2017-10-21 02:08 pm

How to dishonor the fallen...

It must be hard to be a soldier, or, in Kelly's case, a Marine, serving under a President. A good solider - and by "soldier" I'm including sailors and seamen, airmen, and marines, but naming all is quite a mouthful! - knows that there are more duties than military preparedness and action, and that sometimes, the best support one can give one's commander in chief is in other ways... like, Colin Powell being dishonored in spreading the Bush administrations lies about Saddam Hussein and Iraq.

I say "being dishonored" because to say he dishonored himself would be unfair. He was told to spout a pile of bullshit, but refused. He provided only the information that he could verify, and it was weak, but he knew that, because it was spoken by, if you'll pardon the expression, "Colin fucking POWELL," it would be accepted more widely than if it had been another pile of bullshit given by Bush, Cheney, Rice, or any of the other fearsome liars claiming Saddam had an active WMD program. And he was a good soldier, a good man, and yes, he participated in a dishonorable action, but I can't blame him for serving the President, the office of the commander in chief for his entire Army career.

Kelly told a blatant lie during his remarks, that Frederica Wilson stood up and talked money, and getting money from President Obama, and serving her constituents by getting money, when she spoke of the fallen, and of her work in getting the building named to honor them. What is really bothersome about this lie is, it's a classic dog whistle. Black congresswomen, who, you know, probably serve black constituents, they're all in it for the taking. Did Kelly not know this? Did he know and just not care? Whatever the circumstances, remember: this is a lie, and there's no way to work around it, because Kelly claims his memory based upon an intense emotional reaction: he was stunned by this behavior. He alludes to how he was already disappointed in her, for reasons he doesn't state, but nevertheless, in spite of low expectations, he claims he was stunned.

My hopes are that Kelly is too naive to realize he was repeating a dog whistle, that he was just repeating a speech made by one of Trump's speechwriters, who know how to blow the dog whistle really well. But I'm still upset, because when Colin Powell was told to spread a steaming pile before the UN, he refused - he insisted on telling the truth as best as he could, while Kelly is reporting an event that never happened, but nevertheless "stunned him".

He lied. He knows he lied, because he knows darn well he wasn't stunned by something that never happened. And it's awful, because I remember hearing how, at West Point, a graduate recounted how they were taught not to lie or cheat, and not to accept those who do. I know for a fact that Marine officers are given the same notions of honor, because I know some proud Marines.

But it's worse than that. First, he blames a Federica Wilson for listening in on a conversation on speakerphone, with the phone held by a sargent. He knows darn well that it's not her fault for hearing it, but he elided that, so that he could attack her, for the crime of making his boss look bad.

And what did she do that was so horrible? She was furiously angry that Donald Trump hurt a war widow's feelings, both by making a clumsy statement, and by never so much as mentioning the name La David Johnson... as if Trump didn't even know the name, and as if La David Johnson just didn't matter.

Now, I'll give Kelly, and even Trump, this much: if you make a call to send your condolences, there's nothing much worse than realizing you screwed it up. I can't imagine how painful it would be to have that sick feeling that I wanted to say how saddened I was, and ended up adding to the family's grief.

I'd like to think that, if I were President, and if I had been the one who made a call that clumsy, that I would have my staff call her, and say that if she's so eager to cuss out the President, he's ready to take her call, and I'd let her speak her piece. And anything she said that was accurate, I'd agree with - and anything where she was wrong, I'd do my best to calmly explain why I felt that way. And then I'd say "you're right. It went badly. I feel sick about that, and you know what makes me feel even worse? That there's not a god damned thing I can do to make it better. And it sure doesn't help that you're out there rubbing my face in a tragic, but human, mistake."

You never know what you'd do in a tense situation until you're there, of course. But that's what I'd hope I do. This is one of the biggest things that makes me different from Donald J. Trump: I can admit I make mistakes. I can admit that I failed. I can admit that it hurts when I fail, and that I want to learn to do better next time, and wish like hell that I could make amends, but that I realize, sometimes you can't. Trump can't do that. I don't know whether he's too immature to do so, or whether his public persona forbids it, but he can't. Instead, he chooses to send out the attack dogs.

Not just an attack dog to attack her, of course... one who wants to throw out numerous dog whistles: a man who would claim that "women" aren't sacred, which some people think is a swipe at Weinstein, as if the military hasn't had problems with sexual assault between enlisted men and women - a betrayal of trust on an epic scale, yet far too often ignored.

He said that life is not sacred, presumably because the GOP base likes to call their politically motivated assault on abortion to be a battle for "life". And that's true, you know? When you try to turn "life" into a club, to beat people with, just so you can score political points, it's not sacred. You have to care about actual people, living breathing people, rich, poor, all creeds, all colors, all nationalities, before anyone will believe you revere "life" now. There's nothing sacred about a cheap political talking point!

Similarly, he says that religion isn't sacred, and I agree, again: religion has been made into a club to beat people with; if you demand civil rights, you'll have soi disant Christians say you're attacking their religion, even though their free exercise of Christianity is entirely unconstrained. You'll have many in the GOP claiming that Islam isn't a real religion. Anti-semitism is pretty widespread in the GOP, though it's hushed up whenever the subject of Israel appears. And, of course, if you're not in an Abrahamic religion, the GOP doesn't want to hear about it! Yes, that does dilute the sanctity of religion.

And now, he say that he hopes military service, and the sacrifice made by soldier, sailors, seamen, airmen, and marines, will remain sacred, while demeaning them, while using those sacrifices as a club to score more political points for his boss. You're right, General Kelly: keep doing that, and you'll wring the sanctity out, and leave it as another empty shell.

I don't like Donald Trump, and I'm glad to admit it. I don't like how Frederica Wilson spread news of his horrible foul-up, because there's a chance, however small, that he feels terribly about it. Sure, he's the one who tried to proclaim himself the best "consoler in chief" for military families, so he's the one who politicized it, but she still could have refrained. She was angry, and justifiably so, but she was angry over a personal, and human, matter, and it should have been handled on a personal, and human, basis.

If Trump had come out to express his sadness that he hurt Myeshia Johnson, if General Kelly had come out to say that he felt the President had tried to express the same feelings that he, himself, appreciated when hearing of his son; had Kelly reported he feels awful for his boss and his friend, well, that would have brought shame to Representative Wilson, and I hope she'd have risen to the occasion, and admitted she was wrong to make a public fuss over a private matter.

But that's not what happened. Instead, Kelly takes a page from Trump's playbook, stating he was stunned that she heard a call that was played over cell on speakerphone; lying about her; and throwing around racist dog whistles. He says he was stunned. General Kelly, I wish I could say that your behavior stuns me. But I already know your boss, and while I hoped you were better, and I am disappointed, I won't pretend, for a moment, to be "stunned".
2017-10-19 11:42 am

Republican SCOTUS...

I'd been meaning to comment on this link for a while:

It's a pretty good illustration of what goes horribly wrong in a post-truth society. Gorsuch went on at length about how on earth could the Supreme Court stand up for voting rights?

In a sense, it's a good question - the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, so standing up for voting rights doesn't have recent precedent. However, as Ginsburg pointed out, "Where did 'one person, one vote' come from?"

But, while that incident shows why the Democrats were reasonable in filibustering Gorsuch - who, remember, thinks you should be fired if you choose to save your life when your employer would prefer you protect their property - it doesn't quite show the post-truth world. For that, you need Alito.

Make no mistakes here: Alito is a lawyer, and used to researching important things.

So, when he claimed:
“You paint a very dire picture about gerrymandering and its effects,” Alito said, “but I was struck by something in the seminal article by your expert, Mr. McGhee, and he says there, ‘I show that the effects of party control on bias are small and decay rapidly, suggesting that redistricting is at best a blunt tool for promoting partisan interests.’ So he was wrong in that?”

... we know this is not an accident.

McGhee was contacted after the arguments:

I called Eric McGhee, the expert, after the argument. The quote Alito pulled was not from the “seminal article” McGhee co-wrote proposing the legal standard for gerrymandering at the center of the case. It was from an earlier McGhee paper, using data from the 1970s through 1990s. In the paper at the center of the case, by contrast, “we used updated data from the 2000s,” McGhee told me, “and the story is very different. It’s gotten a lot worse in the last two cycles. . . . The data are clear.”

So Alito deliberately referred to an earlier paper, in order to make the patently false claim that the expert in question said the exact opposite of what he said.

Post-truth world, baby - facts don't matter! Not even in the highest court of the land.
2017-10-19 11:38 am

Since they can't destroy Medicaid, yet: TAX CUTS!!!

So, the Republicans have a "tax reform" plan, which, like their "health care reform" plan is intended to funnel big bucks to fat cats via tax cuts, and ensure that, as soon as they're not in power, they'll have a huge deficit, and ever mounting national debt, to use to explain why they need to cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and any other government program intended to help the working class. The plan will make jobs far more expensive for employers - a 33% increase in many cases! - so that employers can find new reasons for layoffs - more offshoring, more technology, and, of course, making those people who have jobs that much more afraid of losing them, so they better work harder, because there's someone else out there to take this job!

And they're living in a brave new world, where they don't have to worry about honesty or integrity while selling it! Donald Trump showed that you can get in front of reporters and throw out bald-faced lies, "this isn't going to be good for me!" when it's going to be good for him, and people like him, in a host of different ways.

The GOP wants to pretend that it's a bill to help the "middle class" but you have to remember, they consider "middle class" to be somewhere from the low six figures (which is still "working class" for them...) to 250k - okay, maybe as high as 400k. The bill is designed to be useful to people who run their own business, and take home fat cash, and the super-wealthy; working stiffs are, well, stiffed.

i don't mean that workers will all see their tax rates increase - after all, doctors and lawyers work too! - but the big takeaway is that your salary and benefits will cost your boss more money in take-home pay. Whereas before your pay may have cost your boss 60 cents on the dollar, it's now going to cost 80 cents on the dollar. It's been a long-standing, and highly revered truism - by which I mean "canard" - that this will cause your boss to want to pay you more, and to pay more people like you, a position that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Making something more expensive, with no other changes, means you expect to see less demand for it.

Given how obvious that is, you can imagine it takes some "alternative facts" to sell, and that's what has been done. The claim is, your boss would have a bit more folding cash because of lower taxes on income. Thus, regardless of demand for the company's goods or services, the boss will hire more people because that's what bosses do when they have money that they could take home instead. Remember: bosses are JOB CREATORS!

It's hogwash; demand is what creates jobs. But it doesn't even need to be defended any more. Just, you know, TAX CUTS! Economic growth! JOBS!!!!"

Still: just because the GOP claims that tax cuts are good during times of great economic growth, poor economic growth; during times of war, and peace; during times of high unemployment or low unemployment; when deficits are increasing or decreasing; when the moon is new, waxing, or waning, and, of course, when it's full; that doesn't mean you should question their reasoning. Hm. Oh, wait... yes, that's exactly what it means, sorry. I suppose I've been reading lapdog reporters too long.

The GOP loves to point to the Laffer curve, which is based on a not-stupid idea. Imagine if taxes were 101% (and yes, taxes greater than 100% on income have been attempted!); no one would deliberately earn anything that would actually cost them money; they would work to avoid it. Even when taxes are 90%, people won't work nearly as hard to earn a tenth of what they produce. Cut taxes here, and people will produce more and result in more, not less, revenue.

But the GOP never mentions that the Laffer curve tends to 0 on both ends: when marginal tax rates are too high, people aren't interested in earning that much, just to hand it to the government; and, when taxes are 0, there are no tax receipts. We are below the tax rate/revenue sweet spot of the Laffer curve; cutting taxes will increase the deficit and the debt, by reducing tax receipts.

So why does the GOP, which says they are in favor of fiscal responsibility, want to do this? Well, even pre-Trump, it was proven that lies don't matter. Now they can just be more blatant, and more important. Nothing's changed: fiscal responsibility would entail a tax increase today, and that's a non-starter. The wealthy don't support the GOP so they can have higher taxes, just to help balance the federal budget! They support the GOP for insisting always, in all circumstances, to cut taxes.

So the GOP doesn't even try to talk fiscal responsibility. Not with a Republican in the White House, not when tax cuts are possible. It's kind of interesting how a deeply held belief can be casually swept aside... yet the next time it's brought up, it will once again become a deeply held belief, and accepted at face value. So why not?

They have a once in a generation attempt to give a huge gift to the wealthy and the $400k "middle class"; lies don't matter, not now, and not in the future; so why not? The only people who get hurt are the working class... and they'll probably never know why, and, besides, hey, booga-booga, wedge issue! You don't want to vote for DEMOCRATS because they're icky on WEDGE ISSUE, amirite?
2017-10-09 08:36 pm

(no subject)

As you know, the US has several troubles. Three US territories have been struck by devastating hurricanes; North Korea has atomic bombs and may be able to place them on top of intercontinental ballistic missiles; they may be able to hit the west coast, and, in time, it's likely that they'll be able to reach all parts of the US. A military option to end this threat is made extremely difficult because millions of South Koreans are held hostage to the artillery sitting within shooting range of them.

Our nation is led by a man whose administration is under investigation for various criminal activities; we have a Republican Congress that doesn't care that those criminal activities could include plotting with an enemy against the US's interests. We have an EPA bound and determined to ignore science and safety; we have a Department of Education headed by a woman who wants to turn public education into a cash cow for her wealthy buddies to milk, regardless of whether children get educated; we have a Department of Energy headed by a fellow who wanted to eliminate it, because he couldn't be arsed to learn what it did....

There are many, many challenges facing us, so, as you know, the Trump Administration is going to do something to Demonstrate Leadership. I'm referring, of course, to whining about players dropping to one knee during the playing of the national anthem.

You probably heard, VP Pence went to a football game, knowing full well that there would be players taking one knee during the playing of the anthem, so he could leave in a huff. (Channeling Groucho, I'll suggest he could have left in a minute and a huff. Except he actually left in taxpayer-funded transport.)

This is how the GOP Demonstrates Leadership. And of course, they have their peons penning paeans to such Leadership Demonstration: currently titled) Why taking the knee stomps on my foot

The author intro states "Michael R. Caputo is a Buffalo-based public affairs consultant, a talk radio host on WBEN-AM and CNN contributor. A longtime Republican campaign operative, he served as a senior adviser to President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign", so, let's be honest: the bar isn't just low, it's underground! But still: we can hope that maybe, just maybe, Caputo will show just a shred of honesty, just a speck, and try to point to a way that football players are harming him so much that it's like "stomping" on his foot.

HAH! Just kidding. No, we can't hope for that. Funniest part of the story is the beginning:
This entire NFL National Anthem protest story has been provocative, but I like it when I'm made to think.

Then again, maybe it's not as funny as all that. Thinking is notably absent from this piece, but he didn't actually say this was a time he was made to think....

He goes on to claim pride in Pence's Demonstration of Leadership, and then goes on to make this statement:

The NFL players taking the knee don't intend to offend combat veterans, the fallen and their families. But here's what my experience tells me: To many people, they are doing exactly that, whether they intend to or not.

This brings up the crux of the argument. First, there's the bogus statement that this "offends combat veterans". You know something? This protest started with people refusing to stand for the national anthem, and I could maybe be convinced that a person could feel offended by that. Just a tad. But then, the protest was changed. Instead of staying seated, people are getting up, and dropping to one knee - a clear show of respect.

So: they're making a respectful gesture, to make a point about something that really matters to them, and should matter to everyone. But, let's bear with Caputo to see where he goes.

Let's summarize the next bit: his dad taught him to love football, it was a big connection to his dad, and they watched a lot of football together.

Okay, I suppose since taking one knee before the game ruins the players' ability to play? No? Hm. Well, let's keep going.

This part's especially good:

By then, the Bills were everything to me, and no matter where I wandered, I always came home and dropped in on the parking lot for games. When I lived in Washington and worked as a writer for Jack Kemp (yeah, that was supercool), I'd come home some weekends and pretend I was helping park cars. When I worked overseas, I made it home to some games.

But that's not my only connection to the anthem issue.

Um... may I please point out that you can't say "that's not my only connection" when you haven't mentioned a connection yet? I'm being nice here - I'll allow as how it might be hyperbole to say "the Bills were everything to me..." rather than insinuate a life must be awfully empty for a single sports team to be "everything." But loving football, and loving a football team, is not a connection to "the anthem issue". Not even if it's a connection to dear old dad (cue Augie Doggie).

He continues:

In high school, I enlisted in the Army and served in the 25th Infantry Division. I never went to war, but I served alongside some real heroes and grew deeply loyal to the service of those who fought and died. To me, as you might guess, the United States flag and National Anthem represent solemn reverence to combat veterans, the fallen and their families.

This is really good. "If I say it, you must believe it!" See, no one else can tell us if Caputo thinks the anthem is stupid and boring, or represents "solemn reverence". So: no one can say that's not how he feels. Thing is, while I can't prove otherwise, I can still say that I think he's making up an emotional appeal because he thinks it'll sell. I don't believe he feels any "solemn reverence", but really, I don't care.

See, this really is supposed to be a free country. And that means he can think the anthem represents solemn reverence or he can think it's a good chance to sneak out back and let out some of the pre-game beer he's been sipping; his feelings don't dictate anything but his feelings.

Here's the money shot (and I know that term is used in pornography sometimes, and that is, in fact, precisely why I chose that term; this is the climax of the wanking!)

So to me, even as a lifelong football fan, it seems pretty normal to find something offensive about players continuing to take the knee during the anthem, especially after so many people have made clear how uncomfortable it makes them feel. After all, if you walk up to me and stomp on my foot, I'll give you a pass if you say it was an accident. You don't even have to apologize. But the second time you do it, I know that you know that you hurt my foot when you stomped on it. Yet you've chosen to hurt my foot again and again, so that speaks volumes about you.

Since some people feel uncomfortable, taking one knee during the anthem is the same as a deliberate physical assault! This brings back memories of disparaging talk regarding the "reality based community." If people feel uncomfortable, then they feel uncomfortable. That's not assault. And protests can and should make people feel a bit uncomfortable. They should realize that these privileged athletes care about people who look like them getting killed by police, when other options existed. They should think about whether police officers are a bit too quick on the draw, a bit too quick to resort to lethal force, when they see a toy gun and a black male holding it - whether it's a 12 year old child, or a gentleman walking in the store, carrying one of the store's own toys!

But back to his wank. Here, we have the de-now-ment. (In literature, it's the "denouement" but this ain't literature!)

I say all this while acknowledging that I can't possibly understand a black man's perspective on racial issues. So I try to be mindful of these matters and I respect the NFL players' right to protest. In fact, there are some current and former players whose opinions on civil rights have helped shape mine over the years. But by the same reasoning, the majority of the kneelers must also acknowledge they cannot understand the perspective on the flag and National Anthem of a combat veteran. Yet still, they kneel.

Remember, this guy is not a combat veteran but still speaks for them! And he says that they're a bunch of wimps who can't handle the emotional turmoil of a man taking one knee, to show respect for the flag, while simultaneously making a statement, one that should hold no offense to anyone who is interested in justice. Because, after all: it's not the gesture of respect that other people have chosen!

I'm sorry - no. And I really wouldn't care if he was a combat veteran; once again, he'll swear up and down that he feels a certain way, and, of course, we can't quite prove that he doesn't. Still, he can show a pile of bullshit, and swear he produced it, and while I'll believe in his bullshit production, I don't have to believe he's a bull.

He continues on in the same way, with a weak wrap up - never showing how a show of respect for the flag is offensive, and certainly without any demonstration that it's akin to a physical assault!

The thing is, it doesn't matter. The point is, see, he said that this is a bad thing, because, you know, The Flag! America! Combat Veterans! He doesn't have to make a meaningful, or even coherent point, and he can get linked on the front page of CNN.

It doesn't matter that taking one knee is a show of respect; it doesn't matter that these athletes are making a statement about something that's important, nor that we all know what that statement is, and how it's completely inoffensive to any soldier who has fought for our freedom. It's a battle in the culture war, one that can be milked to snag some headlines and try to help America forget that there's a complete incompetent in the White House, and how it's the fault of the Republican Party.

So: bash on football players who make an inoffensive statement; insist that it's bad, because, hey, "Flag! America! COMBAT VETERANS! You don't HATE our COMBAT VETERANS, do you?" What the hey - it Demonstrates Leadership, which is a good thing, I suppose. Neither Trump, nor Pence, nor Caputo, can lead a person anywhere good!
2017-10-08 03:11 pm

Problems in journalism

This is something interesting in political reporting.

Here's the money quote:

President Trump has not committed to paying insurers the cost-sharing subsidies, which reduce deductibles and co-pays for low-income Obamacare enrollees. This has prompted many insurers to raise their premiums for 2018 to make up for the anticipated loss of the subsidies. The 2018 rates have already been finalized.

Johnson added that any such move to support continuing those payments would come with strings attached. "We should get something in return for that," he said. For example, he said, Congress should make it so anyone has the option to purchase a "catastrophic plan" -- insurance with relatively low premiums but high deductibles that provides fewer benefits.

Johnson also said they should make health savings accounts more usable.

So: Congress, and President Trump, have decided to hurt the poorest and most in need of help with health insurance. But they're graciously willing to do what the law requires, if, and only if, Democrats are willing to damage insurance markets, and provide bigger, better tax shelters for the wealthy!

Why isn't this called out in a supposed piece of journalism? I mean, this is not difficult to parse.

Part of the answer is that journalism is walking-wounded right now. The Republicans have helped make it so. They demand "balance" - by which they mean, if a Republican say something stone-cold stupid, or mean, it is to be uncritically reported. If you don't do that, you can lose access. The Republicans will stop talking to you.

Journalism used to have an answer for that. They'd explain, patiently, that they are not in the business of providing unpaid political advertising. Their job is to report *news*. And if the Republicans will deny "access", then the whole body of political journalism will stop providing them this powerful, unpaid platform. But that doesn't happen any more.

I'm not sure why not. Part of it is surely Fox News; they'll scoop other outlets on a variety of right wing stories if they're the only ones who have access. Part of it is surely the loss of revenue from journalism. The Republicans are very good at raising a ruckus to sell as clickbait, and journalists can't afford to fail to report on the ruckus. Part of it is also, surely, the loss of anti-trust protections. Time was, the federal government protected against media monoliths - they insisted on letting small business people own and run local media, rather than allowing a small bloc of wealthy elites to own huge swaths of various media markets, to manipulate to their heart's content.

But I'm not sure if that's the whole story. I think part of it is that the Republicans have been playing the media long game for a very long time, and a lot of nonsense has started to seem sensible. For example, I've recently this, by Bill Maher, where he starts off complaining that Democrats would like to have motion sensors in car back seats, to avoid young children's deaths in hot cars.

We could mock the utter stupidity of Maher's claim that hot car deaths are less likely than being struck by lightning. (Still: easily checked fact, Maher!) We could point out that people are tired, overworked, frazzled, and can forget that the quietly sleeping baby, or young child, is in the car with them, especially because front-car infant seats are banned, and that this can likely be done cheaply and easily - and, if not, it can be revisited. But let's not.

Are people angry about motion sensors in cars, or about taxes, or even bans, on Big Gulps? Sure, a bit. It's a petty annoyance, but, seriously: do you see soi disant "conservatives" say that this is the FORMER land of the free, because you can't have huge cups of soda? (I guess not - after all, we do have courts to protect rights! which is good when it hands a victory to soda companies and people who love huge soft drinks; but bad when it says that gay folks can have civil benefits equal to others. Republicans are big believers in

Justice, n: a judgement in your favor)

So: are people angry about a defeated attempt at regulation? If they are, it's not because they really give a rip about sodas in New York. (Oh: that's "pop" to you midwesterners. Or, as my midwest college agreed, "it's pop if bought by a pop-sayer, and soda if bought by a soda-sayer, if you're asking to have one they purchased - and its either if you're poking fun at the curious regionalisms of your friends. Life would be better if the world could run like a college social circle... ah well.)

They're angry because it became a cause cèlébre for soi disant conservatives. See, people don't care if a Democrat, or a Republican, does something dumb, so long as it gets stopped in a reasonable time, and doesn't cause them too much inconvenience in the meantime. People aren't upset because "Democrats are trying to micromanage people's lives" because Democrats aren't doing that. They're angry at a perception - a perception that is largely based on lies, endlessly repeated, making that claim, even on long-dead issues - that NYT article was from 2014, but it's still a living, breathing, cause to hate Democrats!

I'll grant you: a Democrat is far more likely to do something stupid like ban quart (and larger) fountain sodas; and a Republican is far more likely to say that women must do the Macarena, while playing Twister, and singing The Hut Sut song, on key, in rhythm, and without removing hands/feet from the appropriate colors, before they are permitted to have an abortion - just to make sure they understand the seriousness of ending a pregnancy, of course!

But mostly, Democrats want to press for regulations that prevent industries from poisoning the land, air, and water; prevent Big Business from hurting, killing, or stealing from their employees; and making sure people can get good food, clothing, shelter and medical care.

And sure, they'd love to do things that help people with their day to day concerns - like being able to work one, full time, decent paying job, with benefits, and being thereby able to get food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. But those things cost money, and the Republicans will fight tooth and nail against spending any money that helps people - look at their constant false claims about the ACA; and, of course, their recent fumbling attempts to cut hundreds of billions, or even trillions, out of health care spending, to fund tax cuts.

The Republicans will continue to rail against the ACA - they won't even spend the funds required by the law; they'll instead demand concessions, just for doing their jobs! - without mentioning that it's slowed the rise in health care costs, extended Medicare's solvency, and provided health insurance to millions and millions of people who hadn't had it, and saved hundreds of thousands, and likely millions, of lives.

And they'll be helped by people like Maher, and an untold number of lazy journalists, who complain that Democrats aren't doing enough to combat a narrative that that they, themselves, are helping to spread, even though it's clearly based on falsehoods, and peddled for profit - both financial, and political. That is one of the biggest challenges facing political journalism now: they've fallen down a Republican Rabbit Hole, and have started to believe it's how the real world really is.

Until they wake up and shake off the patterns of years of falsehoods; until they step out of their Republican-created bubble; they won't be up to the challenge.
2017-10-07 03:58 pm

The GOP's nakedness...

I'm sorry if you need brain bleach after the subject line, but I assure you, the meaning of it will become clear, and appropriate.(This doesn't obviate the need for said brain bleach, but, oh, well.)

Recently, I saw this. Whoops! The "IRS Scandal" may not be a scandal!

It was, but bear with me. That story is linked to this one .

Now, this is very good news, for someone like me, because this second link mentions this:

The 2013 TIGTA report, they argued, was based on selective criteria that omitted numerous non-conservative groups that were also subjected to close IRS review.

Now, I'd seen that reported: that the TIGTA report was basically, the Republicans saying "find Republican, Tea Party, and other GOP-leaning groups that were singled out for scrutiny." It had been reported... I saw it. But I couldn't find it again. And why not? It makes no sense. Why didn't people continue to report that an explicit bias was used to invent a scandal?

Let's go back a bit - let's remember what this "scandal" was, so we can see the real scandal. The IRS is tasked with deciding who merits tax exempt status under certain articles of the tax code. Groups can be tax exempt under these rules if they don't engage in direct political activity - supporting specific candidates, etc.. The IRS saw groups with Tea Party in the name, and thought, "wow, I wonder if these guys might be interested in politics!"

The right wing loves to talk about profiling - "hey, look, let's demand extreme vetting of refugees from Muslim areas, because, hey, we know there are some bad people there!" So why do they get their knickers in a twist when the IRS says "hey, let's perform vetting of a group that seems obviously interested in politics, and see if they're going to engage in political activity!" Well, geez, isn't it obvious? It's politically useful to Republicans to harsh on Muslims, and to look the other way when anti-Muslim bigotry occurs (assuming they aren't bigots or engaging in bigotry themselves - an assumption that isn't safe!).

Still: it's true, the IRS should not be doing a word-grabbing algorithm to decide who deserves extra scrutiny. And they asked for information they shouldn't have asked for. They were wrong; and needed to be told they were wrong, and given better guidance on how to do things right. That's a bureaucratic SNAFU (which, I hope you all know, means, Situation Normal, All Fu,uh,FOULED Up). Bad things happen; they need to be caught, and corrected but they are not signs of a scandal.

There was no evidence, whatsoever, that the Obama administration tried to "sic" the IRS on Republican-leaning groups. There was plenty of evidence that this was precisely what it was: a government enforcement office, trying to do their jobs right, and making a mistake.

Remember, Republicans are okay when cops shoot a 12 year old black child who's carrying a dangerously-real looking toy gun, without even trying to assess the situation, or deescalate it. "Hey, it's just a mistake!" But woe to the IRS if it writes letters asking improper questions! In the IRS SNAFU, no one got killed, or injured; no one was charged with criminal activity, even though it was found that a lot of Tea Party groups did engage in electioneering, in defiance of tax regulations. But we shouldn't think of that as a mistake, because a "mistake" can't be used to attack the Obama administration and accuse them, quite falsely, of criminal activity!

And that, my friends, is the scandal. The Republican Party's leaders, with full consent of the Republican establishment, chose to use their powers, granted to them by the Constitution to serve the people, for personal, and political, gain. They chose to throw around accusations of criminal wrongdoing, and they chose to intimidate a government agency for, drum roll please:

Trying to do their job in a way that inconvenienced GOP supporters!

They sent a clear message: "if you mess with our people, causing them inconvenience, we will hound you! So lay off of our supporters!"

This is news. This is big news. This is a real scandal, and what's amazing is, no one cares, because it's become the new normal. Of course the GOP hounded the IRS and threw around false accusations of criminal wrongdoing. (Gee, I wonder where Trump got the idea to make criminal accusations about the Obama administration? And why he was sure such a thing would blow over?)

They spent years hounding Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton over Benghazi, repeatedly finding nothing wrong, but continuing to waste time and money over it, whether it was just to keep it in the news, or in hopes of finding something on their fishing expedition.

They then hounded Clinton, knowing full well that she was guilty of no crime, but trying to make it sound as if she was - as if using the wrong e-mail address is a crime! - to the point that they even managed to the get the FBI director to play their game and influence the election, all when there was not even a hint of evidence of wrongdoing.

All of these are scandals in and of themselves. This is a free country - we are supposed to be free to go about our day to day business without being threatened with criminal sanctions even if it happens to be useful to a political party with power to abuse.

But the worse scandal comes in when we see that they will not show the same dedication and suspicion when it's one of their own. Trying to embarrass a political opponent with an investigation is an unpleasant tradition, but it happens. Trying to bring criminal charges, well, that's a lot nastier, and a lot more corrupt.

But still: you can (and the GOP does) pretend to a pious concern for the good of the nation; you can pretend that you're merely thorough and determined to root out wrongdoing... right up to the point when it's clear you're shielding one of your own, from investigations of far worse suspicions: working with a foreign government, with no concern for US interests; colluding with a foreign government, hoping to undermine faith in our democracy, and democracy itself; obstructing justice; engaging in nepotism; currying bribes and favors... let me be clear, these are suspicions a reasonable person might have, not accusations. But they are reasonable suspicions, and items that merit investigation. We know that they would be investigated, with far less evidence, if the target was someone the GOP wanted to harm! But the targets are Republicans, so they are swept under the rug.

And thus, we see the emperor standing naked before us, claiming to be cloaked in a piety of concern for the nation; and hatred of wrong doing; and we have the lapdogs of the media gleefully praising the fine outfit they see.
2017-09-02 11:31 am

Getting suspicious...

The right wing is doing its damnedest to make hay out of "Antifa" which is not organized, has no spokespeople, and whose "diabolical activities" always seem to be recorded when perpetrated by people in black with black masks.

They'd have gotten pretty far with it, too, if there hadn't be a murderous terrorist attack at the Unite The Right rally, and even then, they couldn't let it go - which is why Trump (not realizing a terrorist attack changes the script) tried to talk about blame on 'many sides'."

Here's an important note: if we were all Americans, sure, opponents but not enemies, when one side is brutally attacked with deadly force, there's a natural, noble, human reaction: circle the wagons around your opponents, to declare that in this, we're on the same side, and denounce the horrible actions. That there was a rowdy protest, and a few scuffles, is irrelevant.

That didn't happen.

Let me emphasize something: this is what made me suspicious. The reaction, after a counter-protestor was murdered. At first, I'd have looked very quizzically at someone claiming black clad, black masked "Antifa" attacks could be a false flag attack.

But then I heard Trump's claims repeated - that Antifa attackers were "rushing in with clubs" and people were hit "with baseball bats" and something else struck me.

If you get hit with a baseball bat, you will have a photogenically ugly bruise to show for it. Why aren't these pictures showing up everywhere, with corroborating hospital or police reports?

That, coupled with the urgency I've seen of right-wing people trying to push the notion of vicious, baseless attacks, coupled with the attempt to blame all sides, makes me ask: "what evidence do we have of this? Besides pictures of people in black with masks?"

At this point, I won't be convinced by a mere report, even supported by pictures, of an assault by an unidentifiable person. Show me the injury and hospital report - you can make a good show of kicking someone around without hurting them, even if they're not wearing padding and if they are, you can make an "attack" look really good for the cameras. Oh, and claims of thrown bottles of urine are gross, but many a person will accept being peed on for a good purpose - urine is generally sterile and only a bit stinky, and can be washed off readily.

I will strongly advise anyone who is anti-fascist, who wants to go black bloc, that there may not be any safe way to do it - but it would be wise, if one does so, to keep records of who is "in" so that one can proclaim who *isn't*. You also need discipline, and a camera-carrier who understands that the initial encounter *must* be caught.

But better still would be to go with faces uncovered - it is black mask anonymity that would allow a false flag attack to be successful.
2017-09-02 07:58 am

(no subject)

I saw this link:

... and I wanted to comment on it later. For now, I'll just mention that, if you think this makes sense, and you *still* don't understand how discrimination made the lives of black people in the US excruciatingly difficult, it strongly suggests a lack of either education or imagination.

One key point: even today, there are people who are insisting that the civil rights movement was a terrible thing because it damaged "free association" yet will agree with the basis of the article that Something Must Be Done here.
2017-08-09 08:37 pm

(no subject)

Parts of this bother me more than they should.

This part, especially:
During the campaign Trump's rhetoric introduced the kind of threat -- that he would seek the prosecution of his opponent -- long deemed unworthy of an established democracy.

See... here's the thing. Two Republican prosecutors proclaimed that their professional experience allowed them to say that Hillary Clinton had engaged in criminal conduct. They were lying, of course.

The FBI was investigating the possible spread of classified information, because the FBI does counter-intelligence work. In addition, if they'd found that Hillary Clinton had deliberately shared information that she should not have, they might have recommended prosecution. There was never any evidence of any criminal wrongdoing against Hillary Clinton, which is, no doubt, why the Attorney General suggested it be referred to as a "matter" (which suggests that it's an attempt to learn more about a subject) rather than an "investigation" (which suggests criminal wrongdoing).

Had the Republicans been in any way honorable, they would have refused to countenance accusations of criminal behavior against an enemy, no matter how much they hated her. They didn't. (As one Republican tool suggested recently, had the GOP been in any way honorable, they also would have shut down questions about President Obama's birth certificate, but they didn't. Note that for all his whining now, he didn't take any action then - what a Flake!)

The Republicans have long been engaging in behavior unworthy of an established democracy. They've been investigating people for pure partisan advantage; they've used the levers of government power for pure partisan advantage; they'd been insinuating Hillary Clinton was guilty of criminal behavior since the 90s, though notably only when it provided them with an electoral advantage.

This isn't new. And it's not at all surprising that Trump realized that if Republicans will "go there", but cautiously, that fans of the GOP would like to see a fellow "go there" full of swagger and braggadocio. He took their quiet, nasty insinuations, and made it loud and far more public.

Republicans have been "going there" on warfare, too. Remember, for all the lies told to establish support for the war in Iraq, the GOP thought it was going to be a cakewalk. It wasn't, which just goes to prove that pointing a gun at people's collective heads and saying "You're free to do what we want you to!" is not the best way to bring about freedom. Go figure!

Fire and fury is, in fact, precisely the equivalent of "lock her up". It's the precise same message of the rest of the GOP, only, rather than whispered with secret giggles about how it must "piss off the libtards", it's being shouted from the rooftops, where it might piss off a dictator with atomic bombs and ICBMs.

The Republicans have asked for this, and have courted this, and now they have it: a person proclaiming loudly that it's America first, longing for the days "when we were strong", and "not taking no shit from nobody". It's a bit late for buyer's remorse, and all the backpedaling in the world can't stop Trump from a stupid decision that could cause irreparable harm. Still, I wonder if it will take "fire and fury" for the Republicans to realize they've gone too far. I sure hope not.
2017-07-22 07:21 pm

Part of this is "what took you so long?"

So, this is a decent message and set of ideas.

But part of me wonders about where this idea was back in the 90s, when the norms were taken out and trampled upon... when the GOP decided that it was okay to refuse to do their jobs, because they saw a way they could gain a partisan (and political) advantage from it.

And where was it when the GOP invented causes for war with Iraq, and never paid any price for having falsified intelligence, much less torturing people? Where was it in repeated brinksmanship over keeping the government running, and the debt ceiling? Where was it when a Supreme Court nomination was literally stolen? When the GOP engaged in deliberate witch hunts, and as a whole, told lies about the criminality of Hillary Clinton?

If people are shocked, shocked to find that there's gambling going on here a refusal to abide by the rule of law, to abide by norms and ideals, they haven't been paying attention.

What's worse, that lack of attention over the past 20 years (yes, literally!) is what led us to a situation where Trump might just get away with unlawful behavior, conspiring with an unfriendly power against the United States, because he might continue firing investigators, pardoning people, and the like, and, the GOP might decide they don't want to impeach him.

Sure, the Democrats might retake the House - but if they do, impeachment will be claimed to be an unwillingness to accept the results of the 2016 election - or maybe revenge for Bill Clinton (whichever polls better). People will protest that Trump was attacked from the moment he took the oath of office, over all of this "Russia" stuff, you know, like his campaign (at the absolute least) conspiring to work with a foreign government to try to swing the election, like his release of classified information to Russians, and his admission that he obstructed justice, in spirit, even if it's not sure a prosecutor can meet the standard of proof.

And, alas, a lot of people will believe this.

I'm glad that there are people who are recognizing that the lawlessness of the Trump administration is unprecedented - but I'm really a bit miffed that the lawlessness of the GOP over the years has been ignored to the point that there was an opening for a Donald Trump.
2017-07-06 08:01 pm

One of the great disconnects

Listening to Republican voters can be educational if you are able to break away from your assumptions, and if you're able to work your way through all the pieces of the puzzle.

A lot of them talk about the advantages people have due to race (as in: blacks and Latinos have it easier), and complain that the greater poverty is due to weaknesses in the moral character of individual minorities, not due to any inherent prejudice in the system. Why? Are they blind?

No. But a common refrain you'll hear is that there are programs to help everyone - EVERYONE! - except white men.

Well, that is true. Except, we all know that most programs that are there to help minorities are resource-starved and while they may provide invaluable help to some, they don't overcome the massive disadvantages that a lot of minorities face.

Again, are these people blind, then? No!

Here's where thinking becomes necessary. Think about messaging, and remember, the GOP is the party that were attracted to the case of Terri Schiavo, so they could ask "why do liberals want her to die?" while leading their followers to believe that 20 different judges all made fundamental mistakes in the law and in justice. For an attempt to gain an electoral advantage, they undermined faith in the law and in the courts, by spreading lies (of commission and omission) about the situation.

The GOP is certainly willing to use false messaging that gives them an advantage. Why not? It's not like anyone has ever been shamed for lying about the Schiavo case, or about insinuating her husband was guilty of vile crimes, or any one of a number of other dirty tricks.

They've done the same thing on affirmative action, and about race in general. You know this - you've surely seen this, and realized that this is what they were doing. But what you might not have realized is the depths of deviousness involved.

You see, ever since Reagan made it more expensive to create jobs for US workers, US workers at all levels have been getting squeezed harder and harder, seeing ever larger losses in wages, benefits, and their ability to believe things might someday get better.

Well - the GOP sure doesn't want to admit that, yeah, their deregulating, tax cuts, and battles against the minimum, and prevailing, wage laws, are what's squeezing the hell out of the American workers. They don't want to admit they've been negotiating away worker's rights and bargaining power with trade deals that can have US workers competing against slave labor.

So what do they do? They say that there are still good jobs, there are still good opportunities, there's plenty of both... but guess where these good jobs and opportunities go?

(If you have to ask, here's a sample.)

Now, I don't much like racism, even if it's based in ignorance. But it's important to remember that this same sort of messaging has been in use since the 70s... and it's likely become ever more effective as businesses get to squeeze the working class ever harder. It's also to remember that there are people in respected leadership roles - heaven help us, even the Presidency! - who will happily use this sort of messaging, knowing it's a pack of lies[1], but counting on their followers to believe it's the truth. After a message is repeated often enough, even people who aren't convinced will come to believe that there must be something to it, or surely it would have been debunked and denounced by now. And seeing things get worse and worse makes it easier for people to accept a cause that sounds plausible.

I'm not saying this to suggest that racism is okay, nor that it should be accepted... but to suggest that you remain aware that there are a lot of people being very carefully taught a pack of lies that explain their suffering, and push the blame away from the people who cause it.

[1] Technically, Trump may be one of the dupes who believes it - he's certainly not thoughtful or curious enough to sniff out the BS in anything - or, perhaps his nose is numb to the scent after the truckloads he dumps each speech....
2017-06-24 11:06 am

Government like a business - explained!

The Republicans like to talk about running government "like a business". They do it, too.

Here's the thing, though: if you think you understand what they mean, you probably have it backwards. Businesses are supposed to make their customers' lives better in some way. Do the Republicans?

They don't want to spend money fixing roads and bridges, making efficient water, power, and data pathways, and thereby making U.S. infrastructure the envy of the world.

They don't want to provide excellent health care for the citizenry of the U.S., the way every other major nation does.

They don't want to provide security from a merciless world with physical and economic catastrophes.

Instead, they say that there are freeloaders, who don't pay Federal Income Tax. It doesn't matter if those people are good, hardworking folks who do good work for their employers and in their communities. What matters is, they're not bringing in revenue.

They want to cut all forms of the safety net, claiming that people are overusing them, and without them, those people would go out and work; they assume that people are lazy and undisciplined, and that's why they aren't wealthy, and that's why they need to suffer - to teach them to work harder! And if they're already working hard, well they must be doing something wrong, or why are they having problems?

Have you figured out yet what they mean by "government like a business?"

They want to cut Medicaid, changing it from benefits to contributions - they will only contribute, not promise that the contribution will do anything. They want to cut Medicare the same way - they'll define a contribution to provide, not a benefit. And they want to make people work harder, and longer, for fewer Social Security benefits.

Is the idea starting to rise up? Do you now realize what they mean, "government like a business"? Haven't you seen this behavior before, people complaining about folks who aren't producing enough, and insisting that everyone has to provide more for themselves, because benefits are being cut?

When Republicans realized that President Obama had the opportunity to fill a lot of federal court openings, they realized they could simply refuse to do their jobs, so they didn't. Is that a big clue for you? It should be....

See, the one thing people can't do, if they're running a business is anger their customers by refusing to do their jobs.

Now the Republicans are threatening the health of millions, and this will lead to thousands of deaths. You can't do that to your customers - taking away things that they value, and replacing them with items of far less value, that will cause massive harm through your customer base. You need to keep making improvements - or your customers will go somewhere else.

And if that doesn't sew up the argument, well, I don't know what else does. The Republicans are running government like a business. And they think that the American people are their employees. People to be used up, and tossed aside - people whose benefits are to be cut, and whose health and well being aren't concerns - if they don't like where they're "working", they can leave!

They think they're the bosses, and citizens are the workers, to be used, and abused, and fired whenever is convenient. No wonder they like Trump!
2017-06-15 08:24 pm

A letter that would make me want to be the proveribal fly on the wall...

I imagine it would be on nice stationery, elegant looking, but, dare I say it, conservative in appearance, in an easy, sparse script. The wording is my own, and I'm sure were the actual letter written, it would be far better.

And I'm sure the imagined letter would never be sent, for the imagined author has class. Still:

"Dear Donald,

"I understand a lot about how you feel about the investigations surrounding you. To have the news media constantly speaking about this scandal, and that scandal, and raising the specter of charges being filed... you can't help but wonder if some of the people who voted for you, and believed in you, are starting to doubt that you are the man they thought you were.

"The constant scrutiny, and the frequent headlines are hard to put up with. I know - probably no one knows better than I. Even if you are innocent, and know that no charges could be brought against you by an honest prosecutor, it still rankles: both that you are being investigated, and that so many people are talking about it and speculating about what evil things you might have done.

"To this, I can only summon all of the wisdom I have gained through a long live facing many adversaries, and say:"

"SUCK IT DONNY BOY! You knew damn well I'd never committed a crime, but you loved pretending an investigation was a terrible thing. But don't worry: if you go to jail, I'll be sure to see you off to custody. Let's see how you like a few chants of 'Lock him up!'

"Most Sincerely,

"Hillary Rodham Clinton"
2017-06-05 12:21 pm

The lying liberal media...

The lying liberal media strikes again!

Scott Pruitt didn't say that there had been a gain of 50,000 coal jobs! He'd said that total coal jobs were over 50,000! How *dare* the liberal media take him out of context, and make it sound like he told a ridiculously transparent lie about adding coal jobs!

Look at the quote: he says that there have been over 50,000 since last quarter - PERIOD! Then he says there have been coal jobs, mining jobs, created - a good 400 in the last month alone!

They're just trying to be "politically correct" by claiming that coal jobs aren't coming back. Well, they aren't, but that doesn't mean Pruitt is wrong! He said only that 50,000 people have coal jobs! When you're dealing with a liberal witch hunt, you can hardly expect him to say "there's been tiny uptick in coal jobs, barely worth mentioning." That's what the LIEberals want! They want to destroy Donald Trump's presidency just because it looks like he and his team were working with a known enemy of the US, and because he lied about pretty much everything, like bringing back coal jobs.

Well, DONALD TRUMP is not lying about coal jobs here! Scott PRUITT is the one who's speaking! And he's not lying either! Just saying that "there are now more than 50,000 coal jobs", in hopes that people will think there's been a boom in coal jobs, isn't lying! Only the politically correct think you should be forthright and honest, and we threw that out when we elected Trump, amirite?

Besides, do you want the liberals to get back in office? Do you know what they'll do? They'll try to find other jobs - jobs that can be sustained in the long term! But what you want is COAL. COAL! COAL COAL COAL! It's too cheap to be worth much, and it will all go away pretty darn soon, but hey, people should promise you jobs in a dying industry so you'll vote for them - without a bunch of LIEBERALS injecting FACTS into the discussion! You know who uses facts? The ELITES who tell you coal is a DYING INDUSTRY just because it is!

For the sarcasm impaired: yes, this *is* satire. Pruitt did, in fact, lie by any meaningful use of the word, trying to make it sound like the 49,000+ jobs that already existed were just recently added.
2017-06-04 03:43 pm

Income inequality: Why It Matters

When Occupy Wall Street started, they had a motto: "We are the 99%". They were pointing out that income inequality is soaring, and most gains go to the top one percent of people in this nation. (They were and are correct, but it turns out that a huge percentage of the gains go to an even smaller percentage of people!)

Why does that matter? Why isn't this dismissible as envy - people being sore that the wealthy are doing better than they are?

The whole story starts in the Reagan years, when it was proclaimed (by Reagan and his ilk) that the real problem with the economy was on the supply side. For example, no one (so Reagan would say) would work on five movies in a year. The first four put you in a high tax bracket, so the pay you got for the fifth would get eaten up by taxes.

This is a market failure, if true - though let's keep in mind that if a person made enough money working on four movies, we may not feel too terribly sorry for them if they need to shelter the pay for that fifth movie, or choose to take two months (plus change) in downtime each year. Still, it's a market failure - if a person is good enough to be in demand to help on five movies in a year, they should be able to choose to make that fifth movie and earn the extra money.

Does that mean a huge cut in the marginal rates was the answer? I suppose it depends on the question. The problem is that the federal income tax is based upon actual income - revenue, minus necessary expenses. If you run a business - HVAC, plumbing, a pizza parlor - you don't pay tax on what people pay you. You pay tax on what people pay you above and beyond the costs of doing the job - and that includes salaries.

If your business were to earn $350,000 in a year, but you paid $100,000 in salaries and benefits, and $75,000 in other expenses, you pay taxes on $175,000. Let's say you have to choose between working your employees harder (you think you can - the economy isn't doing that well, so they're not as likely to quit, and if they do, someone else will need the job), or hiring a new employee at $25,000 a year. If the tax rate is 70%, the net cost to you is only 30% - $7,500 - because if you don't pay that in salary, you pay 70% in taxes on it. If the tax rate is 30%, the situation is reversed: that new employee costs you over twice as much. If you take the money home, you get to keep $17,500. An employer in that situation is far more likely to decide their employees could put in a bit more work....

The rightwing in this country loves to call the rich "job creators" - but the educated members of the right know full well that they've set up incentives so employers want to cut jobs - both in actual number of jobs, and in salary and benefits of the jobs still needed - because low marginal tax rates have made each dollar paid for employees a lot more expensive.

Okay, but: instead of paying 70% to the government, people have more money in their own pockets so they can use it to do what they want. Won't that mean more spending on stuff people want, rather than spending on what the government thinks is best? And won't that mean a boom in business, a "rising tide that will raise all ships"? While some businesses cut jobs, won't new businesses crop up, and create new jobs?

That's a good theory, but it hasn't worked, and that is precisely why Occupy Wall Street made such a valid point. The gains haven't created a rising tide that raises all boats - it's created a yacht club, members-only, with ordinary people struggling to keep afloat, wondering where their promised boat (just a tiny thing, barely worth calling a 'houseboat' but it was theirs) went. Well, it became possible to stay in business without paying folks enough money to live on, much less buy that tiny metaphorical-houseboat.

This didn't happen all at once, of course - it took time. But the Reagan years were 30 years ago, and now, good jobs are really hard to come by. It's not that the money isn't there - there's plenty of money. It's just being taken in profits, rather than used to pay workers.

So you see, the problem with inequality isn't the inequality per se - it's that the inequality comes from the people on top demanding, and getting, an ever larger share of the rewards, by putting ever greater downward pressures on the rewards given to workers.

To some people, this seems fair. After all the wealthy put some of their wealth at risk, in business ventures; why shouldn't they be able to so why shouldn't they get every single penny they can out of their business? And putting capital at risk should earn you some money from it - and if you're a Steve Jobs, who can make a company create brilliant products making boatloads of money, you certainly earn a big chunk of that cash!

I'm not one of the people who thinks that seems fair I care about justice, so I can say that people deserve a return on capital, but the working class folks also deserve a fair share of the wealth being created.

When workers are being squeezed, in part through automation, and in part because of poor incentives in the tax code, you can imagine different ways of tackling the issue.

You could create incentives to share more of the wealth downward - a graduated income tax, with deductions and credits for things that actually help create or improve jobs is one such method. So you can pressure employers to improve wealth distribution.

(This was part of why there was a lot of wealth spread around when tax rates were higher - the joke about the "businessman's 3 martini lunch" existed because a business lunch was deductible, and at a 70% marginal rate, that business lunch cost 30 cents on the dollar, so it's okay to run up a big bar tab. That was probably bad for over-indulgent company officials, but it also meant lots of business for restaurants.)

You can also use the government to improve wealth distribution, like with the obvious example: most industrialized nations guarantee health care to all citizens. This way, even the local fellow who's a hard worker, but never going to be anything better than a ditch digger or burger flipper, gets to see the doctor when sick - yes, even if they have cancer! - and receive decent medical care.

Governments can also provide other things - for example, SNAP (formerly called Food Stamps) is a great way to support a free market in food. If food prices are too high, you can increase SNAP eligibility and benefits to help tide people over, and help prevent market failures caused by other methods of trying to keep food prices reasonable. Housing assistance is also a great way to provide better outcomes - far better than rent control, for example, since rent control can leave landlords without the money to keep buildings in good repair.

Both of these ideas - using incentives, or direct distribution, to ensure the working class can get by - are defensible, but they do require the wealthy to give up wealth they might otherwise get, so the GOP has picked a third choice:

Do nothing, let people's wages stagnate and shrink, let people live in ever-more-desperate economic situations, and keep insisting that we have to cut, cut, cut the safety net to "give people the dignity of paid employment."

That really is a claim that the GOP likes to make: the ridiculously small benefits used to help the poorest of the poor are so generous they keep people from working hard to gain those benefits by themselves. Thus, to the GOP, the reason folks haven't been doing well - the reason wages and benefits have been stagnant = is that folks are so comfortable about the social safety nethammock, they're just not working hard enough! If only they worked harder, good paying jobs with good benefits would appear. I'm sure the folks who used to work in coal mines will be comforted to know that the problem with good paying jobs mining coal is that working in a mine isn't working hard enough!

But I reject that ridiculous notion. People are working hard, and trying hard, and even praying hard, so the GOP's position - cut the social safety net so people try harder - reminds me of a quote from Robert Heinlein: "If you pray hard enough, water will run uphill. How hard do you have to pray? Hard enough to make it run uphill, of course!" (Heinlein was fond of using the notion that water will never "run" uphill, ever, no matter how desperately you want, and need, it to do so.)

Now, I have to confess: I don't know if Heinlein would agree with me. He might see that bright, hard working, young people can sometimes make a comfortable living for themselves, and accept that as proof that hard work is enough. Me? I say that, since so many people are trying so hard, and not really getting any reward for their labor, and since corporate America is constantly looking to cut labor costs, it's time to admit that trying hard isn't enough. If there were still plenty of high paying jobs going unfilled, sure, maybe people aren't trying hard enough - but there aren't. And while there are people who are more and less industrious, on the whole, the average worker is industrious enough that it's not lack of effort leading to the lack of good jobs.

So: income inequality, as it stands now, really matters, and to rational folks, it raises some difficult questions that need to be answered. On the other hand, to the GOP, there isn't even a question (except, of course, "how can we blame all of this on liberals?")!
2017-06-01 08:10 am

About "outrage"

So, I have something to say about this.

First, this:
In addition to gratuitously playacting one of the most vile, grotesque and evil acts of violence one could -- against any human, let alone the President -- Griffin has also managed to weaken good arguments against Trump's intolerance and the intolerance of some of his supporters.

...is stone cold stupid. Flat out idiotic. No, not just the awkward construction in the first part that suggests "this sentence no verb", I mean the ideas behind it.

The arguments against Trump's intolerance and that of some of his supporters is not undermined because someone else does something ugly. "Two wrongs don't make a right", Cupp... sorry your parents didn't teach you that, or you'd know that one wrong doesn't make another, unrelated wrong, more right, nor weaken arguments against it.

...if you think the President should take more seriously his role in tamping down violence and hate across the country, as I do, stunts such as this are a serious setback.

This is an implicit statement that Trump is such an immature narcissist that he won't do his duties if his precious fee-fees are hurt, and if that's what a person truly believes, they should be asking - demanding - that Trump step down.

The Presidency has no place for a person so pathetically, morally weak, that he won't act unless his fee-fees are fluffed[1].

Finally: I've noticed there's a pattern here.

Conservatives trumpet that "liberals want Terri Schiavo to die" while they tell blatant lies about her legal proceedings and medical condition. Do they apologize for such a hideous slander? Of course not.

George W. and the GOP leadership lied the US into war, gleefully causing hundreds of thousands of deaths. Are they called upon to apologize? Of course not.

At soi disant "conservative" rallies, there are bumper stickers and placards reading vile things like "Liberal Hunting Permit" and "Tree, rope, journalist: some assembly required." Are any in the GOP called to account, and asked to reject such vileness? Of course not.

A comedian makes a photo that's in bad tastes, without any actual malice, and, wow, step back, *that* is a story.

I opined in another forum that "I suppose that if journalists called upon the GOP to denounce the vile behavior of their supporters, they'd have time to do nothing else," referring to the GOP (though it would keep a bunch of reporters busy too!).

And then I realized: wow, the GOP then couldn't pass a massive upper-class tax cut, that, as a side effect, might toss 20+ million people off their health insurance, and let them die from manageable diseases, or from issues requiring high cost intervention (cancer, post-heart attack rehab, etc.).

(Oh, come now - you don't think the AHCA has anything to do with health care, do you? The GOP has whined about replacing Obamacare for many years and they still don't have a plan, just a pile of empty talking points. Oh, and a braggart who insists that this is a wonderful health care plan, but that's Trump, who will say that black is white if it benefits him, and seems to believe his own crap doesn't stink - or, perhaps, that when it does, it's the worst stink ever recorded in the history of humanity - so he doesn't really count, except, on a good day, up to 20. (21 is probably unachievable, given the size of his gut[2].)

So: Journalists, you now have a duty. It's true: some leftish folks don't like the racism and bigotry shown by some of Trumps followers, and find it head-poundingly puzzling that the rest don't demand better behavior from their leader - and only slightly less puzzling that they don't demand their leader be a better man, and thus, reject Trump.

Why not start digging into the 25+ year history of hatred-of-liberals? Why not start asking the GOP if they will denounce the many examples of hate and bigotry? And, when they don't denounce it, piously ask why they don't denounce the hatred of the millions of people - several million more than elected Trump, in fact - just because they have some differences of opinion?

I mean, heck, journalists, you won't even ask politicians "Do you believe abortion is murder? Because western civilization has a long standing belief that it's okay to perform violence to prevent actual murder. If you think that violence shouldn't occur simply because it's "illegal" doesn't that mean that you'd have expected people not to resist during the Nazi reign of Germany, so long as the law supported what was happening?"

I mean, seriously - isn't that a damn good question to ask? "Why do you use such violent imagery about abortion - a mom brutally murdering her innocent baby! - and then whine when someone posted an ugly picture of your beloved leader, President Trump?"

I can't support or defend what Kathy Griffin did. But I find the outrage inappropriately unbalanced. If we're going to be outraged over icky, potentially hateful, imagery, we should always be so outraged... not just when we have someone who's decent enough to admit it was a mistake, squirm, feel guilt, and apologize abjectly. Sure, it's not as amusing to see a person defend hatred and hating, rather than watch someone publicly shamed - but the truth isn't supposed to be "amusing".

The Congress won't even investigate Trump, hoping it might clear his name, much less hold him in check, because it's controlled by the GOP. And the GOP won't even urge Trump to grow up and be a man. Trump sure isn't going to lead - not in any direction any sane person should follow. The courts have limited power, especially when the Congress can pass new laws to overrule them.

That means someone has to stand up. And though I wouldn't want the job myself, if you asked to be a journalist reporting national news, you asked for this part of the job, however painful and difficult it may be. It's time to do it. The GOP won't be good men and women - so journalists have to step in, to show how it's done.

[1] Yes, that is a reference to a particular backstage porn activity, chosen deliberately.
[2] No, that's not a fat-joke - it's a joke about how, since he probably can't see it, he can't use it to count, and *needs* a representative digit to get past fingers and toes. If he was a thinner dude, it would be that he "can't count to 21 while wearing underpants". Though I suppose you could demand I admit he could make 21 if wearing one of those ridiculously long ties of his while barefoot....)
2017-05-27 03:04 pm

Treason? No, but....

Is Donald Trump a traitor?

I suppose since Trump is so excited by libel laws, I should start this by saying "I have no reason to think so, so 'no'".

And I have no reason to think so - so, "no".

I do think he's the kind of fool who could easily become one, without ever planning or intending to be one - but I don't think he is. He does scare me, as he did before the election, that he was so sure of himself that he could be played by the Russians easily. They'd make it sound like it was good for the US and for Russia, and he'd be sure he was getting the better of them... because they'd figure out how to make it look that way to him. I think he could be played. Of all of the Presidential candidates I've known in my lifetime, he's the only oneI feel afraid for because I fear he could become an accidental traitor - thinking he was playing the Russians, while they were playing him.

Still, I ask that question because it shows a difference between the left, and the right, in this nation. If Donald Trump had a "(D)" after his name, you know that the question would be in multiple headlines. Let's face it: he's praised Putin, he had people working for him with multiple contacts to Russia, he "accidentally" spilled classified information to the Russians, he's constantly talked about how nice it would be to have better relations with Russia, and he fired a "nut job" who was bringing a lot of pressure to bear on an investigation of Russian involvement.

If a Democrat did this, people would be stating that we can't trust him, or at least admitting it does look bad and does raise questions. The Republicans would be investigating left and right, and if their investigations came up empty, they'd start a new one, just as they did during Benghazipalooza.

But that's not happening now. People are demanding investigations; they're demanding the truth; that's it. There's a lot of stuff that looks bad, and needs to be figured out; what we know about Trumps actions push a strong possibility of obstruction of justice. That's proceeding - that's how politics is supposed to work.

But there isn't a wide spread set of conspiracies and nasty accusations, "red meat for the bases" flowing, because the Democrats aren't into "red meat", they're into good governance, good labor practices, fair regulations, and sound federal budgeting. They want to keep the extra 20 million people insured by the Affordable Care Act to keep being insured, rather claiming they'll "improve access" by letting insurance companies sell crappy policies dirt cheap, and not forcing them to take on people with pre-existing conditions - those are bad for profits, after all.

Sorry - got distracted! The point is, the Democrats aren't governing by whipping up their supporters into believing the Republicans are a bunch of evildoers, and the President is a traitor - they are more into letting the evidence determine what they believe.

Think about it: Hillary Clinton never tried to share classified information with anyone; she did nothing illegal by continuing to use her old, familiar, e-mail server... and yet, there are many people who want to see the President "lock her up!" That should scare people. They won't just insinuate, and sow doubts, and fears. They'll actually convince a lot of the nation that an innocent woman who is a political opponent should be in jail.

This isn't rational behavior - but it works, because most people don't have long memories of political dust-ups, and their base doesn't care - they've been told Democrats are not just wrong, but evil, for some 25 years, so even if they kinda-realize that Hillary Clinton committed no crimes, they are willing to play along.

Now, with evidence of real crimes staring us in the face, crimes that put our national security at risk, they continue to support, and to denounce those asking fair, honest questions of, Donald Trump - the man who clearly tried to influence the investigation, into Russian interference in the election, and of his associates who had clear Russian connections. The man incompetent enough to spill classified information to Russian officials, and then confirm part of their expected findings.

There's always a double standard; tiny things will tend to get overlooked; bigger things tend to get downplayed; but in a healthy society, serious accusations are treated seriously, and that's not happening.

And what can be done? Well, the Democrats could start playing the same game, trying to whip up hatred for the other side - but that's bad for the nation.

What I feel they should do is stop respecting Republican investigations, or accepting Republican intransigence about investigating. They should be pointing out that for a tenth of the evidence, Republicans would be screaming bloody murder over Democrats, and are trying to sweep it under the rug for Republicans. It's not like the press will ever notice if someone isn't saying it! I'm not sure why they're doing that - I think they keep hoping things will go back to "normal" - but "normal" is "false accusations of criminal activity against Democrats, and ignoring wrongdoing by Republicans". That's not good enough.

Of course, we could also hope that the press wakes up and starts reporting on what things are clearly partisan witchhunts, like Benghazipalooza, and noting that, yeah, what Trump did looks like an actual crime.

In the end, though, the big change has to be in the American people. They have to wake up, and notice the differences - and notice the kind of nastiness the Republicans take for granted, while noticing that, no, both sides aren't the same. Only the Republicans could have supported Trump; and that supporting Trump shows how bad Republicans have become. Americans need to wake up - and if you're reading this, I hope you'll help them along.
2017-05-10 06:14 pm

If proof was needed...

Here's proof that there is a reflexive attack - in favor of Republicans, and against Democrats.

I'm not sure if I wrote here that Comey deserved to be fired - but I was of that opinion once the letter about the Clinton e-mails went out. Let's keep in mind what happened.

The FBI found they had a bunch of Hillary Clinton's e-mails. This, by itself, was no evidence of wrongdoing. They wanted to search them - why? In order to see if there was any evidence that Hillary Clinton had deliberately shared classified information with others who weren't cleared for it.

No one has any reason to believe she'd do that, nor that she did that. There's no evidence that she might have. One can defend asking for a warrant just to show no stone was left unturned... but in keeping with that, it's even more inappropriate to take any risk of this search being made public.

So: Comey sent a letter he knew would be leaked, that made it sound as if there was reason to believe Hillary Clinton might be guilty of a crime, when he had no evidence of wrongdoing, and no real reason to suspect he might find it.

Yeah. He deserved to be fired.

And while many people did discuss how wrong it was for Comey to deliberately interfere with the election, you can recall a fascinating tidbit: none of them bothered to point out that the law was such that he was all-but guaranteed to find nothing damning.

Right then and there was the time for honor to show: an honorable person would not only have denounced Comey, but also point out that he was conducting a baseless investigation in the first place. Honor was absent.

Now, when Trump fires Comey, suddenly people are acting all "he deserved it" when they didn't give a damn months ago? When the reasons for the firing are the same reasons that have been present since October?

Listen: it's one thing to say "I'm sure Trump had a good reason to do this, and was just completely tone deaf in doing it now." But to defend the act, rather than admit it stinks on ice? Give me a break. This is a deliberate and clear attempt to run interference, and I hope people remember this a few months down the road as more, and worse, comes out.

Because remember: this is the fault of the entire Republican establishment, and most emphatically the right wing media. All they had to do was admit that Trump is incompetent and the Presidency is too important. Some of them had the decency to go "NeverTrump" but all too many of them simply tried to distance themselves, while hoping to hitch a ride on his star.
2017-05-06 10:46 am

More on history...

Last entry, I suggested that the Republicans had taken a position of total opposition to Democrats. Today, I want to provide some support for this.

Example 1: While Bill Clinton was in office, many soi disant conservatives railed about how he could spy on Americans with nothing but a rubber stamp from the FISA court; this is most important because it shows that the issue was known, and was of concern, earlier. When George W. Bush violated FISA, by going around the court, many of those self-same "conservatives" insisted that his actions were lawful and necessary.

Okay, but in all politics, isn't there a kind of "well, sure, my side engages in a few pecadillos,but yours engages in major corruption"?

No, not in a healthy political society. In a healthy society, actual corruption is attacked and condemned from both sides, and actual pecadillos are blasted during election season as corruption, but afterward, it's admitted that they really weren't that bad.

Moreover, George W. Bush was supposedly an MBA President. If there was anything an MBA should be able to do, it's to simplify and improve a process, especially when the process is well understood (like generating warrant applications!). At the very least, there should have been some scorn, or from virulent Republican partisans, some admission that it doesn't look good that he presumably could have gotten warrants and didn't.

Ah, but Democrats were attacking a Republican, so the Republicans circled their wagons.

Example 2: Torture. Call it what you will, the US engaged in torture. People were tortured in black sites, in Guantanemo, and in Abu Ghraib. This is a non-partisan issue - everyone agrees that torture is stupid.

Wait, can't torture work? Sometimes?

Well - I'll grant you this. If you know that I know a specific fact - say, my password - and you can quickly check if that something I tell you is true or false - "password didn't work, he lied!" - then yes, you can probably break me and make me tell you that thing.

In reality? This doesn't happen. Interrogators are generally asking broad questions to a broad range of people. Torturing people is far more likely to get them to say whatever it takes to get the torture to stop... and that means false positives. False confessions, false leads, and blind alleys that intelligence is searching down.

Well, what about the ticking time bomb scenario? Doesn't that merit the use of torture?

I hope you mean "doesn't asking that question merit the use of torture?" :-) but even if so, the answer is still no! In fact, the ticking time bomb is one of the absolute worst cases for torture.

Where else can you imagine a situation in which a person should have a lie memorized, and hold out as long as they can, so when they finally "reveal" their memorized lie, it's too late to mount a second response if and when the real location is discovered?

Torture doesn't work, and only rank, immature, emotionalism leads one to think it's a useful tool.

And yet... when Obama brought down bin Ladin, it wasn't enough to downplay the achievement on the Republican side - they also had to trumpet that torture must have worked!


Seriously, the threat of torture trials was over. Ah, but again, we see the right wing strategy: draw a distinction, make the liberals bad, and the soi disant conservatives good, and hammer away. So they did.

This also illustrates one of the dangers of the strategy. Tactically, bringing up torture was a pointless exercise when bin Ladin was killed... a careful general would caution against it. Thing is, once you have people excited enough to be on the winning side, they're not all about tactics, they're about living that excitement, so of course torture comes bubbling back up!

Nowadays, FISA has been shown to be able to be violated with impunity - if it's a Republican in control. Nowadays, torture is seen as good, and tough, and strong. We can't walk these back... not easily.

For a third example, I'm going to go on a bit of a stretch. Bear with me.

Time was, the gun-rights folks were fond of saying "I should be able to own guns and use them peacefully and lawfully if I want to. Tell me: even if I had a fully automatic AR-15, what could I do with it that doesn't already violate the law?"

They also had a saying that I felt was a good one: "It is better to be judged by 12 (i.e., jurors) than carried by six (i.e., pallbearers)." It's better to go to court, and defend yourself against charges, than to be killed by an attacker.

Tell me: how can you go from there, to "stand your ground" laws?

The concept of "Stand Your Ground" is a nasty one: if you kill someone, and can claim self defense, and your story doesn't completely fall apart, you are to be presumed innocent. In fact, in Florida, if someone attacked me, if I then I wrestled them to the ground, pinned them, and popped them a good one in the nose to show them that, when I let them up, they don't want another tussle - that person is now legally allowed to kill me.

No, I'm not kidding. They are unable to retreat (pinned down), they are in fear for their life or great bodily injury ("how did I know he just wanted to give me a bloody nose, and thus, a good scare?"). The Florida legislature explicitly refused to change the law to emphasize that their attack on me removed their open-ended right to self-defense, once they wanted to retreat but were prevented.

Listen: I'm a reasonable person, but I'm also aware of reality. If I used a gun to protect myself, I'm fully aware that, unless someone sees the whole encounter, the police, the prosecutor, and the courts, don't know if I acted lawfully. I might go to jail - but I'll be alive.

Okay, but, but, if I defend myself, I shouldn't have to go to jail, right?

Sure, I shouldn't have to, not if it was self defense. But you know something? Let's pretend I'm not the man I am. Let's pretend I'm perfectly okay with killing someone in self defense. (I'm not opposed - but there's a lot of distance between "not opposed to" and "okay with".)

It might well be that the awareness that I might go to jail, even in a perfect, spot-on, textbook example of self defense, that causes me to flee an encounter if it's safe to do so, and that keeps me from escalating the threat until I'm fairly certain the risk is real. You see what I'm saying? If I'm just a bit scared of jail, then my first thought is "how can I get out of here, to stay both alive and free?"

If I know I'm covered by Stand Your Ground, and just have to say "Oh, I was afraid for my life and/or great bodily injury!" that fear of jail doesn't hold me back.

If Florida could show me a large number of generally good, innocent people who are in jail just because they used force, including lethal force, in defense of their lives or bodily integrity, then I'd say Stand Your Ground would make some sense. But it doesn't.

So: how does this tie into Republicans attacking Democrats?

Well, remember the strategy: draw a distinction, make it a clear distinction, and then say that the Democrats are the bad guys (for whatever reason).

The NRA has been successful to the point that even the most ardent gun-control supporter is going to be wary of attacking gun ownership for recreation or hunting. They've been attacking politicians who want to ban certain weapon types and accessories (guns modeled after military rifles, high capacity magazines, etc.), but the fact of the matter is, even the NRA is forced to admit that these bans are mostly about cosmetic features, not functionality, so it's hard to rile people up.

Ah: but Democrats are far more likely to worry about people killed needlessly in self-defense. For example, if a man walks away with really minor injuries, and says he had to kill his attacker, Democrats are more likely to be suspicious, especially if his story ("I was pinned to the ground, yet somehow managed to draw a gun kept over my left butt-cheek!") doesn't quite add up.

Democrats are more likely to see the world as less threatening - sure, they admit, you might run into a dangerous situation where an attacker is attacking, but it's awfully rare.

And they're far more likely to want justice. If a young black man is killed, they're less likely to assume he must have brought his fate on himself, and are far more aware that, since he can no longer speak for justice regarding his own life, we must speak for him.

So there is a distinction, and it can be hammered home hard, and loud. "We must be able to defend ourselves! Liberals don't want us to! Liberals are BAD!"

The law already allows self-defense; prior to Stand Your Ground, self-defense was an affirmative defense. "Sure, I shot him, but let me present a preponderance of evidence showing that it was probably self-defense!" Now, if a prosecutor can't prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that it was self defense, a killer can skate.

There was even a story of a person who recorded an encounter, and declared out loud that he was "standing his ground" before shooting someone. Officially, we're not supposed to find that suspicious!

Now, here's what I want you to think about. Maybe - maybe there was some reform needed of self-defense law. I don't know - I'm sure some people who deserved to be found not guilty were in jail; it's the nature of the beast. But to decriminalize killing, unless there's evidence "beyond a reasonable doubt" that the killing wasn't self-defense, is not reform; it's insanity. So, what was Stand Your Ground?

I say it was an attack vehicle. A good law would not have gone so ridiculously far.

Keep looking around. You'll find other issues.

"Obamacare failed" - it insured 20 million people, costs are rising slower than before, Medicare is better funded than before, and yes, there are pain points, most of which can be fixed using the tools the law suggests.

"The Iranian deal is terrible" - experts at the time described Iran's actions as "capitulation". They gave Europe and the US everything they wanted - full inspections and monitoring, in return for an end to sanctions. Sure, the US would return frozen assets - that's why they're called "frozen", not "confiscated". Sure, after a time, monitoring would end; Iran is a sovereign nation, and no sovereign nation would permit monitoring endlessly. So, strangely, everyone, except the Republican party and fans, thinks it was a great deal.

And I'm sure you can keep going (I started listing others, but they weren't quite as supportive of my next point). The point is, these things not only draw distinctions, create soundbites, and electoral slogans.

They also set up ridiculous points of view, and ask people to support them.

1) FISA isn't a big deal.
2) Torture is actually a good idea.
3) If we can't kill people any time we feel scared, freedom is damaged.
4) Obamacare is bad, and failed, because it only accomplished its broad goals; so throw it out!
5) The Iranian deal was terrible, even though it gave negotiators everything they asked for.

While the Republicans are demanding support of nonsense, they're damaging the country - to the point that their own faithful couldn't see through the fraudulent, uninformed BS that Trump was taught by the right-wing.
2017-04-15 06:33 pm

Reflecting on history

Blogging during the Trump administration is not easy for the low energy. I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and where can I spend my energy? On a ridiculously stupid ban on people from majority Muslim countries? On "no one knew health care was so complicated?" On "although we Republicans refused to hold so much as a hearing on a Democratic nominee to the Supreme Court, the Democrats are being partisan for filibustering a man who said it's okay to fire someone who took action to save his life, rather than needlessly die to protect company property"?

What hurt me so badly about the election was not that Hillary Clinton lost - it was that it showed that some of the worst people in the world, doing some of the worst things in the world, could be rewarded for those things. And it's hard to explain that without the benefit of history.

So let me try to tell you a story. If you're a left-leaning person like me, you probably won't learn anything explicitly new. If you're a right leaning person, I'm not going to ask you to trust me implicitly, but I'll ask you to do me a favor.

I want you to try to think about whether what I say is reasonable. Could it fit? Not "do you agree", just, could you make this fit? Once you're doing that, once you're actually thinking critically, I think you'll agree with me more than before.

Oh, right, and if you don't just lean right, but are a hard-core rightwinger... why bother? If you haven't engaged your brain yet, it ain't likely to happen. But I won't kick you out if you're polite.

Okay: what's the history I want to relate?

It starts in the 80s with Ronald Reagan. What did he do? Why is he revered so much? A lot of people think it's that he made this big cut in taxes, and was President over huge amounts of economic growth. Well, that's an important part of the myth (and like many myths, it's not well supported by reality), but the biggest thing he did was he put a lot of ideas into the open. Before, if you talked about welfare queens, people would tut-tut and say that you're heartless. But he would talk about it, and he'd be friendly and seem perfectly reasonable, and sound like a fine, upstanding person... while pushing a narrative that was mostly fiction centered around a single case of fraud.

With Reagan in office, people would talk happily about trying to help the rich, and slagging the poor (welfare queens and lazy bums) and because he was President at the end of a long set of interest rate increases intended to break the back of inflation, the GOP could pretend that their "supply side economics" was a roaring success.

The Republicans have been the party of the rich for a long time - but now they could just flat out announce that they wanted to cut taxes on the rich, and slash worker, environmental, and anti-trust protections and it was a winning message, because St. Ron was leading the way. This is important... but let's take a detour.

In addition, Ronald Reagan was great at dog whistling - he could cheerfully speak in code that sounded to the ordinary person, like it was just common sense, but sounded to others like he was in agreement with them. This was in line with his endorsement by the Moral Majority, which is perhaps the original "dog whistle" group. The drive to mix religion with politics occurred most strongly as religion was being pulled from education. Students couldn't be forced the pray (because that would be the state establishing religion), and were taught actual science (even if you believe the Abrahamic creation myth, the science still points to evolution, and therefore should be taught as science), and those annoyed people, but then some Christian universities were told that they couldn't enact racist policies and still receive federal funding.

What's important to understand about this is that, for a great many years, Protestant Christian sects believed that the bible was clear on abortion: it was not murder, especially among fundamentalists. This wasn't really a question; sure, Catholics thought abortion violated the "thou shalt not kill" commandment, but only a few lone voices thought that abortion was wrong, much less murder.

This changed with the Moral Majority, and now, you won't find many public faces of Christians - especially evangelicals - who aren't taught that abortion is murder. Well - but don't interpretations change, sometimes? Kind of... but the reason Fundamentalists said abortion wasn't murder was that it was spelled out in Biblical law: kill a pregnant woman, you die, for committing murder; make her miscarry, you don't. They now say it isn't murder by weaving together various bits of the bible, and insisting that their original belief about the law was mistaken.

This happened as the Moral Majority was being formed and taking its first steps. Which, interestingly, happened just after Christian colleges were being told they couldn't be racist. One might suspect that "we can't keep blacks out" or even "we can't keep blacks and whites from dating" was just not a good rallying point, but "we must stop the murder of innocent babies!" was a good rallying point, and that was the reason for the change.

But gosh, when people are discussing deeply held religious beliefs, should we be so suspicious? It's rude to question people's beliefs, because, gosh, doesn't everyone who cherishes religion have an oddball belief or two?

What if it was a naked attempt to game civility and respect? What if they invented that belief as a good rallying point, knowing that it made a good rallying cry, and knowing they could hide behind a shield of "you must respect my Deeply Held Beliefs!!!" if someone pointed out the naked opportunism?

It's still used today, you know: people are glad to say that abortion is murder. This is a big deal - it really matters! It matters because there is one clear, shining star in Western jurisprudence: a small harm may be performed to prevent a greater one. If one believes abortion is murder, one either believes that it's not okay to use violence to prevent murder, or, believes that violence is okay to prevent abortion. And yet, one doesn't have to say either, they just have to say "I have a deep reverence for human life, at all stages" and then bemoan the lack of civility of those who point out the obvious implications.

So: in the 80s, the Republicans found that you needed a shiny spokesperson, who could glibly discuss helping the rich, and they'd started finding ways to separate the clear implications of their statements from the statements themselves.

This, alas, is politics in a democratic society. People will find a way to market messages, and do so with no real respect for honesty. But this was also a time when a particular choice was made. At this point, a big part of the Republican faithful was now openly calling their opposition supporters of murder.

As the 80s wound down, so too did the economy, and ordinary people were now starting to hurt, and with good reason. Lower tax rates make workers more expensive. You see, a company gets to deduct wages for workers from their bottom line before paying taxes. When the tax rate is 70%, a worker costs half as much as when the tax rate is 40%. When each worker is taking twice as big a bite from the money you take home, you want fewer workers!

It also made predatory capitalism more valuable. There might be a way to engage in a hostile takeover of a company, and squeeze money out of it. But if the tax rate is too high, the actual return is too low, and people are less willing to take risks with the costs of the initial takover. But when the tax rates are lower, there are more, and bigger, risks a person might take, because there are more, and bigger, rewards to be taken.

By the end of the 80s, it was no longer as possible to cheerlead for the rich. Oh, there were still some attempts - "if you don't like the rich, next time you want a job, go ask a poor person!" would get tossed around, but while a person wouldn't be shamed for saying it, it was no longer a way to look better and smarter than your opponent. And worse, Bill Clinton had defeated Republican President George Bush I, and the Democrats controlled Congress, so the Republicans were out of power.

But another thing was happening at the end of the 80s. Rush Limbaugh had become popular. Rush Limbaugh was billed as an entertainer, and his schtick was to throw out conservative talking points taken to extremes and to harsh on liberals and liberal ideas, with a claim that he's just kidding, don't be so serious, it's just *entertainment*. Remember, while this is happening, we've already got a Republican bloc cheerfully accusing their opposition of supporting murder of innocent babies!

I'm not sure which is cause and which is effect, but with these two factors operating in tandem, there was no longer any real outrage that could be summoned. If someone is famous for saying something foolish, or nasty, day after day, and someone else says it, well, now it's old news, don't be so naive as to think this is shocking. And if someone is saying that liberals are trying to enslave society through taxation and regulation, well, they're already supporters of murder of innocent babies, right? And that's when Newt Gingrich decided to engineer a takeover of Congress.

Newt was the political equivalent of Rush Limbaugh. Rush found that it didn't matter what you said, so long as you billed it as entertainment. Newt realized that this could be dialed up a notch. If it doesn't matter if you call liberals baby-killers or would-be slavers, or economic overlords, then why not pump up the rhetoric, and the volume? Not just for himself - but for Republicans in general?

Newt's GOPAC memo is quite famous by now; if you haven't heard of it, it's when he said that one should use language to differentiate themselves from their opponent. For example, describe yourself as "pro-family" and describe your opponent as "anti-family".

Why? Because you're going to vote in favor of things that help families? Of course not! Because people want to vote for someone who says they'll help families. Okay, but you should only call your opponent anti-family if they're trying to hurt families, right? Uh... no, you seem to be missing the point here! You call yourself "pro-family" because people want to vote for someone who is "pro-family" and you call your opponent "anti-family" because people might want to vote against someone who is anti-family. Duh!

Remember: liberals are already supporting murder! Now, if a Democrat is supporting four weeks of unpaid leave for employees with family medical issues, and only for companies that have more than 500 workers, while the Republicans are rejecting any sort of job protections - go ahead and fire someone who's ten minutes late for work because they couldn't juggle their infant's chemotherapy schedule enough to get to work precisely on time - the Democrat is "anti-family, and strangling employers with harmful regulations" but the Republican is "pro-family and pro-business".

This is important to understand: if Newt, and only Newt, was doing this, he'd be singled out as a toxic individual. If he, and 20% of the Republican caucus did this, they'd be called extremists. But if he, and 80% of the Republicans agree on these things, now it's a mainstream belief. And sure, it's nasty, but, hey, politics ain't beanbag!

This is a key component to the issue. There's a known logical fallacy, argumentum ad populum - an idea is right because a lot of people believe it. Most people understand this - they know that if everyone claims the emperor is clothed, but is clearly naked, reality trumps what people say. The thing is - what if everyone says that the emperor was wearing a fine suit of clothes, too elegant to be described, and you weren't there? You'd probably assume the emperor was dressed in fine clothes. Why would so many people say something if it wasn't true?

This gets even better when it comes to beliefs, right? Because I'm the only person who can tell you what's in my mind. If I tell you I think a 2.3% excise tax on medical devices is destroying American jobs, you have no way to prove I don't believe that. You can think it's a dumb idea, unsupported by evidence, and you might think that I'm far too competent not to notice there's no evidence that it's happening, but... you can't exactly prove whether or not I think a 2.3% excise tax is killing jobs.

So: if enough people profess to believe that Democrats, and liberals, are literally destroying America and American values, no one can say that they're just a bunch of bullshitters, playing a nakedly transparent game to win political power.

Going to war is always popular, and this particular war was very popular. Republicans picked up control of Congress. And if it had ended there, the world might be a very different place... but it didn't.

At this point, with a huge success brought about by going on full-out offense on Democrats, the next step was obvious: keep going. If a single season of attacks yielded control of the Congress, couldn't continued attacks win them more?

At this point, it doesn't really matter what they said, so long as they all said it in unison, and so long as they could find some way of translating into a soundbite. Like, they want to make sure that people who work 31 hours a week won't obligate employers to give them insurance - so the propose a bill that says "if you don't work 40 hours each week, your employer doesn't have to care about whether you have health insurance or not" and they say they're "bringing back the 40 hour workweek!" Of course, the "anti-jobs, anti-family" Democrats would oppose this, but it's hard to argue against "the 40 hour workweek".

The attacks worked - or, if they didn't always work, they seemed to help. So they continued.

Okay, but, hey, am I not now laying a lot of blame on just the Republicans here? Isn't electoral politics inherently nasty? And wouldn't Democrats be just as corrupt if they had the opportunity? And, really, don't both sides do similar things?

This is one of the best bits of cover the Republican party has. It's true: electoral politics is nasty, and it's pretty inherent in any democratic system. And yes, people are corruptible, and if there's enough money and power, there will be people who are corrupted by both. And yes, both sides will use all the tools they have available.

But the Republican Party has had to keep upping the stakes to keep blood hot and rage fresh. Such as?

Well, "Bathroom bills" are a great example. Republicans want to make it illegal for transgender people to use public bathrooms that conform to how they present. A person has an F on their birth certificate, and has started living as a man, and taking testosterone, and sporting a full beard... they want this person to choose between walking into the ladies' room (causing no end of fuss) or walking into the men's room, and facing arrest if anyone knows they're trans. You can swap the sexes if you like, too.

A good "conservative" would call this a ridiculous intrusion into private life, and say that it's a solution in search of a problem. What are people afraid a person will do in a public restroom, that isn't already punishable under the law?

Ah, but transgender people aren't very common, and their cause isn't very popular, you see. And liberals are going to point out that this isn't fair, and it isn't justice, and it should be fought. And so they can be painted as trying to let pervy men into the ladies' room with your daughters!

Similarly, if you recall, it was none other than beloved icon Ronald Reagan who signed a treaty agreeing not to torture... but once George W. decided that "playing rough" was better than "playing smart" it was another great wedge issue. Although it's completely non-rational, it plays into saying that the Republicans are strong and nasty and can win wars, while Democrats are too weak to do so.

So Republicans have been having to take on ever more extreme positions to stake out territory over Democrats. But you can't just stake out these positions to win elections - if you don't start harshing on Democrats for hating torture early, it's going to sound crazy when you bring it up during election season! So these attacks have been going on, to the point that now, 20+ years after this whole mess started, you have people who know no other way.

You have people who grew into political adulthood being told, and believing, that liberals are evil, anti-family, anti-religion, pro-tax, pro-regulation, pro-baby-murdering. You have people who grew into political adulthood thinking Muslims were evil terrorists, and torture was a necessary part of warfare, that people would voluntarily label themselves as another gender to be able to use public restrooms of the opposite sex, etc.. You have people who saw Republican leadership smugly say that it was good to question whether President Obama had been born in the US even though they knew damn well he was. You have people who saw Republican leadership gleefully slime a good man with a brain damaged wife, just to have the chance to ask why liberals wanted this poor woman to die (never mentioning the woman's clearly stated wishes to be allowed ot die in such circumstances).

And now, you have partisans who are experienced prosecutors, who will even push lies claiming that their opponents are criminals - knowing full well they're slandering an innocent person, and using the power of law enforcement to do so.

That's the history - Republicans started as the party of the rich, and found their hero in someone who let them smugly talk about being the party of the rich. When that started working, they'd already had a custom made base of people to help fan the flames of hatred at Democrats. This has gone on so long, that the hatred of Democrats seems so natural and obvious that even some of the most outrageous of behaviors are considered acceptable.

And they can get away with it too... if people had made up criminal charges out of a trumped up legal investigation over a partisan witch hunt intended to cripple an opponent back in the 80s or 90s, it would have been front page news. But now, it's normal; worst case, it's "red meat for the base" - you know, they're not really doing this because they want to, but because they have to excite their base, and both sides do that!

They've been doing this for so long, and finding good ways to cover what they do with sound bites, that when Donald Trump showed up, he was pretty immune to them. He out-Republicaned them, and since he was saying the same things, working the same sound bites, if they dared attack him by pointing out he was a bullshitter, they had to acknowledge that they were bullshitting all along too.

Of course, for those who've grown up in this toxic stew, they might not even know he's bullshitting - because it does sound reasonable, from the principles Republicans had campaigned on for years.

And now, we have today. Most people oppose Trump, but the Republican faithful still support him. And the best case is, after causing huge amounts of damage, his basic incompetence causes a disaster that shows the GOP's platform is nothing but a house of cards. The worst case is? Things keep evolving as they are now. And I'll go into that in another post.