Friday, December 25, 2009

Consumption has always been the reason for the season

Stop That Christmas Griping - LA Times

Of course, there's another part to this story -- specifically, the justice and compassion stuff that conservatives find so repellent. (Oh, the irony.)

The Season Has Meaning for All, Celebrators and Skeptics Alike - LA Times

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

That's about right (or, hard work by itself equals squat)

funny graphs and charts

But then, most of us have fallen for all the standard-issue canards: "education equals success," "hard work equals success." (That last seems to work far more to the benefit of employers than to employees. I don't suppose the economic ruling class has a role in propagating it?) Yes, we've all been suckered in. Sidenote: the question of taking pride in your work is a separate issue and is psychologically and morally defensible. What I'm referring to now is the naive belief that working hard, in and of itself, can reliably produce riches. One look at our society, in which many are working very hard but a relative few are wealthy, is, I believe, sufficient disproof of this sort of magical thinking. I don't deny that making money usually requires a good deal of time and sweat (whether literal or figuative). Hard work is (again, usually -- Paris Hilton would be an exception that proves the rule) a necessary predicate, but it is not sufficent. What's also needed is a particular skill or a certain sort of intellectual ability that happens to be valued by this specific society at this specific time. As even Warren Buffett -- who, as the the #2 richest guy behind Bill Gates, probably has some insight into the question -- observes:
It just so happens that I was in the right place at the right time. I really wouldn't have made a difference if I were born in Bangladesh. Or if I was born here in 1700. The odds of me being born here, in this time, were 1:50. And I just got lucky as hell. I won a lottery. Stick me some place other else and I could say I know how to allocate capital and value business. But they'd say, so what?

And of course he's right. Your success has as much to do with your genetic inheritance and your parentage and the time and place you were born as it does with anything you can take credit for.

What brought all this to mind was a bumper sticker I recently saw which brayed, "Don't spread my wealth. Spread my work ethic." Ha ha! What a self-regarding ass. Let's say Mr. Egofuck is an accountant. Does he really believe he works 10 TIMES AS HARD as a ditchdigger, even though he may make 10 times the money? If this jerk had to work as hard as many of the folks I know who are making only minimum wage, he'd run crying home to his mommy.

The bottom line here is: if you are one of those people who need to justify your good fortune or the inequities of the system by braying to everyone who will listen about the overwhelming wonderfulness of your work ethic, shut the fuck up. You are no better than most, and you deserve no better. In fact, if you are obscenely successful, you probably deserve less, once such moral precepts as the Golden Rule are factored into the assessment.

Which begs the question: why are so many Americans willing to trade the security and benefits of a European-style social democracy for the lottery-like American odds of "striking it rich"? Are we idiots, mathematically impaired, or the world's most reality-obtuse, most determinedly oblivious magical thinkers? The answer to at least some of the above, apparently, is "yes."

Doing nothing is not an option

A Dangerous Dysfunction - The New York Times

Saturday, October 10, 2009

It only matters if you enjoy chewing, speaking, social interaction, and substantial employment

The American Way of Dentistry - Slate

Aside from the physical risks of scanty or nonexistent dental care (see the story of Deamonte Driver for an extreme example), it's also worth noting the social consequences. As the author of the above article rightly observes: "In a country in denial about class divisions, a mangled mouth is the clearest indication of second-class citizenship. Missing or rotting teeth are like a scarlet T, declaring their owner to be trash."

Some inequities, some forms of senseless unfairness in life, are probably unavoidable. But some are not.

And then do the same with their salaries

Let Congress Go Without Insurance - The New York Times

The change that matters most

The Rabbit Ragu Democrats - The New York Times

Off the deep end. Way, way off

Meet the Man Who Changed Glenn Beck's Life - Salon

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Monday, October 5, 2009

No fair!

Interesting comment today in Roger Cohen's NYT column:
Whatever may be right, something is rotten in American medicine. It should be fixed. But fixing it requires the acknowledgment that, when it comes to health, we’re all in this together. Pooling the risk between everybody is the most efficient way to forge a healthier society.

Europeans have no problem with this moral commitment. But Americans hear “pooled risk” and think, “Hey, somebody’s freeloading on my hard work.”

A reader, John Dowd, sent me this comment: “In Europe generally the populace in the various countries feels enough sense of social connectedness to enforce a social contract that benefits all, albeit at a fairly high cost. In America it is not like that. There is endless worry that one’s neighbor may be getting more than his or her 'fair' share.”

So, to the extent such attitudes are in fact to blame, we can say that hundreds of thousands of Americans suffer or die each year from lack of health care due to the simple, shameful fact that millions of us are using the moral-reasoning algorithms of a six year old. ("But Mommmm! I don't wanna share!")

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Yes, government can expand human freedom. That's not a typo

The Centrist Public Option - Washington Post

The G.O.P. health plan: don't get sick

And if you do, die quickly. (Nice summary, Rep. Grayson.)

The GOP, of course, is using Grayson's presentation to whip up another wave of phony outrage amongst the unthinking faithful-- as if the real source of their irritation isn't that Grayson is right (precisely why he shouldn't apologize: truth is always a valid defense). But apparently some Republi-weenies can't handle the truth -- or a dose of their own medicine (not that it has ever occurred to a serving Republican to characterize an opponent's position accurately).

Friday, September 4, 2009

A rational discussion? No news there

The Real Town Hall Story - Washington Post

Why do conservatives love casting the first stone (and the second, and the third...)?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but U.S. conservatives (and a dismaying number of saner Americans) seem to be the only people in the developed world who feel determined to subject individuals to a behaviorological and characterological review worthy of a proctologist before deeming them worthy of collective assistance, however basic or badly needed. It's hard to imagine it even occurring to a British or French or Canadian citizen to ask, "Yes, but does this person remind me of me? Are they a 'winner,' a paragon of some culturally popular virtue? Or have they made mistakes that I want to believe I would never make?" before granting them a life-saving medical procedure or a needed meal? Should a person's salary or bank account be the measure of his value, of whether he deserves humane treatment? What does it mean to be a "productive" member of society -- or to "deserve" humane treatment? Are you deemed productive, and thus worthy of society's beneficence, only if you bring home a big paycheck? What if you only make minimum wage? Is it then OK to let you starve to death or die of disease if you're unable to provide yourself with everything you need? Is that inability literally a fatal flaw?

Well, if that's what you think, I hope you're very financially secure. The "welfare queen" is back, and the category has been expanded to include not just the darker skinned and the deeply poor, but also the working class. That's right, a blue collar makes you a "leech" and a "loser," too, to be subjected to the same scorn, indifference, and deprivation as the rest of society's unwanted.

The Return of the Welfare Queen - Salon

We Need A Public Pet Option - Salon

Monday, August 24, 2009

If we want to protect the status quo, we need to reform it

Status-Quo Anxiety - The New Yorker

The paranoid style in American politics is now a fashion craze

America the Delusional - LA Times

The Guns of August - The New York Times

Leave The Guns At Home - Washington Post

Rage the Left Should Use - Washington Post

Have you noticed? Nearly everything the nutty nuts believe is the opposite of the truth. The people and institutions they think are their friends are precisely the ones who are screwing them; the people they think are screwing them are the ones who are trying to stop the abuse. How is it possible for one's understanding of basic reality to become so twisted? Ignorance and lack of education is obviously a big part of the problem (look at the low levels of educational attainment in the places where these folks largely cluster), as are false ideas implanted over the years by pro-status-quo, patsy-producing propaganda. For maximum effect, many of these self-serving lies and distortions have been carefully tailored to play to listeners' prejudices, and to dovetail with their sentimental conflation of God with country and "free" enterprise with freedom (never mind that one man's freedom in the marketplace may be another's injury).

But the people aren't entirely to blame. After all, garbage in, garbage out: 'Truth' vs. 'Facts' From America's Media - LA Times

It also doesn't help that the good guys refuse to name names: Anti-Obama Rants Take on New Ferocity - LA Times

Monday, August 10, 2009

Again, it's how these people think

Anti-Health Care Reform Protester Encourages Physical Violence, Use Of Firearms - Talking Points Memo

Widening Gyre - Talking Points Memo

BTW -- where's the faux outrage now, Faux News?

Ignorance: the surest route to gullibility

Healthcare Debate Framed by Fear-Mongering Ads - LA Times

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Healther Skelter - Obama Death Panel Debate
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Really -- anyone so logic- and reality-impaired as to believe these ludicrous claims shouldn't be permitted to operate complex machinery (a rake, for example), much less be allowed to emit opinions in a public venue wherein the brains of intelligent participants would likely be damaged.

(To clarify: yes, I do believe in freedom of speech. Very much so. If you have objections to the actual bill, you are -- and ought to be -- free to air them. But if you want to spout talking points that are so transparently fictitious they would prompt eye rolling in toddlers, if you are so intellectually lazy that you can't be bothered to do a 10-second Google search and gather some actual facts, then shut the hell up. You have a right to your "opinion," but until you know what you're talking about, you're just wasting everyone's time in sharing it. All opinions are not created equal.)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

In a maze of moneyed interests, who to root for?

Is Obama Punking Us? - The New York Times

From tinfoil-hatted partisans to political terrorists

Republicans Propagating Falsehoods in Attacks on Health-Care Reform - Washington Post

Pearlstein puts it well: "Health reform is a test of whether this country can function once again as a civil society -- whether we can trust ourselves to embrace the big, important changes that require everyone to give up something in order to make everyone better off."

It is, in other words, a test of whether this nation still possesses a shred of the civic virtue that once animated it, or whether it has surrendered those collective impulses toward generosity and decency, of which we Americans were once so proud, in exchange for another trip to the mall. It is precisely this formerly shared sense of decency that conservatives so virulently oppose, insofar at it conflicts with their own insatiable sense of material entitlement. And they don't give a damn how many get hurt as they hoard.

If that sounds tinfoil-hatted in its own right, just try to imagine the cold-blooded calculus that lies behind some of these horror stories.

Finally, the me-firsters' ugliest traits are there for all to behold

The Me-First, Screw-Everyone-Else Crowd - Salon

In Sickness and in Wealth - Slate. How America's rising income inequality figures in to the debate over health care.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Having trouble viewing this in Firefox? (I am.) If so, here's a direct link:

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Court's conservative activists

The Real Court Radicals - Washington Post

The radicals' guiding credo? Oh so coincidentally, it's the same as the conservative credo: "Money always gets its way."

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Poverty is not a crime

A Homespun Safety Net - The New York Times

For the last time: lots of people can fail to "make it" EVEN WHEN THEY DO EVERYTHING "RIGHT." Sometimes Americans' chirpy economic optimism -- their unwillingness to let go of the fairy tale that everything will come up roses if you just work yourself to the bone for your employer (assuming you can find one) and you perpetually keep a big, uncritical smile on your face ("Stay positive!") -- is mentally disabling.

More Families Are Becoming Homeless - Washington Post

LATE ADDITION: Codifying our society's contempt for "failure": Is It Now a Crime to Be Poor? - The New York Times

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Sick(o): Radicalizing the truth

How the public's thinking is manipulated by a highly trained professional class. Remember this when you listen to anything shoveled out by official "spokespeople:" government flaks, industry spinners, or feckless media stenographers.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

One can't help but wonder whether Amercians place a lower value on human life...

...than do the peoples of every other advanced democracy on the freakin' planet. Or is it just that we place an even higher value on money? Sure, we like life, but money?? Now that matters! Any other ordering would be ideologically suspect, of course. To hell with those healthy, financially secure, pinko non-Americans who care about something beyond their own bank balance.

The Isolationism of Health Reform - Slate

Note: the Frontline documentary mentioned in the article is worth watching: more balanced than Michael Moore's Sicko (which, while one-sided, is still a powerful, aptly enraged/enraging polemic), but like that film is an effective indictment of the U.S. system's callousness and absurdity.

Violent, irrational wingnuttery is alarming even the alarmists

Frank Rich put it well in his Sunday NYT column:
When a Fox News anchor, reacting to his own network’s surging e-mail traffic, warns urgently on-camera of a rise in hate-filled, “amped up” Americans who are “taking the extra step and getting the gun out,” maybe we should listen. He has better sources in that underground than most....

What is this fury about? In his scant 145 days in office, the new president has not remotely matched the Bush record in deficit creation. Nor has he repealed the right to bear arms or exacerbated the wars he inherited. He has tried more than his predecessor ever did to reach across the aisle. But none of that seems to matter. A sizable minority of Americans is irrationally fearful of the fast-moving generational, cultural and racial turnover Obama embodies — indeed, of the 21st century itself. That minority is now getting angrier in inverse relationship to his popularity with the vast majority of the country. Change can be frightening and traumatic, especially if it’s not change you can believe in.

In the long term, the only real solution I see is the development of some IQ-enhancing drug: "Comprehenzine," they might call it. Big Pharma would make a killing. (On the other hand, a suddenly enwisened populace would begin to demand sensible, Canadian-style legislation to control drug prices -- so that development is probably not on the horizon.) Lacking such an essential tool, I can only recommend that law-enforcement personnel begin packing "smart darts" capable of administering powerful antipsychotic medication at a distance. At a very great distance.

On the backstreets, the story remains obscene

Too Poor to Make the News - Barbara's Blog

Monday, June 1, 2009

This oversight deserves a special section in Duh Magazine

Slumping Economy Tests Aid System Tied to Jobs - The New York Times

Also, is anyone else bothered by a social policy premised on herding people into low-paying, crap jobs? Yes, all able-bodied people should contribute to society -- but without a corresponding effort to create more good jobs that actually pay the bills, the present system carries more than a slight whiff of sleaze, sort of like the prison work program in Shawshank Redemption. "You slavemasters need more warm bodies? Here ya go! Now you be sure and thank Maisie for this fine pie...."

The Education Myth revisited

I like Robert Reich: he's been one of the more thoughtful and on-target progressive policymakers and pundits since his days as Labor Secretary in the Clinton administration. However....

The Future of Manufacturing: Workforce Education - Salon

Here's the letter I wrote in response. (N.B.: Most of the other responses are very good and well worth reading.)

As usual, Mr. Reich's heart is in the right place. However, I am increasingly dismayed by his credulous cheerleading for what Jonathan Tasini and other commentators have dubbed "The Education Myth."

As others on this forum have ably noted:

1) Many cannot afford the necessary retraining, and even if they could, sufficient facilities do not exist.

2) Many do not have the *aptitude* for the kind of higher-order "symbolic-analytic" thinking that has a well-paying job attached to it. (You edu-optimists always neglect this point.) This lack of aptitude can manifest itself as a lack of technical chops (my problem) or a lack of scholastic chops in general. Mr. Reich, maybe you think education is the answer for everyone because everyone you know can master technical/academic skills with one brain lobe tied behind their backs. But many, many of us are not wired up that way -- and that leaves you advancing a solution with rather limited applicability and, therefore, limited utility. A solution that only improves things for 20 percent of Americans is an elite solution -- and we've had far too many of those. When a Wal-Mart clerk no longer has to worry about making rent or putting food on the table or paying her family's medical bills -- *then* we'll have a solution that's worthy of the name.

3) Guess what? Not everyone *wants* to do "symbolic-analytic" work, even if they are able. Mr. Reich, are you arguing that, in order to make a decent living, everyone will be forced to reshape themselves to fit into the same cramped vocational hole? If so, it's a dreary, depressing future you foresee.

The gift that keeps on taking

Reagan Did It - The New York Times

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Bill Maher/Elizabeth Warren interview

At least I hope it contains the exchange I referenced last week -- the sound is temporarily out on my computer and I can't double check - pleh. If it's wrong, I'll swap it out for the correct one ASAP....

If the insurance weasels can do better, why don't they?

Blue Double Cross - The New York Times

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Where else does this happen?

Tonight's "Real Time With Bill Maher" featured a sharp, interesting interview with TARP overseer Elizabeth Warren, during which Bill asked (I'm paraphrasing), "Is there any other society in which people screw each other for money the way we do?"

Excellent, excellent question, and (as the never-modest Maher asserted) it's one that really cuts to the heart of so many of the problems we now face. While Americans certainly have no monopoly on greed, it's fair to ask: is there any other place on Earth in which it's practiced so baldly? In which avarice is actually celebrated, however two-facedly? In which it often seems to displace other social or religious values--indeed, in which the failure of the individual to make this displacement generally excludes him from a serious role in economic life? (Try telling the boss you can't to do X because it's immoral.) In which it has been woven so firmly into society's fundamental institutions that will not loosen its hold even as it uncontrollably, perhaps irreversibly, imperils those very institutions? In which it is has become the boldfaced subtext of the national creed?

I'll keep an eye out for the transcript or a clip....

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

It ain't over 'till it's over. And it ain't over

Injecting reality into the curriculum

A Cautionary Video About America’s ‘Stuff’ - The New York Times

As for "The Story of Stuff"'s anti-capitalist leanings -- sorry, folks, it's not propaganda if it's true (as Stephen Colbert notes, reality has a well-known liberal bias). On this issue as on so many others, conservatives are simply on the wrong side of the truth. Their compulsion to fit the facts around the policy (or in this case, around the self-interested ideology), as well as the prattle and policies that stem from that dysfunction, together lie at the core of their current, well-earned unpopularity among voters. Fortunately, much of the American public appears to have pierced their smoke-screen of spin and finally hears their nonsense for what it is: the incoherent screeching of liars or loons.

Being Republicans, they ignored the good idea and went wild for the boneheaded one

Jack Kemp’s Futile Quest - The New York Times

LATE ADDITION: 22 Percent And Out Of Ideas - Washington Post

A metaphor (and so much more)

Bacon-Flavored Capitalism - Salon

Friday, April 17, 2009

It will end when workers' pockets widen

Mind the Wage Gap - The American Prospect

The Other War on Workers - TomDispatch

Using our pitchforks to uncover the truth

  • Obama: Stop Protecting Wall Street Bankers from Main Street - Salon
  • Larry Summers, Tim Geithner and Wall Street's Ownership of Government - Salon
  • The Virtues of Public Anger and the Need for More - Salon
  • Let’s Expose the Poster Boys of Greed - In These Times
  • The prognosis looks hopeful

  • Democrats Agree on a Health Plan; Now Comes the Hard Part - The New York Times
  • Medical Miracle: Doctors Embracing Reform - The New Republic
  • Health Care's Year - Washington Post
  • Rush Limbaugh: Bringing socialism to America

    Rush Builds A Revolution - Washington Post

    Getting to something good

    Awake and Sing! - The New York Times

    In the theater state, not lives but "lifestyles"

    Bageant: We've Let Corporations and Media Rob Our Souls -- It's Time to Do Something Meaningful - AlterNet

    If those kids would just work hard and play by the rules, they wouldn't have brain damage

    Research Links Poor Kids' Stress, Brain Impairment - Washington Post

    Torches and pitchforks? How about a nice nap

    Feeling Too Down to Rise Up - The New York Times

    That's not "tyranny," you gasbags; it's democracy

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    Dupes waste tea

    Anti-Obama Taxpayer Tea Parties Steeped in Insanity - LA Times

    What was Lenin's term? "Useful idiots"? Except here we would replace "Lenin" with "the elite moneyed puppeteers."

    Thursday, March 12, 2009

    U.S. of A-holes

    Here's a great takedown of Ayn Rand and her Nazi acolytes. In her novel Atlas Shrugged, the "heroes" (industrialist John Galt and a herd of likeminded, solipsistic, overfed piggies) go "on strike" to protest the fact that they have a duty to contribute back to civilization an amount fractionally proportionate to the success that that civilization has made possible for them (though, of course, Rand frames it somewhat differently). Like many of today's self-deluded, self-regarding, "self-made" men, they whine at the notion of having some responsibility to support the system (the public laws, rules, and investments) and the people (the workers and consumers) who were instrumental in creating their wealth, preferring instead the twin roles of freeloader and de-facto thief. Apparently the present-day Randian catchphrase for this kind of toddler-level selfishness is "Going Galt."

    If you are yourself one the aforementioned scumsacks, yearning to go Galt, I have a Word of my own: GO. Get your soulless eugenicist corpses as far away from the rest of us as you can. Spare the decent majority -- those with empathy, a conscience, and the self-honesty and strength to recognize their dependence on others -- from your so-called "truths," i.e., the schemes by which you have manipulated power and people's thinking to enrich yourselves and impoverish others. Find your own island homeland to pillage. In fact -- as usual -- we'll help you. We'll even film a reality show there: "Last Cannibal Standing." We don't expect there will be a winner.

    UPDATE: Here's a fun Rand primer.

    Saturday, January 31, 2009

    And how about some pre-trial "enhanced interrogation techniques"?

    Nothing too extreme. Like maybe dangling a big bundle of money in front of them, just out of reach.

    Wall Street’s Socialist Jet-Setters - The New York Times

    Thursday, January 29, 2009

    Friday, January 2, 2009


    Remember this post? Essentially the case has been on hold while prosecutors arranged for the testimony of a key witness, IT specialist Michael Connell.

    As it turns out, while prosecutors recently were able to take a deposition from Connell, no one will be hearing him testify. He died two weeks ago when the private plane he was piloting crashed into a vacant home in an Ohio suburb. The official cause of the crash remains undetermined; the actual cause of the crash may never be determined. (Not to be Tin-Foil-Hat guy, but come on -- is there a way not to consider these circumstances suspicious?)

    'Karl Rove's IT guru' Mike Connell Dies in Plane Crash - Raw Story

    Republican IT Specialist Dies in Plane Crash - Democracy Now!

    High wages aren't the problem; they're the goal

    Unions, which mean better jobs and more secure and stable families, families who attend more PTO meetings and give more to United Way, ought to be models for policymakers; instead, they're afterthoughts -- or enemies. It doesn't add up.
    "If you ask me, American workers have been silently bailing out their companies for 35 years," says Nancy Holle, a leader in the advocacy group Central Indiana Jobs With Justice.
    "Want an increase in profits? Take it out of the workers' pay. Have them work longer with no increase, or let them go, and the CEOs get a bonus. Time after time, time after time. The U.S. worker works harder and longer than workers in any other industrialized country. It has been a silent bailout."
    It is no coincidence that fewer and fewer of those workers are organized. Republican presidents, governors and legislators have not been inclined to make life easy for Democratically-inclined labor; and sadly, laborers themselves have become so conditioned to going unprotected that they resent those who have some insulation.

    Down on Upward Mobility -

    Who Wants to Kick a Millionaire? - The New York Times
    A Race to the Bottom - The New York Times