Thursday, January 23, 2014

Abortion--a two-edged political sword

Whether you're for or against it, you need to realize what abortion means as an issue.

First, it has little or nothing to do with saving lives, however you define "life." Advances in medicine mean that abortion is now safe and easy--at least as easy as the average trip to the dentist. Which means that even if if were banned, most people--apart from the poorest and most ignorant--would still be able to get safe abortions (often chemically).

That is, it's like alcohol consumption and Prohibition. Unless America became a true Police State--beyond even what Iran is today--banning abortion 

Second, the importance of the abortion issue to the Republican Party's biggest donors also has little or nothing to do with saving lives, however you define "life." For them the importance is that it's a highly charged issue that can help elect people who will then help them get more money, while abortion-hampering legislation is "profit-neutral."

That's a two-edged sword, though, as the GOP's paymasters discovered when it cost them control of the Senate in the last election, through anti-abortion fanatics winning primaries who could not win a statewide election.

More strategically, anti-abortion fanaticism is part and parcel of a range of the GOP losing its more educated members even as it cements its bond with its base (thanks to Nixon's Southern Strategy) of undereducated rural Southern white men and their wives. Former moderate Republicans are now indepenedents, whose vote is far from guaranteed.

Now the GOP's paymasters have gotten alarmed. They set a fire and are now having trouble controlling it. Especially since many who voted in Republican legislators in 2010 in hopes of getting more jobs and less taxes wound up getting mostly anti-abortion legislation.

And even many who would like to see fewer abortions happening are also alarmed by the extreme language of the Christian Taliban that you can see in abundance in newspaper comment threads about abortion.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Is there actually only one party in Washington--the Party of Money?

Recently on a comment thread to a political discussion on KQED Forum, a commentor said this:

Some have said that the outer appearance of acrimony and conflict between the two major parties is just a show, similar to what you see in WWE wrestling, and that behind the scenes the Republicans and Democrats are good buddies serving the same corporate master. What better embodiment could there be of the sham of this Good Cop Bad Cop political farce, than this couple? [James Carville and Mary Matalin] They surely will insist that they disagree on many issues, but on any topic that really concerns the criminal banking elite or the cartel of corporations that run this country, I am sure they are very much in alignment.

My response:

There's a lot of truth in this but I think the assessment goes too far. Democrats at least try to whittle around the edges of America's corporatist oligarchy, while Republicans embrace worship of the wealthy wholeheartedly.

The notion that there's no difference at all between the parties is Republican propaganda designed to depress liberals so much that we don't bother to vote. It doesn't go the other way because Republicans are Republicans tribally more than politically.

In practical terms, if Al Gore had been president instead of Bush II we would not have gone to war with the wrong country, with a three trillion dollar price tag. We would not have seen the federal government's regulatory infrastructure systematically dismantled. And we would not have been saddled with a far right corporatist Supreme Court majority for the next several decades.

We also would not have seen the corporatist oligarchy dealt with as it should be, but that truth would not have been a good reason to sit out the election. And in that election, as with most presidential elections, the popular vote was divided by only a few percentage points.

So never forget the fact that the corporate oligarchy WANTS liberals to think that both parties are the same and there's no reason to vote.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Astroturfing--how a handful of paid operatives create false impressions of public opinion

On January 9, Washington Post columnist Harold Myerson posted a column titled "Despite what the critics are saying, Obamacare is working."

I just scored all 604 comments for this column, now that the commenting is pretty much wrapped up, and the results are telling:

Against the article & against the Affordable Care Act (ACA): 55%
For the article & for the ACA: 41%
Ambiguous: 4%

Of the anti-ACA comments, a majority were vitriolic rants laced with words like "socialist"
"Obummercare" and the like, accounting for a full third of all the comments.

Of the pro-ACA comments, a small minority were anti-right wing vitriolic rants--mostly in response to the hundreds of red-faced denunciations of all things Liberal/Democratic/Obama--accounting for 11% of all the comments.,

A very large percentage of the anti-ACA comments included expressions of contempt for the Washington Post.

It seems unlikely that this distribution of comments mirrors the demographics of the Washington Post's readership--especially since so many of the comments opposing Meyerson's column included statements that the Washington Post wasn't worth reading.

So--what accounts for this disparity? Where did all the antis come from, if they aren't WaPo readers? And what about the WaPo's paywall that limits nonsubscribers to commenting on only 10 articles a month?

The greatest likelihood is that they are the same kinds of operatives who the tobacco industry hired decades ago to pretend to be constitutents of Congressmen, inundating them with calls and letters and telegrams opposing tobacco regulation.

That is, paid Astroturfers.

Anyone can validate my numbers by devoting a few hours to totting up the comments on this thread. And anyone can see what the current state of the art is in right wing Astroturfing with a little research. It includes "persona management" software that can give one operative up to 100 different online identities, each with a unique IP address.

So much for the WaPo paywall, as this one comment thread proves. I hope the WaPo comes up with a way to control these trolls-for-hire. They're making reasoned discourse hard to do there. And on any other major newspaper's comment threads on issues where wealthy special forces want to game the system.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

"Corporations are people, my friend"

The the Supreme Court's Republican majority means by this is reminiscent of how the original Constitution counted slaves.

That is, a corporation is actually one person--the CEO, who gets to speak for all of his employees when it comes to campaign donations--and he gets to speak for them without revealing the fact that he's doing so.

In the original Constitution each slave had no vote but counted as 3/5 of a person when it came to determining congressional districts. So the Southern states got more representation, even though those used to get that extra representation had no say in what representatives in Congress did.

Likewise the economic power of a corporation, created by all its employees to varying degrees, may give it a huge voice in elections via campaign contributions; however, all but one individual among those providing that economic power have no say-so in how that power is wielded--and don't even have the right to know what's being done with the profits they helped produce.

In both cases--slaves and corporate employees--have no political rights. Employees can vote as private citizens, of course, but in sense of the Supreme Court's locution "corporations are people" they are people no more and no less than 3/5-person slaves were.

This fits the underlying monarchism of the Republican Party, and its members' complacency with the 1% having incomes over 200 times that of the average American. GOPers really do believe that one of those CEOs or hedge fund managers etc. contribute 200 times as much to a corporation's well-being as its average employee.

Exactly as with slaves, employees are considered to contribute nothing to a corporation's achievements--they are simply interchangeable work units. So why should they have any say in what a corporation-person does in the political sphere? They're nothing more than ants.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Children brought here illegally are already citizens

In the comment thread to a talk show on children brought here illegally, one commentor said:

"An adult should not be punished for a crime his parents committed while he was a minor. We need amnesty and a path to citizenship for people who were brought into this country illegally as children and raised as Americans."

 My response:

How is returning someone to the nation they're a citizen of "punishment" ? It seems remarkably jingoistic to assume that living in any nation on Earth other than America is an awful fate.

And while a child is not responsible for crimes his parents committed, neither is a nation of which the child is not a citizen. If a child is, say, a citizen of Jamaica, then Jamaica is responsible for that child--just as Jamaica is not responsible for you and me.

There is much injustice in this world. The plight of illegal aliens brought here as children is one of them, but it's minor compared to the injustices inflicted on a billion humans every day by their own nations.

Today there are many thousands of children and teens being held as slaves in America, right under our middle class noses. Juveniles being trafficked sexually, who can't even go to the police, who generally arrest them instead of their captors.

That's the kind of injustice we should be focusing on. Citizens of other countries brought here illegally as children can do very well in the tourist trade of their home country, since they speak English idiomatically and understand our culture.

I've seen this personally in many 3rd world nations I've traveled in, from Indonesia to Mexico. Repatriating such people is not throwing them under the bus--and like the other 6.8 billion people on Earth who are also not American citizens, they are not our direct responsibility, though we should of course hope for the best for them.