Thursday, June 28, 2012

Why Johnny can’t think

The cat is finally out of the bag. If any of you were under the illusion that Republicans and Democrats simply had differing views on education policy in America, Texas Republicans have finally explained out loud the party’s real motives in attacking public education in this country: It inspires children to think.

What? Wait a second, you say. Isn’t that the whole point of an education, to help people learn to think? Not according to the Texas Republican delegates who met in Fort Worth recently to approve their 2012 platform. Amid a slew of Draconian proposals aimed at education reform, including instituting corporal punishment, Texas conservatives added a statement opposing the teaching of “higher order thinking skills,” because they might challenge, “student’s fixed beliefs” and undermine “parental authority.”

So, Texas Republicans don’t want children to actually think. For anyone who has paid attention over the years, it’s been clear that this was the ultimate endgame of the conservative approach to education all along, it was just never stated so plainly and obviously. Conservatives want children to be indoctrinated, not educated. Critical thinking skills are a threat to blind obedience; hence, they need to be discarded.

Even the age-old canard that public education indoctrinates children with liberal ideas is thrown under the bus by this group. They don’t want young people to have an opportunity to “choose” conservative values over liberal values; they don’t want them to have any choice at all. This is, of course, telling as to how they perceive the strength of their arguments in the marketplace of ideas.

There have been plenty of jokes made over the years comparing America’s Christian Right to the Taliban, but I’ve stopped laughing. Every time they feel emboldened to say what they actually believe as opposed to what they think is politically acceptable, I hear a brand of extremism that is determined to turn a first-world superpower into a third-world theocracy.

One of the enduring quotes from the Vietnam War is, “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.” This seems to be the driving philosophy of the Religious Right in America in the twenty-first century. The biggest threat to this country doesn’t come from Afghanistan or China or Cuba, but from the daises and pews of conservative Christian churches across the United States.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Fishing With Cats

Here’s a quick tip for any single man out there who still clings to the romantic notion that you’ll bump into your life’s love while squeezing cantaloupes at the supermarket or riding the express bus to work in the morning. Consider this advice supplemental to your online dating service and hanging out in front of Victoria’s Secret at the mall on weekends.

Every guy has tried or thought about trying “Puppy Fishing.” You acquire (buy, borrow or pick up one loitering around a local trash bin) a puppy, leash it, and troll (not “lurk,” but troll) nearby parks or jogging trails. This technique has merit and has proven successful for some, but I propose a slight variation. Cats.

After visiting a state park recently on vacation, I came across a guy with a large grey and white cat on a leash. He had drawn a significant crowd. This was a place where dogs were allowed and there were plenty of people parading around their labs and collies, but the cat guy was clearly the center of attention.

Start by being honest with yourself. Are you a cat or dog person? If you’re a dog person, that’s one thing. But if you’re a cat person and you troll with a dog, you are going to attract the wrong species — a dog lover. So don’t be shy about exploiting your cat. It lies around all day sleeping and licking its ass, so why not put the little ingrate to good use? It could probably use the exercise.

Some might be nervous about the “manliness” factor involved in strolling around public places with a cat in tow, but I think it is negated by the uniqueness of the event. It demonstrates that you’re not afraid to show your feline side, and that can be an attractive thing to some women.

Be warned however, that this approach does not translate to other pets. Walking your weasel, ferret, tarantula or rat for the purpose of attracting the opposite sex is not recommended. The danger is that you might actually catch something. If this should happen, throw it back immediately. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Nailed it, Google

Found this in my Google search, "photos confused people."

Fact or Fiction? It’s Hard to Tell These Days.

America is in decline. Many people, both left and right, would agree with this. When you ask what the reasons are for the decline, however, responses will be all over the board, from gay marriage to the Federal Reserve to The New World Order. So how do we come to any kind of consensus on the problem when there are as many answers as there are blogs on the Internet?

Back in the old days, or maybe it was just a dream I had, we used to rely on facts to lead us to solutions. We sifted through the known data and then made decisions based on what the information was telling us. That approach is not how we deal with things in 2012. Today, ideology, superstition and corporatism have replaced debate and consensus. Simple facts are now disputed. Genuine solutions are attacked as ideological assaults. Common sense is questioned if it does not fall into line with the religious doctrine popular at the moment. A fog of obfuscation hangs over this country.

Perhaps there is no such thing as a totally objective fact, but in order for this country to avoid total paralysis and make policy decisions and move forward, we have to select, and agree on, some set of data in order to even say, “Here’s a problem that needs to be addressed.” Then comes the even more difficult task of coming up with a solution. So is there objective data out there that points to a serious problem that exists in this country; data that isn’t from a political think tank or corporate PR agency? In my opinion (and yes, I admit I am a biased observer) there is, and it reveals a crucial problem that needs to be addressed: Income disparity and the destruction of America’s middle class.

Of course, here’s the real problem. The data may conflict with your ideology. So the million-dollar question is this: Is there a problem with the facts or does your ideology need adjusting to accommodate the facts? At least ask yourself that question.

Here are the facts. Decide for yourself.

Friday, June 08, 2012

O Democrats, where art thou?

I’ve been arguing for decades that one of the primary problems with Democrats is that they continuously allow Republicans to define the terms of debate on too many issues. When you look at how we discuss issues related to the economy, national security, the drug war, capitalism, religion, you name it, Democrats take their cues from Republicans, defining their views in relationship to conservative ideology, rather than the broader aspects of the argument in relationship to what’s actually right for America.

I came across a perfect example of this on the website of Jim Graves, a democrat who is challenging Michelle Bachmann for Minnesota’s sixth district Congressional seat.

In the section, “Why I am running to represent the 6th District,” Graves begins with the obligatory pap about being “a successful businessman with the know-how to create jobs.” Okay. Jobs and the economy are important issues. Then we work our way down to the second paragraph on why Graves wants to replace Bachmann in Congress. He wants Bachmann’s job because she is part of the “inflexible extreme,” a bland euphemism for lunatic fringe, and that her comments have made her “a national media phenomena,” again, a weak, wishy-washy way of saying she’s made Minnesota a laughing stock in political circles.

As we read on, we go from flaccid political euphemisms into the fantasy world of bipartisanship. Graves writes, “What the people of the District need in Washington is someone who can get along with members of both parties so that the District is truly represented.” Right. I can only assume that Graves has been living in a cave on the banks of the St. Croix River for the past four years without access to electronic devices of any kind. As President Obama has learned through painful experience, there is no such thing as bipartisanship in Washington, D.C. in 2012. Republicans won’t have it. They’d rather have their faces eaten off by bath-salt crazed zombies than spend five minutes at a table negotiating with Democrats. Graves goes on to say, “It is time we come together and mount a unified response to our economic crisis.” There are only two ways to analyze this sentence. 1) Graves is spewing hackneyed campaign jargon because that’s what he thinks his constituents want to hear, or 2) he is going to vote with Republicans. Hell will freeze over, thaw out, and freeze over again before there is a “unified response to our economic crisis.”

And now we are into the fourth paragraph, and here is were the thirty years of hard work on the part of Republican message-crafters Lee Atwater, Frank Luntz, Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, Grover Norquist, Roger Ailes, Karl Rove and others, really starts paying off. Let’s look at some of the lowlights:

Government has a role to play in society, but it should be limited to what citizens cannot do for themselves.”  This sentence acknowledges and agrees with a fundamental cornerstone of conservative ideology: The only good government is a small, unobtrusive government. Never mind Roosevelt’s New Deal, Brown v. Board of Education, the Civil War, women’s suffrage, environmental protections, etc. Never mind the great government-sponsored scientific and technological breakthroughs of the fifties and sixties. Never mind that almost every citizen in this country benefits in one way or another from government subsidies. As Reagan said, “Government isn’t the solution. It’s the problem,” and that’s good enough for Republicans and weak, opportunistic Democrats.

“I believe that the free market makes better decisions than politicians.” Here is another line that could be lifted directly from Karl Rove’s Playbook. First and foremost, free markets are not, nor have they ever been, truly free. Secondly, the implication here is that government needs to stand out of the way and let the markets do their thing. Well, we’ve already seen how well that works. Remember 2008? Rules and regulations on business practices are necessary and can often mark the line between life and death, when you consider the importance of work place safety and food inspections. The only constraint the free market has is the bottom line. It’s government that bears the responsibility of looking after the health and safety of the American people, and Republicans don’t even like that role.

“I also believe government must balance its budget and my solution is to end the blame game and start working together.” Again with the bipartisanship. But the eye-roll inducing line here is “government must balance its budget.” First of all, in 1999, George Bush inherited a balanced budget and started charging on the U.S. credit card immediately, running up a deficit of a half-trillion dollars by the time he left office in 2009. This is one of the Republican’s favorite “Do as I say not as I do” tropes. For years, Republicans have argued that we should run the country like a successful business. Unfortunately, that is comparing apples to oranges. The government is not in the business of running a profit. It is in the business of running a country, where the needs of the people should trump the bottom line. A balanced budget is a good thing, but it is not paramount over the well being of this country’s citizens. Just look at what is happening to Europe as it sinks deeper into economic stagnation as its leaders doggedly continue pushing fiscal austerity in the name of balanced budgets.

There’s more in Graves’ writing to prove my point. The reality is crystal clear. Democrats have to grow a pair. They have to start standing up and stating what they do believe in as Democrats. They have to reestablish the parameters of the debate and put Republicans back on the defensive where they belong. Poll after national poll indicates that the American people are far more tolerant and progressive than we are lead to believe by the media. It just takes some courage to tap into that vein of voters. The process should begin with the new crop of Democrats running for office, but, if Jim Graves is an example, we may have to wait until next season. 

Wednesday, June 06, 2012


The most discouraging aspect of Scott Walker’s victory in the Wisconsin recall election is the message it sends to other conservative candidates that the voting public is truly as clueless and gullible as they had hoped, and that with huge amounts of money, you can count on swaying enough people to vote against their best interests.

Look at those eyes. Are those the eyes of a sane man?