Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Why We Have Medicare

Is there anyone in America today who does not have at least one family member on Medicare or receiving Social Security? If there is, that person has no family members at all.

Which is why I find the repugs' eagerness to trash both extremely popular programs extremely disquieting. Yes, they're stupid, but they're not suicidal.

Digby:

The wingnuts all believe they're going to live forever and nothing bad can ever happen to them. Here's the GOP's Great Hispanic Hope on Medicare and Social Security:

These programs actually weakened us as a people. You see, almost forever, it was institutions in society that assumed the role of taking care of one another. If someone was sick in your family, you took care of them. If a neighbor met misfortune, you took care of them. You saved for your retirement and your future because you had to. We took these things upon ourselves in our communities, our families, and our homes, and our churches and our synagogues. But all that changed when the government began to assume those responsibilities. All of a sudden, for an increasing number of people in our nation, it was no longer necessary to worry about saving for security because that was the government’s job.

Isn't that nice? If only we could go back to the days of Ward and June Cleaver when everyone took care of each other and didn't need things like money or health insurance when they got old and sick and couldn't work. Back in the good old days everyone took care of the poor and there was no suffering or pain. It was one big happy family. Except, of course, that's just crap.

Think Progress reports
:

[P]rior to Medicare’s enactment in 1965, “about one-half of America’s seniors did not have hospital insurance,” “more than one in four elderly were estimated to go without medical care due to cost concerns,” and one in three seniors were living in poverty. Today, nearly all seniors have access to affordable health care and only about 14 percent of seniors are below the poverty line.

Listening to Rubio's rhetoric takes us all the way back to Ronald Reagan's famous jeremiads against these "socialist" programs. But there used to be another way of talking about this which people seemed to understand quite well. Here's an excerpt of the comments by President Johnson on the signing of Medicare into law in 1965:

It was a generation ago that Harry Truman said, and I quote him: "Millions of our citizens do not now have a full measure of opportunity to achieve and to enjoy good health. Millions do not now have protection or security against the economic effects of sickness. And the time has now arrived for action to help them attain that opportunity and to help them get that protection."

Well, today, Mr. President, and my fellow Americans, we are taking such action--20 years later. And we are doing that under the great leadership of men like John McCormack, our Speaker; Carl Albert, our majority leader; our very able and beloved majority leader of the Senate, Mike Mansfield; and distinguished Members of the Ways and Means and Finance Committees of the House and Senate--of both parties, Democratic and Republican.

Because the need for this action is plain; and it is so clear indeed that we marvel not simply at the passage of this bill, but what we marvel at is that it took so many years to pass it. And I am so glad that Aime Forand is here to see it finally passed and signed--one of the first authors.

There are more than 18 million Americans over the age of 65. Most of them have low incomes. Most of them are threatened by illness and medical expenses that they cannot afford.

And through this new law, Mr. President, every citizen will be able, in his productive years when he is earning, to insure himself against the ravages of illness in his old age...

No longer will older Americans be denied the healing miracle of modern medicine. No longer will illness crush and destroy the savings that they have so carefully put away over a lifetime so that they might enjoy dignity in their later years. No longer will young families see their own incomes, and their own hopes, eaten away simply because they are carrying out their deep moral obligations to their parents, and to their uncles, and their aunts.

And no longer will this Nation refuse the hand of justice to those who have given a lifetime of service and wisdom and labor to the progress of this progressive country.

[...]

President Harry Truman, as any President must, made many decisions of great moment; although he always made them frankly and with a courage and a clarity that few men have ever shared. The immense and the intricate questions of freedom and survival were caught up many times in the web of Harry Truman's judgment. And this is in the tradition of leadership.

But there is another tradition that we share today. It calls upon us never to be indifferent toward despair. It commands us never to turn away from helplessness. It directs us never to ignore or to spurn those who suffer untended in a land that is bursting with abundance...

And this is not just our tradition--or the tradition of the Democratic Party--or even the tradition of the Nation. It is as old as the day it was first commanded: "Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, to thy needy, in thy land."

And just think, Mr. President, because of this document--and the long years of struggle which so many have put into creating it--in this town, and a thousand other towns like it, there are men and women in pain who will now find ease. There are those, alone in suffering who will now hear the sound of some approaching footsteps coming to help. There are those fearing the terrible darkness of despairing poverty--despite their long years of labor and expectation--who will now look up to see the light of hope and realization.

What, no paeans to the free market defensively thrown in there to ensure that nobody thought he was some kind of a liberal squish? How odd.

So we're back to arguing first principles with silly young men embarrassingly proclaiming that our great nation requires that (lazy) old people depend on their children to support them or go begging in the streets, like they used to do, essentially so "productive" people won't have to pay taxes for anything but lots of cops and lots of soldiers. Isn't that what America is really all about?

Like most boomers, I have elderly parents who have endured multiple surgeries and medical procedures since they turned 65. Without Medicare, those treatments would have bankrupted my parents, my siblings and me. Or my parents would have died, slowly and painfully, of untreated ailments.

Yes, that's the world the GOP wants to re-create: bankruptcy or suffering, your choice.

Where are all these detached fetuses of which you speak?

Are they in a warehouse somewhere? Some giant gestation tank where they grow from blastocysts to full-term fetuses?

No, of course not. They are, every single one, inside the body of an actual living, breathing, sentient human being.

And THAT is the fact that everyone in the abortion debate - pro and con, liberal and freakazoid - conveniently ignores.

When does a fertilized egg become "life?" When it's capable of surviving on its own outside the body of the woman who carries it.

Until then, the only "life" under consideration is that of the woman. Until then, the fetus is nothing more than excess tissue as expendable as menstrual blood.

End of discussion. Do you disagree? Fuck off and die.

Kevin Drum:

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry on the great abortion question of our time:

The biological, moral and legal status of the unborn child isn’t a question of metaphysics.

Whether life begins at conception isn’t a matter of religious faith, it’s a scientific question, and the answer isn’t very hard. Of course, you can choose to disbelieve it, just like you can choose to not to believe that CO2 molecules redirect infrared variations.

Now, science isn’t a moral guide. The fact that a fetus is a living human being doesn’t necessarily entail that it should receive legal protection. But again, resolving this issue requires no recourse to metaphysics.

It requires asking what are the criteria for qualifying as a person endowed with rights.

I'm afraid there's some semantic hairsplitting going on here. Of course a fetus is life; so is a human egg and so is a human sperm. That's never been at issue. But in the context of abortion, life is just shorthand for human life, and whether a blastocyst or a fetus qualifies as human is very much a religious and metaphysical question. It's certainly not a scientific one.

The list of criteria for being a person endowed with rights starts with being a human being. Those of us in the pro-choice camp don't believe that the mere presence of cellular machinery and a human genome makes one a human being. Those in the pro-life camp do — though I'd note that for many of them, their actions don't back up this professed belief.1 But whichever camp you're in, this isn't a question that science can answer. Pretending otherwise is little more than a tawdry rhetorical trick designed to give your arguments an authority they haven't earned.

1If you really, truly believe that a fertilized egg is a human life, your opposition to abortion will be absolute with the sole exception of abortion that's necessary to save a mother's life. You won't support exceptions for rape and incest any more than you'd allow the killing of a child who was the product of rape or incest. You'll also oppose fertility treatments, which routinely create and destroy more fertilized eggs than they use.

Some pro-lifers do indeed feel this way. But many don't. At a visceral level, these semi-opposers obviously have an aversion to abortion that stems from some source other than a belief that human life begins at conception.

Liberals value an actual human female over a blob of undifferentiated cells.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Number 103


Kentucky's 103rd sacrifice to the bottomless maw of the Iraq/Afghanistan Clusterfuck is Brandon S. Mullins of Owensboro.

From the Messenger-Inquirer:

Brandon Mullins died Thursday doing what he loved. And his family takes comfort in that, his mother, Catherine Mullins, said Friday.

A U.S. Army chaplain notified the family Thursday that Pfc. Brandon Scott Mullins, a 21-year-old infantryman, had died in Afghanistan of injuries suffered in the explosion of a roadside bomb.

“He was driving a vehicle that struck an IED (improvised explosive device),” Catherine Mullins said. “That’s all we know so far. There may have been others involved. They don’t usually travel alone.”

Brandon Mullins, a 2008 graduate of Apollo High School, joined the Army in March 2010. After basic infantry training at Fort Benning, Ga., he was stationed at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, until May, when he was transfered to Afghanistan, his mother said.

SNIP

The Mullins have another son in the Army. Shaun Mullins is currently stationed in Fort Bragg, N.C.

Brandon Mullins is the sixth service member from the Owensboro area to die in the endless, pointless Permanent War.

Compromisers Always Lose Elections

David Atkins "thereisnospoon" at Hullabaloo explains why every compromise by the White House and congressional Democrats is making Obama's re-election less likely:

Far from being insane, this approach is actually eminently rational. The GOP needn't hold the presidency every cycle. All they need to do is prevent a Democratic President from accomplishing much of anything progressive while forcing him or her to clean up Republican messes. Then when they inevitably get back in office, they can continue to ratchet public policy as far to the right as possible until they inevitably lose again. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Insanity is what Democrats do: try to win every election and remain popular in the polls by compromising and appealing to the moderate voter while insulting their natural base, whether they're in office or out of office. If Democrats were smart, they would figure out that voters didn't suddenly love Democrats in 2006 any more than they suddenly loved Republicans in 2010. The Democrats' job should be to push policy in as far a progressive direction as possible and build the base while in office, and then prevent Republicans from governing as Republicans when they naturally oscillate out of the majority.

In American politics, there is no consequence for extremism. Extremism is, in fact, constantly rewarded. In a binary system, the media will always say that "both sides do it", and voters will always think the grass is greener on the other side.

The one and only thing that matters is who can shift policy farther in the direction of their natural base while in office. In this, Republicans have figured out the game masterfully, while Democrats are left constantly chasing a fickle moderate voter they cannot hope to keep in their column. The GOP knows it can get away with attacking Social Security, because it knows it can count on fickle, angry seniors to vote for them anyway in their disgruntlement over Democratic rule.

In this context, who wins or loses individual elections matters far less than how much ideological shift the winner can make in terms of public policy when they do win. As long as the opposition can remain remotely electable when the public sours on the incumbent Party, there is simply no consequence for ideological extremism.

Liberals go with what works. That applies to elections as well as policy.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Inability to Accept a Fact Does Not Make It Wrong

Paul Krugman, on Arguments From Personal Incredulity:

Somewhere in his writings Richard Dawkins talks about anti-evolution types who argue from personal incredulity — they say, “I just can’t believe that chance could create something as complex as an eye”, and think that they have scored an important point. All they’ve actually done, of course, is rehash their prejudices. (Simulations show, by the way, that chance plus selection can indeed create an eye, in a relatively short time as evolutionary history goes).

I’m getting the same kind of thing a lot on issues macroeconomic. People write and say, “I can’t believe that you are asserting that X. You must be an idiot.” Here X might be the paradox of thrift, the claim that a rise in desired saving leads to lower investment (which is closely linked to the case for fiscal stimulus, which in turn is closely linked to the argument that wars and other bad things can be expansionary.) Or it might be the paradox of flexibility, which says that under current conditions a fall in wages would lead to lower,not higher employment and output.

The point, of course, is that your personal incredulity counts for nothing. I’m basing what I say on a model; the model may not be right, but it does represent some hard thinking conditioned by evidence. If you have a different model, fine; but if all you have to counter my model is a set of prejudices, you don’t have an argument.

Unfortunately, the argument from personal incredulity isn’t restricted to right-wing hacks. My sense is that a lot of what’s going on in our ongoing policy disaster is that important people, up to and including the president, just find it implausible that such a big crisis could be essentially a problem of coordination, that it’s just magneto trouble whose fix need not, in fact should not, involve inflicting a lot of punishment on working Americans. And so our whole policy discourse has shifted to pain and punishment, gratuitously.

But back to my main point: if you just can’t believe I’m saying the things I say, at least consider the possibility that you’re the one who just doesn’t get it.

Last September, Steve Benen wrote a defense of expertise - particularly government expertise:

Now, it's true that to hold public office, one need not have post-graduate degrees and years of broad policy experience. And that's fine, of course.

But as a rule, the political system seems to be more effective when voters elect candidates who aren't idiots. This year, there seem to be an inordinate number of statewide candidates seeking key offices who've never taken a particular interest in learning anything about governing and/or effective policymaking. In some cases, they're even winning.

Some, including Rubio, may find a certain charm in this. "Outsiders" who don't know anything about shaping federal policy are running for the high offices, and that's great -- what they lack in intelligence, understanding, and judgment, they'll make up for with real-world know-how.

Or as Rubio put it this week, "I think the more you are in touch with the real lives of everyday people; the better you are going to be as a representative of those people in a Republic."

Other than politics, there's hardly any aspect of modern life where this would be considered credible. If someone's car breaks down, they don't usually think, "Who needs an 'expert'? What I want is someone who can relate to everyday people."
If someone needs medical attention, they don't usually think, "All these doctors with their highfalutin science; who needs 'em?"

If someone needs to fly from one airport to another, they don't usually think, "I don't care if the pilot has years of training; I care if he/she is in touch with my values."

But when it comes to government, this perspective is deemed irrelevant. With a candidate like Christine O'Donnell, voters are told that she has no background in government, knows nothing about federal policymaking, and has no working understanding of any of the issues she'd be working on -- but that's a good quality for a United States senator to have.

Liberals know that science - including the science of economics - has pushed human knowledge far beyond the ability of people without that specific knowledge to understand.

Liberals also know that "common sense" is the ability to know when to seek the advice of professionals, and ignore those who scorn expertise.

Cut Energy Subsidies Where the Real Waste Is

Given that subsidies for fossil fuels outstrip those for renewable energy by orders of magnitude, any group or report giving them false equivalence should be viewed suspiciously.

But if you think there is no waste at all in renewable energy subsidies, apparently you've never heard of corn ethanol.

Kevin Drum:

Michael Grunwald commends to our attention the latest release of the Green Scissors report on "wasteful and environmentally harmful spending":

[The report] is practically a laundry list of my governmental pet peeves. The groups share my contempt for corn ethanol, “the granddaddy of wasteful alternative fuels,” as well as farm subsidies in general and a particularly egregious giveaway to Brazilian cotton farmers in particular. They also tee off on my favorite bureaucratic target, the Army Corps of Engineers, singling out my favorite Corps flood-control boondoggle, my favorite Corps lock expansion boondoggle, and an equally egregious Corps boondoggle that I don’t even joke about, because it’s wasting more than a billion dollars just a stone’s throw from the flimsy Corps levees that failed during Hurricane Katrina.

We’re also on the same page when it comes to the nuclear industry’s cradle-to-grave government support, as well as those ridiculous rural airport subsidies that Congressman John Mica took hostage during a recent standoff with Senate Democrats over FAA funding. Unfortunately, the hostages didn’t get shot this time.

Green Scissors is an amalgam of liberal, conservative, and good-government groups, and you won't likely agree with every one of their recommendations. But after skimming through the report I found a lot to like. They claim to have found $380 billion in wasteful spending over five years, and even if only half of their recommendations are worthwhile that still amounts to nearly $40 billion per year.

The entire report is here. The table below shows just their targeted cuts in fossil fuel subsidies. They've also got sections for nuclear energy, alternative energy, agriculture, transportation, and land management. Bon appetit.



Liberals support programs that work: renewable clean energy. Liberals do not waste money on Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Power and other giant corporations already paying no taxes on monster profits.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Self-Fulfilling Disaster of Austerity Quote of the Week

From Paul Krugman:

At this point the entire advanced world is doing exactly what basic macroeconomics says it shouldn’t be doing: slashing spending in the face of high unemployment, slow growth, and a liquidity trap. It’s a global 1937. And if the result is another recession, the witch-doctors will just demand more bleeding.

No Free Speech for You

This story illustrates so much about the fundamental anti-Americanism of the modern republican party.

Zandar:

Lights, Cameras, Fascism!

And right here in Cincy, too. Turns out west side Cincy's Congressman, Republican Steve Chabot, isn't a real big fan of having constituents bring cameras to town hall meetings if those constituents are Democrats, that is.

Monday night, at a “town hall” meeting in North Avondale featuring U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, video cameras owned by two Democratic activists were seized by a Cincinnati police officer at the direction of Chabot’s staff.

A Chabot spokesman said the had the cameras seized “to protect the privacy of constituents” at the event, although there were at least two media outlets at the North Avondale Recreation Center filming the meeting.

Tim Burke, the chairman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party, has written a letter to Cincinnati City Solicitor John Curp asking for an explanation of “the legal basis for the seizure and the enforcement by Cincinnati police of rules created by the Congressman.”

Signs were taped to the doors to the hall where the Monday night meeting was held saying that no video cameras were allowed inside.

Which again is odd, because two local TV stations were at the town hall meeting, filming it. In fact, they filmed the police officer confiscating the devices.

Oh, it gets better. Chabot spokesman Jamie Schwartz had this steaming load to deliver:

Schwartz said that sometimes at the town hall meetings, citizens ask questions about their own personal situations and the Chabot staff did not want them videotaped. The media cameras were allowed to continue to roll, Schwartz said, “because they can be expected to respect people’s privacy.”

Right. Because the media wouldn't have, you know, broadcast any of the questions being asked or any of the footage they were filming. Jesus wept. Best part?

But, at this meeting, as at other recent Chabot town hall events, participants were required to sign in as they entered and write out questions for the congressman. Members of the staff chose which questions he answered at Monday’s meeting.

Only approved questions will be answered, citizen. Remain seated and no cameras or you will be dealt with. Liberty and freedom and stuff!

But it turns out Chabot isn't a complete moron, either.

By the time Chabot holds his next town hall meeting at Westwood Town Hall Monday, Schwartz said, the rules will have changed. People will be allowed to ask questions of the congressman directly and cameras will not be seized.

Should be much more lively of a meeting...and I hope Cincinnati has plenty to say to Mr. Chabot, right to his face. Hey, but Tea Party folks are still allowed to say whatever they want to Democrats, right?

The arrogance, the privilege, the denial of constitutional and civil rights to everyone who is not them. If the teabaggers' beloved Founders were actually around to witness these fuckers, they'd all say the same thing: "Why did we sacrifice so much to rid ourselves of King George if you're just going to bring him back?"

Vindication for a Labor Martyr

Every worker who fights for basic rights knows that Joe Hill was framed. But it's nice to have near-proof - even 96 years late.

Via Digby, news of a new book I can't wait to read.

At Woodstock, Joan Baez sang a famous folk ballad celebrating Joe Hill, the itinerant miner, songwriter and union activist who was executed by a Utah firing squad in 1915. “I never died, said he” is the song’s refrain.

Hill’s status as a labor icon and the debate about his conviction certainly never died. And now a new biography makes the strongest case yet that Hill was wrongfully convicted of murdering a local grocer, the charge that led to his execution at age 36.

The book’s author, William M. Adler, argues that Hill was a victim of authorities and a jury eager to deal a blow to his radical labor union, as well as his own desire to protect the identity of his sweetheart.

A Salt Lake City jury convicted Hill largely because of one piece of circumstantial evidence: he had suffered a gunshot wound to the chest on the same night — Jan. 10, 1914 — that the grocer and his son were killed. At the trial, prosecutors argued that he had been shot by the grocer’s son, and Hill refused to offer any alternative explanation.

Mr. Adler uncovered a long-forgotten letter from Hill’s sweetheart that said that he had been shot by a rival for her affections, undermining the prosecution’s key assertion. The book, “The Man Who Never Died,” also offers extensive evidence suggesting that an early suspect in the case, a violent career criminal, was the murderer

SNIP

Shortly before his execution, Hill wrote supporters an emotional note, saying, “Don’t waste time mourning, organize,” which later became the union catchphrase, “Don’t Mourn, Organize.”

Read the whole thing.

Then get out there and organize.



The Ballad of Joe Hill, by Alfred Hayes and Earl Robinson

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
Alive as you or me:
Said I, but Joe you’re ten years dead;
I never died said he.
I never died said he.

In Salt Lake, Joe, Great God, said I,
Him standing by my bed;
They framed you on a murder charge,
Said Joe but I ain’t dead;
Said Joe but I ain’t dead.

The copper bosses framed you Joe
They shot you Joe said I;
Takes more than guns to kill a man,
Said Joe I did not die.
Said Joe I did not die.

Joe Hill ain’t dead he says to me,
Joe Hill ain’t never died;
Where working men are out on strike,
Joe Hill is at their side,
Joe Hill is at their side.

And standing there as big as life
A-smiling with his eyes.
Said Joe, what they forgot to kill
Went on to organize,
Went on to organize!

From San Diego up to Maine,
In every mine and mill -
Where working men defend their rights
It’s there you’ll find Joe Hill.
It’s there you’ll find Joe Hill.

(repeat first verse)

No Compromise on the Truth

Earlier this year, biologist and outspoken atheist @PZMyers served on a panel debating whether science should confront or accomodate religion.

Myers spoke passionately on why scientists, atheists and other members of the reality-based community must fight religion at every turn.

From Free Inquiry magazine:

There is another theme in this conflict: new atheists are so dang angry. Damned right we are. The real question is why everyone else isn’t. If you aren’t angry about what’s being done to undermine education in this country, you haven’t been paying attention!

But we also respond rationally. My early incredulity about the nonsense being promoted by creationists was followed by a lot of fact-finding. You can do it, too—look up the history of creationism, and you’ll find that we’ve been fighting this same battle for at least half a century, dealing with the same inane arguments over and over again.

SNIP

The sea in which our country is drowning is a raging religiosity, wave after wave of ignorant arguments and ideological absurdities, tired dogma tirelessly pushed by fervent but frustrated fanatics. We keep hearing that the answer is to find the still waters of a more moderate faith, but I’m sorry: I don’t feel like drowning there either.

There is an answer. The only long-term solution is the sanity of secularism. The lesser struggles—to keep silly stickers off our textbooks or to keep pseudoscientific intelligent design out of our classrooms—are important, but they are also endless chores. At some point we just have to stop pandering to the ideological noise that spawns these unending tasks and cut right to the source: religion.

That’s where the new atheists get their confrontational reputation. We’re fed up with fighting off the symptoms. We need to address the disease. And if you’re one of those people trying to defend superstition and quivering in fear at the idea of taking on a majority that believes in foolishness, urging us to continue slapping bandages on the blight of faith, well then, you’re part of the problem—and we’ll probably do something utterly dreadful, like be rude to you or write some cutting, sarcastic essay to mock your position. That is our m├ętier, after all.

SNIP

And that makes us uncivil and rude, because we challenge the truth of religion.

Religion provides solace to millions, we are told: it makes them happy, and it’s mostly harmless. “But is it true?” we ask, as if it matters.

The religious are the majority, we hear over and over again, and we need to be pragmatic and diplomatic in dealing with them. “But is what they believe true?” we ask. Then we follow up with: “What do we gain by compromising on reality?”

Religion isn’t the problem, they claim—it’s only the extremists and zealots and weirdos. The majority of believers are moderates and even share some values with us. “But is a moderate superstition true?” we repeat, following up with, “How can a myth be made more true if its proponents are simply calmer in stating it?”

I mean, it’s nice that most Christians aren’t out chanting “God hates fags” and are a little embarrassed when some yokel whines that he didn’t come from no monkey, but they still go out and quietly vote against gay and lesbian rights, and they still sit at home while their school boards set fire to good science.

It’s all about the truth. And all the evidence is crystal clear: the Earth is far older than six thousand years. Evolution is a real process built on raw chance driven by the brutal engines of selection. And there is no sign of a loving, personal god, just billions of years of pitiless winnowing without any direction other than short-term survival and reproduction. It’s not pretty, it’s not consoling, it doesn’t sanctify virginity or tell you that God really loves your foreskin, but it’s got one soaring virtue that trumps all the others: it’s true.

You won’t understand what the new atheists are up to until you understand that core value. I have been told that my position won’t win the creationist court cases; do you think I care? I did not become a scientist because I want to impress lawyers. I have been told that I must think promoting atheism is more important than promoting good science education. Tell me how closing my eyes to claims of an imaginary deity using quantum indeterminacy to shape human evolution helps students better understand reality. I’ve been told to hush; there are good Christians who support science, and a vocal atheism will scare them away. I have to ask: why do you question my support for science education and then pander to people who you admit will put their superstitions above science if someone says a harsh word about Jesus?

SNIP

One of the most common canards applied to us, and especially to the new atheists, is that we’re negative, that we lack a positive center that we stand for. This is completely false. When you look at the body of work that the prominent leaders of this movement have put together, when you look at the books of people like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel C. Dennett, Jerry Coyne, and Victor Stenger, you do not find them nattering on for hundreds of pages about how much they hate religion. Quite the contrary. What you find are authors writing about reason and evidence and science; in their works you find front and center an appreciation for a universe rich with natural phenomena that, with a little honest effort, we can reach out and comprehend. We atheists live a purpose-driven life, to steal a phrase, and that life is dedicated to deepening our understanding and learning about this world. Call us merely negative, or merely angry, or merely antireligious, and you haven’t been paying attention. You haven’t been reading our books or articles for comprehension.

What may have confused some people, though, is that we also believe you can’t love the truth without detesting lies. We believe that an honest way of dealing with those lies is to confront them openly, head-on, and unapologetically. While some might rationalize accommodating unjustifiable distortions of the truth as a strategic option, there are a number of us who consider that principle to be one on which we will not compromise.

Yes, of course there is a political lesson here for liberals. Pretending that people who want to turn this country into Dark Ages Europe are capable of reason and compromise is as stupid and self-defeating as pretending that people who think an invisible sky wizard magicked the world into existence 6,000 years ago are qualified to teach science.

What matters is what's true. Tax cuts don't increase revenues, reduce deficits or create jobs. They never have and they never will, not matter how much the repugs repeat the lie.

Stop being nice. Tell the truth. Fight the lies.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Raising the Medicare Age Will COST Money, Not Save It

This administration's ability to find yet more ways to not just refuse to help the economy with massive job creation, but actively harm it with ludicrously destructive austerity is beyond comprehension.

David Dayen at Firedoglake:

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but we now have additional proof that raising the Medicare eligibility age would be a ridiculous program on all levels. It would not only cause needless anxiety and suffering to 65 and 66 year-olds, it would not achieve its alleged goal of saving money. In fact, it would increase costs almost everywhere in the health care system.

This is an intuitive outcome. We know that other countries, which have systems much closer to the single-payer system of Medicare than the rest of the US health system, spend less than half as much on health care as the United States, with better outcomes. So the way to lower costs in the system is to move CLOSER to a single-payer framework, not further away. Raising the eligibility age to 67 would move further away, putting 65 and 66 year-olds into the market. And as Paul Van de Water explains, that has ripple effects through the system:

While this proposal would save the federal government money, it would do so by shifting costs to most of the 65- and 66-year-olds who would lose Medicare coverage, to employers that provide health coverage for their retirees, to Medicare beneficiaries, to younger people who buy insurance through the new health insurance exchanges, and to states.

The principal study of the effects of raising the Medicare eligibility age, by the Kaiser Family Foundation, estimates that its increased state and private-sector costs would be twice as large as the net federal savings. If the proposal were fully in effect in 2014, Kaiser estimates, it would generate $5.7 billion in net federal savings but $11.4 billion in higher health care costs to individuals, employers, and states.

The fundamental purpose of deficit reduction is to strengthen the economy over the long term. The relentless rise in health care costs is the key driver of projected long-term deficits that policy­makers must address. But reducing federal health care costs by raising state and private-sector health care costs even more makes little sense, as it only increases the burden that health care costs place on the economy as a whole. The goal should be to slow the growth of health care costs system-wide, while extending coverage to all Americans. This proposal does just the opposite on both fronts — raising costs system-wide and increasing the ranks of the uninsured.

SNIP

And there’s another factor. Putting 65 and 66 year-olds on a less stable health program means that when they turn 67 and enter Medicare, they are sicker on net.
That means higher costs for Medicare over time. The purpose of health reform was not to make populations even sicker and more costly to treat.

The authors found that, relative to those with insurance before age 65, those without insurance prior to Medicare eligibility spent much more money on health care after they became Medicare eligible. In other words, people wait to get care until their Medicare kicks in. This is bad both for health and for the federal government’s bottom line.

Delaying Medicare even longer would likely make this worse. People would forego care longer, health would suffer, and Medicare would pay for the consequences later.

Aaron Carroll has more here. Raising the eligibility age is such a miserable idea, even conservatives like Reihan Salam oppose it.

The President will be offering a large deficit reduction package to go with his jobs speech in September. Early indications are that the deficit package will be similar to the grand bargain he almost inked with John Boehner in July, and that could include raising the Medicare eligibility age. I hope I’ve made clear how pig-ignorant that would be.

It's particularly stupid given recent evidence that the Affordable Care Act - Obamacare - has actually achieved the thought-to-be-impossible: bending the health care cost curve downward.

Fucking with Medicare will ruin that. Way to go.

"The Problem We All Live With" Still


The rational response to conservatives who say talking about condoms in the schools makes teenage boys think about sex is "talking about monkey wrenches makes teenage boys think about sex."

Thus it is with Obama Derangement Syndrome: no matter what the president does or doesn't do, the ODS crowd interprets it as racist, socialist and/or terrorist.

Even when it's the exact opposite.

Digby:

I don't think anything can illustrate how far the country has moved to the right than the fact that Normal Rockwell, once considered the very definition of straight-laced, conservative, middle America, is now controversial among the DC chattering classes:

President Barack Obama has taken a decidedly low-key approach to racial issues since he became America’s first black president two years ago. But in a hallway outside the Oval Office, he has placed a head-turning painting depicting one of the ugliest racial episodes in U.S. history.


Norman Rockwell’s “The Problem We All Live With,” installed in the White House last month, shows U.S. marshals escorting Ruby Bridges, a 6-year-old African-American girl, into a New Orleans elementary school in 1960 as court-ordered integration met with an angry and defiant response from the white community.

The thrust of the painting is not subtle. America’s vilest racial epithet appears in letters several inches high at the top of the canvas. To the left side, the letters “KKK” are plainly visible. The crowds, mostly women who gathered daily to taunt Bridges as she went to a largely empty school, are not shown in the picture. But the racist graffiti and a splattered tomato convey the hostile atmosphere.

The commie bastard. It's not as if these people literally spray painted racist epithets on the wall. How dare Rockwell suggest that anything like that actually happened:

In November 15, 1960 The New York Times reported: “Some 150 white, mostly housewives and teenage youths, clustered along the sidewalks across from the William Franz School when pupils marched in at 8:40 am. One youth chanted “Two, Four, Six, Eight, we don’t want to segregate; eight, six, four, two, we don’t want a chigeroo.”

“Forty minutes later, four deputy marshals arrived with a little Negro girl and her mother. They walked hurriedly up the steps and into the yellow brick building while onlookers jeered and shouted taunts.”

“The girl, dressed in a stiffly starched white dress with a ribbon in her hair, gripping her mother’s hand tightly and glancing apprehensively toward the crowd.

Ruby Bridges in her award winning childrens book Through My Eyes writes: “The author John Steinbeck was driving through New Orleans with his dog, Charley, when he heard about the racist crowds that gathered outside the Franz school each morning to protest its integration. He decided to go see what was happening.”

“He especially wanted to see a group of women who came to scream at me and at the few white children who crossed the picket lines and went to school...

John Steinbeck wrote: “The show opened on time. Sound the sirens. Motorcycle cops. Then two big black cars filled with big men in blond felt hats pulled up in front of the school. The crowd seemed to hold its breath. Four big marshals got out of each car and from somewhere in the automobiles they extracted the littlest negro girl you ever saw, dressed in shining starchy white, with new white shoes on feet so little they were almost round. Her face and little legs were very black against the white.”

“The big marshals stood her on the curb and a jangle of jeering shrieks went up from behind the barricades. The little girl did not look at the howling crowd, but from the side the whites of her eyes showed like those of a frightened fawn. The men turned her around like a doll and then the strange procession moved up the broad walk toward the school, and the child was even more a mite because the men were so big. Then the girl made a curious hop, and I think I know what it was. I think in her whole life she had not gone ten steps without skipping, but now in the middle of her first step, the weight bore her down and her little round feet took measured, reluctant steps between the tall guards. Slowly they climbed the steps and entered the school.” -Travels With Charley

Yes, that all really happened. And 50 years later, we are apparently supposed to forget it did. Clearly the Politico sees something odd, if not downright sinister, about the President putting this picture up in the White House. The fact that he is an American, born in the year that painting was done --- and has two little girls himself --- can't possibly be reason enough. I'm fairly sure he's cynically doing it to insult the tea party.

I like to think that painting in the White House is Barack Obama's way of calling out the motherfucking liars for lying about fucking their mothers.

Because that's something not only the president but each and every one of us needs to be doing every day.

Blatant Panders to Freakazoids Gain Beshear Nothing

For the millionth time, no matter how much a supposed "Democratic" candidate kow-tows to the repugs and freakazoids, they will never give him credit and never, never, ever vote for anyone with a D beside his name.

The $40 million tax dollars Steve Beshear unconstitutionally promised to the moronic backers of the Flintstones Truther Park weren't enough to save him from accusations of commiemuslinterrism.

From the Herald:

A state lawyer's recommendation that the Bell County school district stop allowing prayer over the public-address system at football games has sparked controversy in Kentucky's gubernatorial election.

Republican David Williams, who is challenging Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear in the Nov. 8 election, urged Beshear in a news release Friday "to denounce this attack on prayer at public functions and lead the efforts of state government to defend our citizens' right to voluntarily pray anywhere they choose."

Do I really have to explain that Bell County citizens - and all Kentucky citizens - still have the right to demonstrate their stupidity by muttering demands to an invisible sky wizard anywhere they please? That it's only the government that's not allowed to endorse religion by leading or promoting such idiocy?

On Friday night, Bell County High School's underdog football team managed to beat powerhouse Lafayette High School with no apparent divine intervention.

"Every American Can Be Part of This Anniversary"

September 11 will again be a Day of Service and Remembrance.



Full transcript here.

Do something to make your community a better place.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Lexington Glamorizes Confederate Traitors

This is exactly what I was afraid of. They're breaking out the white sheets and hoods two months before Halloween.

Betty Spaghetti at Barefoot and Progressive:

In light of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, towns across the South are celebrating their Confederate heroes and roles.

Lexington won’t be excluded, according to H-L columnist Tom Eblen.

There is great debate about glorifying the Confederacy. Defenders say they are simply honoring the men who served, not the cause. Others argue they are one in the same.

The celebration of Gen. Hunt Morgan is an interesting one. He wreaked havoc on the area, with his men having “confiscated horses, robbed banks, looted trains and stores, and set several blocks of Cynthiana on fire.”

By the end of the Civil War, the reputation of Morgan’s men was one of “murder and highway robbery,” wrote Duke, his former second-in-command. But a few years later, thanks to white public nostalgia, “if you could claim that you rode with Morgan, you were a kind of nobility,” Brown said.

I’m not an expert on Civil War history, but stepping back, this seems so crazy to me. We’re celebrating a guy the town originally reviled but who became a martyr after the war ended and rampant racism set in.

Maybe I missed something in Eblen’s column, but it left me really wondering why we still leave the statue of this guy up in front of the museum. We don’t have to whitewash history or pretend it didn’t happen, but we don’t need to celebrate such black eyes either.

Help me out, people? I’m genuinely interested in hearing all sides about this.

I'll just quote myself from last December:

Confederates: Traitors Then, Traitors Now, Traitors Forever.

Four months from now we will observe the 150th anniversary of the blatant daylight attack by declared traitors against the United States of America.

That's the plain fact of what happened. But that's not the way the traitor-lovers are already selling it.

The mistake Yankees made was not hanging every single one of the motherfucking traitors before the cannon smoke cleared. And I say that as a southerner with ancestors who fought on both sides.

The World Austerity Makes

Filthy air, disease-filled water, uncontrolled air traffic and oh yeah, a nuclear meltdown in every neighborhood.

David at Crooks and Liars:

A nuclear power plant that was shut down after an earthquake struck central Virginia Tuesday had seismographs removed in 1990s due to budget cuts.

U.S. nuclear officials said that the North Anna Power Station, which has two nuclear reactors, had lost offsite power and was using diesel generators to maintain cooling operations after an 5.9 earthquake hit the region.

The North Anna plant, which was near the epicenter of Tuesday's quake, is reportedly located on a fault line.

Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) Senior Scholar Bob Alvarez told the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) that the North Anna plant was built to withstand a 5.9-6.1 quake.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission rates the plant as the seventh most likely to receive core damage from a quake. But they say the chances of that are only 1 in 22,727.

According to the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME), the Virginia Tech Seismological Observatory (VTSO) removed all seismographs from around the plant in the 1990s due to budget cuts.

In February, Dominion Virginia Power confirmed its commitment to add a third reactor to the plant.

"While Dominion has not decided on the schedule to build the unit, the company will continue to move forward with the federal combined operating license process and preliminary site development work," Dominion CEO Thomas F. Farrell II said in a statement.

Liberals know that for basic safety, the only thing standing between citizens and mass death by avoidable catastrophe is activist government.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Puritans Have a Lot to Answer For

There are days when it seems as if 90 percent of the crimes, despair and insanity in the world can be blamed on our failure to teach our children the facts - all the facts - about sexuality.

@PZMyers has a heartbreaking and horrific example of the consequences here.

But it's not just a sin of omission - the brave teachers trying to illuminate our sex education Dark Ages are the targets of intimidation and even violence.

Ann Lekas Miller in The Nation:

In 1982, Martha Roper received her first death threat.

Martha—perhaps better known as Ms. Roper—is not a drug trafficker or a gang member. She does not work for the government, or involve herself in dangerous, secret operations. She does not even run an abortion clinic. She teaches sexuality education.

Martha Roper is an award-winning, widely acclaimed sexuality education teacher and author in the state of Missouri. She holds a master’s degree in family and community relations from Teacher’s College, Columbia University, and taught sexuality education in Missouri for over thirty years.

“I had a 13-year-old son around that time,” Ms. Roper told me. “Fortunately, he had a sense of humor, and when a letter addressed to ‘Lesbian Slut’ or ‘Sex Sinner’ would arrive in the mail box, he would say, ‘I think this one’s for you, Mom.’”

Ms. Roper began receiving death threats and hate mail in the early eighties, and they have never completely stopped. Since the advent of the Internet and online technologies such as Google Earth and Google Maps, Roper has had to become much more quiet for her own safety.

In the state of Missouri—or perhaps we should say “misery” as Martha jokingly tells me—it is not possible to get an advanced degree in Health Education without a major in Physical Education. Neither degree leads to a teaching credential. Upon returning to Missouri after obtaining the degree that she felt she needed in New York, Roper looked for jobs as a sexuality education teacher only to be told that her skills would not be needed, because “we don’t have that problem here.”

As a Missouri native who felt that she entered marriage and motherhood with little knowledge of sex and sexuality, Ms. Roper was determined to stay in her home state, and teach the curriculum that she had always needed and never had.

“One day, a rumor started that I wore a red shirt the mornings after I would have sex with my husband,” Martha told me. “Obviously, there was no truth in that. No matter how absurd it was, the rumor would not die. Kids told their parents, their parents told the principal. Young adult teachers even helped spread the rumor! Even my department head assumed it was true.

“If that doesn’t turn a teacher away from dealing with anything remotely sexual, what will?

“I was extremely lucky that my school’s principal would have defended me until the day I died. He would tell parents who complained, ‘If your child’s math teacher had a master’s degree and was an expert in their field of study, would you call me to complain that your child was learning too much in their math class?’  ”

Another veteran sexuality educator and sexuality education advocate, Dr. Elizabeth Schroeder, now executive director of Answer, tells me that even teachers in more liberal states, such as her home state of New Jersey, face the same stigma and fear teaching sexuality education.

“Even in states where there is a mandate or a law, such as New Jersey and now New York City, there are no systems of accountability. It is still incumbent upon the very brave teachers who are willing to risk difficult questions from the students, controversy from the school board and ultimately their job security to keep sexuality education alive. No educator or administrator should have to feel like their job is on the line when they are adhering to their state’s law.”

Comprehensive sexuality education in public schools faces a perfect storm of rampant budget cuts and hopeless personal and political stigma. Sexuality education and educators are often categorized as optional and unnecessary, placed immediately on the budget chopping block alongside arts and music programs. At worst, teachers’ personal motives are publicly questioned, making them the victims of humiliating rumors and potential threats.

“I worked as a consultant in a school district in which a school board member announced at a meeting that I supported teaching kindergarteners how to have sex,” Dr. Schroeder told me. “It was as preposterous as it was offensive—there isn’t an educator on this planet who would do something so stupid or inappropriate. As a parent of a kindergartener myself, I was deeply offended. But opponents of sexuality education aren’t concerned with facts—they are more interested in making loud, outlandish, unfounded accusations, and because they yell and scream the loudest, far too many people listen. It has to stop.”

Despite the drama of school board hysteria, parents from many different regions of the United States overwhelmingly support comprehensive sexuality education in public schools. However, the vocal minority representing the “moral high ground” of abstinence-only education intimidates school administrators into shutting down sexuality education programs entirely.

“Parents never walk into a math or science class and tell the teachers how they should or shouldn’t teach their classes,” Dr. Schroeder told me, “Most districts have an opt-out policy, but many schools give over to parents completely and shut down the class for everyone. This is wrong.”

I strongly suspect that one of the many ironies here is that the children whose parents most strongly object to sexuality education are the children most desperately in need of it.

Liberals know that in our sex-soaked culture - regardless of whether you condemn or celebrate it - children need the facts about sex, and it is a public responsibility to make sure they get them.

More Lies and Tricks So Repugs Can Steal Elections

Face it. Repugs are simply incapable of playing by the rules or acting fairly. I blame their mothers.

David Atkins "thereisnospoon" at Hullabaloo:

After the Roberts Court used the Citizens United to allow unlimited corporate money in politics, the only thing left for conservatives to do was to destroy labor unions so that big business would be the only players left in the field.

Scott Walker and his goons have been Exhibit "A" in that game. But conservatives have a bunch of other creative tricks up their sleeve as well. In California, they have no chance of passing Walker-style laws through the Democratic legislature, and the people of the great state of California won't walk into the anti-worker maw with open eyes. So deception is necessary. To wit: the Stop Special Interest Money Now Act:

Prohibits Political Contributions by Payroll Deduction. Prohibitions on Contributions to Candidates. Initiative Statute.

"Restricts union political fundraising by prohibiting use of payroll-deducted funds for political purposes. Same use restriction would apply to payroll deductions, if any, by corporations or government contractors. Permits voluntary employee contributions to employer or union committees if authorized yearly, in writing. Prohibits unions and corporations from contributing directly or indirectly to candidates and candidate-controlled committees. Other political expenditures remain unrestricted, including corporate expenditures from available resources not limited by payroll deduction prohibition. Limits government contractor contributions to elected officers or officer-controlled committees."

Since labor unions are essentially the only corporate entities to use payroll-deducted funds, this ballot initiative would singly prohibit labor unions from donating to candidates, while leaving big business free to do whatever they like. Mitt Romney's best friends would have a voice in politics, but teachers and firefighters would be legally disbarred from sharing that voice.

The initiative would likely be considered unconstitutional under the Roberts Court's own definition of "free speech", but then again, the Roberts Court doesn't exactly decide cases on the basis of consistent merit, but rather on what is best for big business in the short term.

Most disturbingly, there are reports that signature gatherers are lying about the initiative, telling voters in liberal areas that it's about "corporate influence in politics."

Fortunately, organized labor in California is fighting back:

Underhanded campaigning has surfaced recently here that jeopardizes labor's ability to defend itself in the political battlefield, according to the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

Steve Smith, communications director for the California Labor Federation, said a group of wealthy conservatives are behind a ballot initiative that would restrict unions' involvement in political campaigns...

"They say it applies to both corporations and unions but it doesn't. It leaves corporations unscathed. The reason is that corporations don't use payroll dues. They say that they're keeping corporations and special interest groups out of politics but it's completely wrong. It would hinder working people from having a voice."

The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor says on its website, "Petition gatherers aren't being honest with the public. They say this measure is about 'special interests.' But the truth is, this proposal seeks to take away our voices and give more power to big corporations and CEOs. It's a sham backed by billionaires and CEOs who want to control our state without any opposition."

The L.A. labor federation is urging voters not to sign these petitions. If people encounter canvassers with the petitions talking about "special interests" or "payroll deduction," the federation urges them to call the toll free number 1-877-440-9585. A team equipped with a video camera and supplemental information will be sent out to educate the public in the area about the real facts, the federation says.

There is some question as to whether the measure will actually get the signatures required to appear on the ballot, but never count the dedicated right wing in doing whatever it takes to destroy the middle class for the benefit of big business. If you live in California and see anyone pushing this petition as I did at the Ventura County Fair last week, be sure to call the hotline at 1-877-440-9585. This sort of fraudulent subversion of democracy should not be allowed to go unchallenged.

It's part of a longstanding and highly effective campaign to defund the left, as Kevin Drum wrote in April:

Battles over competing priorities are the meat and drink of politics. Conservatives want to defund Planned Parenthood, liberals want to cut defense spending. But Republican strategists have long understood that there's a deeper level to politics, one where the goal isn't merely to fight the opposition's agenda, but to actively undermine the infrastructure and funding that allow the opposing party to exist at all. In the past, the GOP has focused on three primary defunding strategies: Killing off private sector unions, packing minority voters into gerrymandered districts, and championing tort reform as a way of eating into the earnings of defense attorneys:

You can think of this triumvirate—unions, minority redistricting, and tort reform—as Defunding 1.0. And most of it hasn't stopped: Republicans are still battling private-sector unions and pressing for tort reform. But private-sector unions have mostly been beaten, and tort reform has turned out to be a tough nut to crack. So the GOP has moved on to Defunding 2.0, with a brand new trio of pet projects.

This is from my short piece on defunding the left from the upcoming issue of the magazine. To find out what Defunding 2.0 is all about, you know what to do. Just click the link.

Liberals seek always to expand the franchise, ensuring that everyone votes. Repugs seek always to restrict voting rights to the white, the rich and the powerful. Because they know that when everyone votes, liberal Democrats win.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Tell PPP What Questions You Want Polled in Kentucky

Your votes got Public Policy Polling to make Kentucky its next polling target; now PPP is asking you for your suggestions of what questions/issues to include in the poll.

Make your suggestions in comments here.

Keep On Talkiing

I am one of the worst about avoiding conversations with repugs, freakazoids and other types I know won't listen to a word I say. Life's too short to waste on them.

But Kevin Drum finds evidence that maybe it's not a complete waste of time.

Here is a brief Twitter conversation from (Saturday) morning:



Actually, I think Steve is right, which just goes to show that Steve is right. My own experience, which I think is fairly generalizable, is that within the course of a single conversation hardly anybody ever changes their mind — including me. Arguing is a dominance game, and in a face-to-face confrontation over anything of significance (virtual or otherwise) we hairless apes will go to considerable lengths to avoid conceding dominance. So if we find ourselves on the losing end of a confrontation, we end up simply switching to new arguments, trying to redefine the terms of debate, cherry picking our evidence a little differently, burrowing down into ever more trivial subarguments, or reverting to mockery and then walking away. In other words, pretty much anything other than actually conceding that someone else is right and that our worldview might need to be updated.

However, that's only the immediate dynamic. With some frequency — 10% of the time? 20%? In any case, certainly more than 1% — arguments will start to sink in maybe a day or a week later when the emotional charge has worn off. You'll probably never know that you've successfully persuaded your adversary, since it's a gradual change that happens offstage and is rarely acknowledged (dominance games again), but it happens. That's especially true if the arguments get repeated over time, and even more especially true if they get repeated by people in positions of respect. The number of people who refuse to change their minds regardless of the evidence is still large, since evidence isn't really what underlies most of our beliefs, but it's less than 99%.

Thus politics.

And that's exactly how repugs have dragged the Overton Window so many light-years to the far right: by repeating the same few simple, albeit dead-wrong, catchphrases over and over and over again for 40 years until people just gave in and accepted them.

The technique works. Liberals ought to use it.

To the Anonymous Emailer in Bell County: Thank You

Bell County Kentucky ain't Louisville. It's deep in the mountains, bible and coal country. But at least one person there is a member of the reality-based community.

From the Herald:

Bell County school officials have ended the tradition of having a minister lead prayer over the public-address system before high school football games because of a complaint from a Wisconsin-based group that promotes the separation of church and state.

Friday's home game against Lexington Catholic was the first in decades that didn't include a prayer before the game, said Bell County Superintendent George Thompson.

"People were kind of jolted when we did the National Anthem and then kicked off" without the prayer, Thompson said.

With its many conservative churchgoing Christians, Kentucky has been fertile ground for clashes over the separation of church and state, most notably about posting the Ten Commandments in public buildings.

SNIP

The complaint in Bell County came by way of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis.

The foundation says it represents the views of non-believers and works against government endorsing or promoting religion.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, its co-president, said the foundation received an email Aug. 5 about the prayer before Bell County High football games.

"All in attendance are asked to bow their head and the prayers have Christian overtones. Please check out this clear violation," said the email, which Gaylor provided.

Nearly all the complaints to the foundation are anonymous because people fear retaliation if they are identified, Gaylor said.

I am disappointed that this issue was not taken up by the Kentucky chapters of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, American Atheists or the ACLU, but I'll take my victories where I can get them.

Hippie Punching is All They Have Left

It's one thing for someone you care about to insist on doing something stupid despite your strong warnings; you figure that after they get burned they'll learn their lesson, admit you were right and follow your advice the next time.

But when your badly burned friend insists on repeating the mistake and blames you for it, it's hard to keep caring.

Steve M:

I'm looking for evidence that the administration is taking the arguments of its left-wing critics seriously. I'm not seeing it. What I'm seeing is the administration getting hammered from all sides, but mostly from the right, and not really being willing to take on the right. And you know -- what do you do when your boss chews you out every day at work? You go home and, as soon as the dog does something to annoy you, you kick the dog.

Well, the right is Obama's boss. And Krugman and FDL and "the professional left" are the dog. Lefty critics are the annoyers the White House isn't afraid of. I'd love to think the lashing out at the left is a sign that lefty critics have gotten to the administration, but I think it's just a case of punching down.

Digby:

There's been no pivot. It's been a straight line from the very beginning. The rhetoric's exactly the same as it was the week before the inauguration. And to the extent they've changed it's only in some snall details --- carbon pricing, for instance, has been jettisoned in return for asking for a tax on corporate jets.

I get that it seems baffling that the administration wouldn't be more flexible in the face of changing circumstances, particularly when it comes to something as major as this ongoing economic crisis, but that does appear to me to be the case here.

Brad DeLong, who presumably has access to the thinking at the upper levels of the administration wrote this the other day:

SNIP

And now it is the late summer of 2011. Our big question still is: how is Obama going to use executive branch authority to reduce unemployment? There are lots of options: adjourn congress and do some recess appointments to get the Federal Reserve more engaged in actually pursuing its dual mandate, quantitative easing via the Treasury Department, shifting Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from their do-nothing position by giving them a microeconomic stabilization mission, talking about how a weak dollar is in America's interest.

And this time what I am hearing back is only:

Hippie punching.

It is difficult to read this in any way but as a group of people inside a bunker who (1) have been wrong about the situation, (2) are scared to use the powers they have to try to make things better, and (3) really do not like being reminded that they were wrong about the situation.

That seems to me to mean that the Obama administration right now has one and only one macroeconomic policy idea: hope that the country gets lucky.

I suspect that's right. Economic disaster wasn't in the original plan and they just don't have the capacity or desire to change course. After all, the 2008 campaign was allegedly the apotheosis of human organizational achievement because they ignored all "distractions." It proved their strategic brilliance. Why ever "pivot"?

I'm being glib. But I do think they have stuck to their plan because they are essentially control freaks who think they can mold the world to their vision of what they want it to be instead of recognizing and adapting to changing circumstances. What that adds up to in reality is "hope the country gets lucky."

The political consequences are almost as dire.

David Atkins at Hullabaloo:

It's true that many online progressives have been fed up with the Obama Administration for some time now. That's been apparent all over the liberal blogosphere. But in fairness to the Administration's defenders, most of those folks were never the types to do the grunt work of attending meetings, licking envelopes, running data scanners, managing difficult personalities, taking care of volunteers, and especially phonebanking and walking door to door in rain, snow and blazing sun talking to strangers while carrying campaign literature anyway. It's easy to vituperate meaningless insults into a an online ether. It's a lot harder to herd cats thanklessly in an unpaid capacity in a hectic organization, and do the boring hard work that it takes to push Democrats to victory, and conservatives into electoral oblivion.

But the Administration is seriously whistling past the graveyard at this point. They are reaching a tipping point. If folks like Marta Evry and I are ready to hop off the train, it's not just angry cheetos-munching bloggers they're going to lose. They're going to lose the activist base that powered them to victory in 2008. If they think it's going to come back just out of fear of Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry, they're sorely mistaken.

I have crazy Republicans in my own backyard who terrify me, too--and getting rid of them will actually make a more immediate impact in my county, my state, and my personal life. I don't have to lift a finger to help the President in order to help the Democratic Party, and neither do folks like Marta. I won't be traveling to Nevada or Arizona for the President's re-election campaign like I did in 2008. I'll be sticking in my own California backyard, helping local progressive Democrats win office. People whose positions and negotiation styles I know I can count on. People who can make progressive dreams come true in California, since it has become abundantly clear they will not come true in Washington, D.C. Not even with 60 Democratic Senators and a big majority in the House.

And I know I'm not alone in this. If the Administration wants to take a bet that there aren't enough people like me and Marta out there to make a difference to their field campaign, they're free to do so.

But it would be a bad bet.

This is nothing new, as Digby explained during last year's congressional campaigns:

Unfortunately, the Democratic political establishment, timorous and afraid of their own shadows as always, are petrified that Real Americans might make that same absurd connection. So nearly forty years on from the chaotic '72 Democratic convention, the left, whether Netroots or "Professional" are still seen as disruptive, scary hippies and it is assumed they are loathed by all decent people. Just like the idiotic right wingers, they conflate "the left" with that carefully nurtured anachronistic wingnut fantasy of the "smelly, dirty, hairy" leftist and are scared to death of being tarred by it. And it is why many in the left blogosphere defiantly took the moniker "DFH" which stands for Dirty Fucking Hippie.

The blogosphere's subsequent adoption of the term "hippie punching" is a shorthand to describe how Democrats like to debase the left in order to appeal to so-called Real Americans. It's a sort of proxy bullying, in which the Party attempts to prove their middle of the road bonafides by attacking what they believe Americans see as their out-of-the-mainstream fringe. (It's like a gang initiation where you have to beat up your childhood best friend to prove your loyalty to the new crowd.)

Needless to say, this is neurotic and delusional. Nobody is ever convinced and the Republicans spend huge amounts of time and money to make sure of it. No matter how much they distance themselves from the left, they will never be able to escape being associated with it and by demeaning their own largest political faction they ensure that a certain number of Real Americans continue to believe there is something truly distasteful about them --- and by extension, the Democrats in general. After all, if the party leadership is repulsed by their own voters, even if they aren't literally "fragrant, hirsute pie wagons," there must be something awfully wrong with them. What kind of party would even associate with such people?

When the administration complained about liberals and "the professional left" they were plugging into a long-standing meme in Democratic politics that goes all the way back to the 1980s. Aside from 1992 campaign, when Clinton managed to eke out a win in a three way race with his DLC poll tested triangulation technique, it hasn't really worked very well for the Democrats over the long term. Instead, it's created a nation in which identifying with the left is equated with something viscerally unpalatable.

That's the background to Susie's question. The situation was unusual because nobody ever brings it up in polite, establishment company (of course, DFHs are rarely invited into polite establishment company, so the opportunity doesn't happen very often.) This tension has been around for a very long time but it hasn't been articulated until fairly recently.

What we know is that the way the Republicans treat their base is substantially different than the way the Democrats treat theirs. The GOP may go to some trouble to downplay the Christian Right, for instance, but they would never publicly insult them to gain respectability among the beltway chattering class or big donors. They see them as an asset to be managed rather than a target to be used to prove their mainstream bonafides. It's a very different approach.

Maybe this will still work out well for the Democrats in the long run. I doubt that anyone cares what a bunch of bloggers think about anything, so this kerfuffle will hardly change the course of history. But the Democrats, of all people, should remember that it only takes a few lefties to peel off to a third party run to throw an election to the other side. It's not like it hasn't happened before (and for many of the same reasons.) It could easily happen again and there won't be anything the DFH bloggers can do about it.

As I've written many times before, I will vote for President Obama next year, and encourage everyone I know to do the same. I will do so in the firm knowledge that as much as he hates me and all my Dirty Fucking Hippie friends, my sitting out this election - or supporting a suicidal third party run - is exactly what the repugs want.

And when in doubt, always do the opposite of what the repugs want.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"Israel's biggest enemy has become itself"

I visited Israel decades ago, and remember as if was yesterday how moved I was by the flourishing democracy a massacred people had built.

Today, I look at Israel and see a once-successful friend crashing to the ground on the crack of overpowering violence, blind to the suicidal path it is on.

Stephen Robert at The Nation:

I grew up in a small town in Massachusetts where my parents headed our local synagogue, Hadassah and the United Jewish Appeal. My first trip abroad after university, in 1962, included a week-long visit to Israel, where I was awed by its accomplishments, as well as by its vulnerability. After the Six-Day War in 1967, I basked in the courage and military prowess of my fellow Jews. The eloquence of foreign minister Abba Eban, defending his beleaguered country at the United Nations, still fills me with pride. In the years since, I’ve been a contributor and fundraiser for the UJA-Federation of New York, a governor of the American Jewish Committee, which is dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism, and a founding director of the Museum of Jewish Heritage—A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. I’ve made five additional visits to Israel since 1962, the last this summer as part of a humanitarian aid trip to East Jerusalem and the West Bank. As a Jew who has been an ardent supporter of Israel since its independence, it pains me to record what I saw there. But it is my love for Israel and for the Jewish people that drives me to speak out at this treacherous time.

What I witnessed in the West Bank—home to about 2.5 million Palestinians and 400,000 Israeli settlers—exceeded my worst expectations. While the world’s statesmen have dithered, Israel has created a system of apartheid on steroids, a horrifying prison with concrete walls as high as twenty-six feet, topped with body-ravaging coils of razor wire. Spaced along these walls are imposing guard towers that harbor bunkers from which trespassers can be shot by Israeli soldiers. From this physical segregation—one land for Israelis; another, unequal land for Palestinians—flows a torrent of misery, violence and human rights abuses. The West Bank suffers from acute shortages of water, housing, jobs and healthcare. Palestinian children are separated from their parents, denied access to hospitals and stoned and beaten by Jewish settlers. Human rights sanctioned by international law, including the right to health, the prohibition on transferring populations into occupied territories and equal treatment before the law are routinely violated.

David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, once said that Israel will be judged by how it treats the Arabs. This is a moral test Israel now resoundingly fails—a failure that threatens to undermine all of its accomplishments and, as is increasingly clear, its future.

SNIP

How can Jews, who have been persecuted for centuries, tolerate this inhumanity? Where is their moral compass? How can this situation be acceptable to Judaism’s spiritual and political leaders? I don’t have that answer; except to say that Israel’s biggest enemy has become itself.

* * *

The Arab Spring should make it abundantly clear that the Jewish state is on the wrong side of history. When, exactly, the tipping point will come is not predictable. But when that point arrives, it will bring tremendous risks for Israel, and for almost half the Jews in the world who reside there. That Israel has the upper hand now portends nothing about the future. A small state of 7 million holding 4 million neighbors in prison, without opportunity, sufficient medical care, food, water and equal justice is not a sustainable situation. When, eventually, stasis gives way to unimaginable change, it will be too late to alter course. Israel, “right or wrong,” a position taken by many, will lead to a catastrophe. It represents a suspension of critical thought; characteristic of many radical ideologies. Friends of Israel would serve it better to know the true facts and then drive Israel toward a moral and practical solution.

If we don't find a way to condemn Israel's apartheid while demanding real peace, we will let Israel drag us down with them into the cesspool of global opprobrium.

Liberals tell our allies the truth about their actions, and urge them to do what's right for other nations and their own.

The White Suburban Myth

The damage racism causes goes beyond the continuing abuse of non-whites, beyond the deranged hatred of President Obama that paralyzes Washington, all the way to the fundamental lie supporting every repug politician.

David Atkins, thereisnospoon, at Hullabaloo:

And Perry and Bachmann are the conservative candidates trying to win election by promising to raise the taxes of the very constituency to which they are trying to appeal. None of this would make sense if the issue in question were being determined based on rational self-interest and economic motivation. But it isn't. This is a cultural issue for Perry and Bachmann.

At its heart lies the myth of the white suburban taxpayer being gouged to support blacks and Latinos in urban areas. Even though all the data shows that urban counties pay the bills of suburban and rural counties, and more urban states pay the bills of rural states, still the myth continues. It's so pervasive that you see phenomena like red counties in California wanting to secede to create their own state, using "fiscal responsibility" as a talking point--even though the suburban counties in question are net drains on the state, while the Los Angeles and San Francisco counties from which they want to secede are net providers.

There is a mass delusion in whitebread suburban America that they are the real America, and that they are being oppressed by high taxes to pay for poor minorities, even though the reality is actually the reverse: urban centers pay the bills for parasitic suburban lifestyles, which are ultimately unsustainable socially, fiscally and environmentally.

Matt Taibbi called it best:

It would be inaccurate to say the Tea Partiers are racists. What they are, in truth, are narcissists. They’re completely blind to how offensive the very nature of their rhetoric is to the rest of the country. I’m an ordinary middle-aged guy who pays taxes and lives in the suburbs with his wife and dog — and I’m a radical communist? I don’t love my country? I’m a redcoat? Fuck you! These are the kinds of thoughts that go through your head as you listen to Tea Partiers expound at awesome length upon their cultural victimhood, surrounded as they are by America-haters like you and me or, in the case of foreign-born president Barack Obama, people who are literally not Americans in the way they are.

It’s not like the Tea Partiers hate black people. It’s just that they’re shockingly willing to believe the appalling horseshit fantasy about how white people in the age of Obama are some kind of oppressed minority. That may not be racism, but it is incredibly, earth-shatteringly stupid.

They're the sort of people who can suck up the nation's tax dollars, while pretending to be Ayn Rand's Atlas, holding up the entire world on their shoulders, desperate to shrug off the parasitic riffraff for a change. Even when they themselves are the actual riffraff. The less-educated conservatives who will vote for Perry and Bachmann see themselves as oppressed taxpayers even when they are in the 47% that Perry and Bachmann promised to tax, because they don't see themselves as a member of that economic class. The "poor who pay no taxes" aren't them: they're of a different race, in a different place filled with rap music and urban blight. They're not real Americans who drive trucks and SUVs, and do their shopping at Wal-Mart.

Progressive elites can spend all day and all night proving how wrong Perry and Bachmann are about the economic facts. But they're wasting their time, because this argument, much as it appears to be based on economics, is actually based on racism and cultural resentment.

SNIP

If progressives want to deal with the economic zombie lie Bachmann and Perry are perpetuating, they'll focus less on the broad economic realities of rich and poor, and more on smashing the lie that underpins most of the narcissistic conservative worldview.

They will point out that most majority-white rural, suburban and exurban communities, far from being economic producers carrying the weight of America's taxes on their shoulders, are actually parasitic drains on the economy. And that the economic overlords on Wall St. intend to squeeze them to death just as surely as any inner-city minority community in their relentless pursuit of profit. Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry will lead them happily to the slaughterhouse on behalf of the big money rancher--and they'll go willingly, assuming that the undernourished brown and black cows who are supposedly getting all their food will be the only ones coming out as hamburger.

I live in the exurbs between two metropolitan areas. My lifestyle is supported by interstate highways, city water lines, public schools and rural post offices that would be impossible if those of us who benefited from them had to pay for them. The cities we ran away from pay for the public services that allow us to enjoy our big houses on secluded tracts but still drive quickly and conveniently to the city to work and shop.

Liberals know who really pays for what in this country, and don't let racist zombie lies invade our political discourse.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Non-Union Convention Last Straw for Some

There seems to be nothing national Democrats won't do to alienate everyone who ever voted for them.

David Dayen at Firedoglake:

We’ve heard a lot about labor disassociating itself from the national Democratic Party in a preference to wage battles in the states. Now we’re seeing one of the biggest examples of that. The 2012 Democratic National Convention will happen in Charlotte, North Carolina. There are no union hotels in that city, and North Carolina is a right-to-work state. For unions to participate in the DNC would represent the de facto crossing of a kind of picket line, in support of non-union hotels. The decision has come down – over a dozen unions will sit out the DNC.

The unions — all part of the AFL-CIO’s building and construction trades unit — told party officials this week they are gravely disappointed that labor was not consulted before Democrats settled on Charlotte, N.C., where there are no unionized hotels.

“We find it troubling that the party so closely associated with basic human rights would choose a state with the lowest unionization rate in the country due to regressive policies aimed at diluting the power of workers,” Mark Ayers, president of the building trades unit, wrote in a letter to Democratic Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

The decision by the building trades came after a vote by leaders of the unit’s 13 affiliate unions, including the Laborers, Painters and Electrical Workers unions. Overall, they represent about 2.5 million members.

“There is broad frustration with the party and all elected officials, broad frustration with the lack of a union agenda,” said Michael Monroe, chief of staff of the building trades division. “People are looking for outlets to express that frustration.”

This doesn’t mean that unions will not be represented at the 2012 DNC. The SEIU, NEA and the state AFL-CIO actually have offered statements of support for the Charlotte site for the convention. The Teamsters, one of the signatories to the letter, even expressed some hesitancy over whether they would boycott. What’s more, individual members of the unions involved could still attend, according to Monroe, the chief of staff of the building trades. And, new DNC rules state that they will not accept contributions for the convention from lobbyists, corporations or PACs, including union PACs. So I don’t know how much this hurts the DNC financially. Finally, they’re saying this now, but it’s a long way until next September.

But clearly this wouldn’t be happening if there was a good working relationship between the Democrats and organized labor, on both counts. Democrats wouldn’t have chosen an anti-union site for their convention, and labor unions wouldn’t basically announce a boycott. In 2008, the Pepsi Center in Denver was a non-union site, but a deal was made to staff it with union members for the convention. Somehow I doubt the same accommodation will be made here.

But at a larger level, this does offer an example of labor walking off the national playing field to some extent, and focusing on the state-level battles it has to win in order to survive. We saw labor come up just short in taking back the state Senate in Wisconsin, but building a grassroots movement that they plan to carry to attempt a recall of Gov. Scott Walker. A similar battle is shaping up in Ohio, where labor feels confident they can pass a citizen veto of an anti-union law approved by the right-wing legislature that would strip most collective bargaining rights and the right to strike. The wild card there is that a separate initiative will be on the ballot that would symbolically toss out the individual mandate provision in the federal health care law. So partisans on both sides will bring a lot of energy to the polls in November.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a speech earlier this year that unions would be more focused at the state rather than the federal level in the 2012 cycle. This move by the building trades gives some evidence for that. And this quote from the International Association of Machinists gives you some idea of the anger out there.

But the angst goes beyond the trade unions. The International Association of Machinists, which is not part of the building trades, said it has also decided to skip the convention after participating for decades.

“This is the union that came up with the idea for Labor Day and this convention starts on Labor Day in a right-to-work state,” said IAM spokesman Rick Sloan. “We see that as an affront to working men and women across this country.”

Liberals know you dance with the one that brung ya. For 80 years, the ones that brung the Democratic Party every single victory have been the unions.

The White House likes to sneer about the left: where else are they going to go? We don't have to go anywhere. We can sit home. And every time dems pull a stupid stunt like Charlotte, more decide that's just what we'll do.

I advocate exactly the opposite: respond to this insult by doubling our effort to make more liberals and rebuilt the Liberal Prosperity from the ground up. But the anti-Democratic pressure from Washington doesn't make it easier.