Friday, February 27, 2015
Dawn of Man.
“All of a sudden this guy just jumps out of a tree and starts running across the Veldt on two legs. I scribbled my thoughts on a stone, but someone picked up the damn thing and threw it at the running guy.”
Crucifixion of Christ.
“It was a moment all journalists face at some point in their careers. Do I record the event or do I intervene? I decided it was more important that the rest of the world hear this amazing story than get stabbed by a spear. Those Roman soldiers didn’t play around.”
The American Revolution.
“I was embedded with colonial troops under the command of William Prescott at Bunker Hill. We put up a valiant effort against the pesky Brits, but eventually had to retreat. That’s what I was told, as I had retreated to the Cock and Hound pub earlier to gather my faculties.”
The Civil War.
“Bullets whizzed by me as I crouched behind a tree stump at Gettysburg. Fortunately, General Grant was hiding with me and I got one of the best interviews of my life. He was drunk, of course, but so damn genuine.”
World War I.
“I was in the trenches on the Western Front. The Germans were lobbing grenades and insults from a nearby position when I suddenly found myself at the wrong end of a bayonet. Fortunately, it was one of our guys accusing me of being a coward. When I explained I was a journalist covering the war, he laughed so hard and so loud he was picked off by a German sniper.”
World War II.
“Although I covered the war from a fortified bunker in Manhattan, I can tell you that I saw pictures of dead and wounded soldiers that would rip your heart out. I wrote a dispatch about one of my tears falling on a grainy photo taken at the Battle of the Bulge.”
Watts, Selma, Vietnam, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan…yeah, that’s right. O’Reilly was there!
Thursday, February 26, 2015
Just a short note urging you to read an article in today’s Salon; “Why the Right Hates American History,” written by Thom Hartmann. It’s a lengthy, but accessible article that looks at why education is so important to the health of American democracy, and why Republicans fear an informed citizenry and are waging a war on education. One of the more interesting points that Hartmann makes, and one that every American should understand, is this:
The Declaration, the writings of many of the Founders and Framers, and no shortage of other documents made amply clear the Founders’ and the Framers’ sentiments that human rights were solely the province of humans, and that governments don’t grant rights but, rather, that in a constitutionally limited democratic republic We, The People—the holders of the rights—grant to our governments whatever privileges our government may need to function (while keeping the rights for ourselves).
This is the fundamental difference between kingdoms, theocracies, feudal states, and a democratic republic. In the former three, people must beg for their rights at the pleasure of the rulers. In the latter, the republic derives its legitimacy from the people, the sole holders of rights.
That’s the theory at any rate. Read the article, it’s illuminating.
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
There’s a shocking story that came out yesterday about the Chicago Police Department using an unmarked warehouse called Homan Square on the West Side to hold certain suspects without arrest, without charges being filed and with no access to an attorney. It is essentially a CIA-like “black site” where cops could hold and interrogate someone without putting that person into the criminal justice system.
You’ll find an excellent article in the Guardian about Homan Square here, that provides a much more in-depth look at this unconstitutional travesty.
My first thought is, if Chicago has a place like Homan Square, isn’t it reasonable to assume that other large city police forces have similar facilities? Can Chicago be the only one? I doubt it.
As people interviewed in the article say, it sounds as if Homan Square was modeled after CIA black site interrogation facilities in the Middle East, although the practice of taking suspects “off site” for interrogations has been going on as far back as the 1970s. Why haven’t we heard about this before? One, the practice is generally reserved for poor people of color who are essentially voiceless in America. Two, those people detained at Homan Square understood that if they did talk about it, they could be taken back and disappeared.
Finally, this is one more glaring example of the militarization of America’s police forces. From combat gear to armored vehicles to black sites for off-the-record interrogations, the lines between keeping the peace and a police state grow blurrier by the day.
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Some are saying that Bill O’Reilly lied about his past, claiming he was in life-threatening war-time situations as a journalist when he wasn’t. I find this hard to swallow. How can a man who maintains such sterling moral standards, who is an example to everyone of sincere compassion and tolerance, who epitomizes the humble humanitarian, be a liar? This makes no sense.
The Bill O’Reilly I know is a man of unquestionable honor and decency, one of the good guys on cable TV. He’s known throughout the industry as an interviewer who treats his guests with the utmost respect, allowing for a free and open discussion of all viewpoints, even those with which he disagrees. And his fact checking is vigorous and goes far beyond industry standards. It’s a rare day at FOX when O’Reilly gets something wrong.
And when O’Reilly champions an issue, you know it is one of great importance to the country he loves with all his heart. Unlike others who will remain nameless, this humble host would never dredge up controversy where there was none before, or blow up minor issues into worldwide battles pitting good against evil. That’s just not who he is.
Now under attack from liberal extremists, O’Reilly is handling the controversy in his usual steady handed way, keeping calm and under control, while his enemies hurl their lies and insults. Stoic, standing tall and proud against the tide of accusations, Bill O’Reilly is without question a profile in courage.
Monday, February 23, 2015
Most of us have been in this position before. You’re in a discussion with someone and it’s about a matter that is very important to you. You argue one side, she argues the other. At some point, it dawns on you that your argument is actually flawed, and that she is right. You have two choices; you can stop and admit you were wrong. Ha! Might happen if you’re arguing over which brand of cream cheese to buy, but if it’s a topic that you are passionate about, that is deeply embedded in who you are as a person, you will most likely press ahead, getting more heated as the clash continues and your position crumbles like a matchstick house in an earthquake.
If you expand this situation to a much larger scenario, like say, the world, you have a glimpse at what is going on around our planet of people. Throughout the history of humanity, new societies have evolved out of old ones. It’s never been easy, it is often met with obstructionism and sometimes violence, but we manage to move forward despite the obstacles. The Enlightenment didn’t emerge fully formed in a few days, it grew over decades and centuries, with many fighting against it, like the Catholic Church, yet it blossomed and grew stronger despite (and partly because of) the resistance.
Humanity is in a constant battle for the future with itself. Today’s battle is actually a continuation of the Enlightenment in my opinion. History books will tell you that this period ended in the late 18th century, but today, well over three centuries since it’s dawn, the battle between reason and superstition goes on. As advanced in some areas as we’ve become, this basic struggle is still at the heart of our worldview, and still being fought.
What is the war on terror? At its essence, it is a battle between religious fundamentalists and a world growing increasingly secular and reliant on science for answers. That same war, although less violent, is being played out in in the West as well. To be taken seriously by their party, American Republicans running for national office must espouse beliefs that are in alignment with Christian fundamentalists values and clearly at odds with science and reason. Just a few days ago, probable Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker said he would have to punt on whether he believed in evolution or not.
What makes me both hopeful and fearful is that the battle between superstition and reason seems to be entering a final stage. Violence throughout the Middle East and Eastern Europe is escalating. Fundamentalist Christians in Western countries are trying desperately to retain power and influence as they watch their numbers dwindle. Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic Church, is continuously doing a tap dance between supporting scientific findings and sticking to orthodoxy on many issues. He’s no radical reformer, and only slightly less doctrinaire than many of his predecessors.
The argument between reason and science is without question heating up around the globe, and religious fundamentalists are behaving like the guy in the middle of an argument who just realized his position is weak. They will not concede without a fight, and so they do.
Friday, February 20, 2015
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder often characterized by abnormal social behavior and a failure to recognize what is real. Sound like anyone you know?
Writing about one of his favorite subjects — how horribly wrong Republicans have been on economic issues — my favorite economist Paul Krugman says, “Across the board, the modern American right seems to have abandoned the idea that there is an objective reality out there, even if it’s not what your prejudices say should be happening. What are you going to believe, right-wing doctrine or your own lying eyes? These days, the doctrine wins.”
He’s absolutely right. The denial of objective reality on the part of conservatives runs across the board and isn’t limited to economics. From global warming to foreign affairs to education and science, today’s Right Wingers are trying desperately to create their own reality, but are, like poor Charlie Brown getting eternally duped by Lucy and her football, continuously running headlong into objective reality.
It reminds me of the now infamous quote in 2004 from an aide to George Bush (later attributed to Karl Rove) that dealt with reality:
The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." ... "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."
We create our own reality? The hubris reflected in this statement is nearly unfathomable, but I think it is reflective of how many conservatives think. It has been shown over and over again, and is now on full display in Brownback’s Kansas, that supply side economics doesn’t work, yet we just learned recently that Ohio Governor John Kasich’s newest budget is all about slashing tax rates and trying to make up the deficit by raising the state’s sales tax, the commercial activity tax, oil and gas severance taxes and the tobacco tax, increases that disproportionately affect low income individuals and families. Kasich is trying once again to create his own reality, placing political doctrine over common sense.
George Bush governed from his gut, and we all know how well that turned out. To win the support of the Tea Party base, the 2016 Republican presidential candidate will be someone who questions evolution, denies man-made global warming, considers the goal of education to be job training, and believes supply-side economics is a viable approach. In other words, it will be a person who doesn’t live in the same world in which the majority of Americans live, yet could still become President.
Thursday, February 19, 2015
To follow up on a blog I wrote a few days ago about the Right’s antipathy toward education, new examples have come to light that signal we really are in an all out war over the minds of our children. Not to be out-cut by fellow wingnut and potential presidential candidate Scott (Crazy Eyes) Walker, Republican Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner has proposed a bill that will cut higher education in the state by $387 million.
Advanced Placement history courses are being attacked by Tea Partiers and Christian fundamentalists around the country for being overly negative and not teaching American Exceptionalism. It’s especially bad in Oklahoma where Republican Rep. Dan Fisher has introduced House Bill 1380 that would give the state sole control of curriculum and assessment. Dan thinks the current AP history course spends too much time pointing out what’s bad about America.
People like Dan who serve in state legislatures and on local school boards across this country want to replace education with indoctrination, facts with flights of fancy. They want to dumb down our children to the point where they are unable to think critically and will live lives of unquestioning loyalty to Jesus and the Homeland.
How can America be called exceptional if its population lacks the ability to think and reason? If the Walkers and the Rauner’s and the morons in Oklahoma are successful, we will fall further and further behind the rest of the developed countries in education, and our one-time position as a world technological leader will be only a distant memory.
Most maddening about all of this is the hard cold fact that less educated citizens are attracted to conservative politicians and principals. Republican leaders know this and, especially at the state level, are doing their damndest to create a new generation of loyal party members.
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Since 9/11 and the freakout of the Bush administration, the President has been granted far more powers than he previously had to wage war through a variety of Authorizations to Use Military Force (AUMF) passed by Congress over the years. Obama is introducing a new AUMF that, as an article in today’s Salon points out, is problematic, but whether it passes or not, “…we still end up with claims to fairly unlimited Presidential authority to wage war.”
Fourteen years after the attack on the World Trade Center, we find ourselves embroiled in an endless war with an elusive enemy that is not bound by geography. When I say endless, I mean exactly that. Every bomb that falls from a drone or bullet fired by a rifle breeds a new radical willing to pick up the cause for which his comrade died.
A state legislature from Arkansas has offered a brilliant solution: Nuke ‘em. That’s right. He thinks we can end this fight quickly with a few well-place nukes in the Mideast. This is the kind of lunacy frustration breeds. We will never defeat terrorism with violence. It only breeds more. However the great American war machine must be fed, and we can’t just leave all of that oil in the hands of our enemies.
The AUMF is yet one more indication of how off kilter our system of checks and balances has become. We have a completely incompetent Congress, an activist judiciary at the beck and call of this country’s elites, and an executive branch that believes it has the authority to take America to war anytime anywhere for any reason it chooses.
Thank you, George Bush and Dick Cheney, for all that you’ve done for your country.
Monday, February 16, 2015
A couple of years ago, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal made headlines by imploring fellow Republicans to “stop being the stupid party,” an admirable and highly unusual bit of advice, although the Governor’s own statements and actions since then indicate he is in fact, very much at home in the current Republican Party.
Unfortunately Bobby, the Grand Old Party is the stupid party and many Republicans embrace that reality wholeheartedly. Education is anathema to the survival of the Tea Party and the GOP has long had a deep running vein of anti-intellectualism through its core. For decades the party has waged a battle to demonize and destroy pubic education and replace it with locally run brainwashing factories dedicated to superstition and mythology in place of science and facts.
Two recent events illustrate the anti-education nature of the Republican Party is as strong as ever.
Not content with merely slashing the University of Wisconsin budget by $300 million dollars, Governor Scott Walker also decided to tinker with the language of the University’s mission statement by removing words that commanded the university to “search for truth” and “improve the human condition” and replacing them with “meet the state’s workforce needs.” In other words, higher education should be limited to helping someone get a job and to hell with all that “thinking” crap. Residents of his state raised the roof when made aware of the changes, and Walker back peddled, claiming it was all an innocent mistake.
And then there’s Mississippi state legislator Gene Alday (R-Walls) who said he opposes increases to the woefully underfunded schools in his state because blacks in his community who don’t work already receive “welfare crazy checks.” Alday admitted that Mississippi has poor performing school districts, but he doesn’t think more money will help and blamed the situation on voters “electing superintendents that don’t know anything about education.”
It boggles the mind to think that one of the two major political parties in the United States is opposed to its citizens getting a good education, but it’s true. What’s good for the Republican Party is once again bad for our country.
It boggles the mind to think that one of the two major political parties in the United States is opposed to its citizens getting a good education, but it’s true. What’s good for the Republican Party is once again bad for our country.
Sunday, February 15, 2015
To most people, the idea just seems plain nutty. Few can conceive of the American government attacking its own citizens in such a manner. I’m not one of those people. From the McCarthy era of the 1950s to the present day, our government has worked day and night to silence critics, whistleblowers and anyone who would seriously challenge the American hegemony. The Bush and Obama administrations have consistently punished or tired to punish the whistleblowers, not those involved in illegal activities. “National security” has become a catchall excuse for numerous undemocratic activities by the surveillance state.
However, do I believe the government will send troops into the streets of America’s cities and round up and jail dissidents en masse? I don’t think so, not out of any love for, or adherence to, democratic principals, but rather because America’s elites won’t allow it.
If you think about it, this country’s wealthy and powerful .01 percent have never had it better. They are making money hand over fist due to an economy rigged in their favor. They enjoy numerous tax loopholes that allow them to pay little or no taxes. Thanks to the Supreme Court, they can essentially buy their political candidates a seat in Congress. And the companies they run have the luxury of going anywhere in the world to exploit cheap labor. They know that the slumbering masses are far more concerned with which couple gets kicked off of Dancing With the Stars than who represents them in Congress, and I think they would like to keep it that way.
The last thing America’s privileged minority wants is to wake the sleeping giant of people currently placated by the entertainment industry and illusions of control.
Friday, February 13, 2015
Montana lawmaker David Moore (R-Missoula) wants to expand his state’s indecent exposure laws to outlaw yoga pants and other tight-fitting or revealing clothing. It would also make it illegal for men to wear speedo swim trunks in public.
Republican state Rep. Alan Clemmons proposes what he’s calling the “Second Amendment Education Act.” As the name implies, the bill would “provide all public elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools” with “instruction in the Second Amendment” for no fewer than “three consecutive weeks in one grading period in each academic year.” The curriculum would be written by the NRA.
Responding to President Obama’s comments at a recent National Prayer Breakfast about Christians and historical violence in the name of religion, FOX News contributor Star Parker said, “Because I was in that room. And it was, frankly, verbal rape. Oh yeah. We were not expecting it. Nobody wanted it. It was horrible to sit through. And after it was over we all felt like crap.”
A Christian group CADMinistry (Christians Against Dinosaurs) is an advocacy group that argues against teaching children that dinosaurs actually existed. While it sounds like an Onionesque hoax, it appears to be real, and members have argued in online discussions that, “The science behind them is pretty flimsy, and I for one do not want my children being taught lies. Did you know that nobody had even heard of dinosaurs before the 1800s, when they were invented by curio-hungry Victorians?” and that dinosaurs “lack family values.”
During a legislative dinner where the subject under discussion was domestic violence, South Carolina State Sen. Thomas Corbin told fellow GOP state senator Katrina Shealy that women should be “at home baking cookies” or “barefoot and pregnant,” not serving in the state legislature. When Shealy asked Corbin where he got off making such statements, he responded, “Well, you know God created man first, then he took the rib out of man to make woman. And you know, a rib is a lesser cut of meat."
And of course, what list of crazy conservative comments would be complete without an entry from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R)? In a speech to the North American Prospect Expo (NAPE) in Texas this week, Palin said that caribou that died as a result of oil pipeline expansions would have to “take one for the team.”
Thursday, February 12, 2015
They're Only Shadows. These three have done especially well (received a lot of up votes) at Reddit's ShortScaryStories subreddit. I hope you enjoy them.
Drug testing welfare recipients is the flavor of the month among reality-challenged governors, who are, of course, mostly Republicans. There are 12 states that currently carry out this demeaning and degrading procedure, and another 12 are considering implementation. Florida, which had a drug-testing requirement for people on welfare, was forced to shut it down after four months by a federal judge. Of the 4,086 people tested during that period, 2.6% tested positive. That’s fewer than 10 people.
Assuming that people on welfare are more likely to use drugs than others is just one extension of the conservative belief that if you are in need of welfare from the state, there’s something wrong with you. People on welfare, goes the thinking, are inherently lazy losers who are simply looking for a handout from the government. They are subhuman, and therefore we can do things to them that we wouldn’t consider doing to others. There aren’t any serious proposals out there to drug test political candidates.
Drug testing is not just insulting and demeaning, it also flies in the face of American jurisprudence, the foundation of which is that a person is innocent until proven guilty. Conservatives want welfare recipients to prove their innocence before receiving aid. And how can we look ourselves in the mirror and punish the already down and out for using drugs when they point to George Bush or Barack Obama or any of a number of other successful individuals who have admitted using drugs?
Forcing welfare recipients to undergo drug tests is just one more in a very long line of bad ideas from conservatives. Hopefully, court challenges like the one in Florida will work to end this practice nationwide in the near future.
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Here’s the question of the day: How much pain and punishment will voters endure before they realize Republican ideas are rubbish? Unfortunately for the people of Kansas, the answer seems to be “a lot.” Republican Governor Sam Brownback won a tight race last November even after it was clear that his experiment in supply side economics was failing miserably and creating a huge budget deficit.
Today, the deficit stands at $344 million and his answer to this dilemma is to further cut funds for education, syphon off money from the state’s pension program and raid funds for essential infrastructure projects. Oh, and yesterday he took time out from his slash and burn activities to remove gender identity and sexual orientation from the classes of protected Kansas government employees. Busy boy.
Aside from the reality that Brownback is a genuinely horrible human being, the facts in this case seem indisputable; Brownback’s economic experiment is a disaster by every standard and is sucking Kansas into a quagmire of debt. This was already evident last November prior to the elections, yet voters again gave him the green light to savage the state even further. The loyalty of conservatives to their ideological foundations is incredibly strong and will not be shaken by reality. Reality is wrong, they answer through their votes.
How bad will things have to get before the people of Kansas, and the United States, say enough to failed conservative ideology?
Monday, February 09, 2015
By every measure the war on drugs has been a complete failure, and there are few people outside of Washington who would dispute that. Despite this, Obama’s new budget asks for $27.6 billion for federal drug control programs, a billion more than last year. More lives will be lost, more people will be jailed and more criminals will be rewarded. It is a tragic cycle that is perpetuated by politics and an entrenched serpentine bureaucracy that demands to be fed.
For nearly a century, we have been accosted with propaganda from the government about the dangers of drugs and addiction, and brainwashed into believing that drug users are dangerous “others” or criminals who will sell their babies for a fix. Like I said, this is the propaganda. The truth, however, might shock you.
I read a truly illuminating article at Alternet this morning here. It’s an interview with Johan Hari, author of the book, “Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs.” What’s fascinating about Hari’s findings after four years of world-wide research is that basically everything we think we know about drug use and abuse and how to deal with it is wrong. The war on drugs, according to Hari, is based on totally false notions of what the problem is and how to deal with it.
If you have any interest in drug policy or the war on drugs, I encourage you to read this article and pass it on.
Friday, February 06, 2015
I know, revealing the Right’s lunacy is like shooting fish in a barrel. All a Louie Gohmert or Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin have to do is open their mouths and you have your quota of insane quotes for the day. But heck, it’s Friday and I need to vent. Here is your weekly dose of repugnant Republicans doing what they do best, being complete morons:
Texas Republican Congressman Joe Barton doesn’t want Satan getting in the way of his legislation. His bill to repeal a decades-old ban on crude oil exports was introduced Tuesday as House Bill 666. By Wednesday, Barton had successfully lobbied to get its number changed to a less-Satanic 702.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback says he will cut funding for public schools and universities in a bid to keep the state solvent through June after aggressive tax cuts left gaping budget shortfalls.
A Republican state lawmaker said Thursday that women who become pregnant from sexual assault should not be exempt from an anti-abortion measure, because childbirth resulting from rape is "beautiful." "Obviously rape is awful," West Virginia Del. Brian Kurcaba (R) said during a committee hearing on a new abortion restriction. "What is beautiful is the child that could come from this."
Louisiana Governor Bobbie Jindal’s speech at the American Principles Project’s conference highlighted the need to strongly support public education. But Jindal is currently trying to cut the budget of the state colleges by as much as $300 million —nearly a third of the system’s current budget.
Speaking on Saturday at the Educational Policy Conference in St. Louis, former U.S. Attorney Catherine Hanaway denounced the notion that conservatives are waging a “war on women,” asserting that sexual libertinism has “impoverished women” and created a culture in which child porn is acceptable.
An Alabama congressman with virulently anti-immigrations beliefs has a new theory on who may be causing the current measles outbreak: “illegal aliens.” Appearing on the Matt Murphy radio show Tuesday morning, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) sees a correlation between immigration and the measles outbreak that has erupted in the United States.
Thursday, February 05, 2015
There’s a good article in today’s Salon analyzing why conservative pundits so often turn to attacking individuals as opposed to attacking their ideas. The short answer is that conservatives resort to ad hominem attacks because their arguments against issues like climate change, feminism, gun control and many others are so obviously weak they have no other choice but to try and redirect attention by crucifying the messenger.
The author goes into detail about why this approach is on the one hand illogical and offensive, yet on the other hand has proven effective, especially in areas where the average person has little real knowledge, like climate change.
Anyone who has seen clips of FOX anchors in action has been exposed to this nauseating tactic. Bill O’Reilly is a black belt in personal attacks. But I recently saw a video where attacking the messenger was ratcheted up to new levels of absurdity.
A documentary filmmaker brought his camera to a street fair sponsored by the Church of Scientology. Security guards prevented him from entering, even though the event was open to the public. Soon, however, three “civilians,” obviously members of the Church, approached the man and began verbally harassing him. Their tactic was interesting. Instead of simply telling the man to get the hell out of there, they tried incessantly to turn the conversation from questions about Scientology to an indictment of the cameraman.
“I think you look like a pedophile,” said one thug.
“You have problems, Mike. Let us help you with your problems,” said another.
“This is all about you, Mike. Not us.”
This attack went on for probably fifteen minutes and the cameraman proved a worthy adversary, meeting the verbal assaults with specific questions about the Church, to which the thugs never responded. One of the desired goals of these kinds of attacks is to make the recipient so angry he loses control and looks like a shrill lunatic. The cameraman never fell victim to this ploy, and the thugs eventually figured out they weren’t going to get the results they wanted and left.
Attacking the messenger is always a loser’s tactic, yet it continues because it can, unfortunately, be effective.