Saturday, December 24, 2011

Learning How to Control Your Life

A friend on Facebook posted a link to an essay on Learned Helplessness.  And I liked the idea, as most people aren't really in control of their lives and assume that there is no way of controlling it.  Nothing works out like how they think it should, so they make excuses instead of figuring out how they can make things better.  Blaming your boss for being a dick is easy.  Figuring out how to make that dickie boss support you is difficult; but you'll never do it if you assume it's impossible.

While there might not always be a good solution for all your problems, that's absolutely no excuse to stop looking for one.  You should always try to find a better way of doing things.  Always.

Anyway, here's the response I gave to that essay.

While I agreed with the general point of that essay, I felt that it didn't really hit the nail on the head. For one thing, I don't think helplessness is learned, but rather, it's the default we start with. People aren't trained to accept shitty lives. It's that they were never trained in how to fix things in the first place. It's easy to just go with the flow, while very few people ever learn how to control their lives; including the "rebels" who imagine they're different because they do all the same things all the other "rebels" do. As if contrarianism somehow represented freewill.

Moreover, I think this phenomenon can be more generalized into saying that we can learn to get used to ANYTHING. It's how we cope. It's not just helplessness. Rich people get used to wealth and don't realize they're getting anything special, just as poor people get used to poverty and can't imagine anything different. A smelly room stops being smelly once your brain adjusts, while loud sounds stop being loud after awhile. Our ability to adapt is a key feature in the human brain which is generally a positive thing, though it can obviously lead to bad things, too.

And one glaring error in that essay was the idea that normal people externalize their failures while helpless people blame themselves. This is completely the opposite: Helpless people externalize their failures by believing things were out of their control, while normal people blame themselves and figure out what they could have done differently. It's easy to make excuses for why we fail, but it's hard to see what we could have done better. Even someone who thinks "I failed because I'm stupid" isn't really blaming themselves. They think their failure is outside of their control, and not really their fault because they didn't make themselves stupid. You only blame yourself when you accept that you could have done things differently, but didn't.

Another error was the belief that changing one's ringtones would somehow make one feel more confident in their ability to improve their lives. Again, it's the opposite: You search for superficial and meaningless change in your life because you don't know how to affect real change. Ringtones fix nothing. Learning how to work harder is a real improvement. Most people strive for the superficial because it's so much easier than fixing the real. That's why they're ultimately unhappy, because they've never learned how they can improve their lives for real. People in control of their lives don't spend much time rearranging furniture or changing ringtones. I know I never do.

Being Better Than Our Bodies

Over on Facebook, I've got a friend who keeps posting stuff about how we need to learn to accept our bodies and not be upset with what we look like.  And I'm sorry, but I think that's incredibly misguided.  While we are essentially stuck with who we are and can't all look like quarterbacks and super models, that's no excuse for just letting ourselves go and accepting whatever we look like.  

I myself suffered through that, as I once weighed sixty pounds more than I do now, and believed that I looked normal and complained to my wife on more than one occasion because I truly believed she was shrinking my clothes in the laundry.  Seriously.  Over time, I decided to not eat quite so much and to get a little exercise, and now I look at pictures of myself from ten years ago and I'm embarrassed that I ever accepted that.  Not that I looked bad, but wow, I look so much better now. 

And it wasn't that I had to go on some crazy diet or anything, as I wouldn't do that sort of thing.  I just realized that I was eating stupid and drinking too much, and learned to adjust.  Now I still eat fast food and drink, but not as much as before; and I look great.  While we should never expect ourselves to look like something we're not, that's no excuse to let ourselves go and do whatever we feel like. 

Anyway, here's what I posted as my comment.

I think it's dangerous to believe that we are our bodies. We are not. We are our minds and our bodies are stupid material things we are stuck with. If our bodies are unhealthy, it affects our minds and makes us unhealthy. In addition, when our bodies are unhealthy, it makes others treat us badly which makes things worse for ourselves.

It is wrong for someone in bad shape to think "My body sucks, so I suck." But it's equally wrong to think "My body sucks and I should accept it because that's who I am." The correct thing to think is "My body sucks and I'm better than it, so I'm going to fix it so it becomes what it should be." We are not our bodies. We are our minds.

To accept an unhealthy body is an excuse.  While there are many types of bodies, there is an ideal body for each of us. We should be our ideal body and fight to make sure we attain it. Not because we are our bodies, but because it makes who we are better. We should always strive to be our best selves, always. No excuses.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Defending Obama Against Fantasies

I'm in a debate on Facebook with someone attacking Obama, who finds it incomprehensible that I don't think a "smart savvy political thinker" could dislike Obama, but who has yet to explain why I should do so.  Instead, he's asked me what it'd take for me to realize that Obama is "corporate-owned scum like all the rest of them."  I haven't been posting much lately, so I figured I'd reprint my reply.
No, Jeffrey. I can't imagine any reason why a smart savvy political thinker might dislike Obama. I already said that. And your response was to imply that Obama is scum without specifying any reason whatsoever.

But to answer your second question, assuming you were expecting an answer: I would be convinced that Obama was a corporate-owned scum if he acted like one. But since he continues to do things that help working class people, including giving us better healthcare, extending unemployment benefits, and continuing the payroll tax cut he gave to all working Americans; I fail to see how this makes him a bad person.

Obama made sure that cancer patients can't have their policies rescinded when they get cancer, as well as making sure that babies born with birth defects get insured. You've done literally NOTHING that can compete with either of those things, and that's just the beginning of all the things he's done for us. So you can talk big all you want, but I know which person is fighting for me and who's just talking.

Words are cheap and it's easy to stand tall on principles that don't cost anything. I put my support behind the guy who has backed them up. Until you can protect us against a Republican president, you've got little ground to attack the man from. You might say that the system is rigged against someone like you winning the presidency, but it was rigged against him too, and he made it. And so he's had to accept compromise in order to get us what we want. That's what democracy is all about and the only reason you don't need to compromise is because you aren't in a position to win anything by compromise either.

Btw, Obama has personally saved me a few hundred dollars in overdraft fees thanks to his bank reform law in 2009. What have you done for me lately?
After wards, the guy responded back attacking the standard mistruths that Obama's critics on the left use against him, which you can figure out by reading my reply:
Ok, I'm glad you at least bothered saying why you're upset with him. Fortunately for us all, your list is incredibly flawed.

For NDAA, could you explain why that was a bad thing? As I already said, it didn't really change anything. I know people SAY that it allows the government to hold US citizens indefinitely and whatnot, but since that's not true, they're wrong. The law really didn't do much of anything, as it's still up to the courts to interpret what the law really is as it didn't really change anything from what we were doing already.

As for the American citizen he killed (I'm only aware of only one, so I'd like to hear of more if there are some), I fully agreed with that. That was done with the approval of many people within the government, using a legal argument that I find sensible. So I find nothing wrong with the one case I know of in which this happened. With Gitmo, he wants to close it. Congress won't let him. Have you some evidence that this isn't the case, or do you believe him to be a dictator who can close Gitmo without the approval of Congress?

The "sell out" over the Bush tax cuts got us many great things, including extended unemployment benefits, a payroll tax cut that saved people $1000 on average this year, a nuclear treaty with Russia, and the end of DADT; among many other things. And had he not agreed to it, he'd have gotten NOTHING. This is a democracy and Republicans do have power. Had he waited until January, they'd have had even more power. But he's stated repeatedly that the tax cut was dumb and that he'll be in a better position to fight this battle next year; and my political calculations say the same thing.

The stimulus package did have many tax cuts, though the majority of it went to low and middle class people. Of the $787 billion bill, only $51 billion went to businesses, so I'm confused as to why you think it went "mostly" to corporations. Btw, the experts say that the stimulus worked and that we'd be worse off without it, so I'm confused as to why you're listing this as a problem.

As for the "trillions" that went to secret bailouts, those were loans. Loans. Loans. They were loans. In many cases, we received stock ownership of these companies, like Citigroup, AIG, and GM; and they were expected to repay their debt to us, and largely have done so. And the "trillions" number is deceptive, as the group that claims that includes money that was borrowed, repaid, and borrowed again; only counting the borrowing and not repaying. So if a bank borrowed a $10 billion, repaid it, and then borrowed $10 billion again as a short term loan; that counted as $20 billion borrowed, even though it was the same $10 billion as before. And of course, much of this happened during the Bush Admin and NOT the Obama Admin. As a reminder, TARP happened in 2008, not 2009. Obama was merely a Senator then.

And look, this is why I don't think that a smart politically savvy person can disagree with Obama, as everything you wrote was incorrect, if not completely wrong. Not that I'm saying you're dumb, merely that you're looking for reasons to criticize Obama and not bothering to find out if it's true or not. I'm sorry, but there's nothing savvy in anything you wrote.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Why Romney's Campaign Sucks

One of Romney's biggest problems is that his campaign staff sucks and doesn't understand how politics really work.  They've obviously got a superficial understanding of politics that may have worked well in a pre-Clinton era and could even have competed well against the new elements of what Clinton brought to the table in terms of tactics and strategies. 

But Obama brought things to a whole new level with a smooth operation that was girded by a brass-knuckle understanding of politics that fought tough without being dirty and always stayed above the fray.  So while his opponents are swinging wildly at him, he can counter and jab while staying on message and outside the reach of his opponents.  Anyone upset that he doesn't sling mud doesn't know what they're talking about, as mud slingers get covered in mud; while Obama has retained a reputation as a likable guy.

Yet Romney's team doesn't really understand politics and keep making pointless mistakes.  Their most fundamental error was in not realizing that people have memories and his prior record couldn't just be wished away.  And so he needed a story that explained why he switched positions, rather than a straight-up denial that it never happened in hopes that everyone's too dumb to remember.  And so now his multiple personas have become part of the DNA of his narrative and it's too late to change that. 

Even people who don't know exactly what he's changed will still hear that he changed and there's nothing he can do to fix that now.  And the rule is: If you're not writing your narrative, your opponent is.  So you have to have a story for everything and it better be good.  Yet even now, Romney can't properly answer questions about his own record, even though he's had plenty of time to invent one.

Returning the Money

His latest mistake was in his attacks against Gingrich for accepting $1.6 million from Freddie Mac and then telling everyone what a problem Freddie was.  Gingrich too is working under the old style of politics and still seems unaware that we can remember things. 

And Romney's problem with using this attack is that he invested half a million in Fannie and Freddie.  And so it's kind of hard to attack Freddie Mac as being to blame when you clearly gave approval with your wallet.  Romney should have known this, but didn't.  But Gingrich being a lobbyist is still worse than Romney being an investor, so Gingrich still gets the worst of this issue.

But that's not the part I don't like about this.  The dumb part was how Romney staged the actual attack.
Mitt Romney said Monday that Newt Gingrich is part of a Washington culture that disgusts Americans, and called on the former House speaker to return the seven-figure sum he received from the government-backed lender Freddie Mac.  
Asked on Fox News if he thinks Gingrich should give back the $1.6 million that Freddie Mac paid him, Romney answered: “I sure do.”
And this was just dumb.  Why would he want Gingrich to return the money?  Does he want to give Gingrich an out, so that he's slightly tarnished but giving a mea culpa for accepting money he shouldn't have taken?  Or does he want to hang this around Gingrich's neck, to show that he deserved the money, and shouldn't be in the race because he was part of the problem?

How Tactics Work

They obviously haven't thought this one through and are just going with the standard "Return the Money" line that campaigns often use in these cases, even though it doesn't make sense.  Because sometimes you should use that line of attack, and sometimes you shouldn't; and if you don't know why you're doing something, you probably shouldn't do it.

When a radioactive group or individual associate with a campaign, you go with the "Return the Money" argument because you're using it as an excuse to tie them to the group and bring it into the news.  So the initial association is a news story, the "Return the Money" attack becomes a story, repeating it also generates a story, and if the money is returned, that's also a news story.  And because returning money is an admission of guilt, it becomes part of the campaign's DNA.  So one bad association that often isn't the candidate's fault turns into multiple damaging stories that puts the candidate on defense the whole time.  And best of all, your opponent lost the money and gained nothing from this.  That's tough politics, but not dirty at all.

But in Newt's case, he's already tied to the group, because he was essentially working for them.  And since lobbying was part of the problem, they need to show how Gingrich was also part of the problem.because he was a high priced lobbyist getting paid to make things easier for Freddie to do the bad things they did.  This isn't a case of a candidate accepting money from a tainted source.  This is a case of the candidate being tainted.  So what good does it do to demand for Gingrich to disassociate from them, when the association is already so much better for you? 

That's just dumb, and if Romney were smart, he'd be demanding to learn more of what Gingrich did for his money; not demanding that he disassociate from a group that he now regrets working for.  And Romney needs to tie that into a bigger narrative of Gingrich as an influence peddler who sold his name to whoever paid him.  And best of all, that's a fair attack on Gingrich.  Gingrich would be the Lobbyist-in-Chief and people need to know that about him.  He's not an outsider fighting the system; he's an insider who helped make it worse.  That's where this should have gone; not a stupid focus on the money.

Romney's team is obviously too incompetent to know how this works, and are just going through the motions they've seen other campaigns do.  As it turns out, their suits are just as empty as Romney's, and that's why he's having trouble fighting bozos and hasn't a chance against Obama if he somehow makes it through this alive. 

Friday, December 09, 2011

An Explanation of Obamacare

I'm in a debate with a dude on Facebook who insists that Obama's healthcare law was a rightwing policy that primarily helped the insurers.  And his evidence for this was that insurance mandates were originally a conservative idea, as if that somehow trumps all the good things it did. 

Because, of course, the original plan didn't include subsidies, more regulations, and tax hikes on the rich; as ACA does.  And it's as if we're still in 2009 and these people get to speculate about how bad it is, and refuse to learn what the law actually did.  After all, they keep reading from so many progressives about what a sell-out it is, so that must be true.

And while this is far from the definitive summary of this, here's a quickie recap of the plan I gave him, to counter his idea that the plan is "overpriced" and that subsidies wouldn't apply to most people.  I'll let you know if he posts a reply that refutes anything I wrote, as I acknowledge up front that I am NOT an expert on this.  I'm just someone who knows how to use the internet and likes to know what he's talking about.

And in case you're interested in learning more, here's a subsidy calculator that will show how much you'll pay in 2014 for insurance if you can't get it through your employer.  And here's Wikipedia's page on ACA, which covers everything and a PDF summary for those who don't have time to read everything at Wikipedia. 

This stuff has been out for awhile, so anyone who still doesn't know what it does really shouldn't talk about it at all, as ignorance is no excuse for making shit up.

ACA Recap

Here's an overview: Employers now have big incentives to offer insurance to their employees and the larger ones will be punished if they don't. And it has to be GOOD insurance, and not the crappy stuff McDonalds and Walmart are currently getting away with. So the majority of people will be covered this way, as they are already, but will have even better insurance than before.

For those who can't get employer insurance and make too much for the newly increased Medicaid limits, you'll go to your state's insurance exchange (which will include at least one non-profit) and the rates will be capped according to how much you make and you'll receive a subsidy.  Out-of-pocket expenses are also limited, and you'll get to choose which level of coverage you want, depending upon how much you want to pay.  But the more you pay, the more coverage you're guaranteed to get.

For example, a forty year old with a family of four who wants a "silver" plan who makes $55k will not pay more than $4135 in insurance premiums a year. And that same person making $33k a year will only pay $1143.  If he makes less than $30k he won't pay anything, while the subsidies go all the way up to those making $90k a year. And of course, they can't raise your rates without government approval, can't rescind your policy when you get sick, and can't deny you coverage for preexisting conditions.  And that's just the tip of the iceberg, as ACA does a TON more than this.

Does that really sound like a rightwing plan to you? This is WAAAAY better than what we had before, and while it has elements that were once approved by conservatives, it's also stocked with lots of goodies that make it an effective liberal policy that will certainly save lives.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

The Limited Powers of Media Spin

Jonathan Chait has a post about the limits of the Republican Elite's power in nominating their preferred candidate, writing:
The more important function of the debates is that they circumvent the party apparatus. Republicans are less dependent on tuning into the media – in this case, usually Party organs like Fox News – to learn who the leading candidates are. They can squeeze the merchandise themselves. Certainly debates have existed before this cycle, but now they seem more frequent and far more influential. Viral moments are spreading farther and wider.
Jonathan Bernstein counters by saying that the debates are being spun by Fox News and others in the rightwing media, writing:
Debates are far more mediated than ads or direct campaign contacts. And that means that to understand the effects of the debates, we need to know who is interpreting them and how.
And his evidence for this?  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  Nor could he, because all evidence points to the contrary.  As Chait noted, Romney is surely the candidate the Republican Establishment wants, yet Newt now seems to be the front-runner; even though he's a terrible candidate.  And I've got to agree with that, as Newt is perhaps the worst candidate they've got; with the possible exception of Ron Paul and Rick Santorum.

Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence

So for Bernstein to refute Chait's argument, he needs to show how his theory explains what we're all obviously seeing.  But he doesn't, and instead basically goes with a Rightwing Media Works in Mysterious Ways sort of thing, which might work when applied to acts of God but isn't even satisfactory in that case.

Seriously, this is what he wrote:
we don’t really know exactly how what I call the GOP-aligned media works
So he admits that he doesn't know how they're doing it, yet he "knows" that it's happening, enough so that he can imagine he's refuting Chait's point without needing any evidence whatsoever to support his claim.

Sorry, but that's just not good enough.  Since reality seems to contradict Bernstein's claims, he needs to explain how this fits into his theory, yet he doesn't even attempt an explanation.  Instead, his argument is a mere assertion that this is true and leaves things at that.  And since Chait's describing a new phenomenon that changes the old dynamics, Bernstein really needs to show how the old dynamics are still in effect. 

Yet he ignores that part completely.  He started his post by asserting that Perry's brain fart about not remembering the three agencies he wanted to cut could have been spun either way, yet doesn't offer anything to support even that assertion; let alone explain any of the rest of this.

 My Rebuttal

The rest of this is the comment that I wrote on his post, which I'm just reposting here.

I'm sorry, but this is a ridiculous argument which is proven false by reality. Are we REALLY to imagine that Fox News had it in for Perry, even though he was at one time the Anointed One and the best chance the Republicans had at uniting the Tea Partiers behind a candidate that at least stood some chance of competing against Obama? That seems doubtful.

First off, the influence of the media has ALWAYS been vastly exaggerated, even before the internet became so pervasive in politics. One needs only to contrast the negative news coverage of Clinton with the high approval ratings he had to see that. But when you've got groups like Think Progress and TPM, as well as lots of conservatives posting these clips while the debates are still going on, it's a bit hard to imagine how Fox News is the one controlling all this.

Because NOBODY could spin the brain farts committed by Perry and Cain as being momentary lapses by knowledgeable people; primarily because neither of them had a reputation as someone who was knowledgeable. Instead, they had reps as being guys with a very superficial understanding of the issues and no amount of spin can fix that. Same goes for Palin. While spin does have some effect, those powers aren't infinite and can't turn a turd candidate into Obama just by waving a magic wand.

And seriously, are we to imagine that Fox WANTS all these candidates to look like boobs? Could they be so delusional as to imagine that a Gingrich nomination could be GOOD for the party? Or is it maybe that they're as powerless to create the New Reagan as anyone else?

There's a reason that Mitt Romney avoids media interviews and it's NOT because he's worried that Fox will destroy him for making smart comments. It's because he too has a superficial understanding of the issues, but is smart enough to realize that he's safer in controlled situations like advertisements and speeches than in debates and interviews. And even debates are safer for him than interviews, as he can at least hide behind talking points and not have to worry too much about follow-up questions.

And it shouldn't need to be said, but Chait's theory explains why Gingrich is beating Romney, even though Romney has GOT to be the one that the Republicans want; while this theory of all-powerful spin does NOT explain that. After all, Fox News HASN'T been hammering Romney for his debate performance, and yet he STILL lags in the polls. I'm sorry, but this alone completely contradicts this theory.

Gingrich is one of the worst candidates they've got, has a terrible campaign, was considered to be dead in the water by everyone including Fox earlier in the year; yet now seems to be the front runner. If your theory can't explain that, then you need to get a new theory.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

In Defense of Hate Crime Laws

Over on Facebook, one of my FB friends posted a link to an article criticizing hate crime laws, with the idea that it's a violation of free speech to punish someone for the reason why they committed the crime.  And the whole thing was just a rehash of the same debate we had during the 90's when the idea of punishing hate crimes first came up, by someone who seems to imagine they've found a novel argument against it.  You know, how it's thought policing and protecting special groups at the expense of white people.  That kind of thing.  But I don't post often enough, so I figured I'd post my response here.  Enjoy!

So...when the KKK puts a burning cross on someone's property, should that be punished the same as someone who starts a fire on that property to keep warm?  Or should the burning cross be taken as something more than a mere fire?

And when a Neo-Nazi paints a Swastika on a Jew's house, is that the same as someone tagging their name on the house as graffiti?  Or is there something more going on than just spraypaint?

And I'll admit to not being a lawyer, yet I'm of the understanding that criminal law DOES take the reason for our actions into consideration. For example, we have various levels of how to treat someone who kills someone else, depending upon the reasons and actions behind the killing; ranging from first degree murder down to manslaughter, and all the way down to self defense for people defending themselves.  So we clearly treat killers differently, depending upon their reasons for killing. 

Moreover, our punishments are different, depending upon the circumstances.  So someone convicted of first degree murder for shooting their wife with a gun is treated differently than someone who shoved their wife into a woodchipper.  Plus, someone who's killed before will be treated differently than someone who's never killed before, because it's assumed that the repeat killer is developing a pattern. 

Again, I'm not a lawyer, but it seems to me that we already treat the same actions differently depending upon the circumstances, which is why we have such leeway in how to prosecute people and what the punishment should be, because different circumstances deserve different punishments.  And so hate crimes would be an extension of that principle, as someone who goes around mugging for money is less dangerous than someone who only mugs white people because they hate them.

BTW, unless I'm mistaken, hate crimes can be committed against EVERY group, including whites; so the mention in the article that some groups are treated differently than others would be false.  It's not that there's a protected group of people.  It's that we're all protected against people who are specifically targeting us due to the group we're in.

And the overall point is that free speech is still free and you're still entitled to think whatever the hell you want to think; including hatred of others.  But as soon as you act upon those thoughts, it becomes an entirely different ballgame and you can be treated differently based upon the reasons why you did it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Attacking the Messenger

I'd like to say more, but I've got places to go and things to do this afternoon, so this will be short.  I saw a story at TPM about how the DOJ Inspector General concluded that The New York Agency for Community Affairs was a front group for ACORN, using grant monies given to NYACA entirely to pay ACORN employees.  And that's it.  That's all the story said.

Was this a bad thing?  Was it illegal?  Is this proof that ACORN was illegitimate and deserved to be destroyed?  I have no idea, as the story didn't say.  It only reported what the Inspector General said and nothing else.  Yet, for merely reporting the story, TPM's writer was accused by liberal commenters of being a "Bloomberg puppet" and of being another James O'Keefe.

When I defended the story, one commenter actually wrote:
The sparse reporting in this "story" seems designed as red meat for conservatives who have demonized ACORN and nothing else.
Because yeah, TPM has a real incentive to throw red meat to conservatives.

And look, I understand how the rightwing spin machine works, and how this story will be spun as a bad thing for Democrats.  But does that mean we need to attack the messenger?  Because what these people want is to live in a bubble, where they only hear good news and ignore the bad.  As if that will make the stories go away.  But as I said in my initial comment, it's GOOD for us to know what Republicans will be talking about, so we can better separate fact from fiction when it comes up.  Burying your head in the sand will NOT make the bad things go away.

And more importantly...why do we care what they say about ACORN?  They don't even exist any more!  Same goes for all the other nonsense Republicans rant about.  How does it hurt us when Republicans deny Obama's citizenship, or call him a socialist Muslim, or any of the other imagined windmills these bozos keep attacking?  Because these stories are just a distraction to them, and the longer they attack these distractions, the less they'll be able to attack things with traction.

And that's a big reason why Obama's doing as well as he is.  Sure, his approval ratings aren't good, but the longer Republicans focus on trivial idiocies, the less relevant they are to anyone.  These dummies did a lot better back when they were attacking Obamacare than they are now that Obama isn't doing anything drastic to overhaul our system.  So it's a lot better for us if they waste their time denouncing a group that doesn't exist anymore than doing something useful.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Alan Grayson: Lying for Truth

A friend on Facebook had a link to Alan Grayson Says Every Man, Woman and Child Gave Almost $100,000 to Banks. Now, I've never really been a fan of Grayson's, as I feel like he's just playing progressives as suckers, by throwing them tons of red meat without having to accomplishment anything.  And sad as it is to say, that's exactly what most progressives seem to want from a politician.  Sure, Obama can get health insurance for millions while ending rescission, and he can even put an end to DADT, but if he doesn't insult Republicans while doing it, he's just no use to them.

Now, maybe I'm wrong about all this and insults really are some magical way for us to score points, just as Grayson's loss in 2010 was somehow a sign of how much he won.  I don't know.  These political theories have never really made sense to me, so I just accept on faith that somehow there's a theory underneath it all that explains everything and these people aren't just looking for an excuse to be petty.  I'm sure the Underpants Gnomes have incorporated this into their business model. 

So needless to say, I didn't read that article with the highest of hopes, and it was even worse than I imagined.  Long story short: No, every man, woman, and child did NOT give $100,000 to the banks.  In fact, they didn't give anything at all.  Just as with TARP, these were loans, not giveaways, it was the Fed's money and not ours, and as the original Forbes article mentions, we didn't lose any money from this at all. 

 Stomping on the Fine Line

Now in Grayson's defense, he wasn't really making the point that everyone paid $100,000 to the banks.  He was just making the nonsensical point that the amount loaned out was the equivalent of that per person, in order to put it in context. He merely made a statement that sort of sounded like we all paid for this.

But as what usually happens in these cases, Grayson stretched the truth to make things sound more repugnant, and then his fans take the fine line he was walking on and dash it to hell by making bold claims about how we all got ripped off.

So we end up with the blogposts that say stupid stuff like:
Grayson says every man, woman, and child in America paid almost $100,000 to the banks.
Grayson points out that we paid almost $100,000 per man, woman and child in America to bail these banks out without any congressional authorization. We paid them $100,000 and they can’t cut us a break. could anyone really believe that each of us paid almost $100,000 to the banks?  That defies all logic.  Seriously.  I don't know about you, but I kind of think I'd know it if that much was missing from my account.  That's such a dumb thing to believe that I'm willing to say that outright, even if it hurts the feelings of people on my own side.  This whole OWS thing has gone to their heads and now they're starting to believe the sheerest nonsense with no sense of shame; and I'm determined to fix that.

When Truth Isn't Enough

And seriously, Grayson's entire interview was stupidly offensive; at least to anyone who respects truth.  Like complaining about how these banks got giant loans for low interest rates that the rest of us couldn't get.  I mean, duh.  It's just common sense that you loan money to people who can pay it back, and the more someone's able to pay it back, the more you'll loan them.  That's not inequality.  That's just common sense.  Similarly, I trust a major bank with all of my money, and I don't trust any of you with it.  Is that unfair?  No, that's just smart.  And if you disagree, then loan me all your money and see how much you get back. 

Yet that blogger actually wrote his piece of idiocy:
They knew that no American citizen could turn to the fed and ask for a bail out or a loan at the rates the banks were getting. No mom and pop could take their tale of woe to the fed, because the fed played favorites and the big banks won
What??  It's obvious that this person didn't even understand what Grayson was saying.  Yes, Grayson said the Fed played favorites, but it had nothing to do with the rest of us not getting loans from the Fed because we NEVER get loans from the Fed.  The Fed doesn't even give loans to citizens.  Only giving money to banks isn't playing favorites.  That's what the Fed does.  And if this person doesn't realize that, then they have absolutely zero business blogging about it, because they're simply incompetent.  Once again, they took Grayson's fine line and smeared it all over the place, as they were not summarizing what he said.

Grayson also complained about how this was all done without Congress's approval, which implies as if it should have been done with their approval, yet unfairly wasn't.  But does Congress approve of loans the Fed makes?  No, they don't.  And that's a good thing, as the Fed is supposed to be non-political, while Congress obviously isn't.  And if we opened up the Fed lending window to Congress's authority, it'd become yet another way for the crooked ones to funnel money to their cronies.

And really, Grayson's whole interview was meant to be inflammatory, to get people's attention.  And I guess I can't blame him for that.  And yet...yeah, I do.  Because when most politicians do this sort of thing, it's kind of a given that they're phony politicians who aren't really telling the truth.  But Grayson's different, because he holds himself out to be a truth-teller; so people who are typically more cynical will believe everything he says.  Yet he doesn't seem to think the truth is good enough for him.  He's got to juice it up a bit.  Find the red meat and make it a little sexier.  And if he says things that can be misconstrued into the ridiculous, so be it; because it's all for a good cause.

But I'm sorry, that's just not how truth works.  It's either true, or it isn't.  And if you have the truth on your side, you're only damaging it when you juice it up with inflammatory red meat; and possibly helping the other side to undermine your credibility.  Misinformation can be worse than no information at all; and if the truth isn't good enough for you, then you probably shouldn't be saying anything at all.  Apparently, Grayson didn't learn his lesson from before.

Monday, November 21, 2011

News Coverage: Occupy Protest v. Tea Party

One of the more naive beliefs of the Occupy protester type is their belief that there's some sort of conspiracy to keep them out of the media or portray them in a bad light; as if it's easy for the rest of us to get our message out.  As if any other group of people can just call up the NY Times and say "Hey, give us some positive press today, ok?" and they'll just do it; starting a whole feeding frenzy of positive news rolling out...just as long as you're not an Occupy Protester.

But...if you're an Occupy Protester, there's no such luck.  As if Tea Partiers have the easiest time in the world getting their message out, while only the OWS protesters get misrepresented in the media.  And that's, to put it gently, absolute horse shit.  Seriously.  Look, I know you guys *talk* a lot about how the media is pro-corporate, pro-conservative, etc, and is skewed against us, you actually read the news?  Because if you do, you'd find that this argument makes no sense.

I mean, just ask Barack Obama how hard it is to get his message out.  The man makes liberal speeches all the time, yet many on the left don't even know about it and attack him for not making any.  Or ask John McCain.  Anyone who thinks he had an easy time getting his message through the media in 2008 just wasn't paying attention.  The highlight of his mastery of the media happened when he proudly announced his selection of Palin as his running mate, and that lasted about two news cycles before she became an albatross around his neck and nobody listened to what the dude said anymore.

Seriously, anyone who's tried to get their message out knows that it's not easy.  That's just common knowledge.  Yet for the Occupy Protest types, that's just not true.  Because they're having a hard time getting the media to report positive news stories about them every day, it can only be a conspiracy.  The rich people have decided to shut down the protesters and there's no reporter in the nation telling us about it.  They've all been told that their positive stories will be rejected, so they shouldn't even bother; yet no reporter has mentioned this yet.  Of course.

And of course, the thing to remember is that it's not enough to have some facts on your side.  It's not enough to have some evidence proving your case.  You've got to have all the facts, and if you're forced to ignore facts simply because they don't fit your theory, then there's something wrong with the theory.  And in this case, you've got to show a consistent bias, not just in selected articles about OWS and the Tea Party, but all of them.  Or at least enough of them to show a pattern.  As they say, data is not the plural of anecdote.

Dismissing Palin

But hey, let's not just take my word for it.  Let's put this to the test.  I went to the NY Times website and typed "Tea Party Rally" in their search field, to see what I could find.

The first result was from April 16, with the story Palin Speaks at Tea Party Rally in Madison.  Was it a glowing display of fealty to Palin and the Tea Party Movement?  You be the judge.
But there she was on Saturday afternoon, a throng of Tea Party supporters cheering her on and a throng of union supporters trying to shout them (and her) down. And in a way, it looked like just another day in Madison, a place already so polarized that even with the presence of Ms. Palin, a figure beloved and detested, people here seemed to go right on with the debate they had been having for months.
And rather than hype up the Tea Party rally, we get a touch of cynicism with a sly diss:
The police estimated a crowd — at its highest point — of about 6,500 people, though it was uncertain how many of those were Tea Party supporters and how many were there to protest. Either way, the figure was far smaller than the tens of thousands of demonstrators that had been reported around the Capitol on several days in recent months.
And the whole piece had a dismissive quality to it, basically saying that Palin and the Tea Party Rally had no real impact on Wisconsin politics.  And of course, since Wisconsin politics were nationwide news at the time, with conservatives and the dreaded Koch Brothers siding with the Tea Party...why wasn't the piece about them positive?  Why didn't it say how important Palin is and how the Tea Party had come to save the day?

That's what I'd expect to see if this was pro-corporate propaganda, but it was exactly the opposite.  It didn't praise the Tea Party or demonize it.  It just gave Palin and the Tea Party a dismissive yawn, letting everyone know to not take it too seriously.  And that wasn't bias against the Tea Party.  That was just the way it was.  The Tea Party came to Madison, and nobody cared.

And btw, this storied originally appeared on page A17 of the newspaper.  Not exactly front page news.

All Hail Beck

The second story that comes up is about Glenn Beck's religious revival at the Lincoln Memorial in August of last year, titled At Lincoln Memorial, a Call for Religious Rebirth.  And I've got to confess, this particular article actually went against my theme, as it really was pro-Republican propaganda.  It quoted lots of what Beck said and described it all in glowing terms.

Here are the opening two paragraphs:

An enormous and impassioned crowd rallied at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial this weekend, summoned by Glenn Beck, a conservative broadcaster who called for a religious rebirth in America at the site where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech exactly 47 years earlier. 
“Something that is beyond man is happening,” Mr. Beck told the crowd, in what was part religious revival and part history lecture. “America today begins to turn back to God.”
Blech.  That's not a news article.  That's a hagiology.  Not that it didn't present things from the side of Beck's critics.  Take this passage:
Even Mr. Beck’s critics acknowledge that he is one of the most powerful conservative voices. With a mix of moral lessons, frequent outrage and a dark view of the future, his programs draw millions of followers. 
Chris Wallace, a veteran Washington journalist who interviewed Mr. Beck on Fox, told Mr. Beck that he had never seen a public figure quite like him. 
Mr. Beck acknowledged that he was not cut from ordinary cloth. 
Oh, wait.  That didn't present anything from an opposing side.  Earlier in the article, it mentions Beck's critics accusing the rally of being political, and then gives Beck the next paragraph to deny it without ever presenting the other side.

And so that really did show a pro-Republican bias, but all the same, you'd have had to go to page A15 to read it, as it once again wasn't considered front page news.

Rowdy Vitriol

The third article that shows up is Thousands Rally in Capital to Protest Big Government, about a big Tea Party rally sponsored by Freedom Works in September 2009, back when the movement was really heating up.

And while the article was mildly skewed to present them in a positive fashion, it clearly shows that things aren't all hunky-dory with the movement.  For instance, referencing the "anger" and "vitriol" in the crowd, or when they were all chanting that Obama was a liar.

And there's this bit:

The atmosphere was rowdy at times, with signs and images casting Mr. Obama in a demeaning light. One sign called him the “parasite in chief.” Others likened him to Hitler. Several people held up preprinted signs saying, “Bury Obama Care with Kennedy,” a reference to the Massachusetts senator whose body passed by the Capitol two weeks earlier to be memorialized. 
Other signs did not focus on Mr. Obama, but rather on the government at large, promoting gun rights, tallying the national deficit and deploring illegal immigrants living in the United States.

And again, the whole thing sounds fairly objective, perhaps slightly leaning in admiration of the crowd, or maybe not.  And it definitely showed some of the more negative aspects of the rally.  And believe it or not, in the heat of the Tea Party's rise when they were the story de jour, this story was printed on page A37.  Again, no front page for the Tea Party.

The Protests Endure

So those were the top three search results for Tea Party Rallies.  So let's look at the Occupy protesters and see what sort of coverage they get.  In this case, I did a search on the phrase Occupy Wall Street.

The first story that comes up is Occupy Wall Street Protest Reaches a Crossroads from November 4.  And what was it about?  Surely it was a pro-corporate screed about how freakishly radical the protesters are, right?  No.  It was about how the weather has turned bad, but the protest has endured.

Here's the second paragraph:

Seven weeks in, the protest has become a fact of life in New York City, a tourist draw to rival ground zero, and a teachable moment for parents. Its slogan, “We are the 99 percent” is a staple of the popular discourse. 
More than $500,000 in donations has flowed to the protesters in Lower Manhattan, while labor unions and elected officials have come to their aid. Marches and occupations that have sprung up nationwide have served as a national microphone for the cause.
Wow.  That's not quite as positive as the Glenn Beck article, but it ain't bad.  These people weren't described as dangerous freaks.  It shows what a positive impact they're having, and how they're toughing it through rough times.  Hard to say how anyone could read this and still insist that the media only portrays them badly.

This was also a significantly longer article than the Tea Party articles, and was printed on page MB1.  Not front page of the newspaper, but it made the front page of some section.

All About Control

The second OWS article was from November 15 titled City Reopens Park After Protesters Are Evicted, which you probably already can figure out.  And the whole thing is an even-handed piece, which doesn't at all put the protesters in a bad light.

Here's the third paragraph:
“You have to walk through a gantlet of officers,” said Andy Nicholson, 54, of Manhattan, who entered the park, stopped and was told by the police to move along. “It’s all about control,” he said.
Doesn't sound particularly damning for the protester quoted or praising of the establishment.  Again, I fail to see how anyone can read this article and suggest that there's some media conspiracy to keep them down.  Btw, this story didn't mention which page it was on, so I can't give that info.

Germ Optics

The third article was a somewhat light piece about health problems amongst protesters, titled A Petri Dish of Activism, and Germs.  It was a fairly even-handed piece, talking about the efforts they're going through to fight illness, though I was slightly troubled with this paragraph:
Many protesters recognize the threat the conditions could pose to the optics of their occupation. Earlier this week, a man at an Occupy New Orleans encampment was found dead in his tent — and had been dead at least two days, authorities said. If similar news were to come out of Lower Manhattan, some protesters have said quietly, the camp’s reputation could suffer significant damage. 
Indeed.  Were someone to die in their camp, the most pressing issue is the optics of it all.

Towards the end, we're given this quote from a dedicated protester:

“That’s what makes an occupation such a powerful statement,” she said. “We will risk our own health and give up completely our own comfort.”     
And again, there was no negativity here.  The NY Times wasn't demonizing the protesters.  This wasn't pro-Koch propaganda.  It made the protesters look like real people trying to make real change, and while it clearly wasn't pro-occupier propaganda, it wasn't meant to be.  These were meant to be objective news stories about events that were happening, and that's exactly what they were.

BTW, this one was on page A26.

The Only Thing They Know

And this is what I find so frustrating when talking to these people.  Because they don't have any specific goals and insist they don't need them.  Instead, they waste all their energy defending their right to protest and demanding that everyone write positive news stories about them.

But of course, I'm fairly certain that the reason the protesters and their supporters keep talking about these things is because it's the only thing they know to talk about.  They've done spent their wad of superficial talking points about inequality and still haven't the faintest idea of how to recommend a realistic solution to any of this.  So what do they have left, but to talk about process?

And just as superficial people in the media prefer to boil down all policy issues into a story about a political horse-race, the Occupy protest types want to change the world, but all they can think to talk about is their right to protest and positive news stories.  And as Josh Marshall suggests, the issue about the treatment of the protesters seems to be overtaking the issue of equality.  Apparently, passive resistant is a lot easier than coming up with solutions.

Legal Protests v. Illegal Protests

On Facebook, I saw an FB friend's link, 25 Reasons Why Police Officers Never Showed Up To Tea Party Rallies.  It's a bunch of pictures of Tea Partiers bringing guns to their rallies, with the idea that the Occupy Protesters maybe should pack heat if they don't want to be harassed.  And, uh, no.  That would be a terrible idea.  Simply terrible.

Because the thing is, there's another reason why the Tea Partiers didn't get in trouble with the law: They didn't do anything illegal.  That's really one of those basic things they teach in Civics class, though I suppose some people might need a refresher.  So just to be clear: If you do something illegal, you might get in trouble with the police.  And if you don't want to get in trouble with the police, you shouldn't do anything illegal.  That's not difficult.

Now, it can be argued that the police have no right to prevent the protesters from doing anything they want.  It can be argued that the protesters are serving a righteous cause and represent the will of the people, and therefore are a law unto themselves.  I myself find that to be atrociously naive, to put it mildly,  but I've argued with people making such a case and don't at all doubt their sincerity.

But the thing remains that Occupy Protesters keep breaking the law and pushing the system, and the Tea Partiers didn't.  And that's the real difference.  And if the Tea Partiers showed up with guns and started blocking streets, violating park curfews, using public places without permits, trespassing into private and government buildings, and camping in public places for months; those stories would surely have ended a lot more violently.  And if anything, I daresay the guns would have made these stories end much more violently than without.

Again, this isn't to argue necessarily that the protesters are wrong by engaging in illicit behavior.  Nor is it to justify the excessive violence used against them by police.  It's simply to point out that the Tea Partiers didn't break the law and the Occupy Protesters are.  That's the difference.  And so we don't need to get into conspiracy theories about them targeting the Occupy Protesters as their way of keeping us down; nor do we need anyone bringing guns to an Occupy protest to prove the theory in the post.  Because there's a more obvious reason.

And hey, if you don't want to be harassed by cops while rallying, have the regular kind.  Have the ones the Tea Partiers had.  They weren't terribly effective, but nobody got hurt.  At least not by the police, anyway.  So if you don't want to be harassed by the cops and potentially hurt, have a regular protest and not the pushing-the-envelope kind.  But if you want to push the envelope, don't be surprised when the envelope pushes back.  That's life.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Spare the Starvation, Spoil the Child...Unless They're Rich

It's good for people to have to deal with adversity.  It's good for people to be challenged, to have to solve their own problems and suffer from their mistakes, as that's the only way we can expect to improve.  Just as we need to lift weights to challenge our muscles, we need to be challenged in every way, mentally and physical.

Republicans too, supposedly believe in this, which is why they decry Big Daddy Government.  To hear them tell it, children should be challenged with starving bellies and crumbling schools, or they'll stay soft and dependent.  We need for unemployed people to hit rock bottom and face homelessness or they'll never build the character they need to become self-made millionaires.  Mere adversity isn't enough for them; they insist we need to suffer.

And while most conservatives are at least smart enough to not say this out loud, at least not if they're running for political office; some of them apparently haven't faced enough adversity on this issue to learn their lesson.  And so we get this sermon on suffering from Rick Santorum; the angry white male who's so unliked by Republican voters that they'd seriously consider nominating Newt Gingrich before even looking at Santorum.

(For the record, Santorum is regularly polling at 2-3% in every poll, which not only puts him behind "no one" in the polls that give that option, but with the margin of error, might conceivably put him in negative territory.)

He Said This...Out Loud

And so what better way to kickstart your failing campaign than to insist that it's good for children to suffer.  Seriously.

Here's the tape:

Wow.  I guess I'm a bad parent, as I've made a point of never letting my children suffer from lack of food and shelter.  I mean, never.  On the contrary, I've always made it a point for my children to not only believe that they're entitled to food and shelter, but for them to not even consider it to be optional.  This apparently constitutes neglect according to conservatives.

Kids Shouldn't Feel Entitled to Eat

Here's the transcript, as it really does help to take this stuff apart and see it in amber:
And if you're low income, you can't buy something, you can qualify for, in many states you can qualify for Medicaid, you can qualify for food stamps, you can qualify for housing assistance.  And that's not if you're in poverty.  That's if you're above the poverty line. 
And so you have all of the children growing up in an environment where the government is paying you, and then you wonder, "Why do these kids feel like they're entitled to something?"  Because that's how they, that's how they (garbled), that the government provides.  And that is not a healthy thing for children, it's not a healthy thing for society.

So, that's how I square it.  I square it that suffering, if you're a Christian, suffering is part of life.  And it's not a bad thing.  It is an essential thing in life.  And that we suffer, we, there are all different ways to suffer.  One way to suffer is through lack of food and shelter.  And there's another way to suffer which is lack of dignity, hope.  There are all sorts of ways that people suffer, and it's not just tangible.  It's also intangible and we have to consider both.
First off, I'd like to apologize for any potential mistakes in this transcript, as it wasn't a great sound recording; but more importantly, it was obvious that Santorum really didn't know what he was going to say before he said it, and was often shifting ideas mid-sentence.  So it was tough to know where he was going with this, because his sentences didn't quite mesh up.

After all, his theme was that suffering was good, and yet ends by saying we need to consider both intangible and tangible suffering, with the idea that it's ok to let kids suffer tangibly if it means they're not suffering intangibly.  And that would imply that suffering isn't good, because it's a trade-off of suffering.  And that completely undermines what he had just been saying about suffering being good.

Some Suffering is Better than Others

But there's a bigger element of this missing from Santorum's sermon.  Because yeah, sure, it's not good for people to be too accustomed to having everything handed to them.  Santorum seems to believe starvation is within the realm of adversity children need to endure, while I draw my line a little higher than that.  Like, say, making them do their own homework, or making them do chores to earn money, instead of just giving it to them.  But I guess we all have our standards.

But there's a group of people who Republicans like Santorum support, who not only don't suffer from starvation, but in fact, don't suffer from lack of anything.  From the time they were born to the time they die, they are given just about anything they want or need.  They're given the best toys, the best education, the best food, worldly experiences, and get to meet all the best people; and they didn't do a damn bit of suffering to earn any of this.  They don't just feel entitled to eat, but feel entitled to the world.

And of course, I'm referring to children of the wealthy.  They're given all the best advantages in life, and rarely endure any real adversity at all.  And Republicans insist that it must be this way.  It's cruel for us to punish the rich by forcing them to endure taxation.  And it's better for us to cut food stamps for the poor than to tax the inheritance of people born into luxury.  And so the wealthy will endure the suffering of not getting to suffer, just so the poor can reap the benefits of a starving belly.

Ah, those poor rich people.  What they endure so the rest of us can be better people.

Adversity's Only for the Poor

And this makes no sense to me, because I *do* believe that adversity is a good thing, and think one of the worst things you can do to a child is to bring them up feeling entitled to everything.  Just as I've made it a point that my children are raised to believe that I'll always provide for their needs, I've also made it a point for them to know that I won't always provide for their wants.  And so I agree with Santorum's analysis that adversity is a good thing, even if I disagree with who he thinks should suffer.

But for conservatives, this only applies when it's the government providing for you.  As if food purchased with food stamps is somehow less morally nutritious than food purchased with wages...or the money you inherit.  As if there are six year olds out there feeling morally bankrupt because the Hamburger Helper they're eating was charity from Uncle Sam.

But if it's the parent's own money we're talking about, well then, nothing's too good for the little buggers.  These kids don't need to suffer, because their parents suffered enough when earning the money they're spending.  Or maybe it was their parent's parents who did the suffering to earn it.  But whoever it was, someone suffered to earn all that money, and that suffering gets transferred on down the line to the end.  Or...something like that.

The Twain Shall Never Meet

But it's obvious that conservatives can't really put these two sides together.  They know that it's bad for poor people to be given things and they know it's never good to deprive a rich person of anything, but these two ideas just can't possibly mesh.  And that's why they're always so confused on this stuff, because none of it comes together.  It's like they've got half an apple and half an orange and are trying to argue that this is one fruit.

Because the reality is that conservatives aren't interested in the moral well-being of poor people one way or the other. They're just looking for an excuse to not help them.  Why?  Is it because they're bad people?  Not really.  The problem is that they're conservatives and the conservative ideology simply has no mechanism for helping poor people.  Yet because these people know in their hearts that they're good people, they have to invent moral rationalizations for why they're letting people suffer.

And so this is the best they can come up with: To insist that children will become lazy if they feel entitled to being fed...unless they're rich, in which case they shouldn't have to suffer at all.

And the big mistake Santorum made here is that these arguments are only meant to be used for lazy adults.  You're supposed to say that food stamps are bad because they let adults be lazy.  But they're not supposed to mention that the children of these adults are also suffering from the consequences of our inaction.  And they're definitely not supposed to say that it's better for children to starve than to eat food purchased with food stamps.  While he was smart enough to not say that out loud, he apparently wasn't smart enough to realize that that was the implication of what he was saying.

I'll score Santorum some points for honesty, but that's really just because he's so damn dumb that he didn't realize he had waded into water he wasn't supposed to be in.  And if he fully understood the argument he was making, he couldn't be a conservative.  Because yes, adversity is good; but not to the point that it requires children to suffer.  In this regard, he got the whole thing backwards.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Bachmann and the Seven Foot Doctor

The fact that Michelle Bachmann ever imagined she had any chance of getting the Republican nomination not only shows how insane the party has become, but what a total loon she is.  Seriously, there is no part of her that is in any way connected with reality.  Rather, she lives in a parallel reality that has many of the same names and faces as our own, but where everything's distorted and weird, and more than a little creepy.  Kind of like Mardi Gras, but without the fun.

And so it's no real surprise to see her say completely loony things to an audience that clearly wished they had something better to do that afternoon; which describes pretty much every audience Bachmann has.  As fun as the highlight reel is, I'm sure it'd be a lot harder to have to sit through the whole thing with a straight face.  Had I more gumption, I'd add a laugh track to this.  Enjoy!

Now, forget about her nonsense about the dreaded illegal aliens ripping us off, which only makes sense if we forget that "Obamacare" is all about Medicaid, Medicare, and private insurance, just like it is now and the dreaded aliens will still need to have insurance if they want to benefit from it.  And seeing as how she once voted on the law and imagines herself to be an expert, you'd kind of think she's know that.

And needless to say, the big joke on anyone complaining about "illegals" ripping us off is that: The bozos complaining are the ones who won't let them become citizens!  Duh!  And if someone doesn't want illegal aliens getting better benefits than citizens do...why not let them become citizens?  That way, we could "punish" them by removing their rights as illegals by forcing them to become citizens.  Somehow, this logic escapes them.

But as silly as that is, it's the ridiculous story about the seven foot tall physician that's the real mind blower here.

A Physician in the Community

Here's the transcript:
One man stood up.  He was over seven feet tall.  He was a physician in the community.  And he said "I had a little lady in my office.  She was on Medicare, and because of Obamacare, I had to call the IRS and I had to get a number to put on a form before I could see her."  He said, "Guess how long I sat on the phone, waiting to get this number from the IRS."  And he said, "Two hours and fifteen minutes."   
He was sitting on the phone.  He couldn't see the woman until he got the patient (sic).  Not only did this little lady have to sit there and cool her heels for two hours and fifteen minutes, but meanwhile all the other patients were stacked up in the waiting room.  So he was waiting on the phone with one bureaucrat to get a number that long.  That's the beginning of what Obamacare's going to be like.
Of course, that doesn't do it justice compared with hearing this come from her mouth, particularly when combined with the bored look of the people listening to her.  But seeing it in cold writing really helps you realize how completely crazy this lady is.

Seriously, forgot about the content of her speech, the style alone is just horrible; particularly with all the verbal junk she puts into her sentences that add nothing to what she's saying.  It's bad enough that she's annoying, but she's boring too; and that's not a good combination.

And one thing to note: Pathological liars embellish fake stories with unnecessary details because they think it makes their fictional stories sound more interesting and real.  That's not to say that Bachmann made up her story, just saying that that's a tell of a bad liar.  And so you hear of tall doctors and little ladies, and patients stacking up while the lady is cooling her heels.  Lots of pointless detail, and no specifics as to what she's talking about.

And the part of the story of the other patients waiting the whole time is ludicrous, and is the kind of detail that a pathological liar would make up, as they're just trying to prove a point and haven't really considered how ridiculous that is in reality.  As if the doctor can't see any patients until he handled her first.  As if the patient would have gotten into the examination room without her paperwork being in order.  And that's how you become a pathological liar: By being so disconnected from reality that you can't separate fact from fiction and everything sounds believable.

Followup Questions

Here are a few questions I asked over at ThinkProgress regarding this.

I'd seriously like to know the full story of this. Doubtful the guy was a 7-footer, so I'm thinking it was a tall guy and her imagination did the rest because she was so in awe of him. And what's up with the "little lady" reference the doctor supposedly made? Was she particularly little, or is that just the way he talks? And was it a necessary part of the story to mention she was little? Bachmann seemed to think so, but I have my doubts. Is there perhaps some part of Obamacare that requires doctors to tag small people before releasing them into the wild?  Why was it important that he was tall?  Was that why the bureaucrat put him on hold for so long, because he was jealous?

And seriously, could Bachmann truly be so ignorant of the healthcare law that she really believes there's some element of this story that makes sense? What number could the IRS possibly be giving him for a Medicare recipient? Exactly what part of Obamacare supposedly made this happen? And why would the fricking doctor be the one on hold for two hours, instead of his receptionist? Could she have dreamed up the whole thing, and if she did, would her staff let us know? Perhaps someone should ask Ed Rollins about it, as he always seems eager to dish dirt on her.

And most of all, we need to know precisely which drugs she was on when this tall doctor supposedly told her this, as well as which drugs she was on when she told the story. Because whatever it was, people need to be warned about it. They could just put a picture of Bachmann on the label and everyone would know what that meant. I wonder if she was suffering from another migraine during either episode. From the looks of her audience, they were all suffering with her.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Myth of Obama's Assassination of Americans

It truly bugs me when people in a respected position act like they know what they're talking about completely mislead people because they don't know what the hell they're talking about and don't know it.  Sure, not all of us can always know what we're talking about, but when you act like you're an authority, you have a responsibility to actually be one, or to shut the hell up.  That's how it works.

And so I was very annoyed when I read this at The Atlantic:
President Obama insists that he has the authority to order the assassination of American citizens who haven't been convicted of any crime or afforded due process so long as he first declares -- in a secret process the details of which we're not allowed to know -- that the target is a terrorist.
And I'd say he had a point, assuming I had a very superficial understanding of what happened because I can't comprehend ideas that aren't binary.  Some people just look for black/white events, and refuse to listen when you keep telling them about all the grays they're missing.

Obama's Declaration

In this case, has Obama insisted that he has the authority to order assassinations against anyone he declares to be a terrorist?  In a word: No.  That's not what happened at all.

First off, he wasn't the one who declared Awlaki to be a terrorist.  And secondly, the justification for assassination was extremely limited.  Specifically, that it can only be done to a citizen who was working on attacks against us and can't reasonably be captured.

And Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic might have known this, had he read a little known newspaper called The New York Times and its piece: Secret U.S. Memo Made Legal Case to Kill a Citizen.

As the memo explains:
The legal analysis, in essence, concluded that Mr. Awlaki could be legally killed, if it was not feasible to capture him, because intelligence agencies said he was taking part in the war between the United States and Al Qaeda and posed a significant threat to Americans, as well as because Yemeni authorities were unable or unwilling to stop him.
And had he read it, Mr. Friedersdorf would have realized this wasn't just some arbitrary decision made by Obama, but rather...
The deliberations to craft the memo included meetings in the White House Situation Room involving top lawyers for the Pentagon, State Department, National Security Council and intelligence agencies.
And this article from Reuters explains how you end up on the hit list to begin with:
They said targeting recommendations are drawn up by a committee of mid-level National Security Council and agency officials. Their recommendations are then sent to the panel of NSC "principals," meaning Cabinet secretaries and intelligence unit chiefs, for approval. 
And this was all known in early October.  Yet here we are in November, and some expert at The Atlantic's perpetuating myths about Obama's supposed arbitrary decision to kill an American citizen, while a no-name blogger like me knows all about what happened.

Not All Secret Memos the Same 

And I happen to agree with their analysis.  This isn't a precedent to set missile drones lose in our cities.  It's a common sense.

And yeah, sure, it's a bit iffy that this is all secret.  After all, Bush had secret memos too, and they turned out to be bunkum.  But does that mean that all secret memos are bunkum?  Because this one makes sense.  And no one's presented any evidence to suggest that Awlaki wasn't trying to commit terrorist attacks.  So why wouldn't a secret panel within the NSC have authorized this?

And this makes all the difference in the world.  Bush's pro-torture memos were a joke.  Bush/Cheney knew what they were looking for and went for whoever could give them the justification for it.  And you don't need to be a legal scholar to know it was bunkum.  It wasn't the secretive nature of the memo that made it dumb.  It was dumb all on its own.

But the Obama assassination memo makes sense.  I mean, Yemen wasn't going to hand the guy over to us, and he couldn't easily be captured (which would involve an infringement of Yemen's sovereignty in any case), and he was a danger to us.  So in these limited circumstances of a citizen who's known to be helping attacks against us and can't reasonably be captured, we can kill him.

Seriously, are we really to imagine we have to put up with this otherwise.  What, are we kindergarteners?  Grow up.  The world's a scary place and bad things happen.  But just because there's a legal justification to kill this guy doesn't expand it beyond this limited circumstance.  That's why he's the only American who's been put on the hit list.

And again, we need to get beyond the superficials here and deal with the real issues.  Not all secret memos are the same, not all secret panels are evil.  And I know it's a lot more fun to self-righteously grab the high ground, but that doesn't give us the right to throw facts to the wind and pretend things happened when they didn't.  And if nothing else, even if the secret memo and the secret panel are bogus, we don't get to pretend that Obama says his authorization stemmed entirely from himself; as that's obviously not the case.

Do I think a president should single-handedly be given the authority to assassinate American citizens?  No, and I'm glad that Obama doesn't either.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Anarchy Helps the Powerful, Always

And so I'm at Think Progress and see a post titled Wielding Assault Rifles, Police Arrest Chapel Hill Occupiers Of Building Left Derelict By Developer.

The gist: There's a property in downtown Chapel Hill that was bought six years ago and the developer hasn't done anything with it, for reasons unknown.  And since this building is in a good location, it's bothering people that it hasn't been developed yet.  And so a small group of anarchists who associate with the Occupy movement decided to take over the building and turn it into a community center, as if that's a thing.  As if there's some rule that says you can steal someone's property if they're not using it to your satisfaction.

And needless to say, we're supposed to be outraged that the police put a stop to this.  And yes, the cops used assault rifles, but no, nobody got hurt and the eight people arrested were eventually charged with a misdemeanor breaking and entering and released without bail.

And so this shouldn't be a thing.  The anarchists were in the wrong for taking the property, and while the police may have gone a little overboard with their choice of weapons, nobody got hurt and the law was carried out the way it should.  And I should stress, they weren't occupying the building to draw attention to a problem.  They really believed they could take it over for their own purposes, which apparently included yoga classes.

Birds of a Feather

And so this really was a non-event.  Or should have been, but because these anarchists associate with the OWS movement, this has now been added to the egregious offenses committed by the government against people who just want the right to protest and a fair shake.

And you can go to that post and see all the people agreeing with the anarchists, and rather than focus on what these particular protesters were doing, these guys are just welcomed into the fold; as if it doesn't hurt the movement to associate with loons who take property.  But just so it's clear, this was not done by the Occupy Chapel Hill group, some of whom opposed this move, while others supported it.  But because they called themselves occupiers, that means everyone who supports the movement is expected to support them.

Here are a few comments in their entirety:
"We must appeal to our brothers the police, to remember that the movement is fighting for the Policman's right to bargain, and to not have health care and retirement taken away. Bad orders should not be obeyed. Policemen please don't beat up on your friends and allies."
"the militarization of our "protect and serve" police forces... inevitable with all that "homeland security" money - and paranoia - floating around..."
"The reason 300 people own this country is because their families have been awake and scheming for hundred of years... if 350 million of us remain asleep and don't join our awakening allies/citizens (especially when the media portrays our movement as homeless-deviants and hippies.) IT'S TIME TO "SCHEME FOR THE DREAM.""
To them, it doesn't matter if these anarchists were completely in the wrong.  They were part of OWS, so the emphasis is how wrong it was for the cops to stop them.  And assault rifles!  Heaven forfend!  As if the very presence of a particular weapon makes the force excessive.  Now mind you, there weren't reports of violence used by police.  The weapons alone are enough for us to side with the anarchists over the property owner.

And yeah, that first guy really did tie the theft of this building with the right of public employees to bargain; as if there is any overlap to these issues whatsoever.

Faceless Villain

Joe Riddle: Ruthless Villain
And here's the thing on this: The property owner isn't some large faceless bank.  It's not even a small bank with a face.  It's a single dude.  I put his picture to the right.  Here's his website.  It looks like it's straight out of 1996 and says it hasn't been updated since May 2007.  According to his site, he's just a regular real estate guy who became a landlord with his first shopping strip twenty-six years ago and slowly added from there.

In other words, this guy's one of us.  Yeah, he's a landlord.  But he actually owns the property himself, and it's even listed in his name.  If you want, you can go to the tax appraiser and see that the property is appraised at $800k and he's paying $13k a year in property tax on it; which is about $4k more than the previous owner paid on it.  And more likely than not, he's got a mortgage on it; and is quite possibly underwater; meaning that he might not be able to sell it.

So this is what the OWS people are now associating with: Stealing $800k worth of property from an individual because they don't like what he's doing with it.  Seriously, this movement hasn't even been going on for very long, and we've already gotten to the point of vigilantes arbitrarily stealing property from people they don't think deserve it.

Now, maybe this guy's a multi-millionaire who routinely evicts old ladies while kicking orphans, but more likely than not, he's just a regular guy trying to make a few more bucks.  But because he hasn't done anything with this particular property, we're to believe he deserves to get screwed.  And hell, looking at that goofy picture he put on his website, I think he's been through enough already.

The Right to Steal

And it's not just the eight anarchists who thought this guy deserves to get screwed.  Here's a comment on that post which outlines this theory:
I feel that if someone owns a commercial building, promises to develop it into something that brings in revenue for the town and then fails to do that, the citizens have the right to take it over and turn it into useable space for the community.
When I questioned her about this, she went on to say:
Nope they shouldn't pay. The developer promised to develop the building 6 yrs ago and the town is suffering from the lack of tax revenue they could gain from this building. The developer is most likely writing it off on his taxes as a loss. As far as I'm concerned he reneged on a promise to the city and forfeited his rights to any monetary gain from the building.
Indeed, because he reneged on an unbinding promise, we're allowed to screw him without any prior notice.

And of course, he wouldn't just be forfeiting monetary gain.  He'd be forfeiting the entire building.  And since he probably had to borrow to buy the building, he'd be stuck repaying a loan for a building he doesn't own anymore.  And remember, it's not his business that got screwed, but him personally, because the property's in his name.

Yet these people don't care about this at all.  All they care about is the "common good," which only they are righteous enough to govern.  And that's the thing: They've been told over and over how evil villains own our buildings and screw us over, yet they don't realize how many of our buildings are really owned by regular people who work for their money.  Trust me, I have clients who are regular people and they own buildings.  It happens.

Oh, and when I suggested that her theory would justify me taking over her place, she insisted that her invented rule only applies to commercial buildings.  But of course, she just made up that rule; which means I get to make up my rules, which means I get to take over her place.  That's how it works when you're dealing with arbitrary rules.

Citizen Government

And the big kicker on this was when I suggest that the government can't just take property, she wrote:
Who was talking about governments taking anything, these are citizens activists and the government isn't involved.
Of course.  As long as it's just citizen activists taking property based upon arbitrary rules they invented, what could go wrong with that?  And this is a common theme amongst these people: That things would be so much better if we had citizens handling this stuff, instead of the faceless government.

But of course, we don't need to turn to anarchy to have a system that allows citizens to pick leaders to write rules and enforce them.  That's our current system; while anarchy means that there are no rules, so anarchists can occupy buildings and the powerful can hire people with assault rifles to slaughter them.

In anarchy, the only thing stopping the powerful is more power.  I'm not sure why anyone imagines anarchy would be fun, because history has shown that it benefits the powerful in every case.  If you're interested, here's an old post I wrote about anarchy.

Democracy v. Dictator

Because that's the absurdity of all this.  These people have been told that the system is rigged against us and the entire government is designed to protect the property owners.  As if that's all the police ever do, and rapists and murderers go scot-free as long as they leave the property owners alone.  And so what they're really wanting is a system exactly like our system, but without any corruption and which can change rules at a moment's notice so that only good things happen.

But that's ludicrous and they're going to have the same problems everyone else has.  Because we already have a government of citizens.  Government employees aren't above the law.  Congressmen don't get to shoot people at random.  Even cops go to prison when there's hard evidence against them.  And as much as some people get away with things that the rest of us don't, those are problems you'll always have and our country is better about this than most.

You'll always have a cop who turns a blind eye when he catches the Mayor speeding.  And you're going to have politicians who include loopholes to benefit their buddies.  But at least this is a system.  At least it's something.  And when we get to the point of citizen activists acting as self-righteous vigilantes who get to create their own law, then you're dealing with the same sort of people who are to blame for many of our problems now.  People who don't understand what laws are for, and imagine that life would be better if only they could call the shots.

Because yeah, having a dictatorship is nice...just as long as you're the dictator.  But I'll take a flawed democracy over a benevolent dictator any day.  And if you're of the belief that government can't be good unless it's doing what you think is good, then what you're wanting is a dictatorship.  Like it or not, that's what you're talking about.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Quote of the Day: Herman Cain Edition

I'm sure going to miss this guy once he's gone.  It's Herman Cain, in an email to his supporters after more allegations of sexual harassment emerged:
when you haven't 'calmed the firestorm' - if only because the people wielding the blow-torches have no intention of putting them out - more experts are put on the air to say this proves you are 'not ready for prime time.' Maybe that would matter if I was trying out for the cast of Saturday Night Live. But this should be a slightly more serious undertaking than that.
What?!  Now, I get what he's trying to say.  But...what?!  Now mind you, this was in the written form.  This wasn't just some nonsense he pulled from the top of his head.  This was an email.  This was planned.

First off, the reason he hasn't "calmed the firestorm" is because his explanations keep shifting and he seemed caught totally flat-footed.  In fact, he kinda sorta has been acting like a guilty guy who isn't sure how much guilt will catch up with him.  And nobody's keeping a blow torch to it.  They're just asking questions because his answers keep changing.  I mean, you don't get to pretend you've already answered the questions if the answers you gave have been proven to be false.  That's just not how this works.  People with good answers don't need to keep changing them.

And who, exactly, does he imagine is putting all these experts on the air to say these things?  Does he honestly imagine there are lots of experts who could look at his trainwreck and say that it shows he can handle the presidency?  Like they're all sitting at home, waiting next to their expert hotline phone for CNN to call and have them explain to America how Cain's shifting explanations strategy could bring peace to the Middle East.  If only they'd call...

Here's a clue, Herman: Maybe the reason all the experts keep saying that you're not ready for primetime is because, duh, you're not.  And yeah, that's got something to do with your shifting explanations and the whole caught flat-footed thing.  And combined with that the fact that he doesn't have real campaign operations set up anywhere and seemed to be on a book promotion right up until the time that Perry pulled a boner; and it's obvious that Cain's fifteen days are just about up.

And yowch, that Saturday Night Live reference was painful.  Like the sort of connection an eight year old might make.  Because yeah, "not ready for primetime" is a Saturday Night Live thing.  And yet...if you're admitting that you're not even ready for Saturday Night Live, doesn't that mean that you're really not ready for the presidency?  And really?  Running for president is more serious than trying out for SNL?  Ya think??

I'm sure going to miss this guy once he's gone.  Does anyone have Alan Keyes on speed dial?  At least we still have Perry.