Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 Year End movie post

2010 movies I've seen

Toy Story 3
Alice in Wonderland
How to Train Your Dragon
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole
Yogi Bear

2010 movies I own and will see eventually

Iron Man 2
The Karate Kid
Robin Hood
Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief
The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
Despicable Me
Shutter Island
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Knight & Day
True Grit
The King's Speech

2010 movies I still want to see

Tron Legacy
The Social Network

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Midterm results

Well the midterm election was every bit as bad as I had feared.
There were only a few bright spots to cheer me up such as the losses by Tea Party stalwarts Christine O’Donnell, Ken Buck, Joe Miller and Sharron Angle.
There were the heart-wrenchingly close losses by Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania and Alexi Ginniaoulis in Illinois; Alex Sink in Florida and Ted Strickland in Ohio.
And there were those who just squeaked by such as Michael Bennett in Colorado, Patty Murray in Washington and Joe Manchin in West Virginia.
Harry Reid held on in Nevada while Russ Feingold was toppled in Wisconsin.
Some Democrats weathered the storm with little problem. Richard Blumenthal easily held on to Chris Dodd’s seat in Connecticut. He had been the state’s attorney general when I lived there in the early ‘90s and was being touted even then for higher office. Glad he finally made it.
Chuck Shumer and Kristin Gillibrand had little trouble keeping their New York Senate seats and Andrew Cuomo steamrolled over the obnoxious extremist Carl Paladino. Vermont elected a Democratic governor for the first time since Howard Dean. And Connecticut elected a Democratic governor for the first time since I don’t know when. Since I lived there the state house has either been held by an Independent or a Republican.
Jerry Brown easily reclaimed the governors office in California that he held 20 years ago despite a mountain of money spent by his Republican opponent Meg Whitman. And Barbara Boxer withstood a multi-million dollar campaign by former HP CEO Carly Firorina.
But elsewhere the tidalwave of corporate cash was too much for Democrats to withstand. The U.S. Chamber of Republicans spent millions of dollars to defeat Democrats all across the country dipping into a big pool of corporate cash that was supplemented by donations from foreign entities. And it was all carefully orchestrated by Rupert Murdoch’s Faux News and the rightwing radio jocks who instructed their brainwashed minions that voting for Democrats was unpatriotic and unAmerican.
Republicans picked up more than 60 seats in the House giving them control again after just four years out of power. During that time, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accomplished a tremendous amount - only to have the bulk of her legislative achievements watered down or buried in the Senate where Republicans took obstructionism to new heights by misusing and abusing that institution’s archaic filibuster and hold rules. But even with all the obstructionism, Democrats somehow still managed to pass major pieces of legislation such as health care reform and banking/finance reform.
But ultimately by abusing Senate rules the way they did, Republicans have set the new standard that Democrats will follow meaning that no partisan legislation will pass without a 60-vote supermajority. Even relatively benign, non-partisan legislation will have to meet the 60-vote threshhold each time because in essense every piece of legislation and, indeed, every action the Senate takes is now dictated by an unspoken filibuster rule.
So what that means is that the Republican takeover of the House will result in near total gridlock. The Republicans have swelled their ranks with radical Tea Party extremists who have some seriously flawed and absurd views of the government and who will insist on stopping even the most basic functions of government on the grounds that it doesn’t pass muster with their fundamentalist reading of the Constitution. As such, there will be little room for compromise as Republicans continue to adopt the “My way or the highway” attitude. They will insist that Democrats kowtow to their demands and be submissive in light of the fact that “the people have spoken!” Nevermind the fact that Republicans themselves did nothing of the sort during their time in the minority, which, by the way, was an even tinier minority than Democrats have now.
And will Obama now be a “lame duck” president and cast aside his agenda in deference to the newly empowered House Republicans? Was Ronald Reagan a lame duck in 1982 after his party shrank down to just 166 seats in the House? Of course not. As everyone well knows, Reagan went on to win a landslide re-election two years later and reshaped the political landscape for the forseeable future. So people who want to count Obama out at this point need a serious history lesson.
I think the thing that was the most disheartening about the election was the Republican onslaught in local races. I really hated losing my local congressman Ciro Rodriguez. After spending most of my adult life being represented by Republicans like Joe Barton, Lamar Smith, Larry Combest and Henry Bonilla, I was thrilled four years ago to finally get someone to represent me who I could relate to. But now I will be stuck once again with someone who will automatically vote against everything I deem to be important. It is very depressing.
But, alas, the tide will turn again at some point and in the meantime I will just have more things that I can gripe about on my blog. So if there is any silver lining in this election it is the endless fodder of blog material that it will bring for the next two years.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Vote, Vote, Vote

I cast my vote today for Bill White for governor and Ciro Rodriguez for Congress. Those were the two “big” races I had a say in.
In addition, I supported mostly Democrats all the way down the ballot with the exception of Susan Combs, the Republican comptroller, who did not have a Democratic opponent but was facing candidates from the Libertarian and Green parties. Since I think most Libertarian candidates are a bit nutty and because all (Get Republicans Elected Every November) GREEN Party candidates are dupes and imbeciles, I cast my vote for Combs. Besides that, I’ve always thought she was a nice person and she seems to have done a decent job in a relatively non-partisan office.
Beyond that, I voted for Carlos Uresti for state senate, Massarat Ali for state representative and Rebecca Bell-Metterau for state board of education.
After that, I had little interest in the remaining races and feel that most of them should be appointed or hired positions anyway.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Republicans benefiting from mass confusion and ignorance

I guess it is appropriate that the election falls so close to Halloween this year because it promises to be a real horror show. Even though a few of the Tea Party’s scariest candidates don’t have a chance of winning – like Christine “I’m not a witch” O’Donnell and Carl “I’ll Take You Out” Paladino — there are plenty of others like Sharron Angle in Nevada, Rand Paul in Kentucky, Joe Miller in Alaska and Ken Buck in Colorado who have a very good chance of winning. And then there are the ones who are already shoo-ins for election like John Boozman in Arkansas and Mike Lee in Utah.
Suffice to say that the Senate is going to get a lot crazier even if it stays majority Democratic. But the really sad news is what is likely to happen to the House. A Republican takeover in the House, which seems all but assured, pretty much guarantees legislative gridlock for the next two years. What this means is that any kind of progress on legislative issues will be stymied and, worse, there will most likely be a number of confrontations over the debt ceiling and threats to shut down the government. At the same time, we can all enjoy the spectacle of partisan witchhunts as Republican lawmakers use their new powers to pursue vendettas against the Obama administration.
What is hard to understand is why people would want to choose this course. I chalk it up to flat-out ignorance mixed with a good deal of Faux News/Wingnut Radio brainwashing.
‘Unfair,’ you say! Perhaps in some cases there are people who have thought these things through and believe for their own reasons that it would be best to return to the policies of the previous 10 years. But some recent studies have revealed that too many people seem to be seriously confused about some of the key issues.
Steve Benen addresses those studies here and here.

In a democracy, the system breaks down and produces counter-productive results when those in charge -- the voters -- are uninformed. And the fact is, a whole lot of Americans are deeply confused about the facts.
The Obama administration cut taxes for middle-class Americans, expects to make a profit on the hundreds of billions of dollars spent to rescue Wall Street banks and has overseen an economy that has grown for the past four quarters.
Most voters don’t believe it.
A Bloomberg National Poll conducted Oct. 24-26 finds that by a two-to-one margin, likely voters in the Nov. 2 midterm elections think taxes have gone up, the economy has shrunk, and the billions lent to banks as part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program won’t be recovered.
Public perceptions aren’t even close to reality -- by a 52% to 19% margin, for example, likely voters think their federal tax burden has gone up over the last couple of years, even though it hasn’t. Indeed, Democrats approved one of the largest middle-class tax cuts in American history, and the public has no idea that it even happened.
The same is true of the strength of the economy in general -- the economy stopped shrinking and started growing more than a year ago, but 61% of respondents in this poll said the economy continued to shrink in 2010, even though it hasn’t.

Needless to say, it is hard to win an election when people are this confused about things.
And then there is this...

After a historic legislative session that saw the passage of health care and Wall Street reform bills, most Americans think Congress accomplished less than or the same amount as usual.
In a new Gallup Poll, 37 percent said Congress did less than what is accomplished in a typical session, while 35 percent said it did the same amount.
Only 23 percent said Congress accomplished more than usual.

So people think taxes have gone up when they have not. They think the economy is worse than it really is. And they think Congress has done very little when it has actually accomplished more than any other Congress before it.
When people go to the polls holding such backwards and upside down assumptions, it is no wonder that they end up voting against their interests.
All I can say is that the rightwing campaign to keep people ignorant and misinformed has been highly effective. Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, et al. are very, very good at their jobs. That is why they get the big bucks, no doubt.
Meanwhile, the rest of us are going to end up with a country that is hamstrung and dysfunctional for the next two years, if not longer. It is highly depressing especially after the promise of what could have been after the big blowout Democratic victories in 2006 and 2008.
But Republicans managed to hold fast even with one of the smallest minorities in history and by massively abusing Senate rules on filibusters and secret holds. Thus they were able to stall, stymie and kill large numbers of bills and change others far beyond what would have easily passed on a straight-up, majority vote.
So the new standard now is that 59 votes in the Senate is not enough to do anything, therefore nothing will get done until we actually get a party with a lopsided majority in Congress or until reason and rationality breaks out and we finally reform the Senate’s antiquated and undemocratic (not to mention unconstitutional) filibuster rules.
Alas, the former is much more likely to happen in my opinion before the latter.
Good luck, my fellow Americans. We are all going to need it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Don't ask, don't tell repeal

Since I don’t have any close friends or relatives who are openly gay and because I am not gay myself, it would be easy to simply ignore the whole controversy surrounding gays in the military and gay marriage.
But I can’t. It still ticks me off to no end that such a basic issue of civil rights continues to be such a hotbed of controversy today.
I am disappointed that the Obama administration is fighting against the latest court ruling striking down the antiquated “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law. This idea that the military needs more time to study the matter and adjust and prepare is all a lot of bullshit. If you are in the military, you deal with it. End of story. If you can’t handle it, then get the hell out.
There will always be rightwingers who will claim that integrating the military will have adverse impacts on troop readiness and cohesion, whether we are talking about race, ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual orientation. And every time their prognostications have proven false and their fears unfounded.
What’s more is that it seems like such a simple issue to me. Sexual orientation is a matter of biology, not choice. Throughout history, in every society and every culture, there has always been about the same percentage of the population that is homosexual. It is simply part of the natural balance of life. Put another way, it is the way God set things up.
I am well aware of the fact that the Bible condemns homosexuality. I’ve been reading the Bible straight through recently (I’m up to Nehemiah) and what strikes me about it is the huge swath of things in the Bible that we completely ignore and blow off today. Sure, the ancient Israelites condemned homosexuality (and by extension believed that God did as well), but they also condemned eating pork and touching a woman while she is menustrating and a long list of other “abominations” that we conveniently overlook today. And then there are all the things they condoned or tolerated that we now find insufferable and wrong. Things such as slavery, polygamy, animal sacrifice, and much more.
It is not fair to ignore the parts of the Bible that we personally find inconvenient while strictly enforcing other parts when they happen to mesh with our favored ideology. The best thing is to consider the Bible in its historical context and weigh it against the teachings of Christ who called on us to put aside our judgmental ways and focus on neighborly love and forgiveness.
Homosexuality is a fact of life and we really need to evolve as a society to the point where we are not always freaking out about it.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A new favorite John Wayne flick

I’ve always loved John Wayne movies and have been collecting them on DVD now for several years. But only last night did I take the time to watch “Hondo” for the first time.
I was greatly surprised by how much I liked the movie. It has now vaulted to the top tier of my list of all-time favorite John Wayne movies along with “The Searchers,” “Stagecoach” and “Rooster Cogburn”.
The iconic photo of John Wayne carrying a saddle and walking next to a dog hung on my dorm room wall for four years in college. But I did not know until the other day that the image came from the movie “Hondo”.
My favorite scene in the movie is when Wayne has his first confrontation with the absent father at a nearby outpost. As the man storms out of the tent he finds his way blocked by Wayne’s dog “Sam” who growls menacingly. He prepares to kick the dog and then stops when he hears Wayne protest and cock his rifle. The man glares back at him and Wayne says “Walk around him.”
The man spits back that he would never walk around a cur dog and Wayne responds with this classic line, “A man oughta do what he thinks is best.”
The man looks back at the growling dog and then walks around.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Balanced Budget craziness

There is a cute video up at the Cato Institute purporting to show how simple it would be to balance the federal budget without any tax increases and without allowing any of Bush’s tax cuts for the rich to expire next year.
Daniel Mitchell, the president of Cato, starts out in a folksy manner explaining that all we need to do is “go back” to the Constitution and only fund those federal programs specifically authorized in Aticle 1 Section 8 of our founding document.
And then “Voila!” No more budget deficit. Because what that would mean is that we would eliminate a huge swath of government departments and programs that were unknown or not deemed necessary 250 years ago. Mitchell rattles off the following departments that would be wiped out under this scenario:

• Agriculture
• Energy
• Housing and Urband Development
• Small Business Administration
• Education
• Transportation
• National Endowment for the Arts

The very fact that Mitchell is proposing such a course of action with a straight face and expecting people to take it seriously is very disturbing. That is because it takes a high level of willful ignorance to buy into that nonsense.
Turn back the clock to the horse-and-buggy era and all our problems would be solved, Mitchell is saying. Seriously.
Let’s just take Transportation as an example. What does he expect would happen? Do we shut down all the airports when we disband the FAA and fire all the air traffic controllers? What happens to the U.S. Highway System? Will each state set up tolls for non-state residents to drive on their roads? If coastal states have to pay for the upkeep and maintenance of sea ports will they then charge tariffs to inland states before goods and services are delivered? How long before our entire economy collapses in a jumble of feuding municipalities?
Or how about the Agriculture Department? No more ag subsidies? Sounds great, unless you live in a farm-belt state that relies heavily on these subsidies to get by, especially when the weather is uncooperative. And if the Ag Department is gone, what happens to the School Lunch Program which is financed by USDA? Tough luck kids, you go hungry now?
What about the research that USDA does on farm and livestock pests? How expensive will our grocery bills get once all this federal coordination goes away? Do you think the invisible hand of the market will step in and make everyone right?
This is crazy stuff that is not even worth anyone’s time to refute. If you think we can just wipe out all these federal programs, get a big fat tax cut in the mail, and then go on with our lives like nothing happened, they you clearly don’t understand what is at stake here.
We live in a very complex, highly evolved society that has gone through multiple decades of trial and error getting to where we are today. There is always room for budget cuts and operational efficiences that can eliminate waste and save money. But a radical overhaul of our system of government as the Cato wingnuts are advocating would shred our society and result in chaos and disaster.
There is no question that we have a big government that spends lots of money. We have a large welfare state and have had one for decades. But name a single country that doesn’t have a large welfare state where you would be willing to live today and raise a family. There are none that I know of and tiny little desert islands don’t count.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Obama-Reagan parallels

Republicans need to win 39 House seats this fall to take control of the House and a lot of political prognosticators think they can do it.
But even if the Republicans’ wildest dreams come true and they ride a tidal wave of voter resentment back to power in the House, it will ultimately mean very little.
President Obama may seem to be in a precarious position with his low poll numbers and his party possibly slipping into the minority, but he would still be better off than Ronald Reagan was at the same point in his presidency.
During the 1982 midterm elections, two years after Reagan swept to victory over former President Jimmy Carter, his poll numbers were almost identical to what Obama’s are right now. Furthermore, his party lost 27 seats during that election. But the big difference for Reagan, was that his party was already in the minority at that point. They lost 27 seats when they didn’t have that many to begin with. Republicans had 192 seats and fell all the way down to 166. By comparison, Democrats currently have 256 seats and even the most optimistic forecasts for Republican election prospects don’t have them dropping below 200. So, even in a worst case scenario for Obama, he will still have more allies in the House than Reagan did after his mid-term fiasco. And we all know what happened to Reagan two-years after that. He won one of the biggest landslide elections ever over a major Democratic establishment candidate.
Republicans will be lucky if they can even get one of their better candidates through the primary process which is likely to be controlled by the extremist Tea Party faction.
So while things might look bad for Obama in the short-term, his long-term prospects are likely to improve as the economy continues to recover.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Racist lies from Mallard Fillmore

Here is another letter I sent to the San Antonio Express-News concerning the Mallard Fillmore strip. The last letter I sent was never published.

“People who adopt black children” are, according to the Mallard Fillmore strip in Monday’s San Antonio Express News, “mostly white”.
This is a blatant lie. When you look at all the transracial and transcultural adoptions of anykind in this country it comes to less than 14 percent, and the percentage of white families adopting black children is well below 10 percent which means that more than 90 percent of black children are adopted by black families.
But telling blatant lies is standard operating procedure for the rightwing Mallard Fillmore “comic” strip. The author was apparently annoyed that some liberal commentators pointed out that Glenn Beck’s latest rally in D.C. a few weeks ago was made up mostly of white people, so he decided that gave him permission to make a bunch of “jokes” riffing on racial stereotypes such as the false notion that black people don’t like to go bowling or cycling. But the kicker was the mean-spirited suggestion that black people leave it up to whites to adopt black children. That is absolutely false.
Whenever Bruce Tinsley, the far-rightwing author of the humor-free Mallard strip, tires of drawing grotesque caricatures of politicians and celebrities he does not like — with their eyes crossed and their noses and chins stretching off the page — Tinsley typically turns his wrath on postal workers, school teachers, labor unions, immigrants or any other group of people to serve as the scapegoats of his twisted ideology.
Why does the Express-News continue to publish garbage like Mallard Fillmore everyday?

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Music cloud on the horizon

When I was in college in the mid-to-late 1980s, the digital music age was in its infancy. Compact discs or CDs - introduced in 1982 - were just starting to make an impact on the market although it would still be several years before I would buy my first CD player.
During this time, my friend Joe Johnson and I got into a discussion about digital music and the possibilities it entailed. Joe had an idea for a device he called the “digibox” which would essentially be a juke box with a hard drive containing far more music than could fit in a conventional juke box of the day.
I had a different idea. I figured why not build one giant computer hardrive and load up all the music that you could get permission for and then set it up like a cable TV subscription service. I imagined a firm that would run a cable into your house and plug it into your stereo. Then you would get a large catalog listing all the available music and some kind of interface device where you could type in the numbers of whatever songs you wanted to hear and Voila! instant music. For that, I figured a person could pay a monthly fee like getting HBO or something.
Unfortunately, neither Joe or I ever seriously pursued our ideas. Years later when the first iPod came out from Apple, I immediately recognized it as a mini-version of Joe’s Digibox.
So Joe’s idea turned out to be a huge success while I figured that mine was just a dead end that never would have got off the ground.
But just the other day I heard a story on NPR about a cloud-version of iTunes that is still in the planning stage and I was immediately reminded of my variation on the digibox idea.
I have a basic iPod which I love but which is woefully too small for my music collection (4GB). I used to have a diverse selection of Rock and Jazz music loaded up on it, but since I’ve recently been on a Classical music kick I have no room for anything else. So the idea of a cloud service where you could put all your digital music and have ready access to it at the push of a button is very intriguing and falls right in line with what I was thinking about back in college. Unfortunately, it appears that the music cloud is still a long ways off as the music industry tries to figure out how it can get the biggest possible cut from it.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The foul fowl's stench gets worse

The following is a Letter to the Editor that I sent to the San Antonio Express-News this morning...

The foul stench emitting from the Express-News comics page was even more odorous and offensive this past week as the “Mallard Fillmore” strip launched a vicious and nasty week-long attack on public school teachers to mark the beginning of the new school year.
Why the Express-News editors tolerate this nastiness is a mystery to me. Whenever the Doonesbury strip has anything even remotely controversial they are quick to yank it and run replacement strips. But I suppose a mean-spirited “comic” strip that mocks public school teachers as being stupid and lazy is perfectly fine with them.
The public school system is a favorite target of Bruce Tinsley, the far-rightwing author of the humor-free Mallard strip. Whenever he tires of drawing grotesque caricatures of politicians he does not like — with their eyes crossed and their noses and chins stretching off the page — Tinsley typically turns his wrath on postal workers, school teachers, labor unions, immigrants or any other group of people to serve as the scapegoats of his twisted ideology.
Real conservatives should be just as offended by Tinsley’s hateful diatribes as the people who get slapped in the face everytime they open their newspaper. They should demand that the Express-News follow the lead of its sister paper in Houston and dump the foul fowl and replace it with a conservative strip that does not bring shame and dishonor on their side of the political spectrum. Prickly City, which already runs in the E-N, is one example and there are many others.
I am not a teacher, nor am I employed by the school system or any part of the public sector. But I send my kids to public school and I respect the good work that their teachers do to give them an excellent education. It is too bad that our teachers have to be denigrated everyday in their daily newspaper’s so-called funny pages.

Friday, August 27, 2010

How awfully convenient for Rick Perry!

Former Houston Mayor Bill White will need a lot of votes out of Harris County if he is going to win a statewide race for governor. How incredibly convenient for Rick Perry that all the voting machines for Harris County would be destroyed in a mysterious fire just a few weeks before election day.
It boggles the mind.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

How I despise judicial elections!!

It's election time again and the street corners are filling up with campaign signs mostly for the dozens of judicial races up for grabs.
And despite the fact that I am a voracious reader of the "news" and follow politics at all levels as a hobby, I have no clue as to who any of these people are.
Oh, sure, I could probably tell you which person is the incumbent and maybe even which party they come from. But that's about it. And that is pretty sad to base an election on. Then you consider that most people know even less about the candidates than I do and you realize it is nothing more than a name recognition contest which comes down to who can raise the most money and get the most campaign signs up, and who can saturate the airwaves with the most advertising.
We have no business electing judges in the first place! Judges should be appointed and approved by the people we elect to represent us. Once appointed, judges should be completely independent and not beholden to any political party or interest group with the power to lavish or withhold reams of campaign cash.

We have too many elections as it is. The only people we should be electing in a democracy are the ones who actually "represent" us at some level of government: Presidents, Senators, Congressmen, state Reps. and senators, County judges and commissioners, Mayors and councilmembers, school board members and so forth.
But county clerks, treasurers, sheriffs, comptrollers, dog catchers and so forth should be appointed and/or hired by the local governing bodies, not elected by the citizenry.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Hounding celebrities, ignoring crimes

Why federal prosecutors are pushing a perjury case against former baseball star Roger Clemens is beyond me. I have little sympathy for prosecutors who pursue these high-profile, celebrity cases which have little, if any, value to the larger community. I feel the same way about the big, overblown Blagojevich trial in Chicago.
What possible difference would it make if they could actually prove to a jury, beyond any doubt, that Clemens lied in his testimony to Congress? Who cares either way? He’s retired from baseball already. Are they worried that he might get into the Hall of Fame? At this point, I really don’t care. Clemens’ reputation has already been so smeared and drug through the mud already that there is little chance he could win over enough votes to get into the HOF anyway.
Clemens is getting the same smarmy treatment that Pete Rose did. Rose had a gambling addiction that he refused to fess up to for years and years. But it never impacted his playing or any of his historic achievements in baseball and should therefore not be a consideration for his eligibility for the HOF.
I don’t know if steroids affected Clemens’ playing career or not. A lot of people suspect it did and they won’t take his denials as a definitive answer.
Meanwhile, Karl Rove is scot free after lying his rear off to Congress. Same with Dick Cheney and dozens of other Bush-era officials and Scooter Libby got himself a nice pardon.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

2010 Senate elections

The 2010 elections will undoubtedly see some victories for Republicans. There are at least four Democratic-held seats that are almost guaranteed to flip to Republicans for the next cycle: Arkansas, Indiana, Delaware and North Dakota.
North Dakota is a clear give-away to the Republicans. Byron Dorgan’s decision to step down now set up a cakewalk for popular Republican Gov. John Hoeven to waltz right into the seat with little opposition.
In Arkansas, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter’s primary loss to incumbent Blanche Lincoln pretty much sealed the fate of Democrats there. It is very likely that Halter would have lost as well, but Lincoln is almost a lock to go down to defeat.
In Indiana, Republican former Sen. Dan Coats is nearly a lock to take the seat being vacated by Democrat Evan Bayh. I had hope that U.S. Rep. Brad Ellsworth could put up a good fight, but the polls aren’t reflecting that. Unless something changes, he looks like toast.
And it is highly frustrating that a reliably Blue state such as Delaware is all set to replace Vice President Joe Biden in the Senate with a Republican. What a slap in the face! Thanks a lot, you Delaware losers! That’s almost as bad as Blue Massachussetts replacing Ted Kennedy with Republican Bozo Scott Brown.
The only semi-bright spot is that Republican Mike Castle will join Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins in the Almost-Non-Existent, Blink-And-You’ll-Miss-Them Moderate Wing of the Republican Tea Party.
In the other races, I am fairly confident that Democrats will be able to hold on in most cases and may even have an opportunity here or there for a pickup of their own.
I think Richard Blumenthal will have little trouble hanging on to the seat in Connecticut being vacated by Chris Dodd. I also think Michael Bennet’s chances of re-election in Colorado are now greatly improved thanks to the Tea Party nominating a wacky candidate in the Republican primary. The same goes for Harry Reid’s chances in Nevada.
What this will all mean, unfortunately, is that Republicans will have an even easier time filibustering everything under the sun and forcing the entire United States government to near gridlock. If something doesn’t give soon, I fear that our whole democratic system of government will bust apart at the seams.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Boy Scout Jamboree

My nephew Zach Wright of Crowley, La. is attending the Boy Scout National Jamboree outside of Washington, D.C.
Following is his first dispatch sent to his hometown newspaper.

Hello, my name is Zach Wright and I’m attending the Boy Scout National Jamboree. I’m a 14 year old freshman at Notre Dame High in Crowley, LA. I am the senior patrol leader in Troop 70 in Crowley. We are sponsored by the United Methodist Men of the First United Methodist Church of Crowley. With me is Eagle Scout Steven Dial, a senior at Crowley High and fellow troop member. For the Jamboree we are in troops representing the Evangeline Area Boy Scout Council. Altogether there are about 70 Scouters from our council and 45,000 Scouters at the jamboree.
The 2010 Boy Scout Jamboree occurs about every four years, so it has taken lots of planning.
The staff here is nice, and everything is going smoothly. There are 21 subcamps divided into four geographical regions of the U.S. Each subcamp has troops from various councils and each troop is divided into patrols. We’ve built a huge tent city with many campers. Fortunately our tents are big enough so that we could get two cots inside. Our lunches are provided as a bag lunch we can eat on the run, but our breakfast and dinners are cooked in the campsite by each patrol. We’re all eating the same menu, and the Jamboree staff distributes the food supplies. So far the best meal has been the July 28th. dinner of jambalaya.
Just like the staff has been planning and training for four years for this event, the scouts have spent months planning, preparing and training. We all took Emergency Preparedness Merit Badge and first aid lessons. While here we will attend a CPR/EAD training course and hope to set a world record for the largest ever held.
The variety of Scouts here is amazing. I’ve meet scouts from Japan, Canada, Egypt, Barbados, Sweden, Great Britain, South Korea and some Scouts from a little island in the Caribbean Sea near the coast of Venezuela. We’ve encouraged to mingle with the aid of a jamboree wide game of trading cards.
We each have a deck of 21 cards representing our subcamp. The idea is too meet and trade cards with a Scout from each subcamp. By the end of the Jamboree we should have a card from each subcamp. So far I have 6 out of the 20 other subcamps.
I’m also trading patches with other Scouts. Friends and family members have been collecting council strip patches from out of state for me for a year, so I have a head start on that collection, but I’ve added lots more!!!
While at jamboree, Scouts are trying to earn five rockers that will ever after be worn on their uniform around a National Jamboree patch. These rockers represent effort in core value areas of Scouting, and several requirements must be met in each area to earn a rocker.
The first rocker is for a 5k run/walk which was scheduled on the 30th. of July.
The second rocker is Duty to God. We’ve been leading grace at meals and sharing Scout devotionals in our patrols every evening. Attendance at a religious service, meeting our subcamp chaplin and visiting the exhibit table of our denomination are also required.
The third rocker is for participating in the outback centers. This area includes lots of fun aquatic activities like fishing, snorkeling, scuba diving, canoe races, kayak races and rafting. My favorite will be scuba because I have not been able to go to any of them yet, but I cannot wait.
The fourth rocker is for participating in the activities centers. These include a merit badge midway where professionals lead Scouts in earning any merit badge available. I’ve earned engineering, and I’ve seen a promotion for a merit badge called robotics (which I loved), but for now I am not working on any merit badges.
Other activity areas include an American Indian village display that is run by the Order of the Arrow (the Boy Scout honor society).
I can’t wait to see the pow wow dances. I’ve heard they’re amazing. There’s also a replica of the Brown Sea Island, the first Scout camp held in England by Lord Baden-Powel, founder of scouting. Scouts from Canada and Britain are running that display area.
The final rocker is for participating in the action centers. This area hosts friendly Scout competition in new areas for me including mountain boarding, trapshooting, muzzle-loaded gun shooting and a bikathlon – mountain biking and air rifle shooting.
Every evening there are area shows. So far we have seen the author of the book series “Eragon”. Tuesday, July 27th. many musical groups performed, but my favorite was a Trinidad and Tobago group. Wednesday, July 28th. another author talked to us about his “Alchemyst” series (which I started reading that night). Until next time from the Hill, Good bye.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A new blog

I've launched a new blog, entirely for my own edification, as I take part in a Bible study class at my church. We will be attempting to read the Bible through from cover to cover over the next year and I decided to start a blog where I could post my thoughts and commentaries as we go along. Here is the link:

Bible Reader

I've already got a jump start on Genesis and will keep plodding along as best I can.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Resisting the facts

From The Boston Globe

This explains a lot...

How facts backfire
Researchers discover a surprising threat to democracy: our brains

By Joe Keohane | July 11, 2010

It’s one of the great assumptions underlying modern democracy that an informed citizenry is preferable to an uninformed one. “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1789. This notion, carried down through the years, underlies everything from humble political pamphlets to presidential debates to the very notion of a free press. Mankind may be crooked timber, as Kant put it, uniquely susceptible to ignorance and misinformation, but it’s an article of faith that knowledge is the best remedy. If people are furnished with the facts, they will be clearer thinkers and better citizens. If they are ignorant, facts will enlighten them. If they are mistaken, facts will set them straight.

In the end, truth will out. Won’t it?

Maybe not. Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.

This bodes ill for a democracy, because most voters — the people making decisions about how the country runs — aren’t blank slates. They already have beliefs, and a set of facts lodged in their minds. The problem is that sometimes the things they think they know are objectively, provably false. And in the presence of the correct information, such people react very, very differently than the merely uninformed. Instead of changing their minds to reflect the correct information, they can entrench themselves even deeper.

“The general idea is that it’s absolutely threatening to admit you’re wrong,” says political scientist Brendan Nyhan, the lead researcher on the Michigan study. The phenomenon — known as “backfire” — is “a natural defense mechanism to avoid that cognitive dissonance.”

These findings open a long-running argument about the political ignorance of American citizens to broader questions about the interplay between the nature of human intelligence and our democratic ideals. Most of us like to believe that our opinions have been formed over time by careful, rational consideration of facts and ideas, and that the decisions based on those opinions, therefore, have the ring of soundness and intelligence. In reality, we often base our opinions on our beliefs, which can have an uneasy relationship with facts. And rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we chose to accept. They can cause us to twist facts so they fit better with our preconceived notions. Worst of all, they can lead us to uncritically accept bad information just because it reinforces our beliefs. This reinforcement makes us more confident we’re right, and even less likely to listen to any new information. And then we vote.

This effect is only heightened by the information glut, which offers — alongside an unprecedented amount of good information — endless rumors, misinformation, and questionable variations on the truth. In other words, it’s never been easier for people to be wrong, and at the same time feel more certain that they’re right.

“Area Man Passionate Defender Of What He Imagines Constitution To Be,” read a recent Onion headline. Like the best satire, this nasty little gem elicits a laugh, which is then promptly muffled by the queasy feeling of recognition. The last five decades of political science have definitively established that most modern-day Americans lack even a basic understanding of how their country works. In 1996, Princeton University’s Larry M. Bartels argued, “the political ignorance of the American voter is one of the best documented data in political science.”

On its own, this might not be a problem: People ignorant of the facts could simply choose not to vote. But instead, it appears that misinformed people often have some of the strongest political opinions. A striking recent example was a study done in the year 2000, led by James Kuklinski of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He led an influential experiment in which more than 1,000 Illinois residents were asked questions about welfare — the percentage of the federal budget spent on welfare, the number of people enrolled in the program, the percentage of enrollees who are black, and the average payout. More than half indicated that they were confident that their answers were correct — but in fact only 3 percent of the people got more than half of the questions right. Perhaps more disturbingly, the ones who were the most confident they were right were by and large the ones who knew the least about the topic. (Most of these participants expressed views that suggested a strong antiwelfare bias.)

Studies by other researchers have observed similar phenomena when addressing education, health care reform, immigration, affirmative action, gun control, and other issues that tend to attract strong partisan opinion. Kuklinski calls this sort of response the “I know I’m right” syndrome, and considers it a “potentially formidable problem” in a democratic system. “It implies not only that most people will resist correcting their factual beliefs,” he wrote, “but also that the very people who most need to correct them will be least likely to do so.”

What’s going on? How can we have things so wrong, and be so sure that we’re right? Part of the answer lies in the way our brains are wired. Generally, people tend to seek consistency. There is a substantial body of psychological research showing that people tend to interpret information with an eye toward reinforcing their preexisting views. If we believe something about the world, we are more likely to passively accept as truth any information that confirms our beliefs, and actively dismiss information that doesn’t. This is known as “motivated reasoning.” Whether or not the consistent information is accurate, we might accept it as fact, as confirmation of our beliefs. This makes us more confident in said beliefs, and even less likely to entertain facts that contradict them.

New research, published in the journal Political Behavior last month, suggests that once those facts — or “facts” — are internalized, they are very difficult to budge. In 2005, amid the strident calls for better media fact-checking in the wake of the Iraq war, Michigan’s Nyhan and a colleague devised an experiment in which participants were given mock news stories, each of which contained a provably false, though nonetheless widespread, claim made by a political figure: that there were WMDs found in Iraq (there weren’t), that the Bush tax cuts increased government revenues (revenues actually fell), and that the Bush administration imposed a total ban on stem cell research (only certain federal funding was restricted). Nyhan inserted a clear, direct correction after each piece of misinformation, and then measured the study participants to see if the correction took.

For the most part, it didn’t. The participants who self-identified as conservative believed the misinformation on WMD and taxes even more strongly after being given the correction. With those two issues, the more strongly the participant cared about the topic — a factor known as salience — the stronger the backfire. The effect was slightly different on self-identified liberals: When they read corrected stories about stem cells, the corrections didn’t backfire, but the readers did still ignore the inconvenient fact that the Bush administration’s restrictions weren’t total.

It’s unclear what is driving the behavior — it could range from simple defensiveness, to people working harder to defend their initial beliefs — but as Nyhan dryly put it, “It’s hard to be optimistic about the effectiveness of fact-checking.”

It would be reassuring to think that political scientists and psychologists have come up with a way to counter this problem, but that would be getting ahead of ourselves. The persistence of political misperceptions remains a young field of inquiry. “It’s very much up in the air,” says Nyhan.

But researchers are working on it. One avenue may involve self-esteem. Nyhan worked on one study in which he showed that people who were given a self-affirmation exercise were more likely to consider new information than people who had not. In other words, if you feel good about yourself, you’ll listen — and if you feel insecure or threatened, you won’t. This would also explain why demagogues benefit from keeping people agitated. The more threatened people feel, the less likely they are to listen to dissenting opinions, and the more easily controlled they are.

There are also some cases where directness works. Kuklinski’s welfare study suggested that people will actually update their beliefs if you hit them “between the eyes” with bluntly presented, objective facts that contradict their preconceived ideas. He asked one group of participants what percentage of its budget they believed the federal government spent on welfare, and what percentage they believed the government should spend. Another group was given the same questions, but the second group was immediately told the correct percentage the government spends on welfare (1 percent). They were then asked, with that in mind, what the government should spend. Regardless of how wrong they had been before receiving the information, the second group indeed adjusted their answer to reflect the correct fact.

Kuklinski’s study, however, involved people getting information directly from researchers in a highly interactive way. When Nyhan attempted to deliver the correction in a more real-world fashion, via a news article, it backfired. Even if people do accept the new information, it might not stick over the long term, or it may just have no effect on their opinions. In 2007 John Sides of George Washington University and Jack Citrin of the University of California at Berkeley studied whether providing misled people with correct information about the proportion of immigrants in the US population would affect their views on immigration. It did not.

And if you harbor the notion — popular on both sides of the aisle — that the solution is more education and a higher level of political sophistication in voters overall, well, that’s a start, but not the solution. A 2006 study by Charles Taber and Milton Lodge at Stony Brook University showed that politically sophisticated thinkers were even less open to new information than less sophisticated types. These people may be factually right about 90 percent of things, but their confidence makes it nearly impossible to correct the 10 percent on which they’re totally wrong. Taber and Lodge found this alarming, because engaged, sophisticated thinkers are “the very folks on whom democratic theory relies most heavily.”

In an ideal world, citizens would be able to maintain constant vigilance, monitoring both the information they receive and the way their brains are processing it. But keeping atop the news takes time and effort. And relentless self-questioning, as centuries of philosophers have shown, can be exhausting. Our brains are designed to create cognitive shortcuts — inference, intuition, and so forth — to avoid precisely that sort of discomfort while coping with the rush of information we receive on a daily basis. Without those shortcuts, few things would ever get done. Unfortunately, with them, we’re easily suckered by political falsehoods.

Nyhan ultimately recommends a supply-side approach. Instead of focusing on citizens and consumers of misinformation, he suggests looking at the sources. If you increase the “reputational costs” of peddling bad info, he suggests, you might discourage people from doing it so often. “So if you go on ‘Meet the Press’ and you get hammered for saying something misleading,” he says, “you’d think twice before you go and do it again.”

Unfortunately, this shame-based solution may be as implausible as it is sensible. Fast-talking political pundits have ascended to the realm of highly lucrative popular entertainment, while professional fact-checking operations languish in the dungeons of wonkery. Getting a politician or pundit to argue straight-faced that George W. Bush ordered 9/11, or that Barack Obama is the culmination of a five-decade plot by the government of Kenya to destroy the United States — that’s easy. Getting him to register shame? That isn’t.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

}"Obama snub" email debunked

I got this video e-mailed to me today by my brother-in-law because he likes to needle me about Obama.

And here is the text of the email that accompanied the video (NOT by my brother-in-law since he just forwarded it):

I guess to some people you cannot bow...
Keep your eye on Obama's hand and face
Watch this 10-second video where a lineup of leading Russians refuse to shake his hand. Did you see this on ABC,
This is "hard ball" Soviet Style. After the third handshake refusal,,,it becomes obvious. The facial expression is priceless.
"I guess we're no longer in Chicago."
And, how in the world did Katie Couric, Charlie Gibson, Diane Sawyer et al, miss this? If it had been Bush, think the media would cover it??
Anyone ever seen a Head of State snubbed like this? It speaks volumes.
Maybe Obama should apologize for the U.S. some more. It sure seems to be working great so far!

OK, then.
But the problem with the video, it seems is that it does not show Obama being snubbed by Russians at all. In fact, in the video it is the American delegation that is not shaking the president's hand - and for good reason! Because he is introducing them to the Russian leader and gesturing with his hand - not trying to shake their hands.

Snopes does a good job debunking this particular email. They also show an unedited video from the meeting in which you see Obama enter the room and immediatley shake hands with all the members of the Russian delegation.

Another irony is that while the email claims you did not see this on MSNBC among other stations - the video is, in fact, a close up of a broadcast off of MSNBC which you can see if you search "Obama snub" on Youtube.

OK, so I understand why people fall for this stuff. It's because it shows them or tells them something that they WANT to believe and therefore they eagerly grasp it.
But who is behind emails like this? Whe makes this stuff up? It seems unlikely that it was a benign mistake. Rather, based on the careful editing and zooming in to obscure the context, they must have known that it was B.S. And yet, they put it out anyway. Why? Were they paid to do so? It would seem that there is whole cottage industry out there churning this stuff out to feed the innumberable outlets for rightwing media - including the near monopoly on Talk Radio and the dozens of rightwing shows on cable news channels - particulary phony Faux News.

Friday, July 09, 2010

King James abdicates his throne

LeBron James' cowardly decision to turn tail and run out of Cleveland should make it clear to everyone that he is not and never will be as good as Michael Jordan or dozens of other past NBA stars as well.
What James is telling us by going to Miami is that he doesn't think he is good enough to win a title by himself and needs to stand on the shoulders of Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.
While I'm sure the decision will make lots of people in Florida happy, I think it has seriously tarnished LeBron's national reputation. He can't even use the excuse of money because he would have been paid more - $30 million more - to stay in Cleveland. But that would have also required him to do more work and take on more responsibility for pulling a team together that can win a championship. When that didn't happen this year, LeBron gave up. Now, he will have no excuses, but likewise he will receive a lot less credit if his new superstar team fails to meet gargantuan expectations.
I know that I, for one, will be rooting for LeBron and the Miami Heat to fall flat on their asses. I now have a team that I can dislike even more than the Lakers.
Maybe now the sports world will start to give more credit to Tim Duncan, who quietly and efficiently led his team to four championships without the spectacle of needing to bring in two other top-tier draft picks.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Defining the modern "conservative" movement

Andrew Sullivan has a bleak assessment of our current political discourse.

When Andrew Breitbart offers $100,000 for a private email list-serv archive, essentially all bets are off. Every blogger or writer who has ever offered an opinion is now on warning: your opponents will not just argue against you, they will do all they can to ransack your private life, cull your email in-tray, and use whatever material they have to unleash the moronic hounds of today's right-wing base.

Yes, the Economist was right. This is not about transparency, or hypocrisy. It's about power. And when you are Andrew Breitbart, power is all that matters. There is not a whit of thoughtfulness about this, not an iota of pretense that it might actually advance the conversation about how to deal with, say, a world still perilously close to a second Great Depression, a government that is bankrupt, two wars that have been or are being lost, an energy crisis that is also threatening our planet's ecosystem, and a media increasingly incapable of holding the powerful accountable.

Meanwhile, the GOP leaders, having done all they can to destroy a presidency by obstructing everything and anything he might do or have done to address the crippling problems bequeathed him by his predecessor, are now also waging a scorched earth battle to prevent the working poor from having any real access to affordable health insurance.

This is what the right now is: no solutions, just anger, paranoia, insecurity and partisan hatred.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Movie making story followup

When I was working as a reporter for a chain of weekly newspapers in Connecticut in the early 1990s, I had the opportunity to write many interesting stories. One that I recently dug out of my files that was published in the April 23, 1992 edition of the Durham Gazette was about a New York film crew that came to Middlefield, Conn. to do some on-location filming for an independent feature-length movie.
It was a low-budget production (about $200,000) and involved mostly no-name actors and a writer/director fresh out of film school by the name of Deirdre Fishel. The working title of the film was “Maya” and I was told that it was the story of a young woman whose life and career had stalled until she met a charming vagabond named Joe on a New York subway. He convinced her to escape with him to the country. Thus the need for on-location filming at Happy Acres Resort, a small collection of rental cabins in a remote, wooded area outside of the small community of Middlefield (near Durham).
My story focused mainly on the “gypsy” lifestyle of the film crew and their reaction to the scenic and rustic environment of rural Connecticut compared to New York City. I talked with the associate producer who had scouted the location and several low-level crew members including a “2nd electric” and a “2nd grip.”
It was raining and sleeting for much of the time that the film crew was in town and they did a lot of the filming inside the cabins while the crewmembers huddled under the eaves trying to stay warm and dry.
I never knew what happened with the movie after they left. I kind of assumed that it did not get a theatrical release. But recently I decided to dig up the old story and using the magic of the Internet I discovered that I was wrong. The film actually did get a theatrical release in 1994 under the name “Risk.” It was entered into the Sundance Film Festival and even got a somewhat decent review in the New York Times (Oct. 5, 1994).
What kind of shocked me, however, was that the film is described as an “erotic thriller.” So that’s what they were doing in the cabins with the windows all covered with blankets! I should have known. The associate producer told me at the time that “We needed someplace that was isolated so we can do our work undisturbed and also so we won’t bother others.”
OK, then.
The film is described on the web today as “a powerful drama about an artist who enters into a turbulent love affair with a troubled and unpredictable young man.” The cover of the video on Amazon is a bit too risque for me to post on my blog.
The star of the film, Karen Sillas, went on to do a few more low-budget movies before getting her “big break” in television. She has since appeared in a number of popular TV series in bit roles including CSI, The Sopranos, and a recurring role in the TNT crime drama “Wanted”. The director went on to do several documentary films and then joined the faculty at the New School University in New York.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Cato's false dichotomy

It is entirely understandable that the chairman of the Cato Institute would feel the need to stand up and defend Rand Paul, the Republican Senate candidate from Kentucky who caused a political firestorm last week after insisting in a series of interviews that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 should not have been used to enforce anti-discrimination laws against private businesses.
That is because Paul’s position is entirely consistent with those put forth by the Cato Institute, a rightwing Libertarian think tank.
Robert A. Levy, in a column for Politico, called Rand’s stance “principled” but also “politically incorrect.” This, in and of itself, is rather outrageous. To suggest that the only thing wrong with supporting private-sector apartheid is that it is “politically incorrect” and not morally and ethically abhorrent is quite a feat of political spin.
But Levy doesn’t leave it there. He goes on to make the argument that the Civil Rights Act “has a disputable constitutional pedigree.”

The Civil Rights Act addresses the conduct of private individuals, so it is not easily shoehorned into the 14th Amendment, which constrains only government conduct.

So what Levy is saying is that the 14th Amendment does not give the government the authority to pass laws that might constrain the conduct of private individuals.
Here is what the 14th Amendment says:

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

So Levy is trying to do a little Constitutional jujitsu here, by pretending that the 14th Amendment only applies to the State being discriminatory and not private individuals.
But what of the last part of Section 1, the so-called equal protection clause? How can a state not deny equal protection of the laws without enforcing those same laws on private individuals?
If a shop owner wants to discriminate as to who their customers will be, or a businessman wants to discriminate as to who he will hire and employ, or a housing developer wants to maintain segregation in certain neighborhoods... does it then follow that certain citizens are being denied equal protection of the laws should the state choose not to act?
Clearly the Supreme Court thinks so, if the Cato Institute does not.
And remember that Section 5 of the 14th Amendment reads:

The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

So it would seem then that the Civil Rights Act is not on shaky or problematic ground with regards to the 14th Amendment.
One of the problems, I believe, is with the extreme view that Cato takes when considering the issue of private vs. public. They assume that a private business should enjoy the same protections from government intrusion as a private home.
However, there is a public element to any business transaction that is being disregarded by Mr. Levy. By going into the public sphere to seek clients, customers, employees, investors and so forth, a businessman has crossed a line that necessarily invokes a degree of government intervention and regulation.
If someone wanted, for example, to keep black and brown people from entering their home, few would argue that they have no such right. But to make that same demand in a business environment is unacceptable because such a demand necessarily requires backing and enforcement from the government.
For example, if you were a business owner who wanted to prohibit people of color from entering your establishment, how would you enforce such a rule assuming that someone chose to ignore it? Call the police? File a lawsuit with the courts and demand redress? Or maybe you would hire a private security team to forcibly remove such individuals, but one could see how such actions could quickly get out of hand and once again require the intervention of law enforcement entities.

And this leads to my next point which is that libertarian freedoms, such that they are, could not exist outside the framework of a collectivist society.
When Levy says at the end of the article that “The essence of collectivism is force. The essence of libertarianism is choice” he is creating a false dichotomy that assumes that one part could exist without the other.
But outside the mythical fantasy of living on a desert island like Robinson Crusoe or Swiss Family Robinson, there is no place on earth that one can go to escape the confines and influence of collectivist society.
Contrary to popular myth, the United States was NOT founded by a bunch of “rugged individualists,” but rather by people working together to build communities and societies that could support our ideals of freedom and justice.
Without this collectivist framework, the rugged individualists would have been quickly stripped of their “private property” by Native Americans, the French, the British, the Germans, criminal elements or whatever other “collectivist” entities came along to fill the vacuum.
The point is that the only reason we enjoy the freedoms that we have is because we have a government that is strong enough to protect them.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Rand Paul's shallow philosophy

Rand Paul is already making a splash as the new rising star of the Republican Party. Last night on the Rachel Maddow Show, he reiterated his views that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 should not prohibit private businesses from discriminating on the basis of race.
If that is his position and he’s sticking with it, then Ezra Klein has a few more questions for him:

For instance: Can the federal government set the private sector’s minimum wage? Can it tell private businesses not to hire illegal immigrants? Can it tell oil companies what safety systems to build into an offshore drilling platform? Can it tell toy companies to test for lead? Can it tell liquor stores not to sell to minors? These are the sort of questions that Paul needs to be asked now.

And Steve Benen has a few more:

If we follow the logic he’s already articulated, Paul must necessarily oppose the minimum wage, for example. The Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, in light of their burdens on private companies, would be equally problematic. Social Security must be out of the question. Child-labor laws would obviously be a problem, as would workplace safety regulations and OSHA.
We can even start exploring more details on discrimination. Paul talked about segregated lunch counters yesterday, but let’s also explore employment discrimination. If a private company decided to fire a woman for getting pregnant, Rand Paul would necessarily conclude that it’s not the government’s business. If a private employer refused to hire Jewish applicants, that, under Paul’s worldview, would be legally permissible, too.

I eagerly wait to hear Rand’s answers to these questions and many more.

Rand is an interesting guy. As the son of radical rightwing Libertarian Congressman Ron Paul of Texas, he has an unusual poltical pedigree, but one that makes him popular with the current day Tea Party crowd. His Dad’s sterling reputation among the far-right Tea Partiers and his unusual first name made him the odds on favorite to win the Republican primary in the wingnutopia that is Kentucky. (Afterall, he is running to replace one of the looniest far-right Republicans in office today - Sen. Jim Bunning).
With a first name of Rand, many people are left to assume that he was named after the rightwing objectivist philosopher Ayn Rand, who is exceedingly popular among Tea Party cultists. Rand has not tried very hard to deny that he was named after the Goddess of Greed, even though it is not true. As it turns out, his birth name is Randall and he went by Randy for years before deciding at some point to shorten it to Rand. But he is without question a big fan of Rand and her objectivist philosophy.

I think there is a good chance that Rand will win in November in spite of the brewing Civil Rights controversy. And that will NOT be good news for the Republican Party as they try to distance themselves from his extremist views.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Who is Jean Pierre Godet?

Don McLeroy is at it again. The lunatic, lame duck, former chairman of the Texas State Board of Education has a new list of amendments and changes he wants to make to the guidelines that dictate how public school textbooks are written.
His latest list of demands includes this gem:

B) *evaluate* contrast the *impact* tone of muckrakers and reform leaders such as
Upton Sinclair, Susan B. Anthony, Ida B. Wells, and W. E. B. DuBois *on American
society; and* versus the optimism of immigrants including Jean Pierre Godet as told
in Thomas Kinkade’s The Spirit of America.

Diversity of opinion and balanced presentation.
The words of Godet and immigrants like him were, “I love America for
giving so many of us the right to dream a new dream”. Such words
were as lost on the muckrakers as they are on many modern
historians obsessed by oppression.

What makes this proposed change interesting is that McLeroy apparently wants to downplay the accomplishments of four of our nation’s most prominent Progressive era reform leaders by contrasting their views with those of Jean Pierre Godet, an immigrant that McLeroy read about in Thomas Kincade’s book. McLeroy apparently likes Mr. Godet because he has this quote about how much he loves America for giving him the right to “dream a new dream.”
So rather than “evaluating” the “impact” that Sinclair, Anthony, Wells and DuBois had on American society, we are just going to contrast their rather downbeat and dispirited assessments of American life with those of Mr. Godet, the ever so happy-go-lucky immigrant. Gosh, those reform leaders were such downers, all obsessed with oppression and all. Why couldn’t they just be thankful for what they had like Mr. Godet?

But wait a minute! Who is this Mr. Godet anyway? Where did he come from and why was he always so happy? Seeing as how Mr. Godet would be elevated to a status equal if not superior to that of Sinclair, Anthony, Wells and DuBois in our students’ textbooks, shouldn’t we know a little more about him?
A Google search doesn’t come up with much. So what about that Kincade book? Who is this Thomas Kincade fellow anyway? Isn’t he that painter? Why, yes, as a matter of fact he is, but he did write a book called “The Spirit of America,” however it was a work of historical fiction. And, as it turns out, our Mr. Godet is a fictional character in Kincade’s book.
So, there you have it. Don McLeroy wants to take all these progressive era reform leaders and put them on par with a fictional character invented by the sappy, syrupy pop artist Thomas Kinkade.
No problem with that, is there?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Why we read “terrorists” their Miranda rights

I don’t understand why reading Miranda rights to a “terrorist” suspect is so controversial.
I think it is because people on the right immediately hear the word “terrorist” — ignore the word “suspect” — and then demand to know why we are “giving rights” to terrorists who are trying to kill us.
But that is not the way one should look at it. We are not “giving rights” to criminal suspects. We are agreeing not to take away rights which we rightfully believe belong to all people regardless of their guilt, innocence, nationality or immigration status. These “rights” are not for the criminal suspects, they are for us. They are not meant to shield the guilty from facing justice, but rather to shield us from the shame and stigma of putting innocent people behind bars.
You see, these “rights” say more about us as a people than they say about the criminal suspects. We won’t take these “rights” away because of who we are. We are good people who do not believe in putting innocent people in jail and we will take the necessary steps to help insure that such mistakes are rarely made and are quickly rectified when they do occur. At least, that is the noble of intent of reading suspects their ‘rights’.
So if the thought of giving a criminal undeserved rights makes you agitated, just remember that is not what it is all about. We do it because we are a great country. So stop telling me that is not how they do it in other countries. Those other countries should strive to be more like us, not the other way around.

Monday, May 10, 2010

RNC shoots own foot with first attack on Kagan

One of the first attacks by the Republican National Committee against Elena Kagan, Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, is embarrassingly misguided and profoundly stupid.
They are trying to score cheap points by tying her to a quote that former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall made in which he said that the U.S. Contitition as originally written was “defective.” Kagan, who once served as a law clerk for Justice Marshall, made a reference to that speech in a paper she wrote honoring Marshall shortly after his death.
“Does Kagan Still View Constitution ‘As Originally Drafted And Conceived’ As ‘Defective’?” the RNC asks ominously in its new line of attack.
Why yes, you MORONS! It most certainly was defective considering that it tolerated slavery and considered black people to be only 2/3rds a person for purposes of representation. That is the “defect” that Marshall was specifically referring to. We don’t even have to get into the fact that women were not allowed to vote or participate in government or any of the other myriad problems which have been addressed over the years by the Constitutional amendment process.
What IDIOTS!!! But I guess that they know who their audience is and that there will be plenty of rank-and-file GOP voters who will be “outraged” when they are told that Kagan thinks the Constition was flawed.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Comic of the day

Broken promises and lies: Defending Obama's veracity

A recent exchange with one of my Facebook friends has prompted me to finally put a new post on my sadly neglected blog.
My friend Kristen is NOT a big fan of Barack Obama and went so far as to denounce him as a methodical liar.

“Obama and honest shouldn’t even be used in the same sentence. I don’t hate him, I have no respect for the man, he is a joke and you cannot believe a word he says,” she said.

To which I responded: “If you have some specific examples of Obama being purposefully deceitful then please share them with us. But I really have no use for these broad, over-the-top denunciations of our president...”

And so Kristen came back with a long list of “lies” that she believes Obama is guilty of foistering on the American people. I will run through the list below and attempt to address each one as best as I can.

The Alleged Lies:

• we can start with his statement that our premiums will go down 3000% if his healthcare bill was passed (numerically impossible but he said it over and over)...

The 3,000 percent decrease in healthcare premiums was a statement that was widely mocked on rightwing blogs as a quick Google check confirms. Clearly, however, it was a simple case of a misspeak on Obama’s part in one speech. What he meant to say was that the plan includes a $3,000 per employee credit for the employer to provide health insurance, not a 3000 percent reduction for the employer. If you look at the full context of what he was saying, just a few sentences earlier he had said that insurance premiums could fall 14 to 20 percent. So obviously the second reference to falling premiums was a misspeak.

• and how about the no tax increases for 95% of Americans, that lie was exposed almost immediately.....

As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports, Federal Income Taxes on Middle-Income Families are currently at Historically Low Levels. They were low to start with under GW Bush and Obama has lowered them even further with his first budget proposal and the stimulus plan that included even more tax breaks. While it is true that Obama said earlier this year that he may have to reneg somewhat on that campaign promise in order to address the budget deficit problem, so far that has not happened and there have NOT been any federal tax increases on the middle class. If Kristen insists on believing otherwise then she needs to at least produce some source or citation backing up her belief.

• “i didn’t know bill ayers”

This item from evicerates the bogus claim that Obama lied about his relationship with Bill Ayers. Anyone still harboring doubts about this non-event that was unsuccessfully hyped by the McCain campaign should read the article in full.

• “i don’t share the views of rev white”

That would be Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and I believe Obama more than adequately addressed the situation with his now famous A More Perfect Union speech during the presidential campaign.
The irony is that once the Obama haters failed to pin Obama to the radical Christian views of Rev. Wright, they then set about trying to label him as a radical Muslim.

• my government is the most transparent ever

Obama has indeed taken significant steps towards opening up the government to make it more transparent as this story details. And while some critics say it hasn’t gone far enough, it is still an improvement on the policies of past presidential administrations.

• i will have the entire healthcare debate on cspan

This overly broad campaign promise was a bit naive on Obama’s part and he has admitted as much Obama acknowledges broken C-SPAN promise. It is not unusual for a candidate to promise things with all sincerity on the campaign trail only to find out later that they are impractical once they are in office. But without question, there has been more open debate televised on C-SPAN than in years past.

• no backroom deals for me

I cannot find a specific instance of Obama making such a statement. Nevertheless, while most politicians would object to the negative connotations of the term “backroom deals,” it is without question part of the way things are done in any large entity whether it’s a government or a corporation. Compromises are made, allliances are formed, deals are cut and things get done. That is the way the world has always worked.

• i will not take money from lobbyists

Obama made this pledge during the campaign and based on strict definitions of “registered Washington lobbyists” was able to stick to it. Of course, as Columbia Journalism Review reported at the time, that accounted for only about 1 percent of the available money in the race.

• i post bills online for 5 days before i sign them so people can read and give feedback

Yes, this is another naive promise made on the campaign trail that ran counter to the scheduling realities of Washington. But as I noted before, being forced to break a promise made in all sincerity due to the constraints of real life is not the same as telling a malicious lie with the intent to deceive. It was one of those promises that sounded good at the time, but doesn’t make a lot of sense when you consider that these bills have been debated for months and months by the people’s representatives and once they are passed are not going to be changed anymore. They either get signed or vetoed at that point. So putting everything on hold for five days and forcing people to juggle schedules and delay overseas trips makes little sense.

• i am a moderate

Within the context of the Democratic Party, Obama is very much a moderate. Ask any Democrat on the left who has a long list of gripes and disagreements with President Obama.

• i am not a socialist

Of course he is not a socialist. That is an ignorant statement. If one assumes that Obama is a socialist then every president we’ve had from Roosevelt through Clinton is a socialist as well.

• i’m not looking to run insurance companies out of business (many times he is on video saying he wants a single payer system)

First, while he may have expressed support for a single payer system at one time, the reality in Washington right now is that it would not pass so he has shifted his position on that point. That is not lying, it is being practical and is something that I can respect. Secondly, why would having a single payer system run insurance companies out of business? Taiwan has a national healthcare single-payer system and they still have an insurance industry Taiwan Insurance Report - Business Monitor International. If we ever did implement a single payer system here, U.S. insurance companies would adapt.

• I do not want to own GM

And how is that a lie? GM has paid back its loans to the federal government and is starting to rehire workers around the country. If we had allowed GM to fail it would have been a huge blow to our already weakened economy and would have extended the recession for much longer and could have even pushed us into a depression.

• i will recognize the armenian genocide

Once again political reality has forced Obama to backpedal on a campaign promise. Once again this is not the same thing as a lie. I’m sure Obama would like to formally recognize the genocide, but to do so now would jeapordize U.S.-Turkey relations at a time when we are depending on that country’s support for our ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and to help pressure Iran on nuclear deterrence.

• i will have no earmarks in the stimulus (there are 9000 from what i can find)

This is simply a matter of semantics. One person’s “earmark” is another person’s vital program. Practically anything you put into any bill can be called an earmark. What Obama was trying to stop were the last-minute additions that get inserted without review or debate, and in that respect he largely succeeded.

• hell he even lied about quitting smoking

Low blow. Clearly he is trying to break a 30-year habit and that does not come easy.