Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 Movies recap

2009 was another strong year for the movie industry with 29 films crossing the magic $100 million domestic gross barrier so far (and Sherlock Holmes almost certain to make it 30 very soon). 2008 had 29 $100M-plus films total, so it looks as if 2009 will be the best of the decade in that respect - despite being an awful year from an economic perspective.
I personally cannot take credit for the Hollywood windfall this year. The list of 2009 movies that I have seen so far is quite small:

G Force
Planet 51

That's it. I actually own copies (*) of several more 2009 films but have not had time to watch them yet. Here is the list of 2009 movies that I still plan on seeing at some point:

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
*Star Trek
*Monsters vs. Aliens
*Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs
*X Men Origins: Wolverine
*Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian
A Christmas Carol (Disney)
*Angels and Demons
Terminator Salvation
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs
Inglorious Basterds
District 9
Public Enemies
Julie and Julia
The Proposal
Blind Side
Sherlock Holmes
Where the Wild Things Are
The Princess and the Frog
Men Who Stare at Goats
Up in the Air
Fantastic Mr. Fox

And revisiting my list of 2008 films that I had seen at the end of last year:

*Kung Fu Panda
*Iron Man
*Horton Hears A Who
*Speed Racer

I can add the following:

*Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
*The Dark Knight
*Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
*Journey to the Center of the Earth
*Hell Boy II: The Golden Army
Burn After Reading
Curious Case of Benjamin Button
*The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
The X-Files: I Want To Believe

And 2008 movies that I still intend to see at some point:

*Gran Torino
Quantum of Solace
*Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
*Body of Lies
*The Day the Earth Stood Still
*Nim’s Island
*Bedtime Stories
*The Tale of Despereaux
*The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything
*Space Chimps
*Fly Me to the Moon
*Clone Wars
Tropic Thunder

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Paging Art Hall

Some interesting and mostly positive local political developments are currently churning.

My State Rep. Frank Corte Jr. has announced that he will step down and not run for re-election.
This is great news since Corte has been a terrible representative for the district. An ideological rightwinger, Corte's only apparent concern in the Legislature has been to try and strip women of their legal rights to abortion and promote "property rights" as the end-all, penultimate answer to every problem.
Now the bad news is that the 122nd District is so full of wingnutty teabaggers that it is unlikely to elect a good government Democrat. And former County Commissioner and failed Republican congressional candidate Scott Larson has already jumped into the race.
My only hope is that he might not be as bad as Corte. Maybe Larson might even support San Antonio Speaker of the House Joe Strauss rather than serving as a lapdog for paleocon rightwinger Tom Craddick.

Here is hoping that a strong Democrat like former City Councilman Art Hall will jump into the race and give the electorate a legitimate choice this fall.

Another positive development is that two of the looniest rightwingers on the Texas Board of Education have drawn strong primary challengers from the moderate wing of the Republican Party. Ken Mercer, who unfortunately represents my district, is being challenged by local attorney Tim Tuggey.
And Don McLeroy, the ousted former chairman of the board is being challenged by Thomas Ratliff.

Unless a good Democrat comes along soon, I am inclined to throw my support to Tuggey just to get the loathsome Ken Mercer off of the board and away from any position of authority where he could continue to screw up my childrens' educational future.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Krugman sums up the past decade

The Big Zero

Yikes! A net decrease in private sector jobs between 1999 and 2009!?!
Those Republican tax cuts and deregulation sure did a bang-up job on our economy this past decade.

From an economic point of view, I’d suggest that we call the decade past the Big Zero. It was a decade in which nothing good happened, and none of the optimistic things we were supposed to believe turned out to be true.

It was a decade with basically zero job creation. O.K., the headline employment number for December 2009 will be slightly higher than that for December 1999, but only slightly. And private-sector employment has actually declined — the first decade on record in which that happened.

It was a decade with zero economic gains for the typical family. Actually, even at the height of the alleged “Bush boom,” in 2007, median household income adjusted for inflation was lower than it had been in 1999. And you know what happened next.

Yeah, everything went straight down the tube. I cannot stress enough how much this should be blamed sqarely on Republican economic policies. Republicans were in control of the federal government for the majority of the past decade, and even when they weren't, managed to use veto threats, filibusters and other obstructionist measures to keep Republican policies in place and prevent any kind of liberal reforms.

We have had 10 years of tax cuts, deregulation, union-busting, and other forms of Republican economic wonkery in place, all with the promise that it would lift the government boot off the neck of the free enterprise system and allow it to grow and expand and create jobs and economic opportunities, blah, blah, blah...

And instead we got NOTHING. Squat! Nada! No growth. No jobs except for those in the public sector. No increase in standard of living for middle America. We have all fallen behind as a result and are struggling more now than we were 10 years ago.

Now, if we can just manage a few more reforms to slip by the Republicans' filibuster-fueled death grip - like health care reform - then maybe, just maybe, things can start to slowly turn around in 2010 before the ignorant masses send another wave of rightwing, America-hating morons back into office to screw everything up all over again.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Most entertaining movies of the decade

I like this guy's choices for most entertaining films of the decade.
My list of best films, however, is going to be a bit different because I group them together where applicable rather than trying to distinguish various sequels from one another.

No. 1: At the top of my list, as with the one in the link, is The Lord of the Rings trilogy - absolutely the most incredible cinematic achievement that I am aware of.

In the No. 2 slot I would put the Pixar movies. Starting with Monster's Inc. in 2000, Pixar has had a remarkable record of success with its animated feature films including The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Cars, Ratatouille, WALL-E and Up.
The only animated film that comes close to the level of perfection achieved by each of these Pixar films was Kung Fu Panda.

No. 3: Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy. The first film in the series was a surprise hit. The sequels got progressively cheesier, but were still enjoyable nonetheless. Johnny Depp almost singlehandedly raised the entire series from the very good to great.

No. 4: The Bourne Identity trilogy. The best contemporary thriller series based on the Robert Ludlum books. Out does the tired, but recently reinvigorated Bond series. Matt Damon is excellent as the brooding superagent. The followup films are as good if not better than the first.

No. 5.: Spider Man trilogy. Raised the bar on the superhero genre and probably paved the way for Academy Award-worthy superhero flicks like Dark Knight and Iron Man.

No. 6.: The Harry Potter series. All of the films maintain a consistent level of quality and credit should probably go to the author of the series. I have yet to see the two most recent films.

No. 7.: Chronicles of Narnia series. The first film was very good. The second fell somewhat short. Hopefully the third will mark a comeback and keep the series going.

No. 8.: National Treasure 1 & 2. The first film was a hoot and Nicolas Cage was in top form. The second film was very derivative and I didn't like how it had to mess up the happy ending from the first movie to give it a setup for the new story, but it was still enjoyable.

No. 9.: Ray/Walk the Line/Capote/The Aviator/The Queen. Call this the Bio-flick category - excellent movies with great performances by people portraying famous historical figures - Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Truman Capote, Howard Hughes, Queen Elizabeth.

No. 10.: X-Men - The first two movies were excellent. The third was a disappointment. I haven't seen the Wolverine movie yet.

Honorable Mentions:
Minority Report, Emperor's New Groove, The DaVinci Code, Night at the Museum, Seabiscuit, Star Trek.

Health Care bill a huge victory

Good article from Jonathan Chait explaining Why the health care bill is the greatest social achievement of our time.
This legislative victory ensures Obama's re-election in 2012 and his legacy in history.
The economy is starting to slowly recover (the Stock Market already has recovered). We are slowly withdrawing from Iraq and will be out of Afghanistan over the next couple of years as well. A lot of the stimulus funds will start to kick in next year and provide a needed boost to the sagging job numbers.
And with all these things happening, the reforms to the health insurance industry will reinvigorate the economy as the pressure of rising health costs is lifted off of businesses like a boot being taken off of their necks.
The next challenge will be climate change legislation, but once again the Republican predictions of gloom and doom will prove to be false. I can only hope that more and more people will finally start to recognize this pattern and quit buying into the garbage being spewed daily by the rightwing radio yakkers and Faux News propagandists.

RIP Republican Moderates

Froma Harrop, whom I am not prone to quote veru often, had an excellent column today that said much of what I had been wanting to say.
Sen. Olympia Snowe's deeply disappointing antics during the health care debate demonstrated that she is no longer someone who can be considered a "moderate" and has instead thrown her lot in with the far-right radicals who control what is left of the Republican Party today.
There is not a moderate wing of the GOP today. The last true moderate left when Arlen Spector switched parties. Olympia Snowe was the last hope for a Republican moderate, but after going along with the filibuster of health care reform it's clear that there is not much difference between her and someone like Kay Bailey Hutchison. I mean, Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman finally came through in the end and Olympia Snowe still filibustered. Pathetic.
I hope that the good people of Maine are just as disillusioned with her as I am. And that goes double for the worthless Susan Collins.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A bad decade?

Steve Benen makes a compelling case:

"Was it really that bad? Pretty much, yes. One barely has to give it much thought to remember what made this decade one Americans don't want to remember: 9/11, the Great Recession, two devastating wars, anthrax, Katrina, Tom DeLay and the culture of corruption, Enron, Madoff, sniper shootings, an explosion of debt, the entire Bush/Cheney presidency. Median incomes went down. Poverty went up. Global warming got worse. Fox yanked 'Firefly' after 14 episodes, while 'According to Jim' aired 182 episodes."

Ouch!! Make it stop!
Yes, canceling Firefly was, I'm sure, the absolute low point of the decade.
However, seeing as how both of my children were born during that decade, it still comes out to a net positive.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Krugman on Senate dysfunction

Krugman is worth posting in full this week.

Unless some legislator pulls off a last-minute double-cross, health care reform will pass the Senate this week. Count me among those who consider this an awesome achievement. It’s a seriously flawed bill, we’ll spend years if not decades fixing it, but it’s nonetheless a huge step forward.

It was, however, a close-run thing. And the fact that it was such a close thing shows that the Senate — and, therefore, the U.S. government as a whole — has become ominously dysfunctional.

After all, Democrats won big last year, running on a platform that put health reform front and center. In any other advanced democracy this would have given them the mandate and the ability to make major changes. But the need for 60 votes to cut off Senate debate and end a filibuster — a requirement that appears nowhere in the Constitution, but is simply a self-imposed rule — turned what should have been a straightforward piece of legislating into a nail-biter. And it gave a handful of wavering senators extraordinary power to shape the bill.

Now consider what lies ahead. We need fundamental financial reform. We need to deal with climate change. We need to deal with our long-run budget deficit. What are the chances that we can do all that — or, I’m tempted to say, any of it — if doing anything requires 60 votes in a deeply polarized Senate?

Some people will say that it has always been this way, and that we’ve managed so far. But it wasn’t always like this. Yes, there were filibusters in the past — most notably by segregationists trying to block civil rights legislation. But the modern system, in which the minority party uses the threat of a filibuster to block every bill it doesn’t like, is a recent creation.

The political scientist Barbara Sinclair has done the math. In the 1960s, she finds, “extended-debate-related problems” — threatened or actual filibusters — affected only 8 percent of major legislation. By the 1980s, that had risen to 27 percent. But after Democrats retook control of Congress in 2006 and Republicans found themselves in the minority, it soared to 70 percent.

Some conservatives argue that the Senate’s rules didn’t stop former President George W. Bush from getting things done. But this is misleading, on two levels.

First, Bush-era Democrats weren’t nearly as determined to frustrate the majority party, at any cost, as Obama-era Republicans. Certainly, Democrats never did anything like what Republicans did last week: G.O.P. senators held up spending for the Defense Department — which was on the verge of running out of money — in an attempt to delay action on health care.

More important, however, Mr. Bush was a buy-now-pay-later president. He pushed through big tax cuts, but never tried to pass spending cuts to make up for the revenue loss. He rushed the nation into war, but never asked Congress to pay for it. He added an expensive drug benefit to Medicare, but left it completely unfunded. Yes, he had legislative victories; but he didn’t show that Congress can make hard choices and act responsibly, because he never asked it to.

So now that hard choices must be made, how can we reform the Senate to make such choices possible?

Back in the mid-1990s two senators — Tom Harkin and, believe it or not, Joe Lieberman — introduced a bill to reform Senate procedures. (Management wants me to make it clear that in my last column I wasn’t endorsing inappropriate threats against Mr. Lieberman.) Sixty votes would still be needed to end a filibuster at the beginning of debate, but if that vote failed, another vote could be held a couple of days later requiring only 57 senators, then another, and eventually a simple majority could end debate. Mr. Harkin says that he’s considering reintroducing that proposal, and he should.

But if such legislation is itself blocked by a filibuster — which it almost surely would be — reformers should turn to other options. Remember, the Constitution sets up the Senate as a body with majority — not supermajority — rule. So the rule of 60 can be changed. A Congressional Research Service report from 2005, when a Republican majority was threatening to abolish the filibuster so it could push through Bush judicial nominees, suggests several ways this could happen — for example, through a majority vote changing Senate rules on the first day of a new session.

Nobody should meddle lightly with long-established parliamentary procedure. But our current situation is unprecedented: America is caught between severe problems that must be addressed and a minority party determined to block action on every front. Doing nothing is not an option — not unless you want the nation to sit motionless, with an effectively paralyzed government, waiting for financial, environmental and fiscal crises to strike.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


Sen. Ben Nelson came through late last night and now the Republican filibuster is busted! I wonder if Sen. Olympia Snowe will follow suit as well?
This is the final hurdle for Health Care Reform. The House will now bite the bullet and "ping-pong" the bill - approving it as is - and thus not allowing Republicans another chance at a filibuster. Then the bill will go straight to Obama without going back to the Senate.
This has been a good end of the week for Obama. His health care legislation is set to pass and an agreement was reached at the climate talks in Copenhagen.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Health Care Optimism

I am optimistic right now that either Ben Nelson or Olympia Snowe will provide the 60th vote needed for cloture on the health care bill.
At this point I think we are just watching the end of a long, slow dance that has already been choreographed behind closed doors.
Right now if I had to bet, I would say that the best odds are on Olympia Snowe to step up. There is no reason at this point for her to oppose the bill since it is essentially the same as the bill that came out of the Finance Committee which she already supported. The public option and Medicare buy-in proposal that she objected to in the interim period have been stripped away. The question is what would Nelson do at that point? I think once the filibuster is moot, he will vote to end cloture but still vote against the bill. Thus the cloture motion will pass 61-39.
Earlier this morning a final hurdle was cleared when Democrats defeated a Republican attempt to filibuster the Defense Appropriation bill. Sens. Snowe, Collins and Hutchison all broke ranks to support the troops, while the rest of the GOP hypocrites did what they usually do.

Climate change ignorance and resentment

I know it sounds arrogant to say that people don't know what they are talking about when it comes to climate change, but as Gene Lyons points out in this essay, we wouldn't expect to get lectures on physics and chemistry from talk show yakkers and the like.
But what about Al Gore, you say? What does he know? Nothing, of course, but that's just the point. Gore is not spouting opinions off the top of his head. He is referencing well established scientific studies, not industry propaganda.

Global Warming -

So what's next? A series of essays by Sarah Palin about the Large Hadron Collider and the mysteries of dark matter? An MIT lecture series by Rush Limbaugh regarding the thermodynamics of black holes? A Festschrift of Sean Hannity's scholarly articles on plate tectonics and volcano formation? Glenn Beck performing live heart-lung transplants on Fox News?

Everybody understands that these things couldn't happen. That when it comes to serious scientific endeavor, years of study and professional apprenticeship are required. In a word, expertise.

Ex-beauty contestants, drive-time DJs, TV sports announcers, hairstylists, newspaper columnists -- basically anybody whose math skills topped out in the 10th grade -- rarely have anything substantive to add to the sum of technical and scientific knowledge. That's what they most resent about it.

It's not impossible that such persons could educate themselves sufficiently to have an informed opinion, but it's rare. Most of us, most of the time, are like historian and blogger Josh Marshall: "The fact that the vast majority of people with specialized knowledge in the field think there's a problem is good enough for me," he wrote. "I can't be knowledgeable about everything. And I'm comfortable with the modern system in which the opinions of really knowledgeable people with expertise counts more in cases like this than people who know nothing at all."

Unless and until, that is, scientific endeavor impinges upon either A) religious belief, or B) the ability of tycoons to keep making money in precisely the way they or their ancestors have always made their money. Then it's every man and woman a climatologist, and every genuine expert an "elitist" enemy of God and the American way -- creationism with a thermometer.

Charles P. Pierce describes what he calls the "three great premises" of talk-radio populism in his acerbic book "Idiot America":

First Great Premise: Any theory is valid if it moves units ... Second Great Premise: Anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough ... Third Great Premise: Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is measured by how fervently they believe it.

So it was after thousands of private e-mails hacked from the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit in England emerged via the right-wing noise machine into the British and American press. Caught red-handed acting like, well, like professors -- ambitious, idealistic, petty, egotistical, dogged and pedantic -- climate researchers soon got caught up in a media storm rivaling that surrounding golfer Tiger Woods.

Within days, representatives of various Exxon- and Koch Industries-funded propaganda shops like the Heritage Foundation and Competitive Enterprise Institute started braying about "Climate-gate." Fox News headlined "Global Warming's Waterloo." Hannity told viewers, "Now we find out that this institute is hiding from the people of Great Britain and the world that, in fact, climate change is a hoax, something I've been saying for a long time."

Taking time off from her book tour, Sarah Palin wrote a Washington Post piece charging the "e-mails reveal that leading climate 'experts' deliberately destroyed records, manipulated data to 'hide the decline' in global temperatures, and tried to silence their critics by preventing them from publishing in peer-reviewed journals."

Note the scare quotes around "experts." Palin's evidence for this conspiracy? Here's the worst of it: A 10-year-old e-mail from professor Phil Jones to Penn State colleague Michael Mann. You've seen it 10 times on television. "I've just completed Mike's Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years ... to hide the decline."

Read it twice. So Jones brags about hiding a decline in global temperatures by "adding in the real temps"? The allegation's nonsensical on its face. If you read the entire message, Jones is talking about plotting a more accurate graph by throwing out inferential evidence from tree ring studies known since the 1960s to be less reliable. There's an elaborate scientific debate about why. Not one reputable scientist who's looked into this matter has judged otherwise. What's crucial to understand is that if Jones were proved to be faking data, his scientific career would end at once, along with that of anybody who helped him.

Scientists can be jerks too. However, the kind of worldwide conspiracy conjured by global climate change deniers like Palin, Hannity and the rest -- that is, as an evidence-free, religio-political cult that's the mirror image of their own movement -- simply can't exist in a scientific context. Meanwhile, Arctic sea ice is vanishing, glaciers melting, sea levels rising, droughts and floods increasing, and the past decade -- according to the World Meteorological Organization -- was the warmest in recorded history.

But hey, look over there: some elitist e-mails!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Lieberman and other plagues on American Democracy

Joe Lieberman has burned more bridges with his old party than any politician probably since Theodore Roosevelt.
His latest doublecross on the health care reform bill has made Democrats furious. About 82 percent in a recent poll want him to be stripped of his chairmanship of the Homeland Security Committee. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut would like to see him recalled (although the Constitution doesn't allow for any such thing.)
On an emotional level, I agree. I was ready to toss Lieberman overboard the minute he endorsed and campaigned for McCain/Palin in the '08 election.
But the one thing to remember about Lieberman after everything is said and done is that he is going to end up voting FOR healthcare reform and that is more than can be said for any single Republican. Even with the public option dead and the Medicare buy-in compromise stripped from the bill, it still doesn't have a single Republican willing to vote for it or even to allow it to go to a vote. So, as bad and as infuriating as Lieberman is right now, he is still better than any of the so-called "moderates" in the Wingnut Party. Every single one of them - Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, George Voinovich - they are all not only going to vote against the bill, they are supporting a filibuster to prevent it from even coming up for a vote.

There are three major reasons why Healthcare reform has taken so long and is struggling so hard despite overwhelming support in the House and Senate. The first reason is pure political spite from the Republican Party which is only interested in defeating anything and everything that Obama tries to do so as to make him look bad and weaken him before the 2012 elections. The second thing is the filibuster which has evolved and metastasized into a gross, enormous tumor on the body of our American Democracy.
The Republican Party's abuse of the filibuster rule is destroying our democracy as we have known it. The fact that legislation supported by overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate can't even come up for a vote is outrageous. The filibuster rule needs to be cut back to what it once was in the 1970s and '60s and before - a rarely used procedure requiring some amount of effort or sacrifice on the part of those opposing the majority. Instead, today a filibuster requires no effort on the part of the minority party and instead puts all the onus on the majority to come up with 60 votes every time it is invoked - which today is on almost every single piece of legislation.
And finally, you can blame the lobbyists who have poured millions and millions of dollars into campaigns to influence the votes of senators like Joe Lieberman who hails from a state with lots of insurance companies.

The funny thing with Lieberman is that while he has incurred the wrath of his fellow Democrats once again on health care reform, to the delight of rightwingers, he is about to become a key player on the other side by pushing cap-n-trade legislation with John Kerry to address the global warming crisis. I suppose you can chalk that up to the fact that Connecticut has no oil interests to speak of, but does have many days a year where you want to put on a gas mask before going outside because of the smog rolling in from New York. However, at this point I don't know how much I would trust Lieberman to not backpedal and sabotage his own bill.

Nevertheless, the good news is that health care reform looks like it is finally going to pass and even without the watered down public option or the Medicare buy-in compromise, it is still the best and farthest reaching legislation on health care in decades. "As Kevin Drum said:

This is still a huge achievement that will benefits tens of millions of people in very concrete ways and will do it without expanding our long-term deficit. Either with or without a public option, this is more than Bill Clinton ever did, more than Teddy Kennedy did, more than LBJ did, more than Truman did, and more than FDR did. There won't be many other times in our lives any of us will be able to say that. So pass the bill.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Krugman on Republican opposition to bank regulations

Paul Krugman has a terrific column in today's NY Times.
He gives a good rundown on the last several decades of deregulation mania that has led to one economic disaster after another. And then he goes on to talk about how it is so difficult to fix this problem when dealing with a Republican Party (and Blue Dog Democrats) who live in a Bizzaro alternate universe.

Talk to conservatives about the financial crisis and you enter an alternative, bizarro universe in which government bureaucrats, not greedy bankers, caused the meltdown. It’s a universe in which government-sponsored lending agencies triggered the crisis, even though private lenders actually made the vast majority of subprime loans. It’s a universe in which regulators coerced bankers into making loans to unqualified borrowers, even though only one of the top 25 subprime lenders was subject to the regulations in question.

Oh, and conservatives simply ignore the catastrophe in commercial real estate: in their universe the only bad loans were those made to poor people and members of minority groups, because bad loans to developers of shopping malls and office towers don’t fit the narrative.

The Republican Party today is not interested in governing the country. They are only interested in regaining power so they can go back to enriching themselves and their corporate puppet masters at the expense of everyone else.
If voters allow this to happen, our country will sink so low that I'm not sure anyone will be able to pull us out the next time.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

AP analysis deflates "Climategate"

The AP came out with a thorough and exhaustive analysis of the hacked emails behind the bogus "climategate" non-controversy and concluded that beyond causing some embarrassment for a few scientists, it does nothing to change the overwhelming scientific consensus on the manmade causes of global warming.

E-mails stolen from climate scientists show they stonewalled skeptics and discussed hiding data — but the messages don't support claims that the science of global warming was faked, according to an exhaustive review by The Associated Press.

The 1,073 e-mails examined by the AP show that scientists harbored private doubts, however slight and fleeting, even as they told the world they were certain about climate change. However, the exchanges don't undercut the vast body of evidence showing the world is warming because of man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

The analysis even explains the now infamous email where it talks of using a "trick" to "hide the decline."

One e-mail that skeptics have been citing often since the messages were posted online is from Jones. He says: "I've just completed Mike's (Mann) trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (from 1981 onward) and from 1961 for Keith's to hide the decline."

Jones was referring to tree ring data that indicated temperatures after the 1950s weren't as warm as scientists had determined.

The "trick" that Jones said he was borrowing from Mann was to add the real temperatures, not what the tree rings showed. And the decline he talked of hiding was not in real temperatures, but in the tree ring data which was misleading, Mann explained.

Too bad Jonathan Gurwitz didn't see this before writing his latest regurgitation of wingnut talking points for the Excuse News.

Judge blocks ACORN defunding

This is good news.

The U.S. government's move this fall to cut off funding to ACORN was unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled Friday, handing the embattled group a legal victory.

It is especially timely in light of the report that exonerates ACORN of any wrongdoing in the Rightwing sting operation.

It was outrageous that ACORN would get completely cutoff over something so asinine while defense contractor KBR gets not even a slap on the wrist for KBR's disturbing behavior in Iraq where the company detained a rape victim and threatened her with firing if she dared to report the crime committed by other company employees. THAT got no reprimand whatsoever.

However, Sen. Al Franken sponsored legislation to make sure such a disgraceful action never happens again only to have 30 Republican Senators - including Texas Senator John Cornyn - vote against it. That group of 30 is now known as the pro-rape caucus.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Bogus climategate controversy slapped down

Al Gore does not suffer fools lightly. And there are certainly a lot of fools running about with regards to the global warming issue.
In an interview with Slate Magazine, the former vice president, Nobel Laureate and Oscar winner slaps down the bogus controversy over the hacked emails.

Q: How damaging to your argument was the disclosure of e-mails from the Climate Research Unit at East Anglia University?

A: To paraphrase Shakespeare, it's sound and fury signifying nothing. I haven't read all the e-mails, but the most recent one is more than 10 years old. These private exchanges between these scientists do not in any way cause any question about the scientific consensus. But the noise machine built by the climate deniers often seizes on what they can blow out of proportion, so they've thought this is a bigger deal than it is.

Q: There is a sense in these e-mails, though, that data was hidden and hoarded, which is the opposite of the case you make [in your book] about having an open and fair debate.

A: I think it's been taken wildly out of context. The discussion you're referring to was about two papers that two of these scientists felt shouldn't be accepted as part of the IPCC report. Both of them, in fact, were included, referenced, and discussed. So an e-mail exchange more than 10 years ago including somebody's opinion that a particular study isn't any good is one thing, but the fact that the study ended up being included and discussed anyway is a more powerful comment on what the result of the scientific process really is.

These people are examining what they can or should do to deal with the P.R. dimensions of this, but where the scientific consensus is concerned, it's completely unchanged. What we're seeing is a set of changes worldwide that just make this discussion over 10-year-old e-mails kind of silly. The entire North Polar ice cap is disappearing before our very eyes. It's been the size of the continental United States for the last 3 million years and now 40 percent is gone and the rest of it is going. The mountain glaciers are going. We've had record storms, droughts, fires, and floods. There is an air of unreality in debating these arcane points when the world is changing in such dramatic ways right in front of our eyes because of global warming.

Q: What's your view on the medieval warm period and the charge that the East Anglia e-mails suggest data was manipulated to "contain" that anomaly?

A: I haven't read those e-mails in detail, but the larger point is that there are cyclical changes in the climate and they are fairly well-understood, and all of them are included in the scientific consensus. When you look at what has happened over the last few decades the natural fluctuations point in the opposite direction of what has actually occurred. When they run the models and plug in the man-made pollution, the correspondence is exact. Beyond that, the scale of natural fluctuations has now been far exceeded by the impact of man-made global warming.

And again, we're putting 90 million tons of it into the air today and we'll put a little more of that up there tomorrow. The physical relationship between CO2 molecules and the atmosphere and the trapping of heat is as well-established as gravity, for God's sakes. It's not some mystery. One hundred and fifty years ago this year, John Tyndall discovered CO2 traps heat, and that was the same year the first oil well was drilled in Pennsylvania. The oil industry has outpaced the building of a public consensus of the implications of climate science.

But the basic facts are incontrovertible. What do they think happens when we put 90 million tons up there every day? Is there some magic wand they can wave on it and presto!—physics is overturned and carbon dioxide doesn't trap heat anymore? And when we see all these things happening on the Earth itself, what in the hell do they think is causing it? The scientists have long held that the evidence in their considered word is "unequivocal," which has been endorsed by every national academy of science in every major country in the entire world.

If the people that believed the moon landing was staged on a movie lot had access to unlimited money from large carbon polluters or some other special interest who wanted to confuse people into thinking that the moon landing didn't take place, I'm sure we'd have a robust debate about it right now.

So to summarize, 10-plus year old emails between a couple of scientists discussing two papers as to whether or not they should be included in the IPCC report are the source for this whole kerfluffle being called "Climategate."
And what's more, those two papers were, in fact, included in the IPCC report when all was said and done.
So this whole stink being raised by the climate deniers is bullshit.
But that should be no surprise to anyone who follows their pattern over the years.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

RIP Washington Times

The Mooney News is apparently being cut off from its crazed, cult-leader sugar daddy. The end of the Wash. Times and Rev. Moon's right-wing charity

With the announcement that 40 percent of the Times' staff is getting pink-slipped, and that the daily's no longer even going to bother with traditional who/what/where/when/why reporting, instead publishing an opinion-heavy publication that will be free of charge at a diminished number of local outlets, Times owners look like they're angling to be a Weekly Standard wannabe, churning out lots of predictable GOP Noise Machine opinion prattle. (Paging Andrew Breitbart!) What is clear is that the daily's days as a functioning newspaper are now over.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Manufacturing Doubt

This essay lays out the similarities between the tobacco industry's campaign to discredit scientific studies showing links between smoking and cancer with the pollution industry's campaign today to discredit scientific studies showing links between human actions and global warming.

Here is a key quote: "...the industry understood that the public is in no position to distinguish good science from bad. Create doubt, uncertainty, and confusion. Throw mud at the anti-smoking research under the assumption that some of it is bound to stick. And buy time, lots of it, in the bargain". The title of Michaels' book comes from a 1969 memo from a tobacco company executive: "Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the 'body of fact' that exists in the minds of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy". Hill and Knowlton, on behalf of the tobacco industry, had founded the "Manufactured Doubt" industry."

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Christmas lists

Five years ago I made a list of my favorite Christmas music and it hasn't changed much since then.
Today, I might add Burl Ives: The Christmas Collection as well as the trio of classical classics - Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite; Handel's Messiah and Bach's Christmas Oratorio.

Lately, I've seen a number of lists of favorite Christmas movies popping up on the Web and so I thought I would take a crack at my own. First off, I will seperate out the animated TV specials into their own list rather than clumping them together with the feature films like everyone else.
So, here first is my list of the 10 best animated TV Christmas specials.

1. Charlie Brown Christmas
2. How the Grinch Stole Christmas
3. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer
4. Santa Claus is Coming to Town
5. Frosty the Snowman
6. The Little Drummer Boy
7. Twas the Night Before Christmas
8. The Year Without a Santa Claus
9. Prep and Landing
10. Mr. Magoo's A Christmas Carol

And now my list of favorite Christmas movies - feature length films:

1. It's a Wonderful Life
2. Miracle on 34th Street
3. White Christmas
4. A Christmas Carol
5. Christmas in Connecticut
6. The Polar Express
7. A Christmas Story
8. The Santa Clause
9. A Nightmare Before Christmas
10. Christmas Vacation

For me, a Christmas movie has to be mostly about Christmas in some way and not just be a film about something else that just happens to include scenes during Christmas. So movies like Die Hard, Gremlins and Trading Places, while good movies, don't qualify as true Christmas movies in my book.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Obama: Yes We Khandahar!

I would have preferred to hear Obama announce the immediate withdrawal of all troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. But I understand why he is moving forward with a "surge" in Afghanistan and, as Steve Benen notes, he told us this is what he was going to do during his presidential campaign.
Military realists generally win out on foreign policy and military issues such as this which is why things don't change that much from one administration to the next. I'm sure Obama is counting on the surge in Afghanistan to provide a level of stability to that country that has been lacking to this point and will then allow us to withdraw with our heads held high. If it works (and health care reform passes) Obama will be unbeatable for reelection in 2012.

Hacked emails and conspiracy nonsense

The idea that some hacked email accounts at some university in Great Britain have exposed a grand conspiracy among scientists around the globe to manufacture an elaborate hoax about global warming is completely ludicrous. People that are buying into this nonsense are those who don’t care about the science behind climate change and have already made up their minds based in large part on what they have heard from Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Faux News.
Fortunately, Media Matters for America has done us all a great favor by going through all of the sundry claims and allegations being made by wingnuts in relation to the emails and knocking them down one by one. Not that it will make any difference to brainwashed dittoheads and tea party radicals.

Kevin Drum has more to say on the subject as well.

As near as I can tell, ClimateGate is almost entirely a tempest in a teacup.... So on a substantive level, there’s really very little to this. Certainly nothing that changes the actual science of climate change even a little. The earth is still warming and disaster is still highly likely if we sit around and do nothing.

Former rightwing blogger reclaims his sanity

Charles Johnson, the man behind the popular wingnut blog Little Green Footballs, has cut ties with the wingnutosphere.

He explained his decision in this post on his blog – Why I Parted Ways With The Right

1. Support for fascists, both in America (see: Pat Buchanan, Robert Stacy McCain, etc.) and in Europe (see: Vlaams Belang, BNP, SIOE, Pat Buchanan, etc.)

2. Support for bigotry, hatred, and white supremacism (see: Pat Buchanan, Ann Coulter, Robert Stacy McCain, Lew Rockwell, etc.)

3. Support for throwing women back into the Dark Ages, and general religious fanaticism (see: Operation Rescue, anti-abortion groups, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Tony Perkins, the entire religious right, etc.)

4. Support for anti-science bad craziness (see: creationism, climate change denialism, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, James Inhofe, etc.)

5. Support for homophobic bigotry (see: Sarah Palin, Dobson, the entire religious right, etc.)

6. Support for anti-government lunacy (see: tea parties, militias, Fox News, Glenn Beck, etc.)

7. Support for conspiracy theories and hate speech (see: Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Birthers, creationists, climate deniers, etc.)

8. A right-wing blogosphere that is almost universally dominated by raging hate speech (see: Hot Air, Free Republic, Ace of Spades, etc.)

9. Anti-Islamic bigotry that goes far beyond simply criticizing radical Islam, into support for fascism, violence, and genocide (see: Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer, etc.)

10. Hatred for President Obama that goes far beyond simply criticizing his policies, into racism, hate speech, and bizarre conspiracy theories (see: witch doctor pictures, tea parties, Birthers, Michelle Malkin, Fox News, World Net Daily, Newsmax, and every other right wing source)

And much, much more. The American right wing has gone off the rails, into the bushes, and off the cliff.

I won’t be going over the cliff with them.

Maybe there's hope for other people who went all looney tunes after 9/11.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Texas Republicans caught with pants down on military contract deal

Texas is losing a big military contract to Wisconsin and Republican politicians across the state are now left with egg on their face.

The Pentagon's decision to shift the production of Army trucks from Texas to Wisconsin after 17 years caught Texas' elected officials by surprise, raising questions about overconfidence, a loss of political clout and the impact of economic incentives provided to the winning company by Wisconsin's Democratic governor.

Overconfidence is putting it nicely. How about political cluelessness and incompetence. Those are the real factors that allowed this deal to slip through Texas' fingers.

Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry and the 34-member Senate-House delegation are rallying to salvage a deal for BAE Systems that could be worth $2.6 billion and sustain 10,000 direct and indirect jobs around the sprawling truck manufacturing plant in Sealy.

Rallying. Yeah, right. A British-owned company that bid 10 percent higher than its competitor. That right there is enough to make this a no-brainer call by the Pentagon without even getting into the politics.
But when you throw in the politics it becomes so much clearer how badly Texas is now being represented by the clueless, government-despising, rightwing idealogues now in charge. In Wisconsin, the Democratic governor pulled every string he could to give his state's company every advantage. In Texas, Gov. Goodhair did squat. I guess he was too busy trashing the United States at some wild-eyed, radical Tea Party gathering and talking about seccession to notice that 10,000 state jobs were about to vanish.

The 92-year-old Oshkosh Corp. undercut BAE Systems' bid by roughly 10 percent. The Wisconsin company had support by a predominantly Democratic congressional delegation that helped Barack Obama carry the state last November. And the truck builder reaped the benefits of state assistance crafted by Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle.
Elected officials in Texas assumed the contract would remain in their state, relied on networks of support built up during Republican control of the White House and Congress and did not provide BAE Systems any state assistance.

They "assumed" the contract would remain in their state. And we all know what it means when you assume.... (You make an ASS out of U and ME).

This used to be a bipartisan state which allowed us to shift with the changing political tide in Washington in such a way that we were always able to protect Texas' interests. But no longer. Today we have a rightwing Republican governor who delights in sticking his finger in the president's eye at every opportunity, and two Republican Senators and a majority Republican House delegation that filibusters EVERY single thing the new administration tries to do regardless.
Even if moving the work to Wisconsin wasn't saving the government a huge chung of money (10 percent of $2.6 billion is a LOT of money), it would still be understandable just on the grounds of political payback. Why on Earth would the current administration want to do a special favor for a district in a Red state that voted overwhelmingly against them and just threw out a Democratic congressman in the last election?
But, even with all that said, it would still have been possible to salvage the deal and keep those jobs in Texas if our current political leadership were even halfway intelligent and even slightly competent. But that is clearly not the case.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Religious Odyssey Part 2

Many people go through periods in their life where they begin to question the religious beliefs that they were exposed to as they grew up. When they suddenly find themselves confronted by a complex and diverse world that doesn’t seem to fit with their simplistic, childish faith they find themselves in a quandry. Some people lose their faith at that point, or become indifferent to it.
Others embrace their faith more fully and some become overly zealous and fanatical.
In college I was looking for some way to reconcile my notions of faith with the real world that was unfolding before me. During my lengthy diatribes with Eddie, I had made the argument that life without God was empty and meaningless, and I still believed that. What’s more is that it did not make sense and that was the real key for me.
It had to make sense and life without an afterlife did not make sense. To believe that our consciousness, our very existence, was nothing more than an illusion created by a complex series of chemical reactions and electrical synapses firing away in our brains seemed less reasonable than the belief that the world is flat and resting on the back of a giant turtle.
All of our knowledge, our understanding of science and nature, our philosophy, our appreciation of beauty, art and music, our capacity for love --- that all of these things were inconsequential accidents of nature and thus void of meaning was too much. And so it would seem, as someone once said, that if God were not real it would be necessary to invent him.
So atheism, I determined, was just an inverse form of religion, requiring just as much faith to believe God is not real as it does to believe that he is. At the same time, agnosticism - where someone claims to not know one way or the other if God is real or not or asserts that we cannot know for sure one way or the other - seemed to me to be philosophically lazy.
I kept going to A&M Methodist Church and eventually met my wife there. She was raised a Methodist in Houston attending St. Paul's United Methodist Church all of her life. We were married in that church by one of the preachers who had taught her Sunday school classes and both of our children have been baptized there.
Shortly after we were married, my wife and I moved to Connecticut and began looking for a new church to attend. We didn't like any of the Methodist churches we found for one reason or another and eventually settled on a Baptist Church on the green in Branford.
We learned that the American Baptist Church was much different from its Southern incarnation and we both fell in love with our new church. The thing we liked most about the church was how the congregation lived by Christ's message. It was the only church on the green (and there were several) that had a soup kitchen in the basement where they served meals for the homeless. The church was built in 1840 and stood out from all the rest because it was clearly missing the top of its steeple. According to church lore, the early congregants had a fund set aside which then intended to use to purchase a steeple, but ended up using the money instead to support veterans returning from the Civil War. And that scenario repeated itself again and again. The church would raise money for a steeple and then spend it on other needs - the Great Depression, WWII, and so on to the current day.
Susan and I volunteered to teach a youth Sunday school class and went on several out of town mission trips. Leaving that church was one of the hardest things about moving away from Connecticut and coming back to Texas.
In Kerrville, we once again had a hard time finding a church that we liked and ended up for a time in a Presbyterian church. When we moved to Lubbock we attended the same Methodist Church that Susan's aunt and uncle went to. Then when we moved to San Antonio we were very sporadic about going to church.
For several years we were probably going to St. Paul's in Houston more often than anyplace else. Then once the kids were born we had a new excuse for not going for at least the first couple of years. But as the kids started getting a bit older, Susan began pushing to go back to church. She found a Baptist Church with a day school program and both kids went there for most of their pre-school. But we never joined that church and instead ended up going to University Methodist.
At first, we were put off by that church because it was so big, but this past year we decided it was time for a full committment. Since Nathan was out of church pre-school and attending public school we wanted him in Sunday school at least once a week. And UUMC turned out to have a very good Sunday school program.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Religious Odyssey Part 1

I've always considered myself to be a Christian. My mother's family was Southern Baptist and my father's family was Methodist. Early on we attended Baptist churches and my first memories of Sunday School are from a Baptist Church in Indiana. Later on when I was about junior high age we switched to attending Methodist churches. I never knew why. I always assumed that it was simply Dad's turn to pick the church after that move.
I went through the confirmation program at a Methodist Church in Victoria as a pre-teen and was baptized. I'm pretty sure I was baptized as an infant as well. I also served as an alcolyte during that period and lit and extinguished the candles before and after the service.
When we moved to Premont just as I was starting high school we joined another Methodist Church and my mom became the leader of the Methodist Youth Fellowship group. I served as president of MYF on and off for most of the time we were there. I also attended church camps several times during those years. One camp, I believe was at Wimberly. I remember at one church camp some of the kids were distributing these evangelistic comic books with graphic depictions of the author's interpretation of Revelations depicting the rapture and the tribulations to follow. I remember thinking they were just awful. I couldn't believe God could ever be so cruel and so arbitrary about casting people into a pit of fire. More significantly at that camp, one of the counselors gave me a copy of an essay entitled "Developing Your Own Personal Theology." I was intrigued and comforted by this reassurance that I was not locked into any particular church's dogma and could essentially chart my own course. This would prove to be key for me later on.
When I went off to college at Texas A&M, I joined the A&M Methodist Church and found it to be a nice refuge from life in the Corps of Cadets every Sunday morning. I was majoring in Speech Communication at the time (I would later switch to journalism) and took a course in Persuasion. For one assignment I had to write a persuasive essay and I chose to write a defense of belief in God. I was quite proud of the results and that summer I mailed a copy of it to my best friend Eddie Shearer who had been my debate partner in school and was studying engineering at Texas A&I. I was taken aback when he resonded with an essay of his own, every bit as long as mine, critiquing my essay and making his own case in favor of agnosticism. I responded with a lengthy critique of his critique and we went back and forth like that for the better part of the summer. I still have copies of our little exchange in my file cabinet.
While I was not dissuaded one bit in my belief in God, I was deeply disturbed at first with the thought that my best friend would go to hell according to the church. That just couldn't be right, I thought. My friend may have been saying that he was not a Christian, but he certainly lived his life as though he was. He was one of the most decent, caring, thoughtful people I knew and the notion that he would be punished for all eternity because he wasn't jumping through certain theological hoops according to the church didn't seem right to me. And it wasn't just my friend, either. There were billions and billions of people throughout time who were never Christians and yet did not deserve damnation in my opinion. How is it that I could be more merciful than God? Something wasn't right.
So I had a conundrum in that there was this major tenant of the church that I suddenly found myself at odds with. The seeds of doubt had been sown and now I was looking for some answers. I had the essay about a personal theology in mind, but I needed some guidance and I found it in the works of Hans Kung and C.S. Lewis. Both were major influences on me in college. Kung, in particular, noted that Heaven would likely need to be walled off to keep some groups of people from knowing that other groups of people were in Heaven too.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Republicans' history of getting it wrong

Why would anyone believe Republicans when they predict doom and gloom resulting from the new health care reform bill?
If history is any lesson, it should be clear based on their past track record that Republican predictions in these debates should be viewed with a high degree of skepticism.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Texas executes a man for robbery as Perry thumbs his nose at parole board

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles is so stacked with rightwing death penalty supporters that it almost never recommends commuting a sentence. But it did so the other day for Robert Lee Thompson on account of the fact that he didn't kill anybody. He was party to a robbery in which someone else shot and killed a store clerk, but Thompson was not the gunman. However, under a bizarre rule called the "Law of Parties" he was convicted of murder anyway and sent to death row. His last chance came when the parole board reviewed his case and recommended his sentence be commuted to life in prison.
Unfortunately for Thompson Gov. Rick Perry is running for re-election in a Republican primary where he has established himself as the ultimate wingnut, Tea Party, seccessionist in order to place himself to the right of rightwing Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. So he obviously felt that he could not do anything that would wreak of liberalism like commuting a death sentence, even if the guy wasn't a killer. So now Thompson is dead. He was lethally injected tonight. End of story.
Except to say that Rick Perry is a lowlife scumbag.

Express-News promotes lone conservative dissenter; ignores liberal majority

I'm still shaking my head over this article from the San Antonio Express-News on Wednesday.

Texas students will feel ashamed of this country instead of proud and likely get a liberally biased view of U.S. history if new social studies curriculum standards are not changed, says a dissenting member of a team responsible for the proposed guidelines.
Proposed curriculum standards covering U.S. history would “indoctrinate impressionable students that America is a terrible place,” says Bill Ames, a Dallas-area retired IBM executive who lost several 7-1 votes this year on one of the review committees developing the new standards.

The article goes on and on quoting this Ames fellow in depth. Later on, they quote another member of the panel defending its decisions but does not spend any time delving into their thoughts on social studies curriculum guidelines.

So ONE GUY gets all this attention. The lone dissenter on a panel of 7 experts. Why? Why should we care?? Probably for the same reason that the E-N ran several front page articles promoting Sarah Palin's new book. They must think that catering to rightwingers will somehow shield them from charges of "liberal bias" and that will somehow convince people to start buying the paper again.

Well, it ain't going to work because we are not talking about rational people here. We are talking about ideologues who will just find some other reason to continue believing their "liberal media is bad" doctrine. It doesn't matter how many times the E-N endorses Bush (twice) or Palin (once so far) for president. The "movement conservatives" will not change their opinion because it would require them to acknowledge that they are not always the victims and the underdogs fighting against a powerful, corrupt enemy.

Friday, November 13, 2009


I've become hooked on a new kids show that I've been watching with my kids. PEEP and the Big Wide World features three main characters: Peep, a little yellow chick; Chirp, a little red bird; and Quack, a kind of blobby purple duck. The animation is very simplistic, but the stories and characterizations are rich and wonderfully funny.
The show is narrated by Joan Cusack and has a very catchy theme song sung by Taj Majal.
I highly recommend checking it out.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

RNC Hypocrites

Hypocricy exposed at the RNC

The Republican National Committee’s health insurance plan covers elective abortion – a procedure the party’s own platform calls “a fundamental assault on innocent human life.”
Federal Election Commission Records show the RNC purchases its insurance from Cigna. Two sales agents for the company said that the RNC’s policy covers elective abortion.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Election results: Teabaggers lose

I can’t really blame the Republicans for getting excited about last night’s election results. Lord knows they are desperate for some good news after getting their clocks cleaned in the last several elections.
But one thing should be made clear about this election. While Republicans may have won two big gubernatorial contests in Virginia and New Jersey, the clear losers in this election were the Teabaggers. No matter how they want to spin this on rightwing radio, Nancy Pelosi now has an even bigger majority in Congress than she did the day before. Democrats won a congressional district in upstate New York (23rd) that they had not won since the Civil War. They also held onto a Democratic district in California, replacing a moderate-conservative Democrat with a decidely more progressive Democrat.
The California contest got hardly any attention at all because all eyes were focused on the NY23 race after Sarah Palin swooped in an annointed independent Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman as the Teabagger favorite over the mainstream Republican nominee Dede Scozzafava. The Teabaggers then went to work villifying Scozzafava because of her pro-choice views and her position on gay unions. Things got so bad that Scozzafava ended up dropping out of the race three days before the election and endorsed her Democratic opponent Bill Owens.
But all the fawning media attention, the gobs of money (95 percent from out of the district) and the backing of nearly every prominent rightwinger in the country was not enough to lift Hoffman to victory on election day. For some reason, the voters in the 23rd District did not support a candidate who lived outside the district, knew nothing about the issues impacting the district and got most of his financial support from outside the district. Imagine that!!!
But Republicans can still celebrate their victory in Virginia where conservative Republican Robert McDonnell trounced his hapless Democratic opponent. And there was no question that McDonnell was a conservative, however, he did not invite Palin or any of the other Teabagger crowd to come out and campaign for him and he made every effort to downplay his far right views and hew to a more mainstream position.
In New Jersey, where Republican Chris Christie ousted the unpopular Democratic incumbent John Corzine, it would seem to be another big victory for the GOP. But before the Teabaggers start celebrating, they ought to check out Christie’s positions on some of their key issues. On abortion, Christie says he is “pro-life,” but then goes on to stress that he will not force his views onto anyone else as governor. Not exactly the kind of message Teabaggers like to hear. Then, on gun rights, Christie says he fully supports and backs New Jersey’s gun laws. I will let everyone guess how those might compare to laws in Texas and Oklahoma. Finally, on illegal immigration, Christie says he does not think it should be a criminal issue, only a civil one. Oh, and he supports civil unions for gay couples too. Sure sounds like the Teabaggers could have condemned Christie just as harshly as they did Scozzafava. The fact that they did not is probably due to either ignorance or hypocricy or both.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Ayn Rand and the contradictions of the GOP

New biographies are out about Ayn Rand just as her objectivist philosophy is becoming resurgent within the rapidly shrinking Republican Party.
I first heard of Rand when I was in college working with a group of liberal, idealistic students in the Students Against Apartheid group at Texas A&M. One of the girls in the group had recently become intrigued by Rand after picking up one of her novels and showed it to the rest of us. Someone else in the group immediately dismissed Rand as the “Goddess of Greed.”
It is not hard to understand why Rand’s philosophy - expressed in her novels “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead” - would be popular among rightwingers today. Just like rightwing talk radio, it tells them exactly what they want to hear - that they (the readers) are privileged and special and that they should spend all their time and energy advancing their own interests and not worry about or bother with anyone else. It is the ultimate paen to greed and selfishness and that is pretty much what much of Republican political philosophy boils down to today.
But there is one big problem with this Republican infatuation with Rand and her objectivism philosophy. It is not in any way compatible with their supposed Christian beliefs. Ayn Rand was an atheist who was basically disdainful of Christian philosophy. Here is what she had to say on the matter in a letter from July 9, 1946:

There is a great, basic contradiction in the teachings of Jesus. Jesus was one of the first great teachers to proclaim the basic principle of individualism -- the inviolate sanctity of man’s soul, and the salvation of one’s soul as one’s first concern and highest goal; this means -- one’s ego and the integrity of one’s ego. But when it came to the next question, a code of ethics to observe for the salvation of one’s soul -- (this means: what must one do in actual practice in order to save one’s soul?) -- Jesus (or perhaps His interpreters) gave men a code of altruism, that is, a code which told them that in order to save one’s soul, one must love or help or live for others. This means, the subordination of one’s soul (or ego) to the wishes, desires or needs of others, which means the subordination of one’s soul to the souls of others.
This is a contradiction that cannot be resolved. This is why men have never succeeded in applying Christianity in practice, while they have preached it in theory for two thousand years. The reason of their failure was not men’s natural depravity or hypocrisy, which is the superficial (and vicious) explanation usually given. The reason is that a contradiction cannot be made to work. That is why the history of Christianity has been a continuous civil war -- both literally (between sects and nations), and spiritually (within each man’s soul).

So Rand rejected the core teachings of Jesus without any equivocation. At least she was honest. Most “Christian conservatives” reject his core teachings as well, but they are either too ignorant to realize it or pretend that they do not. Many simply ignore all the parts of the Bible that have to do with helping the poor and loving your neighbor - which takes up a sizable chunk of the New Testament - and instead focus on things like abortion and gay bashing which are hardly even mentioned in the Bible if at all.
There are also a lot of people who rush out and embrace Rand without any real understanding of what it means. It is not as if you can be a Randian and a Christian at the same time, kind of like being a fan of both Star Wars and Star Trek. These are two completely divergent philosophies that are opposed to one another. One says love your neighbor as yourself, the other says love yourself and screw your neighbor.
The way that many Republicans and conservatives today embrace Christ’s image while ignoring his teachings is similar to the way that they embrace the images and symbolism of America, but ignore or reject the actual workings of the government - the hard-fought, messy compromises, the diversity of races and cultures, and even the bloated bureacracy, without which there would be no country of which to speak.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Republican implosion in NY 23rd

Frank Rich's column in Sunday's NY Times is a must read this week.
One can't help but wonder if we are witnessing the disintegration of the Republican Party.
The wingnuts and the teabaggers who are taking over the Republican Party forced the Republican nominee in the race for the 23rd Congressional District of New York to drop out because they deemed her to be insufficiently conservative. Instead, they are backing the Conservative Party nominee - someone who doesn't even live in the district and has no clue or interest in the issues impacting the district.
Now the Republican nominee, after having been forced out, is endorsing the Democrat in the race.
Whether or not the Democrat wins - and no Democrat has won this district since the Civil War - this is a win-win for the Democrats as the Republicans continue to run off moderate (and sane) voters and continue to shrink into electoral insignificance.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Anti-Government Party

Ever since Ronald Reagan declared that “government is the problem, not the solution”, the Republican Party has slowly devolved from being a conservative governing party to an anti-government party. This devolution has nearly reached its zenith with the rise of the “tea party” protestors now taking control of the party.
Just witness the spectacle in the 23rd Congressional District in New York where Republican Party candidate Dede Scozzafava is being blindsided by the teapartiers because she is deemed too “liberal.” The teapartiers are throwing their support to a third party candidate, Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman, knowing full well this could mean that the Democratic candidate could wind up winning in a traditionally Republican district. But they don’t care because they just want to make an ideological point and besides, they aren’t interested in governing anyway. When Hoffman was recently questioned about local issues by the editorial board for one of the largest newspapers in the district, he demonstrated that he had no clue, no care and no concern for what was happening locally. His whole point in running for Congress is to represent a national anti-government agenda.
Witness too the unprecedented level of obstructionism currently underway in the U.S. Senate where Republicans are blocking nearly every one of President Obama’s judicial picks and many of his nominees for important positions in the administration.
It is almost as if the Republicans WANT the government to be dysfunctional. They are doing everything they can to make sure that the government cannot operate effectively and efficiently. We are in the midst of a healthcare crisis over swine flu and Republicans have held up confirmation of Obama’s Surgeon General nominee for months.
The core philosophy of the Tea Party protesters, such that there is, is essentially radical anarchism. They are anti-anything that has to do with the government (unless it benefits them directly).
Needless to say, this is not good for the long-term health of our country or our democracy. The movement is being supported by certain segments of the business community that view the government as an impediment to their ability to pillage and plunder the American economy, kind of like Enron, Worldcom and GlobalCrossing did early on in the Bush years after government regulations were slashed and like the financial sector did during the latter part of the Bush years right up until the big crash that we are still digging out from under.
Why people would want a return to policies that led to these economic disasters in the first place is beyond my comprehension. I can only figure that they have been fed too many lies by talk radio and Fox News and can no longer sort out truth from fiction.

Monday, October 26, 2009

McCain hearts Mao

Here in this video we see Republican presidential nominee John McCain reverently quoting his hero "Chairman Mao" and acknowledging him as the inspiration for continuing his bid for the presidency.
Using Mark Harden/Jonathan Gurwitz standards, this would make McCain and anyone who supported him for president suspect as possible communist dupes.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

My first rock album

I finally got a CD copy of Raiders Collage, the first rock album I ever purchased as a kid.
It is hard to explain the feeling of nostalgia this brings back. I remember being at the store at Grissom Air Force Base in Indiana. I was probably 6 years old at the time. And my parents let me look through the record section and pick out an album to buy. I had no clue what I was doing. I picked out Raiders Collage because it looked neat. I didn’t know anything about who they were or what kind of music they played.
As it turns out, Collage was a concept album by the band formerly known as Paul Revere and the Raiders as they desperately tried to change their image and keep up with the times. They had been a popular act during the ‘60s when they would dress up in Revolutionary War uniforms and play spirited rock-pop tunes. They became the featured band for one of Dick Clark’s TV shows and got wide exposure for several years.
But in 1970, when Collage was released, that was all behind them. They were already becoming dated and on the verge of becoming a nostalgia act. Several of the original band members had left and lead singer Mark Lindsey was trying to pull the band into the new decade. They ditched the old uniforms, let their hair grow longer, replaced missing band members with new people and shortened their name to Raiders. But the biggest change was the music. It now had a harder edge to it. They incorporated a brass section with fuzzy, distorted guitar licks and a heavy rock beat while Lindsay’s vocals were interspersed with howls and screams and more distortion. They went from sounding like an American version of Herman’s Hermits to sounding like Deep Purple.
Of course, I didn’t know any of this at the time. But I did like it and I listened to the album over and over again.
Unfortunately for the Raiders, Collage was a commercial failure. And even though just one year later they would have their biggest hit of all time - Indian Reservation - even that could not keep them from fading into obscurity.
So there I was, a kid who is totally entranced with an album by a fading rock band, and then one day I picked up the album and the record slid out, fell to the floor and broke off about a one-inch piece that cut into the first tracks on either side. I was devestated because those were also two of my favorite songs. I found that if I could set the needle right next to where the break was and start the record just right, I could hear the end of the scream in the middle of “The Boys in the Band”, which was my favorite part. Sigh.
I never thought to ask my parents to replace the broken album. I just moved on to other music. But years later, I decided to see if I could pick up a copy of the album on CD only to find it had never been issued on CD by any major label and the small independent labels were out of stock and out of print. The best I could do was buy a Greatest Hits compilation of Paul Revere and the Raiders which only had a couple of the songs from Collage - and not the ones that had broken on my record.
Then, last month I saw on the Raiders’ Facebook page that Collage had been reissued on CD and packaged together with the subsequent album that featured Indian Reservation. I was delighted! I quickly found one on eBay and within a week had my copy in the mail.
Now that I’ve had a chance to listen to the whole album straight through again I am impressed with how good it is. Don’t get me wrong! It’s not the Beatles by any means. But it is pretty good. Too bad the album didn’t sell better than it did. In their subsequent albums they dropped their new musical style and went back to the pop-rock approach that had worked for them in the ‘60s. Today, you can still see Paul Revere and the Raiders (I think Paul Revere is the only remaining original member) perform as a full-blown novelty act at the Andy Williams Theater in Branson, Missouri.

Here is a video I found on Youtube for Dr. Fine, probably the hardest, loudest song on the album....

Friday, October 16, 2009

Why I don’t like Rush Limbaugh (or Glenn Beck or Sean Hannity or Bill O’Reilly, etc.)

I first heard Rush Limbaugh on the radio in 1988 when I was still living in College Station. He immediately reminded me of the loud-mouthed TV demogogue Morton Downey Jr.
From the very first time I heard him until this day, my impression has not changed. He is the epitome of the schoolyard bully. He is like the kid who tries to build himself up by picking on and beating up the weakest, most unpopular kids in school. And the legions of “dittoheads” who listen faithfully to Rush everyday? They are like the kids who would stand around squealing and cheering everytime the bully would start attacking some other kid.
Rush Limbaugh and his army of clones have always been like this. They may cast themselves as the outsiders and the defenders of the little guy, but they are in truth on the side of the rich and the powerful and the well connected. Just look at Limbaugh’s political agenda and how it stacks up to the army of lobbyists in Washington, D.C. The most powerful lobby groups in D.C. - The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the NRA, the AIPAC; the largest and best funded think tanks - Heritage Foundation, AEI, Cato Institute.... None of these groups ever have much conflict with Limbaugh. He supports their agenda and promotes their positions.
The groups that receive Limbaugh’s wrath and ridicule are the least popular, least powerful groups that are most often marginalized in Washington. These include minorities, the poor, gays, feminists, immigrants, environmentalists and just about anyone who fails to fall in lockstep behind the conservative agenda.
Over the years, Limbaugh has come to dominate the Republican Party and much of the political discourse in this country. And in so doing, he has come up with a successful formula that has been copied and imitated by nearly everyone in the conservative movement - that is to make up for a poor defense by having a good offense.
The conservatives are currently weighed down with tired, old ideas that have been tried and failed (in some cases multiple times). So how is it that they can continue to tout these ideas and gain the support of the electorate?
Simple. They don’t even bother trying to defend or explain the rationale for the ideas. They just skip the defense and go straight to the offense by attacking the person or persons who leveled the criticism, thus changing the parameters of the debate.
Was there a story in the newspaper that exposed major flaws in Republican policies? It’s the “Liberal Media” trying to tear down the country once again! The Liberal Media can’t be trusted! The Liberal Media wants the terrorists to win! And so forth.
A deputy communication aide for President Obama stated the obvious fact last week that Fox News is essentially the propaganda arm of the Republican Party. Does Glenn Beck try and defend Fox News and demonstrate how it is really an objective (fair and balanced) news operation? Of course not! Instead, some of his flunkies dig up a speech that the communication aide made some time ago in which she quotes Mao Tse Tung. She’s a communist!, Beck shrieks. Nevermind that Republican GOP presidential nominee John McCain quoted Mao in speeches as well. The terms of the debate are now reset to where we talk about how horrible Mao was and not about Fox News and its bogus news gathering operation. Works like a charm everytime.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


Steve Benen calls attention to an initiative by a Jerry Falwell group to urge its members to "Adopt-a-Liberal" and pray for them.
I'm assuming their prayers are meant to turn the individuals more conservative. But what if these liberals are like me and are liberal BECAUSE of their Christian beliefs? Are these Falwellians praying that they will become less Christian?

"Dear Lord, Please cause this person to turn inward and become more self-focused. Let them see the light that turning their backs on the poor and downtrodden is the true path to righteousness. Have them recognize that starting wars, promoting torture and supporting capital punishment is the true path to the Prince of Peace. Amen."

Obama and gay rights

This is good news:

Obama called for the repeal of the ban on gays in the military -- the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
"We should not be punishing patriotic Americans who have stepped forward to serve this country," he said. "I'm working with the Pentagon, its leadership and the members of the House and Senate on ending this policy, legislation that has been introduced in the House to make this happen, I will end 'don't ask, don't tell.' That's my commitment to you."
The president said he backed the rights of gay couples, saying they should have the "same rights and responsibilities afforded to any married couple in this country." He said he has urged Congress to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and to pass the Domestic Partners Benefit and Obligations Act.

I'm wondering if having the Nobel Peace Prize under his belt won't spur Obama to push this along and may even help him to get it through.
The Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy has long outlived its usefulness as a transition period and needs to be eliminated.
And the Orwellian "Defense of Marriage Act" is simply reprehensible and will one day be looked back on by history in the same light as the Jim Crow laws.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Great Expectations

President Obama's Nobel Peace prize in unquestionably coming sooner than anyone would have expected. I don't think anyone can really avoid calling the honor premature.
I liken it to having the Academy Award for Best Picture awarded to a movie while it is still being filmed. Or inducting a baseball player into the Hall of Fame after his rookie season.

Still, I would rather have the world tossing premature Nobel Peace prizes at our president rather than throwing shoes at him.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

New GOP theme song

Steve Benen is nominating nominating this tune as the official theme song for the GOP.
I'll second that nomination.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Olympic disappointment

I was disappointed to learn today that Chicago didn’t win its bid for the 2016 Olympics. But I was absolutely disgusted by the response of many Republicans who literally cheered the news.
That their bitter hatred for President Obama is so intense that it would override any feelings of pride or love of their country is despicable and shameful.
Charges that Obama was “wasting” taxpayer money by flying to Copenhagen to lobby the IOCC are petty and partisan. Charges that he should be spending more time on Afghanistan or health care are hypocritical and ignorant. Obama has given far more attention to both those areas than his predessor did over the past eight years.
Just imagine if it was President McCain, rather than President Obama, supporting an Olympic bid by Phoenix. Would these same partisans be attacking him and celebrating when the bid fell short? I would think not.
I would think that there were still some things that we could all agree on in the country. It is sad that this is not the case for such a large segment of our people.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Tea-stained flags and tie dyed shirts

Rightwing nutjob and former actor Chuck Norris is now urging “Tea Party” radicals to quit flying the modern American flag in favor of older, “Betsy Ross-style” or “Don’t Tread On Me” flags as a protest statement against the American government.
Or, as an alternative, he suggests staining a modern U.S. flag with tea.
Do you suppose Norris was one of the folks who a few years ago was supporting criminal penalties for folks who burn or otherwise deface an American flag?
The point is that this is another example of the complete radicalization of the rightwing conservative movement in this country. Today’s “teabaggers” are not much different from the radical hippies of the 1960s. Both had some unorthodox, and in some cases extreme, anti-government or anti-authoritarian views.
The teabaggers’ recent march on Washington looked like a Hippie protest put through an ideological mirror.
Imagine, for a minute, Glenn Beck, the self-described “rodeo clown” of the teabag movement, as a modern version of Wavy Gravy, the ‘60s era anti-war protester who discovered that by adopting a clown persona he was able to stay out of jail more often. Of course, Wavy Gravy was never given his own national TV and radio shows. And therein lies the real difference between these two groups.
One is serving the interests of the rich and powerful, and one did not. Can you guess which is which?
That’s right. The “Hippies” were NOT doing the things that the rich and powerful approved of so they were ignored, marginalized or vilified as needed.
Today’s radicals, however, ARE serving the interests of the rich and powerful, so they get lavished with lots of media attention and have their views broadcast all over the TV and radio everyday.
So we get to watch everyday as nutjobs like Chuck Norris, Glenn Beck, Michell Bachman and Sarah Palin parade around and “let their freak flag fly.”