Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Oh! The Irony

Instead of airing President Obama’s press conference the Fox Network is choosing to Lie To Me tonight. What else is new?

Did Fox ever not air Bush when he was president?

An Endless Limbo Of Injustice

Is torture more important to the United States than justice? The ultimate legacy of the Bush administration has been the redefinition of what it means to be an American. We don’t do justice anymore, we do torture instead. What have we gained from this? Safety? I don’t think so. We have lost our humanity, and gained nothing.

From The Red Cross Torture Report: What it Means by Mark Danner:

That is the central, unanswered question: What was gained? We know already a good deal about what was lost. On this subject President Obama in his 60 Minutes response was typically eloquent:
I mean, the fact of the matter is after all these years how many convictions actually came out of Guantánamo? How many terrorists have actually been brought to justice under the philosophy that is being promoted by Vice President Cheney? It hasn’t made us safer. What it has been is a great advertisement for anti-American sentiment. Which means that there is constant effective recruitment of Arab fighters and Muslim fighters against US interests all around the world…. The whole premise of Guantánamo promoted by Vice President Cheney was that somehow the American system of justice was not up to the task of dealing with these terrorists…. Are we going to just keep on going until the entire Muslim world and Arab world despises us? Do we think that’s really going to make us safer?
This is as clear and concise a summary of the damage wrought by torture as one is likely to get. Torture has undermined the United States’ reputation for respecting and following the law and thus has crippled its political influence. By torturing, the United States has wounded itself and helped its enemies in what is in the end an inherently political war—a war, that is, in which the critical target to be conquered is the allegiances and attitudes of young Muslims. And by torturing prisoners, many of whom were implicated in committing great crimes against Americans, the United States has made it impossible to render justice on those criminals, instead sentencing them—and the country itself—to an endless limbo of injustice. That limbo stands as a kind of worldwide advertisement for the costs of the US reversion to torture, whose power President Obama has tried to reduce by announcing that he will close Guantánamo.

Scared To Death

Fear is an insidious monster. At its worst it can kill. At its best it is merely crippling. Then why is the media peddling fear? We are currently suffering from swine flu "news" overload. Is it doing us any good? Or will more people become sick because of the stress on their immune systems courtesy of your smiling television anchorperson.

From Effects of Stress and Psychological Disorders on the Immune System by David B. Beaton:

Internal factors such as stress have been implicated in causing a deficient immune system because of the nature of the body's response in dealing with this problem. The capabilities of the immune system are diminished after frequent activation of the autonomic nervous system in the case of chronic stresses. The immune system is downgraded to be able to continuously functioning.

In a large study involving parents of both children with cancer and parents with children who were relatively healthy, the results showed that chronic psychological stress might reduce the immune system's reactions to hormonal secretions that were normally used to fight the inflammatory response (Miller, Cohen, & Ritchey, 2002).

Perceived mood also seems to play a role in immune system effectiveness. Having a positive attitude seems to correlate with an increased ability of the immune system in fighting diseases. In cases where patients have exhibited fear before a surgery, they have had a longer healing time afterwards. Correlations were observed in the number of lymphocyte cells and the person's level of optimism.

Cardiovascular diseases are another area where stress could have a negative effect. The natural response of the fight or flight activation mechanism could have a decidedly negative impact on the cardiovascular system. Since the activation of the fight or flight system involves an increase in the heart rate, a frequent activation could increase the possibility of a heart attack or other negative aspect of the disease. Specifically, a study was done in an industrial work environment in which a much higher frequency of cardiovascular mortality was found to correlate with an environment in which there was very little reward incentive (Kivimaki et al., 2002).

Even in relatively less dangerous health problems, mood can have an effect. A study with the common cold and emotions showed that participants with happy emotions exhibited a greater ability to fight off the cold when given a squirt of the rhinovirus (Jones, 2003).

Remember Y2K? Who was responsible for all that hype? Don’t get me wrong, I think that the swine flu is dangerous. However, there is such a thing as reporting the news, and there is such a thing as creating a panic.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Can A Rosary Be Used To Tell People To Shut Up?

From Rosary bawlers silence euthanasia lecturer:

A disturbing new breed of Catholic activists succeeded in stopping a lecture by Prof Len Doyal at Cork University Hospital.

The professor’s attempt to give a talk about euthanasia was called off soon after it had begun, when between 20 and 50 protestors jumped to their feet and began to loudly heckle the speaker. Some chanted the rosary while others accused him of being a “Nazi” and a “murderer”. One protestor shouted threateningly in Doyal’s face.

The emeritus professor of medical ethics at Queen Mary, University of London was escorted from the premises by security staff.
Read the rest here.

“In Reason We Trust”

From More Atheists Shout It From the Rooftops by Laurie Goodstein:

Two months after the local atheist organization here put up a billboard saying “Don’t Believe in God? You Are Not Alone,” the group’s 13 board members met in Laura and Alex Kasman’s living room to grapple with the fallout.

The problem was not that the group, the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry, had attracted an outpouring of hostility. It was the opposite. An overflow audience of more than 100 had showed up for their most recent public symposium, and the board members discussed whether it was time to find a larger place.

And now parents were coming out of the woodwork asking for family-oriented programs where they could meet like-minded nonbelievers.
Read the rest here.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

What You Talkin' 'Bout Sarah?

And I thought that Glenn Beck was incomprehensible. And I thought that George W. Bush had lowered the standards of political discourse to about as low as they could go.

Before we proceed, let’s take a timeout to remind ourselves what the word discourse actually means:

1 archaic : the capacity of orderly thought or procedure : rationality
2 : verbal interchange of ideas ; especially : conversation
3 a: formal and orderly and usually extended expression of thought on a subject b: connected speech or writing c: a linguistic unit (as a conversation or a story) larger than a sentence
4obsolete : social familiarity
5: a mode of organizing knowledge, ideas, or experience that is rooted in language and its concrete contexts (as history or institutions)
I believe it is the Republicans and the Fundamentalists who were responsible for the first definition’s archaicness.

From Help! Mom! There are Liberals Under My Bed! Review by Sarah Churchwell:
As part of her post-election media blitz, attempting to recuperate some political credibility, Palin’s problems with syntax grew so acute that she became spectacularly incoherent. When CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked her if she had any new initiatives she wanted to unveil, Palin’s response was unintelligible:

Gah! Nothing specific right now. Sitting here in these chairs that I’m going to be proposing but in working with these governors who again on the front lines are forced to and it’s our privileged obligation to find solutions to the challenges facing our own states every day being held accountable, not being just one of many just casting votes or voting present every once in a while, we don’t get away with that. We have to balance budgets and we’re dealing with multibillion dollar budgets and tens of thousands of employees in our organizations.
Gah, indeed. I propose chairs, too. Although I’m not sure why.

Christian Torture

It seems to me that many of the people who claim that the founders were Christians are also the same people trying to defend torture. How twisted is that?

Would Jesus torture?

Friday, April 24, 2009


Why does have pages for Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, but none for Jon Stewart?

The Good Book

From Bible:

Many Christians, Muslims, and Jews regard the Bible as inspired by God yet written by a variety of imperfect men over thousands of years. Many others, who identify themselves as Bible-believing Christians, regard both the New and Old Testament as the undiluted Word of God, spoken by God and written down in its perfect form by humans. Still others hold the Biblical infallibility perspective, that the Bible is free from error in spiritual but not scientific matters.
If the Bible is the word of God and is perfect, then why do we need to have hucksters on television telling us over and over again what the damn thing means? Never mind that they also tell us over and over again how much they need our damn money as well.

“Revelations take on a whole new meaning in The Good Book…”

What Has Changed?

As far as I know the Bush/Cheney administration is the only administration in the history of the United States to condone torture. It is the only administration to have its lawyers “fix it” so that torture appears to be legal. Even Saint Ronald McReagan did not officially condone torture.

We went up against Hitler without officially sanctioning torture. We went up against Stalin without officially sanctioning torture. What has changed? Is Osama Bin Laden worse than Hitler and Stalin? Or is it that the Bush/Cheney administration is worse than Hitler and Stalin? After all, Hitler and Stalin never succeeded in destroying the ideals that the United States stands for. Bush and Cheney have come too damn close.

Broken Promises?

Rick Santorum doesn’t like it when Obama does what Bush did, even though Santorum liked it when Bush did it.

From The Elephant in the Room: Following Bush's playbook by Rick Santorum:

In spite of Obama's apology tour in Europe and his inability or unwillingness to defend America against socialist despots at last weekend's Summit of the Americas, most of his administration's national-security decisions have been downright Bushian.

He has almost unilaterally escalated our military presence in Afghanistan. He has launched Predator attacks on al-Qaeda in Pakistan. (Preemption, anyone?) He has found that, just as the Bush administration claimed, Guantanamo meets Geneva Conventions standards. And he has said he would hold the worst enemy combatants captured overseas without trial. And - the greatest broken promise of all - he continues to maintain Bush-like troop levels in Iraq.

Knowing Right From Wrong, Knowing What Works And What Doesn't

The latest right-wing talking point is that torture is immoral, but the “big” question is: Does it work? Supposedly, the right-wing dunderheads think that it does, or that maybe it does. So it was OK that we did it.

What is the next step here. Stealing is immoral, but it works. Murder is immoral, but it works. They get the job done. By the logic of the right-wing dunderheads we all should be stealing and murdering. They get the job done. And that’s all that matters. Right?

Actually, stealing and murder make more sense than torture. They work. They are effective. Torture doesn’t work. It is not effective. No wonder Bush and Cheney like it so much. Remember the last eight years and how effectively they ran the country? Is it any surprise that that the king fuck-ups of all time actually prefer something that doesn’t work?

From Have we really sunk so low as to seriously ask, Does torture work? by P.M. Carpenter:

On the other hand, despite recent revelations that Bush-Cheney's architects were grossly unschooled in the historical background of torture's efficacy in wringing accurate information, they, as reasonably well-educated people, had to understand the simple logic of duress = gibberish.

Why, then, torture? Why extract reams of unreliable information which sends thousands of other operatives scurrying about the globe in futile attempts to nail it down, especially when actionable intelligence was already being extracted through other interrogative means?

Why? I can think of no reason other than nakedly brutal revenge -- a deep-seated animalistic urge to inflict pain for pain caused. True confessions, false confessions, good information or bad information -- all of it, to the architects, at their deepest inhuman level (scarier yet, perhaps all too human), was essentially irrelevant. They just wanted the emotionally primitive satisfaction of savage payback.

Maybe there are throngs of behavioral psychiatrists that would tell me I'm all wet. But I doubt it. So as committees convene and hearings commence in the bewildering pursuit of answering the staggeringly malignant question, Does torture work?, perhaps they should first ask: Why even ask? At its root is sadistic barbarity, which was not, last I looked, a founding principle of this nation to be defended.
From Reclaiming America’s Soul by Paul Krugman:
It’s hard, then, not to be cynical when some of the people who should have spoken out against what was happening, but didn’t, now declare that we should forget the whole era — for the sake of the country, of course.

Sorry, but what we really should do for the sake of the country is have investigations both of torture and of the march to war. These investigations should, where appropriate, be followed by prosecutions — not out of vindictiveness, but because this is a nation of laws.

We need to do this for the sake of our future. For this isn’t about looking backward, it’s about looking forward — because it’s about reclaiming America’s soul.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Now I'm REALLY Pissed At Glenn Beck

This is the worst thing that Glenn Beck has ever done. Because of his Earth Day escapades encouraging chain-saw massacres my brain has become fixated on Beck having sex (I think he is probably incapable of making love) while he fantasizes about chain-saws clear-cutting a massive forest. (Does his wife know that this is what really gets him off?)

Out, I say. Get out of my head NOW!

Damn you, Beck!

Imagine Telling God That You Celebrated Earth Day By Encouraging People To Cut Down Trees

Glenn Beck is one sick, twisted puppy.

From Wikipedia:

Beck also is pro-life, including being opposed to euthanasia and the death penalty, in which he said that he could not "imagine telling God that he lived in a society that decided who should live or not."
Why do the pro-lifers like to kill everything except that of an embryonic nature?

Does Glenn Beck not think that trees are alive? Does Glenn Beck think that we would still be alive if there were no more trees? What the hell does Glenn Beck have against trees for Christ’s sake? Did someone tell him that all trees are socialist, fascist, registered Democrats or something?

If Beck thought that encouraging people to blow up kittens and puppies with dynamite would get him higher ratings, would he do it? What the hell is wrong with this man?

From Village Idiot Glenn Beck Gets a Woody on Earth Day by Kevin K.:
I signed up for the Glenn Beck newsletter yesterday and today my email box is stuffed with stupid:
On Today’s Program
Earth Day!

Glenn takes some callers eager to celebrate Earth Day by cutting down trees live on the air. There’s nothing better than the sound of a good chainsaw blazing away on Earth day. Check out this call from Tim in Cleveland, who is cutting down trees in Ohio.

Mike in Tulsa celebrates Earth Day by running all of his lawn equipment at the same time.
God, I hate these people.

April 22, 2009 - 12:21 ET

This message is brought to you by Evil Conservative Industries…

GLENN: Do we have Tim in Cleveland is a forest manager. He’s cutting down trees today in celebration of Earth Day. Do we have Tim on the phone? Tim, are you there?

CALLER: Yeah, I’m here, Glenn.

GLENN: Hi, how are you?

CALLER: Good, how are you doing?

GLENN: Well, I’m very good. I’m very good. Where are you cutting down trees, sir?

CALLER: I’m in Ashtabula County, Northeast Ohio. It’s a wildlife habitat. My landowner is a big hunter and we’re going through his woods and making a couple of half acre clear cuts and that’s where he will lay in wait for the deer to come. Deer are very curious creatures and they will come and investigate these clear cuts and he’ll shoot them.

GLENN: This is like nirvana here.


GLENN: This is not only going to hack off all the environmentalists but all the PETA people, too.

CALLER: That’s exactly right.

GLENN: So Tim, how come I don’t hear the chainsaws running.

CALLER: I can start it up right now. Do you want to hear it?

GLENN: This is too good to be true. Tim, hang on just a second because I want to savor this moment. Hang on just a second. Let me give our commercial for this half hour and then you start.

CALLER: All right.

GLENN: Stu, this is like Dan, I need Barry White music. This is almost full fledged light some candles, this is eroticism.

STU: I’m just glad it’s so good for the Earth on Earth Day.

GLENN: You say is that and it sounds sarcastic.

STU: It sounds sarcastic? No.

GLENN: Give me a little Barry White on the program, will you?


(Earth Day spoof)

GLENN: That’s right, it is time to go all green. We go back to Tim who is a forest manager. He is cutting down trees in honor of Earth well, not really in honor. We could say in honor of Earth Day, can’t we, Tim.

CALLER: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

GLENN: In honor of Earth Day. That’s fantastic. Are you ready?

CALLER: Yeah, I’m ready.

GLENN: Go ahead.

CALLER: I have to yell “Timber” first.

GLENN: You’ve got to what?

CALLER: I have to yell “Timber” first.

GLENN: Oh, okay. Don’t you do that right before the tree falls?

CALLER: Timber! (Chainsaw starting up).

All done. I laid down an Aspen tree with Glenn’s name on it and an Aspen tree with Stu’s name on it. So you are both involved.

GLENN: That is fantastic. Those are little teeny trees. Don’t you have like a big huge oak or something?

CALLER: No, no, we don’t cut oak. We cut Aspen and stuff like that and we leave behind the good stuff.

GLENN: Well, I’m looking for somebody else that would be willing to cut down the good stuff, you know. They are not American Elms, are?

CALLER: Well, actually they are. Yes, they are.

GLENN: They are? Because I know those are like here in New York City, you go to Central Park, American Elms, those are a big deal because they are almost wiped out and everything else. So I mean, give me another Elm, just give me another American Elm.

CALLER: I want to hear another American Elm? Coming right up. Let me fire this back up.

GLENN: Because they are so loved here in New York City.
My guess is that Beck never gets laid. That would explain a lot, wouldn’t it. Especially if he thinks this is nirvana and the height of eroticism. And that this is what God made Barry White for. Ooo Baby.

Does This Make Any Sense To Anyone?

I’ve been doing the Google concerning Glenn Beck and the raping of Mother Nature as a way of celebrating Earth Day and I came across what follows.

From Glenn not a Christian? by Glenn Beck:

Now, imagine, put yourself in this position. Let's say you are in Saudi Arabia where nobody's ever heard of the trinity. You're a Catholic. Nobody's ever heard of the trinity. What, the trinity? What, it's three in one, they're everywhere and nowhere. Jesus is on the cross but he's really God. So God has died but yet he didn't die and how does this -- imagine you've never heard this before. So you've never heard any kind of explanation. So it works. You know what I mean? You've never heard anybody say, no, no, no, wait, wait, wait, you've got to slow down. She asked me two questions about deep doctrine issues and I had in my ear, 40 seconds. Oh, well, hang on. I've got 40 seconds. Let me explain this to you. You can't explain it in 40 seconds. You can't explain anything of deep philosophical viewpoint or deep theological viewpoint. It took me a year of real studying to be able to understand some of the stuff in all of different doctrines, which leads me to this. Nobody really cares. Nobody really cares.

Look, I've said this before. You have more Jello with stupid carrots in it than you've ever -- I don't even know who came up with Jello and carrots but somehow or another the Mormons did and they're like, "Here, somebody's died, here, have some Jello and carrots." That just makes it worse for me. If you want to know, ask a Mormon. If the media wants to know, why don't you call somebody who, like, actually does this for a living. I hear the Mormons have a university. That's weird. Maybe you should call somebody at the university and talk about their theological doctrine. Have the theological issues taken care of by those people. But see, that's not what it's about. It's about an agenda. It's about an agenda that I'm telling you is going to backfire on the media because if Mitt Romney would get the nomination, Christians will then rally around him and say, whoa, wait a minute, hang on, this looks like it's a persecution of religion because that's exactly what it is.

If I got on the air and I said to you, I'm going to vote for Mitt Romney and I'm going to vote for Mitt Romney because he's a Mormon. Well, wouldn't you think that I'm the dumbest man in America? And you know what, you'd have every right to think that because if I just voted for Mitt Romney because he was a Mormon, I would also have to vote for Harry Reid, and I got news for ya. I ain't ever voting for Harry Reid. I don't care if he is Jack Mormon himself.
I repeat. Does this make any sense to anyone? If it does, could you please explain it to me?

Now, I think that Beck is certifiable. But this is simply weird and incomprehensible, even for Beck. My take on all of this is simply that Beck dropped some acid and the result was Glenn not a Christian?

Inside The Head Of Thomas Friedman

It’s a scary place to be. Apparently Matt Taibbi has taken a fantastic voyage inside the skull of Thomas Friedman so that he could inform of us of how Friedman’s brain works.

From Tom Friedman Strikes Again by Matt Taibbi:

He has these Socratic dialogues in his head between imaginary dream-people who sound like they’ve been forced at gunpoint to conduct a Crossfire-style political debate in a room pumped full of rubber cement fumes.

A Variation On Dumb And Dumber

Call it Dumb and Smarter. While Joe Barton seems determined to show the world how stupid he is, Steven Chu (along with Hilda Solis) wrote an op-ed for Earth Day.

From Building the American Clean Energy Economy by Steven Chu and Hilda Solis:

For decades, while Americans have worked to make a difference in their communities, some politicians in both parties have failed to adequately address the energy crisis, which imperils our economy, our security and our planet. Now, we have a unique and critical opportunity to attack the energy crisis head on and create a comprehensive energy policy that will bolster our economy, end our dependence on foreign oil and reduce the threat of deadly pollution that could devastate our climate.
The path before us is clear, but it will not be easy. To create entire new industries of clean energy jobs, break the stranglehold of foreign oil on our economy and punish the polluters who are devastating our natural resources, we have to be honest about the difficult tasks and hard choices ahead. Our goal must be a clean energy future that works for all Americans, so that we can pass on to our children and grandchildren not just a stronger economy but a cleaner planet.
Chu fills me with hope, Barton fills me with despair. How is it possible for people like Barton to have positions with so much power and influence?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Going Down The Road

If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then where does the road paved with bad intentions lead to?

An Unbeautiful Mind

Is Joe Barton trying to compete with Doug Feith for the title of "the dumbest fucking guy on the planet"?

Barton’s youtube site describes this as “Energy Secretary puzzled by simple question” and “When Rep. Joe Barton asked the Nobel Prize winning Energy Secretary, Dr. Steven Chu, where oil comes from - he got a puzzling answer.”

Yes, all of this is from Barton’s own site, as if he is proud of all of this.

Texas sure knows how to pick the brilliant ones.

I shudder to think what the Republicans will come up with next.

Barton is all atwitter about this.

Barton has now disabled comments at his youtube site. Wonder why he did that? Will it be long before he pulls the video as well?

Happy Earth Day

Make the world a better place. Disobey God. Do not go forth and multiply. Disobey the pope, use a condom. Less people means more earth.

Does God Care If An Apologist Clashes With An Atheist?

From Atheist & apologist debate God’s existence by Michael Farr:

A prominent atheist and a Christian apologist clashed April 4 in a debate titled “Does God Exist?” at Biola University, an evangelical school in La Mirada, Calif., near Los Angeles.

Christopher Hitchens, regarded as a leader of the new atheism movement, went head-to-head with William Lane Craig, a Biola professor regarded as one of the world’s leading religious philosophers. About 4,000 people watched the debate in the university’s gym while an estimated 6,000 others watched it online or from satellite locations around Southern California.

While Craig had the home court advantage, Hitchens didn’t hold back, exhorting, “Emancipate yourself from the idea of a celestial dictatorship and you’ve taken the first step to becoming free.”

But Craig had his rejoinders.

“The fruit of the naturalistic worldview is that mankind is reduced to meaninglessness, valuelessness and purposelessness,” Craig said.
And the fruit of the religious worldview is that it is better to pretend and/or lie that God gives us meaning, value, and purpose. Believe in God, you’ll feel better. How is this different from numbing yourself with drugs or alcohol, or some other fantasy that hides or masks reality?
“We’ve heard attacks upon religion, Christianity impugned, God impugned, Mother Teresa impugned, but we haven’t heard any arguments that God does not exist,” Craig said. “Mr. Hitchens seems to fail to recognize that atheism is itself a worldview, and that it claims alone to be true and all the other religions of the world false. It is not more tolerant than Christianity in respect to these other views.”
Someone should inform Mr. Craig that atheism is not an organized religion. Unlike the religious, atheists make no claim to the truth. Unlike the religious, atheists make no claim to tolerance. We simply believe that there is no deity. An atheist does not need to prove the non-existence of God in order to be an atheist. Or to win any debate concerning atheism. Atheism is not about proving that God does not exist, it is about the absence of proof that God does exist.

I want the next debate to be about my imaginary friend Harvey. Title it: “Does Harvey Exist?”

Let the clashing begin. Harvey won't mind.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tea Parties For Dummies

A picture is worth a thousand words…


Spelling correctly since 1954…

The Lunacy Of The Left?

Karl Rove thinks that the left are lunatics because we try to be humane. Because we believe in “innocent until proven guilty.” Because we know that Bob Dole was not actually torturing himself when he ran for president. (Watch the video.) Because we are not sadistic animals like Rove.

From Now All These (Torture) Techniques Are Ruined! Karl Rove. by Kel:

But Obama's release of these memos has done a quite startling thing. It has forced people like Rove to take to the airwaves and defend what was done. To hear Rove speak of forced nudity, diet management, sleep deprivation and waterboarding is to hear a torturer attempt to defend his own inhumanity.

Aided by O'Reilly, Rove is actually on the record defending torture. Whether or not the right wing ever accept this, the actions they are describing are regarded as torture under international law. Obama is giving them rope and they are wrapping it around their own necks on national television.

Listening to what Rove is saying here is astonishing. If they played this tape in any international court of law there would be no argument as to his guilt, as he is practically confessing to the crime, whilst insisting that the actions which he is describing are not crimes at all.
It may not be torture, but it is hard to watch O’Reilly and Rove here:

O’Reilly criticizing others for their lack of journalistic standards is absurd. It would be laughable if it weren’t actually tragic. Listen to the entire video for two wonderful examples of O’Reilly’s journalistic abilities. He gets Eric Holders first name wrong and he doesn’t know who Richard Armitage is. Are we suppossed to trust O’Reilly with the big facts, if he can’t even get the little facts right?

How can Rove possible use Bob Dole as an example here? Dole was a free man. He was exercising his own free will. Compare that to someone locked up in a hell-hole without knowledge of what will happen to them. Absolutely, completely absurd.

Why are people being given airtime on television and being paid to defend torture? How low we have sunk.

Monday, April 20, 2009

And No, It Would Not Be Socialism, It Would Not Be Fascism

Extremely rich people gambling with other people’s money is what got us into the financial mess we are currently in. I’m in favor of something that would encourage the richest amongst us to invest more wisely, rather than gamble speculatively. And if it helps pay for the mess we are in, all the better.

From The Need to Tax the Wealthy by Dean Baker:

The vast majority of the income gains in the United States over the last three decades have gone to the richest 5% of the population, largely as a result of policies that were explicitly designed to redistribute income upwards. Therefore it is far more appropriate to tax the richest 5%t of families who have prospered than the broad middle class who have suffered.

Of course taxes can be designed in a better or worse manner. The best way to increase taxes on the wealthy, in addition to allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire, would be to apply a modest financial transactions tax (FTT).

There is a long history in both the United States and the rest of the world with FTT. Until 1964, the United States imposed a tax of 0.12% on new stock issues and 0.04% on stock trades. Britain still has a tax of 0.25% on each stock sale or purchase, raising five billion pounds a year. This would be equivalent to roughly $30 billion a year in the American economy.

Robert Pollin and I calculated that a scaled set of FTT on stock, futures, options and other financial instruments could raise approximately $150 billion a year. This would go far towards bringing the long-term budget deficit down to a manageable level.

A FTT would be hugely progressive. While many middle income families own stock, their holdings are dwarfed by the holdings of the wealthy. Furthermore, few middle income families are active traders. Their intention is to hold their stock to support their retirement or their kids' education, not to shuffle it around on a daily or hourly basis. Some mutual funds do engage in frequent trading. An FTT would encourage investors to move their money to funds that are less active traders, thereby allowing them to escape most of the impact of the FTT.

Most of the burden of the FTT will fall on wealthy individuals who are active traders and also on the financial industry itself. Either way, the tax will be overwhelmingly borne by the wealthy. By raising the cost of trading, the tax will discourage the trading that provides the revenue for the financial industry. A well-designed tax should also discourage the creation of exotic assets that may serve little useful purpose, since it could lead to the tax being paid multiple times. For example, the holder of an option on a stock would both pay the tax on the purchase and sale of the option and also on the purchase and sale of the stock itself, if the option was ever exercised.

While most taxes impose some economic cost in addition to the revenue raised, a FTT may actually increase economic efficiency. By discouraging financial transactions that are entirely rent-seeking in nature, a FTT will reduce the resources used up by the financial sector, without affecting at all its ability to serve the productive economy. The reduction in trading volume will of course reduce liquidity to some extent, but American financial markets will still be quite liquid. Even with a 0.25% tax on a stock sale or purchase, transaction costs will still only be raised back to their mid-80s levels. And, the United States had a large and very liquid stock market in the 80s.

There also is a powerful element of justice in imposing a FTT in the current situation. The main reason that the budget situation has deteriorated so much in the last two years has been the damage caused by the irresponsibility and greed of the financial industry. In this way, a FTT can be seen as sort of a user tax, where the industry is effectively forced to pay for some of the damage caused by its practices, just as we might like to tax the output of industries that pollute our air or water.

In short, there is a very good argument for increasing taxes on the wealthy given the current budget situation. The alternative is taxing those who are not wealthy. And, there is no better way to tax the wealthy than to tax their gambling in financial markets. A financial transactions tax will raise revenue at the same time that it makes the economy more productive. This is a genuine win-win situation.

“Cussing! God isn’t real!”

From Anti-atheist prejudice widespread in America by Zac Smith:

Americans find atheists a particularly repugnant minority. According to Gallup, they are more disliked than any other major religious group, with the exception of Scientologists.

Research by Gallup also indicates the majority of Americans would not vote for a well-qualified atheistic presidential candidate. Even a gay candidate, the data suggest, would face less formidable discrimination.

But what is it about atheists that makes the American public revile them so intensely?

To illustrate anecdotally, in 2007, a Sunday-school teacher asked a class of fifth and sixth graders to draw a Christian and a non-Christian. One student drew his Christian as a cheerful-looking man holding a cross and declaring, “I LOVE GOD!!”

His non-Christian was unkempt, tattooed, covered in piercings, holding a bottle of “drugs” in one hand and displaying angry eyebrows. His speech balloon read, “Cussing! God isn’t real!”

This is, to my observation, actually a pretty accurate depiction of the popularly perceived dichotomy between theistic and atheistic character. The atheist is beheld as a hopeless individual roaming a world which, devoid of gods, is without purpose or potential for the morality that would ward him away from swilling down bottles of “drugs.”
Read the rest here.

Question The Existence Of God

From Thomas Jefferson: “Atheist and Leveler From Virginia” by Nick Gier:

As we celebrate Thomas Jefferson's 266th birthday this week, we need to be reminded about what a controversial figure he was. In the election of 1800 he was called "that atheist and leveler from Virginia."

Alexander Hamilton was so committed to preventing "an atheist in religion and a fanatic in politics from getting possession of the helm of state" that he urged New York governor John Jay to block Jefferson's election.

During the 1800 election campaign, rumors were spread that, if elected president, Jefferson would confiscate all the Bibles in the land and replace them with his own version, one in which all references to miracles and the Resurrection were deleted.

Jefferson was convinced that Jesus was a deist just as he was, and that the early Church had added unnecessary supernatural events to his life and teachings.

In a 1801 letter to Moses Robinson Jefferson wrote that "the Christian religion, when divested of the rags in which they have enveloped it, and brought to the original purity and simplicity of its benevolent instructor, is a religion of all others most friendly to liberty, science, and the freest expansion of the human mind."

Jefferson believed the propagation of religious dogma was the cause of much evil in the world, and he was convinced that reason alone could guide the moral life. In a 1787 letter Jefferson had this piece of advice for his nephew Peter Carr: "Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of God."
Read the rest here.

Government By The Few

From the Bill Moyers interview with David Simon:

BILL MOYERS: Are you cynical?

DAVID SIMON: I am very cynical about institutions and their willingness to address themselves to reform. For their willingness to do what they're supposed to do in American life. I am not cynical when it comes to individuals and people. And I think the reason THE WIRE is watchable, even tolerable, to viewers is that it has great affection for individuals. It's not misanthropic in any way. It has great affection for those people. Particularly, when they stand upon their hind legs and say, "I will not lie anymore. I am actually going to fight for what I perceive to be some shard of truth."

You know, over time, people are going to look at THE WIRE and think, "This was not quite as cynical as we thought it was. This was actually a little bit more journalistic than that. They were being blunt. But it was less mean than we thought it was." You know? I think in Baltimore, the initial response to seeing some of this on the air was, "These guys are not fair and they're mean. And they're just out to savage us." And it was written with a great-- it's a love letter to Baltimore.

BILL MOYERS: The reason I ask you if you're cynical is not because you wrote that, I'm going to link our viewers at to a powerful, extemporaneous speech. I can tell it was extemporaneous, because it reads like that. It reads as if your words were just taken down. That you made at-- to the students at Loyola College in Baltimore some years ago. And you said to them, "I want you to go and look up the word 'oligarchy.'" Well, I did just that. I took your advice. I looked it up.


BILL MOYERS: It means "Government by the few. Or a government in which a small group exercises control for corrupt and selfish purposes." Is that what you saw in Baltimore?

DAVID SIMON: I was speaking nationally. But I think that yes. We are a country of democratic ideas and impulses, but it is strained through some very oligarchical structures. You know, one of which could be, for example, the United States Senate. You know, you give me the high-- higher house of a bicameral legislature. And you tell me that 40 percent of the people are going to elect 60 percent of the representatives. And I look upon that as being decidedly undemocratic. Or I look at the Electoral College as being decidedly undemocratic. You know, I don't buy into the notion that one-- one man, one vote is not the most fundamental way of doing business. And ultimately, when I look at you know, for example, the drug war. There are places were the majority of people are now aware that the drug war has been a fraud for 30 years. And yet, because of the dynamics that are put in place that are I think, to an extent oligarchical, because money speaks so strongly in politics...

You know, listen, the only reason that alcohol and cigarettes, which do far more damage than heroine and cocaine, are legal is that white people and affluent white people at that, make money off that stuff. You know? Phillip Morris was-- you know, had-- if those guys had black and brown skin and were-- you know, in the Mexican State of Chihuahua, they'd be hunted. Or maybe not anymore. Maybe they'd be in control of the Mexican State of Chihuahua, that's another story.

But I look at that, and I say, you know, "Yes, this is about, you know, money talks." And the idea that what the most people what is best for the most people, and the utilitarian sense of democracy's supposed to be, that that's still applying in American life. I just don't see a lot of evidence for that.

BILL MOYERS: So, is this what you mean when you say THE WIRE is dissent?

DAVID SIMON: Yes. It is dissent. It is saying-

BILL MOYERS: Against what? From what?

DAVID SIMON: It is saying, "We no longer buy these false ideologies. And false motifs you have of American life." And so I look at this and I think to myself, if only you stand up and say "I'm not going to be lied to anymore." That's a victory on some level, that's a beginning of a dynamic. And, listen, I don't think-- can change happen? Yes. But things have to get a lot worse.

BILL MOYERS: Here's the lead I would put on the body of your work. Your journalism, your articles, your essays, your speeches, your books, your television series, it would be this. "David Simon says America's not working for everyday people who have no power. And that's the way the people with power have designed it to work."

Friday, April 17, 2009

Torturing The Law To Death

From How Obama Excused Torture by Bruce Fein:

Obama has set a precedent whitewashing White House lawlessness in the name of national security that will lie around like a loaded weapon ready for resurrection by any Commander-in-Chief eager to appear “tough on terrorism” and to exploit popular fear.
He also sets a bad example for the rest of us concerning the rule of law. This is a dangerous thing at a time of increased gun sales and shootings.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Small-Business Boogeyman

Do politicians ever tell the truth? Usually when they speak of small businesses and taxes what they really mean is large businesses and taxes.

From The Small-Business Myth:

SMALL BUSINESS is the cute puppy of American tax policy, along with its related breed, the family farm. Invoke small business, and the inevitable response is the policymaking equivalent of awwww, how sweet. Suggest that a proposed change might hurt small business, and you might as well be advocating torturing puppies. Now we like a cute puppy as well as the next editorial board, and we're all for small business, too. But the problem with the way this argument is deployed is that the facts often do not support the claims of harm.

Just recently, the small-business boogeyman came up in the debate over the estate tax -- specifically, whether it is unfair to impose a tax on estates in excess of $7 million per couple (the level this year) or whether the first $10 million of every estate should be exempt from taxation. Predictably, the advocates of the $10 million proposal, Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), raised the small business/family farm canard. "Many have relatively low profit margins and are considered 'wealthy' by the government only because they own expensive equipment or land," they wrote in a letter to The Post.

In fact, nearly all small-business and family-farm estates are already shielded from having to pay estate tax. If the estate tax were kept at its current level, as President Obama advocates, only 430 business or farm estates would owe any tax whatsoever in 2011, according to an estimate by the Brookings Institution-Urban Institute Tax Policy Center. Moreover, it's not true that these estates would be forced to liquidate to come up with enough money to pay the estate tax. At current levels, 13 family farms and 41 family-owned businesses would not have had enough liquid assets to satisfy estate taxes in 2005, according to a study by the Congressional Budget Office. Even these would probably not have to be sold on account of a tax hit, because payments can be spread over a 14-year period.
“… only 430 business or farm estates would owe any tax whatsoever in 2011…”

I wish politicians would run on something other than taxes. Then they may actually have to think and do something. I’m glad to see the Washington Post publish this.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Wilderness Of The World

From The End of Christian America by John Meacham:

Meanwhile, the number of people willing to describe themselves as atheist or agnostic has increased about fourfold from 1990 to 2009, from 1 million to about 3.6 million. (That is about double the number of, say, Episcopalians in the United States.)

While we remain a nation decisively shaped by religious faith, our politics and our culture are, in the main, less influenced by movements and arguments of an explicitly Christian character than they were even five years ago. I think this is a good thing—good for our political culture, which, as the American Founders saw, is complex and charged enough without attempting to compel or coerce religious belief or observance. It is good for Christianity, too, in that many Christians are rediscovering the virtues of a separation of church and state that protects what Roger Williams, who founded Rhode Island as a haven for religious dissenters, called "the garden of the church" from "the wilderness of the world." As crucial as religion has been and is to the life of the nation, America's unifying force has never been a specific faith, but a commitment to freedom—not least freedom of conscience. At our best, we single religion out for neither particular help nor particular harm; we have historically treated faith-based arguments as one element among many in the republican sphere of debate and decision. The decline and fall of the modern religious right's notion of a Christian America creates a calmer political environment and, for many believers, may help open the way for a more theologically serious religious life.
Have all the Christians left the building, flew the coop, and abandoned ship? I don’t think so.

I also don’t think that religion is crucial to the life of the nation. (Must the media sensationalize everything?) I do think that “America's unifying force has never been a specific faith, but a commitment to freedom—not least freedom of conscience.” Several Christians like to lie, and claim that we are a Christian nation, and that we were founded as such. We are not a Christian nation. Our founders did not found the country as a Christian nation. We are, however, supposed to be about freedom and equality. Where is the freedom if everyone must be a Christian in order to be an American? In other words, to be an American means believing that freedom takes precedence over religion. Not the other way around.

I’ve been in “the garden of the church.” I prefer “the wilderness of the world.” And freedom.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

William Black

From William Black: "There Are No Real Stress Tests Going On" by Yves Smith:

By way of background, William Black is a former senior bank regulator, best known for his thwarted but later vindicated efforts to prosecute S&L crisis fraudster Charles Keating. He is currently an Associate Professor of Economics and Law at the University of Missouri - Kansas City.

More germane for the purpose of this post, Black held a variety of senior regulatory positions during the S&L crisis.He managed investigations with teams of examiners reporting to him, redesigned how exams were conducted, and trained examiners.

Via e-mail, he has confirmed our suspicions about the bank stress tests announced by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner: they simply cannot be adequate, given the number and experience of the staff, and perhaps as important, their relationship with the banks…
Read the rest here.

From William K. Black on The Prompt Corrective Action Law by William K. Black:
My comments in the Bill Moyers Journal interview about the “Prompt Corrective Action” (PCA) law (adopted in 1991) have sparked considerable comment in the blogsphere. Here is the portion of the interview transcript that discusses the PCA law.

WILLIAM K. BLACK: Well, certainly in the financial sphere, I am. I think, first, the policies are substantively bad. Second, I think they completely lack integrity. Third, they violate the rule of law. This is being done just like Secretary Paulson did it. In violation of the law. We adopted a law after the Savings and Loan crisis, called the Prompt Corrective Action Law. And it requires them to close these institutions. And they're refusing to obey the law.

BILL MOYERS: In other words, they could have closed these banks without nationalizing them?

WILLIAM K. BLACK: Well, you do a receivership. No one -- Ronald Reagan did receiverships. Nobody called it nationalization.

BILL MOYERS: And that's a law?

WILLIAM K. BLACK: That's the law.

BILL MOYERS: So, Paulson could have done this? Geithner could do this?

WILLIAM K. BLACK: Not could. Was mandated-

BILL MOYERS: By the law.

WILLIAM K. BLACK: By the law.

I first published an article about the PCA law over a month ago entitled: “Why is Geithner Continuing Paulson’s Policy of Violating the Law?” (February 23, 2009).
Read the rest here.

Friday, April 3, 2009

More Of The Sarah Palin Soap Opera

Again, what was McCain thinking?

From Todd Palin's half-sister arrested for burglary:

Todd Palin’s half-sister was arrested Thursday after police say she broke into a Wasilla home for the second time this week to steal money.

Palin is the husband of Gov. Sarah Palin. He declined comment.

Diana Palin, 35, entered a home near Wasilla’s Multi-Use Sports Complex and attempted to steal cash from the owner’s bedroom, police said.

She also broke into the same house on Tuesday and stole $400, they said.

If Only This Were True

I think that a more secular America would be a very good thing.

From Obama's 'war against churches and charities' by Jim Brown:

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich says President Obama's plan to raise taxes on upper-income earners is designed to create bigger government and a more secular America.

Obama Sounding Pretty Good To Me

From Transcript: G-20 News Conference By President Obama:

I just think in a world that is as complex as it is, that it is very important for us to be able to forge partnerships as opposed to simply dictating solutions. Just a -- just to try to crystallize the example, there's been a lot of comparison here about Bretton Woods. "Oh, well, last time you saw the entire international architecture being remade." Well, if there's just Roosevelt and Churchill sitting in a room with a brandy, that's a -- that's an easier negotiation. (Laughter.) But that's not the world we live in, and it shouldn't be the world that we live in.

And so that's not a loss for America; it's an appreciation that Europe is now rebuilt and a powerhouse. Japan is rebuilt, is a powerhouse. China, India -- these are all countries on the move. And that's good. That means there are millions of people -- billions of people -- who are working their way out of poverty. And over time, that potentially makes this a much more peaceful world.

And that's the kind of leadership we need to show -- one that helps guide that process of orderly integration without taking our eyes off the fact that it's only as good as the benefits of individual families, individual children: Is it giving them more opportunity; is it giving them a better life? If we judge ourselves by those standards, then I think America can continue to show leadership for a very long time.

Altered States

From Why Legalizing Marijuana Makes Sense by Joe Klein:

For the past several years, I've been harboring a fantasy, a last political crusade for the baby-boom generation. We, who started on the path of righteousness, marching for civil rights and against the war in Vietnam, need to find an appropriately high-minded approach to life's exit ramp. In this case, I mean the high-minded part literally. And so, a deal: give us drugs, after a certain age — say, 80 — all drugs, any drugs we want. In return, we will give you our driver's licenses. (I mean, can you imagine how terrifying a nation of decrepit, solipsistic 90-year-old boomers behind the wheel would be?) We'll let you proceed with your lives — much of which will be spent paying for our retirement, in any case — without having to hear us complain about our every ache and reflux. We'll be too busy exploring altered states of consciousness. I even have a slogan for the campaign: "Tune in, turn on, drop dead."
Read the rest here.

Quote Of Note - Hervey Allen

“Were it not for the magnificent eccentrics, society, like a community of insects, would crystallize forever in the ignoble efficiency of caste.” Hervey Allen