Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Let Me Count the Ways . . .

At what point do you think the mainstream media of America decided that dingbats like this are news and are worth listening to and that the business of the media is vapidity and infotainment. My guess is it had to be some time during the administration of Saint Ronnie. 

Monday, August 30, 2010


I've had occasion to sing the praises of James Kuntsler before, and I think I've told you that I never ever miss his blog which he posts once a week on Mondays. In one of the rain reasons I like this guy, aside from the fact that I agree what he says about peak oil and what that means about where the country is going, is that he writes in such a slashing style. Much in the same vein as Matt Taibbi, his stuff brims with picturesque, imaginative, and biting metaphors. His disdain for the dimwitted--well, more accurately, the uninformed, the complacent, the knee-jerk Right--is palpable and quite often funny.

So it was with some degree of anticipation that I read today what he has to say about Glenn Beck and his "Honor America" shindig on Saturday. Get a load of his opening:
     Here come the Corn Pone Nazis!
     Fox News entertainer, former drug addict, and professional weeper Glenn Beck took center stage at the Lincoln Memorial exactly forty-seven years to the day after Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech for a rally dedicated to "restoring honor," which is tea party code for the otherwise unutterable idea: get that nigger out of the White House! (despite the attendance of a few African-American shills on the scene).
 I have read several pieces now by people trying to understand what kind of "philosophy" or "goals" or "unifying ideas" characterize the Tea Party. Nobody I've read seems to be able to, until now. As I said, Kuntsler as a way of cutting through the crap and fog and getting at the heart of the matter. I don't doubt for a single moment a substantial portion of the Tea Party movement's "program" can be boiled down to this unutterable idea. And unlike Doctor Laura, Kuntsler knows how to apply the n-word properly.Yes, blatant racism is indeed unutterable. But to think that people who subscribe to it – never kid yourself: racism in this country flourishes – are actually having a noticeable effect in the body politic is pretty disturbing.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

What?? It's legal??

My son just mailed me this piece of truly disturbing news from the court-watching front. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (which covers California and eight other Western states) has just decided that it's okay for the cops or the DEA or the FBI or some other arm of Big Brother to place a GPS tracker on the underside of your car while said car can be sitting in your own driveway. This court ruled that you're not entitled to any privacy rights on your driveway, nor should you expect any. Moreover, as if this were not heart-stopping enough, the same court has determined that law enforcement agencies can place these tracking devices on vehicles without first obtaining a warrant. This, brothers and sisters, is where we've come. If law enforcement agencies can do this, then the whole notion of illegal search and seizure is on the trash pile. The case, of course, is being appealed, and apparently other courts are not necessarily seeing it the same way as the Ninth does. For the moment.

All of this is a spin-off of the so-called war on drugs. This country's drug policy, as I've discussed here before, is insane. The victim of law enforcement in this case was a suspected drug dealer, so of course he doesn't have any rights worth respecting anyway – at least I'm sure that's the mentality of a lot of the guys in law enforcement. It certainly doesn't need amplification for you to realize that this is another serious blow to our precious civil liberties. Between the war on drugs and the war on terror and the unreasoning fears that these have stirred up in a vast portion of the uniformed and placid people, the sacrifice of the once sacred 10th Amendment guarantees of liberty just doesn't seem to bother many of them. It's only nut cases like me and all those other crazy liberals who sense a great deal of danger in decisions like this. The powers of the state to coerce and spy on its citizens can only be constrained by law, and when the interpretation of those laws is put into the hands of courts intent on reflecting the fears of the citizenry, civil liberties, and all of us, are in real trouble.

There is another little thing to notice about this ruling. Guess which people do have rights of privacy in their driveways? Why, people who can afford fences, gates, security guards, people who live in gated communities – rich people. And obviously all the rest of us don't have any rights of privacy that need to be respected by the law. That's the way the law works – for people who can afford  it to work for them.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Restoring America

A friend of mine sent me this, comparing Glenn Beck and Martin Luther King. Today, in case it passed you by,was the day Beck "restored America." Some 300,000 people were out on the Capitol Mall today to listen to speeches by the likes of Sarah Palin and Beck. (NYT story here; see this also.) The rally occurred on the 46th anniversary of Martin Luther King's renowned "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. Which seems a lot further away actually. Back then, there was broad consensus on the major the accomplishments of the New Deal: the bedrock of our social welfare system, Social Security. Those people out there on the mall today, overwhelmingly white and over 45, want to dismantle this program. Along with Medicare, Medicaid, and the recently passed health care legislation. They are against taxes of any kind, except for the military, of course.

But despite the fact that this was the largest gathering of Tea Party people ever, the event was billed as "non-political." Indeed, Beck sounded more like a preacher then the airhead star from Fox News he actually is. The nation has been wandering in darkness, he said. But now it is turning back to God. In fact, God himself laid on his heart what he had to say, Beck claimed. (Apparently, God has decided that he's against all taxes. He's also anti-Obama. And in his spare time he commissions special-ops missions, according to one of the many political and military-favoring T-shirts in the crowd.) Palin was equally vaporous, as is her wont: "We must not fundamentally transform America, as some would want. We must restore America and restore her honor." Nobody in the huge crowd, which raised the loudest cheer of the day for her, stopped to wonder just exactly what this means.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Building a Nation of Know-Nothings

I'm sure that this story is familiar to you, but you may not know the numbers. Fully 46 percent of Republicans believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim. Are you kidding me? Almost half the party believes this lie?! Incredible. And 24 percent of these same Republicans don't believe the president of the US is a US citizen. How can lies like this have so much traction? Because they are given that traction by, you guessed it, the usual suspects: Rush Limbaugh, whose words millions hang on, and Fox News, specifically Glenn Beck, who doesn't open his mouth without speaking half truths. The problem, of course, is that there are lots of just stupid people out there who believe these lies because they don't know any better. These are the same people who deny that climate change is happening. This has become an article of Republican faith also.
I'm sorry. I have to say this. Rush Limbaugh is a POS. So is Glenn Beck. They know better. They know that they lie . . . but they do it for the money, you see. What could be more red-blooded American than that? Well, maybe racism.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

TED Rocks

Have you ever spent any time with TED? For my money, these are some of the most interesting, educational, worthwhile videos on the Internet. The site's motto is "Ideas Worth Spreading". Interesting people talking about interesting, usually fascinating things. The talk below is about data visualization by a Brit named David McCandless. It will repay the time you take to watch it. I promise.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

This Whole Sad Mosque Business

Here's just a little taste of Dick Cavett's latest occasional column in the Times. By all means, you should read the whole thing. He's talking about the Ground Zero mosque affair.
I’m genuinely ashamed of us. How sad this whole mosque business is. It doesn’t take much, it seems, to lift the lid and let our home-grown racism and bigotry overflow. We have collectively taken a pratfall on a moral whoopee cushion. . . .
I like to think I’m not easily shocked, but here I am, seeing the emotions of the masses running like a freight train over the right to freedom of religion — never mind the right of eminent domain and private property. . . .
I just can’t believe that so many are willing to ignore the simple fact that nearly all Muslims were adamantly opposed to the actions and events that took place on 9/11, and denounced them strongly, saying that the Islamic religion in no way condones it.

Our goal in at least one of our Middle East wars is to rebuild a government in our own image — with democracy for all. Instead, we are rebuilding ourselves in the image of those who detest us. I hate to see my country — and it’s a hell of a good one — endorse what we purport to hate, besmirching what distinguishes us from countries where persecution rules.

One reader wrote, "Thank you. It's about time someone stated the obvious." To which all I can add is Amen. 

Monday, August 23, 2010

Three Monday News Blips

How many Pakistani civilians have US drones killed in the past
nine years? No one really knows, it's in the thousands.
Check these out, gleaned from but a single issue of Raw Story:
  1. While the prime rates are low and static, the 340 million credit card holders in the US have seen their interest rates go in only one direction. Can you guess which direction that is? Since the new so-called financial reform law is going place limits on the outrageous service and late charges the banks can stick us with, they have simply raised interest rates by about an average of nine percent. Read.
  2. Latest toll of innocent people killed in Pakistan by an errant strike by a US drone: 20 killed (including 4 women & 3 children), another 13 wounded (several more children). My understanding is that counter-insurgency, the vaunted Petraeus strategy that's going to "win" our war in Afghanistan--eventually, if I understand what the administration and the Pentagon are setting us all up to hear. Read.
  3. Up to 15,000 dead fish have turned up at the mouth of the Mississippi River. Tests are underway to determine if the kill was caused by the oil spill. What do you think? Drum, crab, red fish, eel, sting rays, speckled trout are among the victims. Read.
Happy Monday!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

It's in the Food; It's in the Air

The "It" in this case is something dangerous to your health, something that will make you sick. I can't quite wrap my mind around the idea of half a billion eggs. That is one hell of a lot of eggs. And that's how many are being recalled – at least to the present – because over 1000 people have gotten sick from salmonella poisoning spread by eggs. Now it turns out that the owner of one of the two farms from which these eggs came has been cited before for "numerous health, safety, and employment" violations over the years. His name is Jack DeCoster and, get this, he also owns a company called Quality Egg which supplies chickens and feed to both of the farms from which the suspect eggs have come. So boiling this whole story down to its essence, there's one villain we can blame.

I think this latest outbreak of danger in the food is just symptomatic of something that's going on all the time. I'd really like somebody to come along and prove to me that all the myriad facets of agribusiness are focused on the health of the consumer. I don't think so really. Am I just imagining things or are safety and food recalls are becoming more numerous? It seems like every other day now car company is recalling this model were that model. And we have these cases of dangerous food pop up once every couple of years it seems.

This kind of thing is is going to be inevitable in a world run by corporations. Concerned simply with the bottom line, and not really faced with any kind of competition, I think they consider the public relations disasters and loss of patronage connected with health and safety violations just part of the cost of doing business. The more these companies extend their tentacles into the government, the less likely we are to see viable regulation. Which means more bad eggs or something else dangers on your plate in the morning.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Naked God

I have written before about Richard Rohr*. I have come to believe that the kind of spirituality he practices and preaches is really only one that will ever be satisfying to me and my (perhaps overactive, never quiescent) conscience and forever restless soul. His counsel is all the things I cannot do: be silent, let go, rest in the Mystery, stop beating up on yourself, don't judge, accept yourself, be still. And I'm slowly coming to understand that these are all the things I know I must do if ever I'm going to find the Truth, which is all I've ever sought, which when I think about the heart of me has kinda consumed my life. I've gotten this far thus far: I'm convinced that what I'm looking for won't be found in the religion I know--indeed, it probably holds true for all Christian religions--with its logic-chopping about dogma and doctrine, its scandalous materialism, its commitment to self-preservation before all else. It's beginning to become increasingly clear, as clear, I suppose as anything about this subject can be, that the naked god of my quest can only be found by not seeking him. And it's fitting that this god of the universe, the seen and unseen, is paradox, enigma, forever unknown and unknowable.
The goal of all spirituality is to lead the “naked person” to stand trustfully before the naked God. The important thing is that we’re naked; in other words that we come without title, merit, shame, or even demerit.  All we can offer to God is who we really are, which to all of us, never seems like enough.  I am sure this is the way true lovers feel too.
As you know, the act of lovemaking requires some degree of nakedness, and perhaps sacred silence to absorb the communion that is happening. The same is true in loving and being loved by God.  We have to let go of our false self (as superior or as inferior) to be ready for real unity with God; and to do that, we have to be silent. 
Silence is the language of God, and the only language deep enough to absorb all the contradictions and failures that we are holding against ourselves.  God loves us silently because God has no case to make against us.  The silent communion absorbs our self-hatred, as every lover knows.
The piece mentioned at the bottom of this post mentions Rohr, and it's worth your time to read if you're interested.

*Here and here and here.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Women's Equality, Oklahoma Style

Here are some statistics and facts I picked up a meeting of the Norman Justice Alliance this evening. It's not that I found these things hard to believe; it's just hard for me to believe our legislature finds it necessary to be so mean and hard-hearted. But on second thought, that doesn't surprise me either.

  • Oklahoma has the highest female incarceration rate (per capita) in the world.
  • Oklahoma's female incarceration rate is almost double the national average.
  • Oklahoma does not have the highest crime rate: it ranks 17th in violent crime and 19th in property crime, so the high incarceration rate is not a direct result of the crime rate.
  • Many of the women prisoners in Oklahoma are incarcerated for short periods of time. Almost half the female inmate populate population is released each year and replaced by other women prisoners.
  • Almost half the women prisoners in Oklahoma were living with one or more of their minor children immediately prior to incarceration.
  • Around 4,500 children in Oklahoma have a mother in prison at any point in time.
  • Many of these children are in unstable living situations, having to move often or in households with the inadequate resources. (That's a surprise, eh?)
  • A high percentage of the women prisoners report that they were physically and/or sexually abused as children, so family placement may not always be safe for their children. (another surprise)
  • 80 percent of the women incarcerated in Oklahoma are there for nonviolent crime.
The idea for the NJA is to make people more aware of this, and we have a really good selling point: if you tell Oklahomans that their taxes are going to be lower if you reverse all of these figures, they will jump right on it. If there's anything these people understand here, it's low taxes are a positive good without any discussion whatsoever. And in fact, maintaining these draconian conditions for women in our prisons is tremendously expensive. Meanness does not come cheap.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

That's Our Maggie!

Maggie Gallagher is described as a writer and commentator. She has a syndicated column; she has five published books; she has an exalted office. For the past 15 years she's been president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy. Maggie is a social conservative, a Catholic, and if you did not know she was from Oregon, you could swear she was from Oklahoma. Here, without comment or adornment, are ten quotes from this font of knowledge that I found at this website.
  1. It is not discrimination to treat different things differently.
  2. We're here, we're not queer. Get used to it!
  3. Ideas have consequences. This is what "marriage equality" means.
  4. Europe, which gave us the idea of same-sex marriage, is a dying society, with birthrates 50 percent below replacement.
  5. Same-sex marriage is going to lead to a fundamental redefinition--not only of marriage but of religious liberty and citizenship.
  6. Gay marriage is not primarily about marriage. It's also not about Adam and Steve interpersonal practical legal needs. It is about inserting into the law the principle that "gay is the new black" – that sexual orientation should be treated exactly the same way we treat race in law and culture.
  7. Public schools, when they teach about marriage, are going to teach your children and grandchildren that your views about marriage are discarded relics of ancient bigotry.
  8. Black America knows better than anyone else the high price children pay for the sexual agendas of adults.
  9. Gay-marriage advocates hope to use the law to reshape the culture in exactly the same way that the law was used to reshape the culture of the old racist South.
  10. Democratic forms of government of vulnerable to mass prejudice, so-called tyranny of the majority.
If any of you out there can make any sense of this, please drop me a line.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

This Is Proof: You Can Rap about Anything

I took a more conventional approach to recommending Elizabeth Warren for the job as boss of the Financial Consumer Protection Agency. But this is very cool indeed.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Leave It Alone

Let's be up front right up front. I am drawing social security; my spouse is drawing social security. Both of us elected to start drawing it when we turned 62. So if you were inclined to quibble about what follows, you could always claim that I'm not a totally disinterested party. If you were so inclined.

That said, I have to bemoan the continuing clamor from the right about ending (or "privatizing" it, which amounts to the same thing) this most successful of government social welfare programs. It's an agitation that's never really ceased since the Bush administration.

Which is why I'm grateful to Paul Krugman. One of the coolest heads around among economists, Krugman's always managed to make the "dismal science" intelligible to me. I didn't know that last week marked the 75th anniversary of social security. If I had I might have set off some firecrackers. But the occasion didn't escape Krugman, and he devoted his column yesterday to a consideration of the program's current state of being.

Here are some of his most salient points:
  • The people who are attacking social security . . . their math doesn't add up. They are basically concerned with ideology anyway, and they are either ignorant of or indifferent to the lives of most Americans. 
  • Because of the way it's set up--with its own dedicated funding and part of the Federal budget--there are only two money problems the program could face. Inadequate dedicated funding or unsupportable costs for the larger Federal budget.
  • Neither problem is "a clear and present danger." The program has run surpluses for years, and its trust fund won't run dry until 2037 according to its actuaries, and there's a good chance that won't happen.
  • Over the next 20 years the aging population will cause the cost of social security to rise from 4.8 to 6 percent of GDP, significantly smaller amount than the rise in defense spending since 2001, which was certainly no crisis in Washington's eyes.
  • Cries of crisis in the system are result of bad-faith accounting. And although the crisis is invented, many Washington elite buy it, all the Republicans and even some Democrats. They propose to deal with the "crisis" not but cutting benefits to present recipients of social security, but those out in the future.
  • What's really going on is that the right hates social security for ideological reasons: it undermines their claim that government always screws things up. 
  • Currently fashionable idea to raise retirement age eventually to 70--life expectancy has risen, so goes the argument and people can work till they are 70. Yeah right, if you are a white collar worker, and therefore somebody who needs social security the least.
  • It's not just a matter of being able to work at comfortable office job vs. manual labor. No, it's deeper. "American is becoming an increasingly unequal society--the growing disparities extend to matters of life and death. Life expectancy at age 65 has risen for people at the top of the income distribution, but much less for lower-income workers.
  • Bottom line: cuts to social security should not even be on the table.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

That Mosque . . . Again

This is the kind of thing I don't like about Obama. He's so wishy-washy the minute he sniffs any thing foul in the political breezes. He's made another statement on the project to build a Muslim activity center two blocks from Ground Zero in Manhattan. The right has been up in arms as I noted the other day about this "insult" to the survivors of 9-11 victims. This issue has gained incredible traction with the knuckle-dragging set who believe it's better to scuttle the whole notion of freedom of religion when it becomes inconvenient for whatever reason it happens to be at the time.

The other night we had some dinner guests and one of them put the question to me what I thought about the "mosque at Ground Zero." I think she was taken aback when I told her that the so-called mosque was actually a large building which would contain a mosque, that it was two blocks from Ground Zero on a side street, and that the Muslims had owned this property in Manhattan since before 9/11. None of which she knew. And she said no more about it. I wonder just how representative this ignorance is of the howling mob that's demanding that the "mosque" be moved some other place further away from the hallowed ground? I will confess to you that though I can understand why some people might be discomfited--else how could the unscrupulous fear mongers be so successful--I'm at a loss to understand how readily people are willing to jettison the foundational principles of this country.

But to point.  Naturally the Republicans are all over this, and polls show that a majority of Americans oppose the location of the mosque. And though Mr. Obama on Friday staunchly defended the right of a Muslim group to build a mosque on the disputed site when he was talking to a group of Muslin-Americans, he made it clear in remarks on Saturday that he was not endorsing the wisdom of the placement of the mosque, and he would be making no statements about this. As the writer of this piece points out, what's going on here is that the president can be seen to question the location of the project without actually saying so. Slick, and weaselly. And basically showing once again that Obama's finest instincts are all about tacking with the political breezes. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Barack Obama talks a good game. Delivering one is something that's obviously beyond him.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Our Hero . . . Whoops, Not So Fast

Have you ever heard of Representative Mike Rogers? Of course you haven't, unless you're reading me from the depths of the 3d district in the great state of Michigan. And even then, you may not have heard  of this guy. I just learned of him myself when I read that he has called for the execution of Private Bradley Manning. I'll refresh your memory of him, too, because alas, he's probably already had his alloted fifteen minutes of fame. He's the guy who leaked to Wikileaks all those documents about the war in Afghanistan, which tend to show, not to my surprise and probably not to yours, that the war there is not going all that swimmingly. Earlier Manning had also leaked a horrifying video tape of a trigger-happy U.S. Apache helicopter crew gunning down about a dozen Iraqis in the street. Although several of the killed were armed, it's not at all clear they were enemies, and clearly several of the dead, including two children and two employees of Reuters News Service, were not. Think about this for a minute: for the crime of exposing the wanton savagery of some of our military and bringing to light the none-to-encouraging everyday of the war in Afghanistan some yahoo in Michigan wants to execute a guy who is actually a hero, a person with the balls to do what is right, regardless of consequences. And the consequences for such action can be serious indeed. As one writer at Alternet observes:
Regardless of whether he is found guilty and sentenced to prison, Manning’s life will be irreparably destroyed. “If you are deemed a whistleblower in the Army, there is a very good chance of it ruining not only your career but your life,” says David Debatto, a U.S. Army counterintelligence special agent who saw several such instances while serving in Iraq in 2003. Manning was already "pending discharge" when he made the complaints, but now, even if he isn’t charged, he will most likely be dishonorably discharged. This will mean a loss of all benefits and difficulty getting a decent civilian job, a bank loan or a lease.
Manning is not the first such military whistleblower to face serious repercussions and retaliation; not just from the military, but from the government, fellow soldiers, friends back home and even the general public and the media. The military is infamous for trying to silence soldiers who speak out against the war. Each whistleblower who is publicly denounced and punished acts as a prohibitive warning silencing any other soldiers contemplating coming forward.
Blowing the whistle while overseas is particularly risky. You are completely under the control of the military. As of mid-2008, almost 3,000 soldiers have filed complaints with the Inspector General’s office for retaliation against them when they tried to expose information. That number does not include the multitudes who were too intimidated —or simply too despondent — to make reports.
Guys like Manning in the U.S. military are the ones I consider the real heroes. People who do what's morally right, even in the most uncongenial circumstances. There are far too few of them. And you can bet this poor guy is going to pay a heavy price for being a hero.

This is not the usual tack I take with the military. In many circles I would be considered "unpatriotic" because I don't fall all over myself in gratitude and worship for our military heroes. As I've said before, I consider the U.S. military to be principally an arm of the empire. As such it will be continually employed in wars against our enemies, which if you haven't noticed, never seem to be defeated because they just keep multiplying. This is the nature of empires. They must constantly be at war. First, to keep their gigantic, bloated military machines occupied; and second, because since they are so despised by the rest of the world, there will always be enemies on every side. For the individual soldier, airman, sailor, or marine--more than likely not by choice but by economic necessity--caught up into the froth of patriotism and the endless billows of smoke being blown up your butt about being a hero and a "professional," I have nothing but sympathy and pity for you. You're just a tool, an eminently disposable tool, of forces far beyond what any of us can control.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Attention: The video below is squirrelly in the way it works. That is, it doesn't work like you expect it to. However that's not a big problem because if you click right here, the video comes up and plays just like normal.

FDA Approves Depressant Drug For The Annoyingly Cheerful

Very amusing. Don't miss the "natural remedies" toward the end of the clip. They go by fast. And I think Dr. Alman Wei should run for Congress. I'd vote for him.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Jesus Hates Muslims

Flip Benham, Director of a group called Operation Save America, leads members in a prayer Friday August 6, 2010 on Clinton Avenue outside the Bridgeport Islamic Society following a protest against Islam.
According to a bunch of Jesus-loving, Bible-reading Christians in Bridgeport, Connecticut, their professed savior of the world, who as far as I can tell from what we know about him in the gospels didn't hate anyone, hates Muslims. And to be sure that Islam gets the message, they gathered outside an Islamic center there and screamed this and other Christian truths such as "Islam is a lie!" into the faces of a group of Muslims gathered to pray. To pray! Oh, and they also screamed "Murders!" at a gaggle of young Muslim children leaving the center.

I continue to contend that this really kookoo stuff, which is happening all over the country, is a symptom of something much more sinister. There's nothing more fanatical and more hateful than religious certitude. My (albeit limited) understanding of religion is that it is by its nature tolerant of others since the journey to God and the search to understand the Truth is universal and incomplete. So the journeys and searches of others are to be respected. People who are positive that their course is the only one will be more than willing--they will be eager--to stamp out the apostates and "enemies of Christ [or Islam or Judaism or whatever--fill in your own godless enemy]" So the longer and more virulent these anti-Muslim protests go on, the more frenzy that is whipped up by the Right on this issue, the greater the likelihood of widespread bloodshed and violence in the name of Jesus. Haven't we been here many times before? And that turned out great, didn't it?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Not Encouraging At All

For the second time in as many weeks I've run across something about the fact that it doesn't seem to matter what the facts actually are. People aren't swayed by facts. In fact--if you'll pardon the expression--misinformed persons, especially political partisans, when confronted with the real facts often become even more entrenched in their own beliefs, which may be based on information that's erroneous from stem to stern. This, brothers and sisters, is not good news at all, because, as you well know, politics have gotten increasingly strident and bitterly partisan. So what this news means is that we cannot expect our politics to get more civil. Strident and bitterly partisan are normative now. Looks like they will stay that way. Here's a snippet.
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.
For somebody like me, who has a great deal of faith in the power of knowledge and the ability of education, culture, and learning to actually shape people, change people, this is deeply discouraging news. And this is before we even talk about the amount of misinformation, lies, and evil falsehoods by the zillions out there in the Net. Obviously some of this becomes "fact" for some people. And now we find out that challenging this junk with the truth of the matter . . .  well, that's likely to make matters worse.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Quote of the Week

" America has transformed itself from a nation of earnest, muscular, upright citizens to a land of overfed barbarous morons ruled by grifters."
by James Kuntsler in "Clusterfuck Nation," August 9, 2010

Hear, hear! I say. And as I always remind you, the morons are armed to the teeth. 

Bombs Away

"Fat Man" atomic bomb explodes over Nagasaki
Last Friday, ignored as usual by the overwhelming majority of Americans, passed the 65th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Today, and likely to be even more ignored, if that's possible, is the 65th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, which brought an end to the most horrific war that's ever been fought on planet Earth. Together these two bombings killed over 100,000 people and injured another 94,000.* I haven't been able to locate figures on the gender and age statistics of the victims, but it's likely more than half of these people were women and children. Many more thousands died in the years after 1945 from exposure to the radiation. And the long-term effects--incidence of various cancers in survivors--also continues.

So first of all, does it seem strange to anybody besides me that this year, for the first time ever,** the US and the UK had representatives at the memorial services in Hiroshima? Sixty-five years before this country acknowledges in a public way the misery and suffering it visited on the people of these two cities. That seems quite long enough. When I heard this on the news, it struck me as very odd that this was the first time, and I was glad to hear it, but that, I guess, is a measure of my naiveté. No, friends, not everybody was happy. Indeed, the president is being criticized for being "insensitive" to the feelings of the World War II generation.

From my perspective, all of us should be sensitive to anybody in any nation anywhere who had to endure the carnival of killing and suffering from 1939-45. My own father barely escaped with his life in this war. But to me, it's simply wrong not to acknowledge in some way the fact that human suffering is a universal, and the suffering we inflict upon ourselves by war is something that we all have chosen. That's what those representative of ours were doing in Hiroshima. And it was right for them to do so.

*This is a conservative estimate. Some studies put the deaths at over 200,000. Fact is nobody will ever know.

**Previously the US did not attend the ceremonies so as not the raise the question of whether it should apologize for the a-bombs.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Birthright? . . . Not So Fast

And then there's this talk about changing the 14th Amendment to remove automatic citizenship from people who are born in this country. What else is going to become expendable because people have decided to hate somebody? I've long feared that the Constitution is slowly being eroded to fit the fears of people. It would have been inconceivable a few years ago that a U.S. senator could possibly countenance such an idea.

But now we're treated to the spectacle of Lindsey Graham, the Honorable Senator from South Carolina,  supporting this nonsense. Graham, who has not said anything I agreed with ever since he got to the Senate, just recently garnered a few points with me by leading the little gaggle of Republican senators voting to confirm Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. But now he's reverted to form: one of the leading spokesmen for the Republican wingnuts.

Let's just toss out the insane idea of messing around with the 14th Amendment in any way at all and just consider this from a political point of view. What sense does it make for the Republican party to alienate the burgeoning Hispanic population in the US? Don't they know that this demographic will constitute the majority of the US population in the not too distant future? Are they declaring themselves once and for all, the white peoples party? (Of course they are and have been for a long time, but we don't talk about that, do we?)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Ground Zero Kookiness

OK, this has gone on long enough without my throwing in my two-cents worth in there. This whole furor about the mosque being built within two blocks of ground zero in lower Manhattan. I mean, what is this all about? My visceral reaction is "Is there no end to the meanness and hatred in this country?" The answer, my friends, is no. The first thing that strikes me is that the people doing all this hollering are also the same ones who shriek about their right to arm themselves to the eyeballs in accordance with their 2nd amendment rights. People like Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh. Apparently 1st Amendment rights don't count. The right-wing blogs are broiling with outrage at the desecration of the holy ground and the memory of the 9/11 victims. (Just do a blog search for "ground zero mosque" and you will not believe the vitriol and hatred you will encounter.) We've almost come to expect this kind of slavering from certain elements of the right wing, but it's a bit disconcerting to learn that the majority of New Yorkers also oppose the mosque. Outright laughable is the spectacle of the city's Museum of Tolerance--I kid you not--coming out in opposition to the mosque. The museum is an offshoot of the Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights organization. The Anti-Defamation League (ADF) is also opposed to the mosque. Huh?? We're in La-La Land, friends.

I know you're dying to hear the reasoning behind this. (I will take it for granted that your imagination can supply the "reasoning" employed by the hate-mongers.) Well, spokesman for the Wiesenthal Center, who echoes the sentiments of the ADF, says putting the mosque two blocks from ground zero says that the location is "insensitive" to the families of the 9/11 victims. He goes on to say: religious freedom does not mean being insensitive . . . or an idiot. Religion is supposed to be a beautiful [experience]. Why create pain in the name of religion?"

This is so logically fractured that it's irreparable. How many objections to this nonsense can you raise? Off the top of my head, I can think of half a dozen. Just for starters, innumerable idiots enjoy religious freedom.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Now It Can Be Told

I have thought long and hard about doing this post, but since I'm a full disclosure kind of guy*, I decided that not only will I do it, I have to do it. For little else has been on my mind of late. And up until now, there was some risk in being totally up-front about everything. That situation no longer obtains, as you will see.

Here's my spiritual/religious pedigree: Theist--Christian--Catholic. I've been this for all of my life. I've got 16 years of Catholic education. Except for a period of years when I was younger, I've been a church-going Catholic. And since 25 years ago, I've been a deacon in the Catholic church. That's an ordained position, not an honorary one. Had to study a long time to get there. Had to give up a sizeable chunk of my life during all those years in service to the church and the people in the church. I have considered it a blessing to be allowed to do this. A service, a give-back to God, who has given me everything. But now it's coming to an end. I requested to be retired from active ministry two days ago. I'm trying to get used to the idea that I won't be involved in direct church ministry any more . . . it's not easy.

But honestly, this was pretty much inevitable at some point, for if you know me or read me regularly, you know that I've had and have serious problems with the Catholic church for a long time. For a whole raft of reasons, obvious and not so obvious.

==>Like the horrendous, never-ending, globe-spanning sexual scandal that the Church has refused to address for years and years like the Christian institution it professes to be and instead handles the problem like a soulless multi-national corporation.

==>Like the all-male hierarchy which adamantly refuses to acknowledge the spiritual equality and sanctity of half of the human race.

==>Like the hypocrisy you can discover in every diocese, where taking care of the poor and helpless is the pulpit mantra and pleasures of materialism the pulpit's manna. Believe me when I tell you that for the vast majority of the Catholic clergy, problems such as how to pay the bills don't exist. And some of these guys live like potentates.

==>Like the steady, slow erosion of the Vatican II reforms and spirit which enlivened and inspired the best of us to want to serve God by serving the world's needs. Words like "collegiality" and "empowerment" actually seemed to mean something for a while. Not so much anymore. The dominant population in the Church today are conservative Catholics, people who were and are lukewarm with the Vatican II mentality in the Church at best and hate it at worst.

==>Like the incredible rigidity of doctrine and dogma which, to take but a single example, declares it sinful to prevent the birth of children, regardless of the family's circumstances, number of existing children, or psychological state . . . not to mention minor considerations such as global over-population and catastrophically-dwindling resources. Or that only men can be ordained or preach, when anybody who's been around the Church for very long knows it's the women who hold everything together and do the vast majority of the work.

I know this a totally one-sided presentation of the matter. And it's not really fair. There are millions of good Catholic people and the charitable works of the Church span the globe and bring solace and sustenance to the poor, bereft, and needy all over the world. So lest you think I'm just being bitter and overly critical, know that I don't bear any ill will towards all those "good Catholics" out there and their devotion to the Church.

But it is in the nature of the position I occupied in the institutional Church that I was embedded in the rigidly hierarchical apparatus that totally controls everything. The way this plays out in a parish is that one priest is pastor, and he is if not quite a god--that is reserved for bishops--then he's at least a Titan. Mind you, the parishioners, who financially support this guy and whole structure he comes from, have no say in who gets appointed pastor in their church. They are not consulted. Every so often, a new guy comes in and the old guy moves on. So what happens if the new guy that arrives is an emotionally-crippled authoritarian jerk? What kind of working relationship will he have with a deacon who's been ordained twice as long and who knows and understands nothing but collaborative ministry? How long do think it would take for the jerk and the deacon to clash? And how long do you think said deacon is going to hang around if he is stripped of his right to preach or to participate in liturgy? Well, dear friends, not long.

So I'm gone, and I won't be going back; but the jerk is not, nor are all those people it's been my blessing to serve. But God's in his heaven and all's right with the world.

*Which is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, my feelings about things are hardly ever a mystery nor is what's on my mind. It's called honesty or transparency. On the other hand, my feelings about things are hardly ever a mystery nor is what's on my mind. It's called idiocy in certain situations and with certain people.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


Howard Zinn died last January at a ripe old age, and in his latest column for "Truthdig," Chris Hedges writes about the extensive FBI file that had been amassed on Zinn from 1949-74. For those of you who haven't read about him here before, Zinn was an activist historian, a key member of the New Left school of American historians, whom, as I recall, were pooh-poohed by the more staid members of the profession when I was in grad school.

But the point here is that Zinn was for many years considered an enemy of the state, a danger to the rest of the citizenry. At one point he was being followed by five--count 'em FIVE--agents. What an absurdity. Zinn was non-violent, a pacifist. What made him a danger was what he thought, and the fact that he had the courage to speak out and tell the truth, which is sometimes ugly and always threatening to a society's ruling class. Consider: he was a danger because he refused to become an FBI informant (bizarre, but true), because he was an anti-Vietnam War protester, because he was a civil rights activist, because he loathed McCarthyism.

What's really disturbing to me is finding out about something called "Reserve Index, Section A." This is a classification for people in whom the FBI has interest who will be arrested immediately and held in the event of a national emergency. Does that not give you the creeps? If a harmless soul like Howard Zinn can be on this list in the 1960s, how many people do you think are on it in our paranoid, Tea Party times?

Of course, I'm not surprised to learn of all this. But it's just creepy being reminded that Big Brother is always watching, and you better be thinking what he wants you to think.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Populist Pandering and Other Anomalies

Well, I'm back from my travels and won't be on the road again till the fall. I like to travel, but I like getting home almost as well . . . in fact, just as well. Even when you're treated almost like visiting royalty, as we usually are when we visit relatives, God bless them all, home is still home, even if it is Oklahoma where the current temperature is 102 degrees.

I read today in the latest Newsweek--a magazine that just got sold (again), and that will surely not be surviving much longer. The Internet has done or will do all of the weekly news magazines in. Anyway, Fareed Zakaria, the talented editorialist, writes that Congress needs to let the Bush tax cuts lapse, for a quite simple reason: the country cannot afford them. But in the Alice's Wonderland that is American politics, even the Democrats, who still are theoretically running things, are running scared from doing this. They want to keep them only for the very richest. They opposed these taxes in 2001 & 2003. So if the tax cuts were a bad idea then when deficits were small, why are they a good idea now? I tell you, it's insane. Here are a passel of salient facts about the Bush tax cut, and why it ought to be allowed to die.

  • It would cut the deficit by $300 billion. (And the Republicans, remember have been howling about the horrible deficits unceasingly.)
  • Over ten years the tax cuts have deprived the U.S. Treasury of--are you ready for this?--$2.3 trillion. "According to the Congressional Budget Office, nearly half the cost of all legislation enacted between 2001 and 2007 can be attributed to the tax cuts."
  • Everybody of course screams about taxes and what a burden we Americans have to shoulder. That says Zakaria, is a "nice piece of populist pandering." Wanna know something about our tax burden?
    • Federal taxes as percentage of economy are at lowest level since days of Harry Truman
    • Family of four in precisely the middle of income spectrum will pay only 4.6 percent of its income in federal taxes.
    • Half the country pays no income taxes at all.
    • Top 3 percent of Americans contribute almost 50 percent of income taxes.
The fact of the matter, given the massive expenditures for the two wars and the prescription drug benefit in Medicare, the tax cuts were a ridiculously stupid thing to do. They did not stimulate the economy nor did they reduce federal spending. Now, with everybody shrieking about the deficits, the people's servants in Washington are about to require that we all bend over and grab our ankles again.