Saturday, February 28, 2015

Want To Know How, And How Much, The Arts Affect Us?

Here is a National Endowment for the Arts study to answer those questions.  No one who reads it should doubt how necessary the arts are to our society, and to each of us as citizens.

We're No Longer The Envy Of The World

In fact, from the perspective of the rest of the world, we look like fools.

Did You Hear About This?

Probably not.  Because, according to our corporate media, right-wing terrorism doesn't exist.  Except, of course, when it does.  Damnable hypocrisy.

Leave Them There!

Fossil fuels, that is.  We no longer need them.  In fact, it may be better it they stayed put.

An Amazing Aerial View Of New York City--All Of It

And courtesy of a drone.  Take a look.

But I Thought That THEY Thought That THEY Were Worth It!

Fox News, that is, and CEO's and their executive pay.  Turns out that, per Fox, just disclosing the numbers alone is (and these are their words) "slut-shaming."  Well, it's not our fault that American business is led by prostitutes.

There Should NEVER Be Any Ayn Rand!

And, if there were more people like Dick Cavett willing to stand up to cowards like Ayn Rand, who are scared to death of being exposed for the frauds that they are, there wouldn't be any.  Thanks, Dick, and not just for this.

Do It, David!

I'm not a fan of McCarthyism, but I am a believer in balance-of-power politics, so I don't object to a little equal opportunity McCarthyism.  If David Duke wants to expose racism in the Republican Party, it's fine with me.

Yes, Bill, It IS Over To Us

But thanks for the fight, and for the memories.  Hard to believe that Lyndon Johnson had one hell of a press secretary like you.

EVERYBODY Should Be Doing This!

Recycle your electronics.  It's good for the planet, but it's also a good way of ensuring we'll have electronics in the future.

Is Evidence The Key To Promoting Social Programs?

Here's an article by a Bushie who defends Obama's evidence-based social programs.  As a liberal appalled by the Bush Administration's willingness to take us into war without any real evidence to support it, the irony of the article isn't lost on me.  But, as much for that reason as for any other, the last thing liberals should be afraid of is evidence.

Is Imitation The Sincerest Form Of Flattery When It Comes To Gun Control?

Maybe.  Gun nuts have achieved a huge level of success by promoting their nuttiness on a state-by-state level. Now, common-sense advocates of gun regulations seem ready to follow in their footsteps.  Let's hope they enjoy equal, if not greater, success.

For Leonard, My Friend, Who I Never Met

I watched my first episode of "Star Trek" sometime in the early part of 1968.  As it turns out, the episode was "The Trouble With Tribbles," one of the show's most popular episodes, and certainly one of its funniest.  I like to say that having that episode as my first full-scale exposure to the series probably meant that I was destined to be a fan, which I have been, ever since.  But the truth is that I had been intending to watch the show for a long time, and probably for the same reason everybody knew about the show in the first place.  During its first season, if you had gone outside of the show's admittedly small fan base, and talked to people at large, mentioning the title of the show would have, in almost every instance, produced a pause and then a comment along these lines:  "Oh, yeah ... that's the show with the guy with the pointed ears."

In other words, Mr. Spock.  Or the human that portrayed him, Leonard Nimoy.

But, while most people would have had a general knowledge of the character, not even everyone in the show's fan base knew how much of a struggle it was to get that character on the show in the first place.  Keep in mind that this was back in the day when television content was exclusively the product of three national broadcasting networks, and their executives worried almost obsessively about the reactions of audiences (and, therefore, the consumer-driven sponsors whose commercials paid for the programs) to what was put on the air.  And, while NBC liked "Star Trek" enough to order not one but two pilots before greenlighting its production, the network's executives absolutely, positively did not like Spock, on the grounds that his allegedly Satanic appearance would offend religious viewers.  Gene Roddenberry, the show's creator, fought back, saying that a space-bound show needed at least one character whose very presence reminded viewers of where the show's characters were and what they were doing.

Roddenberry, of course, won.  And all of us are grateful that he did.  The original "Star Trek" series was never a ratings winner in its three years on the air.  But even the people who didn't watch it knew about "the guy with the pointed ears."  And, despite his presence, there was no mass revolt against NBC by religious viewers.  If anything, there was a mass revolt against the network's plan, during its second season, to cancel the show--one that managed against the odds and ratings to buy it one more year on the air.

And none of this even touches on Leonard Nimoy's own reluctance to play the character.  He saw himself at the time as a very serious actor, one whose seriousness would be jeopardized by playing someone with pointed ears.  He came very close to walking away from the show for that reason during its early production.  Years after the series went off the air, he felt (not without reason) that the show and the character had typecast him out of a career.  At one point, his resentment ran so deep that he authored an autobiography called "I Am Not Spock."

But none of this explains why the show became a cultural fixture even in its original incarnation, and led despite the failure of that incarnation to later television shows and feature films.  There are a lot of reasons that explain why "Star Trek" has earned that status.  But there's no doubt that Nimoy's own performance was essential to that success.  He found both the logic and the humanity in a half-human, half-alien character in a way that perhaps no one else could have done, and made it work to a degree that stamped him on our collective consciousness.  He found the ability to see Spock as a way to reflect humanity, rather than to repress it.  He underplayed a role that, in one sense, would have been easy to overplay, and made him more real as a result.  In the creation of the Vulcan salute, he integrated his Jewish faith into the portrayal, an illustration of how actors can use different parts of their lives to transform themselves into the characters they portray.  And, in conjunction with William Shatner and DeForest Kelley, he became part of a troika of characters that gave "Star Trek" a framework for mixing philosophical debates with action and adventure.

And, in the process, through the magic of television, he visited the homes of millions of us, and became a friend.  I'm proud to have been one of those friends, Leonard, even though we never met. You and your fellow cast members helped get this pre-"Big Bang Theory" geek, and many others, past childhood ridicule and bullying, and into a future where, like Spock, we could be ourselves.   Perhaps, when I join you in being beamed up to the flip side, I can tell you all of this in person.  In the meantime, for all of us who watched you (and, to paraphrase you from the second "Star Trek" film), you have been, and ever shall be, our friend.  Live forever and prosper.  Baruch dayan emet.

What's The Matter With Minnesota?

Apparently, nothing at all.

While governors in so-called red states have labored to make the impossible Reagan dream of balancing their budgets by lowering taxes a reality, Governor Mark Dayton of Minnesota went in a totally different direction.  He raised taxes.  He raised the minimum wage.  He promoted pay equity and online voter registration.  He did all of this despite being himself a 1-percenter working for his first two years with a Republican legislature.  From the GOP standpoint, it was a recipe for disaster.  By now, Dayton should be the Minnesotan equivalent of Jimmy Carter and Michael Dukakis all rolled into one.  Minnesota should be on life support, correct?

Wrong.

According to this article, everything is coming up roses in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.  Here are the two paragraphs that break the good news down into numbers:
Between 2011 and 2015, Gov. Dayton added 172,000 new jobs to Minnesota's economy -- that's 165,800 more jobs in Dayton's first term than Pawlenty added in both of his terms combined. Even though Minnesota's top income tax rate is the 4th-highest in the country, it has the 5th-lowest unemployment rate in the country at 3.6 percent. According to 2012-2013 U.S. census figures, Minnesotans had a median income that was $10,000 larger than the U.S. average, and their median income is still $8,000 more than the U.S. average today.
By late 2013, Minnesota's private sector job growth exceeded pre-recession levels, and the state's economy was the 5th fastest-growing in the United States. Forbes even ranked Minnesota the 9th-best state for business (Scott Walker's "Open For Business" Wisconsin came in at a distant #32 on the same list). Despite the fearmongering over businesses fleeing from Dayton's tax cuts, 6,230 more Minnesotans filed in the top income tax bracket in 2013, just one year after Dayton's tax increases went through. As of January 2015, Minnesota has a $1 billion budget surplus, and Gov. Dayton has pledged to reinvest more than one third of that money into public schools. And according to Gallup, Minnesota's economic confidence is higher than any other state.
I should mention that "Pawlenty" refers to Tim Pawlenty, the former Republican governor who prided himself on fiscal conservatism and left Minnesota with an economic nightmare.  In contrast, the across-the-board success of Dayton's approach is absolutely staggering.  Touch it where you will, and you will find that it has produced success.  The two numbers that jump out at me the most are the ones on job creation and filers in the top income tax bracket.

We are constantly being told by the trickle-down folks that jobs are created from the top of the economic pyramid, not the bottom.  This is patent nonsense, and should have been refuted decades ago.  No one is going to create a job unless they think there's enough consumer demand to pay for it.  In fact, at the top of the pyramid, no one is going to create wealth at all if they don't absolutely have to.  They will keep it, and spend it, on themselves, especially if government is craven enough to cut taxes for them.  As I have said many times, and will go on saying so long as I have the strength to do it, progressive taxation is the only fair form of taxation there is.  It requires those who have benefited the most from society to pay the most for maintaining it.  It forces them to put their capital to work, in order to make money for themselves as well as for others.  And it prevents them from using it to buy the government and supplant the public interest altogether with their interest.

Let's reduce this to simplest possible terms.  Progressive policies work--especially tax policies.  Minnesota certainly isn't suffering.  It has more workers and more 1-percenters.  It couldn't be more win-win if it tried.  So why is the economic thinking of this country still stuck in the '80s?  It's time to let that thinking go the way of mullets.  In fact, its long past time.

All we can do now, though, is wait, pray, and work for the next election--which, hopefully, will lead to fewer Kansases and more Minnesotas.

It Would Cost A LOT More Than $50.3 Billion

The Center for American Progress has gone to the trouble of costing out what the U.S. government would have to spend in order to appease the Tea Partiers and remove the nearly 5 million undocumented human beings who would benefit from President Obama's executive orders on immigration.  If you have not already clicked on the link above, $50.3 billion is the ballpark figure that the Center has calculated.  In the context of a total budget that approaches 4 trillion dollars, $50.3 billion probably wouldn't seem like all that much, even to the Tea Partiers.  If they haven't already done so, they've probably figured out that a few less subsidies for Obamacare would easily pay for the deportations, and then they'd be halfway to their goal of an illegal-free America.

But we're talking about Tea Partiers.  Like their compatriots in the larger conservative movement, they excel (if at all) at finding short-term rewards while ignoring the long-term price tag for those rewards.  And, as it turns out, the long-term price tag is a considerable one.

To begin to get some idea of how big a price tag that might be, I invite you to take a look at this study, which examines and estimates the potential impact of the President's orders on California and, specifically, the Los Angeles area.  The key finding, as it relates to the estimated cost of deportation in the CAP estimate, is this:  $76.6 billion dollars of gross domestic product in the state, including $24.6 billion in the Los Angeles area, is a direct result of the presence of individuals who could apply for relief under the President's orders.  Those individuals number about 1.6 million in California alone.  Taking the results of the study, and multiplying its results by a factor of 3, to match the estimated number of potential beneficiaries in the entire county, those beneficiaries contribute nearly $230 billion toward the GDP of the nation as a whole--more than four times the cost of deporting them.

We are constantly being told, by people who bring nothing to the debate but bigotry, that immigrants are a drain on our economic resources.  This study is merely one among many that consistently demonstrate that the opposite is true.  Immigrants today, both documented and undocumented, are the backbone of our national and international prosperity.  We would be cutting off our economic nose to spite our multiethnic face if we seriously attempted anything like the mass deportation contemplated by CAP.

And, in any case, we would be hypocrites.  We have profited off the labor and economic output of these people for decades, often not caring a thing about their "status" so long as they were helping us to build the consumer economy we crave.  We looked the other way while they lived in the shadows, always faced with the prospect of arrest and deportation, not wishing to return anything in exchange for all that they have given us, and secretly fearing that they would somehow make our nation less "American" by making it less white, less Christian, less European.  We failed to remember that all of us have ancestors who have walked in the steps of these same people, building our cities, our farms, our roads, our schools, our armed forces, and everything else that makes America worth celebrating and protecting.  Yes, many of those people were documented, but many were not--and all of us have, directly and indirectly, enjoyed the fruits of their labors.
(And, unless you've done your homework, never be too smug about your own family tree.)

Yes, it would cost a lot more than $50.3 billion to "get rid of those illegals."  It would cost us a financial fortune.  And it would cost us our national soul.  In neither case is it worth it.