to include “gun owners” on this list is somewhat ironic, considering that he would later write the Supreme Court’s opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller which held for the first time that there is an individual right to own a firearm.

More here.

And that's just the first five out of a total of thirteen.

Almost ten years ago, I spent a few days studying Scalia's dissenting opinion in the gay sodomy case, Lawrence and Garner v Texas.  My thinking at the time was that the conservative jurist's thinking was, and still is, considered to be the epitome of right-wing American intellectualism, and it would be a good idea to see what he's all about.  So I read his opinion, and then posted my response.  And I have to admit that I was more than a bit disappointed.  I mean, I expected that I would disagree with him, but I did not expect that what he offered as serious arguments would be so ill informed and shallow.  After all, in conservative circles, he's the man, the smart guy, one of the brains of the movement.  But really, once you get past the legalese, he's not much smarter than a hot shot college sophomore.  I mean, sure, that's smart, but it's not exactly what I would call intellectual.

Oh well.

The point I'm making today is that all these articles about his homophobia being posted in the run up to SCOTUS oral arguments on DOMA and the anti-gay marriage law in California come as absolutely no surprise to me.  His dissent in the gay sodomy case made it completely clear that he just doesn't understand the concept of being gay.  The opinion is riddled with all manner of factual inaccuracies, unfounded assumptions, and outright denials of modern scientific, psychological, and sociological data about homosexuality.  He may very well be a good lawyer; I don't know.  But I do know that interpreting the law must necessarily be grounded in factual reality.  If you cavalierly dismiss real, honest, verified facts, your opinions of how the law must function are suspect from the get-go.

In this sense, Scalia is an idiot.  It's a self-imposed idiocy, to be sure, because he clearly knows how to think, but definitely idiocy.  Either that, or he's a conscious liar.  But I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt on that.


Monday, March 25, 2013

Five Ugly Extremes of Inequality in America

From AlterNet:

2. A single top income could buy housing for every homeless person in the U.S.

On a winter day in 2012 over 633,000 people were homeless in the United States. Based on an annual single room occupancy (SRO) cost of $558 per month, any ONE of the ten richest Americans would have enough with his 2012 income to pay for a room for every homeless person in the U.S. for the entire year. These ten rich men together made more than our entire housing budget.

For anyone still believing "they earned it," it should be noted that most of the Forbes 400 earnings came from minimally-taxed, non-job-creating capital gains.



4. The U.S. is nearly the most wealth-unequal country in the entire world

Out of 141 countries, the U.S. has the 4th-highest degree of wealth inequality in the world, trailing only Russia, Ukraine, and Lebanon.

Yet the financial industry keeps creating new wealth for its millionaires. According to the authors of the Global Wealth Report, the world's wealth has doubled in ten years, from $113 trillion to $223 trillion, and is expected to reach $330 trillion by 2017.


More here.

Years ago, when I was liberal but not nearly as liberal as I am now, I was having a friendly argument with some people at a party.  I was advocating taxing the rich at a much higher rate, to pay for that ever-ominous deficit, to pay for social programs, and other various reasons.  The party was in Austin, a liberal city, but it was still Texas: one of my opponents retorted, "Why should we punish success?"

I tried to respond that taxes aren't punishment, that they're what people owe, dues essentially, for being able to live, function, and operate in the United States.  Of course, people were drunk, and the conversation quickly broke up, with the "punish success" woman feeling like she had made an unassailable argument.  But really.  Taxes are "punishment"?  If that's the case, then living in a modern civilized nation must necessarily be punishment, too, because you can't have a modern civilized nation without taxes.

But that's where popular thinking was in the mid 1990s, and the sentiment continues, albeit not as strongly, to this very day--taxation is "punishment."  And that's a drag because such a notion does nothing more than confuse what the actual questions are: what should the government do, and where should we get the money to do it?  When you bitch and moan about taxation in itself, you're sidestepping your civic responsibility, and worse, taking others with you down into your rabbit hole of selfish ignorance.

The reality today is that the wealthy have been so extraordinarily successful over the last three decades with this insidious rhetorical device, taxes as "punishment," that there is now no doubt as to where we should get the money to fund the government.  We should get it from the rich.  That's where the money is, and that's where we need to go to get it.  Since the Regan era, America has been profoundly and amazingly generous to the filthy rich, while at the same time sticking it to people who work for a living.  And this crazy imbalance is starting to tear at the fabric of the nation.

It's time for the rich to pay up.  It's not punishment.  It's what they OWE.


Saturday, March 23, 2013


From the Daily Beast, courtesy of a facebook friend:

Why Tea Partiers Are Boycotting Fox News

Is Fox News going soft?

That is what a number of Tea Party activists are saying and they are organizing a boycott to protest the conservative station’s coverage, especially what they view as the network’s relative silence in investigating the attacks on a diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.

“Particularly after the election, Fox keeps turning to the left,” said Stan Hjerlied, 75, of Fort Collins, Colo., and a participant in the boycott. He pointed to an interview Fox News CEO Roger Ailes gave after the election in which he said that the Republican Party and Fox News need to modernize, especially around immigration. “So we are really losing our only conservative network.”

More here.

From Wikipedia:
The usage of "jump the shark" has subsequently broadened beyond television, indicating the moment when a brand, design, or creative effort's evolution loses the essential qualities that initially defined its success and declines, ultimately, into irrelevance.
I'm not sure, but I think it was Rick Perlstein who observed a few years back that Richard Nixon was the first in American politics to understand that one could forge successful coalitions against ideas instead of for them.  Since then, this notion has become the unifying feature of American conservatism.  Sure, some of their ideas are typically phrased as being "for" something, but don't be fooled: when they say they're for "small government," it effectively means that they're against government; when they say they're for "family values," it effectively means that they're against gays, single mothers, and sex.  And they've gotten a lot of mileage out of this approach, essentially removing hope from the political landscape and replacing it with fear.  The Democrats never knew what hit them, and still don't, really.

So this shark-jumping moment doesn't really have much to do with Democrats mounting an effective response to years of right-wing fear-mongering.  No, if this is in fact the beginning of the end, it's because what was once a strength, the desire to destroy everything because modern life is frightening, has become a weakness.  That is, Americans are no longer afraid of the things conservatives have traditionally wanted them to fear, and, without meaningful targets, the conservatives have nowhere else to direct their ire but themselves.  Thus, the Tea Party, which Fox News had more than a small part in creating, has turned on Fox News.  We've been seeing this dynamic coming into play for the last few years, what with the huge number of primary challenges hardcore conservatives have been receiving across the nation.  But this Fox News thing is almost laughable.  It's, like, really?  Fox News is too liberal?

The self-destruction of the American Conservative Movement will be painful for everybody, as the crazies seek to pull the whole house down of top of us all, but there are definitely going to be moments of delicious irony such as this from time to time.  It almost makes the ongoing strife worth it.  Almost.


Friday, March 22, 2013



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



From AlterNet:

CVS to Penalize Workers Who Don't Fork Over Personal Health Information

CVS Pharmacy announced a plan to coerce employees into handing over personal health information in an effort to offset rising healthcare costs. The nationwide chain says employees have until May 1, 2014 to dish out their weight, body fat, blood pressure, glucose levels and other private details to the company—or else face a $600 annual fine. 

Privacy advocates say the policy is inhumane, adding that this could lead CVS, which employs 200,000 Americans, to fire less healthy workers to minimize costs related to health insurance. Patient Privacy Rights founder Dr. Deborah Peel called it “technology-enhanced discrimination on steroids” in an interview with ABC News.

More here.

This is how it works.  A given corporation makes a call based on how it perceives its bottom line relative to what it thinks it can get away with, and then implements it.  Same thing happened back in the 80s with drug testing.  And they got away with that.  After all, who could oppose wanting people to be drug free?  But drug testing had nothing to do with morality or health or anything positive; insurance companies offered corporations a break if they submitted their employees to what would be a massive and unconstitutional invasion of privacy if the institution doing it had been the government.  But because the relationship between company and employee is considered to be a voluntary and private association, in spite of the fact that people need to work in order to survive, there was no constitutional violation.

This is why I hate the Libertarians so much.  They go on and on and on about government power and freedom while completely ignoring that business has a great deal of control over our day-to-day lives.  And that control just keeps strengthening itself.  Couple that with how big business exerts profound influence over the government Libertarians so fear and despise and it's clear that we are enduring something of a full court press.  And the Libertarians just confuse everybody acting like it's all about government.  Fools.

So here we are with CVS asserting a rather frightening doctrine: your employer has a perfect right to your health information, just because you work for them.  Apparently, your work isn't enough to justify whatever piss-poor wage they're paying you.  They also get to have private information.  But hey, it's all okay because it's a voluntary and private association!  You can just walk away if you don't like it.  Of course, if this becomes a standard employment practice, and it probably will if CVS is allowed to get away with it, you CAN'T walk away from it.  

This is just awful.  What will our employers demand next?  I'm not sure, but I'm pretty certain that they will demand something--I mean, a lot of corporations already insist on seeing your credit history; still others want access to your facebook account.  This is what corporations do.  They push and push and push.  And then they get it.  Because money talks.  I'm pretty horrified by the potential here.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

How Chavez Changed History for the Better

From CounterPunch:

Hugo Chavez died in early March. Heads of state came to his funeral and sent condolences to his family— except for the US President. Even in death the White House maintained a resentful tone toward a man we had names as an enemy. But what did Chavez do to us? He offered cheap fuel to the US poor to heat their homes in winter time. Or does Obama take personally what Chavez said in his UN General Assembly speech in 2006. He still smelled the sulphur aroma left by “the devil,” meaning, as he explained, George W. Bush who had preceded him to the lectern. But, why do US Presidents lean so strongly against other heads of state who promote progressive social policies that help their people? Why does Washington kiss the behinds of Saudi Arabian royalty and other degenerate Arab oil state leaders while denigrating Chavez who promoted popular health, education and food for the poor? The European Union, the Organization of American States, the Union of South American Nations, and the Carter Center confirmed that Chavez’ had won all four of his electoral victories freely and fairly.

More here.

So since he died a few weeks ago, I've been trying to finally make up my mind about Hugo Chavez.  Official US policy has been that he was an evil dictator, the new Castro, someone so evil that we supported the failed coup against him a few years back.  But the worst I've been able to dig up on him has been that he played hardball with his domestic politics, nothing outside the spectrum of what we see every day here in American politics.  I mean, he couldn't have been a dictator.  Dictators aren't usually elected and then reelected in fair elections.  And his fiscal policies were apparently unsustainable.  But then, neither are ours.

No, after digging into this, it's totally obvious that, even though there's lots of room to criticize him, just as there is lots of room to criticize countless American politicians and leaders, the reason the US establishment was hell bent on branding him an enemy is because he did good things for his people, stuff that doesn't benefit the global corporate capitalist order, and he sought to forge a new Latin American alliance defying that order.  That is, his biggest "crime" isn't that he was a "dictator;" it was that he was a leftist.  They hated him for his leftism.  And they hated him because he was fairly successful in making his leftist views become reality.

Consequently, it's a total drag that he died so young.  Farewell, Hugo Chavez.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Iraq, 2013: The Horrors Remain the Same -- Rape, Executions and Torture Abound

From Al Jazeera courtesy of AlterNet:

Heba's story, horrific as it is, unfortunately is but one example of what a recent report from Amnesty International refers to as "a grim cycle of human rights abuses" in Iraq today.

The report, "Iraq: Still paying a high price after a decade of abuses", exposes a long chronology of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees committed by Iraqi security forces, as well as by foreign troops, in the wake of the US-led 2003 invasion.


"Death sentences and executions are being used on a horrendous scale," Amnesty International's Hadj Sahraoui said in the groups recent report. "It is particularly abhorrent that many prisoners have been sentenced to death after unfair trials and on the basis of confessions they say they were forced to make under torture."

"It is high time that the Iraqi authorities end this appalling cycle of abuse and declare a moratorium on executions as a first step towards abolishing the death penalty for all crimes," he added.

More here.

Okay, so why did we invade Iraq again?  

The biggest reason offered by the Bush administration was to get those weapons of mass destruction.  But they weren't there, so we failed to accomplish that goal.  And we wanted to get rid of the WMD because we were afraid that Iraq might hand them over to Al Qaeda.  But there was no connection between Iraq, a secular military dictatorship, and Al Qaeda, a radical fundamentalist Islamic terrorist organization--indeed, the desert nation and the jihadist group were at ideological odds with one another, so it was extraordinarily unlikely that the two would ever collaborate in the first place.  So that's another failure, pretty much from the get-go.

What else?  There were also the unofficial reasons.  It was pretty clear at the time that we wanted to get our fingers into Iraq's massive oil deposits in some way, or to "control the spigot" as Noam Chomsky and others asserted.  There was also much speculation that we wanted to create a permanent US military presence in the region pretty much because of all that oil.  Of course, that project went to hell because the occupation was botched so badly.  So we eventually left.  Without accomplishing the unofficial agenda, either.

I guess that just leaves us with "liberation."  You know, freeing the Iraqi people from the tyranny and oppression of Saddam Hussein.  Bringing freedom and democracy to the Fertile Crescent because we're America, and that's what America does.  But no.  We didn't pull that one off, either.  In fact, it's sounding now like the regime we installed is trying to outdo its predecessor.  So billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of dead bodies later, Iraq is pretty much the same as it was before we invaded.

I'd call the Iraq invasion the biggest failure in US history, but then that would be giving short shrift to the African slave trade and the Native American genocide.  That is, there's no such thing as "American Exceptionalism," and it should by now be achingly obvious that, when we put our minds to it, we can be as brutal and stupid as the worst the human race has ever created.

We won't move forward as a people until we've admitted this essential truth about ourselves.


Monday, March 18, 2013

Film industry expresses concerns about Jindal tax proposal

From WVUE TV in New Orleans:

The people who make their living in Louisiana's growing film industry are expressing their worries about a proposal in Governor Bobby Jindal's new tax plan. That plan calls for new limits on some tax exemptions, and some fear that could shut out big stars and, in turn, a lot of local jobs.

To be sure, the Louisiana film industry has become a job-producing juggernaut. 

Will French with the Louisiana Film and Entertainment Association said, "When we first started there were about 200 people working in the industry. Now it's grown to about 14,000. That's the same number that works in the seafood industry."

Thousands of people, such as Mark Lowry, have gone from menial work to lucrative employment with health benefits.


The people who make their living in Louisiana movies say that, while the million-dollar limit on tax credit limit may sound good, a similar plan has not done well in North Carolina. 

"North Carolina proposed a similar one-million cap and they've got less than 10 percent of the work Louisiana has on an annual basis," said French. 

States such as New Mexico and Michigan saw big dropoffs, too, after they reduced tax credits.
Kutcher said, " As soon as they hiccupped, the local studio went into bankruptcy."

More here.

For at least a couple of decades now, this has been a familiar story.  States and municipalities, hoping to bring some business their way, will offer various corporations low or no tax schemes in exchange for setting up shop here rather than there.  These corporations will promise everything and the moon, lots of jobs, lots of local spending, an overall expansion of the pie, right in your own neighborhood, which will benefit everybody.  Indeed, this dynamic has become so common that states and cities have actually entered bidding wars with each other, and the government entity offering the lowest taxes and the sweetest kickbacks will get the corporation to come to town to shower locals with gold and jewels.  At least, that's how it works ostensibly.  Generally, corporations are smarter than state and local governments, and usually play them off against one another successfully.  Sure, some new jobs are created, but it is almost never enough to make the situation an even tradeoff.  No, states and cities screw themselves in this chump's game, and big businesses laugh themselves to the bank.

That's why Louisiana's tax abatement scheme for the film industry is so unique: it actually works the way it's supposed to.  By targeting an industry, instead of a single business, and doing it in a way that both attracts business from out of state while at the same time encouraging local entrepreneurialism,  the state has hit an economic home run.  Film is one of the very few growth industries here.  And it continues to grow.

That's not something that's simply nifty and cool, either.  New jobs and new business activity mean new tax revenue for the state that did not exist before.  New jobs and new business activity also mean more private sector spending than there was before, which, in turn, creates still more business and more employment, which, in turn, creates even more tax revenue.  When you get the economic ball rolling, it grows in both size and impact, and that is exactly what's happened with the film industry in Louisiana.

The bottom line is that 2007's financial collapse, and the ongoing sense of recession alternating with sluggish growth it spawned, have caused state tax revenues to decrease sharply from sea to shining sea.  So, yes, Louisiana needs more money in order to function.  But resorting to unproven right-wing social experiments which are demonstrably counterproductive is NOT an answer.  It's not even a joke.  Personally, I suggest looking to the oil and gas industry, which isn't going anywhere anytime soon, and is positively awash in cash.  That would be a start.  Or, better still, Jindal can use his national prominence to scold his deluded fellow Republicans for so successfully obstructing any and all federal stimulus measures, which would have included, and could still include, hundreds of billions in aid for the states.  This kind of stuff would work.

Wringing the neck of the golden goose Hollywood brought to the bayou, however, is just plain stupid.



From Hullabaloo:

The health care costs are too damned high

Brill found hospitals charging $1.50 for a single generic Tylenol, $32 for the rental of a reusable blanket, and $13,702 for a drug that cost the hospital only $400. It's all part of a three-tiered system that offers deep discounts to Medicare and lesser breaks to private insurers but charges uninsured individuals the full internally listed price. 


"By following the money, I discovered that our health care prices are out of whack for a reason that was hiding in plain sight - a reason that should be obvious to anyone who has ever been a health care consumer, which means all of us: There is no such thing as a free market in healthcare, if one defines a free market as a place where there is some balance of power between the buyer and the seller. Instead, health care is - except when Medicare is the buyer - a lopsided seller's market. That became clear at both ends of the money trails I followed - from the patients' lack of any knowledge of what they were buying or its prices, much less any leverage to bargain over it, to the sellers' ability and willingness to charge absurdly high prices on everything from gauze pads to ambulance services to cancer wonder drugs."

Many health care experts have studied this for years and Brill very ably synthesizes their work along with his own reporting. But honestly, isn't this just common sense? Of course there cannot be a free market in health care --- the buyer is incapable of making an informed choice and has no idea what the value of what she's buying. This doesn't seem confusing to me, but most people seem to find it extremely complicated requiring study after study. It's quite clear we must do --- set prices. I know that an insult to the Market Gods, and I'm sure I'll be struck dead any minute for even thinking it. But that's what has to happen.

More here

No such thing as a "free" market when the buyer can't walk away from the deal.  Like Digby says, it's common sense, although I had to be walked through this myself reading an essay on the topic five or six years ago.  So it's not obvious.  But once you first see it, you always see it: when you need health care, you need it right now, and you can't shop around and find the best deal.  And health care providers are well aware of this.  Consequently, price gouging, on a scale of which I have never even imagined, rules the day.

Health care isn't a market.  It's a racket.  Once the system has you in its clutches, it squeezes until there is no more blood.  You might walk away in somewhat better health, but you're in massive debt for the rest of your life.  And this happens to the insured as well as the uninsured.  The obvious and sane solution is for government to take over and offer health care as a public service, rather than as the massive debt creation machine it now is.  I mean, seeing as how it's not really legitimate business.  But no.  The health care racket has so much money that it's bought off all of Congress and White House after White House after White House.  Obama is only the most recent top official owned by the medical mafia.

And that's why the highly touted "Obamacare," soon to ramp itself into high gear, is such a massive joke: it tinkers around the edges, but it preserves in full that which sucks our economy like a giant vampire while making us the laughingstock of the industrialized world, the crazy notion that health care is "business."

Some liberal he is.


Sunday, March 17, 2013

CPAC Participant Defends Slavery At Minority Outreach Panel

From Think Progress courtesy of Daily Kos:

The exchange occurred after an audience member from North Carolina, 30-year-old Scott Terry, asked whether Republicans could endorse races remaining separate but equal. After the presenter, K. Carl Smith of Frederick Douglass Republicans, answered by referencing a letter by Frederick Douglass forgiving his former master, the audience member said “For what? For feeding him and housing him?” Several people in the audience cheered and applauded Terry’s outburst.

After the exchange, Terry muttered under his breath, “why can’t we just have segregation?” noting the Constitution’s protections for freedom of association. 


When asked by ThinkProgress if he’d accept a society where African-Americans were permanently subservient to whites, he said “I’d be fine with that.” He also claimed that African-Americans “should be allowed to vote in Africa,” and that “all the Tea Parties” were concerned with the same racial problems that he was.

More here.

I'm convinced, of course, and have been for years, that the racist strain among conservatives accounts for all manner of vile position-taking on their side.  So it's virtually impossible to see stuff like Republican promoted restrictive voter ID laws, or harsh attitudes about immigration, as being anything BUT racist.  That is, I can imagine some non-racist conservative rationales for such ideas, but as long as conservatives tolerate the massive racist presence in their midst, those rationales can't be taken as much more than rationalizations.

In short, conservatives have an enormous problem.  Conservatism is the American go-to ideology for racists.  No, not all conservatives are racist.  But all racists ARE conservative.  And it doesn't really seem to trouble conservatives who aren't racist.  If right-wingers were serious about removing this disgusting taint from their brand, a stain which alters in subtle and nuanced ways the ideology itself, people like the one quoted in the article linked above would be picked up by the scruff of the neck and literally thrown out of any and all conservative events.  But that's not what happens.  Instead, the racists are welcomed with open arms, and their ideas are given a full hearing.  And other conservatives cheer for these ideas.  And then conservatives turn around and insist to the rest of the country that they're not racist, and get pissed off when the rest of the country is skeptical.  It's a pathetic sight.  It is important to note that liberals do NOT welcome racists at their events.

Meanwhile, in Washington, Justice Scalia says that voting is a "racial entitlement."  It is as though conservatives are daring each other to take it even further.


Friday, March 15, 2013



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



Yeah, that's right, Xanadu.  I had never seen it before.

In no particular order or priority:

* It is always interesting to watch a film whose reputation precedes itself by some thirty or forty years, even if its reputation isn't a good one.  So Plan 9 from Outer Space was fun, as was Apocalypse Now, as was The GodfatherXanadu was no exception.

* Speaking of watching a movie a long, long time after it was released, I feel like I got something of a unique perspective on the film's nostalgia toward the 1940s.  That is, the whole Gene Kelly story arc is sort of obsessed with the big band era, and 1945 is even mentioned as the time when he had his moment with Kira.  Because Xanadu was shot in 1980, we're talking about the film's narrative looking back thirty five years.  Two years from now it will have been thirty five years since 1980.  So there was a kind of double dose of nostalgia for me, given the time frame in which I saw the movie, nostalgia for the 40s, seen through a late 70s lens, and nostalgia for the late 70s, as presented by the movie itself, and through the lens of my own memory of the period, when I was only twelve.  And you know what?  It works pretty well on that level.

* The soundtrack, with ELO, Cliff Richard, and, of course Olivia Newton John, continues to be as great as it was back in 1980.  This is definitely one of the movie's strengths.

* I watched it with my girlfriend, who has loved the movie since she was ten.  So to a great extent, I got to see it through her eyes.  And that makes me realize that, in spite of the multiple conceptual train wrecks comprising the plot, Xanadu is, in its most basic form, a fairy tale, a children's story, and should be judged in those terms.  Indeed, it succeeds quite well as a children's story, a sort of Wizard of Oz for kids who were on the cusp of coming of age in the free-wheeling late 70s.

Really, Xanadu becomes more interesting the more I think about it.

* One of the best aspects of Xanadu, and it's almost needless to say, is Gene Kelly.  For years, I had simply assumed that there was just no way he could have been a good fit for the project.  And it does get a bit weird here and there.  I mean, he's just so totally Gene Kelly, older, to be sure, but the same guy from Singing in the Rain and On the Town.  He just does his thing and assumes it will all work out.  Amazingly, it does all work out.  He's Gene Kelly, no matter what.

* Speaking of the acting, it's not Olivia Newton John's best work, and what's-his-name is pretty bland himself.  But something that does shine through, something that makes their work valuable, and this is going on with pretty much all the onscreen talent, is total sincerity about what they're doing.  As silly and goofy as Xanadu is, all these performers give it their all.  They believe in what they're doing.  And if you let yourself join them, you can kinda, just sorta, almost, believe, too.

Really, Olivia Newton John makes up in sincerity what she lacks in dancing ability.

* Wait a minute, that was the Tubes up there?  I was wondering how they got it so right.

* So...the muses are apparently love 'em and leave 'em sexual predators who make mortal artists, musicians, and poets fall in love with them which provides artistic inspiration.  Then, satisfied, these immortal beauties hit the road like the cheap disco hussies they are.  Kind of sick and twisted.  I like it.

This, then, makes part of the movie about Kira rejecting the rules by which she has played for centuries in order to embrace true love.  I like that, too.

* I totally love the disco/science fiction Buck Rogers aesthetic, which really starts to take off by the time what's-his-name goes to Olympus to see Kira, but goes into the stratosphere for the closing massive song and dance number at Xanadu.

* Xanadu is totally stupid and absurd, but also completely charming.

* Probably not at all supported by the text, but in my mind this is what happened: Kira has felt very guilty for thirty five years about how she treated Gene Kelly back in 1945, so she has arranged a sort of Prospero-play, as with The Tempest, to make things right and put herself into a position such that she can fall in love, herself.  So the whole thing is all her Machiavellian machination.  She brings Gene Kelly back to music.  She inspires her last artist.  And she comes down to Earth.  So she can love.


Monday, March 11, 2013


It's only until Thursday, but my lovely girlfriend is taking a road trip here from Houston, and I want to give her my undivided attention while she's here.  So, whoop it up!  It's spring break!  Yeah!

See you Thursday.


Sunday, March 10, 2013


...Vina, as an Orion slave girl!


Saturday, March 09, 2013

Hippies Demonized in Louisiana Voucher School Textbook

From AlterNet:

Most recently, AmericaBlog discovered a rather cartoonish depiction of one of the largest counter-culture movements in American history printed in a Louisiana voucher textbook. The 8 th grade history book, titled America: Land I love, gives this lesson on hippies:

Many young people turned to drugs and immoral lifestyles; these youth became known as hippies. They went without bathing, wore dirty, ragged, unconventional clothing, and deliberately broke all codes of politeness or manners. Rock music played an important part in the hippie movement and had great influence over the hippies. Many of the rock musicians they followed belonged to Eastern religious cults or practiced Satan worship.
Of course, the devil’s influence extends beyond America’s “immoral” youth. Reads another textbook: “It is no wonder that Satan hates the family and has hurled his venom against it in the form of Communism.” 

More here

"Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past."  George Orwell, 1984.

As tempting as it is to jump on the anti-hippie bandwagon, and as silly as such a passage appears to be, it is part of a deeply ominous trend in conservative states.  I mean, as a kid, I loved the hippies, all their counter-culture rebellion, all their great music, all their self-proclaimed freedom.  The concept totally dominated the popular culture long after hippies had retreated into their Grateful Dead and Burning Man enclaves.  Eventually, Eric Cartman got to me, though.  Well, him and Chris Hedges.  In the end, the hippies were perfect for consumer culture: despite all the revolutionary trappings, it was a deeply narcissistic and self-involved movement, utterly unwilling to forge alliances with other left-wing movements, completely cock-sure about their beliefs, whatever those beliefs happened to be that day, preachy, pushy, and rude.  It is no surprise in hindsight that the hippies of the 60s in short order became the nihilistic disco-dancers of the Me Decade, and then the yuppies and soccer moms of the 1980s.  The thread uniting all three cultural manifestations was greed and pompous self-importance.  Perfect consumers.

But they weren't ALL bad.  Indeed, the hippies contributed some lasting and positive cultural changes.  My ability to wear shorts on a hot summer day is but one; my long hair is another.  And you just can't discount all the cool music that we still hear on the radio to this very day.  The list goes on and on.

Clearly, history is not black and white.  It's subtle and nuanced, and, even though it deals with events from the past, history is always being written and rewritten, as we find new primary sources, and as society's perspective continually changes.  But in the South, and in my home state of Texas, and a few other places, politics trumps history as a work in progress, trumps contradictory evidence, and is seen as another weapon in the culture wars.  That is, extreme right-wing political partisans have managed to stack state school boards, and they're consciously twisting and altering history for the express purpose of manipulating our culture so as to gain ever more political advantage.

And, needless to say, that's horrifying.  No matter how lame the hippies were.


Friday, March 08, 2013



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


The Market Speaks

Yeah, I post a lot of Krugman.  Sue me.

Even a casual trawl through the headlines of the time turns up one dire pronouncement after another. “Obama’s radicalism is killing the Dow,” warned an op-ed article by Michael Boskin, an economic adviser to both Presidents Bush. “The disciplinarians of U.S. policy makers return,” declared The Wall Street Journal, warning that the “bond vigilantes” would soon push Treasury yields to destructive heights.

Sure enough, this week the Dow Jones industrial average has been hitting all-time highs, while the current yield on 10-year U.S. government bonds is roughly half what it was when The Journal published that screed.


By the way, I’m not just talking about the hard right; a fair number of self-proclaimed centrists play the same game. For example, two years ago, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson warned us to expect an attack of the bond vigilantes within, um, two years unless we adopted, you guessed it, Simpson-Bowles. 

So what the bad predictions tell us is that we are, in effect, dealing with priests who demand human sacrifices to appease their angry gods — but who actually have no insight whatsoever into what those gods actually want, and are simply projecting their own preferences onto the alleged mind of the market.

More here.

It continues to amaze me that I, a humble restaurant server, apparently know more about this stuff than the people who run the country.  And that's not me patting myself on the back, either: this isn't rocket science.  It's just reading some economists here and there and watching over the years to see if what they're saying matches what's happening.  So far, the actual economists seem to be beating the pants off of the politicians, pundits, and DC know-it-alls.

Indeed, this deficit hysteria has been going on for four years now, and NONE of the predictions made by the hawks has even come close to coming true.  Nothing.  Nada.  Nonetheless, the deficit hawks continue to rule the day in Washington, and wiser opinions are scoffed at as irresponsible, at best, and destructive at worst.  And "serious" citizens who take their cues from these people push the same line.  

Indeed, I had a little back and forth with a facebook friend on the subject only a few days ago, and he just didn't get it.  He went on and on about spending and the awful reckoning we will soon face if we don't cut the budget to shreds right now.  I pointed out that interest rates continue, for years now, to be historically low.  I observed that a growing economy will raise tax revenues, which will do most of the heavy lifting as far as deficit reduction goes.  I observed that borrowing is virtually free right now because interest rates are so low, and that we can jump start the economy if we want, but that austerity, conversely, will depress the economy making the deficit worse.  It was as though I was talking to a guy on television: "NO!!! THE DEFICIT!!!  EMERGENCY!!!"  I had to drop out of the conversation because it wasn't really a conversation--actual conversations are two way, and my comments were definitely not part of the discussion from his point of view.

So Krugman's right.  This is almost a religious thing.  Deficits=bad; spending cuts=good.  Apparently, that's what the Bible says.  Unfortunately, that's not what economists are saying.  At least not for some years now, not for the circumstances we've been in since the financial crisis.

It's all very depressing.


Thursday, March 07, 2013

Krugman: Progressives Worry Too Much About Being 'Respectable'

From AlterNet:

I understand where this comes from: It comes from many years of electoral defeats and always feeling that, going all the way back to Ronald Reagan, always finding that you needed to appeal to conservative voters -- and the quest for respectability. At the higher levels, you find yourself in rooms full of bankers -- a lot...It’s very hard to stand up to them, and not just because they have power but because they’re, by and large, actually pretty smart. They have fantastic tailors. And to get over that and say, ‘Look, you’re just wrong,’ and, ‘My side is right’ -- that’s something that progressives still have a hard time learning to do.

More here.

Indeed, stuff like "look, you're just wrong," and "my side is right," are some of the main go-to rhetorical devices in the conservative tool box.  Not for liberals, however, not really, at least not since I've been paying attention.  This has been a really big problem: liberals have been unwilling to champion their own cause.  Okay sure, liberals like to make arguments, like to provide facts and studies, which is all good and fine because it's important, after all, to have it right as far as the real world is concerned.  But since national political campaigns effectively became national advertising campaigns, arguments alone don't cut it.  You need to have emotion, vision, narrative.  

A very big part of that is not undercutting yourself by acknowledging in any way that the other side's vision has any validity at all--sure, you can concede a point or two here and there, but the overall narrative is what's important.  Besides, it's not your job to make the conservatives' case for them; they do that quite well on their own.

Think about it this way, in the video age, emotion is what matters.  When you have all these conservatives spewing the most absurd BS on TV, the biggest thing that gets through is that they really believe what they're saying, and that they're strong enough to make it happen, if only the voters would give them the chance.  I mean, that's pure Ronald Reagan, who taught his entire party how to be Great Communicators.  It's also simple persuasive speaking: look your audience in the eye and tell them what's what.  You don't f' around on this.  You might not persuade anybody right then and there, but people will listen.  They can't help it.  It's human nature.

And if you pound away at it for long enough, you WILL persuade people.  Especially because you've already got the facts on your side.  Time to man up, liberals.  Time to tell the country what's what.


Wednesday, March 06, 2013

PREPPING FOR YET ANOTHER AUDITION TONIGHT..., as usual, no post. I'll be back tomorrow, though. Wish me luck.  This one's a callback.


Monday, March 04, 2013

Wealth Inequality in America

Courtesy of a facebook friend:

Needless to say, the super-rich can and do use this massive wealth imbalance to control US political structures, at all levels of government, thereby rendering the notion of democracy, or, at least, the concept of representatives executing the people's will, a moot point.  Indeed, contemporary American politics looks exactly like one would expect them to look if you've got a plutocracy disguised as a democratic republic: totally dysfunctional as far as democracy goes, but startlingly effective in terms of funneling buttloads of cash to people who already have buttloads of cash.

I grieve for this country every day.


Happy 100th Birthday, Big Oil Tax Breaks

From Think Progress courtesy of BuzzFlash:

Automatic across-the-board budget cuts will take hold on Friday, affecting job growth, state education programs, environmental agencies, and women’s health programs. The sequester actually shares an important anniversary — with Big Oil tax breaks. It is not as well-known a date, but one type of deduction, the percentage depletion allowance, celebrates its 100-year anniversary today.


However, congressional Republicans taking the lion’s share of oil and gas industry contributions have refused to close century-old loopholes in order to raise revenue. A number of specialized Big Oil tax breaks allow the top oil companies to cut their tax bill dramatically, sometimes half (or less) of the top corporate rate. It is not as if Big Oil is struggling: Last year, the five largest oil companies — BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and ExxonMobil — earned $118 billion profit at a time when consumers paid record-high gas prices. This haul follows after a year the companies earned a record $137 billion profit.

More here.

We've always had enough money to fund important social programs.  Always.  There is not, nor has there ever been, a Hobson's choice situation about welfare, Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, and on and on.  The money's out there.  All we have to do is take it.  It wouldn't upend the economy.  It wouldn't cause unemployment or put people out of business.  It wouldn't discourage investors from investing.  All it would do is make life easier and more manageable for millions of working Americans.  It would also allow those Americans to consume more, which would actually improve the economy.  It's a win/win situation.

I mean, it would piss off a bunch of rich and powerful people, the de facto ruling class of the United States, which is why we don't just go and take the money.  But there isn't any other reason besides pissing off rich people to stop us.  The Sequester, deficit hysteria, making government operate like a family budget, it's all bullshit.  We have the money.  But the plutocrats won't let us have it.  


Sunday, March 03, 2013

The Sequester’s Market Utopians

From the New Yorker:

For today’s conservatives, the market has increasingly become the kind of utopian ideal that conservatives in the tradition of Edmund Burke have always feared—a thing whose virtue is not yet, and probably never will be, attained on earth, but must be worshipped nonetheless. In these debates, it is the mixed-up liberal who is the actual pragmatist, seeing what works, while the free marketers are the slaves of a beautifully utopian line of thought.

More here.

You know, for a long time all this market glorification nonsense had a sort of rationality about it.  I mean, at its most basic level, it seems to make sense: supply, demand, everything balancing out, government interference upending that balance, yadda, yadda.  But reality finally caught up with it all.  That is, the financial implosion of 2007 laid waste to the notion that markets are self-regulating.  Clearly, economics are a far more complex proposition than what the market cultists would have us believe.  This should have dramatically changed the conversation.  But it didn't.  Indeed, lots of post Reagan era information, like real world studies showing conclusively that tax cuts for the rich do not stimulate the economy, should have changed the conversation.  But no.  The conversation continued very much as it had before, with both Democrats and Republicans continuing to embrace many of the now-debunked philosophical foundations underlying false the discourse.

So what gives?

I'm not sure as to the actual whys and wherefores here, but it has become increasingly clear in recent years that the same kind of staunch belief the Soviets had in their style of ineffectual Marxism has found its fun house mirror version here in the West with the market utopians who came to dominate the Washington consensus.  That is, our ruling class, and their courtiers and propagandists, are basing all their economic decisions on their beliefs, whether those beliefs have any connection to how things work in the real world or not.  And their zealous fervor is just about as strong as anything found in the Soviet Union for the seven decades of its existence.  Stephen Colbert would call it "truthiness."  I call it self-destructive intentional ignorance.

Because, you know, once it became clear that their economic system couldn't sustain itself, the Soviets refused to adapt, and the USSR collapsed on itself as a result.  Something exactly like that is happening right now in the United States, and it would be much more than a coincidence if we end up suffering the same fate.


Friday, March 01, 2013



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