Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Best Christmas present for both your conservative and your liberal friends

Conservatives tend to have more, well, conservative tastes than liberals, who tend to have more, well, liberal tastes.

So it's rare that the same gift would be perfect for both the Merry Christ-mas crowd and the Happy Holidays crowd.

But this year it exists: "O Holy Night" a small album of four songs on a CD, plus a DVD with five song videos and an interview by a 10 year old soprano named Jackie Evancho.

I'm not going out on much of a limb. This $6 mini-album was only released November 16 and it's now the #2 best-selling album on

I wrote a long review of it on that you can read there, with more on my arts blog, plus numerous entries on's discussion threads--the links are below the product listing for "O Holy Night."

The point here is that it's equally appealing to the religious and the religiously irreligious, Lefties and Righties. It embodies all of our best wishes for our fellow creatures at this time of year.

Anyone who reads this blog knows I'm an empiricist who finds the word "God" undefinable--yet this very religious album would be my pick for a gift right now, because I find it so moving.

If someone says "child soprano" and you think either "sugary fluff" or "cute kid but it's not real singing" think again. If terms like "portamento" and "chest-head voice transitions" and "buttery high notes" are in your normal vocabulary, you've probably heard of her already. She's been on so many talk shows by this point it's hard to not have heard of her.

I love seriously heavy metal rock and roll and despite ooky-cutesy stuff but this kid still got to me. She's utterly sincere. I can't imagine what her parents must go through when they have to say "no" to her--look at interviews with her on YouTube and you'll see.

And, to the point of this blog, giving her album as a present when it might seem incongruous coming from you might be just the trick to opening a political discussion--BUT with the idea that you should both speak as if Jackie was in the room looking at both of you with her large guileless blue eyes. That would put everyone on their best behavior.

Added bonus: the people who don't like her reveal themselves to be Grinches. And don't you want to know who it is that you know who's a Grinch?

New litmus test for discovering who puts their party before their country: the START treaty

Our fewer-nukes treaty with Russia passed over the No votes of the vast majority of Congressional Republicans, despite it being supported in its present form by numerous moderate Republicans, every living Secretary of State of both parties, nonpartisan arms control experts, our military leadership's nukes experts, and that famous so-shul-ist Henry Kissinger.

If ever there was a Mom & Apple Pie issue this was it. Yet the Republican Party proved not just how extremist it has become--but also conservative it isn't. This was an issue that was supported by anyone who was a sane conservative (as opposed to people who call themselves "Conservatives"--you've heard the self-sanctifying way they say the word as if it makes them perfection personified). 

And the emotionalism of their approach was demonstrated by their arguments against it--as if the real issue was some sort of contest to see  which nations' leaders had bigger male organs. The Republican leadership sounded like those "male enhancement" ads you hear on late-nite cable TV.

It was especially disappointing to see Lindsay Graham join the whirly-eyes' side on this.

In my book every politician who opposed passing this this week is either a poltroon (great word!) or a political extremist who firmly puts his cause before his country. Not traitors--just disloyal.

I should add that their paragon, Ronald Reagan, would have done the same thing Obama did.

And if having the treaty on their desks for six months wasn't long enough, they need to get into a remedial reading class.

This is a great issue to use to discover if your friends who say their conservative really are, or if they just use the term as a tribal ID word.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The religion of peace

This week's edition of BBC's Newsnight includes an investigative report on how Egypt--our ally--has become an Islamist country while officially denying it.

Coptic Christians were in Egypt for centuries before Islam even existed. Today they're discriminated against at every level. Christian girls are kidnapped off the street by Islamist organizations and forced to "marry" older Muslim men. Then they're declared Muslim. The police tell their parents and extended families that they won't be permitted to visit these kidnapped and raped teens and women until the victims get impregnated and have a child.

Even if they escape their captors, they're now officially "Muslim" and are not permitted to either resume their Christianity or to marry a Christian. You can become Muslim in a minute, but renouncing Islam is a nearly impossible, life-threatening process, with the police turning a blind eye to Islamist organizations carrying out these pogroms.  If anyone dares complain to the authorities they just get stonewalled or even harassed themselves.

Coptic Christians find it nearly impossible to rise in their society. Most work at garbage dumps sorting garbage. It's nearly impossible to get a permit to build a church. Recently they built one illegally--it was dynamited and the Christian protesters trying to protect it were shot at by the cops using live ammo. Two died.

Officials stoutly deny all of this, and insist as well that there's nothing to investigate--so they don't.

All this in what's considered to be one of the more liberal Muslim countries.

And I'm not getting this from some wacky anti-Muslim website. This is BBC's Newsnight, which if anything has a liberal bias.

Of course it's even worse in our liberated "ally" Iraq, whose ancient Christian communities are being forced out of the country or murdered if they don't leave. This is what the Muslim Arab countries did to their 800,000+ Jewish citizens in and around 1948. Now they're doing it to the Christians.

Ironic that the Christian crusader George Bush was instrumental in freeing up the Islamofascists to do to the Chrisitans what they didn't dare do under Saddam Hussein.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Opposing taxes is not conservative--it's just shilling for the billionairocracy

No one wants to pay more taxes than is their fair share of supporting the government that manages so much for us.

But when the Republican leaders say--and they say this daily--that the taxes we pay are "our" money, implying that the government is robbing us--that's only the way the billionaires see it. They don't need social services. They don't need infrastructure. They don't even need national defense, except as a revenue source. So from their point of view of course it's unnecessary.

The libertarian position on taxes is exactly the billionaires' position, and the Republican Party has adopted it. At least when they're out of power. Then when they're in power they spend like drunken sailors and tax the future to pay for it. They say they're starving the beast, but that's ridiculous--especially since the overall size of governments expands under Republican rule. They just lie about it. What they're doing is another anti-conservative ploy: they're borrowing.

And as long as we expect our roads and sewers and national security and street lights to work--as long as we expect cops to come if we need them and dial 911--as long as we expect 911 to work--the taxes we pay are what we owe the provider of those services for services already rendered.

I was raised to believe "conservative" was synonymous with "responsible." Accepting goods and services and then not wanting to pay for them is welshing on a bargain.

And the billionaires owe it too, especially considering how much of the fruits of our labor they now keep for themselves--vastly more than when I was a kid.

There are unfair taxes and there is government inefficiency and waste. But that's an excuse for government reform, not for trying to weasel out of paying your fair share.

If you don't like it, prove it by going off the grid or by emigrating. Don't accept all those goods and services and then pretend "your" money is all yours. That just sounds like an 8 year old boy who accepts all that his family does for him as his entitlement and then refuses to do his chores.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

To my liberal and conservative friends as they yell at each other

A study done during the Bush v. Kerry campaign rounded up a bunch of partisan Democrats and Republicans, put 'em in an MRI brain scanner and while there had each consider material that was negative about their guy and negative about the other guy.

Both kinds of partisans reacted exactly the same: they experienced a moment of cognitive dissonance when they read negative stuff about their guy. They proceeded to rationalize away that stuff, and at the same time to treat the negative stuff about the other guy as presaging the End of the Republic if he won.

During this entire process their brains' cerebral cortexes never lit up. Not once. All the processing went on down in the Chimpanzee Core of the human bran, after which the partisan got a rush of endorphins upon getting rid of that distressing cognitive dissonance.

* Doctrinaire Republicans and Democrats process political information IDENTICALLY--with emotions and tribal associations, not reasoning.

* Each only sees the bad in the other and only the good in themselves.

* Each considers their political philosophy as if it were a religious faith, whose principles are self-evident and not to be questioned. 

* Each sees the other as having consciously decided to be evil and destroy America and themselves to be right-thinking patriots (though the extremes of both extremes hate America--both the commie one-worlders and the militia group conspiracy nuts). 

* And each defines the same political terms differently, making it nearly impossible for them to communicate with each other.

* Consequently each sees the other as believing self-contradictory things because they apply their own definitions to the things the other side says.

My conclusion: America needs liberals, conservatives, and centrists. So has every tribe back to the dawn of time.

The tribe always had to decide whether to move or stay put, go to war or flee or surrender, try the new berry or not, see if you can pull more with those round thingies or a travois (answer: depends on surface conditions, actually). And between the eager proponents of the new thing and staunch defenders of the old, of considering issues by probable outcome or by strict adherence to principles, a plurality of centrists has always been needed to mediate, listen, and make the soundest decision possible.

Politics gets out of whack when either liberals or conservatives get control--or when the whole shebang becomes so mired in special interests that nobody gets what they want except for a relative handful of powerful families, as is true in most of the third world, and as has become true recently in America.

Those powerful families are delighted by liberals and conservatives thinking each other is the enemy, when its actually a group that has no political philosophy other than getting power, keeping it, and getting more.

But every time the people start to get an inkling of what's been done to them, the richest families get us to go after each other--and by doing so, play into their hands.

The Republican Party's rich patrons aren't really conservative, except when it fattens their wallets. As a Democrat I consider my part slightly less corrupt, but only slightly, and covertly beholden to the same patrons under the table, along with certain special interests.

Some have said there's only one party in Washington--the Party of Money.

I wouldn't go so far. Liberals and conservatives have real differences, of course. But have you noticed that neither side gets what it wants after "their" party gets back into power? Bills emerge, but always so loopholed and skewed to satisfy the whispering voices in the corridors that they're hardly recognizable.

Take healthcare reform. Yay, we won. Only "we" wanted single payer. What we actually got was the mildest of reforms--trumpeted as Armageddon by the Right, of course. But watch what "your" pols do now.

The fact is that the incomes of nearly all Democrats and Republicans have stagnated for over 30 years, while the richest of the rich have appropriated more and more of America's financial output. This has held true through both Republican and Democratic administrations.

And that's the reality, folks. So just remember as you're yelling at each other--you're amusing the billionaires no end.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Global warming

I'm not a climate scientist--I'm a sociologist (BA Sociology, UCLA), at least by avocation. Professionally I was mainly a high tech editor/writer, spending most of my time analyzing and communicating about complex corporate software issues.

Looking at the climate change issue, I first explored the debate within the climate scientist community. Only there was no debate. This issue was settled years ago--the only questions are how soon and how big the disaster we're causing is going to really smack us down.

Then I looked at the popular discussion, and discovered that the biggest celebrity talking about this--Al Gore (the real one) had his heart in the right place, but also had an unfortunate tendency to exaggerate to make a point--not just about climate change but generally. His book "An inconvenient truth" was vetted by actual climate scientists and they found this to be the case. He's right, generally, but he compressed the probable timeframe.

But people who wanted to believe anthropogenic climate change was a hoax--or who wanted others to believe it--seized on Gore's exaggerations to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Likewise the so-called Climategate turned out similarly. Some climate scientists wrote some politically incorrect emails. Nothing they said or did had any impact whatsoever on the fact of AGW--I repeat, nothing whatsoever--but those who didn't want to accept AGW used the scientists' rudeness towards people like themselves to try (with a lot of success) to discredit the consensus of the entire scientific community.

So I asked myself--just who is denying AGW? And why?

In such situations, you always need to look for motive, means, and opportunity.

The big losers are the fossil fuel companies--and ordinary Americans. The former because it means we need to convert to forms of power that don't cook the planet. The latter because we have the most energy-intensive lifestyle on Earth, and we don't want to give it up. Oh, and all the people in other countries who want our lifestyle and sure don't want to give it up before they've even gotten it. Like a billion Chinese and another billion Indians, for starters.

Well, that's a marriage made in heaven. Exxon Corporation spends some pocket change (very big bucks by non-billionaire standards) hiring some smart people to create, launch and sustain a campaign to discredit AGW and anyone who supports AGW.

Now propaganda, however adroit and well-financed, won't succeed if it goes against people's natural inclinations. But this is in line with them. Who wants to give up our lifestyle? Almost no one. And here's proof that I don't have to give it up!

Rats love the taste of rat poison.

So the campaign to discredit AGW used/uses the following ingredients:

1. The fact that what's happening is happening slowly by human standards. Might not even hit big time until after we're dead, and then people we don't care about--like our own children--will have to deal with it. And people in the tropics, who we also don't care about.

2. The fact that average Americans are being stressed by a steadily declining standard of living, due to America's billionaires taking more and more of America's profits for themselves, but doing so so gradually people don't notice--like the old joke about how you boil a frog. America's income distribution was once like that of any other rich country. Now it's like Mexico or Russia.

Of course that by itself doesn't make people deny AGW--it just makes them fearful and angry, at a low simmer. They have less than they had, and their afraid of losing that. But when people are stressed and resentful, demagogues can turn that free-floating resentment against a scapegoat.

And "scapegoat" means "someone who isn't me or mine." The Stranger. The Outsider.
The Republican Party has morphed from the party of conservatism into a tribe of hooting, jeering, anti-intellectuals. It has been very profitable for the billionaires the Republican leadership works for--and that leadership, of course--to identify The Other as scientists and intellectuals in general, because if people start thinking they may realize who their oppressors really are.

And of course America's liberal establishment has done its bit by telling us that Mexico's overpopulation problem is our fault somehow and we're obligated to give American citizenship to any Mexican who want it. And by reflexive opposition to nuclear energy--an amazingly clean source of power--and by generally honoring and defending every culture and language on Earth except for Anglos and English. Worst of all, Amerca's Left denies that the biggest problem Earth faces today is human overpopulation (the Right also denies this, conveniently). We wouldn't have a human-caused global warming problem, regardless of the technology we use and our standard of living, if there weren't seven million people crawling about on this planet. The Earth had one billion people a century ago. Now it's seven billion--and that's six billion more than it can sustain indefinitely. And yet the Right and Left--each for their own selfish reasons--conspire to deny this fact because they can't handle the consequences of accepting it.

3. Even apart from scapegoating, average Americans tend to believe that people who are smarter than them--like climate scientists--aren't. This is called anti-intellectualism, and it's something Alexis de Tocqueville was warning Americans about over 100 years ago, though he generally admired American culture. It's just so easy to go from belief in equal opportunity to belief that we're all equal. Well we aren't. I can't jump like LeBron James. You can't sing like Jackie Evancho. I'm smart but Einstein was way smarter. The list is endless. Especially since humans are a species with lots of genetic plasticity. That means we vary a lot, like dogs, unlike cats.

4. And those least able to discern truth from fiction often have the highest opinion of their abilities. Look at the people who audition for American Idol-type shows who lack tiniest smidgen of talent, yet believe they're God's gift to singing (or whatever). Same goes in the workplace--the lousiest employees always give themselves glowing self-evaluations, while the best employees are usually very self-critical.

So you always find self-confident people with little to be self-confident about brashly contradicting what the entire scientific community agrees is the truth. They aren't daunted in the slightest, because they don't realize how marginal their mental acuity is.

5. The mechanism the Exxon propagandists use is a two-step.

First you frame the debate in personal terms, by villifying the scientists instead of really dealing with the issues. The personal campaign against Al Gore is a perfect example, and the one against President Obama has set a new standard for how low they can go.

Then, once you've convinced the useful idiots whose votes you need that their friends are their enemies and vice versa, you feed them facts--either taken out of context, or bald-faced lies presented as facts--woven into an internally consistent narrative. Humans will normally choose a string of falsehoods tied into a plausible narrative over the truth without a narrative. We're suckers for storytellers. Stories are how we remember large numbers of facts.

The narrative works best when it reinforces your tribal identification and demonizes the other side.

6. And here's the magic ingredient: money. Money to suborn government. Money to buy media outlets and obedient "think tanks" and commentators--money enough to give your side a gigantic megaphone while the other is nearly unamplified.

There's a saying that "Civilization exists by geologic consent--revocable without notice."

Venus wasn't always a hell-hole with a surface temperature hot enough to melt lead. It got that way through a runaway greenhouse effect. Earth is farther out, which is why it didn't happen to us as well--yet. And if may not. Nobody knows for sure. But another Venus is the worst possible outcome. And we don't know enough to write that outcome off as impossible.

Humans, as usual, have no idea what the stakes are in the game we're playing with our species' future--and that of the planet that's the only place in the universe we know for sure can support us.

But there's nothing like the short-sighted greed of the rich coupled with the inability to tell friend from foe of average people to create the climate change denial movement.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Secret of the housing crisis

Dan Rather Reports (HDTV) has made a compelling argument that explains why home foreclosures are proceeding apace, with no improvement over the last 3 years, despite public pronouncements by government and banks.

It's sooo simple. The banks don't own the loans. They sold them to investors in various bundles and packages. Their business is now...fees. Fees for administering loans--and fees for foreclosing loans and keeping homes in foreclosure, then selling them for a profit while the original loan owner takes it in the chops.

That's why people seeking to get into loan modification programs can't get them--they'll try for a year, with the bank "losing" all or part of the paperwork over and over and over and over and over. Because the bank makes its money off fees, not loans. Late fees. Illegal/unnecessary insurance fees. Lawn mowing fees ($100 to mow a forecloses home's lawn).

And one neat is telling people who've never missed a payment but want a loan mod that they have to miss three payments in order to get into the load mod program sponsored by the government. They do this over the phone so there's no physical record of this. Then when the payments are missed and the homeowner is told they're in the program--the new owners of the home shows up and tells them to get out. The bank forecloses--all they needed to act is those missed payments, and then the feels roll in.

This isn't nickel and dime stuff when you aggregate it. Wells Fargo make over $600 Million dollars in such "fees" last year--and the other big banks are making hundreds of millions of dollars in fees as well.

So yes the investors lose money on foreclosures--especially in the many, many cases where the owner could have and would have kept making their payments. But the banks aren't the investors.

The airlines are making fat profits off all those fees they're charging now--for each piece of luggage, for each blanket, bag of peanuts etc. It adds up. And the banks have taken the same route.

Remember the optimistic Hollywood classic movie "It's a wonderful life?"

Well, Mr. Potter won. And we're all living in Potterville.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Getting ready for President Palin

Consider Sarah Palin (AKA Governor Quitter von Alaska)'s most amazing accomplishment: she has managed to make President Bush II look like an intellectual by comparison. She's clever without being smart--just as Obama is smart without being clever.

So if she's so, um, underqualified for the biggest job on Earth, why do some very smart, very wealthy people like her for Prez? It has to do with something employers have long noticed (as well as viewers of American Idol): the more mediocre someone is, the higher an opinion they have of themselves. Smart workers tend to be very self-critical, while those most likely to be laid off rate themselves God's Gift to their employer.

And people whose self-esteem vastly exceeds their actual merit are the easiest people to manipulate.

Palin's cheerinbg section--almost uniformly members of the majority of Americans with IQs of 100 or less--aren't worried about her lack of intelligence because she's just like them, only more articulate (in her own hick way), and they know that they know how to run the country better than those innelekshuls do.

Thus she fits the corporate elite's second prerequisite for the job--she may be electable. Someone's devotion to your cause doesn't matter if they can't get the gig, after all.

So, like Bush, she'll think she's The Decider.

And as far as social issues are concerned she will be.

They'll let her pursue her far right social agenda (like anti-abortionism) all she pleases. Doesn't cost them a cent. Meanwhile the nice, apparently sycophantic folks whispering in her ear will make sure the corporate welfare gravy train keeps on a' rollin' while she plays President.

Always look for the hand stuck up the sock of the sock puppet.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Mas on immigration

I got a counterargument for the last entry, which you can read in the Comments there. My answer was too long for Comments, so I put it here:

1. Biometric ID: as i said, the time it's most likely to be adopted is in the wake of a catastrophic Islamofascist attack or something comparable.

Think of the widely publicized crimes that give rise to draconian legislation like Jessica's Law and all the other laws with some victim's name in front. Or California's 3 Strikes law.

So it's when the objectors will sound like near traitors who are "soft on terrorism" that it'll be most possible to get biometric ID.

And remember, no one predicted the fall of the Berlin Wall. I'm not saying biometric ID is inevitable or even likely--but it's not impossible, and it's so useful I feel compelled to thump the tub for it.

Also, other countries are trying it, and their success or failure will change the equation as well.

2. Catholic perfidy:

The only third world country I know of with its birthrate under control is peasant China (as opposed to middle class China, which is in many ways another country--as is also true in India).

Catholics and others rail constantly against China's One Child policy, but it's the only thing that works in third world countries. In the rich world, people tend to use the technology regardless of what churches say.

However, even in America it's nearly impossible to get an abortion if you aren't fairly affluent across wide swaths of the country. For example, there's only one abortion clinic in Mississippi--in the whole state--and anyone trying to use it must run a gauntlet of chanting, intimidating protestors.

This is the Catholic Church's fault. Some 19th century pope decided that abortion was wrong--despite the total absence of biblical support for such an idea--and the Church Universal successfully peddled the idea to American Fundamentalists by the 1920s.

Third world Muslims, Christians, Hindus and other have high birthrates. What distinguishes the Catholic Church's contribution to this ecological disaster is its aggressive, top-down, highly successful propaganda campaign enlisting the machinery of the State to enforce its peculiarly non-Christian version of Christianity.

No other religion has so many commanded by so few.

It's easy to discount this if you're a middle class American. You can meet lots of Catholics who, even if they go to Mass regularly, take an a la carte approach to their religion's dictates--including its claim of papal infallibility.

It's not that most of them are marching with placards. They simply go about their business, blithely reshaping their religion in a much milder form of personal practice.

This is also true of most other religions in America--adherents tend to mellow out the harsher stuff.

But outside America's educated urban areas it's another story--and even moreso in the third world.

There the Catholic Church's political engagement and mindlock on uneducated adherents is staggering. Only the evangelicals have been able to put much of a dent in it, but they share the Catholic's ecocidal attitude toward abortion, though not, thank heavens (so to speak) condoms.

There is no comparable head of the Muslim or Hindu faiths. Thus you'll get ingnorant African Muslim clerics responsible for the resurgence of polio there, but that didn't come from Mecca.

So my particular brief against the Catholic Church centers on its political activism and efficacy combined with the most backward view of birth control of any religion on Earth. Condoms are murder? Really?

3. Blocking illegals' access to social services.

This would only be possible with biometric ID AND with a major economic downturn, such that people felt like the aid for them was being taken out of American mouths.

So the longer this recession goes on the more pressure will build to take care of our own first.

However, the other part of the equation--blocking access to jobs--has broad popular support, despite some right wing opposition to e-Verify from Libertarians whose secular religion opposes all forms of government control (thus enabling corporate control) over our lives.

And in fact you can get majorities opposing most social services for illegals in most states. The problem is the opposition to this opposition by both parties.

So, as with biometric ID, this area's equations will change if/when our society gets really stressed.

And here again I'm not hearing the arguments I make--we have to pound on the plain fact that there is no job magnet sufficient to tear most Mexicans away from home and hearth--it's Mexican overpopulation that's pushing them up here.

So our foreign aid to Mexico should be in the form of free family planning clinics throughout rural Mexico.

I know, fat chance. Had to be said though.

It all does seem like long odds. The game is worth the candle though (whatever that means).

Immigration response followup

One reader (Sean) raised some questions about the immigration essay below. I thought it was worth addressing them here rather than in Comments:

1. Biometric ID--useless to bring up because it'll never be adopted. So "I feel that using this as an arguing point as a cure to illegal immigration is like arguing for the invention of cold fusion to solve pollution."

A: There's a humongous difference between cold fusion and biometric ID: the former is not possible with current technology (and probably never will be, for that matter); while biometric ID is not only possible, but is being adopted in other countries today.

Second, security experts seem to agree that sooner or later Islamofascists will succeed in carrying out another 9/11-scale or larger attack in this country. Biometric ID is the only way we can track everyone here, so while it's much more important for immigration control in the larger scheme of things, adopting is in the aftermath of a second 9/11 is more likely.

Third, Americans are in denial about the extent to which we're already being tracked--how many databases we're on today. The only people not on these databases are illegal aliens. It's possible that honest citizens will eventually wake up to the fact that the privacy enjoyed by our forbears in the 18th century is gone whether we get biometric ID or not, and today the only people whose privacy is actually being protected by not having biometric ID are criminals.

However, the far right has been fomenting antigovernment paranoia--at the behest of their billionaire patrons--for so long that it would be well nigh impossible to give up on this, even though it harms their constituents. This is just another example of how so many politicians serve their paymasters first and voters last.

And of course left wing demagogues also foment antigovernment paranoia, spurred on by people who belong to groups that have been the target of government plots against them in the past--especially blacks and Jews, whose ancestors had legitimate complaints.

Which leads to my fourth reason for championing biometric ID: it allows you to confront partisans with their own hypocrisy. I once lost the more or less friendship of a far right conspiracy theory type (we'd met scuba diving) when I pointed out to him that by opposing biometric ID he was supporting illegal immigration, since nothing less will stop it.

Right wingers are constantly prattling about how we need Law Und Order--yet they balk when doing just that actually includes them. It's hypocritical and worth pointing out to them when you're discussing politics with them.

And with left wingers it's a perfect example of the saying "A cat who's sat on a hot stove will never sit on a hot stove again--but he'll never sit on a warm one either." That is, the fact that the ancestors of many leftists suffered from government persecution doesn't mean that all governments always persecute everyone who's in any kind of minority. They're fighting shadows of the past.

And you can also point out to each that they sound just like the other--there's nothing a right winger likes less is being told he sounds just like a Lib-er-ul--and vice-versa.

BTW biometric ID doesn't require an ID card with a fingerprint that you'd have to keep track of. For example, for years Fujitsu has been marketing a palm reader. You hold your hand over it and it reads the unique, un-fake-able pattern of veins inside the palm of your hand. Link the reader to a database in the cloud and you've got something you could have in every police car, at the counter of every hospital and Dept. of Motor Vehicles office etc.

Lastly, I have to believe that at least some of the opposition to biometric ID stems from ignorance and letting its opponents frame the debate. So the more that sane people bring it up and champion it, the more likely it is of being adopted someday.

After all, e-Verify is in use today on a limited basis, in the face of ferocious opposition by Tea Party types and ACLU types--people I call privacy delusionists--and biometric ID is just an extension of e-Verify.

2. Blaming the Catholic Church for Mexican overpopulation. "Accusing the Catholic church of causing Mexicans to breed like rabbits isn't nearly as easy as accusing scientists and doctors for cultivating an environment where people don't die as quickly."

A. It's true that technology advances made population explosions possible. But that technology is even more available in the more advanced countries, from Japan to France to Russia--and in those countries middle class people aren't having huge families, by and large. And yes, some of them are Catholic--including France of course--but in these countries the Catholic Church is hanging on by its fingernails, with the majority of its nominal adherents not following its leader's dictates--particularly where birth control/abortion are concerned.

That's true in this country. The only sizeable group of Catholics in America who follow the church's dictates are Latinos--legal and illegal. The Catholic Church in North America has become rapidly latinized, in exact proportion to the dropping average educational level of adherent.

Mexico's small middle class doesn't follow church dictates either--hence Mexico City legalizing abortion.

So what you need is uneducated people with access to modern medical technology--and the Catholic Church telling them condoms are murder. That's the toxic combo you get in Latin America (and Haiti, for that matter).

For example, last year in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo a 12 year old girl whose stepfather had raped and impregnated her was forced to carry the fetus to term at the insistence of the Catholic Church officials there.

That's typical where the Catholic Church dominates.

Islam is just as bad, in general. Muslim countries are famous for gigantic families--which fact give Israelis heartburn every day.

But our illegal immigration problem isn't with Muslims--as it is in Europe--it's with devout Catholic Mexican (and some Salvadorean and Guatemalan) peasants with less than an American high school education moving here in droves, illegally (and legally too in large numbers, due to our culturally suicidal legal immigration policies).

If Mexico weren't Catholic it would still have had a population explosion, though I'm guessing not as big as it's been. And the Catholic Church in Latin America has gotten laws passed that general ban abortion, condoms, the pill--everything you can use to stop procreation, along with a church-dominated government that actively interferes with any kind of family planning (any kind that works), even where some forms of birth control are nominally legal.

As a consequence Mexico's population has exploded from 20 million in 1940 to over 100 million in 2000, and is continuing to explode. Moreover, that explosion is occurring disproportionately among the poverty-stricken bottom half of Mexico's demographics.

Today technology makes it possible to have vast numbers of babies--but also to not have any babies, if people so wish and the law allows. Technology is as good and as evil as a hammer--it depends on what people choose to do with it.

And the Catholic Church, which has trended rightward over the last several decades, has chosen to ignore the dire effects of its policies on this planet.

So I do blame the Church and not the technology the Church uses selectively to pursue its unintentionally ecocidal goals.

3. "Repatriation isn't easy." Actually repatriation is a snap. You don't have to round up illegals who aren't committing felonies. You just have to make it impossible for them to make a living here and to access the social welfare system. Then many will leave the same way they came--on their own hook.

A. It's true that both parties are terrified of the swelling Latino vote. But it's equally true that a solid majority of Americans are dead set against any kind of amnesty--not just crusty old Republican men, but a substantial portion of Democrats (like me) as well. That's why the Republican leadership's attempt to pass an amnesty "reform" that Bush vowed he'd sign never got to him--the voter reaction was so powerful they didn't dare.

I agree that no one should be "living in the shadows." But I argue that the solution is to eliminate the shadows--with e-Verify to start with--and to try to get our very right wing Supreme Court majority to agree that the 14th Amendment doesn't cover the offspring of illegals (personally I think the Constitution's language does legalize them, but the Court's right wing majority is so activist and so indifferent to stare decisis that they might go for such a ruling).

The trick is to keep banking of the Republican leadership to listen to its constituents' powerful feelings on this topic, and for Democrats like me to confront the internal contradictions between Democratic Party founding principles and its hypocrisy in trying to help citizens of other countries grad the American Dream that they're taking away from their own Democratic constituents (including Latino Americans) in doing so.

Always work on making people live by the values they themselves espouse. I can argue for shutting out illegals from both a Democratic and Republican perspective.

And that's the take-away. Whoever you talk with, tell them why their own values mandate opposing illegal immigration. As long as they believe in nations, and in a nation's first obligation being to its own citizens, you can make this argument.

Especially in a massive, drawn-out recession with no end in sight and the worst-hit being the working class Americans whose earning power has been sapped by competition from citizens of other countries.

A job given to an illegal is a job shipped abroad.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Illegal immigration and tne NYTimes editorial board

The NYTimes' Sunday editorial "Immigration hardball" lamented how the incoming Republican House of Representatives were going to deal with illegal immigration.

My response:

This editorial regards it as self evident that we should give American citizenship to perhaps 13 million citizens of other countries—mainly Mexico—who are residing here illegally. It doesn’t even bother to make a case for this, substituting adjectives for arguments.

Such is the partisan divide these days, with both sides unable to actually argue their points, preferring to spend all their time with those who already agree with them.

Yet many American centrists—you know, the people who decide elections with their votes—don’t take either side’s positions as self evident. The partisans of right and left surely must know this, but still they persist in talking past us, using tautologies like heroin addicts use needles.

Consider illegal immigration. It’s hard to count the unspoken assumptions in this editorial...there are so many. The first is that American per se doesn’t exist. We don’t have a national, cultural, or linguistic identity to be honored and preserved. Every other nation’s culture is to be honored and preserved, mind you. Just not ours. And if one of those other nation’s cultures is swamping ours across the American Southwest—well, tough. It seems we have no right to protest, and we’re hotly denounced if we do. Chants of “Si se puede” greet our asking what would the Mexican government do if a million Americans moved to, say, Guadelajara, demanding Mexican citizenship, demanding that Mexicans learn to speak English, marching in large protests, waving American flags.

Actually I know what would happen, because Mexican law forbids immigration that would alter Mexico’s culture and demographics substantially. And what’s wrong with that? Mexico has a distinctive culture. I’ve studied it at the Universidad Autonima de México in Mexico City. Mexico has a right and a duty to its people to preserve its culture and language. And believe me, most Mexicans have no affection for our culture. Unlike every other nationality that comes here, Mexicans who immigrate to America don’t believe that’s what they’re doing. They believe they’re just moving to another part of Mexico that America is occupying illegally. That’s why they call it the reconquista.

So most of them don’t want to become American. They’ll take citizenship if they can get it, for the economic advantages, but when they’re asked to renounce all allegiance to other countries, they’re mostly lying. Look at the pretty liberal Pew surveys of American citizens of Mexican origin. A majority of such citizens refer to themselves as Mexican. Not Mexican-American, and certainly not as American. Just Mexican.

Of course if you take the transnational view that borders are passé, why not? I’ve seen Anglo Americans who share Mexicans’ dislike for America gloating on newspaper forums about the coming demographic takeover of America—for the time when Anglos will become a minority here. It can’t come too soon for these people.

And you wonder why Tea Party types regard liberals as The Enemy?

So when you look at the results of the last election and then look at this editorial, you should see the connection. I’m a Democrat who voted for Obama and will again, and want national healthcare, and want the corporatists who nearly wrecked our economy jailed for fraud whenever possible. But Democrats are driving working class Americans into the GOP’s corrupt embrace with things like its official immigration policy.

Here in California, Mexicans with American citizenship will be in the majority in a few decades if not sooner. I’ve seen the effects of such a massive demographic shift in a way that the NYTimes editorial board, sitting in their aerie in New York City, cannot experience. In NYC you have a lot of cultures. But what if NYC was majority Mexican like LA now is? What if the most popular TV station in NYC only broadcast in Spanish (no subtitles either, of course)? What if the children of Mexico’s least educated cohort dragged NY schools down into 49th place in America?

Would the NYT editorial board sing a different tune then?

The NYT is America’s newspaper—even moreso than USA Today. Time to start acting like it.

BTW—one of the biggest ironies about the immigration issue is that liberals and conservatives are united in opposing the one thing that would solve the problem of all these illegals “hiding in the shadows”—by eliminating the shadows. That is a national biometric database. It’s technically feasible now. Implementing it would enable us, for the first time, to actually know who’s here, and where, and from where.

And it would enable America to decide who comes here, instead of leaving that decision up to the policymakers of other countries. And for us to quit acting as the safety valve for Mexico’s overpopulation crisis (from 20 million people in 1940 to over 100 million in 2000). And stop the Catholic Church’s ecocidal family planning policies from controlling ours.

Next time please take the other side seriously, NYT.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Arguing with Tea Partiers

If you read political comment threads about global warming, you'll see they prove that Tea Party types can learn scientific terms--in exactly the same way as a mynah bird does.

That's why they cling to fabrications like the East Anglia stuff. Just because they can say the words doesn't mean they have the slightest understanding of what they mean.

The truth is that they're scared people who have been propagandized into believing all their insecurities are the fault of Lib-er-uls.

So when you debunk their ideas, they don't hear the debunking--they hear that you're attacking their tribe.

See, their fears are justified. They have been shafted. The inflation-adjusted incomes of most (aside from the richest) Americans has stagnated ever since Ronald Reagan spearheaded the move to take from the 95% and give it to the 5%. Moving plants abroad has kicked the slats out of their communities and their lives. The morphing of Wall Street from a service providing capital to manufacturers into a cabal of financial manipulators has destroyed their 401Ks. Their wives now have to work, which galls them.

And the Democrats haven't just made themselves into their enemy because the billionaires' sock puppets told them so. The Democrats have told them that every culture on Earth is precious--except for theirs; that every race and religion on Earth is precious--except for theirs. It has told them that their culture, race and traditions are evil things whose destruction by the shifting demographics of uncontrolled immigration is to be celebrated.

And to add insult to injury, they've discovered that their counterparts in government work make substantially more than they do--and that the public employee unions (apart from the very Republican prison guard union) generally fund Democratic pols enough to win their fealty.

Moreover, the Republicans look and talk like public, at least. While the Democrats often don't. Hence the claptrap about Obama being a furriner from a furrin place with a furrin religion. Of course that's nonsense--but it accurately reflects their feelings of dislocation in their own country.

So we smart liberal--type people have a problem with both these Tea Party types and with ourselves. And unfortunately the sins of our side are more visible and obvious than the sins of the Republicans.

We do ballots in 15 languages. They do default credit swaps. Now try to explain both things to a guy with a high school education. See what I mean?

The Republicans commit their sins in the dark. The Democrats do their in broad daylight.

We do have common ground with the Tea Party types--we've been shafted just like they have.

It's probably impossible to reason with the ones whose minds are set. Most of them at least. But we have to try, don't we?

So start by agreeing that they have indeed been shafted, by both parties, albeit in ways they don't understand as far as the Republican shafting is concerned.

Just don't get your hopes up. As Alexis de Tocqueville pointed out well over a century ago, the Achilles heel of American democracy is rampant anti-intellectualism.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Why I'm torn

Here are my oversimplified bumper sticker slogans summarizing my ambivalence about the two parties:

Republican: Billions for Billionaires
Democrat: America for Mexicans

Third party anyone?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

How to balance the budget using conservative principles

Here's a solution no one is proposing: adopt the Republican tax code that was in use during the Eisenhower presidency--a time of dynamic industrial growth, infrastructure building and social equity under one of the best Republican presidents ever. And he got the country a balanced budget--balanced in large part by relatively high tax levels--especially on the very rich, with a top rate of 91%.

So let's all praise the virtues of conservatism and the Republican Party, and respecting tradition and proven practices: reinstate the Eisenhower tax code.

I'd love to hear what Boehner, Palin, Mitchell and Limbaugh--the heads of today's \"Republican\" party--would have to say in a debate with a real Republican like General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who, unlike those clowns, was a real conservative in the actual, traditional sense of the term.

Tax Breaks for Billionaires

Billionaires are hurting! They aren't feeling the love they got from the White House for eight years. It's upping their therapists' bills.

So be sure to let your congressman know we taxpayers are dying to hand over $700 billion of our tax dollars to America's billionaires so their feelings won't be hurt--and so they'll create new jobs in India and China so their kids can afford a Lamborghini while they're in college.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

One man, one vote? Not in the United States

I got this response to my last post, in which I claimed that the Republican Party has a structural advantage in elections, given the nature of the Electoral College--which no other democracy on Earth has. He said:

12 of the 13 smallest states (3-4 electoral votes) are almost invariably non-competitive, and ignored, in presidential elections. Six regularly vote Republican (Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota),, and six regularly vote Democratic (Rhode Island, Delaware, Hawaii, Vermont, Maine, and DC) in presidential elections.

I suppose this is supposed to refute my claim. And for all I know this is the sort of refutation promoted in the right wing blogosphere.

However it only shows how much trouble most people have understanding statistics--especially when it isn't a black and white story. The reader's statement may be true as far as it goes but it doesn't change the fact that it takes more than one Democratic voter, on average, to counter the vote of one Republican voter.

What propagandists do is take advantage of humans' "confirmation bias" where we start with a conclusion then cherry pick the facts--or accept fake facts from people who claim they're members of our tribe--and then arrive at our foregone conclusion.

And this is a prime example.

I went to Wikipedia and looked up their entries on the states, and on which are red, blue, and purple (swing states), based on the results of the last several presidential elections.

Here's what I found:

All the red states, taken together, have a total population of 109 million people distributed across 22 states.

All the blue states, taken together, have a total population of 150 million people distributed across 21 states.

All the purple (swing) states, taken together, have a total population of 48 million people.

The averrage Republican state has a population of 4.9 million people, while the average Democratic state has a population of 7.1 million people (and the swing states average 6.9 million people).

That's a humongous imbalance. Yet Republicans win presidential elections, because the Electoral College favors them. all else being equal. This is due to the fact that the small states get more electors per citizen than the big states get. And it's not a small difference. A Montana Republican's vote counts for more than three California Democrats' votes.

Here's the raw data, with the states ranked in order of just how thoroughly they are in one camp or the other--thus Utah is the reddest state and Massachusetts the bluest (even though it sent a Republican to the Senate recently):

Red states--ranked by degree of "redness"

state name (redness) population

rank / size (in millions)

Blue states

Purple states

[sorry this doesn't appear as the
table I'd created--formatting issues
with Google I guess for those who
don't speak fluent HTML at least]

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

3rd pty political spending punches above its weight

All campaign dollars are not the same. You know how at the end of every candidate's ad there's that bit where he says "I'm X and I approve this ad."

Well, he doesn't need to do that for 3rd party ads. So if they lie he can claim clean hands.

So the 3rd pty ads the Supremes set free--and free to fly in secret--punch far above their weight, mostly because they can hit below the belt, and also because they can pretend to come from citizens' grassroots organizations.

BTW that freedom to spend in secret doesn't apply to union-sponsored ads. Advantage Republicans.

Of course all three left wing billionaires in America are now free to contribute in secret as well. But we all know they're waaaay outnumbered by right wing billionaires. Again, advantage Republican.

And we also know that on average one Republican vote counts for more than one Democrat vote because a preponderance of small states are solidly Republican, and the Electoral College gives them extra votes. For example, one Montanan's vote equals more than three Californians' votes when it comes to electing presidents. Yet again, advantage Republican.

Plus all those small states send exactly the same number of senators the Congress as the large states. Thus the Republican Senate majority from 2000-2006 represented many millions fewer voters than the Democratic Senate minority.

And even when the Republicans are in the minority, the advantage continues, because Senate rules let the minority block the majority in most areas unless the majority can muster a super-majority. That's how they've blocked so many Obama appointees, even nonpartisan ones, in hopes of making his presidency fail--regardless of the cost to effective government for these years.

And yet again, advantage Republican.

The Founding Fathers didn't write the Senate rules, but they did create the Electoral College--though not for any reasons that are true today, except to reflect the compromise needed to get the original 13 colonies to surrender their separate sovereignty to a national government. Nor did political parties even exist when the Founding Fathers launched our country. So perhaps it's just coincidence that the Republican Party, from secret billionaires' contributions to Senate obstructionism, has so much more representation in government than its actual number of voters represent.

And maybe that's why Democrat-controlled states send their tax dollars to Washington, which then sends a disproportionate amount of those monies to Republican states--you know, to the people who so resent having to pay taxes. Every single Blue state is a net donor state, while every single Republican one is a net recipient state.

So I expect the first thing the Party of States' Rights and Lower Taxes to do when the House of Representatives passes to Republican control is to pass a law mandating that each state get no more back from the federal government than its tax dollars can pay for.

If not, I'm afraid I'm going to have to call it the Party of Tax Cheats and Welfare Queens.

Of course they won't, because that would mean paying more than lip service to the principles they espouse--and their ruggedly individualistic, anti-tax, states-rights-loving constituents have no problem with stealing from the Blue states--making them hypocrites as big as the officals they've elected.

Honestly, all I ask of Democrats and Republicans is that both sides live by their principles, even when it doesn't advantage them tactically, and that both fly the Stars and Strips above their party's flag.

Too much to ask?

Does the election affect immigration?

Conservative NYTimes columnist David Brooks wrote an op ed piece titled "The Crossroads Nation: From Bill Clinton’s bridge to the 21st century to President Obama’s new foundation, the next American century is often described vaguely. Here’s why."

And here's my comment (#98):

A key issue here, as Mr. Brooks noted, is immigration. Since fundamentalists have ruined education in rural America and liberals have ruined it in urban areas (through sacrificing all ghetto kids because they won't triage urban schools), we don't have enough educated students ourselves.

So we need immigrants, and I suspect Mr. Brooks means the same thing by that as I do--not someone's senile uncle brought here through "family reunification" and not the legalization of millions of semiliterate peasants from parts south.

I mean people like friends of mine here in Silicon Valley, from, for example, Bealrus (two BAs in software engineering), the former East Germany (PhD in physics), China (software engineer at Google), India (software engineering manager at Oracle), Russia (math degree), Bulgaria (marketing at a high tech startup), Rwanda (PhD in math), the Phillipines (two doctors working as nurses), and more. And that's just from my personal circle of acquaintances.

They all knew that they could come here and become Americans. Few other countries would let them assimilate (Australia, the UK, maybe NZ, maybe Ireland--what is it about Anglo society, huh?). But arguably the most accepting of all is America.

Yet they all had to jump through flaming hoops to get here, and wait a long time even before that. That's nuts. These are the ones we want and need.

I don't want unskilled immigrants. We have over 25% unemployment of domestic unskilled labor. Unskilled illegals have driven American blue collar wages into the ditch.

I don't want the current system of legal immigration in which two thirds are "family reunification" instead of the people we really need (let immediate families come IF the breadwinner can win enough bread to support them--but nothing past nuclear families).

I don't want the current system in which we enable people to get fabulous educations, then ship them back--often when they want to stay.

And I don't want to legalize anyone who's here illegally; nor do I want them in the shadows--so use e-Verify to eliminate the shadows, while making legal immigration for skilled workers a whole lot easier. Some illegals are great people with good skills. OK, let's do their home countries a favor by sending those back, while upholding the rule of law here, and getting rid of the ones who wouldn't be an asset to America even if they were legal.

Ultimately we're going to have to adopt a universal biometric ID system. That will eliminate the few shadows e-Verify leaves in place.

And if we've streamlined our immigration system, illegals with skills we actually need can apply from and in their home countries, and wait in line like everyone else.

Now the question is, is either party willing to risk the wrath of 2/3 of Latino immigrants with citizenship in order to fix our immigration system? Or will both be as spineless as they've been so far, leaving immigration overall a big fat mess?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Obama doesn't get it, I fear; but what he doesn't get has nothing to do with what the GOP says he doesn't get

It is irrational to treat people as if they are rational. We all intuitively believe everyone else is like us—thus smart people make the mistake of thinking others think like them, and mediocre minds make the same mistake. I went to blue-collar public schools, where the other kids assumed I was cheating on tests because they couldn’t imagine intelligence. It appears that Obama cannot imagine stupidity.

Though of course the Republicans’ leaders aren’t stupid. Just completely divorced from love of country. It’s the bulk of their followers who are. I read their comments in NYT comment threads, and the “up is down,” “black is white” statements made with utter sincerity are breathtaking.

Obama also fails to comprehend emotional reality. That the election was more about tribe than economics. That people will vote against their material self interest consistently—if you get them thinking tribally.

A compromiser’s skillset is useless against a foe who has no intention of compromising—just of using negotiations to run out the clock. The Chinese are like this. Ditto the Republican leadership.

I should add that, win or lose, the Democratic leadership continues to do everything in its power to make white working stiffs vote Republican, because they've embraced ethnic/racial advocacy instead of principles. And because they continue to coddle public employee organizations, which voters perceive as disproportionately ethnic.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

No one's mentioned this either

This election demonstrates, once more, that there's no connection between personal and public morality.

I'm not advocating anything here but honest politics that serves the citizens and the country, regardless of where you stand on the conservative--liberal spectrum.

Consider: Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, Oskar Schindler, and innumerable other benefactors of humanity all cheated on their wives. Yet they did more good for more people than a churchfull of pious, godly folk.

Consider: George Bush II and innumerable others conducted politics in and from the gutter--yet Bush II, after a certain point, became a devoted husband and father. And I'm sure there are tobacco company executives who were equally good family men, while being slo-mo mass murderers at work.

And now consider this: I know a lot of Republicans, courtesy of attending a very conservative Christian church regularly. I've known some of them for over 20 years, and most of them are men and women of great personal honor--folks you could trust with your last dollar.

They rejoiced in this recent election that put what they imagine to be their party, enshrining their values of honesty, hard work, and responsibility, back into power--at least in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Yet their party did not win this election through an honest presentation of conservative principles.

Instead it was won not just by lying, but by the foulest politics, fueled by the largest amount of secret money applied to one election in the history of the Republic.

I am most assuredly not criticizing conservatism. This has nothing to do with conservatism. It has to do with lying on a gargantuan scale, in ways that pander to people's fears and animosities, with a divisive aftermath that will plague American politics for decades.

This has been verified by pretty reputable fact-checking organizations like Pulitzer Prize-winning and of which never hesitate to let Democrats and their allies have it with both barrels when they lie or distort the truth. Maybe they aren't always totally unbiased. but they're generally very, very good at what they do, and very nonpartisan. Add to the the Congressional Budget Office and mainstream newspapers.

Of course when I bring this up to my Republican friends they imply that, basically, any organization that criticizes anything any Republican does must be Lib-er-ul under their nonpartisan stance.

But that's just tribalism and good old human denial talking. Surely they must realize that they who pride themselves in their personal honesty--and who are, indeed, personally honest--are now rejoicing with nary a doubt or criticism in a victory gained not by fair means but by foul ones. They'll also claim that the Democrats did dirty deeds too, and they'll yammer about George Soros and The Unions. But even if they did cheat--and of course they did--they're such small potatoes, and their financial sources are so out in the open, that it's like comparing some high school baseball team with the New York Yankees.

It would take a book to detail what a colossal, coordinated attack was just completed on America's most fundamental institutions. But why duplicate what those fact-checking organizations have done? Read them yourself if you don't believe me.

And then come back and consider my point here: my Republican friends and yours have now associated themselves with a political organization that's no better than the ones you'll find in many a third world country. They've sacrificed their personal honor for victory.

For shame.

About that vote

The GOP won big not just because Republicans voted in droves--I'm not sure the Republican turnout was any bigger than before. But the Democratic turnout was way lower than before.

This wasn't just because the American Left thought Obama was a crypto-Republican (though they do, which is screamingly funny given that the average Republican thinks he's a socialist).

The main factor was the effectiveness of the Republican Ministry of Propaganda at dissuading Democrats from voting.

I'm not talking about robocalls giving the wrong date for voting. it's subtler than that. Instead, their propaganda--absent effectively crafted and financed Democratic responses--got a lot of Democrats to lose faith and stay home.

That's the beauty of character assassination. Many people vote on emotional grounds, not policy grounds. So if you can convince them that the Prez isn't a nice guy you'd like to have over for dinner, you win.

They painted Obama as intellectual, as a snob, as distant. They never once gave him the slightest credit for his unimpeachable family life, and Obama wasn't willing to expose his family to the limelight to make the point. And the painting went on and is going on nonstop. If a thousand voices tell you something eventually it comes to sound like common knowledge.

If they'd attacked his policies that's one thing. But attacking his character works for both goosing the base and dissuading the middle. On the surface the middle rejects the wilder claims against him--but Reverend Wright many thousands of times has his "Damn America" clip run?

So as you look at the media and the pundits and the fake think tanks and the ads and the whisper campaigns and the chain emails and the posters and all the rest--remember that every opponent's vote you suppress is exactly as good as every supporter's vote you gain.

And you'll rarely see the targeted stuff. We all see the general attacks. But the Republicans have perfected niche marking. If you live in coal country you get the anti-environment attacks. If you're in fundamentalist turf you get the "He's not a Christian" attacks. If you're a plumber in Peoria you might get an attack or a push poll or some such geared to plumbers in Peoria. The beauty of the Internet and computerized robocalls and emails is that you can slice and dice in a way that wasn't imaginable a few decades ago.

So any one person only sees the tip of the iceberg that goes out to the general public.

Never think you're seeing it all, or that you're seeing the dirtiest stuff. That's reserved for the whisper campaigns. But as you see what you do see, think about its crafting for both base-goosing and opponent-discouraging.

Side note: one of the best camoflages for real conspiracies is all the ridiculous fake conspiracy theorizing that floods the blogosphere. But as they say, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get ya.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

We're all above average

Here are a few factoids that help explain the mid-term elections--and which the pundits haven't mentioned:

#1: Recently I heard about a study showing that the worst employees almost always rate themselves as superior ones, while the best tend to be very self-critical.

#2: If you watch American Idol, America's Got Talent, So You Think You Can Dance or similar programs, one thing they all have in common is the number of people who show up for auditions who have not just no talent--they have what you'd have to call "anti-talent"--yet who absolutely believe they're God's Gift to the Arts. Interviewed after the Simon Cowells have told them they suck massively, they stoutly maintain that the judge(s) know nothing.

#3: I visited Las Vegas recently. It's full of huge, fabulously expensive casinos, paid for by hordes of visitors, each of whom believes he will leave Las Vegas with his pockets stuffed with Benjamins.

#4: When I taught high school in a largely blue-collar semi-rural school district, I was stunned to discover that most of the students believed they already knew everything that was useful or necessary to know, and that the sole utility of school for them was as a place to socialize with their peers. As a corollary, I found that their belief in stuff like astrology was rampant and credulous, while any scientific claims were met by general scoffing and impossibly high standards of proof.

#4: Sociobiologists believe that human beings constantly overestimate their own skills and chances because it's good for the species for them to do so--even if such delusions have disastrous personal consequences. Warriors go into battle believing the bullet has the next guy's name on it. If they were realistic they'd run.

All this gets us an election in which people with no knowledge or understanding of economics all acted as if they were experts--that what they knew about balancing a checkbook was sufficient to know what the nation needed.

The Republicans' strategists understand mediocre people's intuitive overevaluation of their understanding, constantly telling them they knew more than those Democrat eggheads.

A perfect example is the balancing a checkbook analogy. In fact nearly every large business got there by going into debt. For that matter, nearly every middle class family is in debt because they bought their home on credit, not with cash.

Of course it's insane to go into debt to buy luxuries, or to gamble at the nearest Indian casino. But going into debt rationally is exactly what the word "investment" means. We buy a house on time--not too expensive a house, mind you--because it's a good investment. We shoudln't buy a luxury car on time because that's a bad investment.

So to say that government must always avoid deficit spending is a principle that doesn't work for business or for families.

And it's not what people mean, anyway. What they mean is this: "Deficits don't matter (to quote Vice President Cheney) as long as it's for things I like, spent on people I like. While no amount of money, deficit or not, should be spent on things or people I don't like. Democrats take money from white people and spend it on colored (black and Mexican) people and foreigners. Obamacare is free medical care for blacks and Mexicans taken from whites, so it's bad. The bailout was for rich people, who aren't as bad as blacks and Mexicans because they look like me, but it's still bad. Republicans are my tribe. Democrats are a different tribe trying to conquer my tribe, so they aren't just bad--they're enemies."

Good economists have conceded that all theories and predictions based on market and business leaders being rational fail. Economics only gains predictive power when it takes into account human foibles.

Ditto elections. So, as I keep saying, it's not about the economy. It's not not about the economy either, but almost nothing that was said by the Republicans and their minions and their masters was factual.

Go back to those business analogies. A big company gets in trouble. Its stock plummets. Sales tank. That happened at Chrysler, for example, largely because Chrysler cars look sexy but aren't reliable. In the crisis such a company should keep a tight lid on executive compensation and make sure to week out employee dead wood. But it also needs to spend--with borrowed money--on improving its product, and then on communicating how improved its products are. It can pay for that deficit spending when times are better. But if it doesn't spend then, times won't get better.

And then in good times it needs to reign in unnecessary spending (such as lavish manager compensation) so that it has a fat war chest for the bad times.

The Republicans have it exactly backwards--when the good times roll they spend like drunken sailors. Then in a bust they want to turn off the spigots.

That serves no one's interests but that of those who are insulated from suffering in the bad times--think CEOs with golden parachutes--and who have--and see--no need for a social safety net.

And the Republican Party and its faithful adherents always advocate policies that agree completely with the interests of the CEO/investor class. Purely by coincidence, of course.