Friday, September 30, 2011

Well Done

When it comes to the issue of national security, President Obama has proven (once again) that he has been enormously effective in eliminating threats to this nation. In a significant new blow to al-Qaida, U.S. airstrikes in Yemen on Friday killed Anwar al-Awlaki, an American militant cleric who became a prominent figure in the terror network's most dangerous branch.

Al-Awlaki was directly responsible for planning the Christmas bomb attack that was foiled in 2009. Al-Awlaki had also exchanged up to 20 emails with U.S. Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the man behind the Ft. Hood rampage. Hasan initiated the contacts, drawn by al-Awlaki's Internet sermons, and approached him for religious advice.

This is one of the major reasons I voted for President Obama. The strategy by the Bush Administration against Al Qaeda was clearly the wrong one. This new strategy that combines intelligence gathering with surgical attacks has dealt Al Qaeda several serious blows since President Obama took office. It's ability to carry out any sort of significant attacks has been greatly marginalized and it's due the shift in policy.

Vaccines vs. Power Plants

Michele Bachmann raised a lot of questions -- mostly about her competence and judgment -- when she repeated a claim from "a woman in the crowd" who said that the HPV vaccine made her 12-year-old daughter retarded. Did Bachmann simply make this person up? She can't produce the woman, even though two scientists have offered a substantial reward for the girl's medical records.

Bachmann does voice a concern about vaccines that many people have. In 1998 a study by British doctor Andrew Wakefield et al. claimed a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. An American doctor, Mark Geier, also published several papers that claimed vaccines caused autism. Did these studies have any validity?

The preservative thimerosal, which has been used in vaccines since the 1930s, is an organic mercury compound. Mercury is known to cause birth defects and mental retardation. Mercury poisoning causes brain damage in adults as well. For this reason mercury is no longer used in dental amalgams. The phrase "mad as a hatter" has its origins in history -- hatters used mercury to cure felt. So it wasn't a stretch for Geier to propose that organic mercury could cause autism. But other scientists believed the concentration of thimerosal was too small to affect children vaccinated at that time in their development.

As it turns out, Wakefield falsified data for his paper, and the Lancet withdrew it in 2010. There was no link proved between autism and the MMR vaccine. Geier's medical license was suspended in 2011, for endangering the lives of autistic children with questionable (and expensive) treatments.

But, just to be on the safe side, the use of thimerosal in child vaccines was ended in 2001 (it's still used in some flu vaccines). It's also not used in Gardasil, the HPV vaccine used in Texas. The incidence of autism since thimerosal was removed from childhood vaccines has continued to climb since then, so it's fairly certain that it has little or nothing to do with autism.

The largest source of mercury that children are exposed to are emissions from coal-fired power plants and waste incinerators. Mercury is emitted into our air, lakes, rivers and seas, where it becomes concentrated in animals. People who eat fish and shellfish can accumulate potentially harmful levels of mercury in their bodies. That's why pregnant women, women trying to get pregnant, and nursing mothers are advised not to eat tuna, fish and shellfish, and everyone is advised to limit their intake of seafood with high concentrations of mercury.

(Interestingly, Bachmann has also campaigned against compact fluorescent light bulbs in part because they contain mercury.)

Bachmann did raise legitimate questions about Texas governor Rick Perry's financial and political ties to the pharmaceutical industry. One of his former aides was a lobbyist for the drug company that provided the vaccine to Texas, which Perry decreed all girls be vaccinated with, a decision that the Texas legislature overturned before it went into effect.

But this isn't really just about Michele Bachmann. She and the entire Republican Party are now on a tear about regulation.  They oppose "costly" regulations on coal-fired power plants that limit mercury emissions by requiring smokestack scrubbers and dictate the quality of coal burned.

Why do Republicans like Bachmann so often lend credence to discredited studies like Wakefield's, and rumor and innuendo, while completely dismissing the far greater and well-documented dangers from toxins like fine particulates, ozone, mercury, lead and benzene released into the environment by energy industries? Why do Republicans so often deride recycling programs that keep toxins like lead and mercury out of the environment and reduce the need for us to mine these heavy metals?

All the other Republican candidates pounced on Perry to decry the state mandate for the vaccine, apparently objecting that children be forced to receive injections of a substance that the vaccine doesn't actually contain.

But Texas parents would have been able to opt out of the vaccine program if they chose. Sadly, the only the way the rest of us can opt out of ingesting the toxic emissions the Republicans want to prevent the EPA from regulating is to stop breathing, eating and drinking.

So, what's behind the increase in the autism rate? It's a non-trivial issue. One part is that it's simply being diagnosed more frequently: parents often lobby for an autism or ADHD diagnosis to get special treatment for their kids. Asperger's Syndrome, a mild form of autism, is sometimes called the Geek Syndrome. Some would argue that Asperger's and milder ADHD not real diagnoses, they're just personality types. Another theory is that children of older fathers are more prone to autism, and Americans are having children at an older age. But most theories posit that autism is due to some kind of environmental insult. One theory links pesticides to autism and another one links them ADHD.  Others variously blame rain, unemotional mothers, lack of vitamin D, mercury, lead, excessive hygiene, and so on. Short answer: who knows?

One thing we know for certain is that even minute concentrations of chemicals and hormones can disrupt the fetus at critical stages of development. Toxins that don't hurt adults can cause tragic birth defects. If the Republican Party is really the pro-life party, how can they so cavalier about exposing those precious children to environmental toxins?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Six Questions

I came across this piece in my local paper regarding climate change. The six questions that Lenfestey proposes we ask political candidates could really be asked of anyone. So I've decided to put these to my readers and see what kind of responses I get.

1. Do you understand the science of climate change?

Obviously, some people don't.

2. Are you aware that President George W. Bush's administration found the evidence for climate change convincing? Have you read his report, "Scientific Assessment of the Effects of Global Change on the United States," published in 2008?

Actually, I haven't. Has anyone out there read it?

3. Are you aware that in May 2011, the nation's most esteemed scientific body, the National Research Council, reaffirmed the international scientific consensus on the human causes of climate change and made clear that sustained effort must begin immediately to deal with those adverse consequences? That the question of climate change is "settled science," and the impacts are already evident around us?

Well, this has got to be the toughest nut to swallow for the deniers. What exactly do you say to these findings?

4. If you do not accept the conclusions of these careful scientific assessments, what scientists do you listen to? What reports have they issued that you find more convincing? Where do you get the information that you find more persuasive?

Yes, which ones? No right wing blogs. No oil company shills. Let's see the reputable scientists who have examined the data and reached a different conclusion.

5. Let me put this another way. Texas is on fire. Pennsylvania faces record floods. Joplin, Mo., is reeling from epic tornados. Shorelines are eroding in the Carolinas. None of these events can be directly blamed on climate change, but all are predicted by known climate-change trends.

Such events will only worsen if the climate continues to warm, as it will under business-as-usual scenarios. Do you support a business-as-usual model or do you have a plan to stem the trend toward a hotter, more volatile planet?

Well, I can answer that for those on the right. Do nothing. It's the same solution they have for health care.

6. Candidates Perry and Bachmann: Both of you have said the Environmental Protection Agency is a major problem in America, and you would seek to eliminate it if elected, particularly its mandate, affirmed by the Supreme Court, to regulate carbon emissions.

How then would you address the flaw in private markets that attaches no economic value to waste that falls as a burden on the general population -- for example, sewers that flow into waters that cross state lines, or carbon wastes that warm the atmosphere around the world? Without the EPA, how would you propose to address pollutants that cross state and international boundaries?

I'm very interested in the answers to this last one...if there are any. Honestly,  I don't think there are because the right doesn't think this is a problem. Like many problems that require federal government solutions, they just turn away and pretend it doesn't exist and completely rip the left for trying to do anything.

They want them to fail because having no solution is a failure from the very beginning. And we can't let them "win" now, can we?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Obama Jobs Plan=Thumbs Up

Here is a consensus on the American Jobs Act.

President Barack Obama’s $447 billion jobs plan would help avoid a return to recession by maintaining growth and pushing down the unemployment rate next year, according to economists surveyed by Bloomberg News.

The legislation, submitted to Congress this month, would increase gross domestic product by 0.6 percent next year and add or keep 275,000 workers on payrolls, the median estimates in the survey of 34 economists showed. The program would also lower the jobless rate by 0.2 percentage point in 2012, economists said.

So, again, I must ask...which is more important: the economy or making the president a one termer?

Not Qualified

As we continue to witness new depths of conservative ADD in their nomination process, I think it's important to note these words.

You have to feel in your heart and in your mind that you’re ready for the presidency. And there are lots of people who will run just because the opportunity presents itself.

That’s not a reason to be president of the United States. You have to believe in your heart and in your soul and in your mind that you are ready and I don’t believe that about myself right now. So that’s why I said I won’t run and I can’t imagine that changing.

That's current Belle of the Ball, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, from last February. I'd take him at his word. He's not qualified at all.

He has also stated many times that he is not running. Yet our country, according to a woman in the audience at Christie's Reagan library speech yesterday, "can't take four more years of this" so Christie must jump in and save us. Oh, Lawdy! Four more years of what, exactly? Our country being eroded due to Republican extremism? Oops! I forgot...#3 Projection/'s all Obama's fault!

Even if Christie does get in the race, the base would tire of him just like they have with all the rest of the candidates. Why? Because they aren't capable of putting together coherent and detailed policy. All they really have is "We have a spending problem" combined with the relentless pursuit of proving Democrats wrong in the most childishly dishonest fashion. Once Christie talks of compromise (as he has already done), they'll hate him too and then it will be on to someone else.

The simple fact that the Republican Party is behaving this way should raise some serious red flags. What exactly is their agenda?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Little Brother Is Watching, and Won't Stop

Chuck Schumer is on a rampage against OnStar. He's calling for an investigation into OnStar's actions after their announcement that they would continue to track former customers even after they canceled their subscriptions. From Wired:
OnStar began e-mailing customers Monday about its update to the privacy policy, which grants OnStar the right to sell that GPS-derived data in an anonymized format.
People are always so worried about government intrusion into their privacy, but the real threat is companies like OnStar. Nothing except their "privacy policy" actually stops them from selling non-anonymized data to your ex-wife's divorce lawyer.

In the United States, nothing really stops companies like Yahoo, Google or Microsoft from selling your query history, except the threat of angry customers. Facebook is about to start telling everyone you know about everything you do everywhere. How long before these companies decide to start monetizing this information? Many states already make millions of dollars selling drivers license information to insurance companies, companies screening job applicants and companies like LexisNexus and ChoicePoint Services, Inc.

ChoicePoint is a private espionage agency that become notorious when it erroneously scrubbed thousands of African-American voters from the voter rolls in Florida before the 2000 presidential election.

But it's worse than this. Pretty much any company you do business with has sensitive personal information on you, especially the banks issuing your credit cards. Law enforcement has to get a warrant to get this information, but what is really stopping the companies from selling the information to anyone who's willing to pay for it? They're supposed to tell you what they're doing in their privacy policies, but these can be written ambiguously and almost no one reads or understands those things. And even if they're not actively hawking it, how many thousands of employees at these credit card companies can browse your purchase history at their whim? How is access to this history controlled? Are these accesses logged, so they can track down employees who are getting this information on the sly and selling it to your ex-wife's lawyer?

We don't really know, because companies don't have to report the details on their activities when we ask them about it. They can claim that their business practices are protected information, and divulging them would hurt their competitiveness and put them at a disadvantage.

We can find out that states are selling our drivers license information because we run the states, and have the right to know what our government is doing. But companies? Ironically, we have no absolute right to find out what a private business is doing with our private information.

Monday, September 26, 2011

And The GOP Nominee Is...

After the recent butt rip of Rick Perry, I've come to the conclusion that conservatives don't want anyone to be president. Of course, this makes sense on the one hand because they'd rather have the private sector run everything.

But their continual excitement followed quickly by derision and dismissal of every candidate that jumps into the race really has me wondering...who exactly do they want? At this point, I think it's just NOT OBAMA. This makes perfect sense to me in a whole "proving the opposition wrong" and "winning the argument" kind of way.

Or maybe it's that they have this fantastical vision of their perfect candidate...a former CEO...wealthy...a "job creator"...perhaps an ex-Governor from the South...a vehement hater of all social programs...someone who wants to privatize education and increase defense death Wall Street...Health care repealer...and someone who will benignly neglect the population of the country.

Does such a person exist?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

It's The Audience, Stupid

Forget about the candidates. The story so far in the race for the 2012 GOP nomination is the audience. First, we had the cheers at over 200 hundred executions. Then we had the shouts of "Yeah" to letting a man without insurance die. Now we have this.

Booing a solider who is serving our country simply because he is gay?

From now on, the networks who run these debates should just turn the cameras on the audience and let the world see the conservative base in action.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Death But No Taxes

One of the mantras of Rick Perry is that government is bureaucratic, incompetent, corrupt, unwise, foolish and self-serving. Perry, who was ghoulishly cheered at the Tea Party debate  when Wolf Blitzer mentioned that he had presided over 230-odd executions, thinks we can't trust government bureaucrats to regulate carcinogenic benzene emissions from oil refineries or mercury emissions from coal plants in order to save lives.

But he thinks those same bureaucrats can be trusted to fairly administer the death penalty. Yeah, that's right. The same state and federal governments that are too incompetent to regulate slaughterhouses should be able to kill you.

On Wednesday Troy Davis was executed in Georgia for the murder of police officer Mark McPhail. Davis became a cause celebre because of the doubt surrounding his conviction. There wasn't any hard evidence and most of the eyewitnesses recanted their testimony, saying that they couldn't really tell who did the shooting, but that the cops had pressured them into fingering Davis.

And this isn't an isolated case. DNA testing techniques have improved and more than a hundred people have been proved innocent and released from death row since 1973. There are literally thousands of cases where cops have lied, coerced witnesses and planted evidence; prosecutors have knowingly used perjured testimony, hid evidence from defense attorneys and prosecuted innocent people in order to seem tough on crime; and judges have accepted  bribes or knowingly allowed travesties of justice to improve their chances of reelection.

The basis of our legal system is that we are innocent until proved guilty. This tradition goes back to English common law, and Blackstone's formulation: "Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer."

But it seems that people like Perry would rather see ten innocent persons executed than get blamed for releasing a prisoner who later commits a crime. That happened to Mike Huckabee twice: he pardoned Wayne DuMond in 1999, who later raped and killed a woman, and Maurice Clemmons in 2000, who killed four police officers in 2009. Mike Huckabee's aspirations to become present are now dead.

I don't know the legal and evidentiary details of the Huckabee cases, and whether these two men should have been released. But I do know one consideration that Huckabee should never have used: their jailhouse professions of Christian faith. Mouthing platitudes about Jesus is the easiest way to feign rehabilitation, but outward piety is no indication of peaceful intent. Osama bin Laden spouted volumes about god.

I'm no sucker for a sob story about a bad childhood, inner rage, societal injustice, too many Twinkies or God's Will. The death penalty is wrong, not because it's immoral or unethical, but because it's irrevocable. Since there's always going to be some kind of doubt, or some kind of mitigating circumstance, it just doesn't make sense to execute criminals.

I personally give no credence to the idea that crazy or mentally deficient people shouldn't be executed. If you kill people it doesn't matter if you were impaired, or crazy or sane: you kill people. You're dangerous, and if you're permanently mentally impaired you always will be dangerous. Yeah, Jared Loughner is crazy. But he killed or wounded a dozen people in front of dozens of other people and was caught red-handed. If anyone should be executed, it's him. But he's crazy and was operating under diminished capacity, so in our system he's not a candidate for the death penalty. The problem is, anyone who intentionally kills innocent people is mentally ill: by definition they're psychopaths.

Someone who gets drunks and kills someone in a bar fight, or runs over a pedestrian with their car, is far more dangerous to society at large than a woman who methodically poisons her husband for insurance money. Yet the drunk will get a few years in jail for manslaughter in Texas, while the black widow will get the needle.

Because our justice system is so fraught with human frailties -- laziness, poor judgment, prejudice, ambition, self-promotion -- the government has no business killing people. Judgments over which cases should be prosecuted as capital crimes and whether extenuating circumstances should mitigate the punishment can never be uniformly applied by thousands of different with their own prejudices and hangups. If someone is thrown in the slammer for life prosecutorial errors can be rectified, some semblance of justice can prevail and compensation can be made to the unjustly convicted. But there's no fixing dead.

Why aren't advocates of execution worried about misapplication of the death penalty? I speculate that the logic runs like this. Troy Davis might have been innocent of the killing he was executed for, but he'd had other problems with the legal system. Advocates apparently assume Davis was surely guilty of something else, so what's the big deal?

The big deal is this: when you execute the wrong person the hunt for the real killer ends. The police, prosecutors and judges involved will fight any attempts to reopen these cases because it calls into question their competence and integrity.

The death penalty is supposed to bring closure to victim's friends and relatives. But in the case of Mark McPhail's murder, there will always be lingering doubts that justice was truly done.

It also leaves the murderer free to kill again, undermining one of the core justifications of the death penalty: a deterrent to future murders.

Deterrence is the last refuge of death penalty advocates. They are convinced that the only thing stopping a plague of murder is the prospect of execution. But the numbers don't hold up: murder rates are more than four times higher in Texas than they are in Vermont, which doesn't have the death penalty. In fact, in 2010 the murder rate in death penalty states was 4.6 per 100,000 and only 2.9 in non-death penalty states. It's hard to pin down cause and effect here, but the death penalty is having very little deterrent effect in Texas and Louisiana, a death penalty state with a murder rate ten times higher than Vermont.

Which brings us to Lawrence Russell Brewer, who was also executed on Wednesday. Brewer was a white supremacist who with two buddies dragged a black man, James Byrd, Jr., to his death in East Texas. It was a particular grisly crime, in which the victim's body was first thought to be animal road kill.

Obviously Brewer was undeterred by the death penalty. He was a stupid racist who apparently thought blacks were subhuman and that he'd never get caught. And that's the problem. People who commit murder usually do so in the heat of the moment. They're drunk, high, deluded, enraged, or just stupid, and they're in no condition to consider the consequences. Or they're criminals who have in fact considered the consequences, and decided that murder was their best option: "If I leave this witness alive, he'll finger me and I'll go to jail. If I kill him he won't be able to testify and I might get away."

But I don't know. Maybe death penalty advocates really are deterred from committing crimes by the threat of punishment. Me, I don't commit murder or steal because it's wrong and it hurts people. But there are people who insist that they have the right to carry concealed and loaded weapons in public, and are more than willing to shoot anyone they fee threatened by, or steps on their lawn or knocks on their front door uninvited. Are those people so close to committing murder that the severity of the punishment is the only thing stopping them?

People like Perry should be the first in line to end the overreaching grasp of a corrupt and inept governments that have convicted so many innocent people. Forget about picayune legal technicalities and ask yourself a moral question: how can government have the power to take our lives if it doesn't even have the right to save our lives by imposing a fine if we refuse to buy health insurance?

Friday, September 23, 2011

A New Solution for Unemployment

Republicans now have three knee-jerk responses to anything President Obama says: cut spending, cut taxes, cut regulations. The problem the nation is facing, though, is unemployment.

Cutting government spending means cutting the government workforce, which puts more people out there looking for jobs. Those furloughed government workers compete with unemployed private sector employees, creating more unemployment and a glut of labor, which drives down wages, reduces our standard of living and damages the retail sector, which is the engine of our economy.

Cutting taxes has been tried, and it doesn't work. Taxes are at their lowest in 50 years, and corporations are still sending jobs overseas rather than hire Americans. Why would they build factories in the United States when they can pay Chinese workers $12 a day? Companies preferentially hire immigrants for jobs in the United States (especially in programming and engineering) because these legal immigrants will work for less. And that's not even counting the millions of illegal immigrants that thousands of companies are still employing.

Cutting regulations is the latest mantra. But what effect does it have on employment? One study examined this, and found that it's minimal. Regulations create jobs in addition to destroying them -- regulators are needed and people are needed to perform the pollution abatement. Regulations that require mining operations to clean up and restore the area create jobs in forest and landscape management and toxic waste disposal.

One thing that Republicans don't mention is that companies are always involved in writing the regulations for their industries, especially during the Bush years. Many regulations are put in place to entrench the existing players and make it more difficult for new startups to compete.

What the study didn't examine is the other savings that the regulations have. Environmental regulations, in particular, are imposed specifically to reduce the number of deaths due to cancer, respiratory disease, heart disease, as well as birth defects. Since medical costs these days are so high, and Medicare and Medicaid wind up paying the bills for the sickest people, the health consequences of environmental regulations should be explicitly considered.

EPA did exactly that for the ozone rule that Obama recently deferred:
The EPA also noted that while compliance with the new rule would cost polluters between $19 billion and $90 billion a year by 2020, the benefits to human health will be worth between $13 billion and $100 billion every year.
In other words, EPA proposed regulations that would save thousands of lives and improve the quality of life for all Americans -- breathing cleaner air -- with an additional net impact of costing between $6 billion or saving $10 billion. Now I'm going to make a Republican assumption: given the nature of health care and the fact that so much of it is under the purview of government (Medicare, Medicaid and the VA), it's a good bet that good old American ingenuity will find cheaper ways to cut ozone emissions than the EPA assumed, and that health care costs will continue to increase unabated. So emissions cuts would likely save us more money across the economy than they would cost.

I was at this point in this line of reasoning when I finally saw the light: the true genius of the Republican stance against regulation. Regulation saves lives. Living people need jobs. Eliminate all regulation and more people die. Bingo! Unemployment problem solved!

Follow the logic: premature deaths from pollution-induced disease, workplace injuries, poorly designed products, and tainted food are actually a three-fold blessing:

1) Dead people reduce the unemployment problem in the most direct fashion possible.

2) Sick people need medical care, increasing the number of jobs needed in health care -- the fastest growing sector of the economy. Injured people sue, providing more jobs in the legal and private eye fields.

3) Dead people increase the number of jobs required in the burgeoning fields of mortuary science, gravedigging and cemetery maintenance.

It's not all that far-fetched an argument. It's the same one Philip Morris made when they said that smoking was a net benefit for the government of the Czech Republic. Cigarettes provide immediate tobacco tax revenue and kill smokers before they can retire, allowing the government to collect payroll taxes from young smokers who would never use that money.

It's ironic that the same people who were screaming about death panels two years ago are now blithely demanding the elimination of environmental regulations that have saved literally millions of lives over the last forty years.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Do Nothing

Many people are jumping on the president these days for his energy policies (or lack thereof). Politico has an interesting piece on all of this that I found to be an excellent summation.

Under pressure from Republicans, he embraced offshore drilling — just weeks before the BP oil spill. He offered support for nuclear power, only to watch a disaster unfold in Japan. Gas price hikes in the spring disrupted his economic message. Feeling the heat from Republicans again, he infuriated his green base by bailing out on a long-promised ozone standard.

Essentially, every time he heads down the path of towards sort of energy policy, he gets cracked in the jaw. Nearly all of this is beyond his control anyway (Libya, Tsunami, China's solar drive vs. Solyndra). At this point, I'd say he's pretty gun shy anyway so why not simply give up.

I'm serious. There's not much that he really needs to do. The world's energy market is heading towards green technology whether people (see: the right)like it or not. With the supply of oil and coal limited, the next fifty years are going to see a shift to new forms of technology. As the cost of processing these new forms of energy drops due to more investment from multinational corporations, the free market will do what it always does.

If he feels the urge to do anything, he should simply funnel it all through the Department of Defense. The strides in innovation they are taking are amazing and can easily be supported by defense dollars-something that the GOP would never dare cut.

So, the president should simply like his wounds, learn from his mistakes, and focus on jobs and the economy. Tackling energy has always been a disaster for him and his goals are going to be realized even if he does nothing.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Choice

The way I see it, conservatives have a choice right now and its pretty clear. President Obama has now presented his jobs plan and his plan to reduce the deficit. Both plans contain items that the GOP has said are needed and will help the economy. The question they pass them? Even just the parts that they support?

Because if they do and the economy improves, the president will do better in next year's election. If the economy gets better, the president will probably win. According to Mitch McConnell, their number one goal is to "make Barack Obama a one term president." I don't think you can both help the economy and make the president a one-termer.

So, I'm putting the question to all my conservative commenters: what would you do? Help the economy by passing even the parts of the plans that you support OR do nothing which will be better for your election chances next year? What matters more to you?

Liberal commenters: please feel free to prognosticate if you so desire.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Turn Up That Hearing Aid

These days, it seems like the media likes to report on politics in two ways. The first is the WWE mentality which showcases inter-party squabbles based on ridiculous statements and talking points (death panels, Ponzi Schemes etc). The second is the centrist cop-out or the Cult of Both Sides (the dems have their crazies too!).

So, when something happens like the President signing the America Invents Bill which enjoyed broad bipartisan support, the media largely ignores it. Folks, this is a big deal for a couple of reasons.

The first is that this country can actually work together on important issues like this one. It's not all acrimony. The bill was proposed by a very liberal senator and a very conservative one, Patrick Leahy and Lamar Smith, respectively. This is something I need to remind myself as well:) More importantly, the America Invents Bill will help small businesses and start up entrepreneurs turn their ideas into products faster. Thousands of would be patent holders having been clogging up the courts due to the glacial pace of the now former patent system. No longer.

If we are going to seriously compete in the global marketplace, we need to address more concerns like this. We are massively over regulated in some areas. There is no denying this. It's just as much of a fact as the reality that we are under regulated in the financial sector. Passing this bill was a vital first step and it shows that bipartisanship isn't dead, folks.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Thought That Won't Go Away

The other day this idea popped into my head and it hasn't gone away, sticking with me like a hang nail that just won't drop. After sharing this idea with my wife, she thinks I'm insane (not the first this has happened:)) Yet I can't help but think that it's the best and only solution for our nation during these troubled times.

I think that all liberals, progressives, Democrats, RINOs, and anyone who isn't "pure" should completely and utterly capitulate to the right wing extremists that are currently running the show that is the conservative base in this country.

I mean it. I'm not kidding. All of us who have been trying to reason with these people should hand the keys over to the Apocalyptic Cult/20th Century Europe Authoritarian Regime (copyright: Mike Lofgren and henceforth named Lofgren's Syndrome) and let them run the show for whatever amount of time they see fit to fix this country. The way I see things, this is the only way that we are ever going to break this nonproductive statelemate. I've examined the potential outcomes and here is why I truly think this is the best course of action.

The first possible outcome (very unlikely) is that most or all of their policies and ideas will work. If so, that means a stronger country, right? So, that's a good thing. Unlike their mindset, I'm not so filled with hubris to think that there is no possible way any of what they are proposing will work. Never say never, obviously...

More likely of an outcome, however, is that a few proposals might work to a certain degree but most will fall short of fail outright. At this point, we would see some cracks in their ideological armor and some leaders would likely cave and ask for our help. This is when we would need to stay strong and refuse to help. My hope here is that they would adapt and change, thus dispensing with their intransigence forever. Some, of course, would not admit defeat (due to Lofgren's Syndrome) but this would likely result in some infighting and some sort of breakdown in power which would also result in change. Like the first outcome, this is also a good thing.

Given the fact, though, that so many suffer from severe cases of Lofgren's Syndrome, the most likely outcome, in my opinion, would be disaster. Their eternal pride would reach to a long and painful height before their massive fall. This is why my wife thinks I'm nuts because our country would likely fall apart. But, honestly, this is the only way to be rid of this mindset forever. Faced with the stark reality of a country in ruins, Lofgren's Syndrome, like polio, would be eradicated from our country forever. The rest of us would pick up the pieces and finally be able to solve the problems of reality.

Obviously, destroying something in order to save it is somewhat insane but I don't see any other recourse. Right now, we are wasting a lot of time and there really is no other logical choice. You can't reason with someone who is a true believer. The only way to do so is to do to them what Gorbachev did to us in the late 1980s...deprive them of an enemy. What ever will they do if they have no one to prove wrong and no argument to win?

They'll have to actually govern.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Sunday Lesson

Since today is Sunday, I found a great quote from the Bible to go along with the Asimov quote that I put up recently.

Out in the open wisdom calls aloud,
she raises her voice in the public square;
on top of the wall she cries out,
at the city gate she makes her speech:
“How long will you who are simple love your simple ways?
How long will mockers delight in mockery
and fools hate knowledge?
Repent at my rebuke!
Then I will pour out my thoughts to you,
I will make known to you my teachings.
But since you refuse to listen when I call
and no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand,
since you disregard all my advice
and do not accept my rebuke,
I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you;
I will mock when calamity overtakes you—
when calamity overtakes you like a storm,
when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind,
when distress and trouble overwhelm you.

---Proverbs 1 V 20-27

A nice set up for a climate change post later in the week.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Life in the Bubble

While I thought Keith and Bill didn't do the greatest acting job, this was truly amazing. It's exactly what it's like talking to the right these days.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Powerful Words

A while back, one of my colleagues had this chart in his class. I got one and put it up in mine and it has made a ton of difference in the writing skills of nearly all the students I come into contact with on a daily basis. Several other instructors have this up in their rooms now as well.

One of my central goals has always been to push students past the basic knowledge and comprehension level of learning and into analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. It's small tools like this that direct students towards this goal in a more efficient manner.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Last Resort

A key point that needs to be made in as president attempts to get his jobs bill passed is that federal government spending is spending of the last resort. This idea will bounce off most of the right these days. Sane people (such as myself) can't hope to pry the base's irrational fear from their cold, dead minds.

But it needs to be said anyway and I'm happy that former Labor Secretary Robert Reich said it in a recent piece in my local paper. In fact, he said a great deal of things which made complete sense. Of course, this means that nearly everyone on the right will hate it immediately.

Let's take a look at a few of Reich's comments.

Tax cuts, we know, don't have a huge multiplier effect because people in times of economic stress tend to use tax cuts to pay off debt or to save, rather than to spend.

Hence the reason why tax cuts really don't work most of the time.

The main motivation for businesses to hire is customers. Consumer spending is 70 percent of the economy. If consumers are holding back because they are under water with their mortgages and they are worried about losing their jobs, they don't have the cash to spend.If you've got the private sector, businesses and consumers, unwilling to spend, where do you look? Government is the spender of last resort. ... If government can't do it, we are not going to have a recovery.

Exactly. So, it's not the panic mongering myth of "uncertainty." Businesses simply don't have customers and most of these potential customers have less and less money to spend. This is why I state continually that less people having more money is a very bad thing for the overall health of our economy. Sooner or later, the greed at the top will be their own undoing and ours as well.

We are losing ground [to other countries] on education. We're losing ground on labor unions. And we have a politics that has been quite regressive, favoring privatization and deregulation. ...The only way out of this is not only a sufficiently high stimulus, but also addressing inequality through stronger education, stronger labor unions and tax reform.

I agree with everything here except the high stimulus. I think he underestimates the effect that short term debt to GDP will have in relation to our standing in the world.

But here's the best part

This isn't a zero-sum game. A lot of wealthy people are beginning to understand that they would do better with a smaller percentage of a rapidly growing economy than with a big chunk of an economy that's dead in the water.

Yep. And his mention of the zero sum game idea made me grin from ear to ear.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Regulation Rap

Everyone knows the Republicans have no intention of passing any of Obama's jobs proposals. To do so would improve the economy and put people back to work, and that's something the Republicans just can't abide.

But in response, like some third-rate rapper, all the Republicans can do is repeat the same line over and over, even though it doesn't rhyme with anything: "slash regulations." This is a completely disingenuous proposal, a delaying tactic calculated to kick the can down to the road till the next election and accomplish nothing other than to keep the economy in the doldrums and make Obama look bad.

Exactly what regulations do they want to eliminate? FAA regulations for what things people can carry on planes, or spacing restrictions on how closely planes can follow each other landing? USDA regulations on slaughterhouses and dairies that prevent E. coli infections? FDA regulations on food safety and drugs? Consumer Product Safety Commission regulations on the materials that can be used in kids' toys? NHTSA standards for brakes and collision worthiness? EPA regulations on lead, mercury and sulfur in automobile exhaust and power plant emissions, which cause brain damage in children and acid rain that was on the verge of killing all life in northern lakes and forests 30 years ago? SEC regulations on the banks and corporations who just screwed us over in the financial meltdown with their irresponsible lending and investment practices? Regulations that limit the number of people you can cram aboard an airplane, ferry or bus?

Many regulations aren't even within the purview of the federal government. Building codes, zoning ordinances and land use covenants impede small businesses far more often than federal regulations, and those are governed by states, counties and municipalities. The federal government can't eliminate those regulations unless they usurp local control. Which I thought was bad.

Are there some harmful regulations? Sure. I'm all for revising regulations that have become useless or cumbersome. But it will literally take years to review, make new proposals, open them up for public comment and then revise the regulatory system. Any savings and increased employment wouldn't happen for several years, and it's doubtful that the net gain in employment would be significant (jobs would be lost -- regulators who are no longer needed will be on the job market competing with everyone else). But that suits the Republicans: they don't want to see any improvement in the economy for at least a year and a half.

At this point Republicans will argue that market forces will take the place of regulation. The problem is that market forces -- if they work at all -- are slow, retroactive and punitive. In the meantime, you just wind up with a lot of dead, maimed and sickened people who would otherwise be living and healthy if we had a modicum of sensible proactive regulations.

The Republicans have a three-pronged approach that would actually make individual consumers powerless against big companies, which belies their anti-regulatory fervor: 1) eliminate regulations, 2) eliminate the ability of consumers to sue companies in civil court with "tort reform" and class action suits, and 3) eliminate the government's ability to regulate mergers and prevent monopolies. Together, these three Republican tenets completely undermine the ability of market forces to reign companies in.

Without regulations, making bad products is not illegal. If you die in a car accident because the car doesn't have air bags or crumple zones, it's not the car manufacturer's fault. It's your fault for having the accident or buying the wrong car. If the brakes fail it's not the manufacturer's fault, it's yours because were driving too fast, braked too hard, drove through water, or didn't maintain them properly. If lots of people die in similar accidents, you can't band together to sue the companies for making faulty products because of tort reform and the elimination of class action lawsuits. And since there's no limit on how large companies can get, eventually there will only be one or two car companies. You won't be able to buy a car somewhere else. Your choice will be to own a car or not own a car. And since the oil companies and car companies have destroyed our rail system and Republicans work tirelessly every day to defund public transit, that choice comes down to no choice at all.

In particularly egregious cases where the publicity could adversely affect the company, they will be able to buy the silence of victims or their relatives, or if the victims have some spine the companies will be able spend unlimited amounts of money to discredit or otherwise sue their victims into silence.

In the worst case, the company can just declare bankruptcy. All the principals can just walk away with their personal fortunes intact. They would even be able to buy the assets of the bankrupt company for pennies on the dollar, and do exactly the same thing again under a new name.

Market forces only work when there's a market; they do not function when there's a monopoly. The logical outcome of Republican policies would be total domination of the American economy by market-segmented monopolies owned by foreign conglomerates. These interlocking monopolies will include media outlets, which means bad publicity -- the last remaining check against corporate abuses in the Republican Utopia -- can be prevented by another head of the giant multinational corporate hydra.

Our government doesn't make regulations just for the hell of it. Regulations forbid the use of lead in gasoline and paint because it causes brain damage in children and developing fetuses. Regulations limit emissions from power plants because polluted air kills people with asthma, and causes lung disease in otherwise healthy people. Car safety standards -- regulations -- save people's lives by reducing the forces in collisions on passengers.

If Republicans are really pro-life, they can't categorically condemn all regulations, because regulations have saved literally millions of lives.

And Republicans really aren't against all regulation: they want to regulate who you marry, how you can divorce, whether you have an abortion, how you talk to your doctor, who you have sex with, what kind of birth control you can use, what kinds of drugs you take, who can move into this country, who you can hire, and on and on. They claim to want us to take personal responsibility for our own actions, but do everything they can to allow corporations to avoid responsibility for their actions. They want to regulate our personal and social behavior -- our individual liberties -- but want corporations to be free to do anything they want. All they're really doing is carrying out the agendas of their various campaign contributors with no real ideology other than what their "think tanks" can cobble together as a bunch of talking points.

This mantra of "less regulation" is just a smokescreen, a lie carefully concocted to make it seem like Republicans are for personal freedom and responsibility, when all they're really doing is delaying serious action for making Americans' lives better.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Insider

A while back, Nikto put up a post questioning his chiding of me  when I had referred to the current form of the GOP as a cult. I had decided before that to end the use of the word "cult" in reference to right wingers. I have to admit that this has been difficult what with the shoe fitting and all. Opinion pieces by Richard Cohen are flattering but still are just that-opinions.

But now that Mike Lofgren (left), a GOP Congressional Staffer who focused on budget and national security issues for 28 years, has released his Manzi-like analysis of the right, it seems that my initial assertions have been fully validated. To say that his piece is brilliant is the understatement of the political season. He sums up everything I have been saying for years on this blog.

It should have been evident to clear-eyed observers that the Republican Party is becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult, or one of the intensely ideological authoritarian parties of 20th century Europe.

Gee, I wonder which country he is referring to?:) Lofgren's piece goes beyond what I said because he saw all of this for himself. In other words, he is a primary source.  which means we have now gone past folks like Cohen and me and we are now starting to hear first hand experiences.

A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress's generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.

A deeply cynical tactic, to be sure, but a psychologically insightful one that plays on the weaknesses both of the voting public and the news media. There are tens of millions of low-information voters who hardly know which party controls which branch of government, let alone which party is pursuing a particular legislative tactic. These voters' confusion over who did what allows them to form the conclusion that "they are all crooks," and that "government is no good," further leading them to think, "a plague on both your houses" and "the parties are like two kids in a school yard." This ill-informed public cynicism, in its turn, further intensifies the long-term decline in public trust in government that has been taking place since the early 1960s - a distrust that has been stoked by Republican rhetoric at every turn ("Government is the problem," declared Ronald Reagan in 1980).

I'd say "Mission Accomplished" on this front. Congress's approval rating stands at 11 percent. He goes on to state the obvious (the Tea Party is "filled with lunatics") and reveal a sad truth (the GOP used a routine debt ceiling vote to create“an entirely artificial fiscal crisis.”) Of course, the GOP aren't his only targets.

The main reason the Democrats' health care bill will be a budget buster once it fully phases in is the Democrats' rank capitulation to corporate interests - no single-payer system, in order to mollify the insurers; and no negotiation of drug prices, a craven surrender to Big Pharma. The Democrats have their share of machine politicians, careerists, corporate bagmen, egomaniacs and kooks.

I'd go along with most of that. The problem with the health care bill was the corporations and the Democrats horse shit way of packaging it. Lofgren has a great line about this as well.

Above all, they do not understand language. Their initiatives are posed in impenetrable policy-speak: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The what? - can anyone even remember it? No wonder the pejorative "Obamacare" won out. Contrast that with the Republicans' Patriot Act. You're a patriot, aren't you? Does anyone at the GED level have a clue what a Stimulus Bill is supposed to be? Why didn't the White House call it the Jobs Bill and keep pounding on that theme?

Hmm...I think someone listened on that last one:)

It's important to note that Lofgren recognizes the contrast here.

But both parties are not rotten in quite the same way. To those millions of Americans who have finally begun paying attention to politics and watched with exasperation the tragicomedy of the debt ceiling extension, it may have come as a shock that the Republican Party is so full of lunatics. To be sure, the party, like any political party on earth, has always had its share of crackpots, like Robert K. Dornan or William E. Dannemeyer. But the crackpot outliers of two decades ago have become the vital center today: Steve King, Michele Bachman (now a leading presidential candidate as well), Paul Broun, Patrick McHenry, Virginia Foxx, Louie Gohmert, Allen West. The Congressional directory now reads like a casebook of lunacy.

Lofgren's piece is lengthy so that's certainly enough for now. I'll be taking pieces of it over the next few weeks and throwing it out in smaller posts with commentary because it's just that amazing.

Not only do I feel validated about my previous thoughts regarding conservatives but my inkling to go back to referring to the right as a Cult has mostly vanished. After all, we've got insiders like Mike Lofgren out there now.

I wonder how many more will start popping up as the election gets closer and the prospect of putting one of these "lunatics" in the White House gets closer to reality.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Cheering Voices In My Head

Listen for the cheering at about the one minute mark after Wolf asks his follow up question.

Must be a whole bunch of voices in my head!

Dollars and Cents and 9/11

In 2001 37,862 people died in car accidents in the United States. In 2001 16,037 people were murdered. In 2001 30,622 people committed suicide. In 2001 millions of people died from heart disease, cancer, kidney disease, liver disease and so on. In 2001 2,996 people died in the 9/11 attacks.

As a result of those attacks we have spent about a trillion dollars on increased "homeland security" either directly on government expenditures, or indirectly on increased costs to business and the public for airport security and other measures. We have spent a trillion dollars on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and will likely spend trillions more "stabilizing" post-war Iraq and Afghanistan, and caring for the veterans wounded in those wars. More than 6,000 American soldiers have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more than 50,000 have been seriously wounded, many maimed for life.

Has the money, blood and tears we spent in the ten years since 9/11 yielded benefits in national security and lives saved commensurate with the costs? Slate has been running a series of articles about this, and the answer seems to be a definite "no." To justify the amount of money we're spending on security we'd have to prevent 1,667 Times Square-style attacks every year.

Certainly, some of the security measures taken since 9/11 have made us safer. But does anyone seriously believe taking our shoes off before getting on an airplane makes us safer? The shoe bomber failed. The underwear bomber failed, so why are 6 oz. cans of shaving cream forbidden on planes? Flight 93 showed why we don't need sky marshals -- after 9/11 we're all sky marshals.

There's been a lot of talk about the existential threat of radical Islamic terrorism. But the reality is that Al Qaeda cannot mount any kind of serious threat to the existence of the United States. Even if in the worst case they managed to obtain and detonate a nuclear device. Yes, they can hurt people, thousands of people, but they can never destroy this country. There aren't enough of them and we're too big and too strong. To put it in easily understood terms, anyone who really thinks Al Qaeda could possibly threaten our very existence is a coward and a wimp and hates America.

Yes, we need to take security measures. But we just can't afford to buy every expensive X-ray machine that's being hawked at the government. Even though the risk of cancer from those machines is very low, the increased cancer rate in the employees who run them will probably be greater than the number of deaths from terrorist acts prevented.

We accept all kinds of risks on a daily basis without a second thought. In mere seconds the Fort Hood shooter and Jared Loughner killed and wounded dozens of people with guns almost anyone can buy almost anywhere. But having guns everywhere is a risk we're willing to accept. Ten times more people die in car accidents every year than died in 9/11, but people still think nothing of speeding 10 or 20 miles over the limit, we still allow people to drink and drive, we still give 16-year-olds licenses, and many jurisdictions still have speed limits that far exceed the average person's ability reaction time, especially considering how many of us talk on cell phones while driving.

The chance of the average American dying from a radical Islamic terrorist attack is 0.000000285 per year (1 in 3.5 million), or essentially zero. And people who live in rural Alabama or Iowa or Arizona or really anywhere but large cities have, for all practical purposes, zero chance of being killed by Islamic terrorists.

Why are we so willing to spend trillions of dollars to prevent the potential loss of a few thousand lives to terrorism, but dead set against spending that same amount on a single-payer health care plan for the entire country? A plan that would have saved literally millions of actual American lives over the last 10 years? The money we're spending on security and the wars and their aftermath would do more to wipe out the debt problem than the work product of the debt supercommittee. Even modest increases in

The truth is, it's not about saving lives. It's about revenge. We will go to any lengths to frustrate Al Qaeda's plans, because we want to deny them the satisfaction of beating us. There's no easily identified villain involved in car accidents, or suicide, or heart disease, or cancer. Even though we know exactly what causes them -- alcohol and drug consumption, distracted and speeding drivers, poor diet -- we are still totally complacent about them even though they will cause us far more harm than Al Qaeda ever could.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Ten years ago today this forum started in email form. It became an outlet for my immediate and very justifiable anger over the September 11th attacks. A few years later, my friend Phil set up this site to continue the long discussions over what transpired that day.

Over the years, the site has obviously changed. The focus back then was on foreign policy. These days, it's mostly about politics. Part of me regrets the change but another part of me is happy that it happened. In many ways, I think I needed to put the horror of that day behind me and that's a big reason why I shifted to more political rants. I suppose in some ways it's avoidance and denial. Even as I watch the anniversary shows that have been on of late, it all seems so unreal.

The jumpers...I'll never forget the jumpers...

And I think that all of us who remember that day so well can't help but imagine planes flying into buildings nearly every time we see a simple jet flying over head in the bright blue sky.

The loss of life on that day is still too overwhelming for me to comprehend. When I stop and think about it, I can't help but cry in thinking about the people who will never see their loved ones again. My tears turn to frustration when I try to explain to the young people whom I see every day and who were very young at the time of the attacks just how awful that day was...only to get back reactions of indifference.

During those first few months after 9-11, I was so filled with anger and hate that I lost a lot my rationality. I watched quite a bit of Fox News and listened to the local right wing radio station (AM 1280) nearly every day. I argued vociferously with a poster and friend of mine named Charlie that we should invade Iraq because Saddam Hussein was an immediate threat. My bigotry towards Muslims was seemingly infinite and it wouldn't be shocking to hear me back then say that they were essentially animals.

After several months, I looked at what I had become and hated it. I lost touch with my ideological roots and realized, through personal experience, how easy it was for the right to enlist foot soldiers with their propaganda. In many ways, the 9-11 attacks were a boon for the cottage industry that is conservatism today. With such a large audience willing to spend their hard earned money on anger, hate and fear, who can blame them for wanting to make millions? And they do...

So, I spent some time doing some serious reflection, much of which was played out in the early days of this site. I got back in touch with my convictions and let a lot of the narrow views that I had towards Islam, for example, fall away. Throughout this time, I came to a very clear realization.

We can't fight extremism with extremism. As with nearly everything else they propose, the right in this country are under the impression that we have to become religious extremists to fight religious extremism. In fact, it's the opposite. We have to use our reason and logic to prevail. In other words, our intelligence. In particular, we have to recognize that our military might alone will never work. In fact, we have a much more powerful tool that we are using that has been far more effective: our soft power.

Earlier this year, I got an iPhone 4. A few days after I bought it, I was fiddling around with it during an exam at school. Three Muslim women, dressed in the customary garb, approached my desk. For a moment, I imagind how puckered your garden variety conservative's butt hole would become. I chuckled as it would have been my butt hole 8-10 years ago! I assumed they all wanted to go to the bathroom (the question a teacher gets asked more than anything else) but that wasn't it.

"Um...we wanted to that the iPhone 4?" one asked.
"Yes," I responded.
"Ooo! Can we check it out?" another giggled. All of their eyes lit up.

And there it was. America's soft power on brilliant display.

We will always prevail in our struggle against the people who attacked us 9-11 and it is largely due to our economic might. The lure of open markets and free trade is much more powerful than the call to return to 12th century Islam. The children of the people who may have supported the 9-11 attacks have already succumbed to free market ideals and the prosperity that comes with the liberal global market place.

To put it simply, they want to drink a Coke, eat a Big Mac, and geek out on their iPhones.

The hirabis know that this is our most powerful weapon. This is why they targeted the World Trade Center-a world financial landmark. They knew that once this sort of ideal takes hold, it's impossible to reverse. There's no going back from the benefits of freedom and the hirabis know that they lose that battle every single time. Their only hope right now for any sort of victory is that the extremists in our own culture--and you know who I am talking about--give them red meat to feed to their own version of the base with the hopes of growing its population.

Let's not give them gifts and continue to focus on the most effective strategies that deter extremism. I've worked very hard to overcome my biases towards Islam and would be a liar if I said I am completely over them. It's pretty easy, though, and doesn't require any effort. We share the same ideals as they everyone who cherishes freedom does. After all, one of the most common sayings among Muslims (something I use to greet all of my Islamic students) is "As-Salamu Alaykum."

Peace be upon you.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Great Speech But...

The president reset the table last night with his jobs speech before both houses of Congress. Here are my thoughts:

First, we all knew he would give a good speech. That's one of his strengths. But the tone was stronger than usual...more forceful...basically he's not fucking around and I like that. This was evident as we watched the color slowly drain out of GOP faces.

Second, he's got details. Here is the fact sheet to peruse. Next week, he is sending the bill to Congress and the week after he is submitting his own deficit reduction plan for the Debt Committee to consider. Included in that will be how this is going to be paid for and it will be deficit neutral which will mean more cuts.

Some items that jump out at me from the fact sheet:

Reforms and regulatory reductions to help entrepreneurs and small businesses access capital.

As Manzi said, we are over regulated in some areas and under regulated in others.

Modernizing at least 35,000 public schools across the country,supporting new science labs, Internet-ready classrooms and renovations at schools across the country, in rural and urban areas.

If we are going to seriously compete in the world's labor force, we are going to have to do this and more. Other countries are surpassing us in this area and it needs to change.

A $4,000 tax credit to employers for hiring long-term unemployed workers.

Hallelujah! Nor hiring someone because they have been unemployed for a long time is ridiculous.

Obviously, we are going to see more details in the coming weeks but so far this is an impressive list.

Third, finally a piece of legislation with a simple name...The American Jobs Act. No one remembers the health care bill's name-they just know it as "Obamacare." They will remember this one.

Fourth, it's a win-win politically. If Congress passes the bill or some elements of it, he wins. If they don't, he is seen as giving effort to solve the jobs problem and Congress is seen as an impediment. With their poll numbers even further in the toilet, they can ill afford to be seen as obstructionist. The GOP, in particular, better try to salvage something after the debt crisis debacle. They received very poor marks from the American people on that one as well as the business community. As soon as the Tea Party becomes a liability for business (which they may have already), say buh-bye to them.

Finally, last night is yet another example of how the president and many Democrats actually have substance behind their proposed solutions. Most of the GOP have neither substance nor solutions. All they have is the ability to show you how to be afraid of something and who is responsible for it.

GDP Growth

Jobs Chart

Thursday, September 08, 2011

GOP Debate Post Mortem

I think the most telling moment in last nights GOP at the Reagan Library came here.

Cheering that people were executed. I can't think of a more accurate summation of the conservative movement today...

Given this sort of behavior it's not surprising that the candidates (with the exception of Jon Huntstman) took facts and chucked them out the window. Both AP and Politfact have broken done their ridiculously devoid of fact statements.

Here are a couple of my favorites.

PERRY: On global warming, "The science is not settled on this. The idea that we would put Americans' economy at jeopardy based on scientific theory that's not settled yet, to me, is just, is nonsense. ... Find out what the science truly is before you start putting the American economy in jeopardy."

THE FACTS: The scientific consensus on climate change is about as settled as any major scientific issue can be. Perry's opinion runs counter to the view of an overwhelming majority of scientists that pollution released from the burning of fossil fuels is heating up the planet. The National Academy of Sciences, in an investigation requested by Congress, concluded last year: "Climate change is occurring, is very likely caused primarily by human activities, and poses significant risks to humans and the environment."

National Academy Schamational Academy...the right wing blogs say's a plot by the left to steal the fruits of my labor, damnit!

And who could forget this old classic...right up there with "Obama's A Socialist!"

PEERY: Social Security is indeed a Ponzi Scheme.

THE FACTS (via Mitchell Zuckoff, author of "Ponzi's Scheme,"): "First, in the case of Social Security, no one is being misled. Social Security is exactly what it claims to be: A mandatory transfer payment system under which current workers are taxed on their incomes to pay benefits, with no promises of huge returns.

"Second, A Ponzi scheme is unsustainable because the number of potential investors is eventually exhausted. That's when the last people to participate are out of luck; the music stops and there's nowhere to sit. It's true that Social Security faces a huge burden — and a significant, long-term financing problem — in light of retiring Baby Boomers...But Social Security can be, and has been, tweaked and modified to reflect changes in the size of the taxpaying workforce and the number of beneficiaries. It would take great political will, but the government could change benefit formulas or take other steps, like increasing taxes, to keep the system from failing."

"Third, Social Security is morally the polar opposite of a Ponzi scheme... At the height of the Great Depression, our society (see "Social") resolved to create a safety net (see "Security") in the form of a social insurance policy that would pay modest benefits to retirees, the disabled and the survivors of deceased workers.By design, that means a certain amount of wealth transfer, with richer workers subsidizing poorer ones.That might rankle, but it's not fraud... None of this is to suggest that Social Security is a perfect system or that there aren't sizeable problems facing the incoming administration and Congress. But it's not a Ponzi scheme. And Ponzi himself, who died in a hospital charity ward with only enough money for his burial, would never have recognized it as his own."

So, to recap, applause for death, no facts...sounds about right for the right.

Overall, here are my thoughts on each candidate in attendance in order of whom I thought did the best.

Jon Huntsman: Languishing down in single digits, Huntsman has no hope of winning the nomination with the GOP being as far right as it is. It's too bad because he's one of the last good conservatives out there and his comments last night were very honest and poignant.

Mitt Romney: For once, the ol' Mittster looked very comfortable. His command was excellent, he went toe to toe with Perry and struck a a stark contrast with him intelligence wise, and actually had a few things to say that weren't all that bad.

Ron Paul: Ever eternal and infinite, Paul said all his usual stuff and could spoil Perry's chances in states where he has big following by sucking away votes from the Texas Governor. This will benefit Romney.

Rick Perry: I guess you could say he did well in the red meat department but his doubling down on Social Security is going to hurt him with seniors.

Cain, Santorum, Gingrich:Who cares? But they still did better than...

Michele Bachmann:Sad, but I think last night was the end of the Shelley experiment. The Spring romance with her is over and many of her supporters have gone to Perry. Does this mean Palin will get into the race?

Hmmm...what if she runs as an independent?

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

God Messes with Texas

Every time calamity strikes, religious zealots are quick to proclaim that this is God punishing us for some imagined slight. Last week it was Michele Bachmann, who joked (or did she?) that God had sent the earthquake and the hurricane to Washington as a message.

Jerry Falwell claimed 9/11 happened because pagans and abortionists had turned America into a secular society. Pat Robertson has been particularly profligate with God's curses, claiming in 1998 that God would smite Orlando for being soft on gays, and that the earthquake in Haiti was God's punishment for a pact they made with the devil to escape from slavery centuries ago. But then Hurricane Bonnie hammered Robertson's compound in Virginia Beach in 1998. I guess God doesn't like false prophets.

The right has been curiously silent about the heat, drought and wildfires ravaging Texas. Much of Texas has been suffering through 100+ degree temperatures for almost three straight months. Isn't it obvious why?

The Republican Party has controlled Texas for years. They have made it a paradise for oil companies and big business. Few environmental regulations, low wages, no health insurance, lax workplace safety regulation enforcement (especially at oil refineries), plenty of corporate welfare.

Yet God has cursed Texas with a Biblical plague of fire and brimstone. Looking at some of the pictures coming from Bastrop you would think Texas is Hell on Earth.

I mean, if there is a God, and He's picking punishments that fit the offense, it's not particularly ironic to hit Washington with a minor earthquake or a low-end hurricane to punish bickering politicians. You'd expect a plague of laryngitis or flatulence or satyriasis.

But subjecting Texas -- the state that exemplifies the Big Oil, climate-change-is-a-liberal-lie mentality -- to 110-degree temperatures on a daily basis for months on end seems like a fitting punishment.

Sad to say, God isn't behind the drought and the heat wave. But we do know who is: human contributions to climate change are making a bad situation worse. We've already had 10 multibillion dollar weather disasters this year, and the hurricane season still has three or four months to go -- and we're already halfway through the named storm alphabet.

Will Bachmann play the God card in the debate tonight? Will she claim that God is punishing Rick Perry for his poor environmental record, his coddling of Big Oil, his dismissal of human-caused climate change? Or will she just admit that Texas is starting to choke and burn in their own waste products?

Are You Going To Help Them?

If you want to find out what the world would look like if the Koch Brothers ran it, take a look at income and wealth inequality right now and double it. Hell, triple it. After you have done that, explain to me how things are going to be better when our economy is two thirds consumer spending. If more people have less money and less people have more money, it's going to get worse because the consumer base is going to be so small.

The Kochs realize that they now have a fairly large audience that they can hoodwink into doing their bidding. They also realize President Obama and the Democrats (as well as a few Republicans) are a very large obstacle standing in their way. So what do they do? Compare Barack Obama to Saddam Hussein.

This is an audio recording of Charles Koch rallying his troops last June at their retreat last June. I find it very interesting that all of the things the Kochs do are highly secretive and rarely on display for the press. What are they hiding? To me, it's obvious.

Like the mob, they want to bust the joint out-the joint being America. They don't give a shit about the country or most of its people. They care about accumulating wealth and power. Period. More of it continually would be better. They are pathological in their pursuit of this and are clearly approaching the point in which they will do anything to further this goal.

Are you going to help them?

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Back To School

As students across my state head back to school today, I was very heartened by a recent conversation with my gym buddy, Edward. Recall that Edward is an evangelical minister and is just about as right wing as you can be.

As were lifting he turned to me and asked what was involved in becoming a teacher. I told him and then asked why he was interested. He said he was thinking of becoming one at either the secondary level or college. He'd like to have another job in addition to the ministry that he runs and, with his wife's business struggling right now, he thought it might be a good field to look into for some stability. Of course, I told him that the high pay and exotic travelling were a big plus:)

Even though he and I differ on our ideological views, I was pretty amped that we was interested. Quite honestly, we need all the help we can get. I know that wherever he ends up, he is going to push his religious beliefs but I don't really care. Yes, he believes in Republican Jesus but at least he has convictions. So many people today don't. Maybe a few kids will be inspired and motivated by him to actually give a shit about something other than fucking X Box or their smart phone and go out into the world and be productive. And this is what led us to a point of mutual agreement that made me happy on this, the first day of school.

Parents suck.

Actually, they don't just suck. The majority of them are doing a fucking horrible job. He sees it every Sunday in church and I see it every day in school. All of us see it when we go to Target or Wal Mart. In fact, Edward said, "Liberal and progressive ideals are not the problem in schools. Parents are the problem in schools and in places like my church." He then went on to tell me a series of stories of incidents he has seen over the years at church which echo what I see every day in school. They ranged from a complete inability to discipline to encouraging children to misbehave.

The main avenue of socialization of children is parents. For a wide variety of reasons, they have ceded this authority to people outside of their home. People like me and Edward are ill equipped to handle the individual needs of so many children. So, they end up being socialized by their friends and the corporate owned media. I don't know about any of you other parents out there but I wouldn't trust the socialization of a styrofoam cup with several of my children's friends. To begin with, none of them have basic manners. Their social skills suck and most seem to care only about sports. And many of them are socialized by corporations as well so everything is geared around the incentive of materialism. Even at grade school age, they have smart phones and watch endless hours of TV. Why?

Because their parents are too busy, either with work or simply being selfish and lazy, to hang out with them and do something. To put it simply, parents don't raise their children anymore. Parents don't fucking parent. They can't be bothered to do it so it's left up to people like me and Edward. Unfortunately, this leads to both of us (especially me) getting the blame when a child isn't doing well. Geez, you'd think I could easily socialize 100+ kids a day and turn them ALL into winners. What a lazy ass I am! With parents, it's always someone else's fault...never their own.

This is largely what our culture has become, though, so I guess I shouldn't be shocked. We are a nation filled with people who completely fail when it comes to reflection. It's easier to blame someone else or come up with wild eyed conspiracy theories on why our schools have these problems. Pointing the finger at the parents simply isn't done.

Even if we could point the finger at them, what then? We can't force parents to do a better job. Can we? If so, how?

Monday, September 05, 2011

Where We Are

We used to be a nation that makes things. Now we are a nation that makes things up.

---Arianna Huffington, 30 Aug 2011.

No shit, A-Train. I can't think of a more perfect message for Labor Day.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

More Of This, Please...

Hallelujah and Polarity

The regret is — the Republican candidates out in the field are not calling for a dramatic new direction of — Father help me, but i agree with Dr. Jeffrey Sachs. The United States — the United States is in virtual headlong retreat from the world. We’re coming out of all these places. We are bankrupt as a nation. We cannot balance our budget.

The great blunder was made by George W. Bush when he had the whole country and the world behind him and he went up to Congress and declared ‘now we’re going after an axis of evil; Iraq, Iran and North Korea.’ We are plunging into that part of the world instead of fighting al-Qaeda and handling it the way he should have. As a consequence of that, I think he broke the Republican party and frankly, he broke the United States as a superpower. We are a diminishing superpower today and there is no doubt China is a rising one.

Praise Jesus! Finally, an admittance of how we got here.No doubt about it...Al Gore would have been a better president and we would not as fucked as we are now.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

2011: A Space Junkyard

Space is a vast and empty void, right? Like the earth itself, it is so outrageously immense that we could never possibly affect it in any material way, right? Well, we've already managed to fill it full of junk after only sixty years.

Yes, there is so much junk in space now that astronauts on the space station recently had to take shelter when a piece of debris came within 1,000 or so feet. And this isn't an isolated incident. They had to do this in 2009 as well. Also in 2009 Iridium 33, one of the Iridium Constellation satellites, collided with Kosmos 2251, a defunct Russian satellite. (Iridium is a planet-wide network of 66 satellites in polar orbits used for satellite phones and pagers.)

What is all this junk? Some of it is old satellites, like Kosmos 2251. The Russians were notorious for launching lots of satellites with extremely short lifetimes, and they rarely bothered to deorbit them, something which NASA usually does to avoid this problem. Some of the junk is stuff that was dropped off manned spacecraft. Some of it is from intentionally destroyed satellites -- like the one the Chinese killed with an anti-satellite weapon in 2007.

But half the junk is debris from accidents like the Iridium-Kosmos collision. Which means that in the near term (10-20 years) the problem is going to get worse. Each time there's another collision there'll be that more much junk created, creating a cascade effect of more and more debris, causing more and more collisions.

Why is this stuff so dangerous? Orbital velocity in LEO (low-earth orbit) is about 17,000 miles an hour. A lot of satellites orbit in the same direction, a more-or-less equatorial orbit. But some satellites -- like Iridium and American spy satellites -- are in polar orbits so that they can, over time, communicate with or spy on any point on earth. When a polar satellite hits an equatorial satellite the amount of kinetic energy is huge. When the debris from that collision hits something else, it's still going 17,000 mph, and even a small bolt going that fast can totally destroy a satellite or the solar panels that power it.

In the long run the very thin atmosphere in LEO will eventually bring down most of the debris, as it brought down Skylab in 1979 (controllers changed the orientation to aim it, but it didn't land exactly where they wanted it to). But we'll probably have to take some action before then, as we put more and more things into orbit.

Many satellites have thrusters to correct their orbits (remember Jack Bauer always asking Chloe to reposition spy satellites for him?). Those thrusters could be used to deorbit the satellites. The problem is that their fuel is finite: the choice is between using the fuel for a longer useful lifetime for the satellite or for sending it to a fiery death in the atmosphere to eliminate the chance of collision.

The thing about this "pollution" in space is that it doesn't really hurt space or the planet earth at all. But it can hurt us. If our weather satellites are taken out by random junk, our ability to track hurricanes can be severely degraded, and people could die because they didn't get sufficient warning.

In a way, space junk is like global warming: the seemingly small increase of CO2 in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels poses no direct threat to the planet, and it won't even kill all humankind. Directly. But it will cause the temperature to rise several degrees, which will cause polar ice to melt, which will cause the seas to rise several feet. That's a trivial increase in sea level in the grand scheme of things, but it so happens that most of our major cities will be flooded. It will disrupt billions of lives, and cost trillions of dollars as we have to either move or protect major cities with dikes as they do in the Netherlands. And that's not even considering the disruptions temperature changes will wreak on farming, water supplies and the lives lost in wars caused by those disruptions.

There always consequences when we throw things away, whether it's old car batteries and computers in the landfill, junker satellites in orbit, antibiotics and birth control pills down the toilet, the exhaust from our cars or the smoke and ash from our coal-fired power plants.

We used to think we could just throw crap away and never see it again. But now there are so many of us, and we create so much trash, that all our waste products eventually just come back around and hit us upside the head like one of those satellites.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Deep In The Heart of Texas

We've heard quite a bit lately from the latest GOP primary presidential candidate, Governor of Texas Rick Perry, about how he is a "job creator." He points to his state of Texas as being an example of what he can do for the entire country. He champions himself as being a less spending, less government and less tax sort of fellow and, by gum, that's just what he is going to do with the federal government if the American people give him a chance.

The problem with all of this's not really true.

Take a look at this graphic.

Take note of the bright blue state of Texas. That indicates that Texas is spending at an amount greater than 3% above FY08 levels. How very interesting. Compare them to the other states that are spending less, many of which are not doing as well as Texas. Of course, this all comes with some good news for states in general.

So, Governor Perry doesn't really spend less as he say he does and likely recognizes the benefits of government spending. But what about his other claims?

Factcheck recently released an excellent piece that outlines a series of additional facts as to why Texas is doing so well. It's true that Texas has added a great deal of jobs recently but they have also been doing so since 1970. In other words, that's normal for them. It's really a no brainer when you think about it given that they do have some of that there black gold down those parts.

Throw in jobs being added in the natural gas sector as well as all of those government jobs I have mentioned previously and it makes sense that Texas is the nation's leader in job creation. Yet, this creation of jobs hasn't kept pace with the influx of people an unemployment has risen to 8.4 percent in the last two years. This happened while the national rate was dropping. And Texas, along with Mississippi, has the largest percentage of hourly workers at or below the minimum wage. The lone star state also has the highest percentage of people without health care (26%).

In addition, Texas didn't experience the housing bust as other states did because of...wait for it...government restrictions on loans! What's that you say? The government interfering in the free market to improve a market outcome? Yes. Yes they did. And it benefited the citizens of Texas and their economy.

Finally, while Texans don't pay a personal income tax, they still pay above the national average in sales tax with local municipalities able to add on to that amount. Property taxes (collected at the local level) are among the highest in the nation.

So, Governor Perry's claims make no sense whatsoever when you consider these facts. He talks a good talk game about less spending, less government, and less taxes because he knows that plays well to the true believers. But the reality shows that he is doing what is necessary to govern.