Friday, December 28, 2012

Nobody Asked Me, But...

The Year In Review
(stories you may have missed because you were out snorting blow and banging hookers)
1) Along with the alleged fiscal cliff comes a real financial cliff. The farm bill also expires at December 31, and failure to pass a new one will drive dairy prices into the stratosphere.
Good government advocates (like myself) believe the farm bill needs to be all but abolished. There is no reason for corn prices to be subsidized. There is no real reason for dairy prices to be subsidized, either, except for helping families afford milk for their kids. Milk prices could double (probably even higher, given how corn is such an integral part of feed prices) and put a real crimp in working families' budgets.
2) The number of journalists jailed worldwide broke a record this year. In a world where democracy seems to be taking greater root, this is an unhealthy development.
3) The Antarctic is warming three times faster than expected. Hurricane Sandy was just a prelude.
4) 2012 was the worst year on record for mass shootings in the United States.
5) If you were hoping for a breakthrough in Middle East peace next year, don't count on it. Believe it or not, there's a conservative crazier than Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel who could impact the elections next year and win the prime ministership.
6) Crack and blow your mind away with the 100 best photos from space of 2012.
7) Nearly a thousand species have gone extinct since man started exploring the planet in the 17th century. Here's a tribute to them.
8) As healthcare prices have soared over the past ten years, people are taking less and less care of themselves. Exhibit A.
9) This will happen more and more as global temperatures rise and droughts extend: The Mississippi River is closing.
10) Finally, you will own a robot before the decade is out.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Story of the Year

Throughout the year, I've posted my thoughts on the swinging pedulum of politics, and how I believe the swing to the far right has ended and a swing back towards the middle well underway.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board is dismissing right-wing calls for David Gregory's indictment as "entirely nonsensical," reflecting the widely-held belief that the investigation involving the "Meet The Press" is not a legitimate use of law enforcement's time.

On last Sunday's program, Gregory displayed what appeared to be a gun magazine while interviewing National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre. Police officials here in Washington, who have launched a probe into the incident, have since confirmed that doing so was a violation of the law, and that NBC News knew as much prior to the show. Gun rights advocates are, for lack of a better term, up in arms.

The Wall Street Journal, defending David Gregory. The mind wobbles.

This year, 2012, has been a watershed year in the rise of liberal politics. It's seen the re-election, on his own merits, of Barack Obama by a coalition of "minorities" (soon to be a majority), youth and women votes. The reasons are many, but they boil down to one: he's trustworthy.

The attempt by Republicans and the right-wing to tear up politics by making the very word so untrustworthy by the average American that they stay away from the polls in droves backfired badly in 2012. The big money infusions of superPACs, big corporations and rich donors like the Koch brothers failed miserably.

Indeed, it failed so badly that the 2010 election must be considered an outlier, albeit a repeatable one in 2014. State houses, gerrymandering, and local governments have been so co-opted by the grifting and bribery of big money that it will be next to impossible to move the House to the middle anytime soon, I'm afraid.

Unless the news cycle overtakes it. And here, too, things bode well for liberals.

From the mildest winter on record early this year to the scorching heat of summer, from the selection of Mitt Romney -- nominally a conservative but someone who's credentials as a rightwinger were highly suspect -- to the election of Barack Obama to a second term, from the uptick in the economy and the lowering of the unemployment rate (not fast enough, but then no Republican has dared propose a jobs program in Congress), even to the tragic slaughter of Americans -- 151 in 2012 alone, and sadly, counting -- in mass shootings, liberal thought and liberal policies have stood the test of time while reactionary conservativism, that black-or-white bastion of immaturity, has lingered and languished and coughed it's death rattle like Torquemada in the monastery at Avila.
Things will only get worse for conervatives, too. The voting bloc that was primarily responsible for Barack Obama's election -- youth, minorities, women -- are all growing, and gaining economic power while the voting bloc that was most dependable for conservatives in 2012 -- older white men -- is dying at an accelerating pace and lost the most in the economic meltdown of 2008 (e.g. wealth in home values).
Their voices fade. Ours grow stronger.
It's a good time to be a liberal.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

"Only Outlaws Will Have Guns"

WEBSTER – An ex-con killed two firefighters with the same caliber and make military-style rifle used in the Connecticut school massacre after typing a note pledging to burn down his neighborhood and “do what I like doing best, killing people,” police said Tuesday as another body, believed to be the gunman’s missing sister, was found.

William Spengler, 62, who served 17 years in prison for manslaughter in the 1980 hammer slaying of his grandmother, set his house afire before dawn Christmas Eve before taking a revolver, a shotgun and a semiautomatic rifle to a sniper position outside, Police Chief Gerald Pickering said.
Now, here's the thing: Spengler should have been clearly ineligible to have weapons of any kind...after all, we live in a country where if you're an ex-con, you can be purged from voting rolls, even if your debt to society is completely paid.
It seems likely that Spengler, who spent 17 years in prison for bldugeoning his 92 year old grandmother to dead with a hammer, owned these weapons legally. He was off parole in 2006, presumably his "debt" being paid.
This is the world Wayne La Pierre and the fascists who are NRA members want you to live in. You have trouble voting. Felons can carry guns. It looks to me as if the only people who amass these kinds of weapons ARE outlaws, and the mere fact that you own any assault or semi-automatic weaponry ought to make you suspect in any kind of polite society.
Really, who needs a Bushmaster to hunt deer? I know those antlers can be pretty intimidating, but think of it as a giant hat rack and you should be fine shooting with your little Remington rifle. You are in no danger, and it's not like the fight is a fair one anyway.
La Pierre spoke last week of having a registry of the mentally unstable. For my part, he has a seed of that registry if he just lists his membership roles. Any sane person would have quit after his egregious press "conference" and subsequent appearance on Meet The Press Sunday.
But isn't it interesting that he'd rather have a government-compiled list of people's private medical information than a government-compiled list of weapons that will kill someone.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Weaker Boener's Morning After Pill

The so-called "Republican Plan B" for avoiding the fiscal cliff will be brought up for a vote today. Like the real-life Plan B, it's pretty much going to be prophylactic in getting passed on into the uterus. I mean, Senate.

House Speaker John Boehner has proposed Plan B, which would extend Bush-era tax cuts on income of up to $1 million. He described it as a fallback option to prevent a sweeping tax hike while negotiations continue on a broader plan.

GOP leaders also had planned to vote Thursday on President Barack Obama's long-standing proposal to return to the higher tax rates of the 1990s on income above $250,000 for families.

But Republicans decided to drop their plan to vote on extending tax breaks on incomes over $250,000. One GOP aide said that since the president has moved the threshold to $400,000, there is no point to that exercise.

What's astounding about this plan, even this minimally effective plan, is that Boener is having trouble rounding up enough votes to get it through his House. He's had to hand out lollipops to the children in his caucus, even to the point where the sequestration that both parties in both houses of Congress agreed to two years ago are up for modification.

You may read that as meaning the defense cuts are off the table.

Needless to say, President Obama has promised to veto this nonsense, although it's hard to see how you can get Republicans back to the table.

This all hinges on one date on the calendar, and you should mark it, should we go over the fiscal cliff: January 3.

That's the day most Americans who receive some form of monthly compensation from the United States -- Social Security, welfare, a salary -- can expect their next installment. Including many of the same asshats who are writing into their Teabagger Congresscritters telling them to stand firm on taxes.

It will be interesting to see what happens when those government-bought Hoverounds start to malfunction and there's no money to be found for fixing them. All those FOX News viewers stuck inside, can't even go to the corner for a pack of cigs and a 40, and of course, the HEAP money will be flatlined too, so no heat or hot water -- not that they shower, mind you -- no mail delivery so no pension checks or Victoria Secret catalogues to fap to, and then God forbid there's an actual disaster and they need help.



Wednesday, December 19, 2012

"Meaningful Contributions"

What an interesting turn of phrase the NRA has resorted to, after nearly five days of utter silence with regard to the Sandy Hook Elementary School slaughter:

After days of silence, the National Rifle Association released a statement Tuesday on the tragic shooting in Newtown, Conn., saying it will make "meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again."

In the release, the organization begins to explain its silence, saying: "Out of respect for the families, and as a matter of common decency, we have given time for mourning, prayer and a full investigation of the facts before commenting."

Now, this could be read as anything from pumping gobs of money into advocating more gun rights to finally making significant changes to its pro-gun manufacturing stances.

After all, isn't it the hardcore gun owners who are saying "If the teachers had been armed..." fully neglecting the fact that there have been mass killing on military bases where there are arms aplenty. If trained military officers and soldiers can't react quickly enough to a slaughter by automatic weaponry, how in the heck is a principal supposed to a) hear gun fire, b) recognize it as gun fire, c) run to the gun safe, d) open it while emotionally compromised, e) pull out a weapon, f) load it (because presumably you wouldn't want loaded weapons in a school, and g) run back down the hall and steady herself (since most principals are women) and shoot a gunman, all without sacrificing another student?

A "meaningful contribution" could be interpreted as to offer gun training to teachers for free, you see.

In thirty years, not one mass shooting has been stopped by a civilian with a gun, unless you count the killers who have shot themselves on the scene. Apocryphal stories abound of armed citizens staring down a gunman, but those sound more like bar-boasts than anything else and are not backed up by trials where evidence has been submitted.

The NRA is scheduled to hold a press conference in Washington, DC on Friday. That it has not decided to rub people's noses in it by holding an ad hoc convention in Hartford instead can be taken as a sign of progress.

Maybe, just maybe, its dawned on them that people matter more than guns.


Monday, December 17, 2012

Now. Not Tomorrow. Not Next Week. Now.

The assault weapons ban must be put back in place, immediately. If President Obama has to risk looking like "He's comin' fer our gunz," then so be it. We shouldn't have to explain to the parents of the next school shooting, "It wasn't the right time to talk about banning assault rifles and semi-automatic pistols."
Because if this incident doesn't immediately make it clear that a) there is no wrong time to talk about the ban and b) assault weapons have no place in society, period, I can't imagine what the hell a gun nut could possibly want to convince him.
There is absolutely no need for any civilian, not even an off-duty cop, to own an assault weapon. Period. Here we have a case of legally owned guns being used to slaughter dozens of innocent people. These guns were employed by someone who had authorization to use them, having fired them any number of times at gun ranges under the auspices of his mother.
As Michael Moore so deftly tweeted this weekend "If only Nancy Lanza had more guns, none of this would have happened." The Lanzas clearly had too many guns.
The answer, clearly, is not more guns. Indeed, no civilian in the past 30 years has stopped a mass shooting. Ever. Not once. Indeed, another gun tends to incite more gun violence, as anyone who lives in a deep urban area can attest. Or you merely have to look at this past summer's incident at the Empire State Building, where nine bystanders were injured by police firing upon the assailant. And they're trained in the use of firearms to the point they are warned not to draw unless its absolutely necessary.
It's also funny how when it comes to the Second Amendment, conservatives suddenly become so flexible, where on the rest of the document, they are strict constructionists.
I mean, I might be wrong, but back when the founders wrote that Amendment, you had to measure out black powder, pour it down the barrel of your musket or pistol, tamp it down with wadding, then stuff a lead ball into it. You took very careful aim because the barrel wasn't rifled so the ball didn't fly true (and besides, it was a ball so it was likely to veer off course anyway) and you looked "into the whites of their eyes" and you fired.
This gave you more than a moment's pause before you wasted a shot. Indeed, a miss meant you had to start the whole process all over again and risk being killed by your target, even with his bare hands. You couldn't spray a roomful of children like you were watering a garden.
It shouldn't be easy to shoot someone. It certainly shouldn't be easier to buy a gun of any kind than to buy a car and drive it. There ought to be insurance involved, too, since something like 80% of guns used in this country are legally owned, and that insurance ought to be goddamned expensive.
In New York City, it costs something like $500 annually just to own a gun, and another $400 or so to have a gun license of the most minimal permit (to keep a gun in your house.) That ought to be the minimum, the bare minimum, and then we can move onto defining what a gun actually is.
So conservatives? You want to be all "strict constructionist," how about here? How about we define a "gun" as something that cannot fire more than a bullet faster than every three seconds (I'm being very generous here, since it took longer than three seconds to load a musket)? Anything faster is a "military weapon," and therefore not covered in the Second?
There is not one legitimate argument for any civilian to ever own a military weapon.
MAS: Rich Abdill over at Wonkette has posted one of the best explorations of the counterarguments to the gun nuts in America I've ever read, thus neatly proving that we snarkcastic folks are really smart, too.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Newtown, CT

It says a lot about the inherent violence of this country and how I've become numbed by it that it took the deaths of twenty grade school kids to bring me to tears.
Not the slaughter of dozens of young adults in Columbine, or West Virginia, or the movie theatre in Colorado. Not even the Clackamack Mall in Oregon. Those rolled off my back. Those were expected. I've seen that so many times.
But this, this is....
Words fail me.

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) By now, you've either heard, seen, or read about the foofarall involving Steve Crowder and some union members in Lansing, MI, at a protest against the latest rape of the middle class. Crowder claims he was "beaten by a mob," his words.
Well, the video and facts suggest otherwise. The bits edited out by Crowder but not by FOX News editors, of all people, show the man who "attacked" Crowder had been shoved to the ground, presumably by Crowder, a purported MMA fighter, who himself is stumbling back as if he had just broken a wrestlign hold forcefully (my observation from years of bar fights.)
It's so bad for Crowder that even the local police have serious questions about his veracity.
Indeed, if anything, it looks like Crowder attempted to intervene in an attempt at another right-wing thug, and got whaled on for that. Again, having been in the middle of a few of those myself, I can tell you that to get into someone else's fight, no matter how benign the intent, means you risk being perceived as chooising a side. In Crowder's case, it's established who's side he's on already, so stepping in was tantamount to ganging up on the union guy.
So it's no wonder a crowd descended on, pardon the pun...and beat the snot out of him.
As to his threat on Hannity....tell you what, Steve. I'll take the guy's place, if you'll permit it. You can bring Sean too. I hope you both have Obamacare, though.
3) What happened to Susan Rice shouldn't have happened at all. I'm not sure who instigated the withdrawal from consideration, but if I was Obama, I'd have fought tooth and nail. You are the President, sir, and therefore entitled to choose your own advisors as you see fit. Why do you forget that? Is it part of some grand "fiscal cliff" strategy?
4)  ¹
5) We took care of the last batch, we'll take care of this one, too.
6) Conservatives were right: Obama was re-elected, and gas prices skyrocketed. Also, it's Opposite Day.
7) Gee....what a shock.
8) Wow. Who knew Mandy Patinkin was so smart?
9) A really good analysis of the decline of unions in America, and why they should come back.
10) Oh, Huffington Post...when did you become Maxim Mag-- you stopped reading this already, didn't you?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

One Of These Is Wrong

Either North Korea successfully placed a "weather satellite" in pole-to-pole orbit around the earth or it's spinning wildly out of control and could crash at any moment.
We report, you duck and cover.
This story is less important for the content -- nearly every nation on the planet, including Russia but not China, have forcefully condemned the launch -- and more important for the interesting spin (pardon the pun) the US is putting on it.
Let's assume for a moment that, indeed, the satellite is wildly out of control. So the US is warning the world to keep an eye out. If this was confirmed by anyone else (South Korea is closely tracking the launch, and even picked up the first stage as it splashed down for further examination,) then the US is prudently advising the world of a potential hazard, much like the US warned about SpaceLab back in the 70s, and Russia about its satellite in 2009.
But there's been no independent confirmation. Which makes the US statement curious, to say the least.
So now let's assume it's all smoke. What is the process for making such a statement in the first place?
While the rocket in question has the apparent capacity to reach the US mainland, barely, and certainly has the range to create havoc among our eastern allies, mocking North Korea's technology seems a little beneath the world's greatest superpower, a nation with a bigger military than the next ten nations combined.
However, this seems to be shaping up to be a war by proxy, if "war" might be an overstatement. Perhaps another cold war would be a better way to put it.
It seems pretty clear that China has been using North Korea as a proving ground for some of their weapons capability, which frees them of any direct responsibility for the launches, but allows them to look like a reasonable moderator in the disputes. It also informs how China has been "in the know" about the development program long before North Korea has revealed its program, piece by piece. The Chinese answers seem a bit too pat, too prepared.
By raising doubts in the minds of the Chinese about the effectiveness of their arms, it forces them back to the drawing board, which may actually result in the Chinese making a blunder in re-development that allows the US to track their activities more closely.
But even that seems a bit of a "small beer" gambit. It smacks of TPing a tree in their front yard.
So ponder this, instead. Perhaps the US has been able to wrestle control of the satellite in some fashion, or to somehow interfere with its operation (e.g. colliding a piece of space junk with it.)
Now the statement starts to make a little more sense. It sends a message that "yes, you'll launch and yes, we'll aggressively defend our, er, spacespace."

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Concert For People Who Really Shouldn't Need It (But Do)

Tonight I, like hundreds of millions around the globe, will be glued to my television to watch the 12.12.12 Concert for Sandy Relief.
And like hundreds of millions of people around the globe, I have better things to do with my three hours than sit and watch TV.
It's not that I'm knocking either the concert or the intent behind it. People in this area still need help getting back on their feet and my last few weeks have been spent doing what I can and then some to assist. Even people who adequately prepared and even had enough insurance to cover their losses are waiting around for checks to begin rebuilding and feeding themselves.
It's this last I'm finding a really bitter pill to swallow.
This tragedy occured within ten miles of the greatest concentration of wealth on the planet. Hell, this tragedy affected the greatest concentration of wealth on the planet!
So where are the rich? Where are the dazzling limos and gleaming boats, the pearl-strung ladies who lunch, delivering meals and blankets?
(To be fair, the concert was organized by the Robin Hood Foundation, which was started by hedge fund manager Paul Tudor Jones in 1988, and its board of directors includes some of the glitteriest of the glitterati)
All fall long, we heard from Republicans how a tax hike would absolutely ruin the rich, force them to conserve money and cut jobs. Wouldn't this be an opportunity to show the world you meant what you said, Mitt? That the best way for this nation to grow is to fund the rich more so they can re-invest in our communities?
And I don't mean with some half-assed photo op. Those days are over. How about some real relief, Mitt and minions? How about acknowledging the fact that, indeed, you didn't build that, that it was built by the hard working men and women whose homes were destroyed in the wrath of Nature that was Sandy, created by the same global warming you and your minions have worked so hard to deny?
How about it, rich and powerful? How about parting with a substantial portion of that wealth as a sign of fealty to the nation that gave it to you in the first place, that opened up the opportunities and in many if not most cases, financed it with the tax dollars off the sweat of the very people sitting in cold dark tents on their property?
How about you live your credoes of charity? Instead of financing the wing of some hospital that just happens to treat the prostate cancer you've been diagnosed with or the children's charity that just happens to benefit the nation where your kid was adopted from, how about turning some of that fire hose of funding on this conflagration?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Right, Another Right, A Left Jab

For general classification purposes, I align myself as a liberal.
In point of fact, it goes deeper than that. If I had to label my belief system, I'm a libertarian.
Not the "RON PAUL!" gold-standard, Ameros, government out of everything libertarianism, with a small l, but Libertarianism with a capital. An adult Libertarian, if you will, as opposed to the immature playground libertarianism of Paul and his acolytes.
I was exposed to the roots of Libertarian thought in high school, Sociology to be precise. We attempted to undertand the development of socialization and communities through world history, covering everything from Hammurabi to the Japanese internment camps of World War II.
In this class, we spent a fair amount of time on the men who developed the guiding principles of American democracy: Locke, Bentham, John Stuart Mill.
It was Mill, in particular his treatise On Liberty, which rang the loudest for me. To this day, I've kept a copy of that pamphlet.
I've often tried to reconcile Bentham's notion of the "greatest happiness for the greatest number" with the notion that individual liberty rises supreme above all societal needs.
I'm more attracted to Mill's notion of individual liberty trumping all, which I suspect would find favor with the Paultards too. But here's the part that Paultards always miss: your unfettered freedom stops almost the second you step out your door.
Mill's premise is not that individual liberties trump all. Indeed, far from it. His premise is that unfettered government cannot impose upon the individual's rights: the government, in effect, stops at your front door.
I don't think anyone can deny this is a good thing, except for those who would invade a woman's body for the purposes of dissuading her from having an abortion, and a few other firebrand types. They're idiots, so we're free to move on.
The distinction Mill makes, the difference between libertarianism ("glibertarianism") and Libertarianism ("maturity") is an acknowledgement that the extension of individual rights across the entire population demands that the second your actions impact another person, you lose the right to demand your individual sovereignty and must negotiate your actions because of the effect they will have on others.
Smoking, for instance. No one is about to deny anyone the right to smoke in their own house, bought and paid for (or at least mortgaged). If, however, you want to smoke in a rented apartment, you need the landlord's permission and if he or she says no, then you can't. You're affecting the value of the property, as well as the health of any other tenants in the building.
Similarly, smoking outside. Your second hand smoke kills, in large enough quantities, and it kills people who you might not even know, much less like or dislike. Cities and towns may set aside smoking areas, but they are clearly marked and non-smokers are warned to stay away.
Again, the non-smoker may exercise his right to risk his health.
These are the kinds of negotiations a free society has to engage in in order to function as a community. The landlord may agree to rent to a smoker because that smoker was first in line or has a better credit rating or is in some other way an advantage to the landlord to have around. He might not like the idea but he's comfortable with the choice, knowing it's possible his building might burn down by accident.
This is where a government comes into play: since people play by different rules and want different things, the government has to step in and normalize the rules and regulations so everyone has a fair chance at things. For instance, while it's legal to tell a smoker no, a landlord who refuses to rent to a black person because of the perception that property values will decline will be hauled in front of a judge, posthaste.
This is as it should be. The landlord's rights do not trump the right of a person to live where they want, so long as their behavior warrants it (similarly, an ex-con can be denied an apartment, but that creates a homeless problem and is the subject of a different post. Again, government steps in.)
It is this understanding that choices and actions have consequences and that other people have the right to demand their own individual rights and security be as important in the public square as yours or mine that develops maturity and the nuance of how a society operates.
And why government is important, now more than ever.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Choices We Make

I don't envy Cory Booker his future.
I mean, I do, and I don't. He has the entire world paid out rather clearly in front of him (and I pray there's no secret that is going to derail his future, and what a sad commentary on American society that I have to even think that.)
Which means he has choices. Lots of them.
Right in front of him, in fact are two: he can run for governor of New Jersey, and have a tough battle ahead against an, no pun intended...popular governor in Chris Christie, or he can cakewalk into the Senate.
To be sure, this choice is on his mind, as well:
Newark Mayor Cory Booker says he'll decide in two weeks whether he'll run for New Jersey governor or U.S. Senate.

Booker, a Democrat, said Monday on CNN that Chris Christie, a Republican who enjoys high approval ratings after Hurricane Sandy, is "vulnerable" in his re-election bid because of his stances on the environment and issues pertaining to women.

"Christie is vulnerable, as it should be, because there's a lot of issues in the state he's not falling in line with," Booker said on CNN's Starting Point program.

This 2013 race would pit Booker, an hugely popular mayor who would likely clean up in urban and ex-urban areas, particularly in northern New Jersey, against Christie's overwhelming popularity with white suburbanites and south Jerseyians.

Or, Booker can wait until 2014, and basically be annointed as replacement for Frank Lautenberg, who has already unretired once to serve in the US Senate, and will turn 89 before his seat comes up for election.

Or he can run for a third term as mayor of Newark, not something an ambitious and hard working politician would relish, I think.

You begin to see the problem, I think. If he runs in 2013 and beats Christie, this pretty much takes him off the table for the 2016 Presidential race, another office I suspect he aspires to. If he runs in 2013 and loses, no harm no foul, he can run in 2014 for Lautenberg's seat, and then marshall national forces for a run at the Presidency in 2020 or 2024, assuming Democrats run the table in yet another national election.

And if his eyes are on the biggest prize, he still might run for either of these offices on the assumption that all the attention he'd garner against the GOP's biggest fish....erm, no pun intended...would boost his standing for a slog through the 2016 primary season.

So he's cursed with options.


Friday, December 07, 2012

Nobody Asked Me, But...

I'm going to set aside the usual format today in favor of exploring this forming exhoration in my breast.
I'm looking back over the past year, and as I grow a little bit older, I'm wise to the fact that my best days may be behind me. Parts of me that haven't hurt before do, and parts that have hurt, hurt a little more. My skin cancer bounced back (on my ass, no less!) and I had a little scare late in the year that seems to have passed, mysteriously appearing and disappearing in the blink of a blood test.
Outlier? Possibly. It wouldn't be the first blood test the lab screwed up. Still, it was enough to deflate any notion I had that life was going to get easier after the past turbulent decade.
I feel like I haven't made much of a difference, that my efforts seem to be running into walls.
And I don't want to make it out that I consider the year a failure. In many ways it most certainly was not. Indeed, on balance it's been a pretty good year. Except the bits that didn't go well are bits I could have handled better.
All that is a roundabout way of getting into what I really want to talk about: taking responsibility.
In many respects, the conservative and Teabagger mantra of "take responsibility for yourself" appeals to me. We should. We all should look after ourselves to the best of our abilities.
But here's where Teabaggers and I part company: some people, many people, hell, ALL people have weak points. We all have places in our lives where we can use a little help. For instance, mine is in staying on a diet :-)
What? You didn't think I rode my bike 3,000 miles this year for my health, did you?
Well, I mean, I did, but I did because if I didn't, I would balloon up. But I digress...
The whole point of a society is, if you have a weakness and your neighbor has a strength that dovetails nicely with your weakness, it's part of his responsibility to help you. This is what neighbors do. The problem is, our society has become so expansive and so enumerary that it's hard to match up needs to strengths.
Indeed, it would be possible for imbalances in this equation to form: one person taking more than they need, another giving too much because he or she has to, based on the needs of others.
And this is where government steps in. It can create pathways for help to get to those who need it. It can create avenues for those who can give help to do so safely and without concern that they'll exhaust their resources helping.
Think about Sandy and how hard it's been to clean up and fix up things, and then imagine what would have happened without government.
Some tragedies are obvious. Some are not, but that doesn't make them any less tragic. Hunger, for instance, food insecurity. Newark Mayor Corey Booker is trying to spend a week surviving on just food stamps, to prove that a) it cannot be done, and b) that most people who rely on them use them to supplement other income and so shouldn't be called names like "lazy" or "shiftless".
This is where the Teabaggers fail epically. Nobody wants to be on food stamps anymore than they want to be unemployed or on welfare. Perhaps you can find one in 10,000 who challenge this rule, but really...are we going to punish millions for the sake of dozens?
Taking care of our own is part of taking care of ourselves, as we've seen. This is part of the social contract with a community -- to give when you can and receive when you must -- and in this case, the government is part of the community.
We pay taxes for programs like this because it's how we can best make a difference. We contribute a little to a much larger pot, and that's how we make a difference in other people's lives.
But there are other ways you and I can make differences, and surprisingly, in small steps we can help solve big problems.
A plastic bag floats over the sidewalk on the breeze like a spastic jellyfish. You can let it go, or you can pick it up and walk ten feet to a trashcan and throw it away. Which would you do?
Eventually, that plastic bag could make its way into the belly of an animal, or wrapped about the throat of a bird. Or more likely, a bag just like it could end up on your front lawn or sidewalk, forcing you to pick it up. If we could all pick up the loose bag when we see one, it really just shifts your responsibility forward a little.
Too, it gets you involved in your community, picking up the trash on a sidewalk that's not yours. Incrementally, it makes your community more important to you and by extension, a bigger part of you. When everybody takes responsibility for the community streets, you have a society.
One step further: you buy locally. You try to find food grown within a hundred miles of your house -- not an easy task in colder climes, admittedly. You stay away from retailers who are hostile to workers and unions, because you believe anyone deserves a good paying job with benefits that won't force them on food stamps (see how this works?)
That retailer will either change or die if all of us do that, if all of us take responsibility for ourselves and our community and suddenly that community has expanded to encompass that big box retailer who has to deal with declining sales and a hostile consumer base. They have to change or not be part of the bigger community outside their doors.
And soon, as a nation, we're starting to solve the world problems that we impact the greatest: if we all decide to stop buying cars that use an inefficient gasoline engine and start to use transportation with less of a fetid impact on the planet, we go from the number one carbon polluter to much farther down the list, and someone else becomes "the worst." And they'll start to race us to the bottom.
Yes, there will be low-normals who object to these changes, but here's the thing: if enough of us do it, those changes become cool, and the people who resist them become pariahs in their own communities. Suddenly, the sneers they reserved for "welfare queens" are flipped around, and those who sneered becomes the sneered at.
Will we still need government to enforce these? Absolutely. Problems like these, as I've shown, exceed the capacity of local society to enforce. But if society itself can get behind them, then the power of enforcement is made much less intrusive, since it will be less and less likely that people will resist when they see all their neighbors picking up the trash.
So maybe my year wasn't as productive as it could have been because I've been looking at the big picture and forgetting that it's the little things in life -- the smile, the kind word, the tossing loose trash in a trashcan, or even just writing nearly every day at this shitty little blog and changing just noe mind -- that end up mattering in the long run. Maybe, just maybe, I made a difference.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Here We Go

Maybe the Maya were right after all...

Syrian forces have mixed chemical weapons and added them to bombs in preparation for possible use on President Bashar Assad’s own people, Fox News confirms.

A senior U.S. official told Fox News that bombs were loaded with components of sarin gas, a deadly nerve gas. Syrian forces have 60 days to use these bombs until the chemical mixture expires and has to be destroyed.

The nerve agent has been loaded into canisters in aerosol form that can be dropped from planes, Fox said. A Fox reporter spoke with Pentagon officials, who expressed grave concern. Sarin is capable of killing many people in a short time. There is no antidote.

Earlier, Fox reported that U.S. troops were deploying to the Syrian border for defensive purposes.

Any solution to the Syrian conflict that comes before sarin is deployed will be tricky, and the pressure to deploy sarin has been anted up as rebels continue to advance on Damascus.

Already, Russia has warned Turkey about meddling in the internal politics of Syria, a major arms purchaser from Russia. Those differences have been papered over in recent days, but the use of sarin gas would cast a whole new light on the tenuous agreement.

Russia has tried to place itself as a neutral observer, leaning towards Assad -- the "status quo" would probably be the code they'd use to indicate this predilection -- but it has blocked no less than three UN resolutions asking Assad to step down peacefully or to provide UN support to the rebels.

But Turkey has deployed Patriot missiles to its border with Syria, and ostensibly these could be used at US direction to shoot down planes suspected of carrying chemical weapons. Too, Turkey has a dog in the hunt, since winds do not respect borders.

An ad hoc, presumably emergency meeting between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, has been arranged for this afternoon on the crisis. Perhaps Russia is reconsidering her position in support of Assad. Certainly, the chemical weapons -- which must be deployed by February 1 or thereabouts, else they'll lose potency -- raises the stakes for them.  


Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The End Of His Story

Back in 1992, all-around idiot Francis Fukuyama posited the end of history. His rationale was, now that the Soviet Union was dead and the then-nascent Chinese economy was tooling up to be globally competitive, the ideology of liberal democracy married to capitalism would take hold and the world would enter a glorious era of unicorns and bunnies.
Twenty years on, it seems more a warped Peter Pan nightmarish scenario. Even America has lost the thread of that ridiculous ideology that Fukuyama posited after twelve years of Reagan/Bush.
Now, no one is disputing that more of the world has tended towards democracy in the past twenty years. One only need look back over the past decade, even just the past year, to see dictatorship after dictatorship topple and fall, either from internal forces such as the Arab Spring or external forces as the Gulf Wars.
But Fukuyama's point, that democracy is somehow the best political system for a nation's economics, has been thrown into disrepute, even just in America. The past twelve years have seen 99% of the nation fall far behind corporatist economic growth and since corporations control the democracy...well, would anyone posit that having the lowest possible tax rates on corporations has done anything to improve either the democracy or the economy?
Enter Josh Barro of Bloomberg. His dad is Robert Barro, one of the signal figures in macroeconomic policy, a man so adept at the field that it's his text book students read. A man who is now working on trying to codify how religion fits into the macroeconomic picture. So he has a deep background in economics.
Josh is a former fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think-tank -- the Board of Directors includes Bill Kristol -- so he's hardly a socialist. He seems to get it.
[...]Conservatives do not have economic ideas that are good for the middle class. Since the 1970s, wage gains have decoupled from productivity gains and the median family has therefore reaped a disproportionately small share of the benefits of growth. Conservatives are left without anything to say about this problem.

What can they say about it? I have a few ideas, though I don't think conservatives are likely to like any of them too much.

What does he talk about?

The redistribution of wealth. Go read that again, I'll wait.

Josh approaches this issue from a conservative slant, to be sure, and I could take issue with some of the details of his broadly outlined solutions like means-testing welfare programs (seems duplicative, for one thing), but on balance, he makes a strong case.

Lower taxes and smaller government *might* raise GDP. Certainly over the Bush administration, growth happened. It was anemic but measurable. That was with historically low taxes. Josh's point was that this concentrated wealth in the hands of the rich, while leaving scraps and crumbs for the rest of us.

No trickle down, in other words. Given that this is the single talking point any conservative can raise when talking about stimulating the economy, Barro is essentially pointing out that conservatives have nothing.

Couple that with the fact that the lion's share in the current government economic transfers programs have been in aid to the elderly, which are not means-tested or adjusted for other income, basically, it's giving more of your hard earned money to wealthier people in two separate scoops: original economic activity, plus benefits accrued from your taxes.

What's most important about this piece is that Barro is representative of new, less insane One-Note-Johnny-On-A-Kazoo conservatives -- Reihan Salam also comes to mind -- with whom it might be possible to work alongside to move forward.
The conservative Republican base is falling apart as elderly white folks die off. This is why Republicans do well in off-year elections (voter turnout is lower which concentrates the vote to the elderly and more wealthy segments) but so poorly when the Presidency is at stake.
Think about it: over the past 20 years, Republicans have lost the popular vote for President 5 of 6 times.
Obviously, hammering home lower taxes is a recipe for failure (so are the social issue stances in a changing demographic, of course.)
This is why it's so easy to dismiss the Republican stance on the "fiscal cliff," but if they smarten up and start promoting the Barros and Salams of the party, we have a tougher fight ahead of us.
Why? Because they aren't complete idiots like Fukuyama.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Dumb, Dumberer, Dumberest

You'd think after having their asses handed to them in the November elections, Republicans might be a little more...flexible.
And you'd be wrong. The Great Orange Satan -- No, not Kos, the other one -- has stopped crying long enough to lash out at working Americans:

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner proposed $2.2 trillion of spending cuts and new revenue that lack what President Barack Obama calls essential for a fiscal agreement: higher tax rates for top-earning Americans.

Boehner, an Ohio Republican, yesterday called it a “credible plan that deserves consideration by the White House.” The Obama administration promptly rejected the proposal, which would raise the Medicare eligibility age and slow Social Security cost-of-living increases.

[...] With the Republican blueprint, both parties now have their opening offers on the table. Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson, a Democrat, said the Republican plan signals “act two” in negotiations over the so-called fiscal cliff. “There will be an act three undoubtedly, and hopefully the distance between the bid and ask is closed,” he said.

In fairness, at least one of the aspects noted above might make sense, in a perverse way: raising the Medicare eligibility age.

Look, people are going to have to work longer for a bunch of reasons (not least of which is the two major recessions that have triggered on the watch of President Bush, destroying 401(k)s), which means there is a good chance that they'll have private health insurance available to them under Obamacare. By delaying the port over to Medicare, the nation could save billions over time.

Of course, who relies on Medicare but the folks who weren't able to sock away shrinking wages for retirement.

Buried in the proposal is a signal that Republicans might consider a net hike in tax revenues (which I alluded to yesterday) but not a raise in rates. This would entail closing deductions like the home mortgage interest deduction (again, the hike would fall disproportionately on the middle class and destroy the housing market at a time it is already crippled, as it would discourage home buyers and deflate real estate prices, which fuel much of consumer spending.)

The Bush tax cuts benefitted the wealthy overwhlemingly. These "tax hikes" would impact them even less, in my back-of-the-envelope view. The Republican party is continuing guerilla warfare on the middle and working classes.
Senator Nelson speaks of a middle ground compromise, but I can't see one that's possible unless the Republicans are willing to go at least 70% of the way and start priming the pump for tax increases: actual rate rises, liek the capital gains and carried interest rates. Those cannot be made permanent or we doom the middle class to a life of servitude to the corporatocracy.
Money should have utility that exceeds the utility it has to use money to make money for a pool of investors.

Monday, December 03, 2012

The Most Important Graph You Will Need For The Fiscal "Cliff"

What you are looking at is a graph that measures the percentage of GDP that both taxes paid by Americans and government spending compared to an average of tax revenues over the past 50 years or so.
You'll immediately notice two things: Spending as a percentage of GDP  has only declined under both Democratic presidents Clinton and Obama (altho Obama's spending has spiked for the most part because of TARP and other stimulus programs, he does show a sharp drop in 2010-2012), and had tax revenues remained at Clintonian levels in the 2000s, we wouldn't be facing a crisis of confidence at the present time.
Those are facts, not rhetoric. Granted, the underlying variable to all these curves is the growth of GDP over time. You'll notice that Clinton managed to keep the economy humming along even as tax revenues increased and spending was reduced during his eight years.
Likewise, for one shining year, President Obama managed to grow the economy fast enough that the increased spending put in place by the trainwreck his predecessor left him was absorbed and paid dividends.
This graph alone justifies the expiration of the Bush tax cuts (I'd argue they should all be allowed to expire, but that's just my opinion) AND for much more stimulus spending. The spending on infrastructure repair alone would pay for itself almost immediately (within two to three years). The spending on infrastructure improvements that actually benefit the economy (and not pork barrel projects like bridges to nowhere and airports that close three months later.)
Of course, the problem with tax hikes is, well, you. I mean, who wants to pay more in taxes? If you live in a high tax state like New York or California, do you want to have to pay Federal taxes on those taxes? Is the policy of allowing home mortgage interest deductions good for the economy or bad for it? What about the money your boss might pay for health insurance for you? Should you be taxed on that? Is that now irrelevant since we have national health coverage?
And how much will truly be raised and will it be enough to give Republicans cover to say they didn't raise a tax (rates) while giving Democrats something to crow about with raising a tax (revenue)?

Friday, November 30, 2012

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) Wow. George Zimmerman, the man who murdered Trayvon Martin earlier this year -- sadly, not the last or even worst case of "Stand Your Ground" this year -- really is full of himself, thinking that people would pay good money for this.
2) Gay marriage will be up for discussion by SCOTUS today, as a prelude to a possible inclusion on the docket this year. You may remember the reprehensible "Prop 8" that California passed but that was overturned in the appelate court. Well, some whiny little men decided to be all butthurt about it and go running to the skirts of the SCOTUS. It's hard to say for sure which way the decision will go, so I'm going to go out on a limb here, way out: 7-2, upholding the appelate decision, with Scalia and his showertoy Clarence Thomas dissenting. While there's a strong anti-affirmative action sentiment on the Court, they have to consider that Prop 8 selects out people for particular basic human rights, but does not grant them additional rights as a make up.
(photo courtesy)
3) You may have read about the police officer who bought the homeless man a pair of boots after finding him on the street barefoot in freezing weather. He's surprised by all the attention. As a New Yorker, it's incumbent on me to point out that most cops I've ever met, whether in anger or in a bar, are more like this guy than the pepper-spray morons. They like their jobs. They want to help. And I will bet you solid coin this is neither the first time he's bought someone something out of his own pocket -- even if it's just a cup of coffee or a sandwich -- nor is he the first cop to buy a pair of shoes for someone. For my part, I'm glad this is getting the kind of attention it is, and that people are responding so warmly to it.
4) President Obama served white meat turkey chili to Mitt Romney yesterday. I suppose this means that Mormons are cannibals?
5) And he should. This is the audience that matters. Not the Laughing Turtle.
6) First, Wal-Mart. Now, McDonald's. Unions now. Unions forever.
7) Science Triumphs This Week:
8) I'm thinking the coroner's report probably cracked a few people up.
9) All Al Gore got was a stupid medal, because fat.
10) Finally, The Ten Most Embarassing Addresses in America. Mitt Romney's car elevator not listed.