Thursday, July 31, 2014

Contradicting earlier claims, CIA admits it improperly accessed Senate computers

From McClatchy courtesy of Eschaton:

Feinstein called Brennan’s apology and his decision to submit the CIA IG findings to the accountability board “positive first steps.”

“This IG report corrects the record and it is my understanding that a declassified report will be made available to the public shortly,” she said in a statement.

“The investigation confirmed what I said on the Senate floor in March _ CIA personnel inappropriately searched Senate Intelligence Committee computers in violation of an agreement we had reached, and I believe in violation of the constitutional separation of powers,” she said.

More here.

This is an extreme cautionary tale.  Because it's not over yet.  It will never be over.  Ever.  As long as we have government intelligence agencies operating in over-the-top secrecy, we will have to worry about this shit.  And we're fools to give them more power and more secrecy just because we're afraid of the terrorists, or the Russians, or whoever the enemy du jour happens to be: we must be ever vigilant with this kind of agency because they will ALWAYS end up abusing the power we give them.

I'm not at all saying we shouldn't have agencies like the NSA or the CIA.  On the contrary, we need them.  But we shouldn't be naive about what they are and how they operate.  I mean, this CIA thing is a SERIOUS violation of the Constitution, in a very real and non-abstract way.  It was essentially the President using his own branch's power to spy on and intimidate Congress.  And then they lied about it when they were caught.  That's pretty f'd up.  It's downright stupid not to assume the NSA may very well be doing something similar--we already know, after all, that the NSA has been passing around intimate emails between deployed US service personnel and their spouses back home, also pretty f'd up; I mean, not quite the same constitutional crisis as the CIA/Congress thing, but still pretty f'd up.

A lot of Americans, who got their civics lessons from WWII movies, like to think of Snowden and Manning as traitors, or something along those lines, because everybody "knows," no doubt from watching movies, that you don't tell government secrets, or "the enemy" will mess up your delicate operations.  The reality, of course, is that the vast majority of government secrets exist because the government doesn't want citizens to know how they're breaking the law or doing other stuff they know Americans won't like.  It's not all about the "secret plans," not all about stopping the Germans from breaking the code.  I mean, some of it is, but most of it's not.

So Snowden and Manning are heroes.  There can be no doubt about this.  Both of them understand what's on the line here, police state versus free state.  They blew the whistle, and then were trashed by "patriots" who think we're all in a big war movie.  As usual, reality is much more complicated and nuanced than Hollywood fiction.  Sometimes the truly patriotic thing to do is to violate your oath for the greater good.  And anyone who denies that is a big idiot.


Read more here:

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Thousands of Israelis protest the Gaza war in Tel-Aviv

From the website for the Communist Party of Israel:

Some 7,000 Israelis on Saturday evening protested the war in Gaza under the banner: “No more deaths – Israeli-Palestinian peace, now.” The protest took place in Rabin Square in central Tel Aviv. Slogans chanted by the protesters included “Stop the war,” “Bring the soldiers back home” and “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.”


Ben Kfir of the Parents’ Circle, whose daughter was killed in a Hamas suicide bombing in 2003, also spoke, refuting the government’s claim that there is no partner for peace among the Palestinians. The speakers criticized the government for its attitude toward peace negotiations, and for resorting to war as a default policy. Demonstrators called for an end to the occupation and the siege on Gaza, and lit candles to commemorate the victims.

More here.

Say what you want about the Communists.  A lot of the time they get it absolutely right.  It's also a testament to how far gone the Israeli public discourse on Palestine has become: apparently only about ten percent of Israel's population opposes the mass killing of women and children in Gaza, which makes the Communists one of the few groups with enough balls to get out in the streets and proclaim the truth, even in the face of Israeli-on-Israeli violence and extraordinarily harsh criticism.  

Ironically, this highlights one of the reasons I continue to love Israel.  They're very much like we are.  I am reminded of the overwhelming popularity here in the United States of our invasion of Iraq.  And I am reminded of the few brave Americans who were willing to stand against the herd and speak the truth about what an awful idea the war was going to be.  Iraq, needless to say, ended up being one of the biggest disasters in American history.  The peaceniks were right.  And the Israeli peaceniks are right, too: continually repaying Hamas' relatively low-scale terrorist attacks with wanton carnage and destruction of a population which, by and large, is innocent will do nothing but come back to bite Israel on the ass.

Anyway, go commies!


Tuesday, July 29, 2014


Once again.  It's actually a great class, and I feel like I've got a new approach to verse that will serve me, and my eventual students, quite well.  I posted the text of my speech last week.  Tonight, I give you some Patrick Stewart doing most of the speech, followed by a little David Tenet as Hamlet himself.  Yes, it's Captain Picard versus the Doctor.  Very cool, indeed.


Monday, July 28, 2014

8 Religious People Who Were Not Oppressors

From AlterNet:

It isn’t hard to understand why Americans who identify as atheists or agnostics can have a negative view of organized religion. From Family Research Council head Tony Perkins’ nonstop  battle against healthcare reform to the Texas Republican Party recently endorsing bogus, unscientific  “reparative therapy” for gays, the Christian Right continues to do everything possible to make life worse in the United States. Yet organized religion—be it Christianity, Judaism, Islam or Hinduism—can also be a force for positive change in the world. And as journalist Chris Hedges (who views true Christianity as a left-wing doctrine) has said, a lot more people of faith need to step up to the plate and fight for progressive causes. Hedges has asserted that the  moral failure of most modern-day churches is their refusal to help those who are economically oppressed. 

More here.

I posted this link on facebook last night with this accompanying blurb:

Setting aside discussion with atheists about how the embrace of supernaturalism may or may not be harmful to society, I've really come to believe that it's not religion, in itself, that's the problem. Rather, it's specific religious individuals, and how they use religion, that's the problem.

I mean, obviously, religion can do some pretty great things for humanity.
Of course, the atheists eventually came out to play.  Here are a couple of my responses in comments.  You can kind of dope out what it is I'm responding to from context.  The first is directed toward my buddy Jay, who offered the notion that atheism is superior to religion:
Actually, atheism doesn't offer what religion offers: community, a sense of being a part of something greater than oneself, a place in the cosmic narrative, personal meaning, connection to the deep human spirit, and on and on. I mean, if you're an atheist you can conceivably come up with all that stuff by yourself somehow, but most people, I think, aren't really up to the task of doing it outside a community. So, until atheism is able to offer the goods that religion offers, it's just not going to be a widely accepted point of view.

But that's all beside the point. Religion need not be divisive. It is entirely possible to feel like you've got the truth of human existence, whatever you want to call it, without lording it over others with whom you disagree. I mean, I know LOTS of religious people who don't think they're superior to me or anything like that. Some of them might pray for my soul because of their embrace of the Galactic Santa's List or whatever, but they don't treat me like they're better than me.

Like I say in the original post above, it's how people use religion that's the problem. Hitting people over the head with it isn't cool.
The next one is in response to my buddy Bryce, who took issue with my analysis of the comparison:
You keep saying how all these things are possible without religion, and about that you're absolutely right. But I see no evidence at all that atheists actually do these things--I mean, sure, individuals do all sorts of things by themselves. I see no atheist groups forging actual real life communities in the way churches do. I see no atheist groups offering anything substantial in terms of "the meaning of life." And on and on.

Really, the problem with atheism, that is, as a competitor to religion, is that atheism is about being against something, not for something. Okay, sure, lots of religion is against stuff, too, but generally something all religion shares is that it is in favor of stuff.

But really, I don't think it's reasonable to compare religion and atheism AT ALL. I was only responding to Jay, who was the first on this thread to pit atheism against religion as a sort of choice between competing life philosophies. But atheism isn't a life philosophy. It's a rejection of God and the supernatural, and for darned good reasons--there is no physical evidence of God or the supernatural.

All I'm saying is that there are some really good reasons people embrace religion or religious ideas: there is a great deal of emotional satisfaction which can come from doing so, in multiple spheres of human existence. And, I think, until atheists are able to address the fact that religion, which may very well be scientifically invalid, offers real and concrete benefits to the people who practice it, we will continue to be a world full of believers.

That is, atheists will never really manage to increase their numbers in a meaningful way until they recognize and provide for the stuff that draws people to religion in the first place.

You know, it is interesting to note that atheism is much more common in Western Europe, where communities are more tightly knit, where democracy is more fully realized, and where the safety net is far stronger. That is, Europeans have much stronger societies than we do here in the United States; the way they've socially structured their nations makes religion, as a social institution, somewhat redundant. Thus, far lower numbers of believers.

Adding, it's not enough for atheists to say that these things are possible without religion. The reality is that most people have difficulty coming up with the meaning of life all by themselves. Humans are, after all, creatures of the herd.


Sunday, July 27, 2014


My comment on a facebook thread for this essay, posted by a former student of mine:

Personally, I don't think it's "making waves" as much as it's being rocks upon which those waves crash. That is, no, you're not going to change anybody's mind in a single conversation. But you do let them know that the universe isn't as pat as they go through life thinking it is. You make it a bit more difficult to maintain attitudes and ideas which are only sustainable within the bubble echo chamber of the conservative Christian world. Ideally, such spanners in the works add up over the years, and open up the path to reconsidering ideas which seem impossible at first glance.

How have your views evolved over the years in terms of multiple conversations with multiple people? I've really come to believe that the Saul-to-Paul style of ideological conversion is pretty rare, and, really, not to be trusted generally. I mean, who just drops the ideas in which we invest our identities so suddenly? You know, excluding Paul. For me, it has to be a long game. I'm not going to change people quickly or by myself. I have to hope that my efforts are in tandem with others' efforts, people I don't even know. So my sense is that I'm just trying to contribute to an ongoing process aimed at moving society in a better direction.

That takes off a lot of the pressure, a lot of the feeling that so much is on the line with any particular discussion. It's just some conversations I'm having. No big deal. No need for anyone to get hot under the collar or anything like that. And that's a really good thing because we're talking about ideas that people take really personally, that are a part of people's very sense of self. It's much better to be casual.

But I hear you. Discussing the great and important ideas with people who passionately disagree can be exhausting.
'Nuff said.


Saturday, July 26, 2014


Two of my facebook features exported to Real Art.


Friday, July 25, 2014


Winkie in the Wink Cave

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


Thursday, July 24, 2014


What's the most evil industry? Oil? Wall Street? Big Pharma? Tobacco? Guns? Hollywood? Nobody ever says advertising. More and more I'm coming to see Madison Avenue as the Devil himself.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014


From Right Wing Watch:

Flip Benham’s group Operation Save America disrupted the services of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans on Sunday while the congregation was honoring a member who had died. The organization framed their action as simply an effort to “present the truth of the Gospel in this synagogue of Satan” as part of their efforts “to defeat the culture of death.”


On the day of the protest, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu issued a certificate of recognition to Flip Benham and Operation Save America.

More here.

Textbook example of why we must have a wall of separation between church and state. The strong will dominate the weak. And the government. And then everybody. I mean, this is like something out of the lead up to the English Civil War, which is, of course, what was influencing the thinking of our founding fathers when they drafted the first amendment. Creepy stuff. And it's a damned shame so many Americans just don't know any better.

Also, Mitch Landrieu is a trashy and pandering p.o.s.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014


I'm taking an acting for Shakespeare class, which meets on Tuesdays, so nothing tonight.  Well, okay, I'll post the speech I'm working on.  It's Claudius, from Hamlet, act III, scene iii.  Good stuff.

O, my offence is rank it smells to heaven;
It hath the primal eldest curse upon't,
A brother's murder. Pray can I not,
Though inclination be as sharp as will:
My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent;
And, like a man to double business bound,
I stand in pause where I shall first begin,
And both neglect. What if this cursed hand
Were thicker than itself with brother's blood,
Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens
To wash it white as snow? Whereto serves mercy
But to confront the visage of offence?
And what's in prayer but this two-fold force,
To be forestalled ere we come to fall,
Or pardon'd being down? Then I'll look up;
My fault is past. But, O, what form of prayer
Can serve my turn? 'Forgive me my foul murder'?
That cannot be; since I am still possess'd
Of those effects for which I did the murder,
My crown, mine own ambition and my queen.
May one be pardon'd and retain the offence?
In the corrupted currents of this world
Offence's gilded hand may shove by justice,
And oft 'tis seen the wicked prize itself
Buys out the law: but 'tis not so above;
There is no shuffling, there the action lies
In his true nature; and we ourselves compell'd,
Even to the teeth and forehead of our faults,
To give in evidence. What then? what rests?
Try what repentance can: what can it not?
Yet what can it when one can not repent?
O wretched state! O bosom black as death!
O limed soul, that, struggling to be free,
Art more engaged! Help, angels! Make assay!
Bow, stubborn knees; and, heart with strings of steel,
Be soft as sinews of the newborn babe!
All may be well.

God, I love Shakespeare.


Monday, July 21, 2014

Let's talk about race-baiting

An op-ed piece from the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

Some readers responding to my work - particularly the "That's Not Racism" feature - like to call me racist. Some like to call me a race-baiter. I've begun wondering if people who routinely write in opposition to racism are the only ones who get accused of embodying the behavior they despise.

More here.

A buddy of mine sent me that link on facebook and asked me what I thought.  Here's my response:

Okay, I read the essay. IMHO, "race baiting" DEFINITELY exists, and it's almost always coming from the racist right. On the other hand, we definitely have stuff like the New Black Panthers, or Al Sharpton's famous championing of that black teenager who, it turned out, was not raped by the NYPD. But liberal race-baiting is, I think, in contrast pretty rare to what we get from the right.

The really big problem, as I see it, is that we as a nation have done a pretty good job of eliminating, or at least making culturally shameful, straight-up, individual to individual, "I hate black people" racism. You know, Simon Legree stuff, crazed skinhead Norton KKK, Snidely Whiplash mustache twirling kind of stuff. Everybody knows they're supposed to despise that, so such black and white racist stereotypes are either underground or spit on. Needless to say, there's a whole lot more to racism than that. There's institutional stuff, which is huge, but there is also the perpetuation of harmful stereotypes in the media, and so on.
Many  conservatives assert the notion that white versus black racism no longer exists, and that's primarily because, I think, conservatives recognize only the Simon Legree kind of racism I mentioned above. Of course, that leaves them free to support racism otherwise, and so, to them, it's not really being racist because there's no one wearing a hood. Consequently, anytime anybody talks about the persistence of racism, or calls out right wing support for racism, or their ideas being infused with racist notions, it's total liberal bullshit, a rhetorical scold with which the left disciplines and shames the right.

Really, it's a pretty neat cognitive trick they've got going for themselves. Redefine racism such that they're not racists, and any talk of their racism is totally out of line.

It's REALLY difficult to talk to these people about race because they immediately stiffen up and go into fight mode.
'Nuff said.


Sunday, July 20, 2014


"We don't have a solution, and you will continue living like dogs, and whoever wants will go, and we will see how this procedure will work out. For now, it works out. Let's say the truth. We want peace. If there is no peace, we will maintain military rule and we will have four to five military compounds on the mountains, and they will sit ten years under the Israeli military regime."

-Moshe Dyan (c. 1967)

"The Palestinian Health Ministry said that at least 271 Gaza residents have died and more than 2,000 have been injured in the territory since Israel began its military campaign against Hamas last week. At least 24 of the deaths occurred since the ground offensive started late Thursday, the ministry said.

Most of the casualties have been civilians, according to the United Nations.

The IDF said early Friday that one Israeli soldier was killed overnight in northern Gaza, the second Israeli fatality of the conflict."

-from this recent CNN article

When a terrorist group is launching missiles and mortar shells into your nation, it's a legitimate security issue. I don't think anybody with half a brain could blame Israel for being concerned about this, for taking actions in order to defend itself. But really, is a nearly three hundred to two death ratio the best way for Israel to go about defending itself? Absolutely not. The astonishing lopsidedness of the US ally's response, which has been fairly typical for decades, does nothing but perpetuate the conflict. Such carnage, in comparison, makes Hamas appear to be a legitimate force in the eyes of moderate Palestinians. Indeed, this is very likely what these terrorists want, and Israel always plays into their hands.

Or is it the reverse? Is Hamas, as did the PLO before them, instead playing into Israel's hands?

I've been trying to get a handle on the absurd cycle of violence in Israel/Palestine since I was a teenager. The usual mainstream news sources' reports have really never made any sense to me. It's difficult to tell what the Palestinian people are thinking about the situation because they're simply not organized into a stable nation state in the way we traditionally understand the concept. So it's not easy to see what consensus, if any, exists within the Occupied Territories. That's probably why American news coverage seemingly makes them out just to be crazy.

Israel, on the other hand, is a traditional nation state, which ought to make discerning their position much easier. Nonetheless, as our biggest ally in the region, perhaps the world, news coverage here tends to cast that nation in the victim role. So it's the crazy jihadists versus the sane and normal people who are Westerners just like us. But what the news tells us simply doesn't add up as far as that narrative goes. Israel, the beleaguered Middle Eastern state surrounded by enemies, is always searching for peace with Palestine, according to the US establishment story line.

If that's the case, however, why the settlements? I mean, we ought to call these "settlements" what they are, colonies, designed expressly to crowd out the Palestinians already living there, taking the best land and resources away from the people already using them. That's peace? And why won't Israel allow Palestine contiguity of territory during their periodic attempts at negotiation? Sure, it's unreasonable to suggest allowing a geographic connection between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, but if Israel really wants peace, it makes no sense at all to carve these areas up into what amount to Indian Reservations or South African Bantustans.

For that matter, if you follow the mainstream Israel/Palestine narrative, it seems as though the last forty years haven't happened, as though the entire Arab world is still lined up in violent opposition to Israel, that they really are surrounded by malevolent states who want to eradicate our ally from the face of the earth. But that simply hasn't been the case for many, many years. Sure, the rhetoric continues in some places, death to Israel and all that, but it has no teeth. We bought off the Saudis. Egypt hated all the recurring wars, and got out with the Camp David agreement. Syria is now involved in a multi-year civil war. Iraq is a joke. It's just not 1973 anymore, and the Israel/Palestine conflict now takes place in an entirely different geopolitical context. But you'd never know that following American discourse on the topic. It's always about how Israel is up against a wall, how the Palestinians totally undermine Israel's security against the bad Arabs.

The bottom line, for me, is that Israel is today in a much better position to put an end to all this than it ever has in its modern history. Israel could conceivably, with US aid, of course, concoct a Marshall Plan for the Occupied Territories. They could build schools and hospitals and infrastructure. They could build desalination plants. They could plant orange and fig trees. They could make life there comfortable instead of intolerable. They could send love instead of bombs and soldiers. Doing so would remove all doubt as to where Israel stands on all this. It would show that they really do want peace. No mixed messages, no contradictions, their money would be where their mouths are. Hamas would lose a great deal of their legitimacy among Palestinians, with Israel sending help in response to the terrorist group's actions, instead of devastation.

Then there would be some real opportunities for cooperation between Palestine and Israel. They could use actual police work to take out these criminals. There would be no need to send in the tanks and bombers every few years, which perpetuates the conflict by fertilizing Palestinian resentment with their children's blood.

Why isn't this happening already?


Saturday, July 19, 2014


A little something I'm doing on facebook this week, posting cuts from their compilation album Endless Summer.  Here are a couple of the best:


Friday, July 18, 2014



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


Thursday, July 17, 2014


That post I made the other day about the millenials inspired me to make some good comments down on the discussion thread.  This is the second time I'm pulling from there to post on Real Art.  Anyway, here's the prompt, from one of my facebook friends:

Honest question, related to discussion further up: does someone have to be aware of their racism to be racist? Would it not be racist to support institutional racism, even if you didn't consider it that?
And here's my response:
We live within a cultural context, an environment of ideas and attitudes. We are ALL subject to prevailing ideas, which means that anybody can have thoughts or possess conceptualizations which could be shown to be racist in character because racism continues to be a factor in the overall cultural environment. So the biggest bleeding heart whites, as well as the most Afro-centric Black Radicals, can all buy into certain negative stereotypes of African-Americans, and not even realize that's what they're doing.

So everybody's potentially participating, probably participating, in some kinds of thoughts and behaviors that we might describe as racist. But what makes a person, rather than thoughts, words, or behaviors, racist? That's harder to say, especially because all decent people these days do not want to think of themselves as being racist, and generally try, in their own fashion, to not be racist.

How do my racist but well-intentioned thoughts differ from the racist's actually racist thoughts, even while this racist sees him or herself as not being racist? I mean, I KNOW I'm okay because I'm me, and I know my beliefs and intentions, even though I may inadvertently fall into some white supremacist thinking from time to time, but what about other people? Who's genuinely a racist, and who is just very poorly informed?

All this is no doubt why conservatives get so sensitive when liberals call them racist. It might also be why liberals are into calling conservatives racist. I mean, okay, I'm making a sort of psychological subconscious assertion, here, because I feel VERY justified in calling out right-wing racist tendencies in my blogging. I'm just acknowledging that there might be an emotional factor working on me that isn't entirely legitimate.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Arizona politician mistakes YMCA campers for migrant children

From azcentral courtesy of Eschaton:

He had tweeted from the scene, "Bus coming in. This is not compassion. This is the abrogation of the rule of law." He included a photo of the back of a yellow school bus.

Kwasman later told me he saw the migrant children. "I was actually able to see some of the children in the buses. The fear on their faces.... This is not compassion," he said.

But there was a problem with Kwasman's story: There was no fear on their faces. Those weren't the migrant children in the school bus. Those were children from the Marana school district. They were heading to the YMCA's Triangle Y Camp, not far from the Rite of Passage shelter for the migrants, at the base of Mt. Lemmon.

More here, with video.

Back in the summer of '85 I attended a Southern Baptist youth camp in Glorieta, New Mexico. It was the first time I ever encountered an undeniably deluded nut-job right-winger. Or maybe he wasn't so crazy. Maybe he was just extraordinarily stupid. To this day, I'm still not sure.

The camp had divided us all into groups with ten or so total strangers. Each "tribe" was led by a volunteer adult, usually some kind of youth minister from another church. Our leader was a really nice guy, funny, and kind of intense. But you know, we were all there for some religious experiences, so intensity was definitely a plus. I had no idea what a whack job this guy was until we were a few days into our week long stay there.

At the time, the all-star charity-for-Africa song "We Are the World" was continuing its multi-month domination of the charts. I was never a big fan of the record, but, you know, it was okay, and for a good cause, so whatever. Our group leader, on the other hand, totally HATED it, he told us, when it came up in casual conversation one day. And he hated it for religious reasons: the Bible tells us that we are NOT the world, that the world is evil, and this song is doing Satan's work. Apparently, he was riffing on a specific Bible verse, John 15:19, one I'd read already at some point, but would never in my wildest dreams think in any way to connect it with Harry Belafonte's extraordinarily successful hunger project.

I mean, how could "If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you," ever, ever, ever have anything to do with "We Are the World"?

I asked our leader, "You don't think it's just a song trying to feed starving people?"

"No!" he told me, "We are NOT the world! We are Christians! And we already have organizations in place to feed the hungry. This song is coming from Satan." And he really meant it. Actually, a lot of people around and about the summer camp were talking this way. It was like the big meme among fundamentalists that summer. "We Are the World" is of the Devil because we are NOT the world.

Anyway, the whole thing was just amazingly stupid. Stupid or crazy, still not sure. To imagine that the tune's writers were referring to that verse in John is beyond a stretch. It's downright weird, and all these people believed it. Indeed, I was a bit disturbed by how the idea was being pushed, and at that point I was a conservative Southern Baptist, too. I mean, it was just so obvious that they were focusing on some similar wording and seeing evil because they expected to see it, sinful rock stars and all that jazz, and not because there was anything there to actually see.

This is almost exactly the same dynamic with this weirdo politician in Arizona who thought American kids going to a summer camp were actually the horrid immigrant children from Central America. He clearly lives in the right-wing echo chamber 24/7, totally convinced that the liberals are trying to destroy everything, that forces of darkness are all around him, whether it's Satan, or socialists, or Mexicans trying to take back their land, whatever. He sees things in the shadows and they're real to him, so he runs his stupid mouth about it just like that youth minister railing away on "We Are the World" nearly thirty years ago.

Amazingly stupid? Deeply crazed and disturbed? Both? We may never know, but I do wonder how many people like this are running around the country these days.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014


Last night's post, which I unleashed on facebook, ended up getting an interesting comment from a conservative friend with whom I went to high school:

...if the assessment is true, then the "Wants" will exceed the "Haves", despite the fact that the "Haves" earned what they have, while the "Wants" haven't. Redistribution of wealth is a fallacy. Giving everyone an equal share of resources doesn't make them equally prosperous. It makes them equally impoverished. Those that tout that ideal should just own up to the fact that it's not about "Liberte. Egalite. Fraternite" (sorry...couldn't resist on Bastille Day), but it's about revenge.
My response:
I think it's safe to say that the "Wants" have exceeded the "Haves" throughout the entire history of our republic. The question, to me, is about how much of an imbalance we have as far as that goes. So it goes without saying that I think you're definitely right to worry about the "Wants," as a percentage of the population, dramatically increasing. Indeed, when one looks at history, it was exactly such a situation that preceded both the French and Russian revolutions: when you create a desperate population, it is no surprise when they start to behave desperately.

Or maybe I'm just confusing your "Wants" with what I think of as "Needs." In any case, it is an extraordinarily problematic position into which put yourself on this, I think, when you make such declarations about who has earned what.

When you look at the concept of earning from a Marxist or labor oriented perspective, it is automatically assumed that business does its damnedest, all the time, balls-to-the-walls, to pay as little for labor as it can possibly get away with. And that's a good assumption because, by and large, it's pretty true, something with which most supporters of capitalism would agree. Companies generally want to spend as little as possible. Makes complete sense. After all, why would they ever spend more than they absolutely had to? So that's what companies do; they try to low ball compensation for workers. And they generally get away with it.

Now there's this thing called the "labor market," which ostensibly attempts to put some sort of "objective" value on a worker's labor, determined by the same kind of things determining value for products or resources, supply, demand, how skill sets, training, and education affect the supply, the needs of a given industry, etc. So, you know, we HAVE to pay you shit wages because you're unskilled, and there are about a billion unskilled laborers out there who would LOVE to have your job, so you get shit because that's what the labor market says you get, high supply of unskilled workers juxtaposed against a relatively low demand for them. You see? It's all just economics, nothing we can do about that.

Well, okay, that's one point of view.

But get all these unskilled laborers, who deserve shit wages because that's what the "labor market" says, to walk off the job together, to go on strike, then suddenly their value is OBVIOUSLY much more than the shit they're getting because their employer is now making no money at all. In fact, he's losing money becuase his labor force won't play ball.

CLEARLY, from that point of view, the point of view that says "you couldn't be a capitalist without workers," people are worth MUCH more than the so-called "labor market" dictates. That is, workers, in association with capitalists and management, create wealth, but generally receive only a tiny fraction of the wealth they create. Because of this intellectual construction called the "labor market," which reduces human beings to the level of commodity, and robs them of their fair share.

And capitalists, real capitalists, big-timers, are well aware of this: they routinely and brazenly use their economic strength to straight-up manipulate the "labor market" to their advantage. Heavy investment in automation, as well as capital mobility, that is, off-shoring, which includes moving production plants from union states to the South, and pitting different groups of workers against each other, as with blacks against whites, or women against men, or legals against illegals, are but three of many tried and true methods for distorting what actual reality the "labor market" might represent.

So when people talk about how awful "redistribution" is, it's pretty clear that they're not talking about the redistribution that happens at the point of initial employment, when the capitalist effectively tells the new hire that he will be paid far less than he is actually worth. That is, when the worker is forced to redistribute his value away from himself and toward his boss, who insists it's his in the first place, anyway, because he's in charge. Nobody talks about that kind of redistribution, the kind where the capitalist steals his workers' labor just because he can get away with it.

This is why I support unions. Unions are the only way for workers and capitalists to work out what the true value of labor is. It's done on an equal playing field, and it's about real agreements, real contracts, not the kind we see so much of today where it's effectively "take shit wages or fuck off."

You know, none of this has gotten into how consumer markets need consumers with cash in hand in order to function, a Keynesian point of view, which means that if you push inequality too far, the economy necessarily shrinks because you've got shrinking markets. So "redistribution" isn't only fair and just, but also necessary if we're serious about robust capitalism and growth. But I've run on far too long to even go there just yet.
'Nuff said.


Monday, July 14, 2014

GOP Self-Destruction Complete: Millennials Officially Hate Conservatives

From the Guardian via AlterNet:

Conservatives are stuck in a perpetual outrage loop. The reappearance of Todd Akin, the horror-movie villain immortality of Sarah Palin, the unseemly celebration of the Hobby Lobby decision – these all speak to a chorus of "la-la-la-can't-hear-you" loud enough to drown out the voice of an entire generation. Late last week, the Reason Foundation released the results of a poll about that generation, the millennials; its signature finding was the confirmation of a mass abandonment of social conservatism and the GOP. This comes at a time when the conservative movement is increasingly synonymous with mean-spirited, prank-like and combative activism and self-important grand gestures. The millennial generation has repeatedly defined itself as the most socially tolerant of the modern era, but one thing it really can't stand is drama.

More here.

While it's clear that millennials definitely lean much less conservatively than their elders, it's possible that the biggest factor pushing them leftward is that so many conservative mouthpieces these days are big huge jerks, if I'm understanding correctly how Ms. Cox is interpreting this study's results.  But, as far as I can tell, there doesn't really seem to be much of a difference between the negativity of conservative policy positions and the negativity of the spokesmen telling the nation about those policy positions.

I mean, is it even possible to tell American women that before they can have an abortion they absolutely must submit to a useless and invasive ultrasound procedure because they're too stupid to know what they're doing and that state-mandated clinical penetration will set their minds right WITHOUT being a jerk?  Is it possible to tell unemployed people that it's their fault they're unemployed in a kind and polite way?  Is it possible to tell the working poor that they're lazy gently and with love?  I think not.

Either way, though, this is really good news for liberals and absolutely AWFUL news for conservatives.  In twenty years or so, millennials will be running the country, and they will not be doing it in a way that modern conservatives will like.  Cheer up, America.  A brighter day is coming.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Hillary’s Candid Motto for Democratic Party: “Represent Banks”

From AlterNet:

I’ve never forgotten Clinton’s remark about representing banks because it tells us much about  her worldview – both then and now that she’s even more embedded in the corporate elite (and had  Rupert Murdoch host one of her senate fundraising events).  

More importantly, Clinton’s comment speaks to the decline of the Democratic Party as a force that identifies with the broad public, those who often get stepped on by big banks and unbridled greed. Her remark is an apt credo for a party leadership that has spent the last quarter-century serving corporate power (through Wall Street deregulation, media dereg, NAFTA-style trade pacts, etc.) as persistently as it spews out empty rhetoric about “the needs of working families.” 

Back then, it was a minor controversy that Hillary Clinton had represented a shifty S&L. Today’s Democratic elite is inextricably tied to far more powerful interests – Wall Street, big pharma, giant insurers and other pillars of the corporate 1-percent.  

More here.

This problem continues.  The Republicans clearly want to destroy the nation and make us all impoverished third-worlders, while at the same time marginalizing women, gays, and people of color.  The Democrats want to destroy the nation and make us all impoverished third-worlders, too, but cloak and confuse these intentions with groovy liberal love for women, gays, and people of color.  And it's been this way since the Clinton era.

Essentially, our political choice is this: destruction of the nation while boot-stomping the face of everybody who's not a white male, OR destruction of the nation with a lot less boot-stomping and a lot more uplifting rhetoric.  Either way, the nation is destroyed, but with the Democrats, at least, it's done in a more egalitarian way.  That is, we can die horribly, or we can die less horribly, but either way we're dead and it's horrible.

So sure, yeah, there are differences between the parties, but not enough to keep us from changing our path of destruction.

For many years, I've had no idea what to do about this.  The Green Party seemed promising for a time, but, in the end, it amounted to nothing.  Lately, however, I've been paying very close attention to what the Tea Party has been doing to the GOP establishment, and it gives me some hope.  I mean, of course, Tea Partiers are crazy, but not so crazy that they don't know how to alter the emphasis and focus of the Republican Party.

Case in point: primary challenges against sitting office-holders.  And it seems to be working.  You don't even need to win your challenge.  Just sort of make a showing.  Suddenly, just because they had to fight to be renominated, sitting Republican Congressmen feel like they have to play to the Tea Party, shifting further to the right, simply because they're the people showing up to vote in primaries.  And from time to time some of these challenges actually succeed, and the Tea Party gets one of their own into office.  It's a win/win scenario.

So this is possible, in theory at least.  The Democrats can, in fact, be pushed away from their current pro-corporate stance, and toward something truly egalitarian and economically just.  But it will require people getting off their asses more than once every four years.  And that includes me.  But the payoff would be glorious.

Who's with me?


Saturday, July 12, 2014


Two of my facebook features exported to Real Art.


Friday, July 11, 2014


Sammy and Frankie

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


Thursday, July 10, 2014

10 Things Europe Does Way Better Than America

From AlterNet:

The term “American exceptionalism” is often tossed around by politicians. Neocons, far-right Christian fundamentalists and members of the Republican Party in particular seem to hate it when anyone dares to suggest that some aspects of European life are superior to how we do things. But facts are facts, and the reality is that in some respects, Europe is way ahead of the United States. From health care to civil liberties to sexual attitudes, one can make a strong case for “European exceptionalism.”

Click here for the list.

I'm just going to be honest here for a moment: America, by several quantifiable standards, is NOT the greatest country in the world.  I mean, I love my country, which is why I'd very much like for America to be the greatest country in the world, but the first step in that direction is honesty.  That is, we've got to acknowledge, as a people, that sports fan style patriotic chants, while just fine during the Olympics or the World Cup, don't bring us any closer to improving our nation.

Really, it seems like we've been telling ourselves how great we are this past decade or so precisely because we all know, deep down, whether we acknowledge it or not, that we are not so great.  In other words, we're in deep denial.  Avoiding our problems can only make things worse.

And really, at the most basic philosophical level, our problems are in no way impossible to solve.  It's simple, really.  All we need to do is ask two questions, put our heads together, and come up with answers: what are our goals as a nation, and how do we go about achieving them?  Ah, but the devil is in the details, you say.  Well, yes, of course, that's always true.  But it's also true that we're discussing, as a nation, everything but these two questions.  Like I said above, we're in denial.  Our heads are lodged so deeply in the sand, or our collective ass, either way, whatever, that we refuse even to confront those devils-in-the-details.

Western Europe is kicking our butts in terms of quality of life standards.  Are we really going to let a bunch of Euro-trash kick our butts?  Where's your freaking pride?  Don't you love America?  Get with it, people.  We're acting like a bunch of boorish hick Russians.  And I just can't handle that.


Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Police Obtain Warrant to Take Pictures of Teenage Boy's Erect Penis

From AlterNet:

Police and prosecutors in the City of Manassas and Prince William County, Virginia have obtained a search warrant to photograph the erect penis of a teenage boy who is facing child pornography "sexting" charges. But attorneys for the 17-year-old boy — whose name is being withheld because he is underage — say that prosecutors are over-reaching their investigative authority. 

The teenager faces charges stemming from an alleged instance of receiving sexting pictures from his then 15-year-old girlfriend. Prosecutors say that they have video of the boy's erect penis that was sent to the girl's cell phone. If convicted, the boy could see prison time and be forced to register as a sex offender, according to the Washington Post. 

More here.

This sort of thing is horrible and needs to stop immediately--I mean, charging kids as child pornographers has got to stop; the warrant thing, also horrible, which seems a one-off, is so over-the-top that I doubt it's widespread, or so I hope. 

At any rate, on the one hand, sure, I get why this happens.  On the other hand, trying to stop teen sexting in this way is beyond absurd.  The technology exists. It is now amazingly and thoroughly widespread. Personally, I don't think it can be stopped, so we should try to play damage control as much as we can, try to make it a positive experience somehow, educate people how this sort of thing can come back to bite you in the ass, etc. But making criminals of kids who are simply doing what millions of adults do every day? That's sick, sick, sick.

As a friend commented when I posted this on facebook, "I remember being young and being able to fuck up without being charged with a felony."  Indeed.  In the last twenty years or so we've moved a very long way toward criminalizing youth itself. We have cops in the schools. We arrest children for ditching class or mouthing off. We treat all teenagers as suspects, well before a crime has even been committed. This, too, is sick, sick, sick.

Criminalizing teen sexting is just another manifestation of this overall trend.  Things are NOT looking up in the schools.


Tuesday, July 08, 2014


From a relatively small storm.  Just got power back.  But no blogging in me tonight.


Monday, July 07, 2014

Beliefs, Facts and Money

New Krugman:

On the eve of the Great Recession, many conservative pundits and commentators — and quite a few economists — had a worldview that combined faith in free markets with disdain for government. Such people were briefly rocked back on their heels by the revelation that the “bubbleheads” who warned about housing were right, and the further revelation that unregulated financial markets are dangerously unstable. But they quickly rallied, declaring that the financial crisis was somehow the fault of liberals — and that the great danger now facing the economy came not from the crisis but from the efforts of policy makers to limit the damage.

More here.

You probably don't recall, but the financial collapse of 2008 pulled the carpet right out from underneath conservative economics.  Remember that one of the most foundational beliefs expressed by conservatives about economics is that government regulation always makes markets operate inefficiently, and that, ultimately, markets will regulate themselves.  By the time the financial collapse hit, we had been on a twenty year binge of Wall Street deregulation.  Ideally, from the conservative point of view, such deregulation would have made the market much stronger, not weaker.  But, of course, that's not what happened.  Indeed, deregulating Wall Street is what enabled the real estate bubble's collapse to infect everything else, by way of toxic mortgages repackaged as securities, in which EVERYBODY had invested.

Needless to say, some smart government regulation, or rather, regulation we already had on the books, but was repealed in the go-go corporate 90s, would have stopped the implosion in its tracks and saved the country a lot of heartache and misery.  That is to say, markets are NOT self-regulating, which means we need to regulate markets.  Which means conservative economics are WRONG.  We need the government to interfere in the economy in order for it to function.  And that, my friends, is an undeniable fact.

Of course, conservatives decided in lockstep to create and then live within a delusion about the collapse, which blamed liberals, as usual.  Anyway, that's all simply a subsidiary point.  The main point, riffing on Krugman, is that today we have conservatives embracing reality-denial on three major fronts: rejection of evolution (and the Big Bang), rejection of man made global warming, and rejection of reams of economic data totally undermining their assertions about how the economy actually functions.  And these are just the big ones--we can also include, for instance, Karl Rove's deep seated belief that Romney was going to win, even as the election returns were proving otherwise, and so on and so forth; Iraq's WMD also comes to mind here.

In short, we have about a third of the country living in pure fantasy about numerous key issues.  And that group of people wields a great deal of political power.  And they expect everybody else essentially to join them in accepting that black is white, day is night, and Ronald Reagan was a good president.  That's horrifying.  Sooner or later, this is going to blow us all up.  What are we to do?


Sunday, July 06, 2014

Huge New Snowden Scoop: Ordinary Internet Users 'Far Outnumbered' Legal Targets

From the Guardian via AlterNet:

The daily lives of more than 10,000 account holders who were not targeted were catalogued and recorded, the Post reported. The newspaper described that material as telling "stories of love and heartbreak, illicit sexual liaisons, mental-health crises, political and religious conversions, financial anxieties and disappointed hopes".

The material collected included more than 5,000 private photos, the paper said.

The cache Snowden provided to the newspaper came from domestic NSA operations under the broad authority granted by Congress in 2008 with amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, according to the Post.

By law, the NSA may "target" only foreign nationals located overseas unless it obtains a warrant based on probable cause from a special surveillance court, the Post said. "Incidental collection" of third-party communications is inevitable in many forms of surveillance, according to the newspaper.

More here.

According to polling information, most Americans appear to be shrugging off this sort of thing.  The reasoning for this, or so it is speculated, is that we're all already used to dealing with private companies collecting our information.  Actually, I'm used to it, too.  I mean, I don't like it, and it strikes me that such data collection is easily abused, but I'm definitely used to it.  

But this strikes me as something different.  For one thing, the potential for abuse is MUCH higher with a government entity than with companies with whom we do business; for instance, I know that law enforcement agencies and prosecutors have already been trying to get access to information collected by the NSA, for which they would almost always need a warrant otherwise.  And the old "if you've got nothing to hide, it shouldn't bother you" concept doesn't provide much solace: cops don't try to ascertain the truth; rather, they try to make cases, and when your life is an open book, disparate facts and pieces of information can easily be strung together in creative ways, as with reality television programs, to assemble narratives that don't actually exist in real life. 

What REALLY disturbs me, however, is that this information taken from non-targeted US citizens is, according to the article, "cataloged and recorded."  That is, the NSA is assembling files on everyone who crosses their path.  And that's an ever increasing number of Americans, all of whom did nothing more than end up in the Agency's enormous net.  Needless to say, this reeks of Orwell's 1984, of police states, and military dictatorships.  Why does our government need to have files on regular ordinary Americans?  I don't know the answer to that, but it can't be good.  Actually, I can't think of one good reason that US security agencies would need to have files on US citizens who have broken no laws.  I mean, sure, the IRS, Social Security, okay, they have good reasons, and are usually pretty narrow with the info they collect.  That's legitimate.  What the NSA is doing is NOT legitimate.

Why the hell aren't they destroying the information they don't need?  Again, I don't know, but there can be no good answer to this question.  No, it's not 1984 just yet, but every day we're more and more like the proverbial frogs in the gradually warming pot.  Seems nice so far.  I haven't been thrown into prison on weird Kafkaesque charges.  And, boy, this warm bath is downright comforting!  

And then we're all boiling to death.


Saturday, July 05, 2014


Two of my facebook features exported to Real Art.


Friday, July 04, 2014



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


Wednesday, July 02, 2014

"And nobody with any power to do anything about it gives a shit at all."

Just left this comment on facebook:

Great discussion, y'all.

Only one comment to add, and I'll direct it to the capitalist running dog. I've been living like you describe in your comment above, Matt, for the last seven years or so. I've been a waiter while pursuing acting gigs that never materialized. And yeah, you can do it. I don't eat out. I have no entertainment or social life budget. I spend only on the bare necessities. I use an old school flip phone with no bells or whistles or text. Etc.

But the entire time, I've been one emergency away from disaster. No health insurance until last month, Obamacare, which is actually a godsend--I can now do some important health stuff I've been putting off for a long time. But before that, I don't know what I would have done if something major happened. Bankrupt my retired father, probably, which is a horrible thought. I don't know what I would have done if my car had failed me: actually, my dad bought me my car, which makes me extraordinarily privileged, and ultimately utterly unlike most of the people with whom I've been working, who have no family safety net, and who have to work multiple jobs, sixty and seventy hour weeks, just to make ends meet. Also, I couldn't afford children at all under these circumstances, and I humbly note that I am lucky in this respect because lots of people doing this kind of work don't get to choose whether or not they have children. Nor should the have to, when you get right down to it--we should all be able to afford to raise a family if we want to do so.

At any rate, I've been afraid over the years that my entire edifice will fall apart, and I've got some family help if it comes to it. I imagine my co-workers, with their own families to raise, are even more afraid. Because it could all go to hell at any minute and nobody gives a shit about it. These are good people, who work hard, seven days a week, with very little time off just to enjoy being a human being.

That's the reality in which most Americans live. Work all the time just to stay afloat, never getting ahead, ever, one emergency away from living on the streets. This isn't academic or an ideologically charged story. These are people I know and work with. I'm lucky. I can call my dad or go back to teaching whenever I want. They can't. That's their life. And nobody with any power to do anything about it gives a shit at all.
'Nuff said.


Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Right-Wing Christian Group Tried to Convert This City's Kids — But They're Fighting Back

From AlterNet:

One of their key tools is an after-school program called the Good News Club, which takes place in public grade schools across the country. Good News Clubs mix snacks, games, art projects and stories with upbeat moral lessons and the theology of blood sacrifice. In a case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, Child Evangelism Fellowship argued that they were entitled to operate in public schools because they are running a social and moral enrichment program akin to Scouting.

Much to the dismay of church-state watchdogs, a majority of the Court agreed, but to call Good News Clubs moral enrichment by secular standards or to liken it to Scouting, is a stretch. Despite evangelical influences in the Boy Scouts, scouting programs to a large degree emphasize virtues that are prized across both secular and religious wisdom traditions. Good News Clubs teach dark, divisive and potentially traumatic doctrines that are unique to fundamentalist forms of Christianity. 

More here.

So, if Good News Clubs are okay, then it must also be okay to make a concerted effort to let children know that evolution and the big bang theory, among other things, put the inerrancy of the Bible into extreme doubt, right?