Death Watch

From today’s Think Progress email:

A new Newsweek poll has found that a majority of Republicans believe President Obama "sympathizes with the goals of Islamic fundamentalists who want to impose Islamic law around the world." Only 33 percent of Republicans said the "allegation" was "probably not true," while 38 percent said it was probably true and 14 percent said it was "definitely true."

And the death watch continues . . . .

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Superstition and stuff

sistine

I’m always thinking, and seldom focusing (ADD), but there’s been a theme to my recent ponderings having to do with the underlying differences between agnostics and true believers—beyond their obvious tolerance and intolerance of ambiguity. 

In the process it occurred to me that the whole Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition is founded on the conviction that there is indeed a supernatural being which created the universe and which—at least insofar as its relationship with the human race is concerned—is an unmitigated asshole

The supernaturalists talk a lot about their faith, but if faith is the absence of fear, I’ve gotta wonder where the greater faith lies:  with those who are convinced that there is a god who’s an asshole, or those who are betting that if there is indeed a god, she/he/it is not an asshole?

Just sayin’ . . . .

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This Sucks

DonkeyElephant

This past week, our bickering children in Washington failed to pass either the “Disclose Act” or the incredibly popular plan to aid the multitude of emergency response workers and volunteers who are now experiencing devastating health problems as a result of their rescue work in the wake of the destruction of the World Trade Center.

Posturing for power and control is more important to our “government” than solving problems.

I suppose that even the collapse of America has a bright side.  If we don’t bring down the whole human race with us in the process, perhaps the survivors will finally have learned that unbridled capitalism (“The Market” to Republicans and libertarians) is a fine social model for animal life in the jungle, but it sucks for human beings.

The ability to reason and form social contracts that elevate the quality of life for all of us (the common good) is kinda what distinguishes humans from other animals.

The doing of this by a society or culture is more or less what we’re talking about when we use the word “civilization.”

We judge the success and quality of a civilization or culture on how successful they’ve been in forming these social contracts and raising the quality of life for all.

So in a crisis where it is absolutely essential that America repair our social contract, why are so many working so hard to obstruct the repair and even dismantle it?

How about if all the progressives in both political parties were to join Bernie Sanders in the Social Democrats and leave the other two parties to the corporatists who run them.  They have proven themselves to be totally irrelevant, and yet they still have the keys and are sitting in the driver’s seat.  Time for an alternative.

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Random Thoughts

Long time without writing. It’s been a busy year, much of it spent in political shock overload — when I wasn’t hiding out from the nastiness of the Illinois winter on the beach on the Costa del Sol.

In the course of my dual hiding-out (from winter and from the feckless misadventures of President Milquetoast): (in no particular order)

Spain is a mess
Any interest in buying a vacation (or full-time) home on the Costa del Sol? For years Málaga has been my get-away Happy Place: home away from home where I could disappear into the happy-go-lucky world of mañana; smiling faces; gorgeous señores and señoritas. And an over-all sense of well being.

Today, not so much. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a lovely place to spend a few months. It’s an absolute delight to spend time with my loved ones there, and Málaga has more hours of sunshine per year than anywhere else in Europe and in the winter time, almost always the warmest temperatures. But the loveliness of it all is having a more difficult time masking the growing despair that’s eating away at the happy facade with the passing of very day.

Spain, on paper, has always looked ‘bad’ economically, with higher unemployment rates and lower per-capita incomes than its northern siblings. But Spain on paper and Spain in real life are two very different kinds of creatures. There are scores of reasons, but these two stand out in my mind:

  • Spain has a ginormous black economy
  • and a fierce spirit of personal autonomy

The proud and noble European tradition of tax evasion is practiced the most artfully in the Mediterranean states, and in none more enthusiastically than in Southern Spain. In transactions where there is some form of ‘strict’ government oversight (retail sales, home sales, professional services, etc.) 30% of the transaction amount is expected to disappear from the table. No ‘strict’ oversight? Report just enough to justify your having an income. No oversight at all? Straight to the mattress!

And I’m not kidding about the mattresses: I was in Spain in 2002 when the Euro replaced the peseta. At that time, I could have bought my apartment for around 10,000,000 pesetas: a king’s ransom in Spain, but only around $52,000 in U.S. money. But all that changed with the Euro. Spaniards had one year in which to spend all of their cash on hand. After that, the only thing to do with peseta currency was to take it to the bank and exchange it for euros. And, of course, all currency exchanges are reported to the government.

Solution? Empty out the mattress and buy real estate! Literally trillions of pesetas (billions of dollars) were pulled from under floorboards and out of trunks in the attic and poured into the real estate market. Between January of 2002 and the middle of 2007 when the market topped out, the ‘value’ of my apartment skyrocketed from $52,000 to ~$400,000. Today, I’d be very lucky to get what I paid back out of it, and even that is probably impossible right now.

But anyway, that’s the power of the Spanish mattress! And along with the black cash flow, there’s the black employment flow that’s every bit as big is its dark cash brother.

So any official stats regarding income and employment are grossly skewed by virtue of perhaps as much as 50-60% of the economy being extra-legal. Then, the government cooks the books further by paying the unemployed to attend school (already free) and counting them as ‘students.’

All of which is by way of saying that in a fairly decent economy, those ‘depressing’ numbers on paper don’t have much to do with the quality of life to your average working Andalucían, whose economy directly or indirectly relies upon tourism.

When I left there at the end of March, the official unemployment rate was somewhere around 23%. Economists outside the government estimated the real rate as being somewhere between 50 and 60%. And the tourists ain’t coming. Whoops.

Undesirable elements
I recently discovered that I had gotten one of my most favoritest quotations in the world WRONG. For years, Emma Goldman’s “The most dangerous element in any society is ignorance” has rotated in and out of my email .sig file. Turns out she actually called ignorance the most violent element. Thank you anonymous driver of the mom-mobille in the Springer Center parking lot whose (correct) bumper sticker inspired me to look it up.

My much-loved maternal grandmother was a Tribune-reading matron from Ford County who had the whole world divided into elements — desirable and un- (mostly un-). Dad (from Griggsville) had a little bit of this, too, but not nearly as much as Mom, whose family had pretensions.

I grew up hearing about elements: rough, dangerous, disruptive, violent, puerile, corrupting, and of course, the all-encompassing yet somehow superlative ‘undesirable’ sneered with a chin-slide implying a status lower than pond scum. I can’t say I ever did more than shrug off the whole idea of elementizing the world (the better to control it?) until I realized somewhere around middle school that the only sane behavior open to me was to become an Undesirable Element. (Not that my behavior was particularly sane!)

A good 20 years before Question Authority became a t-shirt slogan, I made Question Conventional Wisdom my life’s cause, and as a result was irreversibly imprinted with how absurd is the all too common human tendency when uncomfortable to label the source of our discomfort as somehow undesirable and dismissing it out of hand. Rather, of course, than dealing with it in an honorable way.

So when I first spied Emma’s ignorance quote, I grabbed onto it and took it to my heart. I still can’t figure out either where I copied it from or whether it was incorrect there or I miscopied it. but the beauty of Goldman’s statement is that whether you declare the element to be most violent or most dangerous or most corrupting or costly or disruptive or destructive…ignorance still fits the bill!

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Odds and Ends from Evernote

It’s a lazy day, and I’ve spent part of the afternoon cleaning up my Evernote files.  If I don’t do this occasionally, so much stuff accumulates that it becomes self-defeating.  Even doing it every couple of months, there are always a fair number of “What the hell was I thinking”s.  Here are some of the items I saved to blog about later:

On April 20, I clipped this gem from Steve Bennen writing in The Washington Monthly

What I find odd, though, is the underlying message. Leading Republicans make it sound as if America’s stature is so fragile, it is easily weakened by casual courtesies at an international forum. President Obama, in contrast, acts as if America’s stature is strong, and can withstand a handshake with a foreign head of state. Since when does the GOP find it useful to promote the idea of American weakness?  [Steve Bennen]

May 13, brought this whole post from Bernard Chazelle

Our Awesomeness in Numbers

from A Tiny Revolution by Jonathan Schwarz

By: Bernard Chazelle

The OECD report is out. Like a pack of hungry wallabies, the media pounced immediately on the only item worth reporting: the French eat and sleep longer hours than anyone, and yet they’re among the thinnest. The Americans work the longest hours, spend half as much time eating as the French, and they’re the fattest! No wonder everybody hates the French. Oh, and something the wallabies missed. The French (like most Europeans) are now taller than the Americans. No doubt the nativists will blame short immigrants, except that science has conclusively debunked that myth. Americans are shrinking (in height, not width) because of poor diet and lousy prenatal/infant care.

If you prefer, you can quit reading right here, and surf on to other sites that will tell you how the US is number 1 in all sorts of important things, like arms sales; bank transactions; billionaires; etc. GDP is high, too, and by the measures of classical economics, we’re not doing too bad.

The difference with the OECD report is that it gives you numbers that actually matter to living human beings. You may choose to be shocked, shocked that such things happen in our advanced society. But when a rule has more exceptions than instances in which it holds, it’s helpful to change the rule. Once you think that we live in a third-world plutocracy, then all of a sudden everything begins to make sense.

Also, after you read and weep, ask yourself why the only item that made the headlines was about the sleeping habits of the French. Maybe the French always sleep but the American propaganda machine surely never does.

Here are the US rankings out of the 30 OECD countries (1 is best; 30 is worst — worst as in Somalia-like). The names of the countries even more Somalian than the US appear in parens.

Infant Deaths: 28 out of 30 (Mexico, Turkey).

Life Expectancy: 24 out of 30 (Mexico, Turkey, Hungary, Poland, Czech & Slovak Republics).

Health Expenditures: 1 out of 30.

Poverty Rates: 28 out of 30 (Mexico, Turkey).

Child Poverty: 27 out of 30 (Mexico, Turkey, Poland).

Income Inequality: 27 out of 30 (Mexico, Turkey, Portugal).

Obesity: 30 out of 30.

Incarceration: 30 out of 30.

Work Hours (ranked in ascending order): 30 out of 30.

Height (women): 25 out of 30 (Mexico, Turkey, Korea, Portugal, Japan).

Height (men): 24 out of 30 (Italy, Spain, Mexico, Portugal, Korea, Japan).

OECD countries: Turkey, Mexico, Poland, USA, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Greece, Luxemburg, Australia, Netherlands, Slovakia, Korea, Czech Republic, UK, Belgium, Switzerland, Hungary, Iceland, France, Austria, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Denmark.

— Bernard Chazelle

June 10, I saved my own verbose but prescient response to the primary defeat of Terry McAuliffe in Virginia:

Being a flatlander out here in the flyover part of Illinois, I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t know enough about the the situation in Virginia to have any sense of what this means to Virginians, but boy, howdy! let me tell you how pleased I am to see McAuliffe knocked out of there. I only hope that it ends up to be, finally, a stake through the heart of his political career. But part of what’s most seriously wrong about the guy also makes it highly unlikely that it will be: he’s too well connected to power.

Our obstacles to making the best choices are no longer matters of Democrats vs Republicans. The Republicans have taken care of that one all by themselves. However, one of The Bear’s First Principals of Conflict states that in an intense prolonged conflict, the likelihood that the complete, sudden collapse of one of the parties will trigger the subsequent collapse of the the ‘victor’ party is directly proportional to the length and intensity of the conflict.

In other words, since the Republican party’s response to their electoral repudiation last fall has been to become a laughing-stock, there’s a very real danger of the Democrats doing the same.

If you listen to America (and I most certainly don’t mean the polls), you’ll hear that it’s not a good idea to rush to judgment on what voters were saying when they threw out the Republicans. I mean, who are you going to vote for when your choices are between an OK but probably not thrilling Democrat and a member of the Clown Party who, if an incumbent, was likely lurking somewhere near the helm cheering as the captain sailed the ship over Niagara. Saying ‘No more!’ to Republican insanity is not the same as saying ‘Yes, please!’ to not-a-Republican, whoever s/he may be, and "May I have more, please.’

So the Democrats won. Why is nothing meaningful happening? Well, if you go back to The Bear’s Principles, you’ll see that in group conflict, there’s always an element of what the Bear calls ‘group identity ambiguity’, somehow proportional to the degree of singularity of purpose that brings the group together in the first place. In simple English, there are always a certain number of folks who are in the wrong group.

As long as both sides are healthy and going at it tooth & nail, this isn’t anything that can’t be worked out over time. Allegiances change, people drift to the more appropriate group, others are exposed as frauds and shunned by the group, and some try to operate outside of the groups. But when the opposition group is suddenly removed from the scene, watch out! And that’s where we are today in our Nation.

As often happens when the bad guys are put away, today’s Democratic Party is discovering that it doesn’t stand for much of anything in the absence of opposition. McAuliffe, the Clintons, the whole DLC thing represent Corporate America (with varying degrees of ‘social responsibility’ sensibilities, as long as it doesn’t exceed corporate policy on charitable giving). They do not represent what I think America voted for last fall, and I am delighted to see my judgment ratified by the voters of Virginia.

On August 20, ‘CanSoc’ wrote this is the comments section of a Salon article on the health care debate:

Dickens’s Ghost of Christmas Present, speaking about the children that cling to him: "This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both; but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom for men, unless the writing be erased." Or at least doom for an equitable healthcare system, along with an equitable society, in the US.

And finally, in today’s column, Andy Tobias links to this depressing article by John Mauldin.  Sadly, I’ve gotta say it’s a must read.

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Barney Frank Confronts Woman At Townhall Comparing Obama To Hitler

My sentiments exactly!

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Oh, Would You Just Put A Sock In It, Barrack?

Our President is on the teevee commenting on the violence in Iraq following the election.  Telling us Americans should be disturbed when they see a government using violence against a group of people peaceably gathered to express their dissatisfaction with the government. 

Where the fluck were you, Mr. Obama, when our government was doing just that in St. Paul last August?  Or should we only be disturbed when the government that’s violently stifling dissent is some pre-demonized Them. 

You, sir, are such a pathetic disappointment!

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OMG

russert-bye

Olberman is eulogizing Tim Russert on ‘Countdown’ on the eve of the one-year anniversary of his death, and I’m sitting here trying to control my gag reflex.

According to absolutely everybody, Tim Russert, popular NBC political reporter and host of the venerable Sunday morning talking-heads spectacle ‘Meet the Press,’ was the nicest guy who ever walked the earth.  I have no argument with that.  We all feel and say that kind of stuff when someone we’re very fond of suddenly checks out, and if they could just leave it at that, I wouldn’t be fighting a gag. 

But all this crap about what a fine reporter he was is more than I can handle.  Tim Russert was a horrible reporter and a literal icon for what is wrong with corporate media today.  His ‘Meet the Press’ was an uncritical platform for the Bush administration to make its case to the country without fear of criticism or fact checking of even their most absurd and obviously false assertions.  His famous interview with Cheney in the leadup to the unprovoked invasion of Iraq is the most shameful moment in modern American journalism.

So let’s pause and fondly remember Tim the nice guy and super dad, and let’s skip all the bullshit about what a fine reporter he was, eh? 

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Virginia Says ‘No’ To Corporate Democrat McAuliffe

beard-bears Last night, the tubes were full of the news that a relative unknown, Creigh (pronounced ‘Cree’—I woud have guessed ‘Cray’) Deeds had won the Virginia Gubernatorial Primary.  The headlines ran the gamut, from “Deeds Wins Primary,” to “Mr. Deeds One Step Closer to Going To Richmond,” to my favorite, “Anybody but McAuliffe.” 

Being a flatlander out here in the flyover part of Illinois, I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t know enough about the the situation in Virginia to have any sense of what this means to Virginians, but Boy, howdy! let me tell you how pleased I am to see McAuliffe knocked out of there.  I only hope that it turns out to be a stake through the heart of his political career. But I think he’s too well connected to power for that—a big part of what’s most seriously wrong about the guy.

Our obstacles to making the best choices are no longer matters of Democrats vs. Republicans. The Republicans have taken care of that one all by themselves. However, one of The Bear’s First Principals of Conflict states that in an intense prolonged conflict, the likelihood that the complete, sudden collapse of one of the parties will trigger the subsequent collapse of the the ‘victor’ party is directly proportional to the length and intensity of the conflict.

In other words, since the Republican party’s response to their electoral repudiation last fall has been to become a laughing-stock, there’s a very real danger of the Democrats doing exactly the same.

It’s not a good idea to rush to judgment on what voters were saying when they threw out the Republicans last fall.  I mean, who are you going to vote for when your choices are between an OK but probably not thrilling Democrat and a member of the Clown Party who, if incumbent, was likely lurking somewhere near the helm, cheering as the captain sailed the ship over Niagra. Saying ‘No more!’ to Republican insanity is not the same as saying ‘Yes, please!’ to not-a-Republican, whoever s/he may be, and "May I have more, please.’

So the Democrats won. Why is nothing meaningful happening? Well, if you go back to The Bear’s Principles, you’ll see that in group conflict, there’s always an element of what the Bear calls ‘group identity ambiguity’, somehow proportional to the degree of singularity of purpose that brings the group together in the first place. In simple English, there are always a certain number of folks who are in the wrong group.

As long as both sides are healthy and going at it tooth & nail, this isn’t anything that can’t be worked out over time. Allegiances change, people drift to the more appropriate group, others are exposed as frauds and shunned by the group, and some try to operate outside of the groups. But when the opposition group is suddenly removed from the scene, watch out! And that’s where we are today in our Nation.

As often happens when the bad guys are put away, today’s Democratic Party is discovering that it doesn’t stand for much of anything in the absence of opposition. McAuliffe, the Clintons, the whole DLC thing represent Corporate America (with varying degrees of ‘social responsibility’ sensibilities permitted, as long as they don’t exceed corporate policy on charitable giving). They do not represent what I think America voted for last fall, and I am delighted to see my judgment ratified by the voters of Virginia. (Thus, the dancing bears.)

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Brave Sir Robin Blue-Dog

Thank you Eli at FDL for renewing our acquaintance with this wonderful Python clip.  The timing was perfect for my semi-depressed frame of mind.  (Time to lay off the news for a while I think.)  I may just have to find a torrent for a whole Monty Python movie.  I had completely forgotten how much fun it is, and it’s gotta be cheaper than Prozac.

But the real fun is in the post that goes with it, in which Eli lays bare the manner in which the Blue-Dog Dems are beating a very brave retreat on the “public option” aspect of healthcare reform.  Please read and enjoy The Courage of the Conservadems at Firedog Lake.  And may the gods and godesses of delight and absurdity continue to entertain Eli for eternity.

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