Friday, March 29, 2013

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Arbitration: A lose/lose for consumers

One of my favorite Texans (and that’s a very small group) Jim Hightower writes a long, devastating critique of the arbitration clauses that are now a mandatory part of so many contracts we sign on a regular basis. Hidden deep in the fine print when we apply for a credit card, purchase an item or sign up for a service, very few of us even know these clauses exist until there is a problem, and then it’s too late.

Arbitration has been sold to us by companies and pro-business organizations as a fairer, faster and less cumbersome alternative to litigation, but in reality these clauses are a “Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free” card for corporations who, surprise, almost always come out on top. Hightower provides background on the slow and insidious way that corporate America rigged the system and left consumers virtually helpless when it comes to getting justice. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Current Affairs Quiz

It’s time to play, “Guess the real headline.” They say truth is stranger than fiction, but who are “they” and why don’t they identify themselves? Anyway, one of the headlines below is the real deal, ripped from today’s news. The others will probably be real headlines in a day or two. For successfully identifying the authentic headline, a toothless hermit living in a Bavarian cave will light a candle in your honor.

  1. North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un Says He Will Start WWIII If Adam Sandler Does Not Receive An Honorary Academy Award
  2. Tea Party Boycotting FOX News for Being Too Liberal
  3. Rick Perry Appoints Himself President of Texas
  4. NRA Claims Guns Don’t Kill People, Bullets Do
  5. Chicago Cubs Preseason Pick to Win It All
  6. Ford Is Bringing Back the Edsel

(If you picked number 2, you spend too much time internetting)

Monday, March 25, 2013

Batty Bachmann Behaving Badly

Minnesota’s favorite loon, Congressperson Michele Bachmann, is facing a congressional ethics probe. The article in today's Daily Beast offers a laundry list of accusations being leveled against Bachmann from people who worked on her recent presidential campaign.

Shit happens when you live in an alternate universe. Confusing right-wing propaganda and slurs with facts, the Tea Party Darling is a living legend when it comes to jaw-dropping misstatements and hallucinatory pronouncements. If you have heard only a fraction of the ludicrous, fact-challenged utterances from Bachmann over the years, you know that she is a proud member of the unreality-based world. So it should come as little surprise that she would ignore the rules and regulations of a reality that she does not acknowledge.

One can only hope she is ultimately saved from herself and admitted to an institution that is equipped to deal with people who are untethered from the existence in which most of us find ourselves. Congress, unfortunately, is filled with far too many enablers.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Who are the adults in the room?

One of the interesting tendencies of many on the far right is to portray themselves as the adults (read “patriarchs”) in the room, while liberals and progressives are the noisy children with their heads stuck forever in the clouds. Limbaugh, Hannity, O’Reilly et. al and countless Republican politicians have all used this metaphor at one time or another as a way of framing themselves as (to use Krugman’s words) Serious People.

The problem is, when you look at the evidence, a thing Serious People don’t have the time or inclination to do, you find that the metaphor doesn’t really pan out. Surprise, surprise. No. In fact, when it comes to childlike behavior, well, you know where I’m going with this. Ask yourself who more often displays these traits, the Loony Left or our friends on the far right edge of the scale.

  • The schoolyard bully: Derides you if you don’t agree with him. If you prove him wrong, he becomes irrationally angry and hurls threats and insults. Likes to intimidate people. Believes violence is an acceptable way to settle disputes.
  • The kid who claims he’s going to hold his breath until he gets what he wants: Doesn’t listen to reason, he only wants what he wants when he wants it. Won’t accept any alternative to what he feels he deserves. Sees himself as the center of the universe and his desires as more important than anyone else’s.
  • The kid who laughs loudest when someone trips and hurts themselves: He lacks empathy and has a child’s sense of humor, which is broad slapstick that usually involves somebody getting hurt or embarrassed. Doesn’t have the intellectual capacity to appreciate subtlety or satire.
  • Teacher’s pet: Slavishly worships authority. Will do or say whatever it takes to ingratiate himself with the person in charge. Has no moral compass, and will side with authority figures almost without question.
  • The snotty rich kid: Feels those who are not rich are beneath him and deserve what they get. Refuses to believe that there are real-world obstacles that keep people poor and powerless. Only rarely says it out loud, but believes the majority of people are lazy and unmotivated and that he deserves what he as acquired because he is more gifted than most.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Here we go again. This time it's Syria.

On the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, a totally unnecessary war that cost thousands of American lives, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives and trillions of dollars, we have a cadre of armchair generals in the Capital (both Republicans and Democrats) calling for America to intervene militarily in Syria based on second-hand reports of rebels using chemical weapons. Some are already calling for boots on the ground.

Jesus H. Christ. Where do these morons come from? Why are they in positions of power? Why do we keep sending soulless, callous, clueless dolts to Washington to vote on matters of life and death? No country that continues voting for people like Michele Bachmann, Lindsey Graham, and yes, even Dianne Feinstein, can stand the test of time.

Our elected officials seem determined to keep us in a state of never-ending war, constantly sending young men and women off to a jungle or a desert to die or be maimed for life to satisfy the blood lust of a fading empire and war profiteers who are already rolling in piles of gold.

I make a modest, but serious, proposal. Any elected official in congress who votes for war or any military action involving violence must either a) have served in the military or b) have an immediate family member serving in the military. They are so anxious to send off faceless, nameless Americans to die in foreign countries, maybe, just maybe, they might be a bit more reflective and cautious if they were involving someone they loved in the bloodshed.

It will never happen, but maybe someone has a better way to stop the war madness that plagues America’s elites. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Ten Years After

On the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, this is Donald Rumsfeld's Twitter post for today:

"10 yrs ago began the long, difficult work of liberating 25 mil Iraqis. All who played a role in history deserve our respect & appreciation."

Thanks Donald. Here's what you deserve:

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Beyond Atheism

They say as you grow older you tend to become more religious. This makes some sense as one draws closer and closer to life’s exit door. I’m just the opposite. Organized religion looks more and more childish to me as time passes and I wonder how anyone with any education can really believe such contradictory and unsubstantiated nonsense as that found in the Bible, Koran, etc. Religions are basically collections of stories, many of which have been passed down from the dawn of human consciousness. These stories are attempts to explain the unexplainable and ease the terror of those living in a world that on the surface makes very little sense.

 The questions are profound. Why do we die? Is death final? Why do good people fail and bad people prosper? Why must we suffer so much? Does life have any meaning? We still have no answers to these questions, but we do have stories, and if you believe they are true, they provide structure to the universe. God created us. Yes we die, but after our physical bodies fail, our spirits go somewhere else that is wonderful. In that spiritual world, good people are rewarded and bad people are punished. Life does have meaning if you follow God’s rules.

Comforting stories, but stories nonetheless filled with magic and contradictions. For instance, we are told in the Bible that Adam and Eve were the first man and woman, the seeds of the human race. They had two sons. Think about that. Make sense? It’s an origin story and there are hundreds more like it from different cultures and parts of the world. Stories of a great flood predate the Bible. Noah and the ark? Forget about it. So does rejecting organized religion make me an atheist? Not really.

I think science is slowly leading us to the realization that there are other realities that exist beyond, or perhaps alongside, the one which we experience. Just think about the past 100 years and the new worlds we have discovered from black holes to DNA to subatomic particles to the recent confirmation of the Higgs Boson, the so-called God Particle. We’ve unlocked all of these previously mysterious worlds in a mere century of scientific research. Think what the next century will bring.

What animates living things? Some call it a soul or spirit, but I call it energy. We exist in an animated form for 70 or 80 years and then we die, our physical bodies wear out, entropy, and our energy leaves our corporal being. The promising part of this scenario is that science tells us that energy cannot be created or destroyed, but only take another form, so the energy that animates us when we are alive is not destroyed when we die, but merely takes another form. It’s possible that our energy simply dissipates into the universe, but it is also possible it exists in another reality. Based on the trajectory of scientific discoveries, I think we will someday come to the realization that our reality is only one of many that exist in time and space.

Ironically, science is taking me beyond atheism. I don’t make any claims to know what exists beyond our own reality—no streets paved with gold or 72 virgins at my beck and call, and I think at this point it is unknowable, but I am growing convinced that our energy, that thing which animates us, exists beyond our physical death in some state. It doesn’t seem implausible to me anymore, but then, that exit sign is closer today than it was yesterday.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Crystal Ballz

I got an email today from something called Gold Psychics offering me a free opportunity to ask a psychic a question. I wrote back saying, “The answer is 32. What is the question?” Haven’t gotten a response yet.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Drones Over Peoria?

In the aftermath of 9/11, the Bush administration began asserting the need for a stronger executive branch (dusting off their “unitary executive” theory) under the guise of the threat of terrorism. A president needed to act quickly and decisively to protect the country from another devastating terrorist attack, they argued, and, according to Cheney, Bush and Rumsfeld, that meant giving the president new powers to capture and kill real and potential threats to the U.S. So over the remaining years of his Administration, Bush, with the help of the Patriot Act and the Homeland Security Act, assumed, more power to act unilaterally, resulting in Guantanamo Bay and black sites worldwide.

Of course, Bush’s second term ended in 2008 and a new President was elected. Unfortunately, the powers that Bush’s team coopted in the heat of a terrorist attack were quickly adopted by the new President, Barack Obama. And what would you expect? If you were the CEO of a company and your board of directors gave you sweeping new powers, would you, as the new CEO, rescind those powers? Probably not. One thing rulers are loathe to do is give up powers that they have. So fast forward to today, and you have the announcement that the Obama Administration believes it can use lethal force against American citizens on American soil under certain circumstances. This means if the President feels you are a threat, he can use drones to wipe you out. In Peoria or Denver or New Orleans. No arrest. No trial. No due process. Just “boom,” you’re dead.

Now Barack Obama seems like a sensible guy, and I’m sure others in his administration are just as sane and mentally stable as he is. They have all convinced themselves, and are trying to convince us, that of course no one is going to have to order the bombing of a house in Peoria. We’re sensible, rational people. You can trust us.

Uh, no we can’t. And that is why we have a Constitution. The Constitution is supposed to be our (the people’s) safeguard against the accumulation of too much power in the hands of too few leaders. That was the point of creating three branches of government as opposed to simply appointing a President (or king) to rule as he or she saw fit. Thanks to Bush and his posse of neocons, we now have an executive branch that thinks it has the power to be judge, jury and executioner under certain circumstances. And they get to determine the circumstances.

While Obama may be reasonable, what about the next President or the next? What if we elected a shoot-first-ask-questions-later cowboy like Rick Perry? Do you want him deciding who’s a threat to America and who isn’t? During the Occupy movement’s brief kerfuffle, the FBI categorized them as a terrorist group. The potential for abuse here is massive.

Defenders of the drone decision like to use hypothetical situations as evidence that the President needs this power. What about a guy strapped with explosives walking into a football stadium? That kind of thing. We are a nation of laws. The police already have the power and authority to stop a madman from hurting others, either by arresting him or, if the threat is imminent, shooting him. If there are people plotting terrorist attacks, they should be arrested and tried. Let the justice system determine their guilt and punishment, not a small cadre of government employees in a White House office.

The drone decision is frightening in its implications and we should all be letting Washington know that it is an unacceptable abuse of executive power.