Saturday, April 27, 2013

Why I Believe In Spirituality Rather Than Religion

To be spiritual is to be in direct contact with the Higher Power, and to allow one's self to be transformed.  To be religious is to follow a set of rules, which may or may not be influenced by the Higher Power as much as they may be created by someone attempting to institutionalize He, She, It or They for very human and very fallible purposes.

And that is why religion leads to tragedies like this one, where parents forfeit their reason, their better instincts and perhaps even their sanity, for a system of rules that comes from no higher power than the deceitful hearts of those who are trying to capture the infinite for their own, finite, corrupt purposes.

To the parents, and the church to which they belong, I can only once again quote the words of a movie Moses, from one of his other movies:

Damn you.  Damn you all to hell.

Science Fiction Is Rapidly Becoming Science Fact

When we can print a replacement human ear with human cells, there's no doubt about it.

Good, They're Finally Waking Up (Part 2)

If there's anything positive to be said about the Keystone XL pipeline, it's that it's woken up voters in red-state Nebraska to the reality that their livelihood depends on being environmentalists.  I love this quote:  “I didn’t know I was an activist until I had a chance to be one.”

We all need that chance and, even more, we all need to take advantage of it.

And, Since Life Is Counter-Intuitive, So Should Our Politics Be

Life is embedded with conflicting and complicated choices.  Very often, the best way to get to where you want to go is to go in the opposite direction.  And so it is with the politics of immigration, as noted here.

The interesting thing about this article is that it applies conservative logic to the question of immigration and border security.  Conservatives love to argue that government restrictions on guns and the marketplace simply encourage the formation of "black markets."  Well, as it turns out, government restrictions on travel have the exact same effect.  You can't have an economy without people, any more than you can have one without an environment.  A well-regulated but also expansive system for moving people in and out of the United States would make it far easier to monitor those people, and ferret out the trouble-makers.

We have lived now for over two decades in a world in which money moves around it at the speed of light.  It's time to stop forcing people to move around it at the speed of sludge.

And Sometimes, You Lose Today So You Can Win Tomorrow

That's what I take away from this poll.  Gun control lost a battle this month in the Senate, but it will win the war, because it's not just a good idea, it's also an overdue one.

I'm not the only one who feels this way.

And hypocrites like Jeff Flake will surely help.

It's Not Just Guns

The National Rifle Association takes the "arms" part of the Second Amendment very seriously.  That's why they're doing everything they can to make sure that your right to home-made bombs is properly preserved.

The NRA, at this point, is no longer a lobby, but a criminal enterprise, and the Justice Department should just put it out of our misery by shutting it down.  Period.

There Is A Differnce, Governor Perry ...

... between a natural disaster and a human one.  And, when a state deliberately follows policies that lead to a tragedy like the explosion in West, Texas, we are obligated to point it out.  Doing so is not politicizing a tragedy; this IS a political tragedy, because political leaders failed to do their job.

Federal aid for the wounded, and the families of the wounded and deceased, yes.  Federal aid for the town, yes, to a more limited extent.  But Federal aid for the business to rebuild and make the same mistakes again?  NO WAY IN HELL!

Socialism for the rich must end.  It must end here, before we invite the judgment of a Higher Power than Mr. Perry.  Before the nation itself blows up from injustice and tyranny.

UPDATE:  You're no better, Senator Cruz.

New York Post-Mortem?

An overdue word or two first, about the tragic bombings at the Boston Marathon.

There is never any justification for acts of violence like this.  The victims, and their families, should be uppermost in our thoughts and prayers.  And NO ONE should use an outrage like this as part of a political agenda.

On the other hand, when they do so and screw it up, and it's Rupert Murdoch's New York Post doing the screwing up, it does make a point.

For one thing, the last time they screwed up a story about terrorism on American soil, it led to a war that cost trillions of dollars and thousands of lives.  Something the American people haven't forgotten, which is probably why they're not as eager to put the Republicans back in power as the Republicans are eager to take it back.

But there's another point as well, one that extends beyond the specifics of the new Boston massacre.

Once upon a time, the Post was a respected, liberal-leaning afternoon newspaper.  Its circulation began to decline in the 1970s as it lost readers to electronic media, and it started to lose money.  Then, Dorothy Schiff, the paper's owner, sold it to Rupert Murdoch, who proceeded to turn the paper into a tabloid cross between his London scandal sheets and National Review.  This did not, however, reverse the Post's financial fortunes; in fact, it started to bleed even more money.  There is every reason to think that Murdoch's Post has lost over a billion dollars, and has been subsidized by a combination of (a) revenues from Murdoch's more profitable (and more liberal) investments in entertainment media, and (b) assistance from state and city government in New York, justified by former Governor Mario Cuomo (father of Andrew, the current governor) as necessary to save union jobs.  (Note to Mario:  If you want to save union jobs, don't focus on dying industries in order to do it.)

I'm not rooting for the Post to die; I'm enough of a newspaper lover and a New York lover to want the city to continue to have three dailies, even though I know it makes no economic sense.  But Murdoch's willingness to fund the Post in the face of staggering losses simply proves that Murdoch knows what most liberals know:  that conservative ideas don't work in the marketplace of ideas, and need subsidies simply to survive.

So, the question posed by the linked article is a good one:  will Murdoch's conservative journalistic holdings (including the Post) survive his planned splitting of those holdings from his entertainment assets?  Somehow, I'm betting the answer is "yes."  As long as trickle-up economics is practiced in this country, there will always be undeserving billionaires who can afford a vanity press.

UPDATE:  If you want to see a thorough take-down of a politician trying to exploit the Marathon tragedy through a more up-to-date medium than the Post--namely, Twitter--take a look.

Good, They're Finally Waking Up

At least that's true if this poll is accurate.  I hope it is.  The only way, as I've said so often, to stop the 1% from shafting the 99% is not to give them the money in the first place.

And, if Howard Jarvis wants to roll over in his grave because I've paraphrased him for the sake of arguing in favor of higher taxes, it's fine with me.

"I Am The Senator, You Are The Citizen. You Need To Be Quiet."

Actually, SENATOR Tommy Tucker, it's the other way around.

You are a public servant.  I understand that your election has been thoroughly bought and paid for by the corporate interests that actually run what we still call the voting process.  So you might feel entitled to a little arrogance.  After all, that's why the people who bought and paid for you spent so much of their not-hard-earned dollars doing so.  And it's what those people expect you to deliver.

There remains, however, the fact that you got voted in, under a constitutional system that makes YOU the employee of the people of North Carolina.  ALL of them, not just the ones who bought and paid for you to be called "Senator."  It's THEIR tax dollars that are funding your ability to hold that title.

And if you and your Republican colleagues are so understandably insecure enough that the only response you have to reasoned, legitimate opposition is to flood the marketplace of ideas with shut-up rhetoric, you needed worry about losing, because you've already lost.

However, it's worth it for those of us in the reasoned, legitimate opposition to take a moment or two and reflect on the mind-blowing hypocrisy embedded in SENATOR Tucker's words.

This comes from the party that denounced Barbara Boxer for asking to be addressed as "Senator," rather than as "Ma'am."  (For the record, Senator Boxer did not run to serve as a Ma'am.)

This comes from the party that feels so little courage in attacking Barack Obama that they have to attack his family, and their vacations, in a desperate attempt to gain a level of traction they do not deserve.

This comes from a party that (apologies to Larry Gelbart again) wears sincerity on both of its faces.

YOU, SENATOR, need to spend some serious time dining on nothing but silence, and washing it down with a lot of learn-to-listen.  Until then, you can have the title, but without the respect.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Who Says Paternalism Is Bad?

Not Cass Sunstein, as it turns out.  The final paragraph, in particular, is well worth reading:

No one should deny that freedom of choice is a central part of a good life. Paternalism can be a serious mistake, especially if it eliminates that form of freedom and overrides people’s judgments about their own ends. Education, warnings, and other nudges usually have big advantages over mandates and bans, precisely because they allow people to go their own way. But legitimate concerns about illegitimate paternalism should not be allowed to prevent officials from seeking to identify the best ways to improve people’s lives, even if they end up influencing people’s choices.


Is The War On Drugs Nearing An End?

Maybe; I certainly hope so.  We could spend a fraction of the money we now spend on guns and private prisons, and put it into treatment and education programs.  It's worked for tobacco, and there's no reason to think that it can't work for narcotics.

Scientia sit potentia, after all.

Good Riddance To Margaret Thatcher

I know, I know, one must not speak ill of the dead.

But I can think of many reasons why the Rusty Lady should be exception.

She destroyed the British working class, of which she was a member.

She did so for the sake of advancing her own social position.

She produced a momentary upturn in the British economy that quickly crashed, leaving more moderate leaders (John Major and Tony Blair) to clean up the damage.

And, in concern with The Great Dissembler, she has frozen our politics at the year 1979.

I think that about sums up her life and career.  If nothing else, I've been brief.  And I'll say this for her:  she seems to have belatedly given Senate Democrats some semblance of a spine.

There Has Always Been Class Warfare In America

No, I don't mean rich versus poor.  I mean educated versus uneducated.  It's a by-product of our frontier days; America was a land with so many physical riches that one could become wealthy without an education.  But that frontier society no longer exists.  It takes knowledge, and the willingness to acquire it, to become wealthy in today's world.  Many Americans don't have that willingness; they would rather look for a bygone world, and then align themselves with the investors who did the most to take that world away from, against the intellectuals who could help them create a new path.  Sadly, the myth of the rich making everyone else richer dies hard.

The complicated relationship between America and its intellectuals has been the source of literature:  first, Richard Hofstadter's "Anti-Intellectualism In American Life," and now, Aaron Lecklider's "Inventing the Egghead."  I don't expect that reading books, however, is the way to win this particular type of class warfare.  In my experience--and I have spent my whole life around intellectuals--the well-educated are often far too guilty of talking to each other and not enough to people outside of their upbringing and experience.  I think that this is why we have devolved into a nation of red and blue states.  Liberals cluster so that they can debate ideas without fear of repression, while conservatives cluster because they fear exposure to new ideas will somehow destroy everything they believe it.

In consequence, I have felt for some time that the key for intellectuals is to find ways of breaking out of their social comfort zone, to interact more with those outside of their educational experience.  It is far from easy, but it can be done.  Bill Clinton was, ultimately, far from my ideal as a Democratic President, but he was a master at going back and forth from speaking to university presidents and farmers' markets without missing a beat or losing a listener.  More of us need to develop that capacity.

Because if we don't, we will lose this particular class war.  And America deserves better.

Who Says Obama's A Terrible Politician?

I get tired of hearing and reading the idea that Barack Obama is a terrible politician.  How can he be so terrible if his greatest policy achievement is so hated by the other side that it actually proposes moving to the left (with single-payer health insurance)?  Isn't that what you want him to do?  Manipulate the other side so that they have no choice but to come in his direction?

Trust me.  He's in the process of doing the same thing with Social Security and Medicare.  He knows that House and Senate Republicans (especially the ones in "blue" states) will be under intense pressure NOT to enact anything that even looks like it might be a "cut" in either program.  And yes, that includes the Tea Party folks.  Anyone remember "Keep your government hands off my Medicare" from a few years ago?  Like most political taglines, it's a two-edged sword.

Obama understands, far more so than his opponents ever will, the power of using your opponent's hatred of you to destroy them.  And that's why they will be destroyed.  Because they can't help hating him.

See what I mean?

This Time, I Hope He Means It

Harry Reid made a very bad bargain last January with Mitch McConnell.  In exchange for sinking the hopes for filibuster reform, McConnell said "Trust me, I really will stop abusing the rules," and Reid replied "I believe you," no doubt thinking of preserving the comity of the Senate.

Well, as it turns out, comity be damned.  To McConnell, comity is a football, and Reid is the one trying to kick it.  And ending up on his back, over and over again.  (Apologies to "Peanuts.")

The most recent fiasco with the gun bill amendments is only the latest example of how, for the sake of maximizing and expanding his political power, McConnell is willing to use the rules design to ensure debate to actually thwart any form of practical accomplishment on behalf of the American people.  That, of course, is not what the rules are intended to do, but McConnell doesn't care.  He wants power, and he's willing to do whatever it takes to get it.  Including lying to Reid, the Majority Leader and his colleague.

I hope Reid's recent statement about revisiting the idea of changing the rules has some seriousness of purpose behind it.  My fear is that it's just Reid floating a trial balloon that has little more than the hot air inside of it--or worse, that it's just Reid enjoying the luxury of getting angry in front of a sympathetic audience.

I can't say that I'm in favor of completely doing away with the filibuster.  After all, during the gun debate, it stopped a lot of bad ideas as well as good ones (case in point:  concealed-carry reciprocity between states).  What I am in favor of, purely and simply, is a return to the speaking filibuster.  After all, the filibuster rule is designed to cut off debate.  Well then, my feeling is that, if you want to debate, debate already.  Your a member of the World's Greatest Deliberative Body, so act like it, already.  I don't think that liberals have anything to fear from that; our ideas are better, and will prevail ultimately in a public debate.

Can we have at least THAT much change, Harry?  It wouldn't be a really new idea, after all.  There's a reason that "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" is a classic.  Maybe, one day, the actual debates in the Senate can be classic, too--and we can stop using the rules to hold back tomorrow.

A Bipartisan End To Big Banks?

Could be.  It's not a reinstatement of Glass-Steagall, but it's a good start.

The Future Is Still On Its Way

After all, if we can lasso an asteroid next to the moon, who knows what we can do?

"The Scale Of The Universe 2"

A fun way to gain perspective on our place in the overall scheme of things.  Enjoy.

The Ultimate Evil of "Reaganomics"

This should make everyone in this country rise up in arms and in anger.

I am sick and tired of hearing that "we simply can't afford the welfare state."  To which I respond:  It depends on which welfare state you're talking about.

Before the advent of Saint Ronnie, we had the ability to take care of ourselves to such an extent that an article in Newsweek magazine actually used "Is Poverty Dead?" as a headline.  Naturally, it wasn't.  The article itself concerned the efforts of conservative groups to argue that poverty programs should be counted as income for the poor.  But that article only contained credibility to the extent that it showed how much we were willing to spend on the poor.  The argument, such as it was, can and should be treated as a concession to the success of those programs.  Poverty, for a time, appeared to be in retreat.

But along came the Great Dissembler, whose sunny optimism and note cards could create "facts" just through the sound of his voice.  He declared that "[i]n the war on poverty, poverty won."  Goodbye, poverty programs.  Hello, tax cuts for the few on top.  That was supposed to solve everything, to create so much money that, in no time at all, we'd all be drowning in it.

Well, as it turns out, those tax cuts might make you drown, indeed.  Because if you wanted to even so much as look at all of that money, you'd have to swim to an off-shore shelter to do it.  And even if you made it, you probably still couldn't see it.

Tax cuts are not the source of prosperity.  They are a foreign-aid program for tax shelters.  They are the source of most of our annual deficit and the national debt.  They are the reason that government at all levels has been purchased out of the hands of the people.  Putting it as basically as possible, they are welfare for those who neither need nor deserve it--and who have only used it to corrupt and nearly destroy the Republic (ironically, under the name of "Republicanism").

Make no mistake.  If you tolerate any more of this, you are responsible for the death of the American Dream and the wasting of millions of lives sacrificed for its sake.  You are culpable, and no one will save you, because no one will think you are worthy of salvation.

Including me.  Because I'm going to fight like hell to stop this travesty.  And, unless you're prepared to join me, get the hell out of my way.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

In Sign Of Warming, 1,600 Years Of Ice In Andes Melted In 25 Years

That's the headline of this article.  If that doesn't scare you, nothing scares you.

But it should.

As Great A Husband As He Was A Critic

In most of the recent and well-deserved tributes to the late, lamented Roger Ebert, not much was said about his success in marriage as one-half of an interracial couple.  But that success illustrates how he lived the values that he wrote about in his reviews.

Which is why, I think, it's appropriate to give Roger a chance in this space to pay tribute to that success in his own words.

Thanks, Chaz, for being an indispensable part of Roger's success.  And thanks to you, Roger, as well.  See you at the movies.

And, Speaking Of Fighting For The Future ...

It's not just the debate over guns that's moving our way; it's also the debate over climate change.  Even Republicans are getting on board.

Now, more than ever, we have to develop a specific, affordable and, above all, positive agenda for capitalizing on those changing attitudes, and translate it into change that we can not only believe in, but live with as well.

The Conservative Case For Gun Control

It's hard to believe that there is one, especially after this week's idiotic blocking of common-sense gun reforms.  But this illustrates that such a case can be made by a conservative.  Of course, given the role that Tom Coburn played in the aforementioned idiotic blocking, there's every reason to question the sincerity of the speech as described in the article.

But just because a statement may be insincere, that doesn't make the statement untrue.  And, on the surface, Coburn's essential argument is correct:  when it comes to gun violence, we are often our own worst enemy, inadvertently providing guns to the criminals who misuse them.  Sandy Hook itself is an illustration of that truth.  And the fact that Coburn is willing to make that argument to his own deeply conservative constituents tells you something about his confidence in its plausibility.

Why is all of this important, even as supporters of gun control are swallowing the ashes of defeat?  It illustrates the reason why we will win in the end--reason itself.  We have the better arguments, and with that goes the burden of making those arguments, again and again, until they carry a better day than yesterday's painful succession of Senate filibusters.

Want more proof?  Try this on for size.  Maryland, which (at one time) reliably produced conservative office-holders, is about to enact a law that will achieve on the state level many of the same goals that some of the filibustered bills would have achieved.  Are conservatives in this state going to put it to referendum, as they did with the Maryland DREAM Act and marriage equality?  Not on your Glock they won't (especially given the results of those referendums),  They're going to file a lawsuit and play judicial roulette, hoping that they get one or more judges who, by temperment and/or training, will come down on their side.  There's more than a faint whiff of desperation in that strategy.

Coburn's speech, and Maryland's new law, are where the future lies.  It's up to those of us that know better to fight for the day when the future becomes the present.

How To Push Back Against Keystone

If I were Obama, as I have said previously, I would hold the Keystone XL pipeline to a bunch of green goals.  But I would definitely add one more, having read this article:  change the law excluding tar sands oil from the categories of crude that force oil companies to pay into the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.

No change, no pipeline.  It's as simple as that.  The days of privatizing the profits and socializing the risks must end, before there's no country left to save.

Who's REALLY "Racist" Here, Dr. Carson?

So Dr. Ben Carson, former hero to Baltimoreans and pediatric patients everywhere, is now saying that he's unpopular with his colleagues and students because, deep down inside, they're all just bigots at heart, folks who don't like the idea of his leaving "the plantation."

Excuse me?  Exactly what plantation would that be, sir?

Are you saying that Johns Hopkins somehow held you in bondage, treated you as property and otherwise denied you the fruits of your labors, while helping you to become one of the most successful and respected physicians in the world?  Where's the evidence of that, exactly?

Right.  I thought so.

I say this as a double Hopkins brat (both parents worked for the university and the hospital), but I would say it in any case as a respecter of history and the truth.  Your equating your Hopkins career to the life of a slave on an antebellum plantation is an insult to the very real suffering and deaths of literally millions of Africans who were brought her in chains and tears solely so that the ancestors of your new political friends could avoid an honest day's work.  Even if your narcissism cannot and will not allow you to apologize to your colleagues and students, whatever decency resides in you obligates you to apologize to them.  Your success is build on the bones of their agony as much as it is on the prestige and resources of Hopkins.

No sir, you are not unpopular in the Hopkins community because you are a conservative.  You are unpopular in the Hopkins community because your comments on evolution and gays evidence a complete rejection of fundamental science as it relates to both subjects.  You are unpopular because your willingness to politically attack President Obama when he joined you in a non-political appearance is, frankly, the act of a coward attacking someone he knew was not in a position to fight back.

And you are additionally unpopular with me, sir, for advocating health savings accounts over health insurance, thinking that people can save for catastrophic expenses with money they often don't have.  How wealthy do you think you would be if you had to depend on payments from such a source?  And how popular do you think you would be with your new buddies in the right-wing echo chamber, in that case.

Right.  I thought so.

You need to buy a mirror and take a long look at it, not to see the color of your skin but to evaluate the content of your character.  As of now, the latter is sadly lacking.  And no amount of looking for non-existent racism is going to save it.

What Makes A "Loser"?

Sometimes, it's a matter of picking your spot for saying it, and then hoping that no one remembers what you said later on.  That appears to be the case with Mitt Romney and Tesla.

I guess it would annoy George Will to find out that, sometimes, we do live long enough to see the vindication of the farsighted.

Verbose "Verbalization"

At last!  Someone besides me who hates the modern tendency to turn as many nouns as possible into verbs.  This trend has impacted me to such a negative degree that it's no reveal to say how much I liked the article.

See what I mean?

What Part Of "Illegal" Do I NOT Understand?

Simple.  The part where people attempt to apply it to human beings.

Like it or not, the phrase "illegal immigrant" accomplished nothing but the demeaning of people whose greatest offense, more often than not, is possessing a love of the United States so great that they are willing to risk prison and deportation for it.  In fact, many of the people described by this perjorative term came to this county in full compliance with the laws for doing so.  And the fact that many of them overstayed their visas is often due to circumstances they could not control.  Moreover, many if not most of them have neither the knowledge to successfully navigate the immigration system, or the funds needing to hire the assistance of counsel for that purpose.

Being an immigrant is a statement about one's identity, not about one's right to be a human being--or, for that matter, to be treated as one.  Are the objects of the "illegal immigrant" epithet on the wrong side of the law?  Without a doubt.  Are they, in some cases, delibrately trying to take advantage of the complexities of our system?  Yes, in a few cases.  But what does it say about our willingness to tolerate those complexities, our failure to give bureaucrats and judges the legal tools to make individual decisions about individuals, that in any way supports the righteous anger embodied in the epithet?  Obeying the law is not just the responsibility of the ruled, but also of the rulers.  In this society, that would be "We the People."

So, before we go any further in including the undocumented among the social scapegoats we use in the avoidance of our own culpability, perhaps we can learn to mentally recapture the humanity we have systematically stripped from them with the words "illegal immigrant."  Perhaps the media can help us to start, and perhaps they already have.

And, in any case, never lose sight of this.  Immigrants, regardless of their status, are many things.  They are workers.  They are taxpayers.  They are employers.  They are parents, children, siblings and spouses.  And, to paraphrase "V for Vendetta," they are you, they are me, they are all of us.

That's the part of "illegal" that I don't understand.  And neither should you.

He's Re-Elected, So What Should Obama Supporters Do Now?

The short answer, and perhaps the most important one, is this:  Take advantage of Obamacare.

Especially take advantage of Obamacare if you're young, and don't think you need health insurance.  Yes, I know you think you're going to live forever, and never be hurt.  But youth is no protector against the unexpected, as this week's events in Boston (and the September 11th attacks) tragically illustrate.  To say nothing of Sandy Hook.  But, as this plea relates to Obamacare itself, it's important to keep in mind that Obamacare, like most health care reform plans, is financially built around economies of scale.  The more people enrolled in health care reform, the more affordable health care is for everyone.

And, when it comes to the uninsured, it turns out that young people account for almost half of their numbers, with boomers and the elderly making up most of the rest.  This means that the majority of the uninsured are, demographically speaking, most likely to be Obama supporters.  Is it any wonder that the Administration is reaching out to them with mass-marketing techniques?  It is doing so because the financial and practical effects of Obamacare depend on enrollment--and because the long-term perspective on the Obama Presidency depends, more than anything else, on the success of Obamacare.

So enroll, already.  You wanted health care reform.  You've got it.  Don't leave it up on the shelf and let the Republicans snatch it away.  Take advantage of it.  Think of how mad it'll make John Boehner and Mitch McConnell when you do.