Thursday, December 29, 2011

Guess where those corporate pensions went?

Frankly, I always bought the company line that American corporations had overpromised workers about pensions, and they had to cut them drastically for the companies to survive.

Now along comes a Pulitzer Prize-winning Wall Street Journal financial reporter who spent years digging through SEC filings and contractual fine print...

to discover that the corporations' pension funds vanished because top management stole it for bonuses. And by putting enough weasel language in the fine print of their agreements with employees, and through, um, "friendly" judges, they've managed to make most of this theft legal--and to make the average citizen side with the corporations.

Check out the Amazon listing for "Retirement Heist: How Companies Plunder and Profit from the Nest Eggs of American Workers."

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

When good people do bad political things

The average rank and file Republican and Democrat generally plays fair in his personal life, I believe.

Yet both parties have an element that wants to do whatever it takes to win.

They face a challenge: how do you get people who normally play fair to fight dirty?

One way is the way Bush II justified the vicious things he had his proxies do to John McCain in 2000 when both were vying for the GOP nomination. Bush II said, in effect, that it was a game, and the rules were that there were no rules. You can see this from the way he defended his actions when McCain confronted him over his dirty tactics.

But the most common way is to convince your rank and file that they face an existential threat. That they must circle the wagons and shoot to kill--that they must, as a political metaphor, declare "martial law" for the duration of the emergency.

This is why the Cuban communist regime still speaks in revolutionary language half a century after the revolution ended. And it's why the GOP harps about "gay marriage" and guns and God yada yada, so you'll be distracted while they're picking your pockets, and even if you notice that they are, you'll excuse it as the price of beating back the threat to your tribe.

The Democrats' rabble rousing efforts lack the intensity of the Republicans' but they still give it their darndest. The latest from, summarizing the year's best whoppers, doles out prizes aplenty to both sides. And if you look at those prizes, you'll see the underlying pattern: to get you to feel there's an emergency that requires you to suspend your ordinary sense of fair play.

Look at it and see if that pattern doesn't jump out at you.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Leaving Iraq

Former GOP presidential candidate John McCain said, of our pullout from Iraq this last weekend, "this decision of a complete pullout of United States troops from Iraq, was dictated by politics and not our national security interests. I believe that history will judge this president's leadership with the scorn and disdain that it deserves."

Once again John McCain proves that the Republican Party's last presidential candidate is a hothead lacking the character and the judiciousness needed for the job, as was true of the preceding GOP president, as was even more true of the GOP's last entry for vice president.

And it's an indictment of the GOP's seat-of-the pants, little boy acting tough foreign policy ideals.

The situation in Iraq is the hand President Obama was dealt when he took office, and the outcome was predictable from the moment the Republican administration chose to invade Iraq with a skeleton force--a force fully able to defeat Iraq's large, ramshackle military in combat, but waaay too small to be able to occupy and administer a nation of that size. As General Powell told him.

Senator McCain didn't say which of the two alternatives President Obama faced he would have chosen:
1. Declare war on Iraq's current government, or
2. Put all American soldiers in Iraq under the jurisdiction of Iraq's courts, the nonnegotiable condition for our troops staying that the Iraqi government set at the behest of the current Iraqi goverment's patron, Iran.

I don't find either of those alternatives acceptable. I'd love to know which one McCain wanted.

Iraq was bound to become something of a client state of Iran from the moment we invaded, given the fact that we invaded, and in the way we did--and because President Bush I told Iraq's Shiites to revolt during Desert Storm, then abandoned them to Saddam's tender mercies.

People who've been betrayed tend to remember it. And it means we pushed Iraq's Shiites into Iran's eager arms, even though Iraq's Shiites are Arabs and Iran's are mostly Persians, and thus have genuine tribal differences.

But Iraq's government is quite beholden to Iran under the table--and there isn't a thing we can reasonably do about it now. And it's the cake Bush baked. Obama's just serving the unpalatable slices to us.

And McCain should reserve his wrath for his own party and Chef Bush instead of shooting the maitre d'.

Now's the season when your conservative friends want to tell you Obama-as-Satan stories

From now through the November election, many of your Right Wing friends/relatives/workmates want to tell people like me Obama the Horrible anecdotes they got from the Republican National Committee's paid astroturf websites and pundits and "think" tanks for hire.

Some of these stories are true, others true but taken out of context, some are spun by the GOP's Funhouse Mirror view of reality into a distorted view of the truth, some push guilt by association (usually a false association in the first place), and a lot that are flat out Pants on Fire False.

Okay. If we're going to discuss politics, this sort of thing  is inevitable.

Especially for someone in my position, a Democrat living in a solid Democrat college town who voluntarily associates with the few Republicans who live in this town, who all know I'm a Democrat. I'm a lightning rod for them, frustrated as they are, knowing that their vote for President in the state of California makes no difference and never will.

Yet at some level they all believe that this anecdote they just got from PowerMax or some such is so powerful, so damning, that anyone hearing it will realize Obama is the scum he is. They're just bursting with animus for the guy. At my wife's church's Christmas dinner Saturday, a friend who's a very nice guy told me Obama is "a Communist." I didn't even argue it with him. I just pointed out that as a Democrat I was keen on all the GOP candidates, since each has crucial flaws that should enable Obama to win reelection.

But more (or less) seriously, whenever someone's dying to tell you something you have leverage.

So I propose that you tell your conservative friend that you'll willing to listen to his/her Evil Obama anecdote--if and only if they first tell you something about Obama that they find praiseworthy.

This should be a no-brainer for them. After all, these are the same people who were telling me Character is All when Clinton was the candidate. Why should Character suddenly become irrelevant when the Democratic incumbent happens to be a loyal family man--devoted husband and father.

And after all, this is the guy on whose watch--and with whose politically risky go-ahead--the bad man who was actually responsible for 9/11 was nailed. This is the guy who uses UAVs to kill one Al Quaeda leader after another, regardless of what country they're hiding in. This is the guy who OK'd having a Navy sniper nailing three Somali pirates who were holding an American sea captain hostage.

And this is the guy whose economic policies have been conservative enough that the American Left considers him a crypto-Republican. If he's such a Com-yew-nist, why do actual Com-yew-nists believe he's actually a Conservative?

So it should be easy for your right wing friends/relatives/workmates to meet your challenge that they tell you something they find praiseworthy about Obama before they tell you the Damning Anecdote.


At least 80% of Americans are Aempiricists

Most so-called Atheists are Empiricists--that is, we derive our ideas from reality, not reality from our ideas.

The term "Atheist" was invented by religious people as a pejorative term, and for many of them it's meant as negatively as the N-word.

And it's meaningless. It means "someone who doesn't believe in God." Of course, to doctrinaire religious people, that's all they need to know about you. But why accept the other side's term for us?

We are empiricists. Don't let anyone call you an "'Atheist." Tell them what you are, not what you aren't. When they ask, "Do you believe in God, yes or no" tell them "Sorry, there's a word there that I don't understand. What is a "God?"

See, the word "God" is empirically undefinable. It makes no more sense to say you don't believe in God than to say you don't believe in Blibble, or [make the sound of blowing a raspberry]. Every single attempt to define "God" just produces piles of tautologies--definitions chasing their own tails.

I'm not what i'm not. I'm what I am. And that's an empiricist. I'm not "unchurched," I'm not "not French", I'm not "Not Red-Haired," ad infinitum.

And while we're at it, let's call religious people "Aempiricists." As Blake said, "Dip him in the river who loves water."

Saturday, December 17, 2011

It's not the income disparity--it's the disconnect

You know the scene in the movie when the bad guys unhitch the train from the engine and it chugs away, stranding all the cars in the desert? That's what's happened to America.

Only people keep talking about it as if the huge and growing income disparity between the wealthiest 20% and everyone else is the problem. It's not. It's the symptom of the problem.

What's most wrong with the current disparity is that the fortunes of the very wealthy have become decoupled from the fortunes of the rest of us.

Back in the day the head of a company did better if the company did better, & worse if it didn't.

But if your company's "product" is money manipulation, carried out by a small staff with big computers, instead of providing goods &/or services, there's no real connection to the well-being of the country.

If a manufacturer moves its plants abroad (to countries like China that block our own exports) & bribes government to make that legal & & even give it tax breaks to do so, then the well-being of American factory workers becomes irrelevant.

If a corporate CEO's pay has no relation to how well the company does--as is true for most of the Fortune 500 now--it doesn't even matter how well the company does, & platinum parachutes & conspiring boards of directors make top managements, collectively, a class that looks out for each other & to heck with the companies they helm & their stockholders.

And their kids don't serve in the military.

Unregulated capitalism morphs into crony capitalism where there's little social mobility & the captains of industry use their Croesian wealth to capture the government, which then works for them, not us. Travel in a bunch of 3rd world countries, as I have, & you'll see how this pans out.

Decoupling's the key. See?

Watch what you wish for, GOPers

The GOP faced a challenge in shaping its four year campaign to defeat President Obama in 2012: some of its favorite themes had a poor chance of working.

Take that fine old standby, personal character assassination. When Clinton was the target it was a snap. He was quite the hound dog. Best of all, he lied about it under oath, giving the Republicans an excuse to impeach the President, even though what he lied about had exactly nothing to do with his presidential duties. They used personal embarrassment to set a trap, using the power of prosecutors to ask questions under oath that have nothing to do with the case being prosecuted.

But here we have a guy--President Obama with the effrontery to be a model husband and father, never divorced, never unfaithful, devoted to his kids, and raising them in a way any American conservative could be proud of.

Then there's the "soft on war" trope. Every Democratic president has gotten accused of being a peacenik. And then President Obama has the nerve to get Osama, send squadrons of UAVs over Pakistan and Yemen and elsewhere, nailing Al Quaeda honchos left and right. He even OK'd nailing some Somali pirates between the eyes out on the high seas, and upped the ante in Afghanistan. Bummer.

So now personal character is no longer spoken of. And to prove it, that Republican hound dog Newt Gingrich is leading in GOP polls right now. Whether he gets the nomination or not, the fact that he leads shows that Republicans could care less about personal character. They only talk about it when it suits them.

And the same goes for warlike manliness. Bush II had the fighter pilot swagger down, but wasn't competent as Commander in Chief. Not when he went to war with the wrong country. I mean, when the cops bust into the house next to the house they have the warrant to bust into it's bad enough. But when our President busts into the wrong country and costs us a trillion+ dollars and thousand of US lives, and tens of thousands maimed as well, it would really, really, really help if all that blood and treasure were expended on and in the country that had actually attacked us. No Democratic president in the last century has committed such a colossal blunder--especially when he systematically ignored all the info we had at the time proving that it was the wrong country. No wonder Saddam was surprised when we invaded. Just like the people in the wrong house.

There's plenty the GOP can and will use against Obama in the next election. They'll even try to besmirch his personal character. But that at least won't stick.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The prime target of the far right is not Islamofascists; nor is it the far Left; it's the politically active centrists

More and more, the far Right is starting to function like a cult. First job of a cult is to separate you from conflicting ideas and people. After that, the steady stream of cult propaganda weaves members into a coherent narrative that describes the world and everyone's place in it. But cult narratives are always--always--false, whether they're Left, Right, religious, you name it.

So the cult has to silence your BS detector, and that starts with getting you to ignore, dismiss, and/or feel actively hostile towards anyone who dissents from the cult's narrative.

The average right winger isn't influenced by anything Michael Moore says--in fact, if he says anything they assume it's a knowing lie. Ditto Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi, and President Obama. Anyone even slightly left of center--and the center has moved waaay over to the right, though the far Rights believes the exact opposite.

Who's left? Liberal Republicans like Olympia Snowe, for one. And, right in the crosshairs, the two main fact-checking organizations: and Not because they always side with the Left. But because they don't always side with the Right.

That's far more dangerous to keeping cult members in line than self-identified enemies.

So the far Right narrative has to somehow explain all the articles appearing in those two factchecking sites that say Democrats and other left of center organizations and people have lied/spun/told half-truths.

And explain they do: the narrative says that these fact-checking organizations are completely in the tank for Obama and all them Lib-er-ul causes, and only criticize the Left to legitimize their criticism of the Right.

That is, you're either for us or against us, and if you aren't totally for us, you're totally against us.

And--there's no such thing as journalism. Only honest advocacy vs. deceptive advocacy. Thus if a journalist is a Democrat, everything the journalist writes is by definition Leftist propaganda. The idea of someone criticizing their own side is literally un-believable to them.

So if you wonder how people living in a democratic country can become radicalized Jihadi--look at American right wing websites, and in particular look at their coverage of and

The funniest part is when they say they've proven their point if fact checking sites criticize the Right, say, 59% of the time--the same argument they furiously condemn when it's used to "prove" racial/ethnic discrimination.

But also pretty ironic is the fact that the Left thinks these fact-checking organizations lean Right. This is unknown to far Right cultists because they get all their political information from right wing websites and pundits, and such information would clash with the Manichean (black & white) narrative of the cult.

The Congressional Budget Office also gets pilloried if they dare issue reports that conflict with the Republican National Committee's narrative...then cited as Gospel when they agree.

One way to tell whether a self-identified Conservative hasn't become a cultist is to ask them what they think of and I wouldn't expect them to say these organizations never err. But I would expect them to say that both are committed to being nonpartisan and calling 'em as they see 'em, such that their errors, when they occur, are not part of a fiendish plot.

You can do the same with a self-identified Liberal, of course. Both organizations call out the Left frequently. I just read one of their reports on TV political show hosts and was dismayed to see how biased some of my liberal favorites were.

It's tough to commit to truth. It's easy to commit to tribe. Thus saith our DNA.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Our shrinking middle class

In 1970, 65% of Americans lived in middle class neighborhoods.

By 2007, 44% of Americans lived in middle class neighborhoods.

Source: MSNBC citing research by Stanford University and

So Middle Class America has dwindled from 2/3 of our country to 2/5. And even all the serfs our government has condoned coming here from Mexico can't account for more than a drop in this bucket of bad news.

But a falling tide doesn't lower all boats. Over this time period America's millionaries and billionaires have seen their incomes soar, courtesy of their income redistribution scheme made possible by their capture of our government, with Congress passing laws to made many economic crimes now legal, and Republican administrations focusing nearly all their enforcement efforts on middle class tax cheats while leaving the real Players off the hook.

So the next timer a self-styled Conservative starts talking about Class War, ask him or her what diabolical Comyewnist scheme is progressively transferring America's wealth to its richest? And if you catch a bank robber and force him to give back the money he stole, would you oppose that because it's "income redistribution?"

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The real problem with poverty and wealth

Middle class people believe if you work hard and keep your nose clean and show some moxie you'll get ahead--you'll do better than your parents did. But middle class people also know they're dependent on how others do--that is, on how well society as a whole is doing.

Poor people on the dole are not dependent on how well society is doing. They believe working hard won't get them ahead--that good-paying jobs are not available to them--and welfare grants them the necessities regardless of how society as a whole is doing.

Rich people are not dependent on how well society is doing. They have a plush personal safety net that they believe will buoy them up regardless of society's vicissitudes.

So the poor and the rich feel decoupled from society. They don't care about the welfare of others, because it doesn't affect them. As Oscar Wilde said, more or less "I can bear the burdens of others quite well."

And when their welfare is cut off, the poor still feel decoupled from society, because they don't see a way up.

It is possible to couple the rich and the poor to society's welfare as a whole. The rich loathe this idea, and fight it every way they can. And being rich, they have the means to stop most attempts to attach them to society.
The poor loathe this idea if it forces them to work for their welfare--especially if you attach all the conditions to getting welfare that I'd attach. However, the poor don't represent a danger to the middle class, except for a certain amount of street crime (which is far greater in the ghettos of the poor, though). The rich who are decoupled from society do represent a danger to the middle class.

That's why, even though Americans work longer hours than those of any other industrialized society, and their hours have progressively increased over the last decades, they are no better off than their parents were in the 1970s, except for having the Internet and relatively cheap computers. On the other hand, they're far less likely to be able to get out from under their college debt and to buy a home. Our GDP has increased greatly since the 1970s but the rich have kept the increase for themselves, and captured government, so that the people we elect won't do what we want them to do, but instead serve their patrons.

My very right wing Southern father once defined society as where the rich and the poor decide what the middle class will pay to support them.

Was he wrong:?