Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Chalk up another topic beset by political polarization: Evolution

From the Los Angeles Times courtesy of a facebook friend:

In 2009, a majority of Democrats and Republicans took the evolution side of the argument, with 64% of Democrats and 54% of Republicans agreeing. In the latest survey, Democratic belief in evolution was about the same, 67%, but Republican support had fallen to 43%. A 10-point gap between supporters of the two parties had grown to a 24-point gulf.

What’s most striking is that the growing partisan gap seems to reflect politics, itself, rather than other factors. While Republican ranks include a high percentage of evangelical Christians and Democrats attract many secular voters, those religious differences didn’t explain the gap between the two parties. Even when Pew researchers factored out race, ethnicity and a person’s level of religious commitment, partisan differences on evolution remained, they found.

More here.

Yet more evidence that American conservatism has now devolved into tribalism.  That is, if religious attitudes cannot be blamed for such a stark difference in acceptance of evolution, then it MUST be partisan, which, of course, makes absolutely no sense at all.  

The science has nothing to do with political ideology.  It's either real, or it isn't; politics don't come into play.  But that's what we have here with American conservatives.  Reality itself is up for grabs, and choosing the correct reality has become a litmus test for inclusion in their tribe.  A big huge chunk, a majority maybe, of people who self-identify as conservative are simply not rational.  Instead, they're making decisions about how the world works based on deep emotion and identity.  So deep, in fact, that they have, in their minds, separated themselves from the rest of the nation, seeing their tribe as unique and special, the only "real" Americans in America.

In short, if you want to hang with the right wing, it would behoove you to embrace evolution denial, which will open doors, put you on the fast track to success within the tribe, and mark you for sure as one of them.  I would say this is ironic, given the right's longstanding grievance against "identity politics," but conservatives don't do irony, so I'd be wasting my breath.

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Monday, December 30, 2013

NYTimes Investigation Brings Bad News For Benghazi Hoaxers

From Media Matters for America:

A six-part series by New York Times reporter David Kirkpatrick destroyed several myths about the September 11, 2012, attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, myths often propagated by conservative media and their allies in Congress to politicize the attack against the Obama administration.

Since the September 2012 attacks, right-wing media have seized upon various inaccurate, misleading, or just plain wrong talking points about Benghazi. Some of those talking points made their way into the mainstream, most notably onto CBS' 60 Minutes, earning the network the Media Matters' 2013 "Misinformer of the Year" title for its botched report.

Kirkpatrick's series, titled "A Deadly Mix In Benghazi," debunks a number of these right-wing talking points based on "months of investigation" and "extensive interviews" with those who had "direct knowledge of the attack." Among other points, Kirkpatrick deflates the claims that an anti-Islamic YouTube video played no role in motivating the attacks and that Al Qaeda was involved in the attack.

More here.

I'm pretty sure that pretty much all conservatives who care about the issue will simply say, "Well, oh, it's the New York Times, which is liberal. Move along. Nothing to see here," and go about believing whatever they want. As usual.  Of course, the NYT is not liberal. It's conservative, in fact, but let's not quibble.

At any rate, this is QUITE delicious!

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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Monday, December 23, 2013

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

I'm taking a few days off from blogging to enjoy the Yule, but I'll be back probably next Saturday.  In the meantime, merry Christmas!  And while we're at it, here's It's a Wonderful Life:



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Sunday, December 22, 2013

WHY I LEFT CONSERVATISM

From Business Insider:

We Saw 'Wolf Of Wall Street' With A Bunch Of Wall Street Dudes And It Was Disturbing

There's a lot of talk about how Wall Street has "changed" since the financial crisis. Compliance is up, bonuses are down, the holiday parties are boring.

But you wouldn't necessarily know that from what these guys were cheering at.

When Belfort — a drug addict who later attempts to remain sober — rips up a couch cushion to get to his secret coke stash, there were cheers.

Then, intercut with Popeye eating spinach, Belfort is irrevocably high on Quaaludes (or "ludes," a muscle relaxer) and dumps coke into his nose to remedy the situation — more cheers.

The worst, though, mild spoiler alert ... At one point later in the movie, the feds get Belfort to wear a wire to implicate others at his firm. Meeting with his No. 2, Belfort slides over a piece of paper: "Don't incriminate yourself. I am wearing a wire."

And the crowd goes wild. Don't rat! Stand by your firm!


More here.

This brings back to me what ended up being a pretty significant moment in my ideological transformation from conservative to liberal.  Back in 1988, I spent my summer break from college working at a stock brokerage firm in downtown Houston.  Full of Reagan, God, and capitalism, I thought, at first, that the whole thing was pretty cool.  By the end of the break, however, I was just grossed out by what I had experienced.

In short, I saw the heart of our economic system up close and personal, and all it did was make me feel dirty and sleazy.  

Individually, many of the brokers for whom I was working came off as pretty nice guys, family men just trying to make a living.  There were caricatures, of course, too, guys who were very likely high on coke all the time, guys who were arrogant a-holes lording over and cussing out anybody whose butt they weren't already kissing, but they seemed to be a minority.  So far, so good.  The problem, then, was that I eventually figured out that this minority actually embodied the overall values of the office.  The brokers all called each other "Gekko," the investor-villain in Oliver Stone's 1987 film Wall Street, with delight, admiration, and smiling faces; what decent people condemned these brokers clearly believed to be right and good.  They were the culture of Wall Street manifesting in my home town, and it didn't matter how nice any of these guys were on a one-to-one basis: collectively, they were the kind of people who would sell their own mothers if there was some money to be made.

No, seriously.  Scum of the earth.  Years later, when those tapes of Enron traders gloating about how they had shut down California's energy grid and made millions doing it came to light, it was absolutely no surprise to me.  That's what these people are.  Ruthless sleazy pieces of shit who couldn't care less if their ripping you off puts you into the street.  And some of them are very nice people.

My experience at Oppenheimer hadn't quite congealed in my mind by the next November, when I voted Republican in my first presidential election.  But by 1992, I was voting for Democrats, and I never looked back.  Indeed, as the 90s progressed, and the Democrats, too, began to kneel before the masters of Wall Street, it became clear to me that the so-called liberal party was just as much a part of the problem as the Republicans.  I continue to vote for Democrats from time to time to this day, but it's always like making a deal with the Devil for me.  The culture of Wall Street has stained our entire body politic.  Neither party is immune to its seduction and control.  And our nation is on the brink of ruin because of it.

And that's what this writer experienced while watching Wolf of Wall Street with actual Wall Street wolves.  The true face of what has sickened America.  Greed and contempt.  A black hole where the soul, compassion, and decency ought to reside.  It's kind of like watching WWII movies and rooting for Hitler.  But like I said about the Enron traders, this is in no way surprising to me.  I already know what capitalism is about.

What gets me is how many Americans have been duped over the years into believing that what these people do is somehow good.  They're all fools.  And they would hate themselves if they truly understood the evil they support.

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Friday, December 20, 2013

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING

Frankie (Overlooking Sammy)





















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

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Economic Opportunity Is Lowest In the Republican Bible Belt, Major Study Finds

From AlterNet:

In other words: virtually all of this nation’s class-rigidity still remains in the U.S. South, even after the Civil War. New Dixie has replaced the aristocracy’s black slaves of Old Dixie, by the local (white) aristocracy’s institutionalized bigotry against poor people, now of all ethnic groups. What used to be their purely racist bigotry has, it seems, devolved into a crushing, pervasive, classist, bigotry in the South.

And

It might also be worth noting that, even today, the purely racist tendency of the aristocracy is so great that it often is strong enough to outweigh their greed—discrimination is practiced even when it's unprofitable. So: the traditional leftist "explanation" for conservatism (that it's purely based on greed) is false. The understanding that leftists have of rightists is basically the mirror-image of the way Fox News characterizes leftists.

More here.

To me, of course, this comes as absolutely no surprise.  Conservative economics do nothing but run the economy into the ground.  Consequently, in states where conservatives have total control, the economy has been run into the ground.  And nowhere do they have more control than the South, America's third world nation within a nation.  Needless to say, this bolsters the connection I've been trying to make for many months now between modern conservatism and old fashioned racism.  While not directly connected in any sort of conscious ideological sense, they are, in the US, two sides of the same coin: there are masters, who do as they please, which is their God given right, and there are servants, who are to shut up, get in line, and do as they're told.  In some of the most important ways, the new aristocracy isn't too terribly different from the old one.

The South has risen again.  And it's coming to your town soon, if you're not living there already.  It seems to be our inevitable fate: neo-feudalism.

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

SO...WHAT DO YOU SAY TO A STAUNCH LIBERTARIAN?

I don't rightly know, but here's what I said to one on facebook earlier tonight:

Matthew, it is completely clear to me that you are so deeply enmeshed in libertarian "philosophy" that it would take hours on end to even get you acknowledge that I might have a point. So I'm not even going to try. Instead, I've got a couple of simple observations.

The mythology you're espousing has been very popular for the last thirty years or so, by and large, because it fit very neatly several cultural and economic cross currents occurring after the sixties. Alienated Southern whites, whose Democratic Party had recently embraced civil rights, were picked up by the GOP, who were pushing the "welfare queen" mythology in order to appeal to pre-existing racist sentiment. Within a very short span of time, government assistance went from popular to unpopular once the symbolic face of welfare became black instead of white--all those lazy black people taking my tax money so they can eat steak and pick up their government checks while driving Cadillacs.

At around the same time, shipping products around the globe became really cost effective, which allowed manufacturers to shut down operations in the US, and open up in third world nations to take advantage of super-cheap labor. This resulted in the first of NUMEROUS waves of layoffs, which devastated the American working class, and broke the labor unions' backs. Without the unions, and without good jobs that could provide a middle class standard of living, American workers were increasingly, and literally, totally on their own. Struggling to pay the bills, maxing out credit cards, doing anything they could to stay afloat, and with virtually no help from the "liberal" Democrats, many white working class voters across the nation embraced the GOP's politics of racial resentment, learning to hate the "welfare queen" just as white Southern voters were doing--these were the so-called "Reagan Democrats."

So it all reached a critical mass in the 90s. Republican anti-welfare, pro-deregulation, pro-corporate rhetoric became a massive onslaught, capturing the imagination of the ruling elite, that is, the press, DC insiders, and both political parties. Clinton, an economically conservative Democrat, then colluded with the new GOP majority in both houses to "end welfare as we know it," while at the same time unleashing Wall Street to do, well, whatever it wanted. So we lived the myth for approximately a decade or so, as Washington became the libertarian's friend. Only the tech bubble, and then the housing and credit bubbles disguised the fact that they were running the nation into the ground. But reality has a way of catching up, and the financial collapse of 2007, from which we have not at all recovered, essentially destroyed whatever "intellectual" foundation on which all this libertarian mythology was based.

That is, markets are NOT self-regulating, and the government must necessarily intervene in the economy in various ways in order for it to function. This is a fact. 2007 proved it. Unfortunately, there are a lot of dead-enders hanging around who still want to party like it's 1999, in spite of all the real-world evidence proving how wrong they've been the entire time.

But here's the deal. Your myths no longer capture the public imagination in the way they used to do. You tell people to go get a job, and all that's there is McDonald's. You tell people to be responsible for themselves and it's obviously impossible. And the rich just keep getting richer. People aren't idiots. The country is falling apart. There are no opportunities for enormous sectors of the population. "Go get a job" is just insulting now. And people know it. Whether you like it or not, libertarianism is on the way out. It's a joke "philosophy" that never worked in the real world, and has brought our once prosperous nation to the brink of ruin.

It may not happen until I'm an old man, but your point of view WILL be swept into the dustbin of history. People don't believe the earth is flat anymore, either.
Excelsior!

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

MY PERSONAL "WAR ON CHRISTMAS" DILEMMA

From HuffPo:

Punched For Saying 'Happy Holidays'

The so-called "War On Christmas" is getting out of hand, as Salvation Army bell-ringer Kristina Vindiola found out recently in Phoenix, Ariz. She wished a woman "Happy Holidays" as she stood outside Wal-Mart collecting funds for the charity. The stranger responded, "Do you believe in God? You're supposed to say Merry Christmas," and punched her in the arm, reported ABC 15.

More here, with video.

Just bear with me for a moment; I'll come to the point quickly enough.

I love the American flag.  Indeed, I love America.  But in that short span between 9/11 and the US invasion of Iraq I found myself facing a dilemma.  I don't know if this was actually the case, but all those American flags flying VIRTUALLY EVERYWHERE for months and months, on cars, in yards, at businesses, on suit coat lapels, as television bumper graphics, just everywhere, struck me as being far more about getting revenge for the terrorist attacks than about loving America.  I mean, if you asked anyone at the time why they were flying the flag so often, he or she was very likely to say it was for love of country.  But it was almost impossible for me to take it out of context: our national pride had been deeply wounded, and someone, lots of someones, actually, were going to PAY.  And pay they did.  They're still paying, in fact.

Here was my dilemma.  Even though the omnipresent overflowing of stars and stripes was quite cool in its own way, reminding me, even, of the 1976 bicentennial celebration of my childhood and other good vibes, it was clear to me that this was about supporting wars I strongly opposed.  And it kind of pissed me off that the symbol I love had been culturally twisted to mean something it does not mean--freedom and democracy, needless to say, are not the same thing as blood and revenge.  My country had gone crazy, it seemed to me, re-branding itself as a nation of warriors hellbent on killing Muslims, any Muslims, because a very few Muslims had killed some Americans.

Sadly, I never resolved this dilemma.  I just had to suck it.  Insanity, grief, and national emasculation had stolen my treasured symbols of citizenship, making them mean their near opposite.  Very fortunately, however, this ended up being a temporary state of affairs.  As our revenge-fueled imperialistic wars on Muslim nations faltered and began to drag on and on, the flag-waving hysteria began to subside, and, finally, disappeared altogether.  I could once again love the flag without worrying about how doing so might be misinterpreted.

So what the hell does this have to do with the fictional "War on Christmas"?  Quite a bit, actually.  I love Christmas, and I love saying "merry Christmas."  But as this stupid "war" has dragged on and on over the years, it has become impossible for me to speak the phrase without thinking that, for a certain segment of the American population, I am somehow fighting in that "war" on their side.  But there ARE no sides because there is no "war"!  I mean, if I'm on a side at all, it's the side that says this is f'ing stupid.  There's no freaking war on Christmas, and, for that matter, you can say whatever the hell you want, "happy holidays," "happy Chanukah," "season's greetings," whatever.  It doesn't matter.  No "war," and freedom of speech.  Just enjoy Christmas however the hell you want.

It just pisses me off that I can't say or hear "merry Christmas" without feeling like I'm caught up in forces beyond my control, or like the phrase now means something totally counter to what I've always thought it meant.  Because, really, for these "War on Christmas" people, "merry Christmas" is now an angry call to arms, not a celebration of peace on earth and good will toward men.  It's almost exactly like my dilemma with the flag in the early 2000s.  Angry, ill informed, totally misguided Americans are doing their damnedest to redefine something I love.  I hate it.

Hopefully, as with the bloodthirsty flag-waving of a decade ago, this, too, shall pass, and I'll have Christmas back the way it was before.  But right now, unfortunately, such a cease-fire in the "War on Christmas" doesn't seem likely.  Not as long as Fox News believes it's good for ratings.

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Monday, December 16, 2013

WHAT I DID ON MY THEATER HIATUS

From the Houston Press:

Second Week of Museum of Dysfunction VI Features 
Comedy, Romance and a Handshake That Never Ends

"Carpe Diem" is Latin for "Seize the Day", which could be the motif of Mildred's Umbrella Theatre Company, as it produces 20 short plays, each one to appear for just three evenings. These have been selected from more than 200 submissions, and divided into two separate evenings of ten plays each; the second set is now playing. The Wordsmyth Theatre Company assisted in the production. 

And

The most sophisticated play is Epiphany by David MacGregor, as Ronald Reeder and Jennifer Decker portray a comfortably married couple, urbane and at ease - l'm sure they do the NY Times crossword puzzle in ink. The actors self-directed, and created an interesting vignette of a mid-life non-crisis, with a witty, revelatory twist at the end. 

More here.

So, while it's a positive review, that is, one that said good things about me and the show overall, it's actually kind of a lousy review, in that it's yet another guy who doesn't really seem to know what a theater critic is supposed to do.  Or what makes theater good or bad, for that matter.  I do miss living in Austin, reading their alt tabloid weekly, the Austin Chronicle, which generally always did a nice job of hiring people with theater degrees to do their stuff.

Aaahh, I should stop my bitching--lame critics are apparently always going to be around.  Jennifer and I got some VERY good notice on this, and the scene was, in fact, really good, even if I do say so myself.  So, just like that, I'm on stage again, after four years, and doing well.  It's good to be back in the saddle.  And there's definitely more to come when I move to Houston next month.

I'm excited for the first time in a long while.  Actually, a lot of it has to do with Jennifer.



















Photo by Gentle Bear Photography
Ronald Reeder and Jennifer Decker as an urbane mid-life couple in 

Museum of Dysfunction VI from Mildred's Umbrella Theatre Company

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

HIATUS FOR MY STUNNING RETURN TO THE STAGE

Well, it's just an eight minute scene with my girlfriend Jennifer for her theater company's annual showcase of very short plays, but it is significant in that I haven't been on stage since 2009 or so.  But I'm going to lay off the blogging until I get back on Monday.

If you're interested, and in Houston, here's some info on the show.

Tell me to "break a leg"!

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Be sensible, Gov. Jindal, take the Medicaid money

From a New Orleans Times-Picayune editorial:

Gov. Bobby Jindal's decision to reject the expansion of Medicaid looks worse and worse. A new study by the Commonwealth Fund shows that Louisiana will lose out on $1.65 billion in federal dollars in 2022 alone. The federal government will be paying 90 percent of the cost of the Medicaid expansion that year. If the state agreed to the expansion, its share for the year would be $280 million.

The governor has said that Louisiana can't afford even that much. But the co-pay for Medicaid is a small fraction of the $2.2 billion Louisiana is projected to spend on incentives to attract private business in 2022, according the study.

More here.

Our governor's bogus explanations for rejecting the Medicaid expansion just don't add up: Louisiana has the money to do this, and it's chump change compared to the billions Jindal's government lavishes on private business--whatever happened to the "free market," anyway? No, this isn't about economics. It's about the man who named himself after a Brady Bunch character appealing to Tea Party sadists across the nation for when he finally gets around to running for President in the 2016 GOP primaries.

Yeah, that's right: Bobby Jindal is totally willing to kill poor Louisianans, to let them die because they don't have health care, in order to look more conservative to crazy right-wingers who don't even live here. That is, the guy's never been serious about being the governor. Baton Rouge has always been nothing but a stepping stone to greater glory, a carefully staged performance for the far-right voters he really wants to represent.

He's one sick, evil, narcissistic, twisted dude. Not only is he an embarrassment to the state, but he also makes his and my entire generation look bad, which is no small feat given how lame Gen X has turned out to be. Bobby Jindal totally sucks ass.


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Monday, December 09, 2013

DIRTY FILTHY HIPPIES HATE WALMART

From UpWorthy via a facebook friend:

A Walmart-Friendly PR Firm Creates An Ad 
So Full Of Propaganda It's Actually Hilarious

Now comes this interesting "ad" that hides behind the group name "Worker Center Watch." And, according to The Nation, the website in the ad ... wait for it ... is owned by the former head lobbyist for Walmart itself, Joseph Kefauver. So, like the ad says, don't worry about people trying to improve their lot in life. Just go buy stuff to feel better.

Click here to watch the video.

Oh, this cracks me up! Apparently, we shouldn't pay any attention to anti-Walmart protesters because they're dirty filthy hippies who get drunk and eat pizza for breakfast. Well, I guess that line of reasoning worked back in the 60s. But really, this could only be more clich├ęd if they dismissed the fair wage movement by telling us it's an African-American conspiracy to take away our white money. Actually, that one's still effective even today. Maybe Walmart should play the race card. What have they got to lose?

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Saturday, December 07, 2013

DANGEROUS WORK

From the Houston Chronicle via a friend on facebook:

Man pushing disabled vehicle dies after getting hit by car

A man died Thursday night when another driver hit him as he was pushing his disabled car along a road in east Harris County.

Arlin Keith Gulley was killed in the incident, which occurred about 6 p.m. on Miller Road No. 2 at Miller Road No. 1, according to the Harris County Sheriff's Office.

More here.

Arlin was there my first week teaching.  He was a sophomore in my public speaking class.  A sort of rebel and non-conformist, I liked and respected him immediately.  And he liked and respected me, coming back the next year to take my theater arts one class.  Of course, being a bit like James Dean when you're in high school isn't easy.  That first year his mother made me late for the Bauhaus concert because she kept me after open house, in tears, and at her wit's end about her son's behavior.  I wasn't sure what to say to her.  Arlin was always extraordinarily well behaved in my class.  I told her that she shouldn't worry about the long term: her son was obviously a good person, and highly intelligent, and he would do well with his life.

All that was over a decade ago, and, as teachers and students so often do, Arlin and I lost touch with each other after he graduated.  But I never forgot him.  We were kindred spirits, he and I, with a shared disdain for conventional norms, and a love for music and social criticism.  I am saddened tonight to hear about his passing.  The question I've asked myself everytime one of my students has died over the years, a question to which I will never have an answer, popped once again into my head: why do I get to live so much longer than these young people who have touched my life?  It isn't right.  The Arlin I remember was so full of life, and he made my life better for having known him.

This is why teaching is such dangerous work when you're doing it correctly.  While society freaks out about standardized tests, bad unions, and "failing schools," teachers, if they're any good at all, continue doing what they've always done, reaching out and forging relationships with the kids who pass through their classrooms year after year, and all relationships necessarily come with risk.  Of course, with risk comes reward.

I was privileged and honored to have taught Arlin Gulley.  I affected his life, for the better, I think, just as he affected mine.  He will not be forgotten.

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Friday, December 06, 2013

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING

Sammy





















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

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Obama Gets Real

New Krugman:

First, about those truths: Mr. Obama laid out a disturbing — and, unfortunately, all too accurate — vision of an America losing touch with its own ideals, an erstwhile land of opportunity becoming a class-ridden society. Not only do we have an ever-growing gap between a wealthy minority and the rest of the nation; we also, he declared, have declining mobility, as it becomes harder and harder for the poor and even the middle class to move up the economic ladder. And he linked rising inequality with falling mobility, asserting that Horatio Alger stories are becoming rare precisely because the rich and the rest are now so far apart. 

This isn’t entirely new terrain for Mr. Obama. What struck me about this speech, however, was what he had to say about the sources of rising inequality. Much of our political and pundit class remains devoted to the notion that rising inequality, to the extent that it’s an issue at all, is all about workers lacking the right skills and education. But the president now seems to accept progressive arguments that education is at best one of a number of concerns, that America’s growing class inequality largely reflects political choices, like the failure to raise the minimum wage along with inflation and productivity. 

And because the president was willing to assign much of the blame for rising inequality to bad policy, he was also more forthcoming than in the past about ways to change the nation’s trajectory, including a rise in the minimum wage, restoring labor’s bargaining power, and strengthening, not weakening, the safety net.

More here.

We've heard this refrain before.  I mean sure, Krugman's got a point: Obama's liberal rhetoric was much more specific in this speech than the usual vague good-vibe platitudes he's offered us over the years.  So I guess that's enough for a little hope, at least.  But I've done a really good job over the years of avoiding playing Charlie Brown to Obama's Lucy holding the football.  I've never thought of the guy as a liberal, and his entire administration thus far has proven me right about that, which means I've never had to deal with the angst and confusion suffered by other liberals who thought of him as our progressive savior.  You can't be disappointed when you get what you expected to get.

Well, okay, I have to admit that the NSA surveillance stuff has disappointed me.  Being a neoliberal and having Orwellian fascist tendencies just aren't the same thing.  So that all took me by surprise.

But really, what I'd like to see is for Obama to put his money where his mouth is.  What's he going to DO?  Nice words are good and fine, but I don't give a crap about what politicians promise me anymore.  I want deeds.  Action.  Obama thinks we need stronger labor unions?  How are you going to get that, Mr. President?  You want us to have a higher minimum wage?  Who are you going to harass and intimidate in order to get the legislation passed?  You want an end to Horatio Alger mythology so we can all deal with the reality?  Are you planning on hitting the bully pulpit with this EVERY NIGHT OF THE YEAR?

So it's very nice for the President to use some language from the left.  Yes, very nice.  But it's meaningless to me until I see some presidential behavior befitting someone from the left.  Until then, it's all just a bunch of words.  And talk is cheap.

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Thursday, December 05, 2013

Runaway Capitalism Murders Another Artist

From TruthDig:

“On the one hand, government lavishes unprecedented economic and social privileges on its elites, taking an axe to programs benefiting those who fall behind. At the same time, the distinction between high and low artistic culture having been erased, the result has been a single standard for qualitative judgments derived from the commercial marketplace.”

It’s hard not to avoid making a connection, Halle writes. “[T]he decline of musical literacy and the large-scale forms which they make possible, the increasing demand for immediately catchy tunes, striking sonorities and flamboyant stage presentations pairs with the impatience of the elites classes” in “the demand for investments to show an immediate short-turn return. Elites have long since jettisoned the expectation for steady growth embodied in the now retired Goldman-Sachs slogan, ‘long-term greedy,’ having come to accept and even embrace … ‘the erosion of the planning function, and any rationality beyond the most crudely instrumental.’ ”

In the present era, austerity is taken as the panacea for both the economy and the arts. “The solution to a supposed ‘culture of poverty,’ ” Halle writes, “consists of work requirements and benefit reductions to break the ‘cycle of dependency’ and promote ‘self-reliance.’ The longstanding crisis in classical music is treated by the imposition of market discipline requiring institutions to devise ‘working business models.’ This means in practice supporting themselves predominantly by ticket sales, something which virtually no major orchestra or opera company in history has done successfully and which would require jettisoning most of the defining virtues of the medium.”


More here.

I've spent a lot of time over the years wondering how it was that, even though I grew up in a Republican and Southern Baptist home in a well-to-do Texas suburb, I ended up as a far-left bleeding heart liberal.  Of course, everyone's lives are rich tapestries, but this one might be the straw that broke the camel's back for me, ideologically speaking.  That is, while I was studying theater as an undergrad, I had a dawning realization that my understanding at that time of the way the world works rendered valueless that which I loved, and love, more than anything else in the world, the arts.  From then on, my days as a conservative were numbered.

Neoliberalism, trickle-down, Reaganomics, supply-side economics, free market fundamentalism, conservative economics, whatever you want to call it, is awful for all sorts of reasons, but possibly the worst of them is that what is pushed ostensibly as being about money, taxation, business, the economy, and so on, is, in fact, a philosophy of life in disguise.  It's a very simple philosophy, and embraced by not only our ruling establishment, but also millions of rank-and-file citizens: value is assigned only to that which can be bought and sold--conversely, if something cannot be bought or sold, then it has no value.

Personally, I think the horrific and self-destructive nature of such a philosophy is self-evident.  But we're so far gone as a people in our embrace of this concept that you may not see it like I do.  So think of it this way.  If Mozart cannot fill the seats in an auditorium, while making a profit, then Mozart has no value, at least, none that the establishment, which lives by this philosophy, is willing to take seriously.  Really?  Mozart has no value?  If you honestly think that, then you're a fool.  You discard your own humanity and the humanity of every person you know.  You have more in common with sheep, pigs, and cattle than you do with the human race.  But this is how our society behaves.  Or think of it this way.  Jesus told the rich man to sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor.  And now we have this filthy and heretical "prosperity gospel."  There are no more sacred spaces.  All that's left is dollars and cents.  We might as well bathe in the sewers, we so devalue ourselves as a people.

As writer Chris Hedges has asserted, commerce cannot be society's sole concern.  But I think I prefer how the character John Keating put it in Dead Poets Society: "We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for."

If we don't change course right now, if we don't reject this disgusting philosophy that reduces all things to their dollar value, there's just no point in continuing.  Because we're not animals, not robots, not things.  We have a right to live as human beings.

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Wednesday, December 04, 2013

SCREW THE RETIREES

From the Washington Post:

Judge declares Detroit eligible for Chapter 9 bankruptcy

Orr will be able to consider pension cuts as part of his final proposal, Rhodes ruled. But Rhodes said he would only allow the cuts if the final reorganization is fair, the Detroit Free Press reported. Unions protested that bankruptcy would threaten the pensions of retirees and current employees.

At a news conference, Orr said selling the city’s art collection was still an option. He said pension cuts would be necessary to emerge from bankruptcy, but that he would work to mitigate the impact.

“We’re trying to be very thoughtful, measured and humane,” Orr said.

An attorney for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Sharon Levine, told the Associated Press after the ruling that the union would appeal the decision to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.

More here.

I posted this one on facebook earlier today with this comment:

Detroit public employee pensioners: work hard all your life, do all everything right, and still get screwed in the end. Because, you know, we've got to pay the banks first--they always get their thirty pounds of silver flesh. How can anyone in all seriousness push this "American Dream" crap anymore? A myth for chumps and idiots.
I got a few supportive comments in response at first, but while I was at work the conservative anti-union and "Democratic irresponsibility" brigade showed up to tell me how it's all the liberals' fault.  So, of course, I responded.
Okay, here's the deal. Regardless of any perceived corruption or bumbling local Democrats, there's not a damned thing ANYBODY in Detroit could have done once international shipping started to be cost-effective back in the 70s to stop the auto plants from leaving. Because that's what got Detroit into this mess. The auto industry made it a major city, but once the auto industry decided it could get cheaper labor elsewhere, Detroit, and its people, were discarded like a bunch of soiled condoms in an alley.

So that's what this is about. A destroyed economic base preceding a steady decline in population, which was probably the inevitable result. Another inevitable result: an ever declining tax base, which is ultimately why Detroit is in financial crisis. But nobody in city government could have known this back in the day when these contracts were being signed: the auto industry wasn't exactly up front with how far they were going with layoffs and plant closings. For that matter, it's not like retirement benefits are some kind of weird socialist form of compensation. This is money these people EARNED. Furthermore, cities need workers and services; otherwise, anarchy results. They HAD to employ these workers, and they had to give them a fair wage. So I'm just not seeing any irresponsibility on the part of the city with this.

All I'm seeing is what Marx called capitalism's "creative destruction" in play. The auto industry screwed the city it built, and then left the people on their own, which created an economic downward spiral from which there can be no recovery without massive federal aid. In short, this is a problem caused by capitalism. Not the unions. Not the Democrats. Certainly not the people of Detroit. They're victims, without a doubt.

So, instead of finding ways to stop the shafting this city has taken for decades, non-elected Republican appointed emergency city management has decided to up the ante. Instead of telling the banks to go to hell, which, for them, is quite comfortable, they're screwing the city's pensioners, an act of over-the-top cruelty and immorality.

This is no surprise coming from the GOP, which delights in the inflicting of suffering on the working class.
Excelsior!

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Monday, December 02, 2013

New Low: Only 6% of Americans Approve of Congress

From AlterNet:

The American people like car salespeople better than Congress. A new Economist/YouGov.com poll shows that six percent of people approve of Congress. 

A bit more here.

We hear stories like this all the time, that everybody hates Congress, that Washington is broken or dysfunctional, and, of course, all this is completely true.  On the other hand, it's true only if our assumptions about how our government is supposed to function are true, assumptions about how we have what political scientists call a "democratic republic," one which represents the collective will of citizens.  But I don't think those assumptions are true anymore, so I don't really think it's accurate to say our government is broken or dysfunctional.  

Actually, it's been a long time since things have functioned the way we're taught in high school government class.  Clearly, the US is still a republic, but the representatives do NOT represent the will of voters.  Sure, voters continue to play a role.  They're wooed delicately and forcefully every two or six years by extraordinarily expensive advertising campaigns aimed at promoting the preferred product brand, Republican or Democrat.  But that's about the only role that voters play.  They vote, and that's it.  Otherwise, our representatives represent the people who pay for those extraordinarily expensive ad campaigns, corporations, the fabulously wealthy, and their front groups.

Washington is only broken if you think Congress should do what voters want--if you're cool with rule-by-wealth, however, our capitol is functioning exactly as intended.  But whether it's broken or not is irrelevant in the end: this is how the capitol functions now.  The fact that what amounts to a statistical margin-of-error is all that approves of Congress' performance is just another piece of evidence that our noble experiment in democracy is OVER.  Congress no longer belongs to us.

No wonder we all hate it.

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