Monday, January 31, 2011

No Shit

If traffic lights were invented today, the Republican Party would be against them.

No shit. And so begins Anthony Schlaff's wonderful opinion piece in a recent issue of the Christian Science Monitor.

It's a very honest discussion about how the word "freedom" has been hijacked by the conservative movement in this country. As with many things today, we need to unhijack it.

This thought experiment about traffic lights points to how simplistic and wrong-headed current Republican rhetoric about freedom is. Freedom is about rights, choices, and opportunities. Government action, whether through laws or taxes, does not necessarily restrict freedom. As with traffic lights, it can enhance freedom, and we need to be thoughtful, not reflexive, in how we view what we ask of government.

This is really all I have been saying. So have many other Democrats and even some (no longer pure) Republicans. Yet, we are now Hitler. Or Commies. Or whatever demonized bullshit word they come up with for the week.

As for the notion that the new health-care law robs us of freedom because it is a mandate, let us not forget that we as a society created our government to make our choices and we used this mechanism to do so. This was an exercise of our freedom!

Freedom starts with the opportunity to make choices, including the choice of whether to act individually or collectively. A choice once made sets us on a more limited path – but are we not freer for making choices rather than remaining forever frozen in a prechoice world of possibility but no fulfillment?

Therein lies the problem...acting collectively. Any sort of talk involving collective action is quickly demonized. This would involve following a law that some people (8 year old boys and/or adolescent power fantasists)  don't like. Right around now is where I imagine my 8 year old son, shouting, "I DON'T WANNNA!!!!!!"

Well...too what I usually say...followed by "Grow Up."

But here's the best part of the whole piece.

I know of no one on the left of the political spectrum who accepts the right's characterization that they are against personal responsibility. They believe in both personal and social responsibility, as these are complementary, not competing, notions. Trying to address major public problems with just a greater push for personal responsibility is like tying one of our hands behind our back. We must leverage social responsibility, too, enabling us to use both hands to tackle our toughest problems.

Complementary, not competing notions. This is what I have been saying all along. It has to be both.

Schlaff ends the article with a question.

If public schools or public drinking water and sewer systems were invented today, would Republicans oppose them, along with the traffic lights?

Sadly, he answers this in such a way that it demonstrates the enormous naivete on the part of the left. The answer is a simple YES because the conservative movement in this country worships (fake) people like Daniel Plainview. To them, Plainview is the perfect hero.

After I read this piece, I reached a conclusion. I am going to make it my life's mission to demolish Reagan's Nine Terrifying Words and all that lies behind them. They are a boy's fantasy meant strictly to undermine government efforts at regulation and to encourage private industry greed.

In short, they are a lie.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Shocked (Not)

Well, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission report is in. The collapse of 2008 was caused by:
  • Excessive borrowing and risk-taking by households and Wall Street.
  • Systemic breaches in accountability and ethics at all levels.
  • Corporate Mismanagement, Ineptitude and Greed
  • Widespread failures in financial regulation.
  • Dramatic breakdowns in corporate governance.
  • Policy makers who were ill prepared for the crisis.
The best part, though? The report definitively proves through undeniable facts that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac  were not the cause of the problem and, in fact, followed Wall Street and the sum prime companies into their maze of greed and insanity.

Of course, this didn't stop Peter Wallison from offering up his lone dissent, described quite eloquently by Joe Nocera in a recent New York Times article.

Or that Peter Wallison, the American Enterprise Institute scholar and the fourth Republican F.C.I.C. commissioner, had already released his own, one-man dissent — a lonely, loony cri de coeur that placed the blame for the financial crisis entirely on Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and federal home ownership policies, a position so contrary to the facts that even his fellow Republican commissioners did not agree with him.

The commission’s analysis of the role of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — a hotly contested battleground — is utterly persuasive. You may recall a few months ago, when I scoffed at Mr. Wallison’s contention that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were ground zero for the financial crisis, he told me that he had seen internal documents that would prove him right. His dissent does not deliver the goods. Instead, it is the report itself that is chock-a-block with internal documents conclusively showing that the two government-sponsored entities followed Wall Street and the subprime companies off the cliff, rather than the other way around.

I'm certain that we will continue to hear cries of Fannie/Freddie for years to come. No doubt we will also continue to hear the mouth foaming about  the Community Reinvestment Act as being the problem. Both of these canards are rooted in the anaphylaxis about entitlements and illustrate a clear denial of what caused the problem which is so eloquently detailed in the report.

None of this is anything new to me, of course. I've been saying it for months if not years now. And I don't really hold out much hope, even if Elizabeth Warren does, that the new finreg bill will help. Until there are real consequences for greed (jail and/or liquidation of all assets) and a decided shift in how our country defines success (intrinsically as opposed to extrinsically), we don't be getting anywhere.

I do take heart, though, that Inside Job was nominated for an Academy Award.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Role Models

The best line from President Obama's speech was this

That responsibility begins not in our classrooms, but in our homes and communities. It’s family that first instills the love of learning in a child. Only parents can make sure the TV is turned off and homework gets done. We need to teach our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair; that success is not a function of fame or PR, but of hard work and discipline.

Hmm...the Michael Jordan Generation?

Gripe all you want about our education system (and there is PLENTY to grip about) but it starts with ridding our culture of COP (checked out parents). As I have been saying for quite a long time, the first agency of socialization is the family. If the family falls into the mass media fly trap definition of success, it's hard to break out. Of course, it does help that President Obama is a role model.

On election day of 2008, I went over to my children's school to help out with the mock vote. I get done an hour and a half before my kids get done so I volunteered to assist kids with the touch screens for the all school vote. Some black kids were talking about LeBron as they came in and sat down to vote. They all voted for Obama and then one of the turned to me and said, "If Barack Obama wins, that means I could be president too now, I guess." They spent the rest of the time talking about how cool it would be if he won.

It helps when they see someone who looks like them succeeding at something other than sports.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday Funnies

Between Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and the Onion, do we really need MSNBC or Fox News any more? The way that humor and sarcasm have come to define political analysis is quite fascinating these days.

The Onion has always spared no one from its wrath and a recent issue is no exception.

Congress Honors 9/11 First Capitalizers

"It is high time we paid tribute to those who sensed the direness of the moment and immediately sprang into action on that terrible day, exploiting it for personal gain," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said Tuesday. "These were the thoughtless men and women who selfishly showed us that in desperate times, the most callous among us will always be there to step forward and do whatever it takes to get a piece of the action."

It would be more amusing if it wasn't exactly true.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Modern Philanthropist

Recently Robert Burton, a big donor to the UConn football team, wrote a letter demanding the return of millions of dollars of he donated to the university and his family name removed from the football complex.

Burton Capital Management LLC is a hedge fund. They recently forced a Colorado printing company to put Burton's guys on the board of directors. It's hard to know the merits of that action from the short mention in the article, but it shows that Burton isn't afraid to throw his weight around.

Burton said that he didn't expect "veto power" over the selection of the new coach, he just wanted to "add value and comments on any prospective candidates."

If Burton is telling the truth about not expecting to exercise veto power over the football program, he's a narcissist who constantly needs his ego stroked. If he's lying, he's a vindictive control freak who thinks he's running the football program at a public university.

According to another article:

Burton said his company will also start sending its managers to Syracuse University's business school for training instead of UConn, and will no longer pay for its $50,000-per-year luxury suite at Rentschler Field.
And you can add blackmail to the list of Burton's crimes. (Note that said luxury suite is another tax-deductible perq of corporate execs, who use company money to fund their own personal entertainment at public expense.)

This is a rare example of an American corporation having its temper tantrum exposed to the nation. It shows how much power these guys think they have over public institutions like a state university football program.

President Obama mentioned corporate tax reform in his State of the Union address. It's obvious from the maze of loopholes that is corporate tax law that corporations have had pretty much complete control over tax law for decades But now they think they own college football too? Of course they do. They pay for a huge number of utterly pointless bowl games to satisfy their egos and stamp their names on three-hour blocks of TV time.

And the thing that really galls me about Burton is that hedge funds like his are among some of the worst actors in the economy, making the bubble worse and actually designing investment vehicles intended to fail. These guys make money by killing American companies and putting Americans out of work.

As this episode shows, corporations don't give money to colleges and politicians out of the goodness of their hearts. They expect some kind of return. Some corporate philanthropists expect that return to be a burnishing of their reputation, to make themselves look better in the public eye, to build a better university for their employees to attend. Or, like Bill Gates, spend billions of dollars curing diseases for poor people in other countries.

But others obviously expect the recipients of their largesse to do what they say: hire a football coach, pass favorable tax laws, or get rid of regulations that stop them from polluting the air and water we all breathe and drink. Or they're like Massey Energy's Don Blankenship, who paid to get a state supreme court judge elected to rule in his favor (and the judge did. Twice!).

It's not like we didn't know that corporations wield this kind of power. It's just so rare that we see such a blatant public display of arrogant power mongering. And still we have corporate apologists telling us that government is the problem and those poor defenseless corporations are totally at the mercy of bureaucrats.

America has had a long hard slog against corporate robber barons: Teddy Roosevelt's trust-busting of monopolies, FDR's fight against union busting, Eisenhower's warning against the military-industrial complex. The shipping of manufacturing jobs to Mexico in the last century and high-tech jobs to India and China in this century. But the robber barons are coming back like gangbusters, and they're not even trying to hide their disdain for the very idea of public institutions like universities.

Guys like Burton think they own this country lock, stock and football program. But you know what? I'd like nothing better than to see Burton and his ilk keep their filthy money and take their names off all our stadiums.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Last night, Michele Bachmann (MN-06) delivered the Tea Party response to President Obama's SOTU address. For the most part, it was fairly predictable. But that's not the speech that has everyone scratching their heads this week. Last week, Ms.Bachmann delivered a speech in Iowa (see: dipping toe in water for possible presidential run now that Palin is tanking) which left many to wonder why someone so incompetent is leading anyone.

Here is the speech in its entirety. C-Span ran the whole thing so we have it all. I didn't want to be accused of taking anything out of context. If you don't want to watch the whole thing, pay close attention to minutes 24 to 26.

Anyone care to explain WTF she is talking about?

Immigrants to this country were always treated like crap and there certainly was no equality. Our entire history is filled with people from different cultures and races being treated like shit. Sorry, but that's human beings, folks. And John Quincy Adams was not a Founding Father. His father was but he was not. He was in short pants when this country was born. In addition, small point but I think that her use of the word 'forebearer' is also incorrect. I think she meant "Forefather' because forebearer is the noun form of the verb forebear which means to restrain from, avoid or cease; to endure or tolerate; to keep oneself in check or control oneself under provocation.

How ironic...

The real head scratcher, though, was her statement about how the people that wrote the Constitution worked tirelessly to end slavery. Um....Michele? THEY OWNED SLAVES!!!!

It would be OK to excuse this if she was just another fringe person spouting lunacy but this woman is the head of a very large and powerful caucus in the United States House of Representatives. She has won her district three elections in a row with record contributions from around the country. She is a leader of the conservative movement with many supporters and has been dubbed the head of the Tea Party.

Are you kidding me?!!?

Delusions are not opinions, folks. Our history is filled with a lot of good, a lot of bad, and a whole lot of ugly. To put this kind of spin on it goes beyond batshit. It's irresponsible. People look up to our leaders and trust that they will be competent enough to use our history as a learning tool. Her view of US History is destructive. Pure and simple.

I truly hope this means people will stop listening to her.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Half Time=Over

Re: The State of the Union Address.

Well done, Mr. President!

A Perfect Fit (6 and 7 of 20)

Does anyone out there have their suits tailor made? I don't. It's Men's Warehouse for yours truly which I don't mind.

But if you are wealthy you get the equivalent of that when it comes to investments.

Because of their wealth, the rich can get portfolio managers to create investment products customized to their own particular needs. One option is structured notes, which are complex securities that use derivatives to give investors exposure to particular investment strategies. Also, rather than invest in a mutual fund like everyone else, the wealthy can ask prominent mutual fund managers to create separately managed accounts designed to reduce their tax bill and fees.

Question: how does one regulate "structured notes?" I don't think there is a way to do it so y'all will have to pardon me when I LMFAO in hearing the lies about the government taking over everything. In fact,. nearly every time I hear someone say that, somewhere a portfolio manager and his clients are having a pretty good laugh, saying, "Mission Accomplished." In essence, this is who the Tea Party is actually working for in a fully funded way. It's entitlements for the wealthy.

In addition, I don't think it's possible to regulate hedge funds. They are far too complex and our government is far too neutered to do anything about it.

The wealthier you are, the easier it is to diversify and hedge—both because you can hire skilled money managers to construct those strategies and because you have the resources to spread among many different assets and products.

I can't understand why it's so difficult for people to understand that when you have this kind of freedom, you have more power. When you have more power, you get to dictate the terms of how our economy works and, thus, consolidate that power through shutting everyone else out.  I was recently asked in comments if economics was a zero sum game. In a perfect world, it's not.

We don't live in a perfect world.

We live in a world where the pie is constantly artificially inflated and the wealth in our country is being controlled by fewer and fewer people who are very adept at changing the rules of the game. As President Obama delivers his State of the Union tonight, pay close attention to the GOP response and what the conservative pundits have to say. Nearly all of what they say will have one central theme: more money for less people.

And anything else is communism.

Monday, January 24, 2011


State of Delusion

On Tuesday, President Obama will give his State of the Union address. The Republican response will be from Paul Ryan. And the Tea Party response (?!) will be given by Michele Bachmann.

I've never been a fan of the 'response' regardless of who is president. The whole response thing was, of course, started by the GOP back in the Johnson era. That first one was given by Everett Dirksen and Gerald Ford on January 12, 1966. The irrational fear of 'Big Government' was kicking around even back at that time.

As soon as it started, the whole thing smacked of adolescent 12th level Druid is better than your 12th level Wizard...N'yah N'yah!! Moreover, it's the school yard bully 'I must get in the last word' deal as well. This was very apparent during the Clinton years when the GOP (much like they are now) simply could not accept Clinton as president. He won! How dare he? Much of their outrage is centered around their delusion that President Obama is an illegitimate president.

All of this has now gotten really ridiculous as the delusions of the Tea Party have slipped into the mainstream and, thus, we have a third state of the union delivered by Michele Bachmann. None of this would be happening if the economy was in good shape. People have given in to irrational fears and, as is usually the case, it's all the fault of everyone on the left.

I wonder how many state of the union addresses we will have in 2012. Four? Ten? I can just see the communists, skin heads, and the Maple Grove, MN ladies auxiliary getting in their two cents. If things don't get better economically, we might see more. Regardless of where they fall politically, the response to the State of the Union is ridiculous. It reeks of insecurity and is characteristic of an Orwellian drive to control the way people think. If a president that I didn't vote for stands up and says a bunch of crap that is either a lie or wrong (see: George W. Bush), why do I need someone from the Democratic Party to tell me it is? I can think and act for myself.

And that's one big difference between liberals and conservatives. The more I see things like this, the more I become convinced that it really does come down to how our brains are wired. I might not have liked what Bush said but I didn't feel the need to have a response to balance it out.. I knew he was wrong. The GOP (and the ultimate paranoids, the Tea Party) not only dislike what Barack Obama says but they don't want other people to like it.

In other words, they don't want him to win the argument....just like school yard bullies.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


I've always winced a little a the 'Just How Cold Is It in Minnesota?' stories but this photo was too illustrative to pass up.

You are looking at a squirrel...frozen in Redwood Falls, MN...just about two hours west of me. His hands are held up to his face and he never made it past that point. Horrifying, in many ways...

We build character here in the North Woods. Some don't make it.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

They Ain't Listening Either

A while back, I wrote a piece about how the military is ignoring the anaphylaxis of climate change skeptics and pursuing a core strategy of going green. To keep up with all the latest and greatest at the DoD and their green endeavors, check out this link. Pretty cool, huh? Man, they've got a lot going on there!

A recent column in the Minneapolis Star and Tribune shows that there is another segment of our society that isn't listening to the climate change skeptics either: Business.

Problem is, for the skeptics -- business leaders didn't get the memo.Business isn't waiting for politicians to act. Sustainability has moved from the tributaries of society into the mainstream of commerce. CEOs "have a number of stakeholders that are pushing them in this direction," says B. Andrew Brown, partner and regulatory affairs department head at Dorsey & Whitney LLP. "Customers, investors, employees, even banks and insurance companies." 

Management is learning that an embrace of sustainability is a rich strategy in an intensely competitive global economy. It offers another approach to risk management (just ask Mattel's management about the cost of recalling millions of toys manufactured in China and tainted with toxic lead paint).It's also a way to lower costs and boost efficiency.

Many of my regular readers know that I spend a fair amount of time ripping the business community. I have to admit that this article was a welcome surprise and is, without a doubt, another example of my happiness (dare I say glee?) at being wrong. So who are these companies embracing this new core strategy?

Take Wal-Mart, the controversial retail giant. Five years ago, then chief executive Lee Scott launched Sustainability 360 with three major goals: Using 100 percent renewable energy, creating zero waste and selling sustainable products. With 2005 as its baseline, for instance, a Sustainability 360 goal was to hike fleet fuel efficiency by 25 percent by October 2008. It rose 38 percent instead, cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 200,000 tons a year and saving the firm more than $200 million a year. That's real money, even for a behemoth like Wal-Mart.

I've never been a fan of Wal Mart but you have to give them props for this. Wow.

Who else?

Sustainability is a driver of innovation within companies like Dow Chemical and General Electric, creating new markets and profit centers. Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are betting big with an eye toward earning a payoff from clean-tech innovations.

Global investment in clean energy of all kinds rose from $46 billion in 2004 to $200 billion in 2010.

As I have been saying all along, there's a lot of money to be made in green tech and it looks like we have a lot of private businesses paying attention.

The best part about all of this, though, is how the free market is actually leading the way. The article's overall tone is that business isn't going to wait for government to come up with a solution. Honestly, they'll be waiting a long time as long as the current form of the GOP is around although it is pretty hilarious to see that not admitting fault/winning the argument trumps making money with them and their supporters. I guess I was wrong about money being the most important thing to them. Clearly, it's pride.

So that's two things I'm wrong about. Seriously stunning.....:)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Unhijacking The Founding Fathers

Usually I put up a Bill Maher final New Rule without comment but this one needs a second audio track. How about we start with...It's about time someone did this!

For too long, conservatives and libertarians have cloaked themselves in the founding fathers and the Constitution. Much like they interpret the Bible (my way or a lake of hellfire for you), their view of the formation of this country is filled with delusions. Maher points out one of these when he describes Glenn Beck's propensity to dress up like Thomas Paine. In fact, if you want to know how close Glenn Beck is to playing with his own poo, read his 'version' of Common Sense. As I mentioned the other day, events that took place in the latter half of the 18th century have an historical context. Paine's Common Sense was written from the point of view of someone taxed by a monarch. Barack Obama is not King George III. This is going to be one of my new mantras, b to the w.

The other thing that Bill points out in this commentary is yet another sad (and tragic) making of a myth. Take a look at the photo at left. Somehow this image is historically accurate for a large segment of our country. There are a couple of my regular readers who have said as much in comments. The image here is so far from reality that I can't help but call it for what it is.

It's a child's fairy tale.

Many of you will jump to the conclusion that I am being mean or snarky. Quite the contrary. That's Maher's job. Mine is one of profound frustration and great sadness. The founding fathers were products of the Age of Enlightenment and the big ones (Washington, Paine, Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Madison, Monroe) were Deists. Paine and Jefferson believed in the teachings of the morality of Christ and did not believe that he was holy nor resurrected. But somehow, through a very sad delusion, they were conservative and would've tarred and feathered any liberal or progressive. This is a sad perception that honestly causes so many problems that they are too numerous to list here.

Maher has some pretty great quotes from our founding fathers in this clip that more or less prove that, if they were around today, it's pretty clear that Sarah Palin would be accusing them of blood libel.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Why Am I Not Surprised?

I'm currently engaged in a discussion in comments regarding the memorial service in Tuscon last week (see also: Obama looks good, must be up to no good, he must fail). As usual, Jon Stewart illustrates the silliness of all of it in a much more eloquent fashion than I could.

"The people of Tuscon didn't know how to publicly grieve to our expectations."

No shit.

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The Sad Making of Myths

Sit back for a moment and think about Rosa Parks. What are the first images that come into your head?

Tired, old black woman...wouldn't give up her seat in the front of the bus to a white man...poor old woman beaten down by oppression...right?

Wrong. There is nothing in the above sentence that is factually accurate.

Rosa Parks was, in fact, 42 on December 1, 1955 when the bus incident occurred. Now some of you may think that is old but I'm 43 and, so if you do, fuck off! She wasn't tired from working either. She had two jobs. One was the job at the department store. The other was the secretary for the NAACP. In fact, the entire event was a planned protest and not the simple bus ride that myth making has made it into. Parks received training in peaceful resistance and had been planning for some time to not move if asked. Others had planned similar protests if the issue cam up. That seat, by the way, was in the back of the bus in the black section not the front of the bus. The law back then stated that if the front was full, blacks would have to make room for white people in the back. She was asked to stand up and didn't when a white man walked to the back to try to take her seat.

Many people believe that this famous photo (left) is an image from the incident. In fact, it was a staged photo. The man behind Ms. Parks is a UPI reporter and not some evil white man. Ms. Parks is also shown here in the front of the bus. During the actual event, she was in the mid back section of the bus and the driver came back, when the bus got more crowded, and moved the sign 'Whites Only' behind her and asked her to get up.

Over the years, the story has been simplified because people in this country need to have easy to swallow caplets. They can't take the time nor do they have the patience to think about the complexities of situations like this. They hear a few catch phrases, some pretty words, see a bright shiny object, and, before you know it, a myth is born.

This is also true of the Tea Party.

It frustrates me to no end the manner in which the Tea Party got its name. In fact, it would be one of those delusions, not opinions, that the conservative movement of this country holds. The Boston Tea Party was an event that occurred due to taxation without representation. On December 16, 1773, colonists, outraged by paying taxes to a monarch and an aristocracy an ocean away as well as the monopoly created by the East India Company, dumped three shiploads of tea into Boston Harbor.

The current Tea Party got its name from Rick Santilli who, in a CNBC broadcast, called for 'tea party' in the Chicago River on February 19, 2009. There had been planned protests before this but this is when the social movement was truly galvanized. And, as with the Boston Tea Party, the current Tea Party's cry is "Taxation without representation." Much like the story of Rosa Parks, we are seeing a myth being woven right before our eyes.

It is a delusion to say that we are taxed without representation. We all have representatives in Congress. We may not like them but, unlike the Boston Tea Party, we have the power to change that. Unfortunately, this requires time and dedication-two things people in our culture today are very reticent to embrace. Some have made Tea Partying a full time job but most are just pissed off and don't want to invest the time or attention to detail to actually solve any problems. They have heard their catch phrases, seen a few pretty words (the rebirth of the Don't Tread on Me Flag-another out of context myth), and marveled at their bright shiny object that is currently the latest social movement.

This myth has actually done a great deal of damage to the perception of our government. Barack Obama is not King George III. Nor is any other representative, Republican or Democrat. There is, however, an aristocracy but those in it are martyred by the Tea Parties as being oppressed by the socialists/fascists/nazis/communists that run our government. Yet the perception is twisted and we are left with this myth thanks to the Tea Party

The other side believes that people have a right to keep what they earn, and that taxing them to support others, no matter how needy, amounts to theft. That’s what lies behind the modern right’s fondness for violent rhetoric: many activists on the right really do see taxes and regulation as tyrannical impositions on their liberty.

A perfect summation courtesy of Paul Kruggman. I'll be talking more about his recent column in the future because I found it to be largely accurate but for now let's look at this statement. It's a complete myth. There are no tyrannical impositions on their liberty that come close to the ones we saw in the 18th century. It's not an opinion, it's a delusion and this is what I meant by not coddling these sorts of perceptions anymore.

Conveying historical context with the Tea Party is about as easy as pushing a 200 ton boulder up Mt.Hood. Seriously, have any of them read the Constitution which they hold up as a bastion of liberty?

Section. 8. The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;

To regulate Commerce among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;

This is what the US Constitution says. Do they just skip over this part or do they have their own special interpretation of it?

I'm hoping that people look back on this time 55 years from now and they have not embraced the same myth that has been created around Rosa Parks. I'd like to see people wonder why on earth an organization called itself the Tea Party when the historical reference is completely inaccurate and totally out of context.

The cynical side of me is saying that I am being too naive. I wonder what lie teachers will tell their students about the Tea Party in 55 years.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Reflections on Today

Last fall, The Christian Science Monitor featured race as the cover story to their September 18, 2010 issue. I had planned to talk about it back then but decided to wait until Dr. King's day today. The entire article is fantastic and it's worth a long, soaking read. Central to the piece are seven lessons that we all need to heed.

Lesson 1: Recognize how far we've come

Compare the images of the early 60s to where we are now with the first black mayor elected to Philadelphia, MS. That's quite an achievement and there is no doubt that Dr. King would be amazed.

Lesson 2: Talk about race like a Southerner

From the article...

Contrast the quick national judgment of Sherrod (who was eventually offered reinstatement, but declined) with a recent experience David Hooker, a black community-builder, had visiting Oxford, Miss., another iconic civil rights town steeped in Confederate history. Mr. Hooker, who lives in Atlanta and teaches at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va., stepped into the Ajax bar to order some food. A white Mississippian sitting at the bar said to no one in particular, but within Hooker's earshot, "I remember when they didn't let niggers in here."

Recounting the episode, Hooker says he replied, "That was crazy, wasn't it? I remember that, too."

Hooker adds: "He kind of looked at me, like, 'What do you mean? You're not going to be offended?' "

The two ended up having a 45-minute chat that spanned the election of Obama, the Ole Miss football team, and hopes for their kids.

This is how to handle situations like this: find common ground. Just beautiful...

Lesson 3: Leverage 'friendship potential'

Pettigrew says that the at times juvenile "he said, she said" tenor of the race debate in America can be attributed to a simple fact: Much of the rest of America has missed out on both forced and voluntary race reconciliation in the South. That process, Pettigrew says, has been driven by the growing class equality in the region, which has raised what he calls "friendship potential" in the public sphere.

This has to do more with ignorance and a decidedly condescending attitude that many white liberal northerners have about blacks in the south. We talked a great deal about this in that Beyond Diversity seminar I attended. It's dys-consciousness...I don't know what I don't know.

Lesson 4: Blacks love Southern opportunity

This lesson will certainly please the libertarians who post here.

"What's changed in the South is that people increasingly tolerate the individual," says Mr. Griffin, explaining his decision to return and invest in the town where riot police once turned back black civil rights marchers after they crossed the Edmund Pettus bridge on their way to Montgomery. "If there's prejudice today, it's more of a class thing than a racial thing."

Essentially, there are opportunities in the south that aren't available in the north because of a new found tolerance. This would go in hand with Lesson #1...recognizing how far we have come. Far, indeed, with blacks being core to many Southern businesses.

Lesson 5: Don't stereotype whites

"People think the only [ones] negatively impacted by Jim Crow's official and unofficial policies were African-Americans in the South," says Hooker. "But [prejudice] was taught by violence and coercion – deeply wounding ways of enforcing an unnatural behavior. Over time, that's as painful for the people who have had to maintain the system as it is for the people who were intentionally marginalized.

Agreed. There is an entire unrecognized group of victims here just like Hooker. It's hard to see them at times but that would come with contact, communication, and friendship.

Lesson 6: Segregation by any other name...

A group of historians – including Mr. Sokol and the University of Michigan's Matt Lassiter – are revisiting how the North and South diverged after the Civil War. One of Mr. Lassiter's findings is that Northern segregation happened largely by the same kind of government decrees that enshrined segregation in the South.

I agree completely. This would be one of Loewen's Lies. The north had just as much complicity in the south's institutionalized slavery.

Lesson 7: Keep moving forward

The hard one. I asked the leader of Beyond Diversity how I should tolerant of intolerance and her answer was, "You just have to recognize it as their truth. Say to them 'That's your truth' and I respect it.'" Easier said than done. I'd have to say that I've done a poor job of it thus far.

But articles like this give me a great deal of hope. Dr. King's legacy is on display for all to see in the year 2010.

We are going forward because of his life and his sacrifice.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Do You Want to Live Forever?

I've long been an avid reader and watcher of science fiction. There are lots of movies and books that deal with immortality: Highlander, Zelazny's This Immortal, Haldeman's Buying Time, Blish's Cities in Flight, much of Varley's and Niven's work, and pretty much any vampire story.

Who wouldn't want to live forever?

To tell the truth, a lot of people. Old, sick, lonely people.

Several years ago my wife's grandmother was in a nursing home. She was 96 years old, unable to walk, going blind, going deaf, and always in pain. Her husband was dead. All her friends too. She had outlived her eldest daughter. Even the small town where she'd lived most of her life had disappeared. She was all alone. So at one point she just gave up and died.

Until then I never understood why characters in immortality novels so often got weary with living forever. It seemed so unrealistic and stupid to welcome death. But I was looking at it from the viewpoint of a young, healthy person. Who wouldn't want to to live forever if you're strong and vigorous?

But that's not how it works. We weaken and decline as we age. Seeing through the eyes of my wife's grandmother, I finally understood. We slowly lose everything: friends, family, strength, mobility, vision, hearing, taste, control of our bowels. Sure, you can struggle on life support for years, live in pain, or have your mind dulled by drugs, or perhaps worse, lose it completely to Alzheimer's. But why?

Last year the big flap over the health care bill was over death panels. The term itself was an outright lie. There were no death panels in that legislation. It was a provision to pay physicians for an end-of-life discussion with patients. Something that every elderly patient is going to have with their physician in any case, and something that was actually allowed for in previous legislation. It basically gave doctors a charge code for the discussion so that it could be properly accounted for, rather than bill it under some other category.

But real death panels do exist. One of them is the Republican-run government of Arizona. Jan Brewer signed a law cutting Medicaid payments for seven types of transplants. Two patients have died since the law went into effect in October, likely because of they were denied transplants.

And that's not the only death panel. Health insurance companies have life-time limits on the number of dollars patients can receive. The committees of the private companies that set these limits are death panels that decide who lives and who dies.

When you apply for insurance the company has a panel that looks at your medical history and decides whether they'll accept you. If you have any untoward risk factors -- say, you have cancer or need a heart transplant -- this panel of health insurance company employees will deny you coverage. In effect, sentencing you to death.

But wait, there's more! Other death panels include the statisticians who look at medical costs and decide what the premiums will be for insuring employees of small businesses. By putting these employees into their own tiny risk pools, they guarantee that the premiums will be high -- usually too high for most small businesses to afford, thus locking them out of health care coverage. If you work for a small company and have a disease, the insurance company will sentence you to death by making the premium too high for your employer to pay. Big employers can often avoid detailed scrutiny and all their employees get accepted automatically

That's the reality of health care today. We have private companies making for-profit decisions on who will live and who will die. The company can either cover thousands of additional families or pay the CEO a billion dollar stock bonus.

And when these private companies ditch you, who picks up the slack? Well, the federal government. When you're sick and destitute enough you'll qualify for Medicaid and you may be able to get some help. Unless you live in Arizona and need a certain type of transplant.

My point here is not really to slam Brewer for making hard choices on who lives and who dies. The cuts in Arizona may well be right thing to in the grand scheme of things. We only have so much money to spend on health care, and we've got to spend it on things that do the most good for the most people. Transplants are expensive and very often not successful, especially when there are other underlying risk factors, as is the case with at least one of the patients who died in Arizona. Transplants require that you live the rest of your life with a depressed immune system to avoid rejection, which is a time-bomb in itself.

I'm slamming the hypocrisy of people who railed against the health care bill and are now vowing to repeal it without offering any replacement. The core of the bill is common-sense provisions that Americans want: no limit on life-time payments, preventing insurance companies from denying coverage for preexisting conditions, preventing companies from dropping your coverage when you start getting expensive, and being able to get insurance if you lose your job.

The problem is paying for this. During the health care debate the Republicans refused to engage in any reasonable discussion of how to finance it. They ignored the nuance and subtleties of the problems that Brewer is facing now in Arizona. They made the public option -- obviously constitutional, since it's just a tax -- politically toxic, making it impossible for many Democrats to go along with it. Their only goal was to hand Obama a big fat defeat.

The Republicans need to stop playing political football with our lives and our health, and get serious about health care reform. Pretty much all Americans think we need the protections mentioned above, no matter what they think about the health care bill itself. You don't like being forced to buy insurance? I don't either, but someone's got to pay for it. Mitt Romney used to understand this, before he started running for president.

Right now we're paying much more for our health care than other countries do, for worse outcomes as a nation. People don't get regular care for problems as they arise. They wait until problems become critical and put them in the emergency room, which is ridiculously expensive. At which point their health is compromised and they'll have ongoing costs that will be much higher than if they had dealt with the problem in the first place. This is especially true with the epidemic of obesity and diabetes going on now.

The system is broken. There's too much overhead, mostly concentrated in the health insurance industry. We don't really need dozens of armies of private-sector beancounting middlemen to "manage" our health care system, especially when their interest isn't in actually cutting medical costs, but rather to get a percentage of an ever-growing pie. (Many of these companies are forming vertical networks, providing insurance and care. Which means they now have no incentive to cut costs).

The biggest problem with the health care bill is employer mandates, not the mandate that everyone get health insurance. It's just an accident of history that companies used health care as a cheap recruiting gimmick in the 50s. Employers don't pay for our food or housing (unless we're CEOs), why should they pay for our doctors? We should all be responsible for our own health care, as we are for other necessities. This would also put everyone should be in the same risk pool, since we'd all be directly insured instead of being segmented up by employer. Relieved of the direct burden of employee health care, companies should pay a tax to keep premiums lower for everyone, and to pay for Americans who can't buy their own insurance. The rate should be based on the amount of harm their industry causes to the health of their employees and Americans at large. McDonalds, Coke and Pepsi would have a real incentive to make healthier products. And Phillip Morris? Well, the handwriting has been on the wall for years.

There is at least one positive aspect to the Republican push for repeal and the individual mandate. It makes it that much more obvious that single-payer is the only logical way to do this. The Obama administration shied away from it because they wanted to the get the insurance companies on board. But in the long run I think everyone realizes single-payer is going to happen. It only makes sense. And it already exists for senior citizens, even though so many of those Tea Party protesters yap about keeping the government's hands off their Medicare.

Do we want to live forever? It's a moot question at this point. Our health care system should be focused on providing the longest, healthiest lives for the greatest number of Americans. We should all be paying for it because we're all using it: kids breaking their ankles skateboarding, young women having babies, annual medical and dental checkups. Everyone catches colds and needs vaccinations.

And at the end of it all death panels of neither government bureaucrats nor money-grubbing corporate execs should be deciding grandma's fate. She should be making her own decision with the advice of her physician.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

My Lyin' Eyes

Take a look at this photo to the left.

It was recently added in comments and is, more or less, the sentiment of some posters in regard to yours truly. I am blaming the right for the tragedy in Arizona and their rhetoric or actions in no way, shape or form have anything to do with it. I'm a shameful person who, like this cartoon, is exploiting the tragedy for political gains.

Essentially, I am not a patriot like....Joe Wilson.

Take a look at Mr. "You Lie" in this photo. Here we see Congressmen Wilson hanging out at the Palmetto State Armory which (until recently) was selling a lower receiver for an AR-15 with the engraving "You Lie!" on it. This is seen clearly in the photo to the left of Congressmen Wilson. Apparently, though, he has not officially endorsed this. And after the shootings in Tuscon a week ago, the item has been taken down and is not available for sale.

Help me out, here, folks. The people that actually sell products like this are all good and are in no way at all related to any shooting at all...EVER! It's all the left's fault and they are the shameful evil ones! So am I!!!! AHHHHH, the shame!!!!!

I guess I must be deluded in thinking there was any sort of correlation between people that put things like this on guns and stirring up violent sentiment and actions. I must need my head shrinked!

Another Excellent Summation

I think it speaks volumes that our new Speaker of the House chose to skip the memorial service in Arizona and stay in DC. One need only look at his reason for skipping out to see yet another illustration of why I am a Democrat.

He had to go to a cocktail party.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Oh, Snap!

This is from a billboard in Tuscon. Apparently, it came down very quickly after the shooting which got me to thinking....Rush et al may be griping about blood libel but they sure are falling all over themselves to make changes. Palin took down her crosshairs map as well.

As is often the case with these folks, they remind me of my 8 year old son who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Several weak excuses are offered along with promises to continue to the behavior no matter what (!) but as soon as the threat of losing cookies forever (or, in this case, audience share) looms large, a rapid shift occurs in behavior.

But is it an 8 year old temper tantrum or an adolescent power fantasy? It seems to go back and forth. Perhaps it's both. This is an overall characteristic we see in today's version of conservatism...a sort of Neapolitan libertarianism. They really don't like rules and, quite honestly, don't seem to like people either. They just want to be able to do what they want and get pissed off to the max when they have to adjust. I wonder how many mouths foamed at taking down this billboard. Again, this is all they have.

As my friend Marc recently mentioned, in a near perfect description of the new right, when we were out at the pub recently , "They drove a Camaro in high school and this is their only intellectual outlet."

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Front Loading

Here is Colbert from last night which serves as a most excellent front load to my piece below it.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Word - Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Angriness
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogVideo Archive

Bloom's Taxonomy (Cognitive Domain)

Doubling Down

For those of you who want a very specific example of why I am a Democrat, compare Sarah Palin's speech yesterday to President Obama's speech.

Instead of taking the high road, Sarah Palin decided to double down and use her position as a powerful force within the conservative movement in this country to fully illustrate why people should be talking about her in connection with the shooting.

If you don’t like a person’s vision for the country, you’re free to debate that vision. If you don’t like their ideas, you’re free to propose better ideas. But, especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.

So, Sarah Palin has now put herself on the same level as oppressed Jews accused of using Christian children's blood in religious ceremonies. Really? Let's compare here statement (which can be read in full here) with Keith Olbermann's statement read on the night of the shooting.

Violence, or the threat of violence, has no place in our Democracy, and I apologize for and repudiate any act or any thing in my past that may have even inadvertently encouraged violence. Because for whatever else each of us may be, we all are Americans.

You know what the above is called, folks? Taking Responsibility. 

All of this discourse over the last week has made me realize that, in general, the right wing of this country completely fails in two very distinct yet related ways.

The first way they epically fail is by loudly asserting in one breath that people need to own up to their actions and then completely failing to take ownership of any of their own actions the other breath. We saw this for 8 years with President Bush. He could never admit fault. We see it on here in any discussion of race. We see it with Sarah Palin in this situation.

Let's review some key facts:

1. Sarah Palin puts up a map with rifle crosshairs on it early last year targeting certain congressional districts for the fall campaign.

2. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' district was one of the districts targeted.

2. Gabrielle Giffords calls Palin to the map for saying this and speaks of "consequences" in an interview on MSNBC.

3. Giffords' office  is attacked along with fellow Arizona congressmen Raul Girjalva's office.

3. Ms. Giffords is shot in the head later in th year.

These four things are facts. They happened. And Palin wants to stifle any conversation about any of this? Then doubles down and uses the term "blood libel" in relation to herself. Does she know that Giffords is JEWISH? My commenters accuse me of having no shame and scoring political points. Are you fucking KIDDING me?

Imagine if Hillary Clinton had done that and someone had been shot in the head. Imagine if it were Muslims that put up a map like this. The reaction would be exactly the same as mine...likely worse...from the right. And they would be correct. The defense, from the right, for the crosshairs map is that the Democrats put one out in 2004. My question is a simple one.


The second, and equally important, way that the right wing epically fails is their titanic resistance to the idea that people don't operate in a vacuum. Palin again from yesterday.

Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own. They begin and end with the criminals who commit them, not collectively with all the citizens of a state, not with those who listen to talk radio, not with maps of swing districts used by both sides of the aisle, not with law-abiding citizens who respectfully exercise their First Amendment rights at campaign rallies, not with those who proudly voted in the last election.

Wrong. David Adkisson walked into a Unitarian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee and killed two people, wounding seven others. During his interview, Adkisson said that he believed that all liberals should be killed because they are ruining the country. Books by Sean Hannity, Michael Savage and Bill O'Reilly were found in his home. People don't operate in a vacuum. Even if Loughner had been found with Palin's books and the crosshairs map, she still would've denied any responsibility...just as Hannity, Savage and O'Reilly all did back in 2008.

As I wrote about the other day, we are the product of our socialization. The way people behave is not simply a result of their own actions but the result of a lifetime of interactions with both the people and the institutions of our country. The media is an institution of our country that is overwhelmingly influential and poweful. Make no mistake, folks. I am not saying that Hannity caused Adkisson to go out and shoot these people. It was the combination of Hannity (et al), Adkisson's own warped mind, and the failure of the various agencies of socialization in Adkisson's life. It was the combination of all these factors. As a side note, this is why I think gun control is ludicrous. The guns aren't the problem...the agencies of socialization are the problem if they fail!

So, it's a double (and most epic) fail illustrated beautifully in the form of Sarah Palin. She can't own up to her own contribution to the overall problem and she can't admit that Jared Loughner is who he is because of the culture in which he lives. This is a fundamental (and most common) flaw in conservative ideology. Quite frankly, it's a flaw that needs to be corrected if our society ever wants to get any further down the road. We need to understand that it is both.

The icing on the (hilarious) cake is that she falls back into what we clearly should all get this latest tragedy so eloquently illustrates...she blames liberals, using the term "blood libel," and once again TARGETS them as evil. And we are right back in the shit...again!

Honestly, though, it's clear why she and other right wingers are pissed. Their insecurity is glaringly obvious. Nearly every discussion I've ever had with the right has been like this. This is why they accuse Social Security of being like a Ponzi Scheme:. They don't have informed opinions...only delusions that fit their they make shit up, pulling it deep from within their asses. The real reason why she and some others on the right are PO'd about this is that they have nothing else. They have to resort to insane levels of hyperbole.  "Don't retreat, reload" is their meat. If that mode of discourse is taken away, their position will be revealed for what it is.

Full of sound and fury...signifying nothing.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Cold, hard facts and cold, dead hands

Video games have been blamed for much of the violence in the last decade. I have no doubt that sooner or later that someone will make that connection with Jared Loughner. But video games, as simulations of reality, can offer some insights.

Computer and role-playing games model reality in many ways, but most break down combat into offensive and defensive capabilities. Offensive capabilities have statistics such as basic to-hit chance, accuracy, weapon speed, type of damage, rate of fire, and raw numerical damage. Defensive capabilities have statistics such as deflection, dodging, parrying, and damage resistance or damage reduction.

Most games model armor and helmets as providing damage resistance and sometimes deflection. Shields more often provide deflection rather than damage resistance, and provide a chance to block attacks. Hand weapons such as swords, staves, polearms and the like have statistics such accuracy, speed, damage, parrying chance and the like. Missile weapons such as bows, thrown spears and guns have stats for basic hit chance, accuracy, damage type, total damage, and rate of fire.

Some games provide additional rules for resolving total damage inflicted based on hit location: a shot to the hand can't kill you immediately and the total damage is often limited to some fraction of a torso hit. A shot to the head will do double or quadruple damage based on ammunition type.

Note the total lack of defensive statistics that missile weapons provide.

The other thing you learn from video games is tactics: strike first, strike hard, and strike from concealment.

It's been widely reported that Gabrielle Giffords was a supporter of gun rights. After the door of her office was smashed in during the health care tirades (they were hardly debates) she apparently decided to carry a pistol. Arizona has some of the most liberal gun laws in the country: a recently passed concealed carry law allows almost anyone to buy a gun and hide it on their person almost anywhere they go.

But as anyone who plays video games knows, guns provide no defensive protection. At best they provide first-strike capability if the attacker is detected, or more likely, a retributive strike after the initial onslaught. At worst, guns provide no protection at all if the shooter is fast, agile, calm and prepared.

And that's exactly how it played out in Arizona. Giffords never had a chance because Loughner came at her from behind and capped her. With a high-capacity clip, he was then able to shoot almost two dozen people in a matter of seconds. Giffords may well have had her pistol in her purse. It didn't matter. If she had been wearing it on her hip, or even holding it in her hand, it still wouldn't have mattered.

The only way this would have played out differently is if Giffords had had an armed security detail that had identified Loughner as a potential threat. They might have been able to stop him from approaching Giffords from behind, but given Arizona's gun laws, he had every right to meet the congresswoman while packing heat. So they would have had to let him talk to her. And at any point during the conversation Loughner could reach into his jacket, pull out his pistol and shoot her in the heart. Maybe the security detail could stop him, maybe not. But there was no detail, so it's a moot point. (And I wonder how long it will be before Giffords is called irresponsible for not taking precautions? "You screwed up -- you trusted me!")

And security details can sometimes be the problem. A Pakistani politician was killed by one of his guards last week. The killer -- a conservative Muslim who despised the liberal policies of the governor of Punjab province -- is now being celebrated as a hero by many devout Muslims.

Now imagine, as I'm sure many of you are, that every person in the crowd was packing. After Loughner shoots Giffords everyone is momentarily stunned. During that time Loughner shoots the aide standing next to her. Then the judge standing in line to talk to her. Then he starts shooting randomly into the crowd.

Semiautomatic pistols fire as fast as you can pull the trigger. Someone practiced at this can fire two or three shots per second, maybe more. Loughner apparently got a lot of practice and was a good shot.

Then the crowd realizes what is happening and they all reach into their jacket holsters and purses for their pistols, fumble to find and click off the safeties, and raise their weapons to aim and finally fire. Five seconds have gone by, and Loughner would have gotten 10 to 15 shots off. He's shooting into a crowd, firing at random. His shots will find targets no matter how bad his aim is.

Now the crowd -- untrained, panicked old ladies, moms with kids, and middle-aged men -- start shooting at Loughner. It's well known that handgun accuracy among even well-trained policemen is abysmally low in live-fire situations. Here it would certainly be lower. Ninety to 95% of the bullets fired would miss Loughner. But they could very well hit other people in the crowd, or even Giffords herself.

Remember the old joke about the circular firing squad?

Then there's the problem of identifying the aggressor. Early on in the war in Afghanistan more troops died from friendly fire than enemy action. If everyone has guns and is shooting, how does anyone know who the bad guys are?

In the Arizona incident there actually was a guy with a gun who came onto the scene. Joe Zamudio heard the shots, came rushing in and saw a guy with a gun. Zamudio put his hand on his weapon and . . . did not draw it. As it turned out, the guy with the gun had just taken it from Loughner. Zamudio kept his weapon holstered as long as possible to avoid being mistaken for the shooter. If he'd had it out with a round in the chamber, giving him that much less time to observe the situation, would he have shot an innocent man? He counts himself very lucky.

This is why cops wear uniforms: so that they can identify each other easily and civilians can recognize their authority. Cops coming on to the scene of a mass shootout have no way of identifying who's who, and could easily shoot the "good" guys.

Then there's the psychological angle. If you buy a gun you have to assume you're going to kill someone some day. Because you can't just threaten someone with it. Odds are they'll see the fear in your eyes, and they'll take that gun from you. And they may use it on you and your loved ones. Unless you're prepared to kill someone, owning a gun "for protection" is foolish.

Finally there are the consequences of killing someone. Cops and soldiers often suffer severe psychological trauma after a shooting. And they're trained to deal with it, fully expecting they will have to kill someone someday. Civilians without training would be at least as devastated, unless they're already halfway down the road the Loughner is on.

The tragedy in Arizona is really no different from Columbine, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood and dozens of home, postal and office rampages. Some suicidal nut job motivated by religion, politics, divorce, alienation, or revenge gets a gun and shoots people up.

Because a gun is not like a Kevlar vest or a ballistic helmet, it is not protection in any meaningful sense. It is a deterrent only because it threatens retaliation. If someone doesn't care whether they live or die, or they believe that they are faster and better and can outshoot their victims, or they are attacking from the rear, from cover or from great range, guns provide no protection whatsoever.

The one exception is in the theater of war, where it is (usually) obvious what the threats are, and threats can be preemptively neutralized. This is the proverbial best-defense-is-a-good-offense sort of protection.

But it points out the fallacy of carrying a weapon in a civil society. It is no sort of protection for the average person: the bad guys will just shoot first. Like Loughner, they will just cap you from behind if they think you're armed. Do we really want to turn our streets into warzones where people shoot first out of fear?

In Arizona there are six more pairs of cold, dead hands because we as a nation refuse to acknowledge the cold, hard facts about guns.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Michael Jordan Generation

My senior year in high school was pretty amazing for a number of reasons. The first was that I had a fucking killer girlfriend. Gorgeous, fun, opinionated, highly intelligent and so much more, she really set the tone for what kind of woman I would be attracted to over my life. In addition, I had a great group of friends, was very involved in the TV studio and theater at the school, and had a great little business I had started painting and detailing windows. I only had a few customers but I made great money for 1984.

It was that same year that my beloved Chicago Bulls finally saw a ray of light and hope join their team in the form of the best player to ever play the game. He averaged 28 points a game on just over 50 percent shooting that season and became an instant star. Just a few years later, he led the Bulls to the first of 2 threepeats. His name was Michael Jordan and there is no doubt in my mind that he is responsible for the giant pile of shit that currently is American culture.

Now, I like Mike as much as the next person. I'm even a huge fan of sports and enjoy watching it regularly. But if you are someone who grew up during his era, you were socialized at a very key point in the development of our culture. And, as I will illustrate, it's not really Mike personally that was (and still is) the problem. It was the institutions in our society and the interactions that our citizens have with them that created the malaise. And its zenith was Michael Jordan so, like doctors that get diseases named after them, I am naming this one the Michael Jordan Generation (MJG).

We are not a nation of rugged individualists. I know that's going to send many commenters here into anaphylaxis but people aren't perpetual soloists in a culture as developed as ours. How we function in the interactions with our society's institutions (functionalism) and with each other (symbolic interaction) dictates our behavior. I've always been a blank slate fellow. I don't agree with Rousseau's concept of innate goodness nor do I think that we are all wretched sinners who need Jesus to save us. Being a believer in Christ means coming to Him of your own free will, not scoring brownie points in either beating yourself up or feeling guilty because you think someone's ass (male or female) is hot. You are a blank slate and the teachings of Christ...your belief in him...and your interactions within Christianity (or whatever you believe in) help to define who you are along with the multitude of other things with which you interact. 

Something else that is important to note here before we proceed further is that human beings are emotional. Trying to remove that element completely in any sort of analysis is pure folly. We are not Spock. You can pretend you are but then you would be a liar--as are many of my commenters who claim to rational and logical but then say things like

I'd ask if you've been sippin' the stupid juice, but it's more like you've been gulpin' it.

Comments like these are a daily occurrence here. I have no problem with people saying any of this stuff. Where I have a problem is with the hypocrisy. Emotions enter in to who we are as people and how we make decisions every day. These emotions arise from interactions with other people (such as in the comments sections of a blog) and they fill in the blank slate of who we are and who we become. They CHANGE us. You may have the conceit that by posting on a libertarian blog that you are sharing your rugged individualism with others but you are, in fact, interacting with people in a symbolic way which alters your behavior. This is a collective influence not an individual one. 

The main reason why I mention emotions,though, is what arises out of them: desire. We desire to fit in and function in our society and when we don't, we experience anomie or normlessness. We've all had the experience of seeing a McDonald's ad on television and then being hungry for a cheeseburger. I've even gone out and bought one before. On a very low level, this is operant conditioning. Desire, however, comes from repeated interaction with the people and institutions in our lives and that is much more powerful.

So, we are not a culture of islands. When we interact with our family, our peer group, our community, our schools, and the mass media (the five main areas of socialization), we behave in certain and distinct ways as a result of those interactions. There is no doubt in my mind that this was the case with Jared Loughner, the shooter in the Arizona Safeway massacre. His interactions with these five areas made him who he is today. Nikto spoke of this in his post yesterday. Somewhere along the line Jared's blank slate was filled in with socialization that led him to believe that shooting people was perfectly acceptable. Time and again we see examples like this and it illustrates a very key failure of the right wing and libertarian philosophy.: People don't operate in a vacuum. Of course, it would be wrong to say that personal responsibility shouldn't be considered at all. It's equally as wrong to say, however, that Jared's interactions played no part at all in what he did and it's just his individual fault. It's both.

There was a time when the first four of these areas were more significant. These smaller spheres had a great deal of influence on filling in the blank slate. Today, however, the mass media is the most significant and its influence has become so overwhelming in defining our culture and our interactions with the people in our family, peer groups, community and schools that, as an instructor, I can't even come close to competing with it. We have been socialized by the mass media to be ADD and want that "bright, shiny object." This brings us back to Mike.

The people that are parents today grew up seeing Mike hawk cars, clothes, soft drinks and shoes. This is how they have seen success defined: extrinsically. Hawking these items has been around forever but not at such a monumentally high level as when Mike showed up. Because of this Niagara Falls type inundation, this is how they raise their children. They have turned them into consumer drones giving in completely to the emotion of envy...of wanting to have the latest thing to make their lives happier. There are exceptions to the rule, of course, but generally parents today and even some people in the mid 20s who aren't parents have been conditioned to believe that Michael Jordan is the pure embodiment of success and that our lives should be patterned after him. Mike is a shining example of the fact that the first four areas of socialization have all succumbed to this model of achievement and have altered their function within our culture.

We have, I fear, been changed for the worse because of this.

Parents now raise their children to be superstar athletes and adjust their lifestyles accordingly. Take the example of hockey in my state of Minnesota. It is played year round here starting at the age of 3. It costs thousands of dollars to play and if you were a kid who just wanted to play for fun, you can pretty much forget it. There are practices 4-5 nights a week with games on the other nights. These games are just as competitive and important to parents as the NHL. Fights break out often in the stands. We see them on the news and I see them all the time. Hockey is only one example. This rigorous level is seen in virtually all other sports.

Sadly, this mindset is so consuming that parents are, what I call, COP...Checked Out Parents. Their desire to have the "bright, shiny object" is so overwhelming that their involvement in socializing their kids is often non-existent. And it's not just because of sports as we will see shortly.

Peer groups have become part of the chain as well. If you don't play a sport, you are either "gay" or "retarded." From this we have seen the rise of increased competition in a variety of other sports like swimming and Ultimate Frisbee-a game that used to not have any refs. Everyone has to play a sport so they can be like Mike. Teens geek out on Facebook and YouTube to sports related activities which is pretty much everything now. My favorite bands from the UK are all massive Premier League and dying with a sport that encourages and rewards mediocrity.

It's important to note here that this mentality goes beyond sports. Sports is merely a spring board into the material and consumer based mentality that has permeated every level of our age cohorts, our peer groups, and, thus, into our families. To be cool, you have to be consumed by some or several areas of media. If it weren't for Harry Potter or Twilight, I have to wonder if young people would event talk about books at all! Even Harry Potter is like Mike...clothes, shoes, soft drinks...

Communities gear their city operations around sports due to the increased demand. Gyms open at 5am for practice and some games don't start until 9pm due to such high demand. A community is more attractive if they have 2-3 hockey rinks. Basketball training facilities have popped up around my town in the last few years so kids can play year round. Their goal? To be like, clothes, shoes, soft drinks.

Perhaps the worst culprit are the schools. Sports has always been important in schools but today it is their culture. Want a kid to do his work in class? Show him or her you know something about sports. Then you're cool and they will get it done. And why are they cool? Cars, clothes, shoes, soft drinks...all things we have been trained to envy, desire, and believe we will we have been told and shown by the Michael Jordan Generation which essentially runs our country. As I have stated above, this model carries over into other areas besides sports. Honestly, it's all aspects of the mass media working on steroid overdrive to sell, sell sell! And one is not a complete person unless one has these things.

I can't compete with that. I can show them things that I think are cool like how our government operates or the history of our country. I can try to connect them with things they like today (which are all consumer driven) but it's mostly futile. It's not what I say, it's what they see. I had a student tell me the other day that he was going to be LeBron. I pointed out the percentages of that happening and he would have none of it. The MJG has told him otherwise. Big house filled with, clothes, shoes, soft drinks...

Again, I must confess that I am as much of a sports maniac as all of them. I play and coach tennis. I do like to win. I am emotionally down for a day or two after a Vikings loss which, after this season, was quite a bit. But I don't have those glassy eyes of a fucking zombie and the seemingly never ending desire to raise my children in a pro athlete style. My children play sports but I teach them that they are a part of life, not a lifestyle. Most Americans want a lifestyle and they are too lazy and impatient to have a life. Life is about learning a variety of skills that will help you earn a living and contribute to the community where you live. Most parents do not teach their children this and it's because they believe in the bill of goods that has been sold to them by the mass media. It will somehow happen instantly if you...just buy this pair of Mike's shoes...

My favorite line from Inside Job comes from Andrew Sheng, a Chinese economic advisor. "Engineers build bridges...Financial advisors build dreams. And when those dreams become nightmares..."

That first line really made me think. What do we build these days? This is the fundamental difference between our country and China. They are building things...making things...and we really aren't. We desire a lifestyle filled with leisure and, thus, people make shit loads of money off of services in this country.  I have a friend who used to be in the NBA that owns one of those basketball gyms. What exactly is he offering society? There are businesses in China that are building machines to make solar power an efficient alternative to coal and oil. People around the world are buying this technology. How can the global market "buy" a training session from a former NBA player? Why would they even want to? Why is having this training so important to have in America? They can pretend for an hour or two that they are Mike. Cars, clothes, shoes, soft drinks....ironically, most made now in other countries!

I've been asked several times on this blog to point to ways private corporations and the wealthy people that run them are in control of our lives and directly harm us on purpose in the name of profit. I've offered some small and specific examples but they were mere threads in one giant quilt. The answer to these continued questions is much larger than some of the small examples I have mentioned.

Sit back and think about what I have written regarding the mass media's victory over the other four areas of socialization. Think about how they permeate every aspect of our lives now. Imagine what our culture was like before Michael Jordan (car, clothes, shoes, soft drink) and what it's like now. On a systemic level, it has, I fear, been irrevocably changed.

Now, ask yourselves....

Who owns the mass media?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Holiday Dinner Conversation

There's been a lot of discussion about whether the unremitting hate-filled vitriol from the right had anything to do with the shooting of Gabby Giffords in Arizona. It's pretty clear it has. For example...

I was having dinner on Christmas with my family: my wife, my father, mother, three of my sisters, two brothers-in-law, one brother-in-law's mother, and three grandchildren.

We had already had the annual argument on Thanksgiving, so politics was not under discussion. But my father was taking advantage of my brother-in-law's fast Internet connection by watching a Lou Dobbs video. I'm not sure why; Dobbs is making an all-out effort to state that he thinks the illegals are the only rational actors in this mess. Whereas my father thinks illegals should be shot on sight.

Anyway, during dinner my father took the opportunity (again) to crow about the Burma Shave style signs he had put along the highway that took Obama's comment about the United States no longer being a just Christian nation out of context.

Which prompted my nine-year-old nephew to excitedly chime in: "We should put up a sign charging ten dollars to shoot Obama."

For a moment everyone was quiet. Then my sister said, in a very careful and considered tone, "No, sweetie, we don't say things like that. Nobody should shoot anybody."

No one said another thing about it. But everyone knew exactly where this was coming from. My brother-in-law is a birther. He rejects all the evidence that Obama was born in the United States, insists that the birth certificate that has been validated by many observers is false, and so on.

So, is my brother-in-law talking about assassinating the president in front of his third-grade son? I don't know. Maybe the kid came up with this idea all by himself.

But my brother-in-law says that it's "his opinion" that Obama is not an American. Since Obama's mother was an American, nothing else matters -- Obama is an American. End of story. My brother-in-law might as well be saying, "It's my opinion that the sun circles the earth."

What the right calls their "opinions" are quite frequently "delusions." And these delusions are getting increasingly dangerous and violent.

When millions of Americans like my brother-in-law and father prefer to believe the lie that the president has absolutely no right to serve, that there is a vast conspiracy to put an anti-Colonial Kenyan at the top of the US government, it provides the basis for the less balanced to commit murder. This is exactly how the Fort Hood shooter was incited to go on the same sort of shooting rampage. We call him a Muslim terrorist, but he was clearly unhinged and deluded; how is Loughner any different?

Little kids do not always grow up to share their parents' prejudices, opinions and delusions. I share none of my father's hatred of illegal immigrants. My sister married a Mexican-American man, and my father disowned her for it. He's probably spoken to her just once in the last 18 years. But two of my sisters married guys who tell the same racist jokes that my dad does.

So it makes me wonder. What did Randy Loughner, Jared's dad, say in front of his son while he was growing up? Did he talk about "second-amendment remedies" in front of his son? Or is he just as crushed by this as most of us are?

Kids learn what is "normal" by observing their parents and peers. The current political environment is toxic and disgusting to most adults. Think about what it's doing to the kids.