Category Archives: Rants

Circa 1948

1948

We break the taboo tonight and de-segregate the post-war Blues era, co-mingling  syncopations signaling a broader tolerance, “a world in which there shall be an equality of opportunity for every race and nation.”

But I do fear a social conformity will take hold with all this fear-mongering and witch-hunting!

PLAYLIST
In The Hall Of The Mountain King – Will Bradley-Ray McKinley Band
As Time Goes By – Arthur “Dooley” Wilson
One O’Clock Jump – Count Basie & His Orchestra
Butterfly Strut – Ziggy Elman And His Orchestra
Artistry in Rhythm – Stan Kenton & His Orchestra
Jersey Bounce – Benny Goodman & His Orchestra
Boogie Woogie – Tommy Dorsey & His Orchestra
Flying Home – Hamton, Lionel & His Orchestra
Drumming Man – Gene Krupa
Tschaikowsky (And Other Russians) – Danny Kaye
Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition – Kay Kyser & His Orchestra
I’m My Own Grandpaw – Guy Lombardo
You Keep Coming Back Like a Song – Dinah Shore
Don’t Get Around Much Any More – The Ink Spots
Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah – Johnny Mercer and The Pied Pipers
Besame Mucho (Kiss Me Much) – Jimmy Dorsey & His Orchestra
Brazil – Xavier Cugat And His Orchestra
Heartaches – Ted Weems & His Orchestra
Ciribiribin – Harry James & His Orchestra
C Jam Blues – Duke Ellington & His Orchestra
Canned Heat – Chet Atkins
That Lucky Old Sun – Frankie Laine
Deep In The Heart Of Texas – Horace Heidt And His Musical Knights
Riders In The Sky – Vaughn Monroe
Pistol Packin’ Mama – Al Dexter and His Troopers
Detour – Spade Cooley
Move It on Over – Hank Williams
Cool Blues – Charlie “Bird” Parker
Sophisticated Lady – Duke Ellington
I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm – Les Brown
Bebop – Charlie “Bird” Parker
Elmer’s Tune – Dick Jurgens And His Orchestra
Snowfall – Claude Thornhill And His Orchestra
Stardust – Artie Shaw & His Orchestra
Do You Dig My Jive – Sam Price and his Texas Bluesicians
Mean Old ‘Frisco Blues – Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup
Knockin’ Myself Out – Lil Green with Big Bill Broonzy
Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby – Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five
Open the Door, Richard – Count Basie Orchestra
I Wonder – Cecil Gant
Laura – David Raksin
Nature Boy – Nat King Cole

Stranger in a Strange Land 2013-03-09: Circa 1948 by The Stranger on Mixcloud

The convention of Americans for Democratic Action was winding up today in a lather of resolutions giving scant sign of enthusiastic support in November for President Truman. The ADA, heavily representative of the old Roosevelt New Deal group, gives the back of its left hand to the Wallace third-party people the back of its right hand to the Taft Republicans. Yet in three days of debates seemed to bury Mr. Truman in censure rather than praise him. A phrase borrowed from Europe may have political significance here, “the third force” which is used to describe the non-communist left, intellectuals opposing “both the tyranny of reaction and tyranny of Communist totalitarianism.”

While Senator McGrath of Rhode Island sounded off against Henry Wallace’s third party, saying “a third party has as much place in American politics as does a third party on a honeymoon” adding the Wallace campaign and supporters “will either waste their votes or give aid and comfort to reactionary candidates.”

Speaking of those Reds, the Communist Police State Action in Czechoslovakia was legalized as the Czech President accepted the Red Cabinet and their brutal plot, who will not be working with any opposition parties, whose ministers turned in their resignations last week. New Cabinet members told foreign reporters that the events of last month giving Communists controls were the ‘will of the people.’ There are no numbers on how many persons in the former government got the bum rush from their positions/arrested as “reactionaries”. Legal elections have been promised the Czechs by Communists, but many other grand promises to workers and farmers have also been made by the Soviets.

Finland, conversely, has turned down Stalin’s request to join a Russian Defense Pact Ring, fearing a loss in their liberty.

The pressure, many Washington correspondents in-the-know fear, may quicken the pace towards a shooting war, and a military pact aimed at Russia.

So while the US has written off Czechoslovakia, here at home Gov. Arthur Coolidge of Massachusetts charged that Russian agents are busy in Hawaii. He claimed to have evidence, but hasn’t spilled it to the public as of yet.

(We remember well how) Soviet diplomats obstructed the UN founding meeting in San Francisco, dormy spy rings uncovered…

Meanwhile, the United States called for nation-wide elections in Korea in defiance of a Russian boycott. China immediately joined with the United States in the proposal laid before the United Nations little assembly. Both powers agreed that steps toward establishment of a free and independent Korea were of utmost importance to world peace, and that Soviet non-cooperation should not be allowed to stand in the way.

(As for Russia, I do highly recommend reading ‘A Russian Journal’ by John Steinbeck with photographs by Robert Capa of that country’s reconstruction, a special correspondence with the New York Herald Tribune).

The U.S. may also remain isolationist regarding the Palestine issue, declaring it firmly stands for diplomatic peace; this despite a recent bomb plot in the Holy Land admitted by Arab hatchetmen. The United Nations is holding special sessions to consider and cope with the crisis. The surprise resolution moves that a council be formed to set up a committee to study the advisability of such a special assembly. The Jewish Agency for Palestine had no comment pending a full study of the speech, but there are those contending that a Palestine partition and peace are inseparable. The British, for their part, have declared that they will fire upon both Jews and Arabs in the Holy Land.

So support the United Nations as they punish future aggressors before they launch WWIII. See “a world in which there shall be an equality of opportunity for every race and nation.” (Wendell Willkie’s One World)

All while Truman chops are busted by segregationist southern governors who came to Washington to protest civil rights legislation. Here is the exchange from the stenographic record, Gov Strom Thurmond: “Will you now, at a time when national unity is so vital to the solution of the problem of peace in the world, use your influence, as chairman of the DNC, to have the highly controversial civil rights legislation, which tends to divide our people, withdrawn from consideration by the congress?” Senator McGrath: “No.”

Just who is dividing the people, and on whose terms is this so-called unity, and whose problem with peace? Our strength is in democracy, a spiritual strength that derives from our freedom, fair-play, tolerance, and the guarantee of civil rights in our Constitution. Though we have not achieved these things completely, that is the ideal we raise before the world. What would the world say if we went backward as that chiseler Governor Thurmond suggests? We can only move forward, even if slowly. Who is dividing the people; those who want to realize our ideals, or a few noisy Southern politicians and a minority of southern people.

The Dixie Democrats are hopping mad over at least four of the 10 points in Truman’s proposal, and began serious talk of convening a split from the Democrats on the civil rights issue. (1. federal anti-lynching law, 2. permanent fair employment practice commision, 3. and end to Jim Crow laws and 4. outlawing state poll taxes). The remainder of the points were a permanent commission on civil rights, a joint congressional committee on civil rights, a civil rights division of the justice department, toughening of existing civil rights statutes, home rule for the District of Columbia, statehood for Alaska and Hawaii, equalization of naturalization opportunity, settlement of evacuation claims of Japanese-Americans (who got a bum rap). The program is in particularly hot debate due to the election year.

But I worry that the conservative con to brand New Dealers out of touch, arrogant bureaucrats is a short hoof from labeling them Communists! How soon they forget! Look! Truman didn’t keep government-built or backed plants at the war’s end! They went right back to private owners.

You’ll remember how Daddy Warbucks was revived, gloating at the corpse of FDR!

And the fix is in, government contracts were rescinded, plants closed up, flat soldiers come home expecting jobs instead to join picket lines against fat head moneymen. Gallup polls show 62% of the public fears another Depression in the next ten years.

“Yet once the war is over its backwash smears over us, and the nation succumbs to greed, fear, ineptitude, fumbling of the morning hopes, shoddy dispersal of the evening dreams. That in late 1946, the two most painful and pressing shortages in the land should be the most primitive necessities of life; food and housing, is evidence enough of the disintegration, no matter how temporary these shortages may turn out to be… Does show that to become efficient this country needs the stimulus of war? Does it mean that 295,000 Americans have to be killed in order to give us true effectiveness as a nation?” -journalist John Gunther, 1946

So Truman places a $15 billion ceiling on defense spending, bolsters social welfare. Truman; small-business populist, anti-monopoly, distrusting of Big Trust, Big Labor and Big Business.

Indeed, 1947 had seen a boom set off by the savings of both war worker and war profiteer, pent-up demand and rising wages! And demand means more jobs! Hundreds of houses built in a day! But it’s not all silk!

Truman lifted price controls on meat when conservative businessmen raised prices and fears and turned up the heat. He blamed “reckless group of selfish men”, the same group that “has opposed every effort of this administration to raise the standard of living and increase opportunity for the common man.” By appeasing them, Truman tipped his mitt again, his policies gummed up by cheap flimflam! Inflation accelerated, cost of living up, special interests feeding frenzy, prices raised by the greedy.

Federal subsidies work when directed and divested correctly; housing, swimming pools, playgrounds, baseball fields, suburbs accessible by highways… Mortgages guaranteed by the GI Bill.

Hayek (free market anti-socialism enthusiast) and Keynes (that economic interventionist) both agree that antitrust laws and minimum wages are necessary!

Blind ‘stereotypes’, referred to by head shrinks, are fixed attitudes towards an idea, event, or person. A blind spot in the mind, the cause of which is emotional and irrational, disallowing the person’s attitude to change with changes in factual evidence pertaining to the object of prejudice. Pertinent illustrations such as race prejudice, an extreme sort where individuals are vilified in generalities incorporating all the evil traits which may have ever been found or imagined in any one past member of the race. Attitudes expressed about the late President Roosevelt and his ideas often fall into this same category. His name has been slandered with such intensity and emotion that one could almost feel the murderous hatred in their hearts; there is nothing analytical or thoughtful in what they say.

It’s an excuse to ally political highbinders with big business high pillows and their dough, fear-mongering the pliant into cheesy loyalty, making chop suey of the rest. Right-wing groups are firing off their ‘confidential’ (re: unsubstantiated) dope to HUAC and the FBI, fueling Hoover’s inquisition. Now we’re grilling not only union leaders but teachers, book reviewers, social workers, and librarians. the Chamber of Commerce is demanding that authorities ban whomever they deem too pro-Communist off of radio airwaves. Even social gospel ministers ousted from their pulpits! No totalitarianism or infringement on freedom of speech here, my friends.

I do fear a social conformity will take hold.

The jingle-brained conservatives are enjoying a counterrevolution with William Jenner, John Bricker, William Knowland, Joseph McCarthy, Richard Nixon… even the once pro-New Deal Hollywood liberal Ronald Reagan is espousing more conservative malarkey, see what they know!

Texas Tom Clark (Attorney General) architect of the list of subversive organizations, making guilt by association a national security policy.

And Adolph Menjou (Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals) spilled to HUAC last year, “I am a witch hunter if the witches are Communists”.

They dress it up as a Christian crusade to despoil your children. But they’re putting the screws on the working man, gunning for all of us, with the convenient moniker that they’re protecting us from the reds, when they’re really putting us behind the eight ball. One of HUAC’s loudest mouths, John E. Rankin, is a notorious racist and anti-Semite, as are several other committee members. That’s why they’re spending so much energy giving the up-and-down to Jews who escaped Germany. It’s all pretty hinky, I tell you.

After all, unemployment for blacks is three times that among whites; their pay only 30-70% what whites make.

So the fat cats have ginned up big support for their Crusade, even though a few short years ago in 1945, Americans sick of war, some 70%, opposed a “get-gashouse” approach with the Soviets, lousy with post-war blues: triumphalist despair. But ever since Dean Acheson said we have to be on ‘permanent alert’ against some unknown phantom forces, resources and scratch are diverted to purely military industry. They see their support now against the Communists as an egotistical Holy War to save Christianity and Civilization. There are those who don’t believe the War ever ended. We’re being given a Hobson’s choice between appeasement and containment, disarmament and military strength- ignoring all diplomatic alternatives. They’ll use the crack-up in Czechoslovakia as a crummy excuse to drop atom bombs on more babies.

And that means there’s little bumping gums for progressive programs without a crisis. Truman’s campaigning on the messages of national health insurance, federal aid to education, and civil rights. He may be in the right, but he’s in real Dutch if the guys in graft tell him to take it on the heel.

It doesn’t seem like much of the Fair Deal or New Dealer policies have much tooth any more, the final being the GI Bill. We still do not have an Economic Bill of Rights.

Gin up Solidarity among veterans, workers, the common man. The saps.

1947 Gallup poll shows one-third of veterans feel estranged from civilian life, either in a jam or off their noodle, and 20% feel ‘hostile’ to civilians. War Department survey replicates this; one in five is “completely hostile” to civilians. Survey finds there are 15.8 million vets, average age 29, 80% of them under the age of thirty, 33% went directly into service from school, only 25% finished high school. Veterans and their families make up one-fourth of the population.

The divorce rate today is more than twice that of 1939. But the marriage rate and birth rate are also spiking. So is the homicide rate, as any of these Joe Palookas could go off the track in a moment!

HUAC and the blacklists has made it impossible for any picture to get made taking the side of the workers, who for their part have seen hourly drops in pay since VJ Day.

And Truman himself overestimates the power of the unions to make his points. He wants to draft men who strike during peacetime, as in Germany or Russia! That’s the crop of it! He seized the mines after criticism that he was too pro-labor. Most unions are on the square, hostile to Communists, fearing it damages their cause.

A late challenge to the Taft-Hartley law is entering our courts. The act restricts the activities and power of labor unions. Named after sponsors Senator Robert Taft and Representative Fred A. Hartley, Jr., overcame Truman‘s veto last year; labor leaders called it the “slave-labor bill” while President Truman argued that it was a “dangerous intrusion on free speech”, and that it would “conflict with important principles of our democratic society”. The latest orderly and properly challenge is by CIO News and its president Philip Murray, trying it in the courts in a democratic manner. Mr. Murray said he and the CIO were acting in complete respect for the “law of the land” and not in a spirit of “defiance or bitterness.” This refreshingly constructive and calm way of tackling the issue hits on all eight, and may end up in the Supreme Court, a matter on which Congress will be called upon to expand, condense or clarify.

In Chicago, the National Lawyer’s Guild charged in a policy statement that there is a ‘co-ordinated and unrelenting’ attack being made against civil liberties in the U.S. Over 200 delegates to an annual meeting voted their approval yesterday calling upon Congress to repeal the Taft-Hartley law and abolish the House Committee on Un-American Activities, for violating four amendments to the Constitution. Benedict Wolf, New York lawyer, read that recommendation to Congress to investigate the Federal Bureau of Investigation itself.

This is the Age of Distrust – engineer enemies for the upcoming election; if the Nazis and Japanese won’t do, use Communism. Without recommending an advocation of the tenets of Communism, one does not need then to fly into the arms of right-wing fascism or “narrow nationalism” (Wendell Willkie’s One World). Upton Sinclair warned us that it can happen here. Fears of totalitarianism abound when there are disingenuous geezers in charge! Hard facts have a way of melting into the shadows of ambiguity.

Ah, TINSEL TOWN!



Stay tuned for all that plus hokum, bunkery, science and more! On this time-displaced episode of a Stranger in a Strange Land!

Stranger in a Strange Land 2013-03-09: Circa 1948 by The Stranger on Mixcloud

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

Perpetual War Without End

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

As we enter another year of drone strikes, cyber-warfare, espionage, pre-emptive strikes, funding of coups, instigation, and still those combat boots on the ground, many Americans are shaking the daze of election-year, fiscal debt lies, and popular culture distractions from their minds. Just how long are we going to be embedded in the Middle East? Why does it seem we are moving on to parasitically do the same in Africa? Are these theaters of war par for the course? Have we been witnessing a new Vietnam? Fed up citizens everywhere are sick of the deaths of civilians, the war crimes, the cover-ups, the secrecy, the lies.

Glenn Greenwald, one of the few tirelessly crusading journalists left, rounds up the talking head hypocrisies and obstinate thinking of our leaders and policies associated with the War on Terror. Like the War on Drugs, this ideological jihad has no specific end date; it can’t possibly by definition. The declared national security objectives make it theoretically and practically impossible. The reality is, of course, that they are accelerating. So if the parade of conflicts (IraqAfghanistan,YemenEastasiaEurasiaEastasiaEurasia) is as infinite as the human penchant for bloodletting and violence, then can it even be called a war? And if it isn’t a war, what is it, and what the hell are we doing to our fellow humans with our death from above?

Excerpts from Glenn Greenwald’s column at The Guardian:

The polices adopted by the Obama administration just over the last couple of years leave no doubt that they are accelerating, not winding down, the war apparatus that has been relentlessly strengthened over the last decade. In the name of the War on Terror, the current president has diluted decades-old Miranda warnings; codified a new scheme of indefinite detention on US soil; plotted to relocate Guantanamo to Illinois; increased secrecyrepression and release-restrictions at the camp;minted a new theory of presidential assassination powers even for US citizens; renewed the Bush/Cheney warrantless eavesdropping framework for another five years, as well as the Patriot Act, without a single reform; and just signed into law all new restrictions on the release of indefinitely held detainees.

Does that sound to you like a government anticipating the end of the War on Terror any time soon? Or does it sound like one working feverishly to make their terrorism-justified powers of detention, surveillance, killing and secrecy permanent? About all of this, the ACLU’s Executive Director, Anthony Romero, provided the answer on Thursday: “President Obama has utterly failed the first test of his second term, even before inauguration day. His signature means indefinite detention without charge or trial, as well as the illegal military commissions, will be extended.”

There’s a good reason US officials are assuming the “War on Terror” will persist indefinitely: namely, their actions ensure that this occurs…

There’s no question that this “war” will continue indefinitely. There is no question that US actions are the cause of that, the gasoline that fuels the fire. The only question – and it’s becoming less of a question for me all the time – is whether this endless war is the intended result of US actions or just an unwanted miscalculation.

It’s increasingly hard to make the case that it’s the latter. The US has long known, and its own studies have emphatically concluded, that “terrorism” is motivated not by a “hatred of our freedoms” but by US policy and aggression in the Muslim world. This causal connection is not news to the US government. Despite this – or, more accurately, because of it – they continue with these policies.

They act ignorant of blowback precisely because they are counting on it to maintain the status quo of the ongoing conflict. Either that, or they’re hoping that once all their tactics are fully “normalized”, they can toss any contradictory information down the memory tube. Read or subscribe to Glenn Greenwald’s daring coverage here.

Smart Guns Don’t Kill People

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

Technologist and New York Times columnist Nick Bilton explores the development of ‘smart guns‘ designed only to work with the owner’s grip or palmprint. These biometric devices are not entirely new, but are still unable to make it into the marketplace. Smart gun tech may have appeased the most idealogical contenders of either side of the debate on Sandy Hook and other gun massacres: they would not have prevented the killers from being able to use any of the firearms in question, but allowed the original owners to keep them without any infringement of their rights.

Nick Bilton via the NYT’s Bits Blog:

For example, the iGun, made by Mossberg Group, cannot be fired unless its owner is wearing a ring with a chip that activates the gun.

But you would be hard pressed to find this technology on many weapons sold in stores. “The gun industry has no interest in making smart-guns. There is no incentive for them,” said Robert J. Spitzer, a professor of political science at SUNY Cortland and the author of four books on gun policy. “There is also no appetite by the government to press ahead with any kind of regulation requiring smart-guns. These safety options exist today.”

But gun advocates are staunchly against these technologies, partly because so many guns are bought not in gun shops, but in private sales. “Many guns are bought and sold on the secondary market without background checks, and that kind of sale would be inhibited with fingerprinting-safety technologies in guns,” he said.

I called several major gun makers and the National Rifle Association. No one thinks a smart-gun will stop a determined killer. But I thought Smith & Wesson and Remington, for instance, would want to discuss how technology might help reduce accidental shootings, which killed 600 people and injured more than 14,000 in the United States in 2010. The gunmakers did not respond, and neither did the N.R.A.

A Wired magazine article from 2002 gives a glimpse of the N.R.A.’s thinking. “Mere mention of ‘smart-gun’ technology elicited sneers and snickers faster than a speeding bullet,” the magazine wrote. It quoted the N.R.A.’s executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, as saying, “Tragic victims couldn’t have been saved by trigger locks or magazine bans or ‘smart-gun’ technology, or some new government commission running our firearms companies.”

TriggerSmart, an Irish company, has patented a childproof smart-gun. One feature is a “safe zone” that can be installed in schools and acts as a force field, disabling any TriggerSmart gun that enters a designated area. Robert McNamara, the company’s founder, has been trying to persuade gun makers to adopt the technology. He isn’t having much luck. “One gun manufacturer told us if we put this technology in one particular gun and some kid gets shot with another gun, then they will have to put them in all guns,” he said.

“We believe we could have helped prevent the Newtown massacre.”

You’ll notice how quickly the NRA equates reasonable proposals like smart gun technology with outright bans and government seizure. The impediments reveal the true, insidious nature of despicable groups like the NRA, who don’t care about human beings unless they have a large pocketbook. They don’t lobby for gun owners, but for large gun manufacturers; gun owners are the window dressing, support for them is incidental, tertiary, and superficial.

This is not the sole solution in a)the rampant problem with hundreds of thousands of unregistered guns, b)the irresponsibility of gun policy in this country, which can be well-regulated without violation of rights, or c)search of a problem, depending on your stance. Obviously ‘smart guns’ would not do anything about illegal guns or second sale or heirloom firearms, which account for a large percentage of sales and crime. This is the problem with most of the proposed legislation and ‘fixes’ from the left; they disproportionately affect responsible gun owners and not criminal use of guns.

Wayne LaPierre, no better than Diane Feinstein, used the tragedy as a pulpit to distract towards everything else besides his own moneyed lobby. It was the culture. It was vidyuh games (thanks, Jack Thompson). It wasHollywood. It was Jon Stewart. It was *as always* the atheists and gays. It was those damn mentally infirm. Hold! For a moment, my heart skipped a beat, would the NRA take an official and humanitarian position on our crumbling mental health care infrastructure? Would they promise millions in direly needed aid to prevent tragedies wrought by unfortunately afflicted people (and not their guns)? No, of course, the NRA’s position is that the mentally unfit should be registered, locked down, locked up, controlled, banned, pushed, filed,stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered. So the people themselves can be infringed upon and violated, but a material possession like guns cannot? Riiiight.

They are unforgivable hypocrites at best, and monstrous profiteers at worst; they have done their part to arm the mentally illAnd in 2007, the NRA fought to allow suspected terrorists of having guns.

My eyes began to glaze over and drool formed around the zombified corners of my mouths as gun advocates praised ideas like putting more guns in schools, more armed guards in our police state children’s vicinity, arm the teachers and principals, FUCK IT, ARM THE KIDS THEMSELVES! None of this makes any goddamned sense, of course, when we look at instances of armed people (including cops) who make shootings even worse by playing hero and spraying more bullets in our combat zones public spaces, often getting themselves and others injured or killed.

And while I don’t believe that there is any NWO scheme to take the guns out of our cold dead hands, I do think that Democrats view it as an easy P.R. win. Another insincere and empty gesture, fully knowing that the final legislation will be watered down, ineffective, meaningless and probably contain a few provisions for special interests and corporations. It might even contain a payout for the NRA, if they play their cards right. Whatever bill is passed will expire or be struck down a few years later, and the whole dance can begin again. The whole hysteria, you’ll notice, is great for gun sales.

Neither LaPierre, Feinstein, nor any other mainstream pundit is proposing any combination of rational and evidence-based approaches to guns or mental health. Even Obama’s statements about making mental health care more easily accessible were lacking any resolution, detail or conviction. They are all knee-jerk reactions based on ideological bias and false, dystopic views of how the world really works.

As FactCheck.org points out, it is a complicated issue with seemingly contradictory statistics and no clear answers. There is academic disagreement and dubious causation for what is happening in America, where gun manufacturing and sales are up, but violent crime and crimes committed with guns are down. However, “non-fatal gun injuries from assaults increased last year for the third straight year“, so there are other factors. We don’t know if there are more gun owners, or more of the same people buying more guns. And still the maniacal massacres continue. Include suicides in the number of gun deaths, and the whole story changes. Gun deaths may outstrip falling rates of automobile deaths by 2015.

I’m not an advocate for any sort of ban at this point, but conflating handguns to assault rifles is like apples to oranges. Or comparing guns to fists and hammers. Or small businesses to multinational corporations. Or fracking done in the 50′s to fracking done today. Ad nauseam. It’s absurd. Guns still account for over double all other murder weapons in the US combined.

I’m sure to ruffle feathers on both sides of the aisle whenever I talk about guns, but I just don’t see the problem with treating them like automobiles. Responsible people register them, irresponsible people don’t. If you want to keep it in your garage and not use it, don’t register it and don’t take it out. If you want to take it out and not pay a hefty fine or punishment, then register it. They only get banned when they get used irresponsibly.

So guns don’t kill people. Smart guns don’t kill people. Sane and insane people use guns to kill lots of people (more people than other weapons can in a single shot), including themselves. And those in power each have vested interests in not being reasonable.

Perhaps the best coverage of the shootings in 2012 was summed up in The Onion’s headline: Fuck Everything.

The Difficulties of Discourse

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

The futility of political discourse seems all-too-evident in America, whether at the highest levels of power concerning the nonexistent ‘fiscal cliff’ or the debt ceiling, or around the family reunion dinner table concerning guns and health care. Both ‘sides’ are guilty of pseudoscientific claims, misrepresenting the opposition, sowing division with unnecessary ‘othering’, and usually no real clue as to where they actually stand on the issues or why they stand there at all.

Authors like Alex Berezow and Hank CampbellChris Mooney and Jonathan Haidtclaim to have found the secrets behind flawed political brains, usually on the opposite ‘side’ than their own. Many studies and online polls posit to have found the mechanisms by which liberals and conservatives operate; liberals are smarter,conservatives are happierliberals stereotype moreconservatives bow to authority more. While many of these trends can and do show up again and again, it ignores the diversity within and without party lines, the cognitive dissonance along the ideological spectrum, and the subtler reckonings of individual issue orientation. It defies capitulation, conciliation, and compromise. The sweeping generalizations that each ‘side’ usually eschews concerning class, race, religion, gender and sexuality do not seem to apply when considering others in the political landscape.

As Peter Lawler discusses in a recent BigThink post, there is actually a very wide diversity of conservative opinion, some with more depth than others. If we understand the common history, traditions, populist underpinnings and umbrella themes of even widely disparate worldviews, we can begin to work together towards reasonable approaches and solutions to society’s ills.

What’s the big difference between American conservatives and leftist nationalists?  They have different views on how much big government can remedy the excesses of big business.  Another difference concerns their view of the goodness and enduring viability of local institutions and traditional morality.  They actually tend to agree that Marx’s description of capitalism as reducing our freedom to “nothing left to lose” is largely true.  They differ a lot on the goodness and efficacy of some socialist antidote.  From a socialist view, the [The Front Porch Republic] are agrarian reactionaries.  From a Porcher view, the Marxists are irresponsibly “Gnostic” utopians.

Clearly, generalizations and sterotyping are an impediment to progress on either “side”. Even this false dichotomy of language (a relic of the oligarchy’s division tactics and oversimplified media portrayal), contributes to the unhealthy ‘othering‘ that ultimately serves to dehumanize one’s debate opponent. If the other side wants to murder unborn babies, then they are inhuman monsters. If the other side allows people of color to live with poverty and police brutality, then they are heartless misanthropists.

Because, just as with any intellectual pursuit that involves reason, logic, and candor, striving for thorough understanding is hard. It would be much simpler to only intake the sources that validate our reactionary conservatism, religious zealotry, neoconservative militancy, wall street greed and austerity, party cheerleading, progressive utopia, new age psycho-babble, left-wing anarchism, conspiracy theory, or UFO dreamland.

Party affiliation can be deceptive, as can positioning oneself along the political spectrum, rife with overgeneralizations and false associations. Although it’s also inaccurate to outright deny existing on the spectrum at all; the truth lies somewhere in the middle. On issues, you exist more on a web, an amalgam of strands as varied as the visible spectrum of light (and even the invisible, if our mixed metaphor allows for our hidden biases and subconscious belief systems). Taken as a mean, however, it is fair to place yourself somewhere, at least initially for comparison.

So does a progressive have more in common with an anarchist or socialist than a neocon? Do a Democrat and a Republican each have more in common with a centrist or moderate than the radical extremists in their own parties? Do the moderates of each ‘side’ have more they can agree on than the loud and oversampled minority flanking their ranks?

Talking Points Memo highlighted the efforts of a small, but responsible, group of conservatives who are “pro-same-sex marriage, pro-choice, pro-tax Republican activists.” They may be on the rise, as the Tea Partiers whoenergized frenzied the base resulted in embarassing media coverage, abominable policy stances, a fractured party and a disastrous election. The cry to distance themselves may be ‘Everything in Moderation!’, as we all realize that those social issues are always going to be nagging ethical arguments nuanced between us, but that the majority of Americans are actively under attack by unprincipled predators.

Most people honestly believe their delusions and logical fallacies. They came by them honestly. It will only take the incessant jackhammering of facts to break them free. Whether they believe that there is a massive Kenyan conspiracy or that the mushrooms can talk to us, they are not crazy nor liars. The endeavor of discourse, be it personable, in the media, or the national conversation, should aim to correct misconceptions, preconceived notions, and mistakes. We are not concerned with intellectually dishonest actors here. Do not lower yourself into debate with manipulators and charlatans who are mostly concerned with power and greed. They are not usually themselves radicals or revolutionaries, unless they are using and steering such a group for their own self-interests. As a rational, reasonable debater, you will find your considerable efforts at chipping away the hard exterior of an entrenched acolyte to be far easier than dealing with an unremitting fraud. You can pull the former closer to a more moderate position with enough time and work. After all, they believe themselves pursuant to the truth; they have just fallen down a corridor of errors in their search. A liar has no such allegiance.

It is true that what is ‘moderate’ and ‘centrist’ changes over time. This is not a post-modernist statement endorsing relative morality or truth. It is evident that our national dialogue, and the pandering rhetoric of our elected demogogues, swings over time. There is nothing innate in it that demands it become more progressive or reactionary over time. Other trends such as changing demographics, current events, media, law, those in power gaming the system, and technological transparency help define what the New Normal is. We all contribute to it. We are all in a constant tug-of-war game.

It may be the case that in the grand scheme of the social contract and evolution, we are hardwired by default for authoritarianism, and to conserve the status quo. Think of gene preservation and proliferation and likewise other outlier mutations. But just because something is the popular consensus (logical fallacy: argumentum ad populum) or rules by our leaders (logical fallacy: argument from authority) doesn’t make it right. Likewise, just because something is novel or progressive (logical fallacy: appeal to novelty) doesn’t make it right. It is right because it is right. No, evidence and a factual revelation of how reality works should govern our beliefs and ideology, not the other way around.

We strive as civilized animals for societal progress; to protect the unprotected, to feed the hungry, to clothe the cold, to shelter the homeless, to defend the defenseless. Members in every camp can be reached who feel a sense of justice, fairness, equaility, and civil liberty as part of our American tradition and values. Only those actively working against a righteous human condition need be discounted from the discourse (unfortunately, they are often given center stage, the sensationalist media spotlight, a louder voice within their respective parties than the rest).

And there are a variety of radicals in every camp as well; neoconservatives, tea party conservatives, anarchists, corporatists, new agers, creationists, paleoconservatives, anarchoconservatives, tax protestors, ecoterrorists, corpofascists… Their numbers do not represent the larger percentage of each group (though on specific beliefs, biases and issues, there are predispositions from one group to another). That’s not to say that somebody with some crazy ideas can’t be right every once in a blue moon (see: Alex Jones or Terence McKenna), or that their outsider theories may not hold a kernal of interesting truth. A broken clock is right twice a day, and a logically fallacious argument can still happen to be right coincidentally.

Of course, given two theories, one should not simply report on both and say the middle ground is accurate. This is what has allowed climate change denialists to voice their ‘relative truth’ to an uncritical and overly open-minded media in defiance of the overwhelming and reliably tested scientific consensus (not to be confused with popular consensus or sentiment). The right has its fair share of creationist loonies and neoliberal acolytes. And the left has plenty of crystal-worshipping, anti-vaxxer, alternative cancer cure morons as well. It seems too silly to argue which unsubstantiated claims are more damaging to scientific advancement and public policy. We all have our false dogmas, and they all damage us all.

Proposed or theoretical truths are subject to analysis, and should be eviscerated by criticism, replicated by study after study, and broken down into underlying mechanistic principles. Only after these theories hold up (be they scientific, economic, legal or political), only then should they be added to ‘The Canon.’ The Canon, despite its strict title, is ever changing, ever flowing with both the passage of time, new discoveries and contemporary understanding.

If the austerians believe that we should continue to empower the rich (“the engines of the economy”) at the expense of the poor and middle classes, then theirs should not be the default prevailing Beltway wisdom. The burden of proof is on their economic religious dogma to bear that out, especially considering how disastrous the practiced results of just such strategies have been worldwide. If any policy-maker or pundit honestly believes the inane bullshit that comes out of their pieholes, they should be exposed to harsh skepticism. They may be honestly deceived (or self-deluded), or they may themselves be revealed as a deceiver.

The onus is on all of us to research understand the arguments we are making. Just as it is inappropriate to attack Chris Christie based on his weight (logical fallacy: ad hominem), bear the responsibility of understanding a religion before criticizing its adherents, whether fundamentalist Christian, zionist Jew or radical Muslim. Explore the finer points of your debate opponent’s political philosophy by forcing them to delve into their deepest motivations, cited sources, and logical mechanisms. Who knows? You might alter your stance a bit as well.

Challenge entrenched and unfounded belief systems, especially your own. Do so with a relentless fervor, sincerely try to falsify yourself and above all be rational, be reasonable! Learn the rules of argument and logical fallacies so that you can identify when they are employed against you, by either frauds or self-deluded. Turn the incisiveSocratic Method against all claims, but do so patiently and peaceably. Make it known when you are only playing Devil’s Advocate for the sake of comprehension. Question relentlessly and mercilessly, but also earnestly and nonjudgementally. This will force someone to defend themselves not from your close-mindedness, but from critical-thinking and logic itself. It may reduce them to tears. It may change minds. It might just change the world.

Can Liberals and Conservatives Communicate?

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

There was a great article a couple weeks ago by Lynn Stuart Parramore, an AlterNet senior editor, titled What if Liberals and Progressives Could Learn to Talk to White Southern Men? in which she reminds us that for Southerners, being polite and reasonable are direct indicators of their sense of honor and self-respect. Most of them, despite our political disagreements, don’t want to be seen as rash, close-minded and unreasonable. Lynn Parramore, also Director of AlterNet’s New Economic Dialogue Project, recounts stories of relating to these individuals on certain issues:

What liberals and progressives don’t seem to understand is that you don’t counter a myth with a pile of facts and statistics. You have to counter it with a more powerful story. And that’s what Obama and the Democrats have repeatedly failed to do. White Southern men want a story that makes them feel proud of America and what it can accomplish. I’m troubled when I hear lefties heap scorn upon the South, partly because I know that the antagonism is precisely what the Mitt Romneys of the world hope for. They want to divide us and keep those regional antagonisms stoked so that the cynical Southern strategy continues to work. Every time a San Franciscan or a New Yorker rails against “rednecks” in the South, he has done Karl Rove’s work for him.

Finding common ground is important, and it’s the sort of thing we need to do to repair the toxic divisions sown by politicians and the media to keep us apart. It is vital if we hope to tackle issues like the debt deal, the fiscal cliff, and yes, even social issues.

There is a lot of ground that conservatives and progressives can share; disapproval of Wall St. tactics, distrusting the very wealthy (“38 percent of the the Bible Belt say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who is “very wealthy” than one who isn’t, a lot more than the 20 percent who admit that they would be less inclined to vote for an African-American), fear of drones and the growing surveillance state, and have historically supported some form of a social safety net. Sure there can be a lot of crazy ideas in there too, but liberalism has their fair share of nutjobs, as well.

And conservatives don’t see themselves as the unreasonable ones, anyway. For a conservative, not only is the uncomplicated authoritarian mindset an internally rewarding and often consistent one (also reinforced by parenting),  they also speak a language that focuses on not just dogma and faith, but also common sense and results. If you can reframe arguments in a certain way, conservatives may see a larger picture that begins to cross over with the debater on the left.

Results-oriented language should have been used by the Obama administration to pitch his ideas to the status quo Right, says Richard Tafel, founder of The Public Squared, a public policy training program for nonprofits and social entrepreneurs. Obamacare, he claims, could have been sold, honestly and openly, but using a different approach:

“Folks, we have universal healthcare in the United States.  It’s called the emergency room and we pay for it. And we cover people’s healthcare right now who don’t pay into any insurance scheme and you’re carrying them. If you’re paying taxes right now you’re covering them. Wouldn’t it make sense for us as a nation to just ask those folks to register and get into an insurance program so we can cut their cost, we can be more proactive with their healthcare, and we can avoid the vast growth of healthcare costs.”

Watch “How to Speak Republican” video from BigThink:

What’s certainly true is that over the past four plus years, conservatives and liberals haven’t even been speaking the same language, let alone having the same conversations when arguing. Until progressives open their minds to respect and include a minority, a populist group, whom they happens to strongly disagree with on religion, taxation, immigration, marriage, foreign policy, and the role of government, there cannot be any real progress. Stubborn and obstructionist, perhaps. But both sides severely believe they are in the right. Regional antagonisms, ivory silos, and othering will not push us together or jumpstart our national dialogue.

Purple America” analysis by Robert J. Vanderbei, Professor of Operations Research and Financial Engineering atPrinceton University. Also included are 3-D models and population analysis of the 2012 election, and the changing electorate over time.

The Lie of the Conservative Batman

I’ve waited a week to post this until enough people have had a chance to see the latest Dark Knight movie, but it bears mentioning: MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD!

The Batman mythos runs so deep in our culture, that parallels are easy. Claims now run rampant that the latest brilliant installment of Christopher Nolan‘s Dark Knight trilogy is anti-Occupy, or pro-capitalist in sentiment. That it purports ‘only a billionaire’ can save us. Chris Nolan has dispelled as much, though it’s not unreasonable to suggest that the phenomenally successful series may be inexorably linked to current events, as no writer or director creates in a vacuum, and both life imitates art and art imitates life. All films reflect their times, and the Batman is no exception. The imagery itself has seeped into everyday usage, (much like the protagonist masks in V for Vendetta), the war-painted Joker has been used by protest movements to vilify seemingly every elite from Bernie Madoff to president Barack Obama. Even without the gadgetry, moral code, genius-level detective skills, martial arts, cape or cowl, many billionaires see themselves as crucial heroes, their “sacrifices” necessary for the good of the system. And yes, the probably psychopathic James Holmes seems unable or unwilling to separate reality from fiction, modeling himself after The Dark Knight‘s villainous Joker (portrayed inimitably by Heath Ledger).

But Christopher Nolan’s version of the Batman (dubbed the Nolanverse), had already established an old Gotham rife with political corruption, a recession predating our own by a few years (Batman Begins began in 2005), the excesses of the rich and inequity of their system, and the thievery of Wall Street.

The script for The Dark Knight Rises was written during 2010, with location scouting happening in December of that year. Filming ran from May to November 2011, overlapping the rise of the Occupy movement by mere months. Any similarity is purely coincidental, and furthermore seen through the lens of Fox news analysis and FBI entrapment, where Occupiers have already been condemned as criminals and terrorists. The predominant Beltway philosophy already has established the ‘infallible rich’ as a cornerstone of its power structure.

And the story of haves and have-nots is as old as time anyway, as the Dark Knight Rises draws heavily from A Tale of Two Cities and its historical Red Terror. It’s a false dichotomy (which many pundits love) that one cannot have both a healthy opposition to violent revolution and sympathetic support for a protest movement. It really reveals more about the claimants’ ideology than anything else. Charles Dickens, for one, cared deeply for the plight of the poor, but not for the brutal atrocities of the French Revolution.

We humans will ascribe our own meaning and see what we want in film and comic book escapism, no matter how earnest the telling. This trilogy simply rings true because it dissects the hard ideological differences regarding justice, evil, truth, responsibility, and just exactly who is the real psychopath, anyway. We can all too easily see the divides and overlapping philosophies of the Occupy movement, the police force, the rich elites, and the League of Shadows. And yes, both lone vigilantes and lone nuts.

But even if the movie were a direct allegory to our failed structure, it could hardly be seen as a conservative endorsement, as bloggers on both sides have contended. More likely, the chilling dystopian vision of a city torn into a No Man’s Land reads as a warning against radical demagoguery and institutional deception. And though some may not agree with the aims of the Occupy movement, it takes a willfully ignorant or forcefully disingenuous mindset to equate them with the insane philosophy of either a chaotically sadistic Joker or a frighteningly focused and cold-blooded Bane (portrayed by Tom Hardy).

Indeed, Occupy remains a leaderless movement, constantly worrying about being co-opted by self-interested parties. Bane adopts a populist message in order to peddle false hopes to the citizenry he hopes to torture, populating his army with liberated thieves and killers. Yes, and there are those whom society has forsaken. Bane’s armed revolt plays to the same paranoid fears of Fox News and the State Department, and the same rhetoric of a much less radical Anonymous; it is made up of janitors, shoe-shiners, orphans, ex-cons, sanitation and construction workers. The under-served.

Bruce Wayne’s (reprised by Christian Bale) sins are spelled out for us at the beginning of the Dark Knight Rises. Not only has he taken the fall for the crimes of Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) and conspired to propagate a political lie, he has turned his back on society and the world. The streets have become relatively clean without him in the eight years since he donned the cowl, but the less obvious ills of a broken system still endure as Bruce neglects the city he loves, and literally atrophies in his elegantly rebuilt mansion.

Gotham’s sins are also many, where betrayal and lies are common political practice, where war heros are expendable during peacetime, where critical-thinking police are discounted as ‘hotheads’, and where even good men like Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) get their hands filthy. The Batman himself, as the Force-ghost of Ra’s Al-Ghul (Liam Neeson) reminds us, “for years fought the decadence of Gotham with his moral authority… and the most he could achieve was a lie.” The overreaching Dent Act, based on Jim Gordon and Bruce Wayne’s falsehood, has robbed the imprisoned of any chance of parole. And though it was (hurriedly) agreed that if they world knew of Harvey Dent’s crimes, the guilty would be opened up to appeal, it is this very act of conspiracy that threatens to help blow apart the system, once finally discovered. The career politicians, police bosses, day traders and rich elite are anything but sympathetic figures.

Selena Kyle (Anne Hathaway) is the only decent representative of the 99%. She (as well as her politics and moral code) is adaptable, values anonymity, and doesn’t seem to care much for gun control. She embodies the ‘honor among thieves’ adage, she is generous, and sees herself as somewhat of a Robin Hood, at least more than the society types she robs from, who ‘take so much and leave so little for the rest.’ However, she is equally horrified, frightened and disgusted by the madness that ensues during Bane’s “revolution.”

John Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn), on the other hand, is your stereotypical corporate vulture, a literal blood diamond opportunist looking for his next hostile takeover, who doesn’t have time for “save-the-world vanity projects.” In fact, Daggett doesn’t care if the world is destroyed with his help, so long as he acquires more money, and the “power it buys.” It is the likes of Daggett and the other one-dimensional capitalists who worship the status quo when it suits them, and then collude with criminals on the side. Daggett only sees Bane as ‘pure evil’ once he realizes the imminent threat to himself and his riches. Once it’s no longer himself who’s in charge. It should be noted, for the record, that there are no real-life Occupy figures who could cow a crooked billionaire by placing a hand on their shoulder like an alpha dominant.

But of course these unsympathetic crooks are surely served up as contrast to our hero: the billionaire who would save us.

And though the Batman/Bruce Wayne may be heralded as the authoritarian’s dream; willing to employ mass surveillance, extreme rendition, and solely deciding what technology the people deserve and can be trusted with, he is no societal Superman. He is not a billionaire’s billionaire, for though he has more cars than cares to count, has never answered his own door, and “doesn’t even go broke like the rest of us,” he is also easily displaced within his own boardroom, decries the egotistical hypocrisy of charity balls, and has not been watching his own money carefully. Notably, he wants to fail. He relishes the opportunity to be destroyed as the Batman, if it means saving the lives of everyone; the rich, the workers and the poor alike.

Neither, however, has he been serving his own people and city of late, trading in his once rich playboy identity for a Howard Hughes shtick. Not only is his corporation floundering, his beloved charitable foundation is practically defunct. Orphaned boys age out of Gotham’s social programs, neglected by a city with no homes of jobs available. Here they become easy prey for vaguely Middle Eastern terrorists and organized criminals, where they die in the sewers and wash away once they are used up.

The progressive responsibility of socially conscious and civic-minded billionaires, (an extremely endangered breed both in Gotham and out real world) had to be summed up by an ecoterrorist acting the part of a lovely socialite (Marion Cotillard); “You have to invest to restore balance to the world.” Bruce has been lacking in his duties, and that evil that he and Commissioner Gordon buried isn’t dead, but rising up once again.

Bane’s movement is a false one, as he tells the people of Gotham that he is not a Conquerer but a Liberator, but in actuality he is neither. Bane is the Destroyer. Spinning a hopeful message in the wake of his havoc, telling the people to “take control” of Gotham, Bane uses his “truth” to get the citizenry to “tear down a corrupt city” and reclaim what is theirs from the rich oppressors who had peddled their myth of opportunism.

And it is not just any “ordinary citizen” who holds the detonator to their destruction, but equal parts rich girl and terrorist-anarchist. These masterminds did not just create a populist movement to fulfill their diabolical plot, but infiltrated powerful corporations with their subterfuge as well. For comparison, real-world anarchists, despite practicing just another political philosophy, are readily depicted by the media as murderous terrorists. Protestors, despite exercising their constitutional right to assemble, are either beaten or made into bridge bombers by the FBI. Even those who have read the anarchist or socialist literature pale in comparison to the bloodthirsty Bane army. But the fear has been writ large in the news: if a lone nut like the joker can inspire a depraved massacre in a theatre, what would an evil warlord and his army of mercenaries inspire?

Like the Batman, authoritarians do seem to create their own enemies.

What follows once the structures fail lacks even more subtlety; in the face of such wanton violence, the government will abandon you. The good cops will attempt to salvage the status quo, and the bad cops will either desert or work against the people. Idiotically and blindly following orders, in fact, could get orphans and priests killed. Only the Batman can save us.

As even Selena realizes too late, this is not what the 99% ever wanted. Their system has swung wildly from an authoritarian, decadent state to the bloody turf of a mad warlord. It is the Dark Knight who is the hero we need, but unlike any known billionaire, he is now humiliated and humbled, fearful, responsible, accountable, and thus strengthened, empowered, respectful and focused. “Hardened by pain… not from privilege.”

It really should go without saying, by the way, that is not until Bruce Wayne loses all of his money, loses nearly everything, in fact, and is dropped into a pit to rebuild himself, that he is worthy of becoming a savior. And even those he still uses all those wonderful toys that only his privileged life could have afforded him, there can be no analogue for his virtuosity. Nobody has done as much as the fictitious Wayne family. And no playboy industrialists don a mask and fight crime.

As super-fan of the Batman, Kevin Smith, points out:

“In our world it’s not the case. The richer one gets, the less moral one seems to become. Not in all cases, but you hear about everything that just happened to our economy in the last few years… at the end of the day, Bruce Wayne/Batman [is] a moral example of a billionaire… Right then and there you should be able to divorce yourself from reality because no billionaire would waste their time helping others.”

This establishes the film’s central conceit as high fantasy. The Batman doesn’t have what we’d normally call superpowers, and we’ve seen it’s not simply the gadgets or money that keeps him going, but his rigid moral compass and drive to do good that makes him superhuman.

It isn’t just allegorical. It’s not just a cautionary tale. It’s a mad thought experiment. Fiction. Fantasy. Though some of us do have trouble separating that.

For there is no Ayn Randian perfect citizen or engine of the economy that somehow magically makes everything better. There is no Nietzschean Übermench. In the face of the very real threats of depraved elites, deadly terrorist groups and savage gunmen, there are no real superheroes.

Batman will not save us.

Reaching Out Right

There are many things keeping the underemployed and oppressed people of both left and right at polar ends of the spectrum. Radicalizing extremist movements, manipulative systems of power and hard fought biases prevent the largest, most powerful populist movement in American History from emerging and meeting on the ground between their silos.

 It seems a little dismissive and condescending to assume that low-income, working class white America votes against its self interests. Democrats have done almost as much harm to the poor over the decades as Republicans have, and offer few strong, progressive solutions. Both sides understand that change is needed, but disagree on the details. The minds of those on the right are as complex as someone with any other ideological stance, and to think otherwise reveals a disturbingly close-minded bias. As for the conservative bias, however, research indicates a predisposition to obey authoritarian social orders and subtle cues.

Researcher Chris Mooney calls them “authoritarians,” those who are particularly allergic to uncertainty and fiercely refuse to modify their beliefs in response to new evidence. They “extol traditional values, are very conventional, submit to established leaders, and don’t seem to care much about dissent or civil liberties.”

Science is discovering that the brains of those who rely on belief and intuition shift away from analytical and critical thinking, and vice-versa. All it takes is a little movement over time towards the science-based facts, to being a more “open personality” than a close one, and people will begin to work with one another. There are always those out there who, deep down, value individual liberty more than conformity.
This may even result in conservatives seeming happier, by large. They may be unburdened with the worries of the social contract, and cheerfully resolute in their locked-in worldview. But it can also result in a nasty case of cognitive dissonance, since so many facts about the economy, business ethics, science and education are in direct opposition to the deceptive claims of the GOP leadership. When faced with such facts, research indicates that believers become more entrenched in their position, as all humans are wired to do. In fact, as conservatives get more educated or “informed” on an issue such as global warming, they end up more disconnected from the facts. While most people do not get their news from anywhere at all, repeated studies show that those that get theirs from FOX News are consistently the least well-informed.

“If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read then newspaper, you’re misinformed.” ~Mark Twain

The echo chamber of Big Conservative Media, and the center-right media bent on protecting the status quo of inequality, “frames” every argument in moral terms that benefit their side, of course. Their twisting of quotes, research, statistics and rhetoric have resulted in millions of Americans distrusting science, medicine, and even critical-thinking itself. Contrived controversies obscure the actual state of humanity’s knowledge at this point in history. Analytical people are all ignorantly cast as atheists, who are now the most hated subgroup in the country. (Interestingly, testing shows that those “primed” with reminders of America’s secular authority and history are less likely to distrust atheists).
False dichotomies have forced the conservative mind further to the right, as moderates were slowly ousted during the Gingrich era (and again today), and replaced by the fundamentalists who worship selfishness instead of a more morally responsible individualism. To get an idea of this devolution, one need only read the harshest words of William F. Buckley and Barry Goldwater, then compare them to the most reactionary accomplishments of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, to the radical activism of Karl Rove and Dick Cheney, to the angry language of the Tea Party. (For a thorough shock to the system, read some Abraham Lincoln for comparison).
“When you say “radical right” today, I think of these moneymaking ventures by fellows like Pat Robertson and others who are trying to take the Republican Party away from the Republican Party, and make a religious organization out of it. If that ever happens, kiss politics goodbye.”
~Barry Goldwater
Much of this extremism was introduced so slowly that people did not even notice they were caving into it, like the fabled frog in the pot of boiling water. Things that would have been ghastly yesteryear are commonly accepted “best practices” today; spying on all domestic communications, suspending habeas corpus and due process, corporate bribery, assassinations and torture.
The social contract fails when the masses are enslaved and subjugated by a select, powerful few. This classist bias has existed since the beginning of our history, but so has the gradual, progressive march away from restrictive, totalitarian systems.
Ayn Rand’s psychotic philosophy has been shown to be a disaster. The super-rich prove to us that they cannot be trusted again and again. Trickle-down economics was a failed experiment for a long time, but it continues now as a virulent lie. Milton Friedman’s unregulated ‘free market’ principles have become religious tenets, both in their fundamentalist tone and faith-based refutation of facts. Many have suggested that the primary role of neoliberalism was as an ideological cover for capital accumulation by multinational corporations.

“The laws of commerce are the laws of Nature, and therefore the laws of God.” ~Edmund Burke

Their wealth is essentially no better than hoarding, and their risky banking as dangerous as drunk driving. Conservative think tanks have been corrupting data with bias, slowly overtaking think tanks, and lobbied for less regulation than we’ve had in 30 years.
The history of our Protestant work ethic has written these ideas into our culture, so we are painfully susceptible to being manipulated by them.

“At the unconscious level, Americans believe that good people succeed, that success is bestowed upon you by God, your success demonstrates that God loves you.”

~Clotaire Rapaille, author “The Culture Code”

Now, the dystopian visions of Upton Sinclair’s It Can’t Happen Here are coming true, with the rise of corpofascism helped along by right-wing activist courts, bought legislators, unleashed lobbying, propaganda, disenfranchising voters and silencing dissent. The rich are not particularly smarter, (though they can afford higher education without incurring crippling debt). Nor do they create more jobs, as corporations are always looking to downsize, outsource, automate or maximize profits by destroying the middle class. Consumerism has been shown, in fact, to be a driver of antisocial behavior, and the percentage of psychopaths in finance may be higher than the percentage of the general population.
The powers that have been growing have successfully engineered a false moral argument that all taxes are immoral, and that the rich are the infallible engines of the economy, when any reasonable mind knows that some taxation is needed to maintain and  grow an infrastructure as large as the United States, and that no group is without faults. The rich are all too quick to remind the populace that the working class are not the producers or job creators, and may even be leeches of the system. All in the hopes that the people will forget that we are The Public, the working class, the constituency, the consumers, and the voters of the United States of America.

“Democrats have moved to the right, and the Right has moved into a mental hospital!” ~Bill Maher

American democracy needs two strong, solid political parties, but currently one of the parties is just a mess – incapable of making coherent policy when it’s in office, and dangerously obstructionist when it’s out of office. It has also has the effect of energizing sovereign citizens, secessionists and white nationalists.

Though American democracy needs two strong political parties, one is just a dangerous, incoherent mess, and neither the president nor the voters are likely to change this. It will probably take interests within the party who are worried that the crazy will impede their ability to get things done, that will push to end it.

We’ve seen a little bit of this already. During the healthcare debate, many normally Republican-leaning groups chose to work with the Obama administration and cut their best deal, rather than sticking with the rejectionist GOP. Several companies quit the conservative state lobbying organization ALEC when it became controversial by lobbying for ideological and partisan goals. On the national security side, a break has emerged between the Department of Defense and movement conservatives; both conservatives who care about national security and (on some issues) businesses might choose to stick with the Pentagon. And it’s not quite the same thing, but there’s been a small but steady stream of defectors from the movement.

Many in the Republican party (or conservative or libertarian or center-right independents), are not happy about the destructive course the party is on.
Rep. Alan SimpsonFormer Chairman Jim GreerReagan-appointed Judge Richard PosnerFreshman Republican Richard Hannah, and others have decried the co-opting of their political philosophy by scheming conspirators. Though they are discounted as ‘moderates’ (as if it were an insult) or ‘RINOs’ (Republicans in Name Only). This fracturing creates opportunities for reform.
There have to be ways to amicably bring people in the Red States to a more rational and reasonable mindset, where even if real progress does not take hold, at least they won’t be working against the development of a civilized human race. A way for conscionable and socially-responsible citizens to declare, “Not in My Back Yard!”
There is even a small conservative town in Texas where the city’s mayor, police force and Tea Party movement support their local Occupy protestors.
Even within the Catholic church there are progressive elements and stirrings. Attacking religion is ignorant and counterproductive anyway.
The trends also show us some hope. For even though polls shoe that about 40 percent of Americans believe that God created the Earth less than 10,000 years ago, secularism is on the rise in America. The Millenials (the ‘digital native’ youth on the cusp of adulthood), are more science-minded and skeptical than ever before:

Polls and surveys, like this one from Pew or this one from the Center for American Progress, have helped paint a picture of the Millennials. They’re the most ethnically diverse generation in American history: just under 60% are white, a record low. They’re also one of the most politically progressive generations in decades: they voted for Barack Obama over John McCain by a 2-to-1 margin and opposed the Iraq war by 77% to 21%. They’re disinclined to prolong the culture wars: for the most part, they’re comfortable with gay marriage, immigration, racial and gender equality. They tend to marry later in life, to be highly educated,politically engaged and technologically savvy, and to place a high value on leisure and civic engagement. And they’re the least religious generation of Americans ever;  the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans now exceeds 1 in 4 among the Millennials, a record high.

Millenials also exhibit a new phenomenon, they are getting less religious as they get older. Most importantly, by 2020, the Millennials will represent almost 40% of all American voters.
Other trends in America include the record low approval ratings of government (where conservatives have always led the way) and distrust of organized religion.
But this should not just be a waiting game. Nor should it be a zero-sum game. There are many social issues that, we must all agree, will not be solved with consensuses reached, and will remain for each side to argue and debate for decades. But on many issues, we do agree, and are both amenable to compromise in the light of the truth and moral reality. A plurality of Americans support a tax hike on the rich, for example.

Most Americans oppose the Citizen’s United decision, and do not consider corporations to be people.

We agree on our rights and liberties being protected and protecting the constitution. We recognize the importance of community, family, social responsibility, the need for transparency and accountability in our leaders and the powerful, and the consequences of not planning for the future. We believe in freedom of speech, freedom from religious oppression, guarding against unreasonable searches and seizures, and supporting our patriots. Very few on the right are criticizing Obama for his murder of citizens without due process, violations of human rights, and suppression of the freedom of press. Instead, rabid demagogues condemn the president for wanting to take away guns, institute Maoist socialism, and kill babies, (none of which have come to pass).

 There are Ron Paulites who can be won over, libertarians who can be de-brainwshed, and Tea Partiers to be deprogrammed. The moderates must reclaim and recover the Republican party from the hawkish, neoconservative elites.
But there are many who refuse to let help each other to help each other. They cannot be reached, defying all reason and ethical pleadings for compromise. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” only works when the other party doesn’t also believe that “you’re either with us or against us.”
As for the stubborn power-mad elements within the GOP, it will be a slow, building process. Taking a cue from the very rise of the ‘New Right’, it will be a war by inches, death by a thousand cuts.
They have turned ‘liberal’ into a bad word, and shamelessly attempt to do the same to ‘progressive’. We can turn their own conservative tactics against them: projection (the ‘I-am-rubber-you-are-glue’ now employed by Romney), false polemics, shouting down opponents with ‘Gish Gallop‘ and sound bites, “framing” or changing the conversation, picking subjects made to look ridiculous, and perhaps even dirt-dishing perfected by the likes of Karl Rove. If facts and figures will not convince them, use their own tactics to steamroll over them, not on their terms, but on their own turf.
All while building a new progressive movement with the trust-busting powers to make Theodore Roosevelt proud. We can construct a new economy movement of worker-owned co-ops, small local banks and credit unions, “responsible banking” ordinances, and consumer protection laws. We can endeavor to put worker, consumer, environmental, or community representatives of “stakeholder” groups on corporate boards. In other words, democratizing the American infrastructure.

Other models fit into what author Marjorie Kelly calls the “generative economy”–efforts that inherently nurture the community and respect the natural environment.

We must wage a media war on all fronts, with “new” media transforming our world and providing key tools that help organize revolts and even revolutions. We must present literature, research, and viable solutions in every medium in order to influence the mainstream, open dialogues with other political camps and change the national conversation.

People of any ideology will be able to see that the lower classes (anything below rich or super-rich or ‘filthy stinking’ rich), that we are being branded as corporate slaves, cyber-terrorists, dissidents or ‘dead weight’ for simply living free as we always have, and exercising what were once inalienable rights.

The solutions and actions are many, and need not come from one camp, or one level of expertise, or mandate. We can utilize social justice hacks as readily as pranks and culture jamming, hard-boiled citizen journalism and activism as well as street art and theatre. Create apps that bring more into the fold. Create freeform political ads (endorsed by neither candidate) informing the electorate that they are being manipulated. We need flyers, mailers, transmission interrupts, piracy, co-sponsored DJ events, town hall meetings, flashmobs and boycotts! It may take decades. But despite where we may disagree on those one or two issues, despite what the elites try to peddle us, we are all in this together.

Expertise

“Everyone is ignorant, just in different subjects” – Will Rogers

I sometimes commiserate with other workers in the service sector of our corporate reality, that allegedly brilliant lawyers, stockbrokers, even policy-makers cannot seem to find a book or order a sandwich intelligently to save their lives. I am not implying that this invalidates their other skills, just illustrating how none of us are as smart as we think we are.

This phenomenon can be illustrated by the way people interact with my room. One friend of mine, amidst party-goers and video-game players, managed to effortlessly peruse my vinyl collection (even pointing out a miscategorization) and select three musical gems in succession. Others would not have been adept at operating a record player, no matter how new. Different people react differently and with varying levels of interest, curiosity, and affinity to my eclectic bookshelf. Even more counter-cultural types will be drawn to the sticker wall, perhaps recognizing a street art hero or adding to it themselves.

I noticed that a recent visitor, compatriot and video-game enthusiast who stayed on my couch was immediately familiar with the whirring sound an XBox makes while the controller is left in to charge. He unplugged it before drifting off to sleep, but others would’ve (and have) been confused, not knowing the sound’s origin, how to stop it, or been mistaken as to its utility. Compare this to the complex usage of remote controls on my system, which is nearly impossible for anyone to master.

At this point, my girlfriend knows nearly everything about my room, its contents and workings. I’m really not all that complicated.

Even the video games themselves offer a microcosm of the diverse talents, skill sets and interests available to the general population. Many require Halo or some other FPS to really excel and be entertained. My girlfriend and many others only seem truly fulfilled by Action/Adventure RPGs, such as Skyrim, Fable, or Fallout. Almost everyone has some patience for a good puzzle game, like Braid, but with their own level of competency. Throw in a classic copy of MarioKart, however, and you really start to see some sparks fly. A rare few seem able to dominate any gametype. And most people who visit, ‘hang out’ or party have no interest or skill in video games at all.

The possible extrapolations of which really have me thinking. It’s not that Jamie Dimon is an idiot, I’m sure he’s very skilled and competent at dominating and cheating the system. He just has no patience and knowledge of how ridiculous he looks lying in front of Congress. It’s not that Mitt Romney misspeaks when he alienates the “lower classes” using Ivy League, Ayn Rand 1% rhetoric. He just doesn’t understand, he isn’t experienced, and can’t comprehend what America means to most Americans.

This does not excuse them, of course, from pretending to know what’s best for everyone, while really only serving their own self-interests.

Whether they are attempting to preach economists (while refuting the top economic analysts), make claims about science (while contradicting leading scientists), or speak for the American people (in spite of the protests of their constituents and customers), the authoritarian types can’t seem to stop “being experts” on everything! It’s really quite remarkable, what with all the information that’s out there, that any one person could make such a claim, and assume they are 100% correct.

If I came over to your house and started rearranging your kitchen utensils based on my own knowledge of culinary efficiency, I would be in no proper context at all. I am neither a chef, nor am I as intimately familiar with your organizational comfort level and and ease-of-use as you are.

Whenever the rich, the pundits, the legislators, the lawyers, the demagogues, the elites, and the corporate mouthpieces try to appeal to authority, make sure you ask, on whose authority, anyway? More often than not, they’re speaking out of their ass, scientifically speaking.

Cool Dark Rock

06-09-12

I wanted to play something cool, something a little dark, and something that rocks tonight. Perhaps I was inspired by the politicians in the news, and all the pernicious trash that seems to be poking out from every cool, dark rock around.

PLAYLIST
In The Hall Of The Mountain King – Sounds Incorporated
I´ve Loved You – The Music Machine
Instrumental Duet – Bela Fleck
Ray Gun Suitcase – Pere Ubu
The Darker Days Of Me & Him – PJ Harvey
Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood – Elvis Costello
I Wanna Rule The World – 10cc
2/1 – Brian Eno
All The Trees Of The Field Will Clap Their Hands – Sufjan Stevens
She Is Staggering – Polaris
Fools – The Dodos
Change My Life – Spoon
Rumble – Link Wray
Baby, Please Don’t Go – Them
Bloodstains (Darkness Version) – Agent Orange
Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath
Red Right Hand – Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds
Guitar Solo 6 from ‘Dead Man’ – Neil Young
Bad Trip – Bo Diddley
Insanity Creeping – The Flow
Castles Made Of Sand – The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Sittin’ On Top Of The World – Howlin’ Wolf
Free Ride – The Illinois Speed Press
Overture – The Collectors
White Room – Cream
When I Was Young – Eric Burdon & The Animals
Cool It Down – The Velvet Underground
Évasion de Julien – Miles Davis
The Old Revolution – Leonard Cohen

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-06-09: Cool Dark Rock by The Stranger on Mixcloud

Even though Money Romney is trying to distract you from his social issues, he and his champagne campaign neglect the American voter’s intellect by implying that social issues and economic issues are not intertwined.

“Mitt Romney is pro-life,” senior campaign adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said. “He’ll govern as a pro-life president, but you’re going to see the Democrats use all sorts of shiny objects to distract people’s attention from the Obama performance on the economy. This is not a social issue election.”

via In These Times:

But the distinction between “economic” issues and “social” ones is inherently false, particularly as it pertains to reproductive choice. The economy isn’t separate from issues of choice, nor is it separate from any issue we might refer to as a “woman’s issue.” (Which, one hopes, extends beyond the simple matter of whether to have a baby.)

An economic downturn can alter the course of even a planned pregnancy. Since the recession, more people have been demanding contraceptive services, and more of them have been seeking abortions.

Poor women are more likely to terminate unintended pregnancies than their more well-to-do counterparts,” explains one study.” As more women and families fall below the poverty line and are otherwise constrained by financial circumstances, abortion rates can be expected to rise.”

Economic violence is real violence. It impacts people. It changes lives. And it’s what conservative fiscal policies enact. Cutting social programs such as domestic violence shelters (which are actually needed more often during times of economic strain), denying necessary insurance coverage for reasons of personal religious belief, or attacking institutions like Planned Parenthood that provide affordable reproductive health care, doesn’t strengthen the economy in any way. What it does is penalize the poor, making them less able to access contraception, and more likely, if they are pregnant, to need the abortions that Romney, as a potential “pro-life President,” would claim to abhor.

But as we’ve seen, Romney likes to have his cake and eat it too. He wants to court both Santorum-covered Bible Belters and critical-thinking independent moderates (some might point out that these are mutually exclusive). He wants to put aside social issues in favor of economic ones, but can’t seem to defend himself on either. He wants to get credit for good business sense running a private equity firm and earning capital gains, but can’t withstand criticism about his affluent, privileged status, low effective tax rate, or corporate-raiding, job-cutting image. He wants to claim that his programs as governor or Massachusetts created jobs, but that Obamacare (modeled on his own Romneycare) destroys jobs. It’s all a classic case of projection.

via TPM:

On Sunday, the campaign defended the former Massachusetts governor’s jobs record, arguing that the state’s 47th in job creation ignores the improvement made between the beginning and end of Romney term. But when it comes to attacking President Obama’s jobs record, the Romney campaign doesn’t always apply the same standard.

For example, the campaign’s press secretary Andrea Saul sang a different tune last month:

“President Obama hasn’t created a net single new job … Since he started his presidency, he has not created any jobs. Not when you look at the full picture of the economy.”

It’s a fine line for the campaign to walk, as it simultaneously uses averages and “net” jobs numbers to insist that Obama’s jobs record is sub-par. Romney adviser Kerry Healey said “Averages are an unfair measure of a chief executive’s record.”

And surely the Obama administration gets none of that benefit of the doubt, despite the bleeding having stopped, and some minor-if-not-exactly-celebratory progress being made, all despite the best efforts of the Republican party. Many are now charging economic sabotage at the hands of the GOP.

“I don’t have any doubt at this point — the Republicans are clearly rooting for recession as hard as they can,” said veteran Democratic strategist Bob Shrum, who believes the Obama campaign should aggressively make the argument. “People need to know what’s happening and there’s nothing wrong with explaining it. Republicans’ actions give more and more credibility to [the notion], and if independent voters become convinced of it they’ll be furious.”

Lately the charge has taken on a new vigor, from progressive commentary to the highest echelons of the Democratic totem pole. Obama’s senior campaign adviser David Axelrod last Sunday said Republicans have been “high-fiving each other on days when there is bad news.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) on Tuesday pointedly accused House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) of seeking to sabotage the economy for partisan gain.

Survey data from late last year suggest the public can be sold.

Proponents have pointed to the broader GOP lock-step opposition to Obama’s agenda, to Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R-SC) “Waterloo” remark and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s infamous 2010 quote, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

Economics writers also question why Republicans have turned sharply against deficit spending to boost the economy since Obama took office, after having historically supported the concept while in power. Last year’s self-inflicted debt ceiling near-crisis shook confidence in Congress’s ability to carry out its most basic functions, and Republicans are signaling a return to the same brinkmanship as early as later this year.

But of course, despite all their madness, some Republicans are going off-message (or: ‘Gone Clinton‘) on the economy.

Conservative Utah Republican Liljenquist voiced support for the Glass-Steagell bank regulation. Liljenquist said he is a “huge Mitt Romney supporter” and vowed that he would “use every ounce of my training at Bain Consulting and in the private sector to dive into the financial issues of our time.”

“When you take the downside of that behavior away, then people engage in riskier and riskier and riskier behavior,” he said. “And that’s what happened with Wall Street. They got away from all good lending practices, they got away from all rationality, they leveraged themselves up 42 to 1 on the dollar thinking, you know what, if this goes south, we’ll get ours and everything will be fine.”

And the former (conservative) justice who led the dissent says he’s increasingly convinced that Citizen’s United won’t stand the test of time.

In a speech at the University of Arkansas, retired Justice John Paul Stevens argued that events since the decision “provide a basis to expect that the Court already has had second thoughts about the breadth of the reasoning” and will likely return to its 5-4 decision in Citizens United v. FEC.

Stevens noted that Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion did not explicitly address the possibility that the decision could open up the floodgates for foreign entities to bankroll U.S. elections. It’s a notion that President Obama warned of in his 2010 State of the Union.

When the justices carve out exceptions, argued Stevens, they will “create a crack in the foundation of the Citizens United majority opinion.”

“[T]he Court must then explain its abandonment of, or at least qualify its reliance upon, proposition that the identity of the speaker is an impermissible basis for regulating campaign speech,” Stevens said. “It will be necessary to explain why the First Amendment provides greater protection to the campaign speech of some non-voters than to that of other non-voters.”

“I think it necessarily follows that such speech made or financed by the terrorist organization itself would receive no constitutional protection,”  If foreign entities are barred from bankrolling U.S. elections, then the court is conceding that “the identity of some speakers may provide a legally acceptable basis for restricting speech.” Not only would that require the court to explicitly explain why corporations meet the standard (Stevens argues they shouldn’t because they can’t vote), it would also bring into question the blurring of lines between issue advocacy and campaign speech in Citizens United.

In other words, politics has changed fundamentally: the old style bosses are out and a new style media system driven in. Politics is now a business with advertising specialists, market researchers and pollsters all fostering polarization and continuing crisis so that their counsel will be solicited more often. Increasingly, political campaigns are run like military commands with centralized top-down direction, defensive and offensive strategies and tactics as well as psychological warfare.

Campaign gurus are well schooled in the techniques of perception management. This same techniques are also used to sell war, concrete proposals and results are less important than perception and image. Politics is now a growing industry with money and politics more joined at the hip than ever and an interest in keeping the big money flowing into its bank account.

This has been a slow and nefarious evolution going back to Reagan, or even Nixon. As economist Paul Krugman points out, as America may be entering another Depression, it’s time to stimulate, not enact austerity (which will wreak havoc in Europe), or ‘Keynesian economics.’ And historically, conservatives like Reagan have been all-too-happy to spend on big government, when they control the White House, of course. Now they are using the crisis to their benefit.

“After there was a recession under Ronald Reagan, government employment went way up. It went up after the recessions under the first George Bush and the second George Bush,” Obama said last month on the campaign trail. “So each time there was a recession with a Republican president, we compensated by making sure that government didn’t see a drastic reduction in employment. The only time government employment has gone down during a recession has been under me.”

More broadly, federal spending growth under Obama has been remarkably low by historical standards. The pressure from the GOP and D.C. political elites, who have been hostile to Keynesian economics in recent years, has put the administration in a tough spot.

Reagan, not Obama, was the big spender. While there was a brief burst of government spending early in the Obama administration — mainly for emergency aid programs like unemployment insurance and food stamps — that burst is long past. Indeed, at this point, government spending is falling fast, with real per capita spending falling over the past year at a rate not seen since the demobilization that followed the Korean War.

Here’s the truth. America has a huge budget deficit hanging over our heads. America is currently suffering from a classic case of debt deflation. This is exactly the situation in which government spending should temporarily rise to offset the slump in private spending and give the private sector time to repair its finances.

If the rich don’t pay their fair share, the rest of us have to pay higher taxes — or do without vital public services like Medicare, Medicaid, Pell grants, food stamps, child nutrition, federal aid to education, and more.

Republicans say we shouldn’t raise taxes on the rich when the economy is still in the dumps. This is a variation on their old discredited trickle-down economic theories. The fact is, the rich already spend as much as they’re going to spend. Raising their taxes a bit won’t deter them from buying, and therefore won’t hurt the economy.

In reality, Romney and the GOP are pushing an agenda that has nothing whatever to do with reducing the budget deficit. If they were serious about deficit reduction they wouldn’t demand tax cuts for the very wealthy.

We should have learned by now. The Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 were supposed to be temporary. Even so, they blew a huge hole in the budget deficit. Millionaires received a tax cut that’s averaged $123,000 a year, while the median-wage worker’s tax cut has amounted to no more than a few hundreds dollars a year. Bush promised the tax cuts would more than pay for themselves in terms of their alleged positive impact on the economy. The record shows they didn’t.

Romney and the Republicans are pushing a reverse-Robin Hood plan that takes from the middle class and the poor while rewarding the rich.

According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, Romney’s tax plan would boost the incomes of people earning more than $1 million a year by an average of $295,874 annually.

Meanwhile, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Romney’s plan would throw ten million low-income people off the benefits rolls for food stamps or cut benefits by thousands of dollars a year, or both. “These cuts would primarily affect very low-income families with children, seniors and people with disabilities,” the Center concludes.

Americans still hate the rich, according to yet another poll. Pew’s major Trends in American Values poll shows class resentments bridging the partisan divide:“Majorities in all educational and income groups agree that ‘today it’s really true that the rich just get richer while the poor get poorer.’ In the current survey, 76% of the public agrees with this statement, about the same as the 74% that agreed in 1987.”

Even the moderate pundit crowd’s beloved independents agree: Our ruling classes are worthless parasites. A mere 22 percent of “swing voters” “admire the rich.” (How many Romney supporters “admire the rich,” you ask? Thirty-eight percent. No one likes rich people.)

via Joseph Stiglitz:

Inequality in America has been widening for dec­ades. Warren Buffett put it well, “There’s been class warfare going on for the last 20 years and my class has won.” The rich do not exist in a vacuum. They need a functioning society around them to sustain their position. Widely unequal societies do not function efficiently and their economies are neither stable nor sustainable. There comes a point when inequality spirals into economic dysfunction for the whole society, and even the rich pay a steep price.

When one interest group holds too much power, it succeeds in getting policies that help itself in the short term at the expense of the rest of society in the long time.

Periods in which the broadest cross sections of Americans have reported higher net incomes – when inequality has been reduced, partly as a result of progressive taxation – have been the periods in which the U.S. economy has grown the fastest. It is no accident that the current recession, like the Great Depression, was preceded by large increases in inequality. When too much money is concentrated at the top of society, spending by the average American is necessarily reduced – Moving money from the bottom to the top lowers consumption because higher-income individuals consume, as a fraction of their income, less than lower-income individuals do.

The relationship is straightforward and ironclad: as more money becomes concentrated at the top, demand goes into a decline.

In a society in which inequality is widening, fairness is not just about wages and income, or wealth. It’s a far more generalized perception. Do I seem to have a stake in the direction society is going, or not? Do I share in the benefits of collective action, or not? If the answer is a loud “no,” then brace for a decline in motivation whose repercussions will be felt economically and in all aspects of civic life.

There is no good reason why the 1 percent, with their good educations, their ranks of advisers, and their much-vaunted business acumen, should be so misinformed. The 1 percent in generations past often knew better. They knew that there would be no top of the pyramid if there wasn’t a solid base – that their own position was precarious if society itself was unsound. Henry Ford, not remembered as one of history’s softies, understood that the best thing he could do for himself and his company was to pay his workers a decent wage, because he wanted them to work hard and he wanted them to be able to buy his cars. Franklin D. Roosevelt, a purebred patrician, understood that the only way to save an essentially capitalist America was not only to spread the wealth, through taxation and social programs, but to put restraints on capitalism itself, through regulation. Roosevelt and the economist John Maynard Keynes, while reviled by the capitalists, succeeded in saving capitalism from the capitalists.

According to Politico.com, the so-called “mega-donors,” unleashed by Citizens United and pouring boundless big bucks into this year’s political campaigns, are upset that their massive contributions are being exposed to public view, ignoring the right of every one of us to know who is giving money to candidates — and the opportunity to try to figure out why.

“Quit picking on us” is part of Politico‘s headline. Their article says that the mega-donors’ “six- and seven-figure contributions have… bought them nothing but grief.”

Wall Street titans have been whining for a couple of years now about the horror of people in politics criticizing ineffective banking regulations and the favorable tax treatment so many wealthy people receive… America’s barons feel assaulted, victimized, wounded, even!

Frank VanderSloot and his wealthy pals went ballistic and cried intimidation. “You go back to the Dark Ages,” VanderSloot said, “when they put these people in the stocks or whatever they did, or publicly humiliated them as a deterrent to everybody else — watch this — watch what we do to the guy who did this.”

Conservatives described the Obama ranking of Romney contributors as an “enemies list,” conjuring images of Nixonian wiretaps and punitive tax audits.

“Most of the megadonors backing [Romney’s] candidacy are elderly billionaires,” Tim Dickinson writes in Rolling Stone. “Their median age is 66, and their median wealth is $1 billion. Each is looking for a payoff that will benefit his business interests, and they will all profit from Romney’s pledge to eliminate inheritance taxes, extend the Bush tax cuts for the superwealthy — and then slash the top tax rate by another 20 percent.” As at least one of them has said, they view these cash infusions as an “investment,” plain and simple.

Not that Democrats are pure of heart and innocent. In fact, Adam Bonica, an associate political science professor at Stanford has put together a database indicating that since 1979, 377 members of the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans have given almost half a billion dollars to candidates of both parties, most of it in the last decade. The median contribution was $355,100 each.

And this, via Salon:

The Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality has put together a new package of easy-to-digest “educational materials on trends in inequality.”

The slides now available at www.inequality.com are divided into 14 categories: debt, education, employment, family, gender, health, immigration, income, mobility, politics, poverty, race, violent crime, and wealth.

If you are poor, you are more likely to be in debt and have health problems, and less likely to get a quality education or have your priorities reflected in politics. Of course, that’s always been true, not just in the U.S., but everywhere.

What’s alarming is how, as the wealthiest Americans get a bigger and bigger share of the income pie, U.S. society is stratifying in dangerous, self-reinforcing directions.

For example, in 1972, families in the top income quintile spent an average of $3,536 annually on “enrichment expenditures” to “supplement their children’s opportunities to learn and develop.” The bottom quintile spent $835. Twenty-five years later, spending by the top quintile had more than doubled, to $8,872, while spending by the bottom quintile had only risen by about 50 percent, to $1,315, and had hardly budged at all since the early 1980s.

This may partially explain why college completion rates for richer Americans have risen faster than for poorer Americans.

Over the same time period in which the private sector unionization rate for men fell from 35 percent to 10 percent, the average CEO went from earning 25 times as much as the average worker in compensation to 262 times as much.

“Researchers who study mobility have consistently found that there is less mobility in the United States than in most other European and English speaking countries.”

So there’s the American Dream for you.

http://www.rt.com/s/swf/player5.4.swf

via In These Times (which I recommend all of you immediately subscribe to)

When a democracy functions properly, media revelations of executive branch misconduct typically result in an investigation by the legislative branch. Watergate epitomized this healthy dynamic— So when the New York Times this week ran the headline “Senate Will Investigate National Security Leaks About Terrorism ‘Kill List,’” it was a frightening sign that something has gone horribly wrong since the Woodward-and-Bernstein days.

Last week, the Times published an expose detailing how President Obama personally orders the execution of American citizens and foreigners that he labels “terrorists.” According to theTimes, this program deems “all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants”; allows the president to be judge, jury and executioner; and operates wholly outside of the law. Indeed, the Times reports that the administration justifies such dictatorial power by insisting that the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process can now “be satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch.”

However, the memo laying out this utterly preposterous legal theory is secret—and, of course, hasn’t been ratified by any court.

As the Times noted in that subsequent follow-up story, Congress is focused not on shutting down—or even overseeing—the assassination program. It is instead focused on making sure those who blew the whistle on it are punished. Why? Because that will ensure that other such unauthorized programs can continue. As Sen. John McCain (R) made clear, he wants revelations of illegal activity halted and possibly prosecuted specifically because “such disclosures can only undermine similar ongoing or future operations.”

Rather than celebrating the heroes who expose wrongdoing and then stopping the illegal acts, the government is shooting the messengers in order to let the crimes continue.

That’s why this war on whistleblowers is not just some theoretical problem only for academics to debate or for foreigners to worry about. It represents a genuine domestic threat to democracy itself. If through our silence and complacency we allow that threat to expand, we shouldn’t be surprised when more of us are in the government’s crosshairs.

And if war-crime whistleblowers like Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, or the countless others to be named are brought up on trumped up conspiracy, espionage, aiding the enemy, or treason charges, the penalties could be death.

In February, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism documented that after the U.S. kills people with drones in Pakistan, it then targets for death those who show up at the scene to rescue the survivors and retrieve the bodies, as well as those who gather to mourn the dead at funerals: “the CIA’s drone campaign in Pakistan has killed dozens of civilians who had gone to help rescue victims or were attending funerals.” As The New York Times summarized those findings: “at least 50 civilians had been killed in follow-up strikes after they rushed to help those hit by a drone-fired missile” while “the bureau counted more than 20 other civilians killed in strikes on funerals.”

This repellent practice continues. Over the last three days, the U.S. has launched three separate drone strikes in Pakistan: one on each day. As The Guardian reports, the U.S. has killed between 20 and 30 people in these strikes, the last of which, early this morning, killed between 8 and 15. It was the second strike, on Sunday, thattargeted mourners gathered to grieve those killed in the first strike:

At the time of the attack, suspected militants had gathered to offer condolences to the brother of a militant commander killed during another US unmanned drone attack on Saturday. The brother was one of those who died in the Sunday morning attack. The Pakistani officials said two of the dead were foreigners and the rest were Pakistani.

Note that there is no suggestion, even from the “officials” on which these media reports (as usual) rely, that the dead man was a Terrorist or even a “militant.” He was simply receiving condolences for his dead brother. But pursuant to the standardsembraced by President Obama, the brother — without knowing anything about him — is inherently deemed a “combatant” and therefore a legitimate target for death solely by virtue of being a “military-age male in a strike zone.”

Although as the New York Times points out, two-thirds of the most frightening post-9/11 plans for attacks on American soil were stings orchestrated by government agents. Typically, a bumbling, gullible, down on their luck “potential terrorist” with no history of violence is coaxed into some sort of involvement and then arrested, followed by news media trumpeting the “narrowly foiled plot”:

The United States has been narrowly saved from lethal terrorist plots in recent years — or so it has seemed. A would-be suicide bomber was intercepted on his way to the Capitol; a scheme to bomb synagogues and shoot Stinger missiles at military aircraft in Newburgh, N.Y.; and a fanciful idea to fly explosive-laden model planes into the Pentagon and the Capitol hatched in Massachusetts.

But all these dramas were facilitated by the F.B.I., whose undercover agents and informers posed as terrorists offering a dummy missile, fake C-4 explosives, a disarmed suicide vest and rudimentary training. Suspects naïvely played their parts until they were arrested.

Typically, the stings initially target suspects for pure speech — comments to an informer outside a mosque, angry postings on Web sites, e-mails with radicals overseas — then woo them into relationships with informers, who are often convicted felons working in exchange for leniency, or with F.B.I. agents posing as members of Al Qaeda or other groups.

Some targets have previous involvement in more than idle talk. But others seem ambivalent, incompetent and adrift, like hapless wannabes looking for a cause that the informer or undercover agent skillfully helps them find.

For more things you probably didn’t know about how the world actually works, subscribe to Lee Camp’s Moment of Clarity series:

And, of course, follow the Stranger in a Strange Land on Mutiny Radio!

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-06-09: Cool Dark Rock by The Stranger on Mixcloud

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

10 Cliches That Try to Take the Place of Legitimate Argument

We’re all guilty of it, whether in our daily conversations, debates or blog posts. Analogy and illustration serve to simplify our understanding and answers to life’s complex conundrums. Sometimes, however, these over-used aphorisms over-simplify to the point of absurdity. It may even amount to pseudo-intellectual name-dropping, hoping to fool your audience into thinking that because you know who George Santayana was, that being in such good company means your reasoning must be thoroughly sound!

They may have a legitimate point, they may even be saying something you agree with, but “a broken clock is still right twice a day,” and fallacious logic can still coincidentally lead to a correct conclusion.

1. “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

-Albert Einstein

Which is why he stopped trying to comb his hair after a while.

But how else would mutation and evolution have happened, innovation and invention, or the replication of experiments, the very foundation of falsifiability and the cornerstone of scientific discovery?

Actually, I prefer to think that Einstein wasn’t really talking shit on replication, but merely accurately describing that most everything that happens in the cosmos is insane. If you have some stupid theory of everything but your experiments can’t prove your pseudoscience, you’re not wrong to keep trying. Just insane.

People have used his phrase in political arguments, critiques of opponents, constructive criticism of peers, matronly advice, and internet comment sections, all hoping to wow one another with their undeniable wisdom.

When this fails to happen, they do it again and again.

This may be because, as we know, there are no original ideas.

2. “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.”

-T. S. Eliot

And immature artists sue you for stealing

It’s not that I agree or disagree with any of these clichés (although some are undoubtedly ridiculous, as we shall soon see), it’s just that many of them are offered up instead of saying anything valuable at all. Of course creative people steal from their influences, we are all the product of our experiences!

Plagiarism is an even thornier-than-usual issue these days, however, so you had better be careful what you use this old quote to justify!

But I don’t think it’s fair to say that there is no original content. And not everything has to be mash-up or a modernization or a cover or a sequel or a gritty revisioning. Nobody like Ramses II existed before Ramses II (not even Ramses I). And the aforementioned Einstein was obviously thinking on another cosmic plane! To say nothing of Edison, Newton, Galileo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Archimedes… okay, now I’m just name-dropping! And certainly each of them drew on the accumulated knowledge of the great minds that came before, but that’s not really saying anything more than the obvious. We need these mutants to inject genuinely fresh and new ideas because, after all, the rest of us are so stupid.

3. We only use 10% of our brains.

In some cases this is true.

In addition to being on this list for overused phrases, you’ll also find it listed in collections of commonly cited phrases that aren’t even true. Those in the pseudosciences and radio arts often hold Einstein as an example of a God-king who could somehow magically harness 20% of his brain power, with the rest of us catatonically drooling down our fronts with glazed eyes. Many misattribute the quote itself to Einstein, or imply that special training (expensive books and tape) can “unlock” the remaining percentile, or even that impressive psychic powers or a sixth sense reside in the bulk of our unused gray matter.

Although many mysteries regarding brain function remain, every part of the brain has a known function.

According to wikipedia, it may have been early neuroscientists who used the 10% figure when referring to the proportion of neurons in the brain that fire at any given time or to the percentage of the brain’s functions that had been mapped at the time (accounts differ).

No matter, this commonly held misconception has proliferated through our pop culture, and is claimed by paranormal believers so much that one cannot help but wonder if they just want it to be true because it applies more readily in their case. Luckily, for about as many people who use this trite falsehood, there seems to be just as many ready to counter and ridicule it.

4. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it

– George Santayana

Which is why they'll be remaking this movie soon.

I’m not a big believer that history repeats itself in any verifiable or scientifically useful way. That being said, similarities can be found between any two time periods, or probably, between any two things one cares to draw comparisons or confirmation-biases with.

And just what are the parameters? Are my neighbor and I doomed to repeat the events of the Peloponnesian War? If I suddenly forget the Nineties will I wake up one morning with a mullet?

I guess I’m mostly annoyed by the politician’s usage of this gem. When describing the economic collapse of recent memory, it could behoove one side or the other to compare either to the policies that led to the Great Depression, or to the recovery policies that dug us back out.

Invariably, someone uses a shade of this quote to wreak their foul Godwin’s Law, implying that because we are not diligent against the current administration (or whatever), that they must be Nazis readying for a blitz.

But Nazis were all about history! They had a storied passion for their firm place in history, for better or worse, and deliberately chose which facets to glamorize and which to destroy. There was very little unintentional lapse of memory at work.

Ironically, today nazis are often treated as a sinister joke, the sheer ridiculousness itself guarding against tyranny in that very specific form

5. “First they came for the communists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

Martin Niemöller

This seems a very reasonable statement of our human nature to ignore problems until they are at our doorstep, or how we willingly bow to authority, no matter how triumphantly evil. Zimbardo or Millgram in action.

Call it survivor’s guilt, guilt by association, criminal negligence… no matter what it’s called, it’s still just a slippery slope argument. Granted, when cases of genocide are concerned, it’s best to err on the side of not imprisoning and slaughtering millions, but I would still be remiss not to point out that logical fallacy.

And even still, assuming Martin’s speaking for everyone in Reichland to make his point more valid (or at least assuming that the decades of quoters do), then each person up the chain would have also been a varying degree of guilty. There was no one left to speak out for you, because no one was speaking out for anyone, any time, anywhere, anyway.

Another similar (and just as overused) quote is Edmund Burke’s “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” 

No… I mean… evil sort of had the most to do with it… call it 80/20

6. “God does not play dice with the universe.”

-Albert Einstein

Unless this is a tabletop RPG. In which case, God uses many dice.

Einstein’s been proven wrong on many things in the years since his death, as he was just a man, and a product of his time. But this quote should be understood in his context and time, with the understanding that  Neitzsche proclaimed God dead, and that Spinoza proclaimed God to be a sort of pantheistic representation of all being. Similar to Dawkins or Hawking’s assertion of the non-necessity of a God, a reasonable and scientifically literate individual does not need a God to play dice with the universe, but admitting its  irrelevance to science does not render moot the possibility of a personal, non-interventionist deity.

Moreover, religion has nothing to do with it, so people who use this quote to claim that even the infallible Einstein was a believer are missing his point. Einstein was referring to the (then) burgeoning theory and study of quantum mechanics, which in the decades since his death have had numerous verifications and observable interactions with established physics. In fact, the very early precursors to the field are thanks to Einstein himself.

And really, what kind of scientific method would it be if it all just stopped after Einstein? Just because he said or did or thought or believed something, doesn’t mean we all have to!

7. If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you jump off a bridge too?

Hey, man, go with the flow.

Some version of this argument can be heard by desperate debaters and scolding mothers worldwide, and implies that following the herd will bring us to a nasty end. But really, it all depends… Is there a bungie cord? Is the bridge taller than 4ft? Is the goal itself to commit suicide? Am I going to be the very best at it? Has the pile of bodies gotten tall enough to comfortably break my fall?

With its equally clichéd antithesis, “50 million Frenchmen can’t be wrong”, the appeal to popularity or appeal against popularity really tells us nothing about the original argument, or the wisdom in group-thinking. People who follow the “herd” have a “sheep” or “lemming” mentality. And yet, 4 out of 5 experts agree, everyone else is doing it, and you do want to be popular, don’t you?

We need individual thinkers to point out that the Earth is round and goes around the sun, but we also need group cooperation to build roads, operate government, form protests, fight wars, make the trains run on time and populate Coachella.

These fallacious nuggets appear everywhere, but just because everyone else uses them, doesn’t mean you will. Right?

8. “Won’t somebody please think of the children!?”

-Helen Lovejoy

After epochs of stuffiness and reactionary noisemaking by parental associations and nosy church busybodies, imagine how much slower our society must have progressed due to whatever scary monster-of-the-week was lodged in their collective craws.

We basically ended up with violent Prohibition in the U.S. because of ‘The Boogeyman’, and this ‘reasoning’ still wreaks havoc in our schools, on our televisions, and in our libraries. All sorts of censorship have been implemented to protect our defenseless children, from comic books, video gamesplastic-propelling toyssex in music and the cartoons in cigarette advertising. More accurately, censorship is put in place so that one group of vocal zealots can get their way, or to disenfranchise another group, or to help facilitate half-assed under-parenting.

The entirety of Jenny McCarthy’s insane and factually-vacant crusade against vaccination can be summed up as ‘for the sake of the children.’ You know what the children really need? Intellectual discourse and critical thinking to engineer a better world for them to grow up in. I know, it sounds batty.

At the same time, the really cool, really old people remind us how easy kids today have it. How back in their day, they only had a jagged shard of metal to play with, or how they used to have to work in a factory for seventeen hours a day for pennies, or how they used to be afraid of things like… y’know… polio.

Come to think of it, back in my day, we had playgrounds made of concrete and steel. Kids have it so easy.

9. “Greed is good”

               -Gordon Gecko

For all your conniving and success, you still couldn't avoid LeBeouf.

For all your conniving and success, you still couldn't avoid LeBeouf.

Especially true in this era of class warfare, where the top blah-blah-blah-percent blah-blah-blah against the bottom blah-blah-blah-percent! We hear this from the right-wing media, the corporate elites, and their bought legislators. It’s the defining principle at work in ‘Trickle-Down Economics’, deregulation, free market principles, and Citizen’s United.

I could write multiple separate essays on all that Ayn Rand nonsense (and I have), but mostly I just hate it when cautionary tales are taken out of context, idolized and seen as divine inspiration. How soon we forget how things ended for Gordon Gecko, or Tony Montana, or Don Corleone, as instead we are bedazzled by the short-lived success and glory. Unfortunately, things do not turn out as bad for the baddies in real life, who seem to rarely see their downfall from massive hubris. It’s nefarious, it’s ignorant, and it’s bitter irony.

Which serves as a reminder that the original cautionary tale was Satan’s.

10. Those who choose not to vote shouldn’t be allowed to complain.

Good enough reason for anyone to complain.

Or any other fascistic (though perhaps well-meaning) platitudes of intellectual treacle. If somebody exercises their freedom of speech and vote by abstaining, then that’s a perfectly reasonable choice. As if a dictatorship or some other undesirable federal form of government would affect non-voters differently than voters! In fact, it’s the political ideologues and loud patriots who would hear the boots marching first, not the apathetic whiners.

Why is it that if someone chooses not to perform one constitutionally granted right, they should be stripped of an entirely different enumerated one? Just how well would the following fly with these freedom-flinging pro-voting bigots?
  • Those who choose not to practice freedom of religion should have troops quartered in their home.
  • Those who choose not to assemble shouldn’t allowed to bear arms.
  • Those who skip jury duty shouldn’t petition their government.

Okay, well maybe that last one is a bit hypocritical, but still…

Of course, the abstainers will still have to listen to the clichéd proselytizers, because they’re just exercising their First Amendment Rights, after all.

BONUS: “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes!”

-Benjamin Franklin

This one only annoys me because people like to quote it and then add their own third thing, completely missing the entire point. ‘And taxes’ is the punch line, implying that they are as detrimental and damning as death itself, when clearly they’re just a damned nuisance. To add your own third option, whether to make a point or attempt to be humorous, underplays the quote. Quit it. I’m sick of hearing it.