Thursday, January 29, 2009

Bi-Partisan or Bi-Polar?

The Republican members of Congress have a message from President Obama: in the spirit of bipartisanship and cooperation,


Other than that, can we buy you a drink?

So, Obama gave out more tax cuts than he really wanted to, in order to get the Repugnicans to join with their brothers and sisters in the House and vote for the new stimulus bill. Repugnicans, behaving in a way we (living in the real world) have come to expect, basically told him to go stuff himself, because they weren't going to blow all that money on government pork.


We can stuff money up the backside of countless large banking firms so they can purchase other banks and pay their executives ludicrously large bonuses (for putting their clients' money to sleep forever) and we can't find out even who got how much, and they're complaining about a little money for infrastructure spending?

Obama also pulled out a provision for $200 million for family planning for poor people (because, you know, that just means abortions abortions abortions in Repugnican code-slang), even though the CBO says it will save at least that much in Medicaid payments over the next couple of years.

So, President Obama, you keep compromising, and the Repugnicans will keep laughing in your face. They did it to Bill Clinton, and they'll do it to you.

I'm experimenting with a new segment (which may morph into it's own blog) called FreepWatch, wherein I shall seek out the most bizarro headlines on the Free Republic website and comment. Remember, Freepers are the ones that Repugs tend to listen to, no matter how foolish.

FreepWatch - January 29th 2009

Obama - President Forever?
The headline reads: Constitutional Amendment to Make Obama Eligible to be President Forever. If it's accurate, Jose Serrano (D, NY) has proposed repealing the two term limit for the Presidency. However, it could have meant that we could get Bush forever, or Reagan forever, or (insert name here) forever. Obama can veto the bill (and I suspect he would). One of the sort of things that the right likes to flip out over, yet something very small.

As several folks mentioned in the comments spew, this has been proposed almost every year since 1992. No one's biting. Also, I believe we can always vote someone out of office in between terms. Roosevelt was voted into office three times - he didn't sit in the White House after the end of his first or second terms saying, "sorry, not budging."

Global Warming A Hoax
It's cold in DC, so global warming is a hoax. Never mind that if the North Polar Ice Cap melts, the resulting loss of ocean currents will invariably create colder temperatures in Europe (a "mini Ice Age" has been predicted), and bizarre local weather patterns will happen. Global warming does not mean that suddenly New York City will become a desert. It does mean that low-lying areas will flood, that deserts may become more inhospitable, and that trees will no longer attain their full height, thus accelerating the progress of global warming.

And there are very few scientists that do not accept the theory of global warming, many of them funded by oil and coal companies

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Why I Am No Longer A Journalism Student

Just read a piece in Common Dreams that has helped me to understand my decision (for the moment) to give up on my degree in journalism.

And no, it's not because I can't type that well.

As the Obama administration begins its "well-choreographed" first weeks, using the political capital they have right now to do what they can do, more and more news outlets (including the old standby, NPR) still let people say stuff that is outright stupid, misinformed, or wrong, and the only counter the other side might have is simply the opposite viewpoint.

And then, there are the facts. Which might prove both sides of the argument wrong, but at least there can be facts, can't there? Noooo. Just each person's view of the facts. That's called "balance." Because news shouldn't be confrontational, should it? Challenging the person in front of you to recite the facts of the case, rather than the truth? Or do we have to wait for the courts to decide that news is supposed to be in the public interest?

As John Adams once said, "Facts are stubborn things." And he was right. Facts are the things that are, that can be proved, than can be seen. Truth is simply one's relationship to the facts. I watched a compilation from the Daily Show of all of the talking head news about the Obamas and all the different reasons given by the right-wing media about why Obama was the wrong choice. Fist bumps, affiliations with terrorists, the Muslim thing, "halfrican," etc., etc., etc. And it was funny, while being equally infuriating and sad. How can these people still be receiving a paycheck? How stupid do they think we are?

Oh, yeah - they think we're really stupid. And we must be, because we still let these airheads sell us news and push the dictation of public policy that's nearly suicidal in it's insanity. As Ronald Reagan said (quoting Adams): "Facts are stupid things."

As the article in Common Dreams asked, "And why do the Jews deserve to die, Mr. Hitler?"

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Not a DIME's worth of difference

While not wanting to sound too alarmist, it would appear that Israel is again, rapidly losing ground in the "How Moral We Are" sweepstakes that it has been the cheerleader for, and sole recipient of, since the Holocaust. In this case, I speak of things known as Willy Pete (or good old white phosphorus), and DIMEs (Dense Inert Metal Explosives).

White Phosphorus - the gift that keeps on giving until you no longer have a face

This stuff burns on contact with any oxygen source, and keeps burning until there's no phosphorus left. This causes third degree burns down to the bone. White phosphorus munitions are "acceptable" in a theatre of war when they're used as a smokescreen device. Detonated in air, they produce masses of white smoke, spreading with characteristic octopus-like tentacles. At the end of each tentacle is a burning piece of phosphorus, and if they don't burn completely away by the time they hit the ground, anyone standing in the way is subjected to horrible, painful burns, that are permanently disfiguring (unless you happen to know the cast of Nip/Tuck personally). As a simple incendiary munition, WP is illegal and considered a war crime. As a smokescreen device it's OK. Unless it's a lot of smoke, then it's considered a poison gas weapon, and a war crime.

How do you know exactly which one you're going to get when you fire one of these off?

DIMEs - or - multiple organ failure and only a pinhole to show for it

Dense Inert Metal Explosives are made with tungsten powder (a known carcinogen). They explode about knee level, and can cause cauterized, below-the-hip amputations that look almost surgical. Or, the injured can look outwardly fine, with only a small hole in, say, their abdomen, but with mutilated organs that appear to have been peppered with some sort of fine black powder. Organs can continue to rupture and self-destruct after all the shrapnel has been removed, as if something is still in the victim, relentlessly exploding. X-rays reveal nothing, and the patient dies.

Meet the victims of the Israeli incursion into Gaza. Children with melted faces, missing limbs, permanently malfunctioning internal organs. A generation of handicapped people, whose lives will be painful until they die. Where the doctors wish they could just kill the victims, rather than watch them suffer.

Hamas should stop firing rockets, yes. But Israel no longer can say they are the "moral" ones. Using these kinds of indiscriminate, mutilating weapons cuts the high ground right out from under the Israeli government. And hearing the stories of Israelis watching the war from a hill overlooking Gaza, cheering on a "good strike" makes me ill. This is no football match. This is hundreds of children and old people dying so the Israelis can get at a few militants spread through the population of over a million.

Again, I ask, STOP.


holding my breath...

Monday, January 12, 2009


I think I've finally figured out why we don't have either single-payer or some sort of private/public partnership in our health care system. It appears that people in government believe that the reason folks become doctors is so they can make lots of money and not have to work too hard at it. And also to employ lots of folks to handle ridiculous amounts of paperwork.

Here I thought it was so doctors could practice medicine and help people.

Silly me.

I'm sure most actors think (when they're fifteen), "I'm gonna go out and become a movie star!" By the time they're working their fourth restaurant job in a year, they think, "I'm gonna go out to every audition I can in the hopes that I can quit the day job." Sure, some people go into a particular trade to make ridiculous amounts of money (Wall Street, for example, or con games), but some people go into a particular trade because it's a calling.

One of the most irk-inducing traits of the Conservative mindset (note that I didn't use the word Repugnican), is the ingrained belief that people need a profit motive to do whatever it is they do. Making money is nice, I'll grant you that, and true Marxism has never held much appeal to me (and certainly Soviet-style socialism seems like it was a pretty bad idea). Hell, I could always use a few more bucks. But if you look at every job that any person could do, does the profit motive always enter into the picture? I'll grant you, a sanitation worker deserves all the money they'll pay him, but if you're doing something you love, in a nice office, with decent benefits, and the money's OK, would you need more than that? Am I not cynical enough?

So, if the Conservatives need a profit motive, why are they running for office? Is there a profit motive at work in being a Senator? It isn't all, "Ah work for the people of the state of Texas," is it? There's a little "consulting" gig waiting for you when you "retire," isn't there? Or am I being too cynical?

Not that Democrats are any better. There is a certain politician in California that somehow manages to give away more Brioni suits every few years than I would ever be able to buy in a lifetime of graft. He's a great guy, very smart, very up on the issues, and he does good work for the people of his state. And he does pretty well for himself, too.

But the height of cynicism in all of this is the idea that if there isn't money behind it, it's not worth doing, and I'm afraid that's why most politicians are in the trade to begin with. Because there is plenty of extracurricular money to be made by getting elected to do the people's work.

Maybe that's the first thing that needs to change.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Ah, Progress...

I  decided to watch something on YouTube that I'd heard about, and thought beforehand, "how bad can it be?"

Sure enough, it was awful.

New Year's Day, 2 AM, Oakland, CA. Apparently, there was a fistfight on a train in the Bay Area Rapid Transit system (known to current and former residents of the San Francisco Bay Area as BART), and the BART Police (a publicly paid for, but privately managed security force) came in to break it up, wind it down, hand out citations, whatever.

In the video, there appear to be four or five of these cops (who appear to be either all-white or mostly white, and there's at least one woman in the crew), and three or four African-American males. The young men are a bit hostile, but all of them are seated. One stands up and attempts to talk to the police. From the video, it's unclear what he is saying (the video was shot using a cellphone, from inside the train with the doors closed). The cops bring him down to the ground, face down, and force his arms behind his back. One of the cops puts his knee over the man's neck and head to further restrain him. There are three cops holding him down at this point, while the others are standing back, watching both the man on the ground and the other young men sitting watching their friend. One of the cops holding the young man down is facing the camera.

He stands up, unholsters his gun, and shoots the prone man in the back. 

The gunshot is audible on the video.

The bullet ricochets off of the platform floor back into the man's body. He is pronounced dead at the scene. The BART police attempt to confiscate every video camera they can find. They miss at least two.

The streets of Oakland erupted in riots during what was supposed to be a peaceful protest march on Wednesday, January 7th. Some who suffered property damage at the hands of the rioters weren't surprised, nor even terribly hurt, by the injuries done to their property. African-Americans in Oakland are getting tired of hearing about their young men being shot by the police. If a policeman shoots a civilian, he is put on administrative leave, and expected to turn in his badge and gun. If a civilian shoots another civilian, they are arrested and put in jail. If a civilian shoots a cop, other cops might kill them and claim self-defense (not that I believe everything James Ellroy writes). 

While the organizers of the protest and even the victim's family decried the violence, I can understand it. While it may be counterproductive, it really depends on how long you've had to deal with living in a kind of siege state. Oakland has had it's murder rate go rather high in recent years, and one of the usual complaints by the locals is that the cops will come when it suits them, but not when it scares them. Black-on-white crime gets the full-court press, but black-on-black crime is routinely ignored or downplayed. Interestingly enough, in the protest this week, there was a large Latino contingent along with the African-American crowd. When it comes to the police, they agree on who the problem often is.

The police officer's name is Johannes Mehserle. He is 27.

The victim's name is Oscar Grant. He is 22, forever.

And we just elected an African-American President.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

When Doing Nothing Works Well

The ground assault (Operation Cast Lead) is underway by the Israeli Army in Gaza, and those pesky civilians keep getting in the way. Israel keeps claiming (through various "spokesman said" mouthpiece types) that they are taking all care to avoid civilian casualties, but Hamas has all of the weaponry stashed in and/or near civilian populations.

Unlike Israel, where everyone does a stint in the military, just in case they need to fight, well... everyone at once. 

Hamas, of course, is being reprehensibly stupid by doing this sort of thing, except that it does remind people that in war, everyone's responsible for the actions of the elected, and often, the electorate has to pay a price for electing the wrong bunch of nutjobs.

Many Palestinians voted for Hamas, because Fatah wasn't showing a lot of backbone when it came to dealing with the Settlements. Israel's response to Hamas being elected? A gradual choking off of supplies, food and medicine to Gaza. The imposition of odd curfews and border inconveniences that resembled Kafka. The occasional visit by the Israeli Army to civilian homes where Hamas fighters were "thought to be hiding."

In other words, thanks for exercising your right to vote, here's a little humiliation, subjugation and slow, lingering death. Unless and until you vote for people we like.

Needless to say, in the Arab world, this sort of thing seems to breed martyrs. The population of Gaza is now a majority of minors. More than half the population is under 18, and all they've known is bloodshed and death at the hands of the Israelis. Fathers or mothers who look at the splintered, bloody remains of their dead family in the al-Shifa mortuary express the wish to blow up a few buses in Israel. Other parents tell their children from birth that they are growing up to become martyrs to the Palestinian cause. 

Kind of like I was told that I was going to take piano lessons.

Reprehensible sort of thing to think, but what would you do if your only son and your wife or husband were targeted for death, simply because you were all at prayer for a relative's funeral (also thanks to Israeli shells)? Or your nine-year-old son is so traumatized by bombs going off outside his house every day that he no longer talks? Of course revenge is a bad thing.

Isn't it, Messrs. Olmert and Barak?

While Israel does indeed have every right to protect itself, and Hamas really doesn't have the right to just casually lob missiles into Israel, each side is fighting for the survival of their people, their race, their culture. Jews have a long history of being the tormented, the tortured and the killed, and so they don't much care for folks throwing missiles at them. The Palestinians have a different history, but it, too, is full of torment and humiliation and death, mostly at the hands of western powers. Neither side wants war, but neither side wants the other to be the way it is.

So who starts the ball rolling by stopping?

Just stop.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Not Sure I Approve Of Me

The economy is just fine-ish, thank you.

And that's where I part company with myself, because it's all too weird and painful. This country is now nearing $11 TRILLION in debt - 

And we're printing more money in the hopes that that will cause us to get out of debt faster by improving the lives (read: wages) of all people in the country and then dun them for taxes, which will be used to pay for the wages we just raised by paying for infrastructure projects that need to be done because our roads and bridges are all decaying and on the verge of collapse and perhaps if we pay people well enough for the work they do with that money we just printed, they will gladly hand a little of it back in taxes which we will then use to pay off the increasing debt we're incurring because of the interest that's accruing...

boogedy boogedy

As my paranoid brother tells me (and I'm beginning to agree with him on this one), the Fed abandoned the gold standard, and began to loan money based on the value of what they were loaning on, rather than having the capital in the bank, and relying on the investors (i.e., little savers like you and me) to not all rush the bank at once and take everything out. So, when you buy a house, they loan you the money that they printed just for the occasion based on how much the house was assessed at. Doesn't this leave a large hole for the unscrupulous to walk through? Or perhaps there would be regulations preventing the unscrupulous from doing that sort of thing?

Oh, yeah... President Ronald Reagan, President George H.W. Bush, President William J. Clinton, President George W. Bush.

So. Does the economy finally implode? Or does this charade go on and on until the end of time, till the dollar buys nothing and the Chinese own the deeds to the White House, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, Monticello, (OK - you get the idea), and instead of firing a nuke at us, they just foreclose?

Please, someone, tell me I'm stupid (about THIS, mind you), or talk me down off this ledge, because the wife and I are talking about having a baby, and all those jokes they talk about having to deposit your first-born into the bank to get a home loan? Well?!?