Saturday, April 28, 2012

Deficit spending--the Answer to Everything?

Every day in every way from today to Election Day you'll be hearing something like the following pitch.

This one came from a commentor on a previous entry in this blog. It advances the core GOP election message succinctly, wrapping noble patriotic language around a screed against deficit spending:

"...the one thing, the one word, that creates, or destroys, value [is] Confidence. Or the lack of it.

"It is the one thing that creates, or destroys, value in every conceivable financial instrument, from homes and real estate, certificates of deposit, 401Ks, bonds, T-Bills, and shares of stock. It creates or eliminates jobs throughout the economy.

"It is the actions of the President with regard to deficit spending and the national debt that creates or destroys global confidence in the U.S. economy. Successfully establish that confidence and every investable dollar on the planet will flood into the U.S. economy, fail and the results are obvious.

"Barack Obama has demonstrated fully, as far back as his days in the Senate, that deficit spending is what he is best at, he is incapable of anything else, and incapable of engendering confidence in his ability to be a responsible and competent steward of the public treasury. And, contrary to what you imply, this can be done overnight, with the first budget he delivered to Congress... but he failed.

"He MUST be turned out of office."


Wow. This is such effective propaganda. Meaning that it may well succeed.  Let's see how it works its magic.

The essence of the argument is that deficit spending is always bad, no matter what. And President Obama is a deficit spender. Therefore Mitt Romney must be elected, because Republicans are not deficit spenders. That's what they say at least.

Of course this is grotesque. First, the Republican Party is a titanic deficit spender.
 Tax cuts without corresponding spending cuts are the essence of deficit spending, and Republicans can't not do it. Look at the Ryan/Romney/GOP budget. Huge tax cuts and not remotely enough spending cuts to pay for those tax cuts, with a promise to kill tax loopholes--only without the uncomfortable specificity of actually naming a single one (while actually adding loopholes in the fine print).

The Republicans put their tax cuts for the rich (mostly), two wars & an unconditional Wall St. bailout on the national credit card, and left it to the next administration--President Obama's--to figure out how to pay for it all.

Typically, partisans point out the other side's hypocrisy in order to deflect attention from their own hypocrisy--assuming, apparently, that two wrongs make a right. Not here. One side's hypocrisy doesn't justify deficit spending. However, it does tell you that if you let them regain control of the public purse, the odds of them reining in deficit spending are small. Really, really, small. What you can be sure of is that they'll label their deficit spending "tax cuts." Along with the feds telling the states they're now on the hook for something the feds used to fund, then the states tell the counties and cities the same thing, and you're left holding the bag one way or another.

And then what if the factory chicken farm next to your farm poisons your well by letting chicken poop get into the water table? Everything you saved in the portion of the taxes you saved in the tax cut will be dwarfed by the cost of dealing with your wells no longer delivering safe water to your farm. Libertarians would say you're free to sue the chicken farm. And they're free to countersue you for harassment, and to pit their platoon of legal sharks against your Barney Local Guy working on contingency.

But even if that doesn't happen to you, the religious belief that deficit spending is bad is loony. You will have the devil of a time finding a corporation that doesn't utilized deficit spending as a business tool Ditto most American families. You bought your house and your car with deficit spending.

Ford--the company that didn't take a government bailout--borrowed $26 billion by going in hock up to its eyeballs. And that only succeeded because it has been in better shape than GM and Chrysler, both of which would have gone Chapter 7 if Mitt Romney had had his way.

Reputable economists say countries need to engage in deficit spending (within reason) in hard times, and pay back their debts in good times. They add that failure to do so--or to do so sufficiently--prolongs recessions, as has happened in Japan.

Of course well-run businesses don't splurge in down times. They do what Ford did and put their money into better products and services, not on recession-proof compensation for the executive suite. Same goes for government deficit spending.

The public expects governments to do the exact opposite: to spend like drunken sailors in good times, then tighten their belts in bad times. This feels god intuitively but it's idiotic--the equivalent of the stock trading philosophy of buying high, selling low.

So if Paul Ryan's budget were a doctoral thesis in economics at a major university, it would flunk big time.

Deficit spending is a tool, not a moral proposition. Like all tools it can be misused. Just as reflexive opposition to deficit spending misuses it.

Start at the end: "He MUST be turned out of office." This is great because it makes Mitt "Etch-A-Sketch" Romney irrelevant, which the GOP needs him to be. Independent voters MUST become convinced that it doesn't matter who the GOP's candidate is--that any GOP candidate would be preferable to President Obama. That way people don't need to pay attention to his record (apart from him having been a very financially successful businessman but pay no heed to his term as governor for some reason), or to what he actually says.

GOP eminence gris Grover Norquist put it best: he said, basically, that the only talent the next GOP president needs is the ability and willingness to sign everything a Republican Congress puts on his desk--no questions asked. No independent thinking required.

He's confident he'll get that with Governor Romney because it's evident that his only real belief is that he deserves to be the President of the United States. His religion teaches that we must be honest and aboveboard in our dealings with others, and if you read or you'll quickly realize that he doesn't think this applies to him--not in the political sphere at least.

Because the Mittster is the generic candidate: the always smiling but strangely humorless (especially when he's trying to joke) copier salesman who always looks you right in the eye and addresses you by your name over and over and over and always shakes your hand firmly but not too firmly, does his darndest to simulate being your friend and (nearly) always sticks to his canned spiel...and always asks for the sale.

Most importantly, he looks and sounds presidential--much as Warren G. Harding did, only smarter (to be honest). Especially if you don't pay close attention to what he's saying. His cadences and vocal timbre are just fine, and in broad outlines he invokes

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

"It's still about the economy--and we're not stupid"

This is a great punchline for nascent nominee Romney.

But college-educated people may not get what this says to Romney's core audience: white men without a college degree.

What they hear isn't what you hear, and I trust Romney's team knows this full well.

What they hear is:

1. The President--not Congress, not the economic situation in Europe, not the wealthy men who purchase influence in our government, not currency manipulation/intellectual property theft/dollar an hour labor in China, not gasoline prices being determined by OPEC and burgeoning demand in China and India, and not the economy the President was handed on the day of his inauguration--the President is solely responsible for the American economy...which can, apparently, turn on a  dime with the right leadership, no matter what's been done to it. Even if the previous administration hands you problems that take any democracy 20 years to turn around, you have a year at most to do so. Then the problem is yours, and if you can't fix it your way, we'll try someone else--even if that someone else is the very group that handed the President the 20 year problem in the first place.

2. The Negro President thinks we white people are "stupid"--that is, what he's telling us about the economy isn't true (this is the rhetorical ploy, not reality, mind you) is a sham, so he's a con artist, so he's trying to con us, to play us. A Negro man who thinks he's smarter--better--than any White man is an Uppity Negro.

3. And an Uppity Negro man is the worst thing on Earth.

4. We'd vote for a Negro man who knows his place and does our bidding in a heartbeat--a nice Negro man like Herman Cain. So we aren't prejudiced against Negros, just like we love women who know their place, so we aren't misogynists either.

5. So we have to vote against this Uppity Negro, no matter what--even if it means letting the foxes back in our henhouse.

If you're an educated American from outside the influence of the Old South, this chain of reasoning may--probably will-seem like a big stretch to you. And of course whenever anyone accuses the GOP of a covert racist strategy the Sean Hannitys and Bill O"Reillys and Rush Limbaughs and Adam Wests of the world fly into a sputtering rage over such an accusation. But if you're a son of a Son of the Old South, as I am, you'll recognize the coded language just fine.

Romney has better ideas for fixing the economy...and Washington?

Actually, according to the head of the Republican Party, Grover Norquist, Romney's job as President will be to sign the bills the Republican Congress puts on his desk. That's all the vision required of him--his ability to write his name on a piece of paper.

And Romney's self-portrayal as a government outsider belies his years as governor of Massachusetts, which tested his assertion that his business success automatically translates to governing success.

You should ask Massachusetts taxpayers how that worked out.

Romney sez Obama's given it his best shot but failed--he's over his head

Romney's strategy was hard at work with his victory speech after last night's primaries: he's the smiling, competent businessman about to take the reins of power from the likeable big government guy with no business experience who can't run the country.

The part of his strategy that wasn't on display was the ugly all-fronts attack on Obama's intelligence, patriotism, nationality, religion, and race that Romney's allies are mounting in everything from email chain letters to ads by PACs whose money sources are a secret and whose veracity doesn't need to be proved, thanks to five conservative Supreme Court justices (via their Citizens United decision that showed their total contempt for stare decisis).

But set that aside for the moment.The essence of Romney's own part of the GOP campaign rests on a humongous lie: the unspoken assumption that the President of the United States is a monarch: that what he says, goes. That he can single-handedly enact legislation.

Even when he had a majority of both houses of Congress he didn't have a free hand, due to the Republicans redefining "majority" from the 50%+1 that the Constitution envisions to 60%+1--and even when the Democrats had 60+1 it had a handful of Democratic senators in iffy districts who could be dissuaded from going along with the President.

So regardless of whether you like ObamaCare or not, it's a miracle that he was able to get any kind of healthcare reform through Congress, Democratic majority notwithstanding, after 100 years of entrenched, successful opposition from the medical industry. But that's why the package that was passed didn't contain more cost containment--starting with a transition to single payer.

All this gives the lie to Romney's Biggest Lie. The Presidency is a powerful post, to be sure, and the President has been--as the NYTimes recently observed--exploring just what a president can do about a do-nothing Congress. But he isn't a king, and Romney's simplistic bumper-sticker-slogan-level analysis presumes he is.

Romney's a smart guy, so he has to know how much he's lying. Which is against his religion. I guess he justifies it by telling himself that it's just part of the political game. Lying to the American people isn't like lying to your wife.

Personally I'd prefer that he lied to his wife and told the truth to us. If he had an uncontrollable urge to lie to somebody, which appears to be the case...

Would a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution fix everything?

I wish. The problem is that a balanced budget amendment without loopholes would be a national suicide pact, while a balanced budget amendment without loopholes would be unenforceable.

Imagine if we'd had a no-loopholes balanced budget amendment on the day the Japanese bombed us into WWII. Imagine if we'd has a with-loopholes balanced budget amendment any time whichever party was in control wanted to spend more.

Sorry about that. I like the idea of a balanced budget amendment, and most states have one. But states aren't countries.

Note that very few corporations could survive with a balanced budget requirement. Ford would have gone under. It had to borrow $25 billion to not go under when the mega-recession hit. It had to spend waaay beyond its means to get back in the saddle.

Trick is, it spent smart, putting the money into good new products mostly.

Ditto with nations. Spending smart is what's needed.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Liberals and Conservatives don't talk to Centrists

If you read thousands of comments on political articles in mainstream publications, you will find precious few addressed to centrists. Mostly it's liberals and conservatives berating and belittling each other--as if all voters are either liberal or conservative.

At least 40% of voters are centrists, and the number rises with every election. Yet we're completely ignored in the primaries, given only passing notice in the actual elections, and almost never addressed directly.

It's amazing. To these guys we're like the dark matter in the universe--unseen and unknowable.

If they think of us at all, they see us as pallid, wishy-washy, indecisive creatures, painted in diluted water colors.

They have no idea that the words "moderate" and "centrist" aren't the same.

There are moderate centrists, all right. There are also moderate liberals and moderate conservatives.

And just as there are radical leftists and rightists, there are also radical centrists.

Radical centrists follow their ideas to their logical conclusions. The difference between them and their radical counterparts in either wing is that radical centrists don't see the world in black and white terms. They see their ideas as trying to conform to reality, and if it turns out they don't match, they change their ideas. Whereas radical leftists and rightists are rigid idealists who don't ultimately care about the reality outside their ideas.

Radical and moderate centrists both support nonpartisan redistricting. But radical centrists support free abortion on demand for everyone everywhere, while moderate centrists make the usual noises about how terrible abortion is and the less the better, while making it strictly a choice between pregnant female and her doctor.

Radical centrists support abortion on demand not because they're radical feminists, but because they realize the world is in an overpopulation crisis. In other words, their extremism derives from the times and places and circumstances in which reality itself has become extreme, not because their eyes are whirling with ideological fervor.

I realize it's largely a waste of time to say all this, though, because political partisans just want to joust with each other, in their bright, clear, world with a bright red line drawn down the middle. We muddy the waters and disturb their neat boxes and categories. So I can understand why they'd rather not deal with us--or simply assume that if we're not totally with them we're totally against them.

So neither group of partisans understand how radical centrists could support abortion but be against illegal immigration. Neither understands how we can see the value in the Left, and Right, and the Middle.

If you are a centrist, though, keep trying to punch through their blindness to anything but each other. Unlike real dark matter, we can force them to recognize us.

After all, we decide every national election. Not them.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Public opinion polls tell you what the public thinks? Yes but...

I just saw a comment on a previous post from someone who pointed out that "the People have the power to do whatever they want...the People have the power to enact any legislation, or turn out any politician they...please, any time they please, independent of any political party or who is in the majority in Washington. Those who are the loudest, and have the most to say... should say that, or shut up."

The people who live in the most naive fantasy universe are, paradoxically, drawn from the population of people who consider themselves the most realistic.

The fantasy is that public opinion is formed in freedom, and that, armed with this public opinion, a majority has the power to get the legislators--and, hence, the legislation that the majority wants.

This has not been true from the moment the United States was organized to this moment, now.

One example: Al Gore received the majority of the popular vote in 2000. Last time I checked, he didn't become President. Nor have fifteen other candidates through our history who like Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the election.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Pervasive gerrymandering--in both Republican and Democratic-dominated states--has led to incumbent politicians being able to pick their voters, instead of vice versa.

The electoral college system--unique among nations--means that one Wyoming voter has over three times the "voting power" of one California or Texas voter.

A nationwide vote suppression campaign by the Republican Party (under the transparent lie of "voter fraud") means that in many areas Democratic voters will find it harder if not impossible to vote--particularly if they're black or college students or old and/or rural, or have jobs they can't afford to take time off from to vote. And many Republican-dominated states now disenfranchise people convicted of a felony for life, on the assumption that all felonies merit a lifetime of not being a full citizen any more. By pure coincidence most of such people are black, courtesy of a system that penalizes blacks more for comparable crimes than whites, among other things.

And even if the voting franchise dice weren't loaded, the free will of American voters is hugely compromised by the vast and largely unaccountable sums of money being poured into a no holds barred, broad-spectrum propaganda campaign aimed at Democrats and particularly at a Democratic president.

I'm continually flabbergasted at how this pervasive campaign goes unnoticed by the media--mainstream and otherwise--in accounting for public opinion.

I remember a news story years about about how the villagers in a central American country got together and murdered an American aid worker because some local demagogue had spread the rumor that she was buying children to be trafficked to America.

And in Africa polio was about to wiped out when some Nigerian Muslim leaders spread the rumor that the vaccine was actually a White Western plot to sterilize African women. No one knows whether it will be possible to kill off polio in Africa now.

This isn't some "foreign problem." Here in America an amazing number of people--many with educations--believe, counter to all medical fact--that vaccinating their children endangers them, and that not vaccinating them is good for them.

People everywhere and everywhen are amazingly gullible when it comes to rumomongering when it panders to fears and antipathies they already have.

Thus in the coming election, it is not true that Americans--2/3 of whom have already made up their minds BTW--are basing their voting choices on diligent personal research focused on relatively unbiased information sources such as and Their ideas in a majority of cases reflect potent emotional narratives that were fed to them in many times a day doses.

And that, my friends, is how you can get people to vote against their own financial and other best interests.

Most other democracies recognize this and have worked mightily to keep money--whatever the source--out of electoral campaigns. People are highly susceptible to propaganda. I know this from my training in sociology in college, and I can feel its pull on me every day, and only my training in recognizing and dealing with propaganda protects me from being herded by it.

Lastly, one irony of this whole thing is that part of the propaganda missile aimed especially at less-educated white men is the term "sheeple" that they're invited to apply to Lib-er-uls. Well, Lib-er-uls can be herded, to be honest, but the very people who bandy this term of contempt around the most are the biggest "sheeple" of all.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Justice achieved again

The ABLU (American Billionaires' Liberties Union), formerly known as the Republican Party, announced today that it had triumphed over the force of evil: Foreign Occupier Obama's attempt to make billionaires pay the same tax rate as most Americans was beaten back in the U.S. Senate, taking advantage of the fact that in the Senate these days, a minority of as little as 40 Senators can keep a majority of 60 Senators from enacting legislation.

According to the ABLU this was true American justice, since "America's billionaires, from whom all good flows, deserve to pay lower taxes than the ants--er, taxpayers--who work for them--at least the ones who are Americans who work for them," and "Until we can revise the Constitution to replace the Senate with a House of Financial Lords, the next best thing is our ability to block the Enemy's efforts to subvert American Values with this ridiculous idea that the people elected by a majority of taxpayers should get what they want if we object. Thank God that God is a Republican. And Jesus. And, if you're a Catholic, Mary too. And the Holy Ghost, another great Republican."

If President Obama weren't a pragmatic moderate, he'd...

Some observers have pointed out how this is a race between moderates: a pragmatic moderate conservative pretending to be a hard-core right winger running against a pragmatic moderate liberal who the pragmatic moderate conservative is painting the pragmatic moderate liberal as a hard-core left winger.

However, I think movement Republicans are more worried about Romney's honesty than they need to be. Obviously he'll do whatever opinion polls of Republican voters tell him to do so he can get reelected, so as long as a majority of Republican voters want him to simulate a hard-core right winger he'll be happy to oblige. The man is nothing if not flexible.

In particular, since several moderate Supreme Court justices are highly likely to quit or die during the next two presidential terms, Romney will for sure nominate justices like Alito and Roberts, thus guaranteeing the outcome of all cases coming before the Court for the next twenty years--and enabling the Right to beat back liberal legislation even if Romney were followed by a highly liberal Democrat backed by a highly liberal Congress.

But he and his party are lying about Obama's left-winginesss. Lying of the bald-faced variety.

If Obama were a liberal ideologue, he'd have done the following things in his first term:

1. Signed an executive order banning discrimination against homosexuals in the military on his first day in office.

2. Signed an executive order ending enforcement of laws against illegal immigrants not accused of/convicted of felonies.

3. Insisted on healthcare reform being based on conversion to a single-payer system.

4. Campaigned vigorously for strict gun control laws.

5. Reduced government cooperation with religious institutions via "faith-based initiatives."

6. Campaigned to raise the gas tax to promote buying fuel-efficient vehicles.

7. Campaigned to overturn the anti-homosexual law misnamed the "Defense of Marriage Act."

8. Nominated far more liberal Supreme Court justices than Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan (and would have made sure one of them was black). The number of times Sotomayor has recused herself (unlike Scalia, who never does) by itself proves her moderation.

9. He wouldn't have used all those Wall Street pros for his economic brain trust.

10. He would have pursued criminal prosecution of the Masters of the Universe who engineering the 2008 financial meltdown.

11. He would have campaigned against the Republicans in Congress from day one instead of consistently seeking compromises with them.

12. He would have gone for government takeover of bankrupt banks, manufacturers instead of bailing them out (for which none of them are the least bit grateful, of course).

13. He would have promptly withdrawn from Iraq and Afghanistan.

14. He would never have authorized drone-based assassination of innumerable Islamofascists in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere.

15. He would have bargained with the Somali pirates who captured an American vessel instead of authorizing the assassination of the pirates who were holding the captain.

16. When we located Osama Bin Ladin, he would have initiated extradition proceedings in Pakistan's legal system instead of sending in the SEALs to kill him.

17. A liberal President would never have made a bargain with the Greed Over Principles party that extended the Bush Tax Cuts for the Rich, regardless of the terms of that bargain.

18. And if he were the right wing's stereotype of "liberal" he'd have no respect for the institution of marriage, and (like so many Republican politicians) he would have buzzed through several marriages by this point, and cheated on his wife repeatedly, and had relationships with other men as well, because, well, you know those liberals.....

Right wingers might say he didn't do any of these things because he knew these efforts would not have been successful for the Democratic Party overall or could have simply been defeated by Republicans in Congress, and that he would have done all these things if he thought he could have, and he will do such things in he's re-elected.

They can only say this if they don't understand what the word "pragmatic" means (and in general they don't, really); and if they can read Obama's mind, which they firmly believe they can. These people are nothing if not confident about their godlike powers of discernment; they'd stoutly deny any such thing, of course, but in the next breath continue telling you what Obama thinks and believes, regardless of what he's done and said.

As for the "second term" monster in the closet right wingers talk about (exploiting his remark to the Russians), of course all second term presidents are less constrained than they are in their first term. However, second term presidents with a Congress of the other party that can't / won't send him bills to sign can't do anything about their legislative proposals, regardless of which term they're in.

And it's extremely unlikely that Obama will get a friendly Congress. The diligent, comprehensive efforts of the GOP at the state level to suppress Democratic votes will see to that if nothing else; not to mention the billions their billionaire patrons can now spend on propaganda campaigns both above and below the belt.

Lastly, a second term President rarely wants to behave such as to guarantee that the next President will be of the other party. He's always working on his legacy. A legacy of putting the other party in power? No pragmatic president would risk that.

Friday, April 13, 2012


The Right's Umbrage du Jour is the claim that the Left is carrying out a War on Women, insulting right wing women in the public sphere and demeaning housewives, meanwhile acting as if it's wrong to demean and insult women.

Suppose this were all true of all liberals. Does that, then, wipe away the charges Democrats have made about the Republicans' "War on Women?" It's OK for Republicans to treat women patronizingly as long as Democrats do too?


Since when was Republican morality just a reaction to Democratic morality?

"They do it too" is the kind of argument I'd expect from an angry sixth grader. What you do is either right or wrong according to principles and practical considerations. Not some moral relativism that constantly refers to whatever is the behavior of others.

So whether liberals are hypocrites or not has no bearing on whether Republican ranks house the last bastion of male chauvinism in America. My crimes don't excuse your crimes.

And the Republicans are the ones most outraged by moral relativism. Except their own.

What did Ann Romney know & when did she know it?

So the Democrats lunge with Republican War on Women and the Republicans parry with the Democrat War on Moms. Each plays to stereotypes each has about the other.

Democratic Party apparatchik Hilary Rosen says something seriously stoopid about Mrs. Mitt Romney, and the Republicans leap on it in an effort to close Mitt Romney's serious problem with women as shown in recent poll--despite the President promptly disavowing the remark, which was never made by him anyway. Lucky for the Democrats, it's not Mitt Romney's minions making the stoopid remarks on his side--he manfully shoulders that burden himself, and, to the Democrats' delight, often. Daily it seems.

This tiffle does raise the question of whether Ann Romney an exemplary economic advisor for her husband on Women's Issues, then? She has birthed and raised five boys, and battled with serious illness. When she and her husband were newlyweds they did have to live cheaply. 

Also, in the Mormon Church, most of the work is done via "callings," lay positions that carry out most of the tasks done by the paid hierarchy and staff of most other religions. In that way Ann Romney has certainly been privy to the hardships of those in her wards who aren't as well-heeled as Ann and her kinfolk. Moreover, Mormon wards are defined geographically--most church members are required to attend a particular ward based on where they live, and ward boundaries are drawn to try to avoid economic segregation. 

So even if Ann Romney has herself led an almost entirely charmed life economically, she probably hasn't been as isolated from knowing about the travails of the rest of us as might be true if she wasn't actively involved in charitable church activities.

Still, the fact remains that she's always worked with a net. Rich parents, rich private schooling, husband from a rich family, and in pretty short order she's had a rich husband. It has been decades since she's had to make purchasing decisions that had to take the family budget into account. 

Ann Romney's challenge with understanding what most American women face has nothing to do with being a homemaker. It has to do with being very, very wealthy. Homemakers in struggling households learn a lot about personal economics. And even homemakers in comfortably middle class families still have to work within a budget--even in traditional patriarchal households where the husband handles all the money and gives his wife an allowance. 

It's great that Mitt Romney consults his wife about stuff and uses her as a sounding board. However, her isolation from having to work within a budget makes her direct experiences of family economics only relevant to less than 1% of American women.

Finally, we have the fact that Mrs. Romney has said that American women are concerned with the economy, not with restrictions on reproduction. Of course, for her, while having had five kids meant a lot of labor (literally), she could easily afford to have two or three times that many kids financially. Romney's dad paid for their college education. Not long after that, her main concern was how to manage a staff of 26--so I guess you could say she has executive experience. Just not budgeting experience.

She never had to worry about the price of having all those kids, or how she'd be able to afford medical care for one if that one was born with severe medical problems or acquired them (as with a crippling or maiming accident). And she hasn't had to worry about paying for contraception, since its cost has always been infinitesimal against her family income. 

Lucky lady. 

I just published your comment!

For some reason I neglected to review and publish a bunch of comments. If one was yours it wasn't because I disapproved of what you said. I only didn't publish four out of the 40 in the queue because they contained vulgar/obscene language. I might use language like that myself, on occasion, in the right context, but I wanted this to be readable by my most socially conservative friends, and language like that would give them an excuse not to. Again, that's without regard to whether the comment agreed with me or not.

To the rest, sorry about that. Mistakes were made. Nothing personal. Really.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

George Zimmerman was not a Neighborhood Watch volunteer

The Neighborhood Watch movement was started formally in the US in the 1960s, and has spread to various other countries as well.

They vary, of course, but all have several key features in common:

1. People do not patrol alone. They ALWAYS go out at least in pairs, often more.
2. People do not carry offensive weapons. In some programs organized and trained up to 50 hours by local police forces, they may wear a kind of uniform and carry pepper spray. Most groups only carry phones.
3. People to not engage with people they find suspicious in any way--they phone the police. Period. They are trained to avoid contact. They are additional eyes and ears for the police. That's it.

George Zimerman patrolled alone, armed, and hunted his prey.

So by all three "prime directives" of all national and international neighborhood watch organizations, he was not a neighborhood watch volunteer, and such organizations are wringing their hands at the disrepute he's bringing up them.

George Zimmerman was a vigilante, and the mainstream press have proven once more that they aren't right wing or left wing--just lazy. If they were left wing--or speaking accurately--they'd call him a vigilante. They'd only call him a neighborhood watch volunteer if they were right wing--or lazy. Most journalists are registered Democrats, so you have to conclude that intellectually "lazy" best describes them.

Don't let people refer to Zimmerman as a "neighborhood watch volunteer." It's easy to explain why.

Also, I suspect that the special prosecutor threw the book at him because she found that was lying--starting with calling himself a neighborhood watch volunteer, following up by claiming that Trayvon hunted him down and attacked him, trying to kill him. In all likelihood the physical circumstances gave the lie to Zimmerman's alibi.

In addition, Trayvon had no history of violence; Zimmeman did.

True, in general prosecutors often over-charge people so they can plea bargain them into an easy conviction, running up the DA's record so he can run for governor on a getting tough on crime campaign. But not all do this, and not all do this all the time. Especially in a case that's being followed internationally. Most prosecutors don't want to do anything slimy when it's getting that much attention.

In all likelihood Zimmerman got lost in a fantasy where he's a heroic cop, and where people-who-look-like-crooks were to be driven off "his" turf. And black people "looked like" crooks just a bit more than others. Every police department knows about the wannabes in their territory. Many find work in private security, having failed to get into actual police forces. There's even a dark comedy about this: "Paul Bart, Mall Cop."

But when the Keystone Kops start shooting real bullets, the comedy disappears.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

How much racism is out there?

For a gut feel about how much racism is left in America, read the comment threads on relevant news/opinion items in the mainstream media, such as the Washington Post or other big city main newspapers.

For example, I was reading the comment thread about an article concerning a 10 year old Indian girl in Venezuela giving birth, and it had a surprising number of racial comments about Obama--even though the article had nothing to do with the President. Of course all the mainstream media forbid blatant statements, so it's all thinly veiled. Very thinly.

My conclusion from reading widely in such media is that there's a powerful racial undertone to this election that as a native Californian I was unprepared for.

Many people are still fighting the Civil War--even if they've never been in the South themselves.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Never set foot on a cruise ship

Cruise ships don't sail under the jurisdiction of the nation you think the cruise line belongs to. It's whatever flag of convenience the ship is registered under. That Disney cruise ship? Probably registered in the Bahamas. As this week's HDNet Special Report noted, a guy's daughter disappeared and the cruise line told the parents must have been a gigantic wave that washed her overboard from a deck far above the water's surface--a wave no one else noticed. 

So a single Bahamanian cop spent a couple of hours onboard interviewing staff...and left. All potential evidence had been scrubbed. Nobody in the crew knew nothin'. Many crewmembers are uneducated poor people from third world countries. 

Cruise ship lines stonewall any attempts to investigate crimes committed on board, and generally deny that there was a crime in the first place. American agencies like the FBI don't have jurisdiction. 

I would never go on a cruise ship unless it were registered under the American flag. But look at the flags flying from their sterns--you won't see the Stars & Stripes on any of them. 

Odds are nothing will happen to you. But odds also are that if something does happen to you or anyone you care about, whoever did it will get away with it. 

And nothing is going to change until people stop going on the no man's lands that are cruise ships.

Friday, April 6, 2012

A Republican Senator speaks out on the GOP's War on Women

From Janet Merkowski (R, Alaska):

"After decades of believing that the issue of contraception and women's access to contraception, that we had resolved that decades ago. Now all of a sudden this is not only discussion in Cngress but you've got presidential wannabes that are talking about whether or not contraception is good, bad, indifferent, wrong. If you don't view this as an attack on women, then you need to go home and talk to your wives, talk to your daughters."

View from the Center--a Pox on the Right, Herpes on the Left...

Oddly enough. on's Jackie Evancho forum (she's an 11 year old classical crossover singer), one thread was started by some of her right wing fans after they found out she's appearing in a Robert Redford movie about aging activists. There you can find the usual rants about Creeping Progressivism, Global Warming, yada yada. Normally I don't bother but I unloaded on them today. Here it is:

re: solar heating

Our condo complex uses non-electrical solar panels to heat the water for our swimming pool. Saves money, only real problem is roof rats chewing the pipes. Water-heating panels aren't talked about enough.

Ditto simply designing buildings (homes & offices) to conserve energy. When we installed double-insulated windows on our condo it did wonders for our power usage in the winter and kept the place cooler in the summer (we don't have AC).

re: One reason some people believe me is that I'm not doctrinaire. I criticize extremism on both sides and change my own positions when I find I was wrong. I look for public pundits who do the same. Thus is frequently disagree with George F. Will, David Brooks, and Charles Krauthammer, since I'm not a conservative, but I listen to them because all three are willing to contradict the Party Line. On my part my last entry in my political blog lambasted the President for his wowsers about the Supreme Court and the heavy spin in his 17 minute campaign video. Won't make me vote for Etcho-Sketcho, but it does dim his luster for me. 

And likewise I was appalled by MSNBC commentator Lawrence O'Donnell attacking Romney's LDS faith. 

See, I don't see the world in Black and White, and I do see the value of conservatism, liberalism, and pragmatism. I don't think they're truly opposed, but instead complementary. 

And I think most independents agree with me--that's why you see so many of us voting for a governor of a different party than whichever controls the state legislature. I did that with Schwarzenegger here. It's our own contribution to checks & balances.

re: teacher renumeration. That's not the problem. It's school districts top-heavy with administrators--at least six times as many as are really needed. And it's schools trying to do society's job and trying to save everyone, which in chaotic areas results in saving no one. One student with fetal alcohol syndrome in a classroom, who the teacher can't eject, will prevent education from happening in that classroom, no matter how good the teacher is or how much you pay him. 

It's called triage.

re: media. Fox is solidly, unapologetically right wing, not right-leaning. Even the so-called straight news broadcast segments that go up each day before the commentators' shows are wildly counterfactual, and most could simply be renamed "What Obama did wrong today that Threatens the Republic." They have a few liberalish punching bags like Colmes and the fat guy on The Five, and the black guy PBS fired (to their discredit), but the best you could say is that each commentator is a particular flavor of right winger. Hannity is pure Tea Party with a strong Choleric Catholic twist. O'Reilly makes at least a pretense of being "fair and balanced" but would only seem to to a diehard Republican. And his tacitly calling for the murder of a gynecologist until it happened, then quickly absolving himself from any blame for the murder, branded him a right wing anarchist in my book. Van Sustern quietly works on behalf of the RNC. 

And one thing both Fox and MSNBC do all the time is analyze the latest scandal or whatnot using a couple of commentators/excperts who are all on the same side, with the host throwing them softballs instead of ever challenging them. I expect this from Fox, but I'm very disappointed that MSNBC does the same thing. I'd hoped for better. 

Your lumping together of the MSNBC commentators is as simplistic as lumping Fox's would be. Matthews really does strive to get both sides' positions out there and does have people on his show who he disagrees with--and doesn't just shout them down like that bully O'Reilly does. I don't always agree with Matthews (especailly about illegal immigration), but at least he's in the ballpart. Sharpton is Sharpton. I hope no one expects me to defend him. Except that he is right for pointing out that the GOP's pretense of this being a postracial society is today's racism. It annoys me to agree with Sharpton about anyhthing, and he does represent the twilight of the black activist commentator. Ten years from now his ecological niche will be occupied by Mexican Americans. I like Rachel Maddow personally but I've caught her in enough assumptions that I have to listen to her very carefully. 

By assumptions I mean the stuff right wingers and left wingers announce with the assumption that no reasonable person could have any position about the topic but the one they just espoused. My debater's heart recoils at things being presented as undebatable. For example, Maddow believes amnesty for illegal aliens is undebatable. I could take her apart but she hasn't invited me on the show! And as I said Lawrence O'Donnell's attacking Romney's religion was both morally unacceptable and strategically stupid. He's much more of an attack dog than I like.

Meanwhile CNN does its best to be truly fair and balanced. They succeed, they fail, they succeed, they fail, but I appreciate them at least trying. Unfortunately it doesn't help to ask pols the tough questions if you simply accept their lying, spinning answers and move on to the next question. We need CNN to act more like the best of the British press, IMO.

As for the mainstream media--the reporters and news readers are Democrats who work for Republicans and answer to corporatist advertisers. Their general mantra is "if it bleeds it leads; if it thinks it stinks." Above all they need viewers to sell to advertisers; hence all the scandalmongering. They do it do Democrats and Republicans equally. Ask John Edwards or Bill Clinton if you don't believe me. Good reporters will tell unpleasant truths about their own side, whether they're registered Democrats or Republicans. Others will try to insert their side's GoodThink into stories, but they can't go very far that way without their corporatist overlords jumping on them. 

Mainstream newscasters have generally been cowed by the GOP's Ministry of Propaganda. It they say something Rush Limbaugh doesn't like, his minions will send a blizzard of emails and phone calls to the guy's bosses and advertisers--very hard to deal with. The Left isn't remotely as effective at this kind of guerilla warfare.

Modern-day conservatism is reactionary--reacting to the New Deal and the resulting social safety net, to racial integration, to feminism, to secularism, to rock & roll...they long for an America that never was, while liberals long for an America that never will be. But main difference between activist liberalism vs. conservatism is that the former is very grass-rootsy, while the latter is abundantly financed by the Angry Billionaire's Club. 

That doesn't mean the right is wrong and the left is right; but it does mean that the right has a vastly bigger bullhorn. Tone of money doesn't always work; billionaires lose elections, after all. But it does tilt the playing field.

And it gives us the interesting phenomenon of the richest Americans--who are, as a group. not social conservatives at all--helping social conservatives enact anti-contraception legislation and anti-homosexual amendments and religious lip-servicing and anti-science efforts galore so they can continue to pollute--while in turn the social conservatives let the billionaires loot the treasury with corporate welfare schemes that make all of America's ghetto welfare queens combined into nothing more than a blip compared to what the fat cats steal from us.

So that's the view from the center.

BTW it amuses me that one thing the Left and Right should agree on--a universal biometric ID database like India's--is staunchly opposed by both. Yet without such a database we will never get a grip on illegal immigration, welfare fraud, deadbeat dads, terrorists entering the country, and a host of other things. 

And the right wingers never seem to want any of the other nonpartisan structural reforms our country desperately needs, like nonpartisan redistricting. Instead the Right focuses on vote suppression in the name of stopping widespread election fraud that's virtually nonexistent--just a fig leaf for their efforts to keep Democrats from voting. 

Way to win elections....

We have to admit that the President blew it

...when he said the Supremes overturning the Affordable Care Act was "unprecedented." lays it out here

I had hoped that he'd make a case for his opponents being one-sided by harping about ":judicial activism"  whenever judges make ruling they don't like, yet remaining silent when the Supremes seem to be making law, as with Citizens United and appointing Bush II president. 

But he veered away from that and went on to overstate his case. As points out, he could have made his case without whoppers. But he threw in the whopper and left out the reasoned argument.

Both Obama and Romney--both smart men--have a tendency to overstate and even misspeak in their efforts to be politicians. 

So we Democrats have to not defend the indefensible, admit Obama goofed, and move on. "Moving on" meaning the number of American presidents who didn't make comparable gaffes is small--possibly nonexistent. But we also have to remember not to make any more or less of Romney's gaffes than we do of Obama's, if we want to act from principle and not just from tribe.

That's very hard to do. Our instincts war with our better angels. But it's worth the effort.

PS: also takes the President's 17 minute campaign film to task for a string of significant exaggeration and spinning in the President's favor. See it here.

There's still plenty of reason to vote for him, considering the alternative--a pleasant-mannered, intelligent, family values guy with a successful business track record whose stated policies are profoundly counterfactual--and if the Senate falls to the GOP and the House stays there, those policies would bring back the Bush II era. They say no we won't we'll cut spending. Which is exactly what the same gang said the last time around. The Tea Part Congressmen are no better when push comes to shove. 

And I'll believe what Romney says about his policies only if he makes a binding promise not to profit personally from them. As it stands he'll make hundreds of thousands of dollars--literally--from the changes he proposes. At the very least Obama isn't profiting personally from what he espouses. Romney has a clear conflict of interest.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

It's now settled: the GOP nominee won't be Mitt Romney

That's right. The GOP nominee won't be Mitt "Etch a Sketch" Romney. Oh, he'll be the one on the ballot, all right. But even his supporters don't love him. Have you heard their half-hearted endorsements? And 20+% of the most fervent Republicans say they won't vote for a Mormon. They must be persuaded.

So the nominee will be "Anyone But Obama." Palin stated it plainly yesterday. Romney did his thing, too, by strongly implying that Obama is an atheist. Because there are two religious categories that Republican anti-Mormons loathe even more than Mormons: Muslims and Atheists. "Muslim" is a good fallback--that one has suckered in at least a third of Republican voters. But it won't woo Independents.

"Atheist" will. Hence Romney's "War on Christianity" leitmotif that he's launched.

As for Romney's lack of likeability--his constantly reminding people how rich he is, his only proven political stance being a belief that he deserves the Presidency (and that it should be as some sort of Republican--let's grant him that)...

That leaves the ploy of defining Obama as the dedicated enemy of America. They won't say that in so many words in any medium Independents read/hear/see, & that can be connected directly with Romney, who will continue to smile as he lies about Obama. But that will be the gist of all things they will say. Everything will point to that.  

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Facts don't fly

The GOP Ministry of Propaganda knows something most liberals don't: facts don't count.

First, people can't count, so statistical refutations generally aren't comprehended--makes 'em easy to reject.

Second, people believe narratives, not facts. Every lie the GOP MOP puts out is embedded in a narrative-- a story--that makes sense emotionally (at least from the viewpoint of the listener).

So when one of the MOP's patsies makes a factual claim you know is false, and know you can prove is false, you're not getting it.

Tell them a fact they don't like (Orwell called that BadSpeak I think), based on a source the MOP has quoted as Gospel before (such as the Congressional Budget Office), and the patsy will calmly tell you the CBO is wrong in this case--they were manipulated by those clever socialists.

So you must have a narrative of your own--and, if you want to have any persuasive oomph, a narrative that addresses your listener's situation. Preferably one that doesn't force your listener to admit he's a patsy to agree with you. Some face-saving way out is useful if possible.

Don't fight facts with facts. Fight narratives with narratives.

What's a racist Part II

I just heard what happened in the Zimmerman-Trayvon case as the Republiverse sees it, courtesy of Ann Coulter on ABC's Sunday news analysis show, as she rode over anyone else trying to answer her so she's have the last word (a common ploy of right wing demagogues).

In this narrative she depicts Zimmerman as down on the ground with his head being beaten onto the cement by the Negro youth attacking him. Thus the Stand Your Ground law in Florida wasn't relevant. It was simple self defense.

Great. So lessee...Trayvon Martin goes to the corner store for Skittles and Ice Tea. As he's walking home he sees this guy in the distance and decides to run over and attack him and try to beat him to death before he continues on his way home to eat his Skittles and drink is ice tea.

Or he runs over to the car Zimmerman was sitting in, drags him out of the car and attacks him?

How did Zimmerman and Trayvon wind up in the same place?

Zimmerman told the police dispatcher he was going to follow him. Dispatcher tells him not to do that. Zimmerman says "They always (who's "they"?) get away with it" and follows the Negro, over the dispatcher's repeated commands to sit tight. You can tell Zimmerman knew the guy in a hoodie was a Negro because you can hear him muttering " coon" as he pursues Trayvon.

It's hard to claim either standing your ground or self defense when the altercation is a result of your disobeying a police dispatcher and stalk someone in the dark. If that someone tries to get the drop on you, isn't that someone the someone who's "standing his ground?"

Yet in the Republiverse it's settled. Zimmerman was defending himself, an innocent person, against being assaulted for no reason at all by a 17 year old teen on his way home from buying Skittles and ice tea. Try talking with a right winger about this. Fascinating responses and they torture logic to reconstruct this incident in a way that convicts the Negro and exculpates the son of the judge. And talks about the Negro's truancies while skipping merrily over the judge's son's repeated run-in with the law over his propensity for violence towards others.

Perhaps in the Zimmerman household " coon" is a term of endearment.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Supreme Court OKs Routine Jailhouse Strip Searches

Another day, another Supreme Court 5-4 decision.

I watched Justice Robert's Senate hearings. He talked about a modest court that deferred to elected officials whenever possible--a court that preferred narrow unanimous rules to partisan 5-4 decisions.

Turns out talk is cheap.

This ruling, about permitting strip searches for anyone arrested for any reason (except for those confined in isolation), could have been made with some kind of compromise that garnered more than a partisan vote. Yet again he didn't, belying what he's promised before confirmation.

Meaning that in significant ways George W. Bush is still President--his policies will have the last word through the next presidential administration, and probably the two after that, even if the next two presidents are Democrats. Because the old people in the Supreme Court are the Democratic nominees.

Imagine George W. Bush running the country for 20+ years. Oh, wait.You don't have to imagine. Just watch.

A wholesale overthrow of Obamacare on a 5-4 vote will confirm this. A different decision, though unlikely at this point, will require reassessing the Court.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

What's a racist?

Racism, as a political baseball bat, has been wildly misused by both sides. Lefties are way too quick to cry racism when the answer is more complicated and long before actual racism can actually be proven. But Righties are way to quick to get on their high horse about charges of racism, acting as if public opinion must conform to the strictest rules of a court of law, otherwise it's absolute proof that no racism was involved.

Even in a court of law, being acquitted is not the same as being proven innocent, just as being found guilty is, unfortunately, not always the same a being proven guilty.

Thus in the Zimmerman/Trayvon case, the fact that Zimmerman has black defenders doesn't prove that race didn't play into his motives. Racists often make exceptions for personal relationships.

And in fact I'm far less concerned with whether Zimmerman was racist or not as with whether the cops who tested Trayvon's body for drugs but not Zimmerman were racist. Or the police chief who closed a case that was hardly open and shut. And the police department that obliterated nearly all the evidence that would be required to prosecute Zimmerman.

As for refusing to arrest him--well, Zimmerman is apparently free to do as he pleases. He was previously arrested for domestic violence, resisting an officer without violence and than resisting an officer with violence (a felony). Yet mysteriously all three charges were dropped. BTW Zimmerman's father is a retired local judge who has loudly defended his son in this case, accusing all who call for his arrest as being full of racial hatred (against whites). 

My own guess is that Zimmerman might have followed a white or Hispanic teen in a hoodie in "his" neighborhood--but his numerous calls to the cops in the months preceding this incident, along with other details of his history, shows that Zimmerman is a type of person most cops recognize--the wannabe cop who gets carried away with his fantasy about being a cop, with a cop's importance and authority, when in fact he isn't one.

And whether Trayvon attacked the man who was following him with no authority (like a badge) to justify doing so is only relevant if you think Florida's "stand your ground" law doesn't apply to blacks. That law works both ways unless it's applied as a tool of racism. So either it isn't--and Trayvon was right to jump his stalker--or it is racist, in which case a very ugly reality of Southern culture is shown to have not suddenly disappeared in 1970 or thereabouts.

So I don't think Zimmerman was a down and out racist, but more likely a wannabe cop who was at least a bit racist (using racial profiling). Neighborhood watch people are suppose to watch--hence the name--and not to be armed. To call the cops, not to imitate cops.

I also think it's possible that Trayvon did jump him, which I'd disapprove of, but which does appear to be justified by these "stand your ground" laws that every police dept. I know of oppose strongly, and which thugs have been using to escape prosecution for murders. All so elderly, fearful, angry old Southern white men can feel more virile--if they could be honest with themselves and with the rest of us.