Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Knowing What They Want To Believe

It's hard to not be terrified in reading Paul Krugman's recent piece regarding the GOP's emerging anti science campaign. A living example of this is the current front runner of the GOP field for president, Governor of Texas Rick Perry, saying that "more and more scientists are questioning global warming. Let's examine Perry's claim first.

To put it simply, he's wrong and here's exactly why he is wrong.

The IPCC, the US Global Change Research Program, and earlier this year the National Research Council and the National Academy of Sciences all are in agreement on the sources of climate change and why it is happening. The last two concluded that climate change is occurring, that it is caused primarily by the emission of greenhouse gases from human activities, and that it poses significant risks for a range of human and natural systems. It specifically rejected the view that that those findings are in some way questionable

This committee organized by the NRC and the Academy had this to say.

Although the scientific process is always open to new ideas and results, the fundamental causes and consequences of climate change have been established by many years of scientific research, are supported by many different lines of evidence, and have stood firm in the face of careful examination, repeated testing, and the rigorous evaluation of alternative theories and explanations.

Further, the Academy also did a study which found that 97-98 percent of those scientists actively publishing in the field agree that climate change that human beings are causing climate change. Other surveys reveal the same percentages.

Of course, Perry also hauled the classic "faulty or manipulated data" line which has been thoroughly debunked by three separate reviews. This brings us to Krugman's Anti Science piece.

I could point out that Mr. Perry is buying into a truly crazy conspiracy theory, which asserts that thousands of scientists all around the world are on the take, with not one willing to break the code of silence. I could also point out that multiple investigations into charges of intellectual malpractice on the part of climate scientists have ended up exonerating the accused researchers of all accusations. But never mind: Mr. Perry and those who think like him know what they want to believe, and their response to anyone who contradicts them is to start a witch hunt.

For those of you who are in the GOP or on the right, is this really the direction you want to head? It's honestly just another example of how there is literally nothing behind your ideology other than proving the other side wrong...your central credo being, "My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."

Krugman points out where we might be headed.

We don’t know who will win next year’s presidential election. But the odds are that one of these years the world’s greatest nation will find itself ruled by a party that is aggressively anti-science, indeed anti-knowledge. And, in a time of severe challenges — environmental, economic, and more — that’s a terrifying prospect.

Amen, brother. And this is why I have this site.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Republican Reformation

Markadelphia has yet again vented his spleen about the Republican Party and how it is ultimately doomed, but again I think he is off base. It's not doomed, it's just going through a very messy Reformation, as England did during the rule of Henry VIII. The Tea Partyers see themselves as saviors of the Republican Party, modern Luthers, but a better analogy is Thomas Cromwell.

At that time the Catholic Church was riven by schism. Lutherans in the Germanic countries split off from Rome. Luther felt the papacy was corrupt, it was obsessed with money and material goods, it allowed sinners to buy indulgences, it engaged in idolatry, it had too many saints and minor deities like Mary, it forbade the common people to read the word of God (William Tyndale translated the Bible into English and was hanged for it), and it set the priesthood up as a wall between the people and Christ.

In England this played out differently. There were some Lutheran-style reformationists, but there were many who remained loyal to the Catholic Church, including the Henry's first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and her daughter Mary, who eventually became queen. Catherine could not give Henry a son and he wanted the marriage dissolved so he could remarry a more fecund bride.

Thomas More, Henry's chancellor, was a solid Catholic. He opposed the Reformation and burned heretics at the stake (he was eventually canonized). He was opposed to Henry's divorce, and was ultimately executed.

Thomas Cromwell, who became Henry's chief minister, used his position to push the English Church into the Reformation, rounding up and executing his religious and political enemies. He also closed down many monasteries and other religious institutions and took their money for the king and himself.

(Incidentally, this history makes it obvious why America's founding fathers believed wholeheartedly in the separation of church and state. These very conflicts caused so many people to flee England to America. It wasn't Muslims killing Christians, this was Christians killing Christians because one believed that holy wafers were actually Christ's flesh, and the other thought it was just a bland cracker.)

Cromwell got Henry his divorce from Catherine, and the English church split from Rome. Henry married Anne Boleyn, who bore him Elizabeth who eventually became queen. Anne never gave Henry a son and was ultimately executed on charges of infidelity and incest, which were almost certainly trumped up. Henry then married Jane Seymour, who did give him a son, but she died in childbirth.

It was Cromwell's fanatical zeal that did him in. He forced Henry into a marriage with Anne of Cleves in order to more closely ally England with the Lutheran countries. Henry married Ann just five days after meeting her, even though he had no attraction to her, and the marriage was annulled before being consummated. Cromwell was executed for treason, heresy and corruption. But his real crime was being a bad matchmaker.

Then Henry married Catherine Howard, a girl many years his junior, who did commit adultery, and was executed for it. Finally he married Catherine Parr who outlived him.

What can we learn from this history? Cromwell's Reformationist zeal is much like the Tea Party's. He was willing to kill on the slightest pretext of heresy, in exactly the same way the Tea Party radicals are willing, nay, eager, to destroy traditionally conservative Republicans like Orrin Hatch. The Tea Party is conducting a hunt for heretics, and are finding them everywhere. The Tea Party cry is "Convert or die!" Heretics will be burned at the stake.

But the Tea Party, like Cromwell forcing Anne of Cleves on Henry, is in danger of forcing an unelectable presidential candidate on the Republican Party. By holding the country's economy hostage to their debt-ceiling dogma, the Tea Party's negatives are going up all around, most importantly among independents with a conservative bent.

The evangelicals and Reformationists were a minority in England, and even though they held great power while they enjoyed the king's favor, in the end the traditional bent of the clergy, the people and the nobles won the day, and many of the reforms that Cromwell and his ilk killed for went by the wayside. Since then the Anglican Church has been much more like the Catholic Church than the evangelical and Lutheran churches, and for many years there was talk of reunification (women and gay priests have pretty much ended that).

In the long run the Republican Party is inherently conservative, and will return to the conservative roots it had before the current wave of Tea Party radicalism. Over the last 50 to 80 years Social Security and Medicare and the concepts underlying them have become part of the fabric of American society. They have problems, but Americans want them fixed, not destroyed. The Tea Party was born in opposition to the health care law, even though everyone knows we need some kind of health care reform, and that means some kind of collective responsibility for all Americans' health. Opposition to health care reform is a prelude to the demolition of Medicare and Social Security. The Tea Party's fervent zeal to destroy them will ultimately fail when America's elderly -- the people who vote in the greatest numbers -- finally realize what the Tea Party has in store for them.

It's tempting to assign historical roles to the modern players in the Republican Party. Sarah Palin as Anne Boleyn for seducing John McCain and causing a terrible schism in the Republican Party. Michele Bachmann as Catherine Howard, the crazy bimbo. Karl Rove as Thomas More, for executing Reformationists like Christine O'Donnell. Grover Norquist as Thomas Cromwell, for going after anyone in the old guard who dares cross him and his radical tax-cut theology. And Rick Perry as Henry VIII, for executing more people in Texas than any other governor, including the insane, mentally deficient and children (Henry had a law passed allowing the execution of the insane so that Lady Rochford, who helped Catherine Howard arrange her adulterous liaisons and went mad while imprisoned in the Tower of London, could be beheaded).

In the end, if the Republicans run a Tea-Party turkey and lose to Obama in 2012, the Tea Party will find its head on the executioner's block just like Thomas Cromwell did.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The (Grand Old) Party is Over

Right after the 2008 election I made the mistake of saying that the GOP was essentially finished. Later, I realized that I failed to take into account the fear, anger and hatred in their base that would keep them going and achieve marginal victories.

Lately, however, I have begun to realize that I made the mistake of looking at this in the same way the right does: "winning" the argument and "proving" people wrong. The election of 2010, for example, could be seen as a repudiation of President Obama and the Democrat's policies. The GOP won back the House in a landslide victory so that must mean that they're not dead by a long shot, right?


I submit that they are dead and it's only a matter of time before the coroner's final report. Further, I'm not just talking about the GOP. I'm talking about the majority of the right today including libertarians and the Tea Party.

The problem here is that most people are thinking about this in terms of winning elections and not actually solving problems. Solving problems implies that you have solutions. The right don't have any solutions. Zero. Go down the line on every issue and I challenge anyone to show me that the ideas of the right have worked in any sort of practical situation. There is no evidence for this on any sort of serious scale. For the last 30 years, they have been miserable fucking failures and continue to say the same things over and over again which, honestly, is a sign of insanity.

Now, I'm talking about their ideology here...the fundamental things they stand for...laissez faire economics...national and international environment...all of them, epic fails with the same answers for each one of these issues. In short, shoving the square peg in the round hole.

I'm certain they are going to continue to win elections in the near future but that isn't because they have been "proved right." Or, more importantly, are doing a good job. It's because people prefer them the way some people like the Dave Matthews Band and I don't. It has nothing to do with results. The Democrats aren't perfect but at least they are trying and it's because of this that they leave themselves open to criticism because they will make mistakes. How nice it must be to have no real solutions but still be able sit back and criticize! It's too bad that there are millions of Americans right now that don't see the obvious: when you only think in terms of winning the argument and proving people wrong, you don't have any substance any more.

In other words, when the only tool in your tool kit is a hammer, everything is a nail.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Another Significant Blow

As the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks approaches, I am very heartened to see that the people who attacked us on that day are being taken apart. One of the main reasons why I voted for Barack Obama was his promise to focus more heavily on AfPak (where Al Qaeda actually is) and alter the strategy for dismantling their operational capabilities. His policies have been tremendously effective and much more successful than his predecessor.

Osama bin Laden is dead and the data we seized from his compound that day has led us to strike another crippling blow to Al Qaeda. Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, Al Qaeda's #2, was killed in a recent missile strike in Waziritstan along with four other Al Qaeda members. From the article.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said last month that al-Qaida's defeat was within reach if the U.S. could mount a string of successful attacks."Now is the moment, following what happened with bin Laden, to put maximum pressure on them," Panetta said, "because I do believe that if we continue this effort we can really cripple al-Qaida as a major threat."

Al Qaeda's defeat within reach? Amazing. There can be no denying that the Obama administration deserves the credit for this and I think that we may very well see Zawahari taken out by next year as well.

Once again, well done!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Two Voices In My Head

It's been awhile since Rush Limbaugh has been on anyone's radar. That means it's time to haul out something racist.

And while we are on the subject of food...Sarah Palin recently confirmed, in an email discussing her attendance at the Iowa State Fair, just how much the right are like 8 year old boys.

I’m excited to try some of that famous fried butter-on-a-stick, fried cheesecake-on-a-stick, fried Twinkies, honor of those who’d rather make us just ‘eat our peas.’

WAAHHHH!!!! I don't wanna!!!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Friday Bonanza (Part Four)

It was only a matter of time...

These programs [Social Security and Medicare} actually weakened us as a people. You see, almost forever, it was institutions in society that assumed the role of taking care of one another. If someone was sick in your family, you took care of them. If a neighbor met misfortune, you took care of them. You saved for your retirement and your future because you had to. We took these things upon ourselves in our communities, our families, and our homes, and our churches and our synagogues. But all that changed when the government began to assume those responsibilities. All of a sudden, for an increasing number of people in our nation, it was no longer necessary to worry about saving for security because that was the government’s job.

---Florida Senator Marco Rubio, 8-24-2011.

So, family members and neighbors can cough up the tens of thousands of dollars it costs to take care of someone today? I suppose they can magically solve the inefficiency of health care markets as well. Of course, he completely ignores the FACT that poverty in the elderly dropped by 40 percent as a result of Social Security so, no, these people were not being taken care of at all back in the days of yore. They got sick and died.

Aren't there a lot of elderly people living in Florida? Did they vote for this guy?

Friday Bonanza (Part Three)

With all the anti-science talk lately from the GOP candidates (save the only sane one, Jon Hunstman), I thought it appropriate to share this quote from one of my favorite authors.

"Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'" ---Isaac Asimov

Paging Thomas Sowell...

Friday Bonanza (Part Two)

A little while back in comments I submitted the idea that LBJ was complicit in the JFK hit. Apparently, I'm not the only one. 

Friday Bonanza (Part One)

I have a bunch of smaller thoughts that I have been saving so I'll just spill them all out at once for a Friday Bonanza. First up is this piece about the Bachmann cover of Newsweek. Does she have the Crazy Eyes?

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Real Class Warfare

Every time someone talks about raising taxes on the wealthy, Republicans scream "Class warfare!" When Warren Buffett called on us to stop coddling the super rich in the New York Times, Republicans instantly labeled him a socialist.

But Republicans are really the ones waging all-out class warfare, mostly against union members, workers in low-paying jobs and the poor. Scott Walker gutted union rights in Wisconsin. Mitch Daniels has been attacking unions in Indiana for years. Boeing is moving its aircraft production from Washington to South Carolina for the express purpose of destroying the union. When the National Labor Relations Board interceded Republican Congressman Darrell Issa filed subpoenas against the NLRB, interfering with an ongoing legal investigation.

Republicans aren't going to stop at unions: they're declaring war on low-paid workers as well. Tea Partyer Austin Scott of Georgia introduced a one-sentence bill to banish the Legal Services Corporation that even Herman Cain can read. Why? Because LSC helped a bunch of American workers sue Hamilton Growers, a company that was found guilty of preferentially hiring foreign workers from Mexico on H-2A visas over Americans.

Republicans will tell us that this is another government agency interfering with private individuals conducting their business as they see fit.

But when Republicans defend companies who are selling out Americans to foreigners, the hypocrisy should become apparent to all. It's not a question of government regulation or individual freedom. It's a question of employers who want to treat employees like interchangeable machines and slaves.

Now conservatives like Ann Coulter, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry have gone into full frontal assault with class warfare, directly attacking the nearly half of all Americans who can't pay income tax. They call these people lazy, freeloaders, animals and all manner of nasty names.

What they don't bother to mention is that these people don't pay income tax because they make very little money, or draw Social Security (which is not taxed if you have no other income). They also neglect to mention that the "freeloaders" who draw a salary still pay Social Security and Medicare taxes, and all of them will pay federal gas taxes, federal cigarette taxes if they smoke, taxes on phone bills, state sales taxes, etc. A part-time waitress earning $20,000 may not pay income tax, but she will pay almost $1,000 in payroll taxes.

But Bachmann is still demanding that these "freeloaders" pay "something" even if it's only a dollar. Why? It would cost much more than a dollar for the IRS to process a one-dollar payment. And what if they don't pay? Is Bachmann so vindictive she would sic tax collectors on all those waitresses who owe the symbolic $1, even though it would cost hundreds or perhaps thousands of dollars to collect that delinquent one-dollar payment? That would ultimately waste billions and billions of tax dollars on pointless attempts to collect insignificant sums of money. And these same people complain in the next breath about wasteful federal spending.

The Republicans have been using these divisive class warfare tactics for decades, bitching about illegal immigrants, welfare queens and "reverse discrimination." As with the Southern Strategy, they are stoking anger in a very specific segment of the electorate -- lower middle- to middle-class whites, or "real Americans" -- against an inferior segment of the electorate -- this time the working poor and the elderly -- by saying that the working poor and elderly are somehow getting a special deal that "real Americans" have to pay for.

By vilifying the poor and disadvantaged, the Republicans get "real Americans" to demand "justice" because the poor are getting things they don't "deserve." The unspoken code is that rich deserve everything they get, even though they pay proportionally less tax than the "real Americans" they've bamboozled into hating the poor, illegal immigrants and blacks.

Despots have used this trick throughout history to sway public opinion. In the modern United States it's easy to make people hate those they already feel are somehow undeserving and inferior (union members, the poor and other races), and harder to make someone hate that which we all aspire to (wealth and fame). In other countries in other times the targets were Jews, the bourgeoisie, communists, other tribes, Catholics, Protestants, and so on.

What people refuse to admit is that there are good and bad people in all strata of society. There are lazy poor people, and there are lazy rich people. There are union workers who use work rules to sit around, and there are corporate execs who just play golf and fly around on corporate junkets. There are welfare queens who just watch TV and wealthy trust fund babies who pay next to no taxes and just shop all day. There are illegal (and legal) immigrants who steal jobs from American citizens, and CEOs who send millions of American jobs to China and India. And there are poor people who work three minimum-wage jobs non-stop just to keep food on the table, and billionaires who have worked tirelessly to create thousands of jobs for people in this country.

But it's not practical to tax people who don't make enough money to feed, clothe and house themselves. And it's not right to make the wealthy pay for everyone else.

So, I'm not saying soak the rich. I'm saying Warren Buffett, CEOs, hedge fund managers and the clowns who caused the economic meltdown should pay taxes at the same rate as secretaries, doctors, nurses, engineers, janitors, cooks, construction workers and all the other people who actually make this country run.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

They Haven't Changed, Have They?

Wow. FDR sounds like he is describing right wingers in 2011 and not just those in 1936. Not much progress in 75 years!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Bachmann, Paul and Prostitution

The Iowa straw poll gave an interesting result, with Michele Bachmann squeaking out an insignificantly tiny win over Ron Paul. The two are almost polar opposites in all ways.

It's hard to gauge the real significance of the Ames straw poll, because the candidates are basically buying votes -- candidates ship their people in on buses, there is a registration fee, which the candidates pay, and the candidates usually provide lunch. My guess is that the real reason Pawlenty withdrew from the race was because he paid for many more votes than he actually got. If you can't even buy votes, your campaign is in serious, serious trouble.

The mainstream media have completely ignored the Paul result, which has been noted in niche media such as the Daily Show.

The reason Paul is such an embarrassment to mainstream Republicans is that he illustrates perfectly what a disaster Republican laissez-faire policies would be if carried to their logical conclusions. Paul is opposed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and our involvement in Libya. The rest of the Republican field believes military spending should be increased. Paul believes drugs and prostitution should be legal. The rest of the Republican party wants stricter government controls on all social activity, even restricting divorce laws.

While a group of us, four men and three women, were discussing Paul and Bachmann, two of the men concurred with Paul that prostitution should be legalized (is it a coincidence that one weighs upwards of 250 lbs and the other more than 350 lbs?). The more fervent advocate for prostitution has libertarian leanings, and he stated that in the places where it's legal and well-regulated, there are few problems.

Prostitution is handled in four basic ways: illegal outright, legal but regulated, legal but unregulated, and in places like Sweden accepting money for sex is legal, but paying for sex is illegal. That is, it's legal to be a prostitute, but illegal to be a john.

In countries where prostitution is legal and regulated, prostitutes typically work in highly-controlled brothels, are subject to regular testing, and safety precautions such as condoms are required. The problem with regulation is that it's limiting. Not using condoms is illegal because of the risk of infection, but most men don't like using condoms. Certain practices (anal sex) carry a higher risk of condom failure. Many johns like rough sex, including spanking, slapping, hitting, biting, whipping, etc.

This is the inherent contradiction in the legalization of prostitution. The more you regulate it to make it safer, the more incentives you create to get around those regulations. For example, Elliot Spitzer, former governor and attorney general of New York, was himself put away for soliciting prostitutes. His proclivity for going "bareback" has made him the object of much ridicule.

Thus, attempting to legalize prostitution creates a new class of prostitutes that will operate outside the limits of legal prostitution. This is borne out in countries where prostitution is legal. Human trafficking is a serious problem in those countries, including Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Turkey. Foreigners -- usually from Eastern Europe -- are abducted, shipped into the country and forced to have sex.

Illegal prostitution almost always involves some kind of coercion. Proponents of legalization claim it would eliminate this. I am unconvinced. How much latitude do prostitutes have to refuse to service clients that they find objectionable in some way? If prostitution were legalized throughout the US, how long would it take conservatives like Rush Limbaugh to start complaining that women on welfare should get off their asses and get on their backs and starting earning their keep?

But if you ignore all that, the real coercion in prostitution is the repeated exposure of workers to parasites and diseases like syphilis, gonorrhea, HIV, and hepatitis multiple times a day. Testing prostitutes does nothing to protect them from an HIV-positive man who "accidentally" breaks his condom.

If you're serious about making prostitution safe, all johns would have to be licensed, registered and tested, just like prostitutes. Since there are incubation times, a waiting period would be required after testing. All the johns' sex partners would also have to be registered and tested. All sex acts in this network would have to be recorded in order to track the vector of any infections. Johns would have to be certified psychologically stable (violence against prostitutes is common) before being licensed, and prostitutes would have to be undergo training in conflict management.

To achieve this Libertarian ideal of safe and clean prostitution, a tremendous amount of regulation would be required of both johns and prostitutes.

But that's the rub, so to speak. "Libertarian regulation" is an oxymoron.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Uncertainty? Really?

Steve Wynn, CEO of Wynn Resorts, had this to say recently about President Obama during a conference call.

And I'm saying it bluntly, that this administration is the greatest wet blanket to business, and progress and job creation in my lifetime. And I can prove it and I could spend the next 3 hours giving you examples of all of us in this market place that are frightened to death about all the new regulations, our healthcare costs escalate, regulations coming from left and right. A President that seems -- that keeps using that word redistribution. Well, my customers and the companies that provide the vitality for the hospitality and restaurant industry, in the United States of America, they are frightened of this administration. And it makes you slow down and not invest your money.


Well, this is Obama's deal, and it's Obama that's responsible for this fear in America. The guy keeps making speeches about redistribution, and maybe we ought to do something to businesses that don't invest or holding too much money. We haven't heard that kind of talk except from pure socialists.

Fairly typical of what we hear every day now from the president's critics. It's the "uncertainty" and the "socialism" that is holding back the private sector. What makes these statements so unusual, though, is what was said earlier in the call.

We had a great first quarter, the best in our history. And we went through it -- we were just around $400 million in the first quarter. We are $447 million this time, and that quarter was about 59% better than a year ago. And in fact, for the 6 months, we're 62% better than a year ago. We are all, in this organization, heartened by the results.

On January 3, -- excuse me, on July 3, I got a phone call. I was in a different city from my colleague, Marc Schorr, and he told me that on the third day of July, we equaled in Las Vegas, our cash flow, our profits of the entire year of 2010. That was a very supercharged thing to hear, but we did $271 million last year and we hit $271 million on the third of July. So for the balance of the year, everything from here on in, in Las Vegas is improvement. And we benefited from a very favorable whole percentage.

So let me see if I have this line of thinking down here...President Obama is a "giant wet blanket" to business...there are examples that "prove" this...and he is a (snore) socialist. All of this has led to the best quarter they have ever had? And it only took six months this year to make what they made last year? Uh.....what?

There is no logic or reason to the irrational feelings these people have. They make statements simply based on personal preference, not reality. They are making record profits and they still hate him. It's no different than someone like me saying that the Dave Matthews Band sucks. It's an opinion with no basis in fact.

Why can't they simply admit that it's the same thing with the president?

The Highly Skilled International Player

As I write this, the 40 year rule of Libya by Muammar Gaddafi is coming to a close. Once brutal and now psychotic, Gaddafi is the latest (and probably not the last) in a line of Arab dictators that have fallen from power. The fire of democracy is spreading in the Arab World and, at this point, there is nothing that can stop it.

Combined with the successful mission to take out Osama bin Laden, the president has clearly shown that he is very adept at foreign policy. His initial Libyan policy, criticized at the start by the usual collection of naysayers, has worked. One of the key elements that led the Libyan rebels to victory was direct assistance from US intelligence that led to pinpoint strikes against Gaddahi's forces.

The president has, once again, fully proven himself to be a highly skilled international player. The "Obamateur" narrative is now seen for all it was ever worth: a pile of shit.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

When The Only Tool In Your Tool Kit is the Apocalypse...

It's Sunday and I find my thoughts turning to prophecy. This is largely due to my recent pop in over at Kevin Baker's site. I give him a look every week or so to see if he's still spouting Bircher nonsense. Most of the time, this is usually the case. But a post from last Friday caused me to sadly shake my head.

Kevin put up a quote from another site which essentially was no different than a Chuck Manson looking dude holding up a sign on a street corner which says, "The End of the World is Coming." Kevin himself than commented, "Our major cities may very well burn." The ensuing comments detail possible alignments in inter-city warfare. I've seen a few of these types of posts here and there but this one was starker than I have ever seen. Honestly, if this is what he and his readers truly think, I find little difference between them and your typical apocalypse cult. I guess I shouldn't be surprised as the right has been trending that way since the evil socialist gun grabber, Blackie McBlackerson, took office.

These sorts of things never end well. Take a look at Glenn Beck. He was riding high at Fox-spewing dire warning after boiling pit of sewage prophecy-and when it kept not happening, he lost viewers and Fox gave him the boot. He still has his radio show and will likely find some sort of TV outlet but people have stopped paying attention to him. Being a member of the right wing blogsphere, as Kevin is, means that he will always have that niche just like Beck does.

But I have to wonder...what is the half life for predicting the end of America? Doomsday scenarios have become more prevalent as human beings have less ordinary things to worry about but, folks, Red Dawn never fucking happened! The logic of the United States' geostrategic position made that scenario impossible. Yet, we still things like Home Front, a video game written by John Milius ( a fave of Kevin's), that depicts yet another one of these faux scenarios. There is no doubt in my mind that there are many people who think that this has a good chance of happening. This leads us to recall point #1 from Boaz's 14 points.

1. Panic Mongering. This goes one step beyond simple fear mongering. With panic mongering, there is never a break from the fear. The idea is to terrify and terrorize the audience during every waking moment. From Muslims to swine flu to recession to homosexuals to immigrants to the rapture itself, the belief over at Fox seems to be that if your fight-or-flight reflexes aren't activated, you aren't alive. This of course raises the question: why terrorize your own audience? Because it is the fastest way to bypasses the rational brain. In other words, when people are afraid, they don't think rationally. And when they can't think rationally, they'll believe anything.

I don't know. I mean, I get that they have no real solutions to offer that work in reality and likely are avoiding real problems in their own lives which leads to the creation of these paranoid fantasies but with this sort of talk, I have to question their sanity.

Friday, August 19, 2011

False Statement Friday

The last week has seen a whole slew of patently false statements from the GOP contenders. First up, we have Rick Perry's assertions that he is a job creator and President Obama is a job destroyer. Well, here are the numbers

Seems to me that President Obama not only pulled us back from the brink of disaster but has added many private sector jobs. How about Governor Perry? Anderson Cooper analyzed all of this in a segment on his show Wednesday night. It turns out that federal government jobs were up 7% in Texas and state government jobs were up 8.4 percent. Local government jobs were up 6.1 percent. Of the many new jobs arising in Texas, some are government jobs and some come from President Obama himself! In addition, Perry took 6.4 billion dollars in federal stimulus money in 2009 so one has to wonder how much of that had to do with Texas' job growth.

Governor Perry also told a young boy on the campaign trail that Texas teaches both creationism and evolution in schools. Completely false, as explained here.  And, for whatever bizarre reason, Perry recently said there was a federal regulation that required farmers to obtain a commercial license to drive their tractor on the highway. Also, not fucking true.

Perry, of course, isn't the only one saying things that are complete lies. Mitt Romney recently stated that the United States is "inches away" from not being capitalist anymore. That earned him a "Pants on Fire" rating from Politifact. Apparently, he was doubling down on his earlier "inches away from not having a free market" statement last June. Well, I guess he has the audience for this garbage so why not just say whatever he feels like regardless of the facts.

It will also come as no surprise that Michele Bachmann has joined in as well. This statement

What people recognize is that there’s a fear that the United States is in an unstoppable decline. They see the rise of China, the rise of India, the rise of the Soviet Union and our loss militarily going forward. And especially with this very bad debt ceiling bill, what we have done is given a favor to President Obama and the first thing he’ll whack is five hundred billion out of the military defense at a time when we’re fighting three wars. People recognize that.

is filled with so many ridiculous things I don't even know where to begin. The rise of the Soviet Union? Seriously? Bachmann also has naturally blamed the S&P downgrade on the president and offered her position against the raising of the debt ceiling as being proof she was right. The problem here is that S&P's reason for the downgrade was because of Ms. Bachmann's views.

In an interview on Fox News, Standard & Poors' managing director John Chambers seemed to express disapproval that it took so long for Congress to raise the debt ceiling. He said President Barack Obama "characterized the political system as dysfunctional, I think that's a good word. We got to a position where we were within 10 hours of having a major cash flow problem. This is not what happens in other countries," Chambers said on Aug. 8.

I suppose we are all going to have to get used to this malarky for the next 14 months. When they are this ridiculous, however, one has to wonder...who are the people out there that believe this shit?

Note To Anonymous Posters

Over the last few weeks, there has been a plethora of anonymous posters on the blog. I've kicked around a bunch of ideas on the best way to deal with the confusion and frustration that results from this and here's what I have come up with for a solution.

Since pretty much anything goes in comments, I won't change the settings to restrict people from posting anonymously. From this day forward, however, I will no longer respond to anonymous comments regardless of their ideological bend. I'm also not going to respond to the person or persons that continually changes their moniker when it's clearly the same person.

I say "continually" because I know there are people that post under 2 different names. These individuals I will continue to respond to because they are at least attempting to be inventive in taking on a different persona. I liken this to having two different avatars or players in an online game so that's cool but the obnoxious rotation from "Sarah Palin Fantasy Perverts" to "Civil War Reenactors?" Nope.

I would urge all of you who post under the same name and continually have stood by your words to do the same. I can't force you, obviously, but I think this is in the best interests of the site so we know who we are addressing and people have a continuity as to who stands by their words. Granted, this may not be a perfect idea but we'll work the kinks out as we go.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Fact Checking Warren

Here is Politifact's piece on Warren Buffett's column from this week. Plenty of data and facts to examine...if you are willing, of course.

People Invest To Make Money

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, tax rates for the rich were far higher, and my percentage rate was in the middle of the pack. According to a theory I sometimes hear, I should have thrown a fit and refused to invest because of the elevated tax rates on capital gains and dividends.

I have worked with investors for 60 years and I have yet to see anyone — not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 percent in 1976-77 — shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain. People invest to make money, and potential taxes have never scared them off. And to those who argue that higher rates hurt job creation, I would note that a net of nearly 40 million jobs were added between 1980 and 2000. You know what’s happened since then: lower tax rates and far lower job creation.

We hear a lot of garbage from the right about how higher taxes will lead to lack of investment and job losses. These same people lapse into their ridiculous hubris and assume that anyone left of center doesn't know anything about how business works. They do, of course, despite all evidence to the contrary. The above quote is from someone who knows business a great deal more than most and has the wealth to prove it. Before I get to who it is, let's take a look at some more facts from his recent piece.

Since 1992, the I.R.S. has compiled data from the returns of the 400 Americans reporting the largest income. In 1992, the top 400 had aggregate taxable income of $16.9 billion and paid federal taxes of 29.2 percent on that sum. In 2008, the aggregate income of the highest 400 had soared to $90.9 billion — a staggering $227.4 million on average — but the rate paid had fallen to 21.5 percent.

So, their taxes have gone down and their wealth has gone up.Why they are bitching is a complete mystery. Why people who make 40K a year are proxy bitching for them is borderline insanity.

Last year about 80 percent of these revenues came from personal income taxes and payroll taxes. The mega-rich pay income taxes at a rate of 15 percent on most of their earnings but pay practically nothing in payroll taxes. It’s a different story for the middle class: typically, they fall into the 15 percent and 25 percent income tax brackets, and then are hit with heavy payroll taxes to boot.

Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as “carried interest,” thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they’d been long-term investors.

The taxes I refer to here include only federal income tax, but you can be sure that any payroll tax for the 400 was inconsequential compared to income. In fact, 88 of the 400 in 2008 reported no wages at all, though every one of them reported capital gains.

Hmm...Nikto and I have been saying the same thing.

So who is the author who has clearly and factually related this information? It's Warren Buffett, one of the three richest men in the world.  Now, given that he is a shining example of success in the world of investments and business as well as knowing a thing or two about jobs, it follows logically that we should heed his advice: let's stop coddling the super in right fucking now.

If we are going to make spending cuts, we have to follow with an overhaul of how we collect revenue. That means no more subsidies, tax shelters for the wealthy, and the end of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. In short, a complete overhaul of the tax system. This is what has to be done to seriously address the issue of our debt and prop up the overall health of our economy.

The time for make believe and managing fantasies is over. We need to destroy the bizarre myths that the right have created regarding taxes. They must be exposed as the catechisms of true believers that they are and have no place in reality. They are holding us back from fixing our country and propelling us in a positive direction towards the future.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Without Comment

Loving the Government

Michele Bachmann recently won the Iowa Straw poll so it's only fitting that we take a day to shine the spotlight on her and see if lives up to her tough words. Does she really mean it when she says that President Obama is engaging in "fantasy economics" and that, if elected, she would abolish the EPA? Is the federal government the anathema that she says it is? A closer examination of the available evidence gives us the answer.

Let's start off by pointing out that Ms. Bachmann has personally relied on federally subsidized home loans. In addition, her husband Marcus's clinic relies on Medicaid payments.  Straight away, we can see that the federal government isn't really all that bad.

Further, we see that she has sent several letters to Secretary Vilsack and Secretary LaHood requesting stimulus money for her district. You remember the stimulus aka the root of all evil? Here is a copy of one of those letters, asking for money for the Northstar commuter line. Hey, I guess there is a GOPer that likes choo choos...sweet!

In a private letter to Mr. Vilsack, she wrote, "Your efforts to stabilize prices through direct government purchasing of pork and dairy products are very much welcomed by the producers in Minnesota, and I would encourage you to take any additional steps necessary to prevent further deterioration of these critical industries, such as making additional commodity purchases and working to expand trade outlets for these and other agricultural goods."

Wow. Really? The government can make market's more efficient? Yes. Yes they can...especially if there is a crisis as there was with pork and H1N1 that year.

So, the government can and does help out in a wide variety situations. As President Obama said yesterday when he was visiting my home state:

Don't buy into this whole notion that somehow government doesn't do us any good; government is what protects us. The government is what built the Interstate Highway System. Government is what sent a man to the Moon. It's what invested in the research and development that created innovations all across this country.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Yet Another Voice In My Head

Just got back from lifting at the gym. While I was there, I got into a conversation about the state of our culture with one of my conservative friends named Erica. Recall that Edward, Sean and Katie are my other three conservative friends from the gym. Erica is one that I generally don't talk politics with as she has readily admitted that she "hates to read political books and just lets her husband give her the cliff's notes."

We were talking today about overweight children and how their parents seem to enable it. This led to an overall discussion about entitlement which led to her saying the following.

I who are on welfare have diamond rings and flat screen TVs...what's up with that?

When I said that corporate welfare was much worse, she gave me a quizzical look.

Ah yes, another Voice In My Head.

Sarah Palin's Arizona

(From a Discovery Channel press release scheduled for publication on Nov. 6, 2011)

The Discovery Channel announced today that it has begun production on a new reality series starring former Alaska governor Sarah Palin. Called Sarah Palin's Arizona, the series will air in the fall of 2012, during the heat of the presidential race.

Ms. Palin's previous show, Sarah Palin's Alaska, was discontinued because the former half-term governor of Alaska moved to Arizona to be closer to large media markets. A key factor in the move was the change in time zone, which allows Ms. Palin to appear with other talking heads on early-
morning Fox News programs without having to wake up at 3AM. Said Ms. Palin, "I like sleeping in, and Alaska's time zone really sucks the big one. And Arizona doesn't use socialist Daylight Savings Time, dontcha know."

The Arizona production includes many new activities that Ms. Palin has taken up since moving to her new home state. These include trudging through the desert in smart dun-colored fatigues with matching automatic weapon accessories, making beef jerky, harvesting peyote buttons, and vegging out in front of the TV with the air conditioning on full blast saying, "At least it's the heat, and not the humidity!"

In the opening segment of the first episode Ms. Palin participates in a new game that's become popular on the streets of Maricopa County, something called "Wetback Bingo." Ms. Palin is challenged to decide whether random pedestrians are illegal aliens or real Americans. Those she decides are real Americans get to choose a square on a giant bingo board. Guest star Sheriff Joe Arpaio selects Bingo numbers and the lucky real Americans have a chance to win fabulous prizes if their number is chosen. The suspected aliens are given a free trip to historic Nogales, Mexico, courtesy of Sheriff Arpaio.

New fashion statements are being made as well, including the moistened floral bandana worn over the mouth and nose to guard against the smoke from the massive fires that have scourged Arizona in recent months, and the fine particulates from the dust storms that have also hit the state.

In one memorable scene, Ms. Palin refers to the Arab term for dust storm that raised a controversy earlier this year. Pointing to her chest she jokes, "The only haboobs the weatherman should be talking about are right here."

The most exciting segment filmed thus far is a helicopter chase of illegal aliens across the Rio Grande. In the sequence, spotters on the ground scare up a herd of aliens in the underbrush on the north bank of the river. The helicopter's powerful engine roars and the chopper swoops out of the sky, scattering the aliens into the muddy brown water. Ms. Palin leans out of the chopper door, hanging on to the frame with one hand while wielding a sequined machine gun in the other. As the copter banks sharply, its blades skimming the water, Ms. Palin cuts loose with a burst of suppressive fire. The rounds pound the water mere inches from the aliens as they splash madly back towards Mexico.

"I loved shooting that scene," Ms. Palin gushed. "I loved the way the mama grizzly so fiercely protected her young as she fought through the water with the baby on her back to get to the safety of her legal homeland. And did you see those big brown eyes on the baby? She was soooo cute!"

Critics of Ms. Palin attacked the episode even before it aired, pointing out that the Rio Grande River isn't in Arizona, pedantically insisting that the river flows from Colorado through New Mexico and then forming the border between Texas and Mexico. Said Ms. Palin, "These know-it-alls just don't get the real America. It's not about geography and facts, it's about the bigger truths, like Paul Revere and his famous charge of the Light Brigade. One if by land, two if by sea, and three if by air!"

Discovery Channel's initial order of six episodes of Sarah Palin's Arizona will begin airing Tuesday, October 9, 2012, and will conclude November 6 when Ms. Palin is elected president. The show will go on hiatus for two years, resuming when she resigns the presidency to write her memoirs and escape the toxic atmosphere of Washington and the liberal media that hounds her incessantly.

Monday, August 15, 2011


When I was in college thirty years ago conservatives were making one of their regular attempts to discredit evolution. They called themselves "creationists" then, and their big "discovery" at that time was the laws of thermodynamics. The creationists said that evolution was impossible because the law of entropy forbade it. Entropy dictates that order will dissolve into disorder over time.

The problem with their argument was that they omitted key facts from the laws. Yes, order dissolves into disorder over time, in a closed system with no energy inputs. The earth, however, is not a closed system. It is an open system that constantly receives more than a kilowatt of solar energy per square meter.

It is this external solar input that provides that the energy for chemical and biological systems to grow and increase in complexity, and what makes evolution and life possible. This is not a violation of the laws of thermodynamics.

Well, the conservatives are back at it again. Weatherman Joe Bastardi was featured in a Fox News segment attempting to discredit global warming. He said, "It contradicts what we call the first law of thermodynamics. Energy can neither be created nor destroyed. So to look for input of energy into the atmosphere, you have to come from a foreign source. It's already out there, carbon dioxide being part of it."

He lapses there into incoherence. Global warming does not contradict the laws of thermodynamics: the sun constantly pumps energy into our atmosphere. In fact, we are alive today because of global warming -- without an atmosphere containing greenhouse gases like CO2 and water vapor, the average temperature of earth (the blackbody temperature) would be much colder, somewhere around 1 degree Celsius or colder, depending on the albedo of the surface.

To his credit, one of the interviewers chimed in, "Maybe the sun?" was the source of the energy causing global warming. But Bastardi just ignored this, going on to talk about Le Chateliler's principle, which he says is the tendency of a system in distress tries to return towards normal.

But this idea of "normal" doesn't work if you change the basic rules of the game by overloading the system beyond its capacity. It's true that if the concentration of CO2 increases some carbon sinks will absorb more. But those sinks have a finite capacity. The ocean, for example, loses its ability to absorb CO2 as temperature increases. And ocean temperatures and acidity are increasing.

Furthermore, if you actually read what the studies found, temperatures did in fact increase in the last 10 years, just not as fast as they did the 30 years before (the infamous decrease in the rate of increase). Why? Several reasons: aerosols injected into the stratosphere by relatively small volcanic eruptions which climate modelers did not consider have moderated the increases somewhat, and substantial increases in sulfur particles that Chinese coal plants have been emitting in greater and greater quantities have further cooled temperatures. But that sulfur doesn't stay in the air: it eventually comes down as acid rain. There was also some unaccounted-for heat exchanges with the ocean.

These are not really surprises: the reason scientists are so hesitant to state things in the categorical black-and-white mode that conservatives always want to hear, is that reality is complicated. Scientists don't know everything and don't pretend to. But the point is that these new results don't disprove global warming; it's still true that global temperature will go up in the next 50 years; just not at the same rate some models predicted. Any number of things could happen that could increase or decrease that change: volcanic eruptions that emit a lot of aerosols of the right composition could slow down the warming, but another eruption emitting a lot of CO2 could accelerate it. The key thing is that we know our actions will have a bad effect if nothing else changes, so the conservative thing to do is avoid causing serious problems.

But back to the reality of greenhouse warming, which conservatives seem to discount on a visceral level. Consider Mercury and Venus. Mercury is 58 million km from the sun. The mean temperature varies from about -70 C to +70 C, depending on latitude, with a low of about -200 C and a high of +400 C. Venus is 108 million km from the sun, more than twice as far. But its mean temperature -- pretty much everywhere, all the time -- is 460 C. How can Venus be twice as far from the sun but so very much hotter? Well, Mercury has almost no atmosphere, while Venus is covered with a thick blanket of CO2 at a pressure of more than 90 atmospheres. It's the greenhouse effect on steroids. (And no, I'm not saying that Earth will turn into Venus. It just shows that the greenhouse effect exists and is not some made-up mumbo jumbo).

If you think of Mercury as a Mini Cooper zipping around on the freeway with the windows hanging wide open, and Venus as a Lincoln Navigator parked in the sun with the windows rolled up you get the picture. Earth is somewhere in between Mercury and Venus: we're parked in the shade, but slowly cranking the windows shut by pumping more CO2 into the atmosphere than the system can absorb.

But when you come right down to it, Bastardi's argument is the same as every other global warming skeptic's: they think that natural processes put out and absorb so much CO2 that the "tiny" amounts we puny and insignificant humans emit couldn't possibly affect the climate. But this drastically underestimates the number of humans alive today, and their impact on climate.

First off, climate is always a delicate balance. Systems do tend to equilibrium, but only within bounds. Natural systems don't have an overriding intelligence guiding them, they can't adapt infinitely. If you heat a pot of water it reaches equilibrium with the air by boiling out of the pot.

In many epochs equilibrium climate states lasting thousands and millions of years were quite inhospitable to modern human life: there have been ice ages during human tenure on Earth, and there have been periods where the climate allowed three-foot long dragonflies, armadillos the size of houses and flying dinosaurs to flourish. Those were all "natural" climate equilibriums, but they would have been bad for technological humans because they make it hard for us to grow food and sustain a population of seven billion people.

Second, we control vast amounts of energy. If we detonated every nuke on the planet, there's no question we could make a big change in the climate, easily triggering an ice age with all the aerosols injected into the stratosphere. But if you look at the amount of energy we're using on a daily basis, it's equally staggering: the equivalent of hundreds of Hiroshima nukes detonated every day. We are using an incredible amount of energy, and generating nearly all that energy from coal, gas and oil, releasing an incredible amount of CO2 into the atmosphere that had been locked up in the earth's crust for billions of years. All released within a tiny span of a century, and most of that in the last 30 years.

Third, we just don't get how many people there are on this planet and what kind of an effect we can have on it. The United States is 3.79 million square miles in area. There are 310 million Americans. That means there's only about eight acres of land per person (given that there are 640 acres per square mile). Eight acres is one or so city blocks.

Even if all you had was an axe, you could cut down every tree on that block in a few weeks or months, and spend another couple of weeks chopping down the trees for your little kids and grandma. Or if you had a torch you could burn all those trees down in a day. We are so numerous and technologically adept that could intentionally deforest the entire continent in less than a year, drastically altering the climate.

And we can and have altered the climate. Just look at the Dust Bowl in the 30s, which Bastardi mentioned. That was caused by a drought in the plains states exacerbated by farmers plowing up the long-rooted grasses that held the soil down. Without us the dust bowl doesn't happen. We've been doing the same thing in the Amazon rain forest for decades, and there's some evidence that humans helped the Sahara get where it is today.

There are seven billion people on Earth. Humans are always bad at understanding big numbers, so let's put that in the same personal perspective. The total land area on this planet is about 56 million square miles, or 124 people per square mile, or just five acres per person. Yes, if you spread all of humanity out evenly across the entire planet, we would all still be within shouting distance of another person.

That's including all the land that's useless (the Sahara, the Antarctic, the sides of all those mountains in the Himalayas and Japan). That's not a whole lot of land for all the farming, and mining, and driving, and golfing that we like to do. Imagine what it'll be like in another 50 or 100 years. Conservatives love to knock Malthus, but there are obvious limits here, and we're fast approaching them.

We ourselves are now that big incomprehensible number.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

They Really Aren't Any Different

There is a long history of conservatives inveighing against lazy lay-abouts. In the Bible sloth was one of the seven deadly sins. Amos complained of the rich committing lechery on ivory beds. In the 17th century authors such as Isaac Watts said that Satan finds mischief still, for idle hands to do. And American conservatives still revel in the Reagan trope of welfare queens and baby machines.

The problem, as conservatives seem to see it, with welfare benefits, unemployment and the social safety net is that they allow people to become lazy. If we don't have to be responsible for ourselves and rise or fall on own own initiative, people will naturally slough off. They will sit around doing nothing, leaching off the rest of us, simply pretend to be busy, or make half-hearted attempts to find work while wasting most of their time watching television or some such.

I was reminded of this while listening to Bethany McLean (author of
All the Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis). The subject of corporate boards came up, and why they did nothing to stop the CEOs at the investment banks from making their hideously stupid mistakes. (Short answer: It's hard.)

She said they've tried all manner of incentives for CEOs to tie compensation to performance: huge pay packages, golden parachutes, stock options. And none of them have worked. She compared stock options to someone giving her five millions dollars, promising her another five million dollars in 10 years if she stopped eating chocolate.

Sure, there would be some incentive to abstain. But not a whole lot. You've got five million dollars!

That's the situation we have with CEOs. Most of them make so much money -- many in a single year and some even in a few days -- that they would be able to live out their entire lives never having to work another day. A single year's salary is enough to make them independently wealthy of the corporation, no matter how bad a job they do. (Democrats wanted some bonus claw-backs, but Republicans successfully beat that off.) In short, highly paid CEOs don't have any skin in the game any more.

These CEOS are far cozier than any welfare queen. No matter what mistake they make, they've already come out on top. Even if they break laws, they are usually able to cover everything up and buy their way out of it (like Rupert Murdoch and his various companies).

This self-satisfied complacency is the worst enemy of a good leader. Yet many turn themselves into pampered queens, with servants, maids and gardeners ready at their beck and call, private jets, million-dollar corporate apartments and gold toilet seats.

If you believe in welfare queens, then you have to believe in corporate queens: the logic is inescapable. The same human frailties and dynamics are at work for the welfare queen as the corporate queen. It's more insidious, though. The corporate queens have the appearance of respectability; everyone is fawning over them, constantly telling them how smart and fabulous they are, while everyone looks down on the lowly welfare queen. Welfare queens actually have an incentive to get off their duffs and do something to regain the respect of their fellows, and ultimately their benefits end (courtesy of Clinton era welfare reform).

Corporate queens enjoy the envy of others, who all lust for the same easy life. They gain coteries of sycophants who echo what the queens want to hear. Real criticism is silenced; only fools contradict the man in charge. Anyone who's worked at a big company knows what I'm talking about. The VPs who regularly sneak out for one o'clock tee times. The CEOs who take three-hour liquid lunches. The sales guys lounging in luxurious corporate boxes at Knicks games. The execs who always manage to book business trips to Florida and Hawaii in the winter. These guys don't actually do any real work, after all. It's not like anyone is going to miss them.

Corporate governance has been abysmal in recent years. Boards have tried everything to get some kind of responsibility out of their execs, except one thing: paying them less. If a CEO actually depended on the company for his future income, odds are he would do a better job. But if you give him enough money in a single year to make him independently wealthy, what hold do you have on him? He doesn't need your job, and he knows a hundred other companies would snap him up in an instant. Even when CEOs do screw up, the disaster is usually covered up because it will reflect poorly on the company. These guys are rarely called to account, and go on to wreak havoc over and over.

CEO compensation relative to average worker salaries has gone through the roof in the last 40 years. But CEO performance is certainly no better, and is probably much worse. That's a lot of money that companies could use to make better products, make their products more competitive (reducing prices to consumers), or at least return to the shareholders.

If we can scream bloody murder about overpaid Wisconsin teachers who make all of $50,000 a year, can't we take a little umbrage at the guys caused the financial meltdown, or filled the Gulf of Mexico with oil, and are still pulling in tens of millions of dollars a year?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

14 Points

Cynthia Boaz's recent post regarding the 14 propaganda techniques used by Fox News to brainwash Americans should be extended to the entire right wing pundit machine...especially the right wing blogsphere. Here are a few that jumped out at me.

3. Projection/Flipping. This one is frustrating for the viewer who is trying to actually follow the argument. It involves taking whatever underhanded tactic you're using and then accusing your opponent of doing it to you first. We see this frequently in the immigration discussion, where anti-racists are accused of racism, or in the climate change debate, where those who argue for human causes of the phenomenon are accused of not having science or facts on their side. It's often called upon when the media host finds themselves on the ropes in the debate.

Hilarious! And very true. This happens on my site constantly and when it occurs from now on, I'm simply going to respond by cutting and pasting this paragraph. In fact, many of her points are salient when it comes to some of my regular readers so I foresee much cutting and pasting in the future.

Here are some other notable mentions.

4. Rewriting History. This is another way of saying that propagandists make the facts fit their worldview. The Downing Street Memos on the Iraq war were a classic example of this on a massive scale, but it happens daily and over smaller issues as well. A recent case in point is Palin's mangling of the Paul Revere ride, which Fox reporters have bent over backward to validate. Why lie about the historical facts, even when they can be demonstrated to be false? Well, because dogmatic minds actually find it easier to reject reality than to update their viewpoints. They will literally rewrite history if it serves their interests. And they'll often speak with such authority that the casual viewer will be tempted to question what they knew as fact.

Several of my readers suffer from this but this is part and parcel to the adolescent power fantasy.

All in all, I found her points to be completely accurate and an excellent summation of the conversational framework with the right these days. Sadly, I don't see it changing any time too soon but her points have inspired me to summarize something that has been kicking around in my head right now.

Why is that the money of wealthy people is "hard earned" yet the money of poor people, who often work two or three jobs, is not?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Crandall and Putnam

People of the same trade seldom meet together, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some diversion to raise prices.

---Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations.

A recent post by Nikto entitled "The Tax Cut Experiment" provoked an interesting discussion in comments and it made me think of the quote above. Clearly, Smith was well aware of corporate force even that long ago. The comments in that post also sparked a memory of the phone call between Robert Crandall, president of American Airlines, and Howard Putnam, president of Braniff Airways, in 1982.

Crandall: I think it's as dumb as sit here and pound the #$%#$ out of each other and neither one is making a $%#$ dime.

Putnam: Do you have a suggestion for me?

Crandall: Yes, I have a suggestion for you. Raise your #$%#$ fares 20 percent. I'll raise mine the next morning.

Putnam: Robert, we...

Crandall: You'll make more money and I will, too.

Putnam: We can't talk about pricing!

Crandall: Oh, ##$%$, Howard! We can talk about anything #$%$ thing we want to talk about.

If Crandall were around today, he'd be running a Tea Party organization.

The simple fact is, folks, that the government can sometimes improve markets. Never is this more true than with the airlines. Time and again we see that if left to their own devices they will collude against the public and produce a market that is not other words, less consumer surplus.

In so many ways, this accurately describes the problem we have right now. We have a decided lack of aggregate demand with consumers (two thirds of our economy) not spending money. The main reason for this is prices from food to gas to health care are completely ridiculous.

With government effectively ball less (vasectomy courtesy of the Tea Party), it's only going to get worse.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

If The Tea Party Ran Things...

...our country would look like Kemp, Texas. The town of Kemp recently had its water turned back on after residents experienced several days without running water. Apparently the town turned to prayer rather than raising taxes to pay for new pipes. As John Thorpe put it in the second link

Aah yes, prayer — the last refuge of the truly desperate. Perhaps these Texans could try something the rest of the civilized world does, and raise tax revenues to pay for infrastructure improvements. Why? Their infrastructure dates back to the 1930s. Most of the water system's 30 miles of pipes haven't been updated in decades.

I'm wondering why they didn't turn to the job creators, captains of industry, or wealthy fellow Texans to help them out. I have been assured by the right that some sort of invisible hand will always be there to help out.

What makes this story even more interesting is that Kemp is located in US Congressional Representative Jeb Hensarling's district. Hensaring is a Tea Party darling who firmly believes in less government spending. I guess we can see now the result of less government spending. NO FUCKING WATER.

Oh, and Mr. Hensaring has just been named to the 12 person Super Congress charged with tackling the debt.

Super. Not.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Today I'm wondering where the victory is that both sides are claiming in the recall elections in Wisconsin last night. The Democrats fell one short of the three elections they needed to take back the Senate and the GOP lost two seats. Yet both sides are claiming victory.

The only victory I see is a win for polarity. Take a look at the results from last night's election. Granted, this is a special election which means only the most dedicated turn out but I think we can see from the numbers how evenly split the state is when it comes to politics.I suppose the saving grace in all of this is that the Democrats are more mobilized going into 2012. And they did take two seats away from the GOP so I guess that's something.

A victory in my eyes would be for all the working class people who voted for the person with the R next to their name realize two things. One, Republicans and the "job creators" that support them are not going to shower you with magical job dust because they don't believe in middle class driven economies. To put it simply, they don't give a shit about you and have brainwashed you into your vote. Two, you are not going to someday be one of these people and then have to fend off poor people trying to steal your money.

Your anger and fear are being manipulated into hate. Time to wake up, folks!

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

The Tax Cut Experiment

Last month the Republicans inadvertently conducted a test to see how tax cuts affect pricing. The result undercuts their own arguments.

Last month the FAA's authorization to collect taxes on airline tickets lapsed. According to who you ask, this was the result an argument over welfare for rural airports or another of the right's never-ending attempts to destroy unions in America.

When the tax was removed, the airlines quickly raised ticket prices to their previous levels, pocketing the tax money instead of passing the savings on to consumers. Now that agreement has been reached in Congress, the FAA has been reauthorized and the ticket tax has been restored, airlines have been rolling the fare increases back, so that ticket prices remain the same.

The airlines have essentially swallowed the tax increases, reducing their own profits. There are lots of reasons for this, but the simple fact is that companies generally charge as much for things as they can get away with.

The larger lesson is that raising corporate taxes does not mean that the companies will automatically raise prices for consumers, or that the companies will go out of business, or they will flee to other states and countries.

Pricing is a very sensitive issue. Prices cannot rise too high otherwise demand will crater. Most people do not have to fly on airplanes: people can vacation closer to home, and businessmen can choose to use teleconferencing instead of meeting clients face-to-face. So airlines constantly monitor and tweak fares to maximize profit, keeping the planes as full as possible while keeping costs like fuel as low as possible.

Profitability at corporations varies widely. Some industries don't have intense material or capital costs. Lady Gaga can reduce the price of her latest album from $8 to a buck on and still make millions, while a grocery store chain's ability to sell food cheaply depends on weather, colony collapse disorder in bees, immigration law, political instability in the Middle East and oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico. Legal and financial products are even more flexible: they're intangibles that only have the value that we arbitrarily assign them.

What this means is that taxes on highly profitable industries that don't have large capital expenses can be raised without really affecting their prices, because they have the flexibility to reduce salaries but their prices are already maxed out. For example, law firms that charge $1,000 an hour could easily pay much higher taxes by cutting the salaries of lawyers who make 10 times what an average person makes. The financial industry could easily pay higher taxes by cutting salaries of hedge fund managers who make millions of dollars a year and pay taxes at the outrageously low capital gains rate of 15%.

All tax cuts and tax increases are not created equal. Since the US economy is driven by consumer spending, tax policies that put more money in the hands of more people provide the biggest boost.

The Bush tax cuts have not done that. The S&P downgrade acknowledges this. The stock market understands this. Everyone knows these things are true, but the Republicans stubbornly refuse to acknowledge reality purely for political gain.

To fix our problems some taxes have to go up, government expenditures (especially defense and entitlements) have to come down , as does the cost of medical care, and more money has to wind up in the hands of the bottom 90% of the US population, instead of just lining the pockets of the wealthy.

Monday, August 08, 2011

He Is Not Hu Jintao

As the world watched the Dow plunge over 600 points today, most of the blame has centered on President Obama. This blame is coming from all sides of the political spectrum and, in particular, the left, who think that he needs to lead more strongly. The right is currently skipping with glee as their central mission (Obama must fail), in their eyes, is working. Neither of these perceptions are accurate reflect reality, of course.

To a certain degree, some people will always blame the president. Those that don't like him anyway didn't give him credit when the Dow surged over the time of his presidency so why would they now? It's ridiculously predictable that they will now blame him when it falls. He loses with these folks no matter what he does. The people that do like him seemingly want him to lead in a king like fashion and begin executing jobs plans as well as ordering a single branch overhaul of the economy.

Someone needs to throw some cold water on these folks and make them realize that the president is not Hu Jintao. People from the left and the right complain that he doesn't "have a plan." It's not his fucking job to have a plan. That's the job of Congress. The people on the right are doing it because it helps them in their mission to see him fail. The people on the left are doing it because they want more government control over our country. Again, neither can happen. Again, Barack Obama is not Hu Jintao.

We don't live in a centrally planned economy, folks. Oddly, both sides think we do.

This might be a good time to decimate the lie that has been floating around the right wing blogsphere that President Obama hasn't delivered a budget for the last two years. He has and the evidence for it is right here. Let me repeat this again for those that have trouble hearing. President Obama has delivered a budget every fiscal year since he has been in office. 

The problem with the budget is the same problem with our economy and it's a big reason why the stock market is falling off a cliff right now: Congress. In 2010, Congress failed to adopt a budget resolution because of political cowardice. That's on the Democrats. in 2011, Congress failed to adopt a budget resolution for 2012 because of the true believers running the House presently. That's on the Republicans.

So, Congress is a big part of the fucking problem, folks and, by extension, that means us. We all love our Representative but hate everyone else. Current approval ratings of Congress are in the teens but nothing will change. We can't vote for other districts. We can only work within our own which means Tip O'Neill was right: All politics are local. Until we stop loving our guy no matter what (AKA completely lacking in motivation to change), we should expect the same results.

Honestly, though, much of our economy is beyond the control of the government so Congress isn't the only reason why we are at fault. It is a free market, after all. A big part of our economy (nearly two thirds) is consumer confidence and that's very low at present. Yet we still can't offer this as a substantive reason for why things are all balls right now. So why do we blame the government?

Because we're lazy and we worship rich people. Nothing is ever our fault so why should we have to work to fix things? And being critical of the wealthy these days is tantamount to asking a black guy why he likes to hang out on the porch all day eating fried chicken and watermelon.Most of us lack the ability to seriously reflect on what has to be done to fix the problems we have. Blaming the president and, to a certain degree, blaming Congress for the Dow dropping over 600 points makes no sense when you consider these things, Essentially, we have become Frito Pendejo from the film Idiocracy.

Go away...'batin'...

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Oh, Really?

Citigroup Plutonomy Reports No Longer Available at CPS News.

Now I wonder why that is? Could it be because it contained the following paragraph?

Economic growth that is powered and consumed by the wealthiest upper class of society. Plutonomy refers to a society where the majority of the wealth is controlled by an ever-shrinking minority; as such, the economic growth of that society becomes dependent on the fortunes of that same wealthy minority.

With many people in this country still carrying water for them, it's no wonder they want to squash it.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Name Change

I've been thinking about this for awhile and decided that it was time to retire the "Notes From The Front" moniker. This site started out as an email list in the days following the 9-11 attacks. At the time, we all felt like we were on the front lines. Things have changed in ten years and, in keeping with that change, a different name was in order.

Although the name "Markadelphia" does have my name in it, the new name is not meant to be me. It's simply meant to a place where politics, religion, and sex are always polite to discuss..just like it was under the old banner. This was the original intent of the email list and then later the site. This new name seems more in keeping with that and parallels my continued commitment to let anyone say whatever they want (minus span for boner pills, financial scams, and porn...unless it is home made by a readers:)) without fear of having their comment deleted.

Welcome (again) to Markadelphia, folks. With an average of 200 unique daily readers and rapidly approaching 100,000 page loads since I started, I thank you all from the bottom, baby...from the bottom...


As many expected, Standards and Poors downgraded the United States' credit rating to AA plus. The other rating agencies (Moody's and Fitch) have kept the United States at AAA. So, what does all this mean? Here are my initial thoughts.

First of all, S&P can go fuck themselves. Where were they during 2007, for example, when losses on $340.7 million worth of CDOs issued by Credit Suisse Group added up to about $125 million, despite being rated AAA by Standard & Poor's? S&P are paid to rate the debt of companies so they are honestly more beholden to the private sector than the government.

S&P also made a two trillion dollar error in their latest assessment of US Debt but they still didn't change the rating. My opinion is that they were hell bent on the downgrade regardless of what sort of deal was made in DC. To put it simply, their rating should be taken with a grain (ton) of salt.

All of this being said, their criticisms are fair. The deal that was made was not enough. As President Obama stated plainly several times, it needed to be larger and include revenues. Due to Republican extremism, the political sedimentation that resulted played a heavy role in S&P's decision.

“More broadly, the downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges to a degree more than we envisioned when we assigned a negative outlook to the rating,” S&P said.

This should be a wake up call to the intransigent people in Washington DC. You are going to have to start thinking outside of the box and come up with innovative solutions. Repeating the same old tired lines about spending isn't going to cut it. In fact, I'll go as far to say that all available and traditional economic theories should be thrown out the window.

We need to say goodbye to trickled down, supply side, and yes, even Keynesian economic theory. Either these theories have never worked, completely failed, or don't belong in the new global economy. A call should begin today for innovative and "width of vision" economic thinkers who are not tied to old dogma.

Any volunteers?

Friday, August 05, 2011


Remember all that hoopla a while back about President Obama throwing Israel under the bus?

TV: Israel agrees to negotiate over pre-'67 lines

Oh, really?

In a dramatic policy shift, Israel's prime minister has agreed to negotiate the borders of a Palestinian state based on the cease-fire line that marks off the West Bank.

Up to now, Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to spell out his plan for negotiating the border. A senior Israeli official would not confirm outright that the prime minister was now willing to adopt the cease-fire line as a starting point, but said Israel was willing to try new formulas to restart peace talks based on a proposal made by President Barack Obama.

As I suspected a couple of months back, there was (and still is) a lot of local Israeli politics involved in this and not the "throwing to the wolves" that was inaccurately relayed by the faux outrage machine of the right.

As much of an Israeli supporter as I am, they need to budge a little on these issues and they are the ones right now that are holding up serious movement towards peace in the region.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Will The New Carl Sagan Please Stand Up?

A recent opinion piece in the Christian Science Monitor echoes some things I have been saying recently about climate change skeptics. As is often the case with their other views, the climate change skeptic locks in and does not waver. There is no point in bringing up evidence, facts, peer reviewed journals or any other information grounded in the scientific method. They will always have an answer that contradicts because that's what true believers do.

Instead, heed the points of Andrew Hoffman. He begins be defining the playing field.

One of the strongest predictors of an American's beliefs about global warming is political party affiliation. According to a 2009 Pew survey, 75 percent of Democrats believe there is solid evidence of global warming compared with only 35 percent of Republicans.

Climate change has been enmeshed in the culture wars where beliefs in science often align with beliefs on abortion, gun control, health care, evolution, or other issues that fall along the contemporary political divide. This was not the case in the 1990s and is not the case in Europe. This is a distinctly American phenomenon.

I find this terribly sad but it is true. Moving on....

For skeptics, climate change is inextricably tied to a belief that climate science and policy are a covert way for liberal environmentalists and the government to diminish citizens' personal freedom.

True but that's how they are with everything. They's a comin' to gin us!

A second prominent theme is a strong faith in the free market, an overriding fear that climate legislation will hinder economic progress, and a suspicion that green jobs and renewable energy are ploys to engineer the market.

This is even more prevalent than the first point. Odd, because one would think that an emerging market would be something they would get behind. Of course, they wouldn't if it meant they were proved wrong about something.

The most intriguing theme is strong distrust of the scientific peer-review process and of scientists themselves: "Peer review" turns into "pal review," and establishment scientist-editors only publish work by those whose scientific research findings agree with their own. Scientists themselves are seen as intellectual elites, studying issues that are beyond the reach of the ordinary person's scrutiny. This should not come as a surprise, although it seems to have mystified many climate scientists.

This is what I hear the most on here. It's an excellent example of propaganda and extremely disappointing that many people have fallen for this. That's what you get with Jupiter size hubris.

So what do we do about it?

The focus of the discussion must move away from positions (climate change is or is not happening) and toward the underlying interests and values at play. It must engage at the deeper ideological levels where resistance is taking place, using new ways to frame the argument to bridge both sides.

For example, when US Energy Secretary Steven Chu refers to advances in renewable-energy technology in China as America's "Sputnik moment," he is framing climate change as a common threat to economic competitiveness. When Pope Benedict links the threat of climate change with threats to life and dignity, he is painting it as an issue of religious morality.

When the Military Advisory Board, a group of retired military officers, refers to climate change as a "threat multiplier," it is using a national-security frame.

And when the Pew Center refers to climate change as an issue of risk management, it is promoting climate insurance just as homeowners buy fire insurance. This is the way to engage the debate; not hammering skeptics with more data and expressing dismay that they don't get it.

Completely true. If we frame the issue as one of economic competitiveness, morality, national security, and insurance, we take the reality of what is happening into realms that clearly affect people's lives. Having a socially awkward person of science trying to explain climate change to your average citizen-especially one who believes we are becoming Russia-will fail every day. If, however, they see how our society's various institutions are reacting to this and they hear it from someone who is socially easy to deal with, the paradigm shift we need will occur.

As Hoffman says, we need another Carl Sagan.

Oh, and as a simple PS, I thought I would throw in this quote from his piece.

I and many of my colleagues are regular recipients of climate-skeptic hate mail and a few of us have even received death threats.

Hmph. Must be another "Voice Inside My Head."