Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Why are people so scientifically illiterate?

We may be so scientifically illiterate in part because we're not as smart as we used to be.

I read an article recently--in Scientific American I think--summarizing paleontology research that discovered that our brain size has actually shrunk since we adopted agriculture around 10,000 years ago.

No one knows why exactly but my hypothesis is that we needed to be smarter as hunters & gatherers than we needed to be as farmers, and our large brain size kills women, so it's actually advantageous to have our brains as small as possible (and yet maintain the advantages a human brain confers).

It kills women because if it were any larger women wouldn't be able to walk using inverse brachiation (the way gibbons swing through trees, only upside down), but it can't be any smaller without losing brain capacity, since it has to be developed in utero (which is, incidentially, why marsupials are, as a group, as dumb as a box o' rocks).

Also, since the invention of birth control and women's rights (not really possible until we developed the technology needed to let them have fewer kids and not die in childbirth when they did), the smarter the parents, the fewer the children overall.

For one case in point, look at people's frequently simple-minded reactions to America's current economic situation.

It's not their fault, however. We didn't evolve to deal with such numerically complex problems, and a number of brain heuristics (detailed in several books by cognitive psychologists) actively skew our understanding, just to make things even worse.

For one example, take Baye's Law (named after the Reverend Bayes who first formulated it), whose mathematics I certainly don't understand, except that it lets scientists and engineers evaluate probability when two different probabilities apply. Instead of merging the probabilities proportionately, most people just throw one out, in a form of target fixation.

To really understand current economics and how national policy has to juggle issues like debt, unemployment, immigration, public health, city planning, military spending/technology/deployment, fisheries management, agricultural subsidies and more, most people go into what programmers might call a stack overflow condition. So they just focus on one or two things.

Currently the Republican mantra is debt--as if that's the most important problem we face (it's not, huge as it is--unemployment is bigger, and overpopulation/permanent natural resource degradation even worse). It's easy to describe in bumper sticker slogans, and it helps with the real agenda of the GOP's paymasters: to stop government regulation in every way possible, thus by focusing exclusively on debt/spending, they can defund government agencies that try to limit corporate rapacity. But that's not what's said. What's said tries to pretend that the federal government of the biggest economy in the history of the planet can be governed by the same principles and platitudes used by individual familes.

This really reflects not just the scientific illiteracy of the citizenry, but the inability of most citizens to admit that they don't understand it. Instead they turn to bumper sticker slogans used like tribal chants (and I have seen the Democrats go tribal on us as well--particularly with illegal immigration), because it's emasculating to admit that you don't, can't, and never will understand how the U.S. federal government manages its spending and priorities.

And the unwillingness to admit one is over one's head leads to mental shortcuts and not doing the hard work needed to get anything like a handle on the situation. It also leads to anti-intellectualism, since intellectuals/scientists keep saying complicated things. Better to deny such people's worth than to accept their conclusions, which are so unpalatable, and getting moreso every day.

Cassandra was cursed by a god to always predict correctly--and never to be believed.

Scientists can relate.

For example, I live in a condo complex with most buildings built over garages. It doesn't meet modern earthquake retrofit standards. Yet we just lost a vote to spend about $9K a unit to apply a proper retrofit.

The retrofit was opposed fiercely by a group of Russian immigrant families who believed it was all a scam--that our Board was in cahoots with the engineering firm. Some of them are even engineers (though not in structural engineering or earthquake retrofits). But they still opposed it. We're 10 miles from the Hayward Fault, which has generated a 6.8+ earthquake every 140 years or so for many thousands of years. It's now been 143 years since the last one.

And they voted in a bloc against the retrofit, and went door to door around the complex lobbying people, telling their conspiracy theories and being 100% certain that their layman's understanding of the probabilities and dangers was far more valid than a bunch structural engineers with decades of experience in earthquake retrofits.

So we're not just up against scientific illiteracy. We're up against the average person's belief that their know better than the experts.

Same goes for the insanity of parents preventing their kids from being vaccinated, even though the claim that it leads to autism is complete nonsense. And these parents--some with liberal arts BAs--will sit there and say, smugly, "I know what I know."

Only they don't. And they can't learn what they don't know because they deny that they don't know it.

People love science and scientists until they hear things they don't want to hear. Then we get self-confident dim bulbs like Governor Perry ascribing the 98% agreement of climate scientists on human-caused global warming to a vast international conspiracy of those scientists to get grant money.

And a majority of Americans appear to believe Perry...

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

How are Tea Party types like the Japanese military in WWII??

I've been reading comment threads on op-ed pieces in the Washington Post. Many comments, coming from  the far right wing of the right wing, remind me of something I read in John Toland's "The Rising Sun," the definitive account of the Japanese in WWII.

After Hiroshima got nuked, a majority of the high command rationalized it away and refused to surrender. And then, even after Nagasaki got nuked as well, when they realized the jig was up, not only did many stiff oppose surrendering--a group of junior officers led a coup attempt to prevent the Emperor's surrender message from being broadcast.

All of these people considered themselves the truest of the true patriots....people who loved their country and their Emperor more than life itself (when the coup failed, a number of them committed hara-kiri).

Yet this group of people betrayed Japan when they led it down the warpath, betrayed it when they attacked America, betrayed it when they tried to prevent Japan from surrendering--and came horrifyingly close to preventing Japan from surrendering (i.e. compromising in any way), even after Nagasaki.

Nations can be betrayed by intentional traitors, selling our their country for money or an ideology that leads them to hate their own country. I have known left wingers like that, to be honest.

But nations can also be betrayed by people who would never dream of intentionally betraying their country...who see themselves as patriotic to their bones...and who see all who disagree with them as traitors.

And one of the great ironies of history is how often such people have brought their nations to ruin.

During the Vietnam war, there were Americans who watched and read the forced confessions of POWs and told the North Vietnamese when the POWs included coded messages Americans would recognize but North Vietnamese would not.

Those were intentional traitors, and they were responsible for suffering and even deaths of Americans.

Then you have JFK, Johnson, Nixon and McNamara--patriots all. Yet in the scathing military analysis of the Vietnam war conducted at the behest of the American College of War by Col. Harry G. Summers, "On Strategy," Summers shows how profoundly those patriotic leaders harmed America--and killed vastly more Americans--than the handful of intentional leftist traitors accomplished.

So yes, there are leftists who really, truly hate America, and who do what they can to harm it. There are also people who may or may not hate America, but who certainly place their ethnic group's advancement far over that of our nation.

But when it comes to harming America, they're pikers compared to today's equivalent of Johnson/Nixon/McNamara; namely Bush II, Cheney, Rumsfeld et al.

The judgment of history is already coming in. America's hundreds of presidential historians are polled every few years on how they'd rank America's presidents. The last one, conducted in 2010, ranked Bush II 6th from the bottom (Obama ranked 15, well below Eisenhower & FDR, but 2 up from Reagan).

Friday, August 26, 2011

[fill in name of Democratic president/candidate] is weak, indecisive, phony

The Washington Post's "Right Turn" columnist Jennifer Rubin wrote an entry comparing President Obama invidiously with Steve Jobs. I wrote this:

Assume, for the sake of argument, that Jennifer Rubin's regurgitation of Republican National Committee talking points is entirely correct. And that, with the benefit of the RNC's hindsight, we got to vote in the 2008 presidential election again.

I'd still have voted for Barack Obama.

Because in an American presidential election, you aren't voting for or against someone. You're choosing between 2 pairs of people.

And that choice was & still is far from difficult, since 1 of 1 of the pairs was Sarah Palin, AKA Governor Quitter--since, to be fair, I'd have hindsight about all 4 of them, right? To have 1 of the oldest presidents in American history with Palin a heartbeat away dwarfs the RNC/Rubin's talking points.

You don't have to a liberal to reach that conclusion. Palin is, was, & always will be, intellectually, temperamentally, and experientially unqualified to be President. Biden is. Obama is. And McCain was, I thought, until he chose Palin as his running mate.

American presidential historians--100s of them, both liberal & conservative--are polled periodically on how they'd rank the presidents. Last time was last year, & in it President Obama ranked 15, Reagan 17, & Bush II was 6th from the bottom. There were both Republican & Democratic presidents who ranked higher than Obama & lower than Bush II.

And if the historians were the cabal of Libruls that the Republicans would have us believe, Obama would have ranked higher & Reagan lower.

What this article shows is yet another example of how Republicans respect leaders with self confidence--as Bush II, McCain, Palin & current lead contender Rick Perry all have in spades.

But I thought it was Republicans who decried the Self Esteem movement--who said self esteem should be the product of achievement, not esteem for its own sake.

Frankly, I'd rather have a weak leader who understands the job than a bold, decisive halfwit. Naming no names...

BTW have you noticed that the Republicans ALWAYS describe every Democratic presidential candidate as weak & indecisive? And then they trot out their Man on a Horse, Perry being the latest--a man with the rugged good looks & breadth of intellect of Warren G. Harding.

Obama the weak & indecisive...the only president to achieve any kind of healthcare reform, no matter how mild, in 100 years. The man on whose watch we nailed the guy Bush II lets slip through his fingers. The guy who authorized the Navy to take out the trio of Somali pirates who were holding an American ship captain hostage. The man who has authorized vastly more UAV attacks--& successful ones--on our enemies than Bush dreamed of. The man who deported far more illegals than Bush did. And who helped take down Qaddafi without any American casualties.

The Left's main complaint is that he's too conservative. Takes chutzpah for Rubin to diss that.

He's not the best prez I could imagine. Just head and shoulders above his Republican alternatives, past and present. 


I should add that he showed effective leadership in the Libyan actions, which no Republican pol will give him credit for.

You can't prove humans change climate if you can't measure it

One prong of the Republican war on science was the Bush administration drastically reducing the budget for Earth-watching satellites. The ones up now are living on borrowed time and not being replaced, except for a minimal complement, which won't be watching climate change--just here-and-now weather.

So even if we put up new ones, say, a decade from now, the continuity of observation will be broken.

It may happen that the late 20th century was in some ways the pinnacle of human scientific observation.

Think about this the next time you hear the science deniers ranting.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


December 2010 Gallup poll, accurate to plus/minus 4%:

God created humans in present form             40%
Humans evolved with God guiding                  38%
     subtotal: 78%
Humans evolved, no involvement by God   16%
     subtotal going the other way: 54%

This came up yesterday after leading GOP presidential contender Rick Perry told Christian Fundamentalists he was one of them, using the coded language fundamentalists employ to communicate in public without everyone else quite realizing what's going on.

President Bush II did the same thing BTW. The difference being that Bush II probably didn't mean it as sincerely as Governor Perry does.

 Egypt's nascent democracy is threatened by the Muslim Brotherhood. Our established democracy is threatened by people who are working just as hard here to turn back the clock.

But the use of coded language gives the fundamentalist politicians "plausible deniability." So we have to hope reporters nail down Governor Perry and don't let him get away with communicating in code.

Here the code is saying that "evolution has problems" and is "just a theory" and Creationism is another theory, so both should be taught in science classes, enabling students to think for themselves.

Exactly as modern astronomy is just a theory, and the terracentric universe with Ptolomeian epicycles should be taught alongside it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Obama has failed!....Really?

One Republican leitmotif, hammered on day in, day out, is that President Obama's policies have failed.

This ploy uses the assumed comparison.

That is, "failed" compared to what? Compared to the boom years of the Roaring 90s, sure, OK.

But that wasn't a possibility. The fact is that unless you state what you think a politician has failed compared to, you're blowin' smoke.

It's possible that Obama has failed to make America an economic paradise. However, it's also possible that despite our persistent unemployment, America is doing vastly better than it would have otherwise. What critiques of Obama's handling of the economy never prove is just what the alternative that he's being compared to, and how it would have been better.

Here's one way of looking at it: what is considered the safest place to put your cash today, worldwide?

US. Treasury bonds, that's what. S&P notwithstanding.

But also, it's not like Obama is our reigning monarch, or even prime minister. Even when he presided over a Democratic House and Senate, he still couldn't get his way without severe compromises, because Senate rules let a tiny minority stop everything unless your side can muster not a majority but a supermajority, and even if you have a nominal supermajority, one or two defections of senators in opposite-color states may well vote to save their hides instead of supporting their side.

And if Obama doesn't have full control of the levers of American government, he has even less control over the world economy we're inextricably bound to. So economic tumult abroad--such as the Arab spring sending gas prices soaring, sending ripples through the American economy every whichway--is entirely out of the American president's control.

This is why NYtimes columnist Tom Friendman is now arguing for a prime minister form of government for America--because ruthless exploitation of our system of checks and balances, starting with exquisite gerrymandering of congressional districts, has meant that neither party can be held fully responsible for what happens on its watch. It can always claim obstructionism by the other side, and it's often right. Both ways.

In a PM system one side can take us down the wrong direction rapidly, but at least you will know who did it--there's no evading the buck when it stops at the PM's desk. And if we don't like it we voters can then throw the bums out,.

Now both sides always have plausible deniability.

Just as the Second Amendment made sense for muskets but not for shoulder-mounted stingers and AK-47s, it may be that the beautiful mechanisms the Founding Fathers constructed don't work as intended any more, and will have to be drastically modified.

The irony is that it's the people who claim to be following the Founding Fathers' words and intentions most strictly who have brought us to this pass--who have done the most to break the very system they say they revere, not by the specifics of the policies they advocate, but by their unrestrained exploitation of every trick in the rulebook to effectively overturn the results of the last election.

And the measure of a democracy is what the side that loses the election  does after that loss. Obama is the president, not Grover Norquist. Not until 2012 at least.

Let's get immigrants who actually like this country. Just a thought.

[based on reportage in the LA times]

...and then there's the June soccer match at the Rose Bowl, between the US and Mexico. Both teams played with good sportsmanship. But the 80% Mexican (many with American citizenship, surely) spectators loudly booed the playing of the American national anthem, loudly booed the American team whenever it had the ball, and chanted obscenities at the American point guard. And then the award ceremony--at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena--was conducted in Spanish, just to complete the picture.

This was no fluke. A large Mexican crowd was even more boorish at the 2005 World Cup qualifier with America. In fact, there they even threw containers filled with urine at the American players.

I just wish all the enthusiastic advocates for illegal immigration had been there. Though no doubt they'd have figured out a way to blame America and Americans for it, now that I think about it.

It's hard to imagine how American attendees at these matches would have left with more warmth in their hearts for our southern neighbors. 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Jobs and immigration

Right now at least 14 million Americans are out of work, and at least half of them have been looking for over a year without landing anything. Countless more are underemployed--working below their training or at part time jobs when they want full time ones.

So in this environment, why are we allowing any immigration at all, except in job categories where we can't find enough Americans--mostly in areas requiring high levels of training/talent? I can see allowing such people to immigrate, and bring with them spouses and children they're willing to support. But why are we allowing any other kind of immigration until those 14 million Americans are employed (minus the ones who are total loo-hoosers)?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Can he get reelected?

President Obama's like the guy who goes camping in Alaska with another guy, and one night a grizzly bear sticks his head in the tent, roaring, and Obama starts putting on his tennies, and the other say sez "Why are you putting your shoes on? You can't outrun a grizzly." And Obama replies "I don't have to outrun the grizzly..."

In polls, Obama loses to a generic Republican opponent. But he wins compared to every actual candidate.

And remember the propensity of Americans who are independent (36& of the electorate) to vote for a candidate of the opposite party to whichever one controls the legislature.

Honestly, at this point none of President Obama's initiatives matter, because we all know the Republicans will nix every single one of them. All he can do is stop the Republicans from handing us the fiscal and national disaster that they inflicted on us last time around.

So what matters is his veto pen. And even if he wields that half-heartedly, it will beat a GOP president's rubber stamp of anything a GOP legislature does.

And the president during the next term will almost certainly be nominating one or more Supreme Court justices, replacing one of the remaining aging liberals. The conservatives are mostly younger and healthier.
And given the one-sidedly corporatist tilt of the court, that will matter to independents.

Lastly, the association of American presidential scholars rated Obama #15 of all presidents--below Republicans like Eisenhower, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt, but vastly above Bush II (6th from the absolute bottom) and slightly above Reagan (#17). So we could do a lot worse--like Governor Perry, whose handsome, presidential facade and interaural vacuum remind one of Warren G. Harding...or Governor Romney, who never met a principle he wouldn't abandon for electoral advantage....

Why no bankers in jail?

In the savings & loan industry crisis there were around 1,000 felony convictions. In the mortgage/banking meltdown--40 times the size of the S&L crisis--there have been 10 felony convictions.

After 9/11, much of the FBI was diverted into terrorist pursuit--but the white collar crime resources weren't replaced, gutting the agency's white collar crime enforcement.

And then the Republicans replaced the staff of the regulatory agencies with antiregulation people.

Apparently they're still there.

--William Black, associate professor of law, Kansas U. or some such.

Bank robbers like business certainty--the certainty that no cops will be around to bother them as they're robbing banks. And when the bank robbers are the banks' executives? They crave the certainty of knowing no pesky regulators will be coming after them.

Might makes right (wing).


BOTH parties lie constantly about immigration--especially illegal--for electoral advantage. Republicans exaggerate crimes in the Southwest to fire up their Anglo working class base; Democrats accuse anyone who objects to unlimited immigration and amnesty as racists on behalf of American voters whose primary self-identification is still as Mexican, to get them to see all Republicans as The Enemy.

Neither party has the best interests of America at heart--at least where immigration is concerned.

If they did they'd approve the following measures:

1. Reform legal immigration laws so instead of "family reunification" of whole clans being the source of 2/3 of all legal immigration, only immediate family members are considered--and when someone applies for a visa, he/she has to list everyone he/she plans to apply to bring over eventually/ then consider the applicant according to how much they can contribute to the US--and require them to prove that they can care entirely for any dependents they want to bring over.

2. Make it easy for people with highly desirable skills to immigrate here (especially people just graduating from American universities), regardless of race/ethicity.

3. Close immigration to people whose work category has higher than 8% unemployment of citizens. That means closing immigration to all unskilled laborers / people without the equivalent of an American high school diploma, since unemployment in that category is probably over 25% right now.

4. Don't grant citizenship to anyone who can't understand a ballot written in English; and print ballots only in English, because polyglot ballots foster Balkanization and ethnocentric demagoguery, and anyone who can't understand ballot-level English isn't qualified to vote in an American election, since all their information will then only come from non-mainstream sources--mostly ethnic demagogues.

5. Require all immigrants to demonstrate an understanding of the differences between their home country's values and ours, and to explicitly accept adopting our values--ruling out, for example, things like honor kiling and female genital mutilation, or murdering people who insult your culture's religious figures.

6. Mandate e-Verity nationally, so only people who are here legally can work legally.

7. Develop a biometric ID database system to catch those who are working here illegally. We now have the technology to implement this at the level of all social services providers and should do so.

8. Make illegal re-entry after 1 expulsion a felony.

9. Finance a system of free Planned Parenthood clinics throughout Latin America, including abortion on demand without questions wherever abortion is legal, and predicate immigration from any country on that country implementing effective population control measures (Mexico's population exploded from 20 million in 1940 to over 100 million in 2000--providing the primary cause of illegal immigration here).

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Hit's the rich wot gits the grayvy, hit's the powr wat gits the blayme...

If you tell hardcore Republicans that America has about the same income distribution as China, even though most Americans--Republicans included--wrongly believe it's much more evenly distributed (show them a pie chart of Sweden and they'll say that's ours), many Republicans will still say say it's a good thing. That the extraordinarily low taxes on the most extraordinarily wealthy make America a business innovation magnet.

The irony is that while most Republicans see themselves as supremely solid, feet-on-the-ground people, this belief is so idealistic it borders on believing in the Easter Bunny.

True, it isn't fair to say "Behind every great fortune lies a great crime." Google looks like it got its money the right way as far as I can tell. Many other got there through utter ruthlessness--Microsoft comes to mind--but at least Microsoft makes goods and services, and they mostly work, and the world has arguably benefited from having a common small computing standard, even if it's far from ideal.

But many American fortunes came from chicanery--from insourcing profit and outsourcing environmental costs; from subverting Wall Street, whose purpose had been providing financing for makers of goods and services, whose purpose is now money manipulation; from the capture of government, such that not one banker is now in jail for systematically defrauding both their own stockholders & innumerable home buyers (even though Republicans put the entire blame on home buyers), and such that corporate lobbyists have actually written many of the bills passed by Republican legislatures; by many businesses getting much or most of their profit from corporate welfare, from amazing subsidies for certain crops to tricking local voters to pay for sports stadiums while the sports franchise pockets the profits--profits that only appeared because of the heavy subsidization; from phony offshoring of corporate headquarters to a mailbox in Switzerland; from, as Warren Buffet has complained, multibillionaires like him paying far lower taxes than most wage earners; from vast military boondoggles for useless weapons systems while soldiers in the field lack body armor and properly armored vehicles--with consequent loss of life and limb.

I could go on. There are innumerable ways for clever, well-financed tricksters to pick the public's pocket.

Yet all the average Republican can see is the penny-ante frauds of black welfare queens getting thousands of dollars of public money while the billionaires steal billions. And heaven help you if your tax return is off by $10, while literally hundreds of billions are lost every year to complex tax avoidance schemes, such that some corporations don't even pay taxes.

But welfare queens don't look like Republicans, while the representatives of the ultrarich (otherwise known as Republican politicians) do. Except when they're soliciting congressional pages, or other guys in bathrooms, etc. etc. (not that a fair number of Democrats haven't also been caught with their pants down--but at least they don't brag constantly about their superior personal morality).

So I get the impression that the average Republican voter isn't voting his principles, which rarely involve supporting the kind of chicanery few of them are themselves guilty of. They're voting their tribe--and not looking behind the nice suits and red ties. Trusting to the point of gullibility of their own leaders, which holding every Democratic politician to the standards they ought to also be applying to their own pols--and don't.

Monday, August 15, 2011


2% of California parents refuse to get vaccinations for their children, because they're fools--specifically innumerate fools who are willing to kill their children in order to "protect" them. What's extra ironic is that the highest level of non-vaccinating households is in Marin County, at 7%. Marin County combines high average incomes with no universities that I know of within the county's boundaries.

Given the overpopulation problem, the world can spare a few fools. After all, as Jack London said, "Never stand between a fool and his folly." But it's outrageous that our state governments allow these fools to endanger everyone else's children. Unvaccinated kids shouldn't be allowed in public schools. They should be required to homeschool their kids.

However, homeschooled kids should be tested every semester, and those who don't pass the tests should be required to go to public school and to be vaccinated beforehand.

I'm amazed that this is even being debated. We have laws against child abuse, don't we?

Here is where right wingers and left wingers agree--they say "our rights trump our responsibilities." Apparently the concept of the social contract is foreign to them (except for the perks). This is one of many ways in which ideologues act like spoiled children.

Would you get in an airliner that had unvaccinated passengers whose air you'd have to share?

Now the GOP has a manly man for a candidate

"An ah'll promise yew this: ah'll work every day tew try to make Washington DC as inconsequenshull in your life as ah cayun."

--Texas governor / now presidential candidate Rick Perry

Yes, we need an inconsequential federal government. All those useless meat inspectors and FBI agents and air traffic controllers and white collar crimes prosecutors and park rangers....

I'm not defending our immensely useless "war on drugs" establishment (and I'm saying this as someone who's extremely reluctant even to take an aspirin), or our bloated military ever ready to take on the Soviet Union...

But Rick Parry wasn't drawing distinctions. He was talking as a Son of the Old South--the folks who secretly still loathe Abraham Lincoln.

 Johnny Reb lives on.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

President Obama has done no good--compared to perfection

My extra-Republican accountant (and spouse) once observed that presidents are given more credit and more blams than they deserve for the course of the American economy.

That's because economic tides are caused by many influences--people and events--and presidents of the United States in particular get treated as if they get to put their ideas into action as if they're the prime ministers of parliamentary governments--or monarchs.

Thus the Republican presidential candidate mantra is that "President Obama inherited a bad situation and made it worse--and his party controlled both houses of Congress and the Executive, so he has no excuse."

Executive summary: this combines minimizing your side's misdeeds with a passive construction, while vilifying the other side through implicit comparison of the present situation with an idealized alternative that couldn't possibly have happened. In short, demagoguery depending on triggering people's tribal emotions so strongly that their reasoning ability--if it was there in the first place--gets disengaged.

The details:

Well, he certainly inherited a "bad situation"--but all Republican presidential candidates invariably fail to mention that this "bad situation" was created by the American government enacting the Republican Party's economic platform, and pursuing that course for eight very long years, and successfully blocking most subsequent Democratic efforts to change that course (except for the diluted health care reform package that passed--a notable achievement, to be sure, but more the exception than the rule).

In saying this I'm not exculpating the Democrats' role in helping Fannie Mae provide mortgages for people who shouldn't have gotten them, nor for Democratic pork, nor for the Democrats' role in supporting illegal immigration and its negative economic effects on American unskilled laborers of every race and ethnicity. But the Democrats were bit players in this drama, which mostly stemmed from financial deregulation--both through gutting regulatory laws and starving regulatory agencies of mandate and financing, and through turning a blind eye to the subversion of Wall Street from a source of capital for manufacturers and service industries, into a source of profit for Wall Street insiders through financial manipulation.

The housing crisis would have been confined to the banks holding the bad mortgages, but for the fact that the banks didn't hold the mortgages--they were bundled into packages that were rated AAA by Standard & Poors and the other rating agencies, then sold to investors worldwide, exchanging America's financial reputation for quick profits. This enabled the people who'd created the mortgages to outsource all of the risk to others. In countries that hadn't been deregulated, and hence didn't allow this practice--such as Canada--the housing crisis didn't affect them.

Then there's the "made it worse" part of the Republican mantra.

Says who:? Compared to what? The implication--and believe me, it's only an implication on purpose--is that it's proper to compare what's going on now to the boom years of the 1990s. It's left as an implication because it's ridiculous to make that comparison. That boom was a bubble, created by housing becoming overvalued,with the overvaluation treated as income by innumerable homeowners via second and third mortgages--partly because they could, partly because virtually all gains in real household income since the Reagan Revolution have been confined to millionaires and billionaires.

My own household did this, financing a camping vehicle this way. However, we didn't go overboard and we'd bought our home before the boom and in a highly recession-resistant area, preserving the value of our home. We could sell our home and pay off our first and second mortgages and still have enough to buy a house outright in a cheaper area such as Las Vegas Nevada. We don't plan to and don't need to, and it was mostly dumb luck that we're in this situation--but it means I understand how many people got into a jam with second mortgages.

Ultimately no one knows whether President Obama "made it worse" or "made it better." It's conceivable that his policies and actions prevented a far worse downturn. The fact that the Republican candidates don't even mention this possibilities--as if it's out of the questions--and hence without explaining why his actions didn't prevent a far worse downturn--proves to me that all the Republican candidates are engaged in demagoguery, not serious political discourse.

And the notion that President Obama is a monarch whose Democratic congressional majorities enabled him to do as he pleased depends on the listener understanding nothing about American civics. Especially since Republicans have stated repeatedly that the word "majority" is now defined as "60%," and even when the Democrats had 60% of the Senate, it was a squishy 60%, dependent of a few senators who had reason to fear that that they'd lose their jobs if they didn't succumb to the Republicans' frenzied, nonstop, abundantly--and secretly--financed propaganda campaign. And the congressional Republicans have abused the checks and balances of Senate rules to filibuster 80'% of Democratic legislation and numerous nonpartisan appointments. They have brought the legislative equivalent of total war to the operations of Congress by using legislative rules and practices in ways never contemplated by those who'd formulated such rules.

It amounts to the Republicans unhesitatingly sacrificing the common good of the country for Party advantage. They would say same thing, only swapping in the word "Democrats," except for the fact that Movement Democrats think the Republicans are crazed ideologues who accept America's downfall as unavoidable collateral damage, while Movement Republicans think the Democrats are enemy agents whose actual goal is America's downfall. As to who's right--look over the many fact checks at and of which the Republicans consider left wing shills, not because they don't call out Democrats when they make misstatements--which both do all the time--but because they EVER call out any Republicans on misstastements. That is, you're either totally for us or totally against us.

This Total War policy is used to justifiy America being hampered in the short run for the benefit of "job promoting" Republican rule.

One other trick I've noticed concerns the idea of "acceptable debating points."

Meaning, if I bring up signals from Mars received through the fillings in your teeth as a source of political activity, no one's going to debate me. They'll just dismiss me as a loon, and rightly so.

The genius of the Republican propaganda machine is that they've delegitimized not just loony propositions, but also Centrist points like saying "Obama is not a Socialist." I said this to an educated movement Republican I know and he didn't even deign to contradict me,. He just snorted derisively. My saying Obama isn't a Socialist was automatically categorized with talking about Signals from Mars.

It's like the old Polish definition of "Anti-Semite" as "Someone who hates the Jews more than is necessary." Hating Jews was a given--the only discussion possible was to what degree.

The best way to win an argument is to frame the debate so you win before the discussion starts.
Have you quit beating your wife--Yes or No?

Thus today the debate is how much can we cut government spending without raising anything that could be remotely construed as "taxes"--not "What should the federal government do to create jobs?"  And they've gotten half the country--and even the Democratic President, apparently--to agree that reducing the federal deficit is the only topic of national debate, with the implicit assumption that the federal government can't do anything whatsoever to create jobs, either by policy or by tax dollars, other than to cut taxes and "get out of the way" --i.e. to do exactly what the Republicans did from 2000 to 2008 that created this mess.

Talk about not learning from your mistakes.

Lastly, the fact that all eight Republican presidential candidates stated that they wouldn't accept any deficit-reducing compromise, no matter how close it came to all the Republican demands, if it also included any kind of tax increase whatsoever, no matter how small, tells me that not one of them is a legitimate alternative to President Obama--especially the two of them (Huntsman and Romney) who know better. The others are fools. These two have now shown that they're knaves.

And I'm really sorry to say that about Huntsman, who is plainly the most desirable Republican candidate from a moderate Republican perspective. I don't feel as bad about Romney, who's the embodiment of the corporate layoff artist played by George Clooney in the movie "Up in the air."

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


In Syria, peaceful protests meet violent crackdowns; in the UK, violent protests meet peaceful crackdowns.

Both share a problem with proportionality.

The Syrian and Iranian and other despotic governments often respond to peaceful protests with murder.

But it's no improvement for democratic governments to respond to large-scale protests with ineffectual means, leaving residents and property owners with no protection.

Democracies have extra problems when the protestors belong to a group that has been discriminated against in the past. In the UK the protestors/vandals/looters are mainly black, though no one says so--but it you look at the security camera footage...they're mostly black. So perhaps the UK authorities hold back, terrified of being called racist.

Shopowners losing their life's work to thugs are not comforted by the proposition that this is OK because some of their ancestors might have been slave owners, while some of the thugs' ancestors may have been slaves.

In the case of the Syrian protests, the authorities don't have the slightest problem with murdering protestors--even with torturing them to death--even if they're children. This is monstrous.

It's less monstrous that UK authorities stand by helplessly, refusing to declare martial law and all that that entails, even though they've plainly been unable to maintain law and order. They're also afraid to admit that they're helpless. Instead they issue strongly worded communiques declaring the thugs' behavior is "unacceptable."

This is wordplay. Something is only unacceptable if you won't accept it. Allowing it to go on while you talk means you do find it acceptable, whether you want to admit it or not.

Civilization is the achievement of a profound bargain: the people give the State a monopoly of physical force, while the state agrees to use that force to protect its people. When the state fails to keep up its end of the bargain, it destroys more than shops and burned cars. It breaks the bargain we call civilization.

In the UK the authorities have a moral obligation to establish a modicum of public safety for its law-abiding citizens. This cannot be achieved without making being in public really, really dangerous for vandals and looters. They can't make it safe for both the thugs and the law abiding citizens, and by trying to do so they've only made it safe for the thugs and dangerous for the law abiding citizens.

And promising to hold the thugs to account at some point afterwards is cold comfort to those whose lives have been damaged or even shattered by the thugs. We look to public safety officials for public safety--not for eventual retribution. That's not the bargain. 

You declare martial law when the force being applied against society overmatches the force normal local authorities have at their disposal. That's when you call in the army--not to do policing, but to wage war with whatever level force is needed--including deadly--to make the streets safe for citizens.

Thus far the United Kingdom has communicated the clear message that they hold the thug's lives and safety in higher esteem than that of their prey.

And whether the deadly shooting of a black UK citizen that precipitated this rioting was justified or not is not relevant to whether the state has an obligation to protect its citizens from vandals and looters.

Leftists will say that I'm saying property is more valuable than life. This stems from missing the forest for the trees. The question is, can I walk down a street in safety? Can I run a shop in safety? And if I can't, can I get a government that will guarantee these fundamental citizens' rights?:

Monday, August 8, 2011

Solomon's Choice

The Republican Party has rewritten the biblical story about Solomon and the two women who claimed the same baby. In the original story, Solomon proposes to cut the baby in half. One woman agrees, so he knows the other one is the real mother and gives the baby to her.

But that's so old fashioned. In the Republican rewrite, Solomon gives the baby to the woman who's willing to have it cut in half, because he respects her thuggishness and knows the other woman isn't man enough to deserve the baby. So to speak.

I look forward to the Republican's rewriting of other Bible stories.

Of course they've already revised Christ's tale of the Good Samaritan....

President Obama needs to watch "Full Metal Jacket"

The lesson of Stanley Kubrick's Vietnam move "Full Metal Jacket" is that the leader you follow in a jam isn't the nicest guy around--it's the ill-mannered jerk you think can save your hide.

Of course the problem here is that the ill-mannered jerk is the Congressional Republicans whose aim is to lead us over a cliff. But on a primal tribal level they seem to be strong, and the Prez seems to be weak--and people follow the strong, especially in an emergency.

When Obama was running for the presidency, I described him as imagining the job to be "Social Worker in Chief" while McCain saw it as "Wing Leader in Chief." I don't know what in Obama's character leads him to reject information about human nature that he must know is true on some level, even if he wishes it weren't.

But his efforts to compromise have met with exactly the same success as I had on my first substitute teaching stint, when I told the kids they could address me by my first name. I wish Obama had had my experience with being nice to people who only saw my niceness as weakness--nothing more or less.

I'll still vote for him, since I have no wish to be led over a cliff. But I have no confidence that the American people will "get" the nuances involved--especially since people's tendency to opt for a Tough Guy as their leader increases in proportion to the degree to which they believe they're in a crisis.

I listened to Rush Limbaugh for a painful length of time this morning (more than 10 seconds), and he didn't talk about President Obama resentfully or angrily or fearfully--he talked about Obama with contempt, with ridicule, with disdain. It was sad that a worm like Limbaugh could come to feel this way. He'll hate Obama no matter what Obama says or does. I just wish the hate was tinged with fear and grudging respect.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

A plurality of Americans now call themselves "Conservative"

That's the Gallup Poll's conclusion:

"U.S. Political Ideology Stable With Conservatives Leading
August 1, 2011
Forty-one percent of Americans thus far in 2011 self-identify as conservative, 36% as moderate and 21% as liberal, continuing a slight advantage for conservatism seen since 2009. Many more Republicans call themselves conservative (71%) than Democrats call themselves liberal (38%)."
Of course this trend must be considered in the context of the Right's relentless, abundantly financed propaganda campaign. The Left tries to do its own propaganda campaign, and much of it is just as unfair as the Right's, but their bullhorn is microscopic compared to the Right's.
Now the Right counters that the mainstream media--the New York Times and most other major newspapers, and the major broadcast networks are all "biased," spinning the news leftward because most mainstream journalists are registered Democrats. 
However, Democrat or not, the owners of the mainstream media are not Democrats. They're corporatists out for profit, not to promote leftist ideology. So while you can find bits and pieces of leftist bias in the mainstream media, by and large the bias is for whatever promotes profit--spicy scandal, puppies in wells, violent crime etc. That's not to say that these outlets don't editorialize from an often left-of-center viewpoint. But that has nothing whatsoever to do with these outlets' reportage. 

Moreover, the Right maintains a constant campaign to attack any mainstream outlet that says anything they don't like, including barrages of letters and calls, and attempts to mount advertiser boycotts. Mainstream journalists talk about these behind-the-scenes campaigns with shock and awe when they've been the target of them.

So the rightward tilt of the American populace didn't happen because all these people are reading the Constitution and all the bills in Congress and all the Presidential decrees and Supreme Court decisions. They are the product of the slickest propaganda the world has yet seen, and if you watch Fox--as I do regularly--you'll see it in action. 

But that rightward tilt still makes liberals plus moderates a substantial majority of 57% of the public. 

This means that a conservative candidate's best strategy is to lean far rightward, inflame the base, and do everything possible to discourage moderates and liberals from voting, while a moderate-to-liberal candidates's only hope is to forge a moderate-liberal coalition, plus conservatives who are intelligent enough to realize that the Republican Party isn't conservative in fact, and hasn't been since Bush I left office.

jobs growth is not keeping up with population growth

OK--jobs growth isn't keeping up with population growth.

That's what the pundits are saying, Right and Left.

But who said "population growth" is a given? American citizens aren't reproducing all that fast. Most of our population growth is coming from immigration.

So limit immigration to jobs growth minus citizen population growth.


And while we're at it, limit the immigration we do permit to people who can actually contribute to America and dependents those people can support fully. So with an unskilled laborer unemployment rate of 1 in 5, don't admit any unskilled laborers, and use e-Verify to keep unskilled laborers already here without America's permission from taking American jobs.

Why is it that the pundits won't discuss the obvious?

a couple of thoughts

I've been reading right wing comments on various articles about the debt limit crisis, the compromise that temporarily allayed it, and the S&P downgrade.

I'm far from defending President Obama's every move, but the virulent hatred and delegitimization I see expressed routinely against him and the federal government in general lead me to realize that another name for the average Tea Party guy could be "Johnny Reb."

Right wingers justify this by saying the Left did it to Bush II. Lefties certainly expressed powerful dislike for him, and delegitimization for his victory by Supreme Court fiat in 2000. However the difference is shown in the Left's acceptance of his victory in 2004, in which he certainly won the vote, even if you grant the level of vote suppression that some say went on. Also, no one claimed Bush wasn't an American citizen. That takes it to a whole new level.


Second thought: If you ask an American--Left or Right--whether they'd prefer the government of Iran to be "liberal" or "conservative" without them getting any further description of that government, wouldn't nearly everyone say "liberal?" How about Russia? Burma? China? Zimbabwe? Egypt? Saudi Arabia? Iraq?

So why would American conservatives wish that these countries would have a different kind of government than what they wish for us?


Third thought: I get the impression that the average Tea Party type person is terrified. They keep warning us not to do anything that might annoy the richest people in American, for fear that these ultrarich folks might let fewer crumbs dribble off their table onto the ground for us to scramble around trying to pick up.

They seem to worship these ultrarich people the same way that folks in primitive countries might worship the god of the local volcano--less out of love than out of fear, out of a desire to propitiate this cruel and capricious deity.

I wonder if they have the slightest idea what these ultrarich think of them and of what that the ultrarich plan to repay their loyal followers for continuing to elect people who will fight to protect the perks of the ultrarich, no matter how much the rest of us have to sacrifice to do so.

Sociological research of the attitudes of the ultrarich indicated that they believe every cent of their wealth is deservedly theirs, just as your relative poverty is deservedly yours. They feel no sense of common purpose with Americans in general. Their children don't fight in our armed forces. And they feel no gratitude for those who do. They are profoundly disconnected from the America of the rest of us.

But their sock puppets in government mimic the appearance and speech patterns of the people you might see in church on Sunday, and if someone looks like someone you trust, well, you should trust them too, right?


Fourth thought: Shouldn't "conservative" mean "someone who conserves?" Conservative Supreme Court Justice (and Republican appointee and former Republican legislator) Sandra Day O'Connor said "The Constitution is not a suicide pact."

That means she thought we shouldn't interpret it in a way that destroys us.

Yet today's conservative House seems to think that the Constitution is just that. How is that "conservative" in any way--to consider "compromise" a dirty word?


The "supreme ruler" of Iran, Ayatollah Khameni, has said that he will never compromise in the slightest about anything, regardless of pressure or threats. And he has been true to this statement since day 1 of his long reign.

Of all the world's rulers, he's the one who most resembles the Congressional Republicans in this regard.

Think about it.


And when you speak with Billionairians, would you ask them how hard it was to give up Christianity for this new religion?

Friday, August 5, 2011


Speaking as a moderate Republican--that is, as a Democrat, since the GOP has declared moderate Republicans like me (and Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, George Bush Sr., Abraham Lincoln etc.) personae non grata in the GOP (which now stands for Greed Over Principles I guess)--I agree that President Obama should have shown more leadership.

So I turned to the dozen people running for the GOP presidential nomination to see what sort of leadership they afforded in this national crisis of choice.

Ooops. All but Jon Hunstman were MIA throughout the crisis, weren't they? And Huntsman's chances of nomination are zilch, since he's the closest thing to a moderate who's in the running.

So while President Obama could have shown more leadership, he showed some--and the GOP candidates (other than Huntsman)...none.

And don't tell me Romney did. He was like Russia declaring war on Japan after it was all over except for grabbing Manchuria and the Kurils. Now there's a man of, um, flexible principles, always eager to run to the front of the parade to pretend he's leading it.

The last national poll of hundreds of presidential historians ranked President Obama at #15--well below a number of Republicans as well as Democrats, so you can't accuse them of all being Libruls (Reagan came in at #17 BTW).

And the last Republican Prez, Bush II? He polled 6 from the bottom. He was quite the leader, though. However, when strong leadership isn't much good when it's combined with a mediocre intelligence and being proudly ignorant of macroeconomics, world affairs, and judging people (remember him "looking into Putin's soul"?).

You don't have someone like that in the race, but don't worry--Rick Parry, Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachman might run and provide more of that magic combo of ambition+mediocrity. Until then, you've just got mediocrity free of complications.

Except for Huntsman.

Good luck with getting him nominated by today's GOP.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Republicans have proven that a balanced budget amendment is a terrible idea

It would make sense to support a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as long as it had a provision for overriding it in an emergency, except for one thing: the Republican Party of today has proven that its congressmen can't be trusted to recognize an emergency that would require overriding it.

Or they might, but then they'd use the emergency as a hostage to forcing the majority to enact other legislation that a majority of Americans would oppose.

So a balanced-budget amendment is really a minority-rule amendment--especially since Republicans are considerably less inclined to compromise on legislation than Democrats are (as polls show is true of GOP rank and file as well).

Minority rule represents the death of democracy--the overthrow of its most central principle.

But it's easy to understand why Republicans might give up their belief in democracy, because a minority of Americans are Republicans--even when you add in the 45% of Independents who consistently vote Republilcan. A recent Gallup poll has the difference at 74 million people who usually vote GOP vs. 87 million who usually vote Demo. When they vote. More about that later.

So the only way Republicans can win is through the various minority-rule tricks you see them pulling all the time in the U.S. Senate, through whipping its own voters into a frenzy that guarantees turnout...and, less talked about, from doing every single thing in their power to prevent Democrats from voting.

That's why current the GOP is in a vote suppression campaign across all the states it controls, comprising laws ostensibly designed to prevent voter fraud--based on no evidence whatsoever of actual voting fraud going on by more than a single-digit number of people in any given state. They're setting voter ID requirements aimed at preventing college students and poor blacks from voting, along with things like reducing advance voting provisions so people who work long hours won't be able to come in to vote, and even reducing polling places in Democratic areas. But since this campaign isn't going on at a national level, and is being done on the down low, it hasn't captured the attention of the national media, who are busy trying to find out where that lady who got away with murdering her daughter is.

And in general every law and rule that makes it impossible to pass a law unless a supermajority votes for it is a piece of minority rule. California state legislature Republicans have used our 2/3 majority requirement to pass budget bills for decades to get their way.

I'm not arguing that Democrats' idea of spending is good. I'm arguing that majority rule is good, as long as the minority's rights are recognized. The irony is that whenever Republicans get the slightest majority they treat it as a 100% majority with a mandate to ram through everything they want without taking the minority into any consideration at all.

So the Republicans are minoritarian when they're in the minority, majoritarian when they're in the majority. Again, this shows a profound lack of respect for Democratic principles in favor of reverting to raw tribalism.

And for us true independents, the worst thing about Republican obstructionism when they're in the minority is that it enables the Democratic majority to avoid taking responsibility for their actions--they can always blame what goes wrong on Republican obstructionism, thus getting cover for much of what they do wrong.

Parliamentary government is truly majoritarian, able to enact whatever rules/legislation the majority wishes, but with the minority able to force elections whenever the majority goes afoul of the electorate. I'm not advocating abandoning our two party system necessarily--just pointing out that Paliamentary forms tend to place credit and blame more squarely than we can.

The downside of that form is that you often get two major parties that are nearly evenly divided, thus giving small radical parties disproportionate influence--as seen in Israel for example.

So we're probably better off trying to tweak our system.

Meanwhile, though, don't forget to oppose a balanced budget amendment, despite its emotional appeal. It's really a poison pill with a sugar coating.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Which Americans hate Amercia?

Many doctrinaire Republicans think Democrats--from Obama on down--hate America. Many doctrinaire Democrats think the same the other way.

In both cases, they're right and they're wrong. Most Americans, Left and Right, say they love their country. The trick is that both identify "their country" as their ideal of this country and those who share that ideal, not this actual country and its actual citizens, warts and all.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

As shown on the Jon Stewart show:

From the December 7, 2010 presidential news conference:

Reporter from the National Journal: How will these negotiations [about extending the Bush tax cuts for the richest Americans] affect negotiations or talks with the Republicans about raising the debt limit? Because it would seem that they have a significant amount of leverage over the White House now, going in.

President: When you say it would seem like they would have a significant amount of leverage over the White House, what do you mean?

National Journal Reporter: In the sense that they'll say essentially we're not gonna not agree with [raising the debt limit] unless the White House is willing to agree to significant spending cuts across the board that will probably go deeper and further than what you're willing to do. 

President: Here's my expectation--and I'll take John Boehner at his word--that nobody--Democrat or Republican--is willing to see the full faith and credit of the United States government collapse.


It is irrational to treat the irrational as if they were rational.

Monday, August 1, 2011

There is no such thing as the Tea Party

The Tea Party doesn't exist. The next ballot you get, will the Tea Party be on it? It won't. In terms of national elections, for most purposes, there's only the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. Each has factions. The "Tea Party" is a faction of the Republican Party, nothing more or less.

So it wasn't some "Tea Party" that held a gun to our nation's head and is now creating wave after wave of uncertainly rippling over the business world here and abroad. It was the Republican Party that abandoned its 2010 commitment to focus on jobs, jobs, jobs. It was the Republican Party that damaged our business standing in the world. It's the Republican Party that has adopted economic policies that run counter to what every mainstream economist says. And it's the Republican Party whose populist rhetoric strangely produces actions that line up perfectly with what America's 400 richest individuals--who control more resources than 90% of Americans--want. Isn't that interesting?

Until or unless the Tea Party becomes an actual party, it's just a part of the Republican Party--the part that's running the show.

A comment on the debt crisis that the NY Times censored

Curious about what sorts of comments on the debt crisis the NY Times censors out?

Here's mine, a response to an op-ed piece by Paul Krugman ("The President Surrenders"), excoriating the Republicans for extortion and President Obama for giving in to it:

I generally agree with Dr. Krugman's analysis of the Republicans, but he rarely acknowleges all the ways the Democratic Party has shoved so many Americans into the eager arms of the GOP. That aspect just seems invisible to him.

Illegal immigration is high on that list--pundits in the Northeast seem to have no idea what the impact has been here in the Southwest. In California, illegal immigrants, their children & grandchildren now comprise a majority of all students in our public school system. They're a majority of Los Angeles residents. This isn't multiculturalism--it's the supplanting of one society with another. For people like Dr. Krugman it's unthinkable to even complain about this--since only \"those sorts\" of people would object to their society being replaced by that of another country.

Especially when American blue collar wages have sunk below the poverty line due to competition from illegals. But Dr. Krugman probably doesn't have any blue collar acquaintances...

Nor does it help that in amongst the flagrant lying of the Republicans, nonpartisan factchecking sources like the CBO and also find Democratic politicians shading the truth.

I hate propaganda apparatchiks like Sean Hannity getting to have even the slightest element of truth in their vicious tirades.

And yet they do have a kernel of truth in some of their accusations.

Plus, I wonder whether Dr. Krugman's central thesis here is correct--that President Obama should have stuck to his guns on the debt ceiling. Viscerally I wanted him to do so, but we had 8 years of a visceral prez and that didn't turn out so well.

It may be best for him not to have let the US default on its debts, even though the Republicans' credible threat to do so was treasonous. It may yet be that the voting public will see through the Democrats' many missteps to the fact that the Republican alternative actually endangers the Republic.

Aaron Burr's starting to get real competition.