2012/12/29

Lincoln

Finally saw the movie "Lincoln" after having written about a piece that was about the movie. Although I show in my piece that the article is wildly inaccurate in some respects, now that I've seen the film, I would characterize the article as not so much inaccurate as it is over-determined through the author's own perspective. There's a scene near the end of the film where the long-time Radical Republican abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens (Played by Tommy Lee Jones) borrows the official copy of the just-passed 13th Amendment (It had been passed by the Senate, was passed by the House in the movie and was then ratified by the states) and then


...brings it home, where he is greeted by his Black housekeeper Lydia Smith, played by S. Epatha Merkerson. He presents it to her with the words “a gift for you,” whereupon the satisfied servant crawls into bed with the White man, for a night of emancipation fornication, one assumes.

I'm not familiar with the actual facts of the Stevens-Smith relationship, but my interpretation of that scene in the movie was that Stevens and Smith were in a long-term, comfortable, romantic relationship and Stevens felt, accurately, that Smith would appreciate seeing the real, genuine words of what represented freedom for her people. Yes, emancipation resulted in a very real improvement for black people for a number of years, then white America kicked back, ending Reconstruction, and what followed that was nearly a century of conditions that powerfully resembled slavery. Greatly improved conditions followed that were brought about by the Civil Rights Movement and by white people who wanted to see America fulfil its promise as a land that treated all people with dignity and respect.

I don't see the movie as glossing over Lincoln so much as it introduces a game-playing Lincoln who made necessary compromises when ha had to and who juggled many balls at once, trying not to let any of them drop. There were points where both Lincoln and Stevens said things they obviously didn't believe to be true (Though Lincoln used a semantic dodge to prevent his statement from being an outright lie), but both of them agreed that freedom for the black people was a good thing, even if their methods of achieving that freedom had to be a bit indirect and had to involve covert appeals.

Are the black people seen as one-dimensionally grateful to the white politicians here? They certainly play a secondary role here. They certainly are not the primary characters around whom the plots of the film revolve. So, up to a point, yes, blacks are seen in the light of being the grateful recipients of what Northern whites do for them, but I reject the idea that blacks played no role in their own liberation. I think that the entrance of blacks into the House gallery before the critical vote probably strengthened the resolve of the Congresspeople who decided to go against their peers and most likely, against a lot of their constituents back home by voting for the 13th Amendment. So I see FinalCall's interpretation as an overly simplified one. Could blacks have simply freed themselves by their own efforts? The South had taken many measures and a great deal of thought and time and effort over the preceding centuries to prevent rebellion by their slaves. No, I think the blacks of that era simply didn't have any choice. If they wanted freedom from chattel slavery, they had to work with Northern whites, which they did, to the ultimate benefit of both groups.

2012/12/07

Arrow

Saw a bit of the last episode and just saw a full episode tonight. According to IMDB, these were the only two appearances, so far, of Helena Bertinelli (Played by Jessica De Gouw). Her role is a pretty obvious one for a "billionaire playboy." What does a man with everything else want? Well, back in the old days, as Jane Austen had one of her characters say in Pride & Prejudice, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Now, these are not the old days (Pride & Prejudice was published in 1813) and Oliver Queen (Played by Stephen Amell) gets Bertinelli into the sack right away, but for Bertinelli to give Queen a sense of purpose, to give his life meaning, a mission to focus on, is a favor he greatly appreciates. He tries to turn her away from simply killing her hated target, to taking apart the guy's fortune without killing him or anyone else.
Now the character that Arrow is clearly based on is the comic book character Green Arrow and sure enough, there's a Dinah Lance (Played by Katie Cassidy), who's his girlfriend in the comic and who's apparently on the outs with him at the moment. Looks like Bertinelli is going to be Arrow's main opponent here. Should be fun!

2012/12/02

A critical review of “Lincoln, lies and Black folk”


First off, let me state my view on how the races/ethnicities relate to each other. Initially, all of the ethnic groups saw each other the way that the US Navy and the Marines do today, the “squids” are lazy and disorganized, the “jarheads” are not so bright, but when we're down to brass tacks, when our backs are to the wall, we're all Americans, we get our instructions from the same Commander-in-Chief and both branches serve the same country. We'll never occupy a world where there's no friction or conflict between the ethnicities, but in the Western world, in the early 1500s, that relatively comfortable situation changed with the introduction of Western technology. It went to the heads of Western white people, who began to think of themselves as Übermensch. Around 1950, the Nazis had taken the theory of the racial supermen to its logical and horrifying conclusion and the colonies that Europe acquired demanded to be free of direct Western control. Westerners began to lose the conviction that they were humanity's supermen. So, when a white person becomes a non-racist, he's not so much moving forwards to enlightenment as he is simply returning to ancient norms, which is why children are not naturally racist. Their racism has to be taught.

Lincoln was very much a man of his time and still retained a feeling that white people were essentially superior to black people. Fortunately, he also felt that Africans had suffered enormously under the boots of white Americans and that the imposition of that suffering was fundamentally immoral. Eventually, he felt near his final days that the political spectrum of his day, with white supremacists feeling that the slave system was just fine and needed no alterations, the centrist middle-of-the-roaders who felt that slave-owners should exercise responsibility and self-control (The idea of commercial regulations was still a few decades in the future) to the wild extremist abolitionists who were radical lefties.

As Lincoln's thought on the subject progressed, he found himself more and more in agreement with what the TV commenter Bill O'Reilly would call “the far left” on the subject.

As to the piece “Lincoln, lies and Black folk” (I have not, as of this writing, watched the Steven Spielberg film, Lincoln) was the Civil War fought for the benefit of the Africans who had been dragged against their will to America? Before and early in the war, Lincoln made his feelings on that subject quite clear, he wanted to preserve the Union whether the Africans were freed or not. Was the fate of the Africans then irrelevant? No, their plight touched sympathetic chords within white people in the North and as the Civil War progressed, rescuing the blacks from their fate was seen as a fine and noble cause and it inspired many Northerners to great efforts.


We deem our cause most holy,
We know we're in the right,
And twenty million freemen
Stand ready for the fight.
Our pride is fair Columbia,
No stain her beauty mars,
On her we'll raise the brave old flag
That bears the stripes and stars.

Preserving the Union was a fairly abstract goal, white people supported it, but rescuing the Africans in America from their fate as it was outlined in “Uncle Tom's Cabin” was an inspiring goal that was worth a lot of bloodshed.

What was the essential cause of the Civil War? Lincoln wisely stated:

A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.

Not sure how completely Lincoln understood the issue here (though he states the problem quite well), but America had two economies, the North was a rising industrial, capitalist power, the South was a Medieval-style, feudalistic source of raw materials. What was the essential difference between the two regions? Slavery. Without chattel slavery (Very different and far crueler than slavery in Biblical times and in South America at the same time), a feudalistic system where very few people owned lots and lots of land was simply impossible to sustain. The only way to sustain a Medieval-type system was to have people in bondage, chained to the land. So yes, without slavery, the South would have been economically indistinguishable from the North. To strike at slavery was to strike at the essentially feudal system of the South.

Did white Americans fight for “free black people”? Ultimately, yes. In order to break the feudal system of the South, the slaves had to be freed. Was that the deliberate, conscious intent of white people in the North? I suspect the Radical Republicans understood the connection at the time, but I doubt many other people truly understood that.

What was the effect of the Emancipation Proclamation? Wikipedia says that 50,000 slaves were freed immediately by the Proclamation as that was the number of black people living within the Federally-occupied areas of the states that were in rebellion when the Proclamation was issued. In the following paragraph about the Hampton Roads Peace Conference, that number had increased to 200,000 as the Conference occurred much later in the war.

This discussion led into the overarching issue of emancipation and the status of blacks in the South. Lincoln, in response to an inquiry by Stephens, indicated that opinions in Washington differed as to the "operation" of the Emancipation Proclamation, particularly after hostilities had ceased and it could no longer be considered a war measure. Some people, he said, believed that it was not operative at all; others, that it applied only to federal-occupied areas; and still others, that it applied to all of the Southern states listed in the proclamation. Seward pointed out that about two hundred thousand slaves had already been freed under the authority of the proclamation, an estimate with which Lincoln agreed. The issue of the Emancipation Proclamation's legality, Lincoln told the Confederate commissioners, would be decided by the courts after the war. Meanwhile, he reminded them, he would not retract or modify any of the proclamation.

Also,

Though "the abandonment of armed resistance to the national authority [was] the only indispensable condition to ending the war," the president made it clear that he would not "retract or modify the emancipation proclamation, nor ... return to slavery any person who is free by the terms of that proclamation, or by any of the Acts of Congress." (emphases added)

Yes, Lincoln put the preservation of the Union first in his short list of demands, but very clearly, black emancipation was a close and very important second.

Lincoln, lies and Black folk” goes on to claim:

In 1861, when General John C. Fremont freed all slaves in the state of Missouri, Lincoln fired him. When General David Hunter freed the slaves in three states, Lincoln cancelled and reversed the order.

Yes, clearly these early attempts at emancipation were premature and occurred before Lincoln decided that freeing the slaves was a necessary precondition for ending the war. Lincoln needed the loyalty of the border states and he felt that taking away slaves before slave-holders were ready to give them up would damage the war effort, so he rhetorically concentrated on “Preserving the Union” as his announced motivation for pursuing the war. Was this the act “of a Saviour or of a Salvation Army”? Obviously not, but it was clearly the act of a politicians trying to balance competing demands, to pursue a war of liberation while asserting that liberation was not his goal at all,

Was Lincoln a “hero for the Black man”? Certainly in the long run, for African-Americans to make the progress that they have, ending slavery was a first, necessary step. I certainly don't consider their experience under American law to be much better than slavery from the end of Reconstruction until the successes of the Civil Rights Movement under Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

No, I'm not convinced that Lincoln deserves to be stripped of the honor in which many Americans hold him. We need to look at him with open eyes, of course, and not with blind hero-worship.

2012/11/24

James Bond – Skyfall


Quite good. I rarely make the really popular movies in the early evening and, no surprise, I had to park 200-300 yards away from the theater. Got into the theater well before the official starting time, getting a reasonably decent seat (Theater was already just about full when I arrived), and naturally, had to sit through lots and LOTS of previews. But by the time I made it back to the car after the movie, most of my fellow moviegoers had already cleared the parking lot.
Bond tries to sneak off and start a non-spy life of his own, but we know of course, that the call of duty will drag him back. Interestingly, an American would have been breaking rules right and left, but Bond remains respectful and dutiful to the end. Gotta agree with the reviews, this is definitely one of the best Bond episodes ever.

2012/11/14

Project ORCA - major fizzle

First off, yes, the Mitt Romney campaign Digital Director Zac Moffatt is correct:


"For whatever reasons, the conservative bloggers have latched onto Orca as the reason it all fell apart," Moffatt added. Those bloggers have suggested that developers with Democratic sympathies somehow acted as a fifth column within the Romney camp.
----
Moffatt said that this kind of thinking puts too much faith in a single piece of software. "Anyone who knows campaigns knows this was all baked in before that day—there was no magic, Orca wasn't a silver bullet,"...

And when we look at the margin of victory that Obama enjoyed, we see that the race wasn't anywhere near close enough for the complete and utter clusterfuck that was the Project Orca to have had any serious effect on the race.

That being said, Project Orca would, in a rational universe where people cared deeply about objective facts, do such enormous damage to Mitt Romney's reputation as a skilled and savvy and smart and organized businessman that no one would miss the would-be Romney presidency for the effect that he would have had on the nation's economy.

As the right-wing blogger Ace of Spades points out, Romney and the Republican Party had 37,000+ ("Ace" initially estimated only 30,000+) volunteer poll-watchers and get-out-the-vote people:

In a final training call on November 3, field volunteers were told to expect "packets" shortly containing the information they needed to use Orca. Those packets, which showed up in some volunteers' e-mail inboxes as late as November 5, turned out to be PDF files—huge PDF files which contained instructions on how to use the app and voter rolls for the voting precincts each volunteer would be working. After discovering the PDFs in his e-mail inbox at 10:00 PM on Election Eve, Ekdahl said that "I sat down and cursed, as I would have to print 60+ pages of instructions and voter rolls on my home printer. They expected 75 to 80-year old veteran volunteers to print out 60+ pages on their home computers? The night before election day?"

Now, this sounds great IF your objective is to save money. Outsourcing production of the voter rolls to individual employees sounds like a great idea IF people are all supplied with corporate-style laser printers that spit out a half-dozen to a dozen pages a minute and to people who have the time and the expertise to absorb a few pages of written technical instructions. Obviously, campaign volunteers are not employees and they don't necessarily have the equipment or training to do these things. The Ars Technica piece concludes that the Romney team essentially did a "beta test" (Sort of a technological "full dress rehearsal," with customers actually getting their hands on the product and testing it in real time with the tools they'd normally use) on November 6th. Problem: November 6th was the drop-dead, must-work-perfectly day when all the bugs had to be ironed out and and all the errors fixed and for all of the system's users to be completely up-to-date with and comfortable with the system. Yes, the Romney team would have had to sacrifice secrecy and shock effect, but they would have had a fully working and functional product and not a complete fizzle of a product launch. Yes, yes, Zac Moffat points out that they did a few things right. I'll give 'em a C- on the whole thing.

What's perhaps the clearest sign of just plain, flat-out incompetence, bordering on malfeasance, is that Comcast, the website provider, was not informed that the project was expecting really massive traffic on November 6th. Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) ran into a very similar problem during his 2006 primary campaign against challenger Ned Lamont. His website crashed because it wasn't prepared to be as busy as it was during the last days of the campaign, when the site was flooded with people wanting to cast an informed vote but who hadn't taken the time to do any research beforehand. Romney's contractor or Romney's own people should have known from Lieberman's experience that website providers need to be notified that you have a political site and that you're expecting a really big surge in traffic on election day. There's no guarantee that the website provider would have provided any resources with which to assist the electioneering team, but at least Comcast would not have been under the impression that Romney's site was suffering a denial-of-service attack. They might have even been prepared to assist with computer resources, extra lines of communication or more servers.

So yes, Project Orca was very much of a test of Romney's abilities/capabilities as an executive and yes, he failed that test miserably. The nation lost nothing when it didn't vote him into office.

Update:
Ars Technica decided to follow up their look at the failed Mitt Romney product by looking at the successful Barack Obama product. The Obama 2008 campaign software, nicknamed Houdini, was okay. Not great, just okay. It more or less did the job and contributed some to the campaign, but Obama's people understood they'd really have to scale it up for 2012. Some interesting quotes: "Rather than focusing on creating something significantly new, Reed said, the team focused on taking what they already knew worked and fitting the pieces together." and "Dashboard didn't replace real-world field offices; rather, it was designed to overcome the problems posed by the absence of a common tool set in the 2008 election, making it easier for volunteers to be recruited and connected with people in their area." and "...the philosophy of applications like Dashboard and Call Tool was that 'you can't just make a difference through tech alone,' Ecker said. 'You can't just send e-mails and make robocalls and do stuff on Facebook—the real persuasion is going to happen when a real person is talking to a real person.'"


2012/11/09

Desert Peach & sexy pictures

I did an extensive illustrated post on why posting pictures that demonstrate excessive sexiness are inappropriate for forums like Facebook. I've never agreed with the Anti-Porn Feminists that porno is always bad, but I do agree that it's inappropriate under some circumstances. I pay lots of attention to a particular character in order to show that no, just because one is creating in a popular fiction format, that doesn't mean that one can't create complex characters nor that one has to avoid sexual subjects. Enjoy!

2012/11/01

Fellow lefties

There is a split in the Left right now, between those who feel that Republicans and Democrats are six-of-one and a half-dozen-of-the-other or Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee, i.e., there's no substantive difference between the two political parties and between those who feel that the differences between Republicans and Democrats are smaller than we'd like, but they're nevertheless real and substantive and worth getting to the voting booth for. I completely agree that Obama has played close 'n' cozy with the bankers and those who contributed to the housing bubble and that he hasn't pushed for more Keynesian stimulus hard enough and that launching drones is arguably worse than torturing suspects as drones create a lot of collateral damage that torture doesn't. A recent piece by PhillyIMC contributor Shamus Cooke and many pieces by our frequent contributor Stephen Lendman and of course, Cindy Sheehan made that case as well. A conversation between progressives on voting for Obama featured both sides arguing their respective cases.
I believe I've made the case here that yes, there is a very real and substantive difference between the parties and that it would be a terrible thing to see the Republican gain the office of the presidency, but no, this is not an issue of the Left versus the Establishment. This is an issue where, as a proud leftist in good standing, I simply don't want to be represented by those who don't see a distinction between the parties.I'm perfectly happy to be represented by other leftists under many other circumstances.
What I especially don't see is any sort of plan of action from the other lefties. As I pointed out here, we already have 90 million Americans skipping the vote, two-thirds of whom would be likely to pull the lever for the Democrats if they were to vote. What happens if a few million more people skip voting? Well, the result so far has been to keep right-wingers in office and that's been about the only result. Democrats should be up by 30 million votes, or around 15%, but instead they're running neck and neck with the Republicans. Politicians should be pandering to the political left and should be competing to see who can be more liberal, but instead, conservatives are on a more-or-less equal footing with progressives.
Yeah, I guess that makes me an incrementalist, a muddle-through, step-at-a-time kinda guy. I'll be happy to join The Revolution when it breaks out, but I think we're better off in the meantime doing what we can, when we can and not waiting for, or depending on, overnight change.

2012/10/28

Electoral math and boycotting the vote

Adding up the male and female vote in 2008 gives us a total of 130 million votes. According to Harper's, there is a pool of 90 to 95 million voters who are staying out of the voting process and that about two-thirds of that number would vote for a Democratic candidate if they were compelled to cast a vote (The piece recommends extremely mild, slap-on-the-wrist penalties for not voting). The first piece adds that part of the reason Obama won in 2008 was that "Turnout among young black voters was 55%, eight percentage points higher than four years earlier," and that "turnout among blacks, Hispanics and Asians increased by four percentage points in 2008 from four years earlier."

So why do the Presidency, the House and the Senate all skew to the right wing politically more than demographics suggest they should be doing?  Why aren't they all pandering and competing more towards the left side of the political spectrum? Two reasons, the first is campaign finance. Campaigns need money to get out their message and to air advertisements and getting a big check from a wealthy person is a good deal easier than getting lots of small checks from a lot of voters. A quick Google search on "obama small donors" shows that Obama did better with small donors in February 2012, but that he now gets about the same percentage of big to small donors as his Republican rival does. The second reason is that many on the left/liberal/progressive side of the aisle are convinced that the system is corrupt.

What's the result of people boycotting the system? Commenters saying that "we live in a center-right country," even though polling on specific issues (budget/economy) shows that voters lean towards the left on most political issues. Counting up newspaper endorsements, Romney has more newspapers endorsing him than Obama does, but "Total circulation of the newspapers endorsing Obama: 12.8 million Total for Romney: 7.8 million." [emphasis in original] But the vote is far closer than it should be.

Essentially, boycotting the vote because it's corrupt is of great electoral benefit to the right wing and helps get right-wing politicians into office.

2012/10/15

Mirror, Mirror

Just saw the Julia Roberts vehicle Mirror, Mirror on DVD. As with Snow White & The Hunstman, it's a re-telling of the tale of Snow White. Very interestingly, both Snows use swords. I guess if anyone knows of a young lady who wishes to be a princess, one might tell her that fencing is now part of their expected skill set. Of course, according to The Hunger Games, archery is a necessary skill as well.
The film gets a bit ideological as it examines how the evil queen rules the people of the kingdom. I explained to a buddy that the handsome prince (Armie Hammer) was bamboozled into allying with the queen and so he and Snow (Lilly Collins) had to face off against each other. Snow had perhaps a week of fencing practice whereas the prince had obviously been practicing all his life, so their fencing wasn't really much of a contest, but she distinguished herself through her resourcefulness and quick thinking.

2012/10/08

Comment on double standards

I'm scribbling out my response to Krauthammer's column in the Inky today, but I was most amused by the question posed by the  commenter who calls himself "The Monk": 

Bush was lambasted when he announced "Mission Accomplished" yet the media has not criticized President Obama one bit for his constant crowing that "Osama is dead, and GM is alive". Why the double standard?

Erm, well, let's see, the "mission" was NOT accomplished, if it had been, then US troops would have left Iraq. They didn't. they remained. Sure, if one defines the "mission" as merely overthrowing Saddam Hussein, then yes, that was accomplished, but Bush clearly meant much more than that. He wanted a "radical reconstruction of [Iraqs] entire economy." He meant that he had accomplished the first steps in bringing prosperity and stability to Iraq, that he would replace tyranny with democracy, or at least that he would give Iraqis a government that they would be content with. He did none of that. Heck, he couldn't even restore electric power to Iraq and because he couldn't follow up his initial military success against a nation that had been weakened by years of sanctions, Bush lost whatever success American arms had given him by May 2003.

How does the killing of Osama bin Laden compare with this? There's no indication that Obama ever wanted anything more than the destruction of al Qaeda and that project is proceeding quite smoothly, thank you very much. According to ABC News:

ABDUL BARI ATWAN: It seems Osama bin Laden had a long-term strategy. He told me personally that he can't go and fight the Americans and their country. But if he manages to provoke them and bring them to the Middle East and to their Muslim worlds, where he can find them or fight them on his own turf, he will actually teach them a lesson. It seems the invasion of Iraq fulfilled Osama bin Laden's wish. That's why the Americans are losing in Iraq, financially and on a human basis, and even their allies, including Australia, are really losing patience, losing money, losing personnel, losing reputation in that part of the world.

By ending the Iraq War on a schedule (As opposed to waiting for conditions to be fulfilled), Obama has stopped the bleeding and has frustrated one of bin Laden's objectives. General Motors is indeed alive and doing well.

In order for there to be a "double standard," Bush and Obama had to have made similar statements with similar intentions. They obviously didn't as Bush made grand and glorious plans for a brand new Middle East and Obama just wants to destroy al Qaeda and get America's economy back up to speed. There's simply no indication that Obama is pushing for more. Sorry "Monk," but your question is a FAIL!

2012/10/01

Republican campaign and billionaires versus education

Laura Ingraham feels that Mitt Romney will win by "reminding people that we have 11.7% unemployment, not 8%" (I more or less agree with her featured, headline view that for Romney to try for a "human moment" is a fool's errand as he's a dick and there's no point in his trying pretend otherwise). By the way, Media Matters disagrees with Ingraham's assertion, calling it baseless. The problem with telling voters that the economy is in bad shape is that we already know that. The real problem is what his plans are for doing something about it.

VP candidate Ryan's no help. He spent his Sunday talk show appearance saying he and Romney will fix the economy, but kept claiming that the subject was too complicated and wonkish to get into. Of course, he could book a smallish university auditorium, warn the audience in advance that his speech was going to be lengthy and complicated and have at it. Not all that many people would see the whole speech, but economists and analysts could review something really meaty and substantive.

I completely agree with Ryan's statement that:


We want to grow the pie. We want economic opportunity. We want people to be able to get a better job, have more income security and higher take-home pay. And you can do that through economic growth.

There's no question that this is definitely the way to do it, but then Ryan makes a bizarre statement:

Attend our town hall meetings. Look at how we're walking people through how we fix Medicare, how we fix Social Security, how we create jobs, how we reform the tax code, how we have an energy policy, an education policy, a trade policy. Mitt Romney has put out more specifics on how to revive this economy, on how to get people back to work than the incumbent president of the United States has.

This is not the slightest bit believable. If these details had ever been presented, why doesn't anybody have the transcripts for any of those town hall meetings? Obviously, there are many people who would be happy to present these details to a broader public, if only to show fellow citizens how stupid they are.

Update: From Ezra Klein's analysis:

That doesn’t mean Romney is doomed to lose this election. But he needs to do more than convince voters that the economy is bad at this very moment. He needs to convince them that the economy will be better if he’s elected president. And that means convincing them that he’s got a policy agenda capable of turning the economy around.
Which gets to Romney’s real challenge in the debates, which has also been his real difficulty throughout the campaign: He doesn’t have an appealing policy agenda capable of turning this thing around, and his party hasn’t given him the freedom to construct one.



On a completely difference note, I'm very pleased to report that the movie "Won't Back Down" is a complete and utter bomb. I saw the preview. Wasn't impressed. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a very enthusiastic, vivacious single parent. Holly Hunter is credited, but I didn't see her anywhere in the preview. Main problem I had with the preview is that the movie appears to be very two-dimensional, setting up a very simple problem, followed by an equally simple solution.  I saw later that the movie is very anti-teachers' union and that it suggests privatizing schools. As I pointed out back in June, privatization is not driven by popular demand, it's driven by wealthy special interests and it's simply not the answer. Not surprisingly, the movie is

Funded by Republican billionaire (and owner of the Weekly Standard) Philip Anschutz, who also funded the anti-teachers union documentary Waiting for Superman, the movie is, happily, drawing terrible reviews, many of which comment directly on its political mission.


Unfortunately, I wrote to my Representative and both Senators about the apparently bipartisan desire to make deep cuts in the budget that will, naturally, have a deep and unnecessary, very painful impact on the public at large. They all appeared determined to make those cuts anyway. Paul Krugman calls attention to the planned cuts. Let's hope he has an impact.

2012/09/22

Bill O'Reilly and the closed world of Fox News

Bill O'Reilly claimed, first in a conversation with Laura Ingraham and then in his own show, that the Internet was making people stupid and prone to fantasy explanations. That's presumably as opposed to reading the local newspaper, plus maybe an out-of-town one like the New York Times, or watching one to three of three TV channels, as was true back during the 1950s and 60s. Problem with that theory is, unlike Fox News, where Roger Ailes puts out talking points of the day in memos to all of the staff, most of what people find on the Internet tells a consistent story. Why is that? Well, because it's true. When you have multiple, independent sources all reporting more or less the same thing, it's highly likely to be the truth.
Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan obviously needs to spend less time in the Fox News hothouse and more time out on the Internet. Ryan appears to subscribe to the belief that there are such things under the Affordable Care Act as "death panels." Former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin put out this idea, inspired by what appeared to be a sort of a cross between black & white horror films and dystopian novels like 1984 and Brave New World (She even makes a reference to "Orwellian" in her initial Facebook post on the claim), that a group of authoritarian figures would make arbitrary, soulless decisions that certain patients would either live or die. There was no mention in her post of the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), that was an assertion made by a spokesperson after media figures and politicians started questioning her claim.
Wikipedia is frequently criticized as an unreliable source, but even Wikipedia reports flat out that the "death panels" claim was debunked. The claim was such a blatantly shameless lie that it won the award for "Lie of the Year" from Politifact.
Listening to the video of Ryan's description of "death panels," he appears to be suggesting that Medicare would do better by simply handing doctors everything they ask for in terms of payments, that the government should excercise no controls whatsoever and should not try and impose any sort of discipline when it comes to payments. And this is the fellow who advertises himself as a fiscal conservative?!?!?!

2012/08/06

Factcheckers just need to retire

*Sigh!* Again, the factcheckers disgrace themselves by making an utterly ridiculous awarding of truthfulness scores. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), has made the charge that presidential candidate Mitt Romney didn't pay any taxes for the last 10 years. Was Reid absolutely, positively certain about that? No.


"He didn't pay taxes for 10 years! Now, do I know that that's true? Well, I'm not certain," said Reid. "But obviously he can't release those tax returns. How would it look?"

Reid went on to allege that Romney's wealth must be much greater than he has ever specified. The original source, Politico, then made clear that "Reid did not identify his alleged source." The best the Romney camp could muster was a non-denial denial. They alleged that their guy had

"gone above and beyond the disclosure requirements by releasing two years of personal tax returns in addition to the hundreds of pages of personal financial disclosure documents he has provided to the FEC and made public."

No one is saying that for presidential candidate to release their tax returns is a legal requirement, merely that it is a firmly established tradition that they do so (That particular tradition doesn't apply to House or Senate candidates, so to claim that Reid hasn't released his tax returns either is a false equivalence).

Various Republican spokespeople have gotten very heated and excitable about Reid's charge and have made wild charges about Reid being a "dirty liar," but the issue is where it was when Reid first charged Romney with hiding his tax returns because Romney could very quickly and easily clear up the whole issue by following tradition and releasing his returns.

So now Politifact jumps into the fray by charging Reid with making a "pant on fire" lie with his charge. First off, I'm not sure that someone has actually told a lie when they have admitted up front that they're simply passing on what someone else told them. Reid candidly admitted that he didn't have any independent evidence to corroborate what the anonymous source said. Obviously, Romney feels very hurt and insulted, but that's no reason to call Reid a liar.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) backs Reid up and confirms that "a Bain Capital investor" told Reid that Romney hasn't paid taxes for a lengthy period. Can Pelosi prove the underlying charge, that Romney hasn't paid such taxes? No, but she stands behind the story that Reid got this information from a fellow that he found to be credible.

Politifact has absolutely no business whatsoever calling Reid a liar. Reid's charge can't be proven to be true by any evidence in Reid's possession (Romney could very easily disprove the charge by releasing his tax returns), but Reid has not said anything that can be fairly characterized as being untrue. Politifact should STFU and toss their evaluation of Reid's truthfulness into the trash can, where it belongs.

Update:
As the blog Balloon Juice puts it: "Glenn Kessler has following the other fact-checking lemmings off the cliff by assigning 4 Pinnochios to Reid’s claim".

As the post makes clear: 1. It's incredibly, moronically stupid to use the word of tax experts to claim that Reid's claim "might" not be true. Romney has somehow gotten his IRA to hold something in excess of $20 million, meaning he's enormously clever about money matters. So what the average citizen is able to do is beside the point.

2. The McCain campaign remember, DID look at Romney's tax returns and gee, somehow, we're not hearing much from them. Hmm, wonder why that could be? Keep in mind, the original story was that McCain and his people looked at Romney's tax returns and decided that Sarah Palin would be a safer bet. Their story since then has changed to "No, no, no, Sarah was obviously the superior candidate."

2012/07/31

Pennsylvania's Voter ID law

What is going on with PAs voter ID law? What is the real purpose of the law? Is voter fraud really a legitimate concern?

Going through the comments on the Inky's website (The Philadelphia Inquirer puts comment sections after most articles, the section after the Letters to the Editor is, in particular, a very popular place for on-line political comments even though all the comments are usually deleted the next day) I saw a somewhat persuasive defense of Pennsylvania's Voter ID law. The commenter, clearly acting in a similar position to the one that your humble writer holds (I act as the Minority Inspector of Elections for my polling place) declared that, as an election official, his job was to ask voters for their name, look up that name in the book printed up by election officials, the would-be voter signed underneath the name and then voted. The commenters complaint was that it was impossible to verify that the person then voting was really and truly the person that he or she claimed to be, especially as the book often used signatures that were entered in a long time ago and, to a non-handwriting expert, it appears as though a different person is signing in.

To this, all I can say is that on my second ship in the Navy, my job as Personnelman was ordinarily to work with enlisted sailors, but one day a Yeoman asked me to take a document up to the ship's Executive Officer (Known as the XO, second in command after the CO, the Captain) have him sign it and then bring the document back to the ship's Admin Office. The XO was clearly having a bad day as he complained that he had to sign off on documents all the time and he simply had to trust the people who were asking him to sign as he couldn't actually go to inspect the machinery he was certifying was in good working order, couldn't question the Petty Officer who was assuring him that she was following protocol and couldn't personally assure himself that the officers who served below him had really run through all of the proper checklists and had really exhausted all avenues before resorting to what they were now asking him to certify was the correct procedure. I stood straight, listened sympathetically, said "Yes, sir," and took the now-signed document back to the Admin Office. Even on a medium-size ship of just 400 sailors, it was often necessary for the people in charge to simply take their people's word for it that they were following the correct procedures and that the weapons or the machinery they were assuring their senior people was in good working order was indeed in good working order.

Are there exceptions? Are there sailors who lie and who say they've inspected something when they actually haven't? Yes, there are a few such isolated, very infrequent cases here and there. Generally, by and large, the system works and American ships make it safely to and from their destinations and they perform their missions correctly all the time. In terms of voter fraud, are there cases of voters pretending to be someone they're not? Yes, but those such cases constitute fewer than 100 for the entire country, for the entire past decade. Voter fraud, someone who pretends to be someone they are not for the purposes of submitting an improper ballot, is a more-or-less nonexistent problem. How do we know this? Well, the G.W. Bush Administration opened up an investigation back in 2002 and concluded after five years that the problem of voter fraud was more-or-less nonexistent. Please keep in mind that during those years, Republicans controlled the Presidency, the House and the Senate, so there was little or no Democratic interference to complain of.

The Montgomery County Community College hosted an information session on the voter ID law on Thursday the 26th of July. The line of questioners went out the door. The piece reporting on that session goes over all of the ID cards currently known to be valid for voting with. The Intelligencer tells of a number of cases where voters were able to obtain valid voter IDs, but as their first case tells it, she had to jump through a number of legal hoops to do so as


Block’s birth certificate and Social Security card bear her maiden name: Joyce Lucille Altman. Her Medicare card identifies her as Joyce Block, her utility bills are in her married name, and her marriage certificate is in Hebrew.

Wow! Who would ever have thought that a single individual would have identifications in so many different formats and using so many different names? Gee, it's almost as though this person were someone who had lived a long life under many different jurisdictions (The cited voter is 89 years old). Also, to believe that asking voters to show IDs will solve the problem of voter fraud is to ignore that, for many decades, young people have been drinking and buying cigarettes using fake IDs.

What could be the reason that Republican governors (No Democratic governors are pressing for voter ID laws) are trying to get voter ID laws into place? As the Senior Washington Correspondent of the Huffington Post puts it,

...there is ample evidence that voter ID laws inhibit voting, particularly among minorities and the poor — two major demographic segments that tend to vote Democratic.
And that’s hardly a coincidence. Consider the recent bragging by the Pennsylvania House Republican leader that his state’s voter ID bill “is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”
This is not simply another gratuitously partisan act by the GOP. This is an attack on the very notion of democracy.

Voting rights are under attack and the US Attorney General Eric Holder very aptly described voter ID laws as a "poll tax," designed specifically to disenfranchise voters.

The voting blocs that support each candidate have "floors," vote totals of which they're not likely to go below, no matter how bad the Democratic or Republican candidate is. The Republican floor is estimated to be about 45%, meaning the Republican candidate only has to work on winning over 6% of the population in order to win. Or, what the candidate can do is to deny the Democratic side votes that should rightfully be theirs and thereby have to win over fewer undecided voters. All voters should be uncomfortable with this as the very idea of democracy is  at stake. Is the winning candidate going to win because he truly represents the voters or because he's going to carry out dirty tricks?

2012/07/28

Batman


Just saw Dark Knight Rises. Cool stuff! I thought of this piece when I watched it. Yeah, Bruce Wayne is definitely more of a feudal lord than a Bain-style capitalist who spends all day watching financial numbers go up and down and jumping in to make quickie deals. Bruce is definitely more of a baron whose estate largely runs itself so that he is largely free to concentrate on other things. 

Is this movie a story of a lone hero who singlehandedly saves everybody? Ehh, not really. As I noted with Thor, whose “posse” consists of the Warriors Three, Thor isn't really a Superman-style lone hero as much as he's the head of a small super-hero team who occasionally has to go running off on his own. Batman definitely has a posse here and clearly has to lean on folks to carry on in his absence when he's taken out of action.

2012/07/26

Hypothetically returning fire during the Aurora massacre

I read an interview with Ted Nugent wishing that someone in the theater during the Aurora massacre had a gun so that he or she could have returned fire and saved a lot of lives.  In response to one of Nugents' comments, I thought back to the 1980s when I was researching a paper on Star Wars/SDI/Missile Defense back when President Reagan was focusing on stopping Soviet ICBMs from reaching the US. Some pro-SDI people had opined that the technology needed to make the moon landing a success was similar enough to what would be needed to stop ICBMs that the task would be a pretty simple one. The critics (that I very much agreed with) pointed out that the moon wasn't disguising itself, wasn't taking evasive action and wasn't shooting back. None of those conditions would hold true while trying to stop ICBMs. I thought of that as I read Nugent's statement:


Last week my wife Shemane and I were filming a segment for our Spirit of the Wild show and we were shooting at watermelons surrounded by human silhouette targets just as kind of a competition and from 20 feet and from 20 yards and we were shooting from every imaginable angle, under cover, from sitting, from squatting, from prone position, from behind cover and from in the open, and we never hit an innocent and we never missed the watermelon. And I'm just a guitar player. If a guitar player can neutralize a watermelon from 20 feet -- and this is with live fire, by the way.

To which my reaction was "Okay, you and your wife were in a perfectly safe, leisurely situation, in broad daylight with no distractions, all the time in the world and absolutely no danger. So what does your situation have to do with anything?" Keep in mind that the alleged attacker James Holmes was wearing body armor, came in by surprise and started shooting, the dark theater was immediately filled with screaming people scrambling wildly, trying desperately to get out of the way.

In other words, Nugent's situation of neutralizing watermelons in a leisurely, unhurried manner had absolutely nothing in common with the situation faced by the people in Aurora, Colorado.

And by the way, Nugent tries to present the AR-15 rifle as a mere sporting implement, but as one can see by this picture thread, that particular model of gun was a weapon of war that soldiers used back during the Vietnam War. The AR-15 was not a toy and wasn't merely a hunting rifle.

2012/07/23

Sex workers and the police

The TV series "The Client List" just finished up its first season and the relationship between the sex workers, the police and other authorities is not portrayed as a good one. I would note that the series is careful to avoid any strident condemnations and focuses instead on being an entertaining series, with plenty of soap opera-type situations and reasons for the characters to feel pride in themselves and even occasional solidarity with each other. Why are authorities so mistrusted and seen as being on the opposite side from our heroines? Well, it might be because of situations like this one, where condoms are needed for sex workers to be safe from disease and accidental pregnancy, but where police are using the possession of condoms as evidence that the workers are engaged in prostitution.

In an entirely predictable development, the workers are not supplying themselves with condoms, which of course, increases their exposure to risks and makes their work more dangerous. This doesn't just affect sex workers, "transgender women, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth" are also people who need condoms and are finding the possession of "too many" condoms to be legally hazardous.

Back during the 1980s, the anti-pornography feminists were actively promoting the censorship of pornography, under the theory that, well, they weren't worried about their own exposure to the stuff, but about your exposure to it.


These self-appointed, righteous moralists are not worried about their own ability to differentiate between fantasy and reality -- they are worried about yours; they aren't worried about their own ability to resist being seized by uncontrollable urges to commit rape and other violence -- they are worried about yours; they are not worried about their own ability to remain decent, law-abiding, ethical human beings who do not wish to hurt or degrade others -- they are worried about yours; in short, they are not worried about their own souls -- they are worried about yours and mine.

Also, a very serious consideration is a purely financial one. The very first people to lose money when pornographic films are banned are the performers in the films. When porn is legal, performers can keep addresses where fans can write to them and where performers can send catalogs of their films back to the fans along with responses to their letters. That's the very first source of income that dries up the minute pornography becomes illegal. Performers then have to deal with the public through agents, who frequently couldn't care less about correspondence to/from fans.

Does it really help the public to legally oppose the sex trade? There's no question that sex workers don't appreciate it as they're usually the ones who end up getting punished in many ways other than just getting arrested. "The Client List" looks into the question of just what sex workers do with all of the money they may make and it's clear that it constitutes a bit of a problem for them to store/invest all that cash without running into many legal and other difficulties.

Update: And yes, the Lifetime channel, which carries "The Client List," also carries the Bristol Palin reality show and no, I don't have the slightest interest in ever seeing that. A young woman whose major claim to fame is that she failed at abstinence-only sex education and then went on to support that very policy. Sorry, but I don't think Ms. Palin has anything to teach anybody.

2012/07/22

Bachmann's got nothing

Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) made accusations against both Huma Abedin, the Deputy Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN). Ellison writes a very civilized letter to her basically saying she's got nothing of any serious substance to back up anything she says. What I found truly shocking was that Frank Gaffney, her main source, has not only been described by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as “the anti-Muslim movement’s most paranoid propagandist,” but it also turns out that Gaffney has accused "New Jersey Governor Chris Christie of 'treason' for appointing a Muslim judge." Now personally, I'd accuse Governor Christie of many things, but being an overly-tolerant liberal is most certainly not one of them. 
Folks might remember that a woman who was unknown to Bachmann spoke to the Congresswoman at a campaign event and told her that the vaccine against the HPV (human papillomavirus) was dangerous. Bachmann immediately ignored the scientific consensus that the vaccine was entirely safe and badly needed and that she was needlessly fearmongering. Never mind, some anonymous woman with no obvious expertise, but who obviously believed in what she was saying, was more credible to Bachmann than the consensus of actual scientists.
I find it shocking that such a person, with absolutely no idea of what distinguishes a credible source from your run-of-the-mill crank, sits on the House Intelligence Committee.

Update: Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee concedes that Bachmann is making crazy accusations.

Further update:
The Muslim Brotherhood responds to charge that they employ Huma Abedin as an agent:
But in Egypt, the birthplace of the Brotherhood, the organization’s leaders were either perplexed by the accusations or simply hadn’t heard them. Nor had they heard of Huma Abedin.
“The Muslim Brotherhood can’t even penetrate the Egyptian government,” said a Brotherhood leader in Egypt’s Daqheleya province, Ibrahim Ali Iraqi, in response to the accusations his group had infiltrated top US agencies.
Emphasis added. Oh, here's a link by which you can ask that the Intelligence committee drop Rep. Bachmann.

2012/07/20

Barbara Stanwyck


Turner Classic Movies is playing four pre-code Barbara Stanwyck movies. I wasn't aware of that until they were halfway through, so I wasn't able to get “Ten Cents a Dance.” I've set my machine to tape “Forbidden,” at least. I was first aware of Stanwyck as the matriarch on “Big Valley” (1965-1969), which also had Lee Majors (“Six Million Dollar Man” 1974-1978) and Linda Evans (“Dynasty” 1981-1989) on it. Upon Stanwyck's passing away in 1990, the Boston Phoenix did a review of her many films and I was like “Wow! She was a pretty accomplished actress!” so I've tried to catch flicks of hers whenever I can. She definitely plays the world-weary bad girls quite well. Picture of Stanwyck.

Update: Just finished watching "Forbidden" and I apologize to the Stanwyck fans out there, she may indeed have played a world-weary bad girl in films like "Lady of Burlesque" and she certainly appeared to adopt that persona in "Ten Cents a Dance," but she played a very different character in "Forbidden." Nope, Stanwyck was just dang good at her craft and was an excellent actress. 

2012/07/05

Throwing this out for debate...


Here's a subject for debate. I had an email exchange with someone who had written an editorial for the Inquirer about marriage equality for the LGBT community. He waxed poetical on marriage and our relationships to our ancestors:

Denying children biological ties creates all sorts of identity problems (including sexual identity problems)
Marriage also transcends the individual by placing him in a social web that involves responsibilities to parents, grandparents, children, etc. He finds his identity and is linked to generations and even to history.
...the overriding concept of marriage is that a man and woman give of themselves (and their particularities), temper their individual wants, in order to become something that is larger than the sum of the two. Marriage is greater than the sum of its parts.
For their optimum development and well-being, children do best when they are raised by their married mother and father. Every deviation from that ideal reduces outcomes for children.

So, from the perspective of children, we should make marriage more subserviant [sp] to their needs, not the desires and whims of adults.

Now, a buddy from my letter-writing group Rapid Response pointed out that marriage was not always centred around children, in fact, the post-World War II generation that gave birth to the baby boomers was the first generation in history that had the leisure time, the material goods and the physical safety that permitted them to concentrate so heavily on the psychological needs of their children.

Of course past generations paid attention to their children, Henry VIIII wanted a male heir to take over England after he passed away, but so long as the child was male and physically capable, Henry would have been content. Elizabeth I was a capable heir, but keep in mind that her childhood was a bewildering and chaotic one, with her mother executed when she wasn't yet three years old and a succession of stepmothers following. Of course, as a female, she wasn't expected to take over the kingdom, but everyone knew that, as she was of royal blood, she might very well do so. The idea that marriage in those days was centred around children, even royal children who might one day inherit the kingdom, was clearly not applicable. Were English marriages centred around children during the days of the “dark, satanic mills” or when the “Little Match Girl” perished in the snow? Obviously not.

Now, is it a good thing for children to know their grandparents? Sure, I guess so. I knew my great-grandmother on my father's side. “Great-Grammy” passed away when I was less than five years old. I liked her, but didn't really know her. My paternal grandfather passed away before my birth. Everything I heard about him was good. My paternal grandmother lived until my maturity. On my mother's side, both of my grandparents lived until then. My mother had a twin sister and they had a brother. I never met the brother and everything I heard about him was bad. His ex-wife had booted him out, he came back, his kids got tired of him really quickly and he moved out again. My sisters and I got along fine with the ex-wife and kids.

Did I miss either my paternal grandfather or my uncle on my mother's side? Not really. I certainly don't remember wanting to know more or inquiring about either of them. I certainly never got the impression that any of my uncle's bad traits were destined to be passed on to me. I don't remember feeling better because my grandfather was such a fine fellow. It just never occurred to me to look at myself as the product of my ancestors and their traits.

So here's my question. With people becoming orphans through wars and accidents and poor health, with children getting adopted and in many cases, never being able to get in touch with their birth parent(s), with parents immigrating and leaving grand-parents behind in the “old country,” with mothers having conceived their children via rape and thus not having any reason to ever care who the father was, with mothers being promiscuous and thus not even knowing who the father might be, is knowing one's social context a “nice to have” sort of thing or is it an urgent necessity that a child is lost without?

2012/06/29

Dallas

Taped the first show of Dallas and am about 45 minutes through it. It's a perfectly decent show, but now I remember why I didn't follow it in its first iteration. The characters are simply too wealthy. I can't identify. It reminds me of Grey's Anatomy. Again, a perfectly decent show, but a show that had characters just continually having sex all the time. That world has nothing in common with mine.

2012/06/13

Missile Defense and NAFTA, Old issues revisited

This has to be the least surprising news I've seen in awhile. Star Wars/ABM/Missile Defense is worthless! Na-a-awwww! Re-e-eally?!?!? Gee, who'd a thunk it? I did a paper on this back in college during the late 1980s, concluding that, yes, "shooting down a bullet with a bullet" can be done, but missile warheads are very small, move very quickly and devices used to detect them are not difficult to fool. Any system for stopping missiles is very easily overwhelmed with lots of real warheads, chaff (clouds of small bits of metal) and decoys. To take just one of the more obvious examples, a multi-stage ballistic missile takes about 30 minutes to get from Russia to the United States. Over 20 of those minutes are spent in space where there's no air friction, where a decoy can be as simple as a balloon coated with metal-based paint. Such a decoy can't be deployed until the real warhead is in space and will quickly burn up on re-entry, but it's pretty much impossible to separate such a decoy from a real warhead when your detection devices are hundreds to thousands of miles away. A single warhead could pop out 20 to 30 decoys, and with small air-sprays, they can all follow different, widely divergent paths. If you want to stop them mid-course, all of the warheads, both the real ones and the fake ones, have to be stopped, or at least a good 80-90% of them. An ABM system will have very little time between the time all the balloons burn away and the warheads impact their targets. A system would have to be extraordinarily fast and capable to deal with the dozens, perhaps hundreds, of remaining warheads. And:


The GMD system, however, is widely considered to be ineffective. Despite the billions of dollars spent, the system has not had a successful intercept test since 2008, with two failures in 2010. A recent report by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences found that, “The current GMD system has serious shortcomings, and provides at best a limited, initial defense against a relatively primitive threat.”

In other words, the US spent from the Eisenhower era to the 1972 ABM treaty developing anti-missile defenses, private entrepreneurs continued researching means and methods from 1972, with the government again picking up the tab for research in 1983, whereupon the government has continued to fund research and development ever since. What has the US accomplished in all that time? Doesn't sound like six decades of research has accomplished very much.

What has the impact been on US-Russian relations?

In past years, Russia has opposed the missile shield program. It considers the program to be a serious threat to its national security and disapproves of NATO forces continuing to build military bases in Europe. The US government called Russia’s reaction “unjustified” and defended the program by citing increased threats to Europe from the Caucasus and the Middle East. An important political figure, Alexander Vershbow – NATO’s Deputy Secretary General and former Ambassador to the Russian Federation – stressed at the Moscow Conference that the missile shield program is not meant to be hostile to Russia. He also added the US and NATO respect and take seriously the Russian government’s concerns.

If you have to assure the other party that your weapons system is "not meant to be hostile," your diplomacy has pretty much completely and utterly failed. And sorry, but when the US took Georgia's side against Russia during their 2008 conflict, any thought on Russia's part that the US wasn't hostile was dashed to the ground.

And speaking of old issues, one of the major issues that progressives had with NAFTA and the World Trade Organization back during the Clinton Administration was that the system that they set up was designed to override national sovereignty in favor of corporate interests. Well, a leaked document from the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations demonstrates that, yes indeed, the newest "free" trade negotiations are again, designed to do precisely that.


Under the agreement currently being advocated by the Obama administration, American corporations would continue to be subject to domestic laws and regulations on the environment, banking and other issues. But foreign corporations operating within the U.S. would be permitted to appeal key American legal or regulatory rulings to an international tribunal. That international tribunal would be granted the power to overrule American law and impose trade sanctions on the United States for failing to abide by its rulings.

The terms run contrary to campaign promises issued by Obama and the Democratic Party during the 2008 campaign.

So, even though Americans have opposed turning over decisions best made by national governments to a body that will privilege corporations over people and even though President Obama promised that he wouldn't take part in any such thing, we're seeing our government again planning to do precisely that. As the blogger says:

This is really important stuff. We’re talking about restricting access to life-saving drugs, and giving up sovereignty over key domestic laws and regulations to foreign multinationals. That would be true for foreign companies in the US and domestic companies in the eight Pacific nations engaged in the trade pact. This is completely in line with the NAFTA consensus, which also allowed corporations the right to sue nations party to certain trade treaties. Private sector lawyers would be the judges on the international tribunals, with clear conflicts of interest, as they advocate for and serve the clients who would be suing the government in this case.

The march of folly continues and decisions that were awful the first time around are no better years later, but they continue to be pursued.

Update: Leaked documents from the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreements show that the agreements are even worse than we thought. The agreements blatantly and explicitly favor corporations over national governments. BTW, the piece also documents that the US has paid $300 million to settle similar anti-sovereignty claims that arose from NAFTA.



2012/06/11

Not so sure about that


An alleged liberal wrote in the New York Times Magazine an update to the decade-old argument that liberals should ignore right-wing talkers like Rush Limbaugh. His logic runs that by paying attention to him, we're giving him the oxygen of publicity and thereby strengthening his public influence. Of course, it might have been an interesting piece (or a true update) had the author acknowledged that the argument was pretty much decided in 2004 when Media Matters was founded, specifically to shine a light on and to thereby combat right-wing misinformation by bringing that misinformation to wider public attention. Is ignoring right-wingers likely to be an effective tactic? Balloon Juice thinks that's a pretty dumb and cowardly idea. Digby points out that liberals started out by ignoring right-wingers and that they grew in power and influence anyway. Media Matters itself notes that:

If liberals are going to pay no attention [to] Fox News, they may as well ignore the entire Republican Party because there's no functional daylight between the two.

And earlier asked how the whole “ignore them” tactic works:

Ask John Kerry how initially ignoring the right-wing media's meticulously planned-out Swift Boat Veterans for Truth smear campaign worked for him and Democrats in 2004.  Ask the same question to former ACORN leaders who saw Congress move to defund the group based on the dishonest attacks waged by the right-wing media. Or ask National Public Radio's former CEO, Vivian Schiller, who was forced to resign in the wake of a bogus right-wing smear campaign.  

And sorry, but Almond's whole argument here just strikes me as a fairy dust argument built on wishes and good intentions:

Consider the recent debate over whether employers must cover contraception in their health plans. The underlying question — should American women receive help in protecting themselves from unwanted pregnancies? — is part of a serious and necessary national conversation.

Okay. I agree with that.

Any hope of that conversation happening was dashed the moment Rush Limbaugh began his attacks on Sandra Fluke, the young contraceptive advocate.

Okay, this is an accurate, realistic description. Yes, a serious conversation got turned into a circus. But then Almond's piece goes seriously off the rails with his description of liberal reactions/proposed solution:

The left took enormous pleasure in seeing Limbaugh pilloried. To what end, though? Industry experts noted that his ratings actually went up during the flap. In effect, the firestorm helped Limbaugh do his job, at least in the short term.

See, my problem here is with the whole Hollywood notion of there being no such thing as bad publicity. Of course there is. Jerry Lee Lewis marrying his thirteen-year old cousin was not something that urban audiences were going to ignore, even though it may have made sense where Lewis came from. His musical career never truly recovered from that. Limbaugh didn't just get some more uncritical, admiring viewers. Yes, he sold his trash to more unquestioning people who became fans, but he also attracted a lot of critical attention, people who were disgusted by his statements and who, if Limbaugh were a bug that they stepped on, would quickly scrub him off of the bottoms of their shoes.

[Almond] says Limbaugh’s ratings are up, which seems to be wrong (no link, so I can’t check his numbers), but he also lost advertisers in unprecedented numbers. Backlash from the Heartland Institute’s climate denier billboard campaign featuring Ted Kaczynski crippled the organization. Komen’s attempt to cut funding to Planned Parenthood was a massive failure and has badly tarnished their brand and their donations, probably irreversibly.

There just doesn't appear to be much evidence that backlash doesn't work. It seems to work just fine, even if talkers like Limbaugh get a, perhaps temporary, boost in viewership.

2012/06/03

Snow White & The Huntsman

I commented to the person who sold me my snack for the movie that, when I lived in Pensacola, FL, I used to leave my apartment at the time the movie was supposed to begin, drive about three miles, get popcorn and soda, get into a seat and about then, the movie would begin. Tonight, I looked at my cell phone when the previews/coming attractions ended. The announced time for the show to begin was 9:20, it actually started at %$#@^&# 9:40!!! Bleaugh!
Good stuff, though! Snow White (Kristen Stewart) makes for a very convincing princess, both as a cultured and mannerly young woman and as a determined warrior. Stewart reminds me a bit of Harrison Ford in The Fugitive. Ford played an ordinary doctor who then performs amazing physical feats, running around for miles and miles. Stewart is like Ford in that her character is in spectacularly good shape for someone who's been sitting around in a dungeon for around ten years. And yeah, Charlize Theron makes for a really, really e-e-evilll villainness.

2012/05/30

Catch-22

So I respond to this piece by making an online comment (The Inquirer  doesn't always, but most of the time and in this particular case, deletes all the comments and re-formats their pieces the next day). I over-stated my case, making the claim that there's no documented case of voter fraud (Where an individual pretends to be someone he's not in order to vote illegitimately) ever having occurred. A commenter posted three URLs to stories of documented voter fraud. I replied okay, fine, there are a few isolated cases of voter fraud, but the documented cases of vote suppression, where the government denies voters their Constitutional right to vote vastly, enormously outnumbers cases of voter fraud and included this URL that documented a few of those many, many cases

The commenter replied that Think Progress is a lefty website and therefore a provider of suspect information and then made comments indicating that he read the URL, but clearly didn't follow the link to the story. Then, today, I saw this piece.

So, if Think Progress is a provider of information of suspect quality because it has a clear political viewpoint and therefore, an agenda, but the national media has decided to black out the issue of the Governor of Florida suppressing votes, then we've got a classic Catch-22. We don't learn of vote suppression from the national media because the national media isn't covering it. Why? Because there's no way to make both sides, the Republicans and the Democrats, seem equivalent. The national media simply can't say that the Rs and the Ds are being equally bad. This is very clearly a story of the Republicans being bad, full stop. There's simply no way to take a middle view that blames both sides or that allows the media to take an above-it-all approach. In order to tell the story, they have to place the blame squarely on the Republican Governor of Florida. Think Progress doesn't have a problem doing that, because as we've already established, they're an openly lefty website anyway.

But if regular folks like myself can't use lefty websites to make political arguments, if we can't point out documentation of the problem that websites such as Think Progress have assembled, then how are we supposed to make online political arguments????? I never asked for a list of objective websites I could use because I don't really believe there are any in any event. PolitiFact.com once purported to be an objective, reliable website, but recently disgraced itself by declaring that Democrats made a "pants-on-fire lie" by saying that Republicans had voted to "end Medicare."

At worst, Democrats perhaps overstated their case a bit by saying that altering Medicare beyond recognition (By changing it from a single-payer type program into a voucher program) was the same thing as ending it. So we can toss Politi"Fact" onto the rubbish heap of once-credible sites. So to me, how we determine how credible a story is relies on vastly more than just who produces it. Back in 2002, the George W. Bush Administration declared that President Bill Clinton had permitted Saddam Hussein of Iraq to kick out US weapons inspectors. I had been paying attention at the time and knew that this claim was not true. Fair.org looked at that claim a short time later, showing the stories as they were relayed in December 1998 and the same news organizations reporting in August 2002.

This convinced me quite some time ago that there's simply no such thing as an always-reliable news organization. I stick with the lefty sites myself because I find them to be very highly reliable and willing to follow the facts, even when they make "our side" look bad. I was a History major back in college and in my military work, had to take an objective and cold-bloodedly factual view of what I was reporting on. I learned very early to document what I was saying and to not make statements that I wasn't able to back up with credible evidence. My background gives me a highly reliable BS detector. I can't simply read who produces a story and glance at the title and tell you whether a story is credible or not, I need to read the actual story, as I did in response to a comment here.

As I like to put it "If Sean Hannity of Fox News says the sky is blue, does that mean the sky is actually green or does it mean that even Hannity is right once in a while?"

Update

The wheels of justice turn slowly, but grind exceedingly fine.
Wikiquote

ThinkProgress is exonerated in a piece by FireDogLake.
I should add that the DoJ letter refers to “news reports” that alerted them to the voter purge scheme. Think Progress in particular should be commended for bringing this issue to light. Practically all of the traditional media ignored it; the New York Times, even today, gives it short shrift at the end of a story on the judge’s ruling on voter registration suppression. It took progressive media to raise awareness of this scheme to take away the voting rights of thousands of Floridians, part of a larger war on voting being attempted in Republican legislatures across the country.
The piece is about how the DOJ is finally catching up to the State Government of Florida and is insisting that Florida live up to the Voting Rights Act.

2012/05/26

A liberal commentator on CNN

You can tell that I'm conditioned by certain sights and phrases. I looked at a blog post and saw a photo of an attractive woman on CNN who questioned Tony Perkins (The post accurately identified Perkins as the "SPLC-certified hate group leader") and immediately thought "Aw yeesh! How his this woman embarrassed the liberal cause? What wingnut phrases has she adopted wholesale? What right-wing misinformation has she been spreading?"

Why do I suspect CNN of hosting right-wing-favoring stenographers? Because of CNN commenters like Erick Ericson and Dana Loesch. Ericson is a right-wing blogger who also write for the Red State blog and has things like this to say about how the political left views women and blacks:


The Democrats seem to believe that all women believe what they believe and are the same. Instead of unique individuals, they are a stereotyped class of women who care only about birth control, abortion, and government benefits. Stay at home moms who fall outside this view are viewed as second class citizens who really can’t be related to and who cannot relate to women in the workforce. Liberal women who prided themselves on feminist advances into society and think of themselves as unique individuals go on twitter and television and radio to proclaim all women same thinking, same liking, same knowing, and . . . well . . . same.
Like black Republicans such as Condelezza Rice, Michael Steel, and Herman Cain who are ridiculed by the left as oreos, Uncle Toms, or worse, women who think differently are treated as second class citizens, inferior, or somehow “other.”

What a catch CNN! Gee, what a perceptive fellow! You can tell Erickson spends lots of time with lefties because he understands us so well [/snark]! What about CNNs' other right-winger Dana Loesch?

In January 2007, the smear that President Obama attended a "madrassa" as a boy was sparked by a vague Internet report, then spread by Fox News, and finally debunked by CNN -- within the span of a week.
...
Instead of correcting the caller by pointing out that Obama is a Christian and not a Muslim, Loesch said: "Well, yeah, I mean, he did study -- he went to one of the madrassas over in Indonesia for a while. So he knows -- I mean, he -- which is kind of like the equivalent in Islam of a Catholic school in Catholicism. So there's that."

CNN has loyally stood by both commentators and has refused to can either of them, so I was pleasantly surprised to read the FireDogLake post further and saw that, actually, the CNN person Brooke Baldwin, gave our "SPLC-certified hate group leader" Tony Perkins a pretty hard time (The CNN clip is presented here on an Americablog post). Baldwin "asked [Perkins] he would explain to a married gay couple that they should not have the protections of marriage. He did not answer." Perkins said lots of words in response to her question, but they all amounted to him trying to change the subject from the human, emotional question of "How can you say my marriage is not legitimate?" to the more prosaic ones of "public policy" and "research" and how the Obama Administration is taking away the "rights" of homophobes to discriminate against gay people.
So good on CNN for a commentator of theirs to seriously challenge a known homophobe and to defend the perspective of LGBT people who want to be treated as equals under the law.

On noon on June 10th, Philadelphia will commence an LGBT Pride March from 13th & Locust Streets or from 243 S. 13th Street. A statemen trom our local organizer R.W. Dennen:

It's colorful different and exciting as people welcome us with open arms. This will stick with you and never forgotten. This will be sponsored by the Peace Veterans and accompanied by other activists. Since President Obama evolved that gays are equal to other human beings, this will be an important Pride Parade for "Law of the Land" marriage equality and dignity. We must fight this nefarious bigotry and live up to freedom for all.
We implore you to spread the word to your friends. This wll be our fourth year
and we are growing every year.

Besides which, Garden State Equality of New Jersey is holding the 2012 Equality Walk at 4:00pm June 23rd at Erie Park in Montclair NJ. From Philadelphia, that's about a 90-mile or a nearly two-hour drive or you can take the NJ Transit train from the 30th Street Station to New York and then change to the Montclair-Boonton line.