Friday, August 06, 2010

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1)  Nuclear war  is 65 years old today. Please retire.
2) Of course, heartfelt congratulations go out to Elena Kagan, 112th Justice of the US Supreme Court.
3) It was a pretty good week for President Obama, almost by accident. Christina Romer, you may recall, was the moron who projected that we'd have unemployment peaking at 8% with the stimulus package, when we were practically at 8% already when the report was issued.
4) Whiny conservatives will stop at nothing to project an image of control. Truth will out, is all I'm going to say. Remember Prop 8?
5) Less than twenty percent of college age Americans are actually attending college. This article is ridiculous when that context is taken into consideration. Send your kids to college. Give them a leg up on life. What is it with conservatives that they'd deny their own children an education so they can have a few more bucks?
6) How stupid are conservatives? David Stockman, Reagan's point man for tax reduction and the cynical idiot who foisted the Laffer Curve on America, thinks taxes are and have been way too low!
7) We've turned a corner on Social Security. That's why it's gotten windy.
8) Today is National Root Beer Float Day. I was always more partial to Coke floats, myself and as a former ice cream slinger, I found floats to be pretty reprehensible to make, but dayum, they taste good!
9) Multiple car pileups. Snow. Fog. Forest fires. All have closed interstate highways in the US. Now add to the list "cheese".
10) I'm sorry to end this on a sad note: South Africa's last rhino has been slaughtered.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Come Here Often, H8r?

Sanity rules, in the form of Judge Vaughan Walker.
In the event you slept through yesterday and by some miraculous turn of fate, this is the first news source you turn to each morning, Proposition 8 was struck down in California yesterday. The ruling, based heavily on Article 8 and Article 14 of the Constitution, basically says that it is illegal to ban marriage based on a moral repugnance.
"The evidence shows conclusively that moral and religious views form the only basis for a belief that same-sex couples are different from opposite-sex couples," Walker wrote.
Equal treatment under the law. Homosexuals are no less (or no more) human than heterosexuals (or "opposite lovers"). Since the law is based solely on opinion and not scientific, factual evidence, this ruling should likely stand up to appeal. Until the SCOTUS, where who knows what will happen.
A side note: expect a similar challenge to be raised to Arizona's odious "illegal brown people" law.
American history is full of examples that show you cannot legislate morality. Some may oppose gay marriage on moral grounds, but their truly is no factual, legal basis to prevent two adults from marrying. Period. End of discussion.
Our President may oppose gay marriage on moral grounds and he's entitled to that opinion, as wrong-headed as it is. I support the right of any two people to be as miserable as any married couple. Other noted liberals have held abortion to be morally repugnant, yet have supported Roe v. Wade, most notably Mario Cuomo, former governor of New York and perennial Presidential Hamlet. 
That's not to say that morals have no basis in legislation or governance. We ban killing someone for its criminal act, but also for the moral force of our beliefs. Morality also plays into deciding what punishment the killer should receive: were their mitigating circumstances, does the evidence suggest a homicide rather than murder, and so on.
Where it has to stop is depriving someone of a common civil right based solely on how you judge them to be, morally. A murderer who is serving his sentence may legally be deprived of his freedom to wander the streets-- his behavior has warranted that-- but not his civil right to an attorney. An innocent person may not be deprived of ANY right, whether to an attorney, to wander the streets or to express his devotion to another adult before the law. 
You may find that morally repugnant. I do not. If you do, you are free to socially deny that couple what you personally could offer them: friendship, your assistance, what have you. Your church may deny them the permission to hold a wedding in their facilities. That's still allowed after this ruling.
The state, however, is supposed to be above moral judgements in these matters. Judge Walker has ruled correctly.
The delicious ironies of this case?
Judge Walker was originally nominated to the Federal bench by Ronald Reagan. His nomination was stalled at that time because he was lead counsel on a suit brought by the US Olympic Committee to prevent the "Gay Olympics" from using the word "Olympics" (it's referred to now as the "Gay Games" for that reason).
And...Judge Walker is gay.  

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

How Noble Of You!

I want to start with a quote from 1839:

We have not only the most numerous nobility of any country in the world, but perhaps the most powerful. The privileges of the nobility of other lands are limited by laws, and the King on the one hand, and the people on the other, sec that these laws are not transcended. Laws made to restrain our American nobles, have hitherto been found to be but little belter than cobwebs. If a case comes before a Court involving any of the fundamental principles of this system, the boasted " independence of the Judiciary" is soon found to be mere independence of common sense and common justice. And when infractions of the law by any great number of banks are so glaring that even "judicial blindness" can be blind no longer, the State Legislatures are forthwith convened to shelter the transgressors from the penalties they have incurred.

-- The United States Democratic Review, Volume 6, issue 23, p. 459.

That paragraph could be just as easily written today.

If a baseball player slides into home and hands the umpire a hundred dollars before the ump makes his call, we'd call it bribery. But if a businessman sitting in a skybox at the same game sidles up to a congressman and hands him a hundred dollars as that legislator contemplates a bill that might regulate said business, that's a campaign contribution.

Next, take a look at a more contemporary piece, from Amitai Etzioni:

You may not wonder why the auto dealers won exemptions in Congress from the new financial regulations. But the behind-the-scene deals the White House has made are enough to make you sick.

These include deals with private hospitals to drop the public option in exchange for their support of the health care bill and with the pharmaceutical industry to block Americans from purchasing low-cost drugs from other countries.

Some of us have learned to live with these maneuvers as long as something comes out at the other end.

However, many Americans are busy working or looking for a job, taking care of their families and trying to find some spare time to follow their favorite sports team and have a beer. But when they are made aware of these shenanigans, they are nauseated. As they should be.

I choose my words carefully. I suggest that the sense of the tea partiers that they have been had is largely a valid one. At the same time, their ideas of what ought to be done are very much off the mark.

The desire to gut the government ignores the fact that there are many important missions that the government is best-suited to accomplish. However, before those of us who do not belong to this movement can carry this message to the tea partiers, we first need to validate their feelings, rather than dismiss them.

And we must be honest: Reforming the government so that it will be less captured by special interests and more responsive to the public interest is a difficult road to navigate.

(emphasis added)

If there is anything about the Teabagging movement that pisses me off most, it is that they are SO close to having the right answer, yet cannot get past this last gasp to the truth of this nation.

America has a nobility. It is a plutocracy-- more correctly, an oligarchy-- run by an aristocracy that did not gain its power by force (altho they will not hesitate to use it. Ask any early union member.) but by fraud and luck.
The con that the nobility maintains on the rest of the nation is simple: You, too, can become a member of this club.
See, a titled nobility, such as they have in Europe or Japan, is near impossible to become a member of. You can marry into it, of course, but you cannot, thru the myth of hard work and thrift, earn yuor way in. You might buy a title, and all the trappings that come with it, but you will soon find the cost to you is greater than the initial price. And even there, you still would not be noble. Your children might be, perhaps. Maybe.
A monied nobility, such as we have in America, is just slightly easier to get into. It's a lottery, to be sure, one that costs dearly. But you know most of the names: Kennedy, Bush, Cabot, Lodge, Penn, Adams. And there are others who have, thru hard work and luck, earned a place in nobility: Gates, Clinton, Perot, and now Obama.
Indeed, one of the reasons our right wing compatriots are so angry with Obama is he opened the door wide to the possibility of minorities entering the club. This is disguised, of course, as "they're taking our jobs," as if somehow being a wage slave would make you wealthy and charismatic enough to become a member.
In fact, even hitting the largest lottery jackpot in American history would not make you a member of this club. Accomplishment might, which is why actor George Clooney is a pro-tem member, but if Clooney's influence dies with him, if it is not passed onto another generation, he will lose his nobility.
It is this nobility-- less the more visible ones, who consider themselves accountable to public opinion but the private ones, who shield themselves behind boardroom doors and show little regard for the public weal-- that control things around you. They buy politicians with campaign funds and contributions to their private charitable organizations. They engage in the quid pro quo of co-opting our political and judicial process, right up to the Supreme Court and its recent decision that corporations (and as a sop to the working man, labor unions) can directly fund advertising that effectively endorses a candidate for office. They effectively wrote legislation for the Bush administration, manned the various regulatory agencies that oversaw their industries, and lobbied in Congress to the exclusion of any private citizens.
Here's the kicker: there's no reason to believe that any of this has changed under Obama, except our faith in his good heart and nature. And to be frank, anyone who believed that going in has probably had cause to doubt themselves by now. What Enron was to Bush, Goldman Sachs may end up being to Obama. 
Let's focus for a moment on banks, since I've brought up Goldman. Thirty years ago or so, President Carter abandoned Regulation Q, which essentially prevented savings and loans from engaging in any behavior more risky than lending mortgage money. Banks were running red ink, and needed a boost. President Reagan in 1982, took deregulation of the S&Ls and ran with it, and ever since, every President, EVERY President, has gone one step beyond. 
In those thirty odd years, we have had no less than six major banking crises: the S&L scandal, the 1987 junk bond market collapse, the Mexican, Argentinian and Russian foreign exchange crises, and now we have the mortgage collapse. Who knows what other crises could have happened without someone pulling a brake in time?
Banks used to be a place where you could be reasonably assured you could put your money for safekeeping. Bank stocks used to be among the most stable (only utilities were more stable, but that's changed too). The prices rarely fluctuated and you could count on a quarterly dividend. 
In the 2008 Congressional campaign, banks, insurers and real estate interests donated a half billion dollars to candidates. Five. Hundred. Million.
No doubt most of that came before, you know, September. I'd hate to think that TARP money flowed right back into the pockets of the people who gave it away.
I said, "I'd HATE to think that." 
It's not the government, altho it's hard not to blame them for their own greed. Campaigns cost money and the irony is, if we could take the money out of politics, we could take the politics out of money. Right now, it's impossible to raise funds without kowtowing to some nobleman or other.
Maybe that's what we need to do, change the language. Maybe, instead of "special interests", call them what they are.
Maybe then the Teabaggers will get it.  

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Have A Coronal On Me!

Global warming? Bah. Meet solar warming:

Astroboffins are warning that a mighty "eruption" of superhot plasma has been blasted out of the Sun directly at the Earth. The plasma cloud is expected to reach Earth beginning tomorrow, possibly causing strange phenomena - including a mighty geomagnetic storm which could see the Northern Lights aurorae extend as far south as Blighty or the northern USA.

As you may or may not know, the typical solar cycle lasts about eleven years, intense activity followed by a similar period of calm. Well, the calm period extended a little, and now the buildup is about to hit us, in less than 24 hours, a coronal mass ejection has been spotted heading directly towards the earth.

It could mean as little damage as a few power lines disrupted and a lovely display of the Northern Lights. It could, and I stress this is a small possibility, mean a complete electromagnetic failure planetwide. This last is not very likely but not impossible.

On the other hand, the activity in 2013...well, that will likely create all sorts of havoc, and may cause the electromagnetic failure scientists have all but determined is inevitable, starting with cell phone outages worldwide and cascading into complete power failure on any electric grid, including solar and wind driven local grids.

To give you an idea, a solar maximum (as they're referred to) in 1921 knocked out the fledging New York City subway system. That's, um, the underground railway, you'll note.

Your best defense? Preparation, of course. Batteries. Lots of batteries. Capacitors, any type of electical storage that you can insulate from the grid will be safe unless it is directly attacked by the solar storms that will occur (remember, the night side of the planet will be relatively secure).

Consider Thursday a test run.


Monday, August 02, 2010

Free Speech And The End Of America

This weekend seemed to be about freedom of speech. As I lay in bed recuperating...oh, the surgery went well, the tumor was much tinier than everyone feared, and now I just look like someone punched me in the eye...I saw no less than five programs that dealt with freedom of speech.
The right to say what's on your mind without fear of retribution. I live in a nation where this one freedom seems to be the last bastion of the individual, especially if (s)he can be funny while demarcating the problems he or she perceives around him/her.
We live in a dying society. We are no longer a people who live under a government beholden and responsible to us, but under a government enslaved by a handful of corporations who themselves are responsible to no one, not even their board of directors.
George Carlin says this far more energetically and far more plainly than I could ever hope to speak. It is not without irony that the man who all but challenged the government to limit his speech is the man who points out that the emperor has no clothes.
Here's the thing: it doesn't matter if you support Obama. It doesn't matter if you're conservative. It doesn't matter if you're a wild-eyed anarchist bomber with a poster of Che Guevara over your bed. It doesn't matter if you find your comfort in the life hereafter.
You. Are. Sheep. So am I.
We live in a nation, a new world order writ small, where we have precious little power. Even a revolutionary movement like the Obama campaign is quickly co-opted by the powers that be. We have the illusion of freedom because that's what our corporate masters have deemed important to maintain.
Think about the few indisuputably good pieces of legislation to pass Congress over the past thirty years. Take the Americans With Disabilities act, as an example. It helped people who have become hampered by physical disabilities to access things you and I take for granted: buildings, public transporation, theaters and ballparks.
This is a good thing, right? I mean, if I lose my legs tomorrow, I can still get to work and to things I enjoy doing.
It means I'm not going to be a long term burden to a Social Security system that my employer pays into on my behalf on top of my mandatory contribution. The same Social Secuirty fund that helps pay the day-to-day operations of the Federal Government. The same fund that helped bail out the banks, the auto industry and AIG, as well as two wars.
It means I can make money for my employer, thus lessening his burden by assisting him in pursuit of profit.
Once you frame this nation in terms of what benefits the corporatocracy, you begin to understand why I say we are no longer free. Substantially all our freedoms now come with a price: enslavement to corporations that are not required to be responsive to the people, in any way shape or form. They can't be held legally responsible for their actions in that they can't be tried, convicted and sent to prison. If the CEO of AIG is convicted, another steps into take his place, raised in the same corporate atmosphere, with the same noxious values as the last guy, but with the added experience of learning from the mistakes of the first.
Worse, he's enlisting the help of our government to offset the people's limited power to hold him accountable. This has been going on for decades and is a slow-motion train wreck that once complete will have no recourse to the way things were. No one gives up power easily, least of all those who can abuse that power at will. It's an illusion to think otherwise.
This is why I say the First Amendment right to speak freely seems to be the last inherent freedom in America to go by the wayside-- and I include gun ownership, since that may still be allowed and is correctly regulated to try to balance of the right to hold v. the right of society to be protected from gun owners, but is still highly reliant on the goodwill of the corporatocracy. Own enough guns and they'll come after you somehow. 
My ability to post this rant on my silly little blog on the internet is not regulated too much. Why? Because it's a silly little blog. Maybe a hundred of you read it everyday if my statistics bear out. Of those, many of you come here to download pictures of Ann Coulter's manimal hands.
Who's going to notice? Hell, even the large mammals in Blogtopia (© Skippy, the Bush Kangaroo) who gather a thousand times as many hits each day, that's maybe a million people a year in a nation of 300,000,000. We have so limited impact on such a fundamental construct of America that it's practically laughable.
This is why we're allowed to continue to write what we write and say what we say: who's listening anyway? A hundred years from now, it is my hope that these columns you're reading today will help mitigate history's opinion of our nation and how we let freedom die in front of our eyes. A plea for mercy, that some of us understood, that some of us tried like Cassandra to warn of the impending doom, but were drowned out in the noise of Lindsay Lohan.
My "libertarian" friends accuse me of wanting bigger government.
I don't.
I want government, the way our Founders wanted government: to be responsive to our voices.
I want a government that fears us, and not the loss of the backing of the corporatocracy.
I want the America I was promised.