Shut Down the F**k Barrel

March 23rd, 2015 7 comments

John Oliver:

Watching this, something occurred to me: when explaining how those terribly oppressed rich people should have their taxes cut, conservatives love to harp on the 47%, about how poor people get away with “not paying taxes.” What they mean, of course, is that poor people don’t pay income taxes. Well, federal income taxes. Well, in that one year where so many people lost their jobs. Usually it’s been more like 40%. Although most of that 40% do pay federal payroll taxes—typically only 14% of households don’t pay payroll taxes. And in fact, the poorest 20% of households pay more than 12% of their incomes in state and local taxes, and about 16% of their total income in taxes altogether. While Mitt Romney, who is worth more than $200 million and apparently works little enough to enjoy equestrian dressage, only paid 14% on his $13.69 million income, and that’s the only year he let us see, meaning he usually pays less than that.

But I digress. Suffice it to say, people who claim poor people “don’t pay taxes” have their heads up their asses. Let’s leave it at that.

But the video above, along with Oliver’s piece on civil forfeiture, made me realize that there are even more hidden “taxes,” and they’re not just lottery tickets. The heinous system of cities and their police forces shaking down citizens for as much cash as possible is perhaps one of the more significant overlooked taxes paid almost exclusively by poor people.

These videos also made me realize something else. Remember how, a few decades ago, we shook our heads at the kinds of countries—and we usually envisioned Latin American countries—where policemen typically shook down citizens for bribes and protection money?

Yeah, that’s right: we’re that kind of country now.

Congratulations, everyone who decided it was a good idea to cut taxes. This is so much better.

Categories: Economics, Social Issues, Taxes, The Class War Tags: by

While the Truth Puts On Its Boots

March 22nd, 2015 9 comments

Something that people should be made very well aware of is that one person can quickly shoot out factoids and quips that sound convincing and true, and while what they’re saying is total bullshit, it takes so much effort to show they’re full of it that by the time you get halfway there, nobody is listening to you anymore. That’s why it’s often so easy to lie, and so hard to insist on what’s true.

Here’s a sterling example of that in real time: former Georgia Senator Jack Kingston, a Republican, criticizing Obama, saying that he “is not able to put together an international coalition the way that President Bush did.”

When the person sitting next to him points out how badly that turned out with the Iraq War, Kingston quipped, “You mean the war that Hillary Clinton and John Kerry voted for?”

Watching that exchange—which only took twelve seconds—you would think that Kingston put his opponent to shame, when in fact he was, in fact, selling a line of shit so deep it would be hard to plumb its true depths.

Seriously, saying that Obama is at fault for having trouble putting together a coalition where Bush succeeded is like saying that Obama can’t drive worth a damn because he’s trying to use the same car Bush drove into a brick wall at 80 miles per hour. Bush made a halfway-decent coalition in Afghanistan only because it was right after 9/11 when we had most of the world strongly behind us; a rodeo clown could have done that. Bush then made a bad joke of a coalition to invade Iraq, the “Coalition of the Willing,” as you may recall, one that consisted of countries like Costa Rica, which has no military. Now the entire region is falling to crap and nobody wants to deal with it.

Kingston followed up with the jab about Hillary and Kerry voting for Iraq—as if Clinton or Kerry would have ever started that war if it were up to them. What they did was stupid, but in the context of the time, being piled upon for being anti-American and weak on terror, at a time when being seen as such was considered a political death sentence. Bush made it easier by lying and saying he was only asking for the authorization so he could use it as leverage. They were weak, they caved—but to suggest that Democrats, or even these specific people supported the war, wanted to start it, or were somehow equally responsible for its disaster, based on that vote… it’s pure and utter bullshit.

But the above two paragraphs would take a minute and twenty seconds to try to get out, during which time, someone like Kingston would interrupt, change the subject, and put out six or ten more lines of BS. This is the art of the modern conservative.

People need their own bullshit detectors to combat this, formed with a solid foundation in critical thinking. Which is why it should come as no surprise to anyone that the element of modern education that conservatives hate most is critical thinking skills.

Categories: Right-Wing Lies Tags: by

Descending In Open Bigotry

March 21st, 2015 1 comment

There is a high school in New York which, as part of a National Foreign Language Week activity, read the pledge of allegiance over the school loudspeakers in a different language every day. The choice for the first language to try—Arabic—was almost certainly a mistake. Not because Arabic isn’t a proper objective choice, but because we have by now been long primed to act aggressively against anything that smacks of the Arab world.

Predictably, the reading of the pledge in Arabic sparked outrage. That outrage was almost certainly racist or born of religious intolerance, but of course that was not the reason claimed by the angry respondents. Many families complained that they had lost family members in Afghanistan, for example. The problem: Arabic is not spoken in Afghanistan. The two official languages are Dari and Pashto; Dari is effectively Farsi. Many other languages and dialects are spoken there, but Arabic is not one of them. Other complaints came from Jewish families; I fail to see, however, why they should have any more right to object than anyone else whose nationality has a beef with a country that speaks a certain language. Should Spanish be banned because a British family resented the Falklands war? A general language is not emblematic of a specific political conflict, and it should not be prohibited simply because some people make a general connection between something they hate and that language. Why? Same reason it’s not okay to hate all Arabs, or Persians, or all of any race. It’s the exact same principle.

No, the reaction to the reading of the pledge was, if not entirely racist, then mostly so, with general bigotry and ignorance blended in. Many people claimed it was just an aversion to the pledge being recited in a language other than English—in other words, run-of-the-mill xenophobia rather than outright anti-Arab sentiment—but that doesn’t wash, either. As the principal of the school pointed out, “Had it been done in Spanish first or Japanese first, we wouldn’t be having this conversation today.” Indeed: had it been read in one of those languages, there would have been no protest—or at least so little that it would have been negligible. If such had been done first and nobody objected, then reading it in Arabic would have been much more difficult to protest. I do think that the principal was in error, however, in that people still would have complained—they simply would have had to be a little more honest about the reason for their protest.

Back in 2001, in the days after 9/11, Bush made it clear that we were not fighting against Islam, and warned against a backlash against Arab-Americans. It was one of the few stances he took which I admired.

Well, so much for that. America is now firmly bigoted against not just Islam, not just Arabic peoples and languages, but anything that reminds us of any of that.

Categories: Social Issues Tags: by

No, Pelosi’s Syria Visit Was Not the Same As the GOP Iran Letter

March 14th, 2015 No comments

I was somewhat surprised when I caught up with The Daily Show this week, and saw Stewart’s reaction to the Republican letter to Iran. Interestingly, he skewered both Republicans and Democrats, based upon the fact that then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Syria in 2007 against the wishes of the Bush administration, and other liberals or left-leaning commentators (specifically, Hillary Clinton, Diane Feinstein, and Chris Matthews) spoke in praise of Pelosi’s actions.

This is essentially the main defense by the right wing for the 47 Republican senators’ letter to the Iranian leadership: Pelosi did it, so liberals are hypocrites for objecting now!

Well, not quite.

In situations like this, it kind of helps to look beyond the superficial and check out, you know, the actual facts of the situation. From a New York Times article at the time of the Pelosi visit:

Ms. Pelosi and many other Democrats, as well as some Republicans, have spoken often in recent months about the value of increasing dialogue with Syria as a way to improve stability in the region, but the Bush administration has resisted the idea, citing its view that the country is a state sponsor of terrorism. It accuses the Syrian government of providing militants with safe passage into Iraq and of interfering in Lebanon’s politics after its army was forced to leave there in 2005. Damascus denies the accusations.

At the White House on Tuesday, President Bush told reporters that he saw little point in talking to Syria now. “Sending delegations hasn’t worked,” he said. “It’s just simply been counterproductive.”

Even so, three Republican congressmen — Robert Aderholt of Alabama, Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania and Frank Wolf of Virginia — visited Syria separately and met with Mr. Assad on Sunday. And a senior American diplomat, Assistant Secretary of State Ellen Sauerbrey, held talks in Damascus last month with Syrian officials about an influx of Iraqi refugees. Mr. Bush did not mention those visits in his remarks yesterday.

Ms. Pelosi is traveling with a high-level group of lawmakers, included Representatives Henry A. Waxman and Tom Lantos of California, Louise M. Slaughter of New York, Nick J. Rahall II of West Virginia and Keith Ellison of Minnesota, all Democrats, as well as David L. Hobson, Republican of Ohio.

Doesn’t exactly sound the same, does it?

So, here is essentially what happened: the Bush administration had a stated policy to not engage the Syrian government on the grounds that such engagement would not be productive… although Bush officials had, in fact, made recent official contact at a fairly high level. Bush just didn’t want Pelosi to go. Pelosi went anyway. That’s about as close the Pelosi visit got to what the Republicans did recently: she engaged with a foreign leader in a way that the president did not approve.

However, that’s where the similarity ends.

The differences? First, Pelosi did not pull a surprise visit to Syria, but instead coordinated her visit with the Bush administration.

Second, while Pelosi made a move that the Bush administration claimed was counter-productive, she went there in support of the Bush administration’s policies concerning Syria, taking the same stance of Syrian conduct, and communicating to Assad the same views that the Bush administration held on his actions.

And third, she was not alone: Republican congressmen and the Bush Assistant Secretary of State all met with Assad, in fact prior to Pelosi, and the Bush administration did not object to any of them doing so, or say that any of them were interfering with administration policy or making things worse. The Assistant Secretary of State’s visit the month before, in fact, clearly belied the Bush administration’s assertion that engagement would not work. Pelosi also traveled with other Republicans (who were also not called out) in what was a bipartisan endeavor.

In point of fact, there was one other similarity between 2007 Pelosi event and the current GOP letter event: in both cases, Republicans used the event as a political weapon to assault Democrats.

Bush was engaging with Assad, and Republicans did also make contact—Bush objected to none of these. He only objected when someone of the opposing party wanted in on the same action his own party was taking. Basically, he was saying, “This is our political campaign tool, to make us look good—how dare a Democrat try to share the stage!”

In contrast, Republicans, in opposition to direct, ongoing negotiations with a foreign leader, actively participated in what was clearly a partisan political stage performance in a manner that undermined the president of the United States. This, just days after Republicans invited the Israeli Prime Minister to address the in Congress in a speech that criticized the president.

So, no. Not the same thing. Not even close.

Categories: Right-Wing Hypocrisy Tags: by

Ten Men and a Tax Bill

March 13th, 2015 4 comments

The following is an old story about “How Taxes Work,” essentially an old right-wing metaphor trying to explain how rich people are abused and trodden upon by the lower and middle class, who are a bunch of ignorant, selfish dicks trying to rob the sympathetic, generous, industrious wealthy man. It’s storytelling legerdemain, sleight of hand with figures, like saying that Reagan cut taxes and doubled revenue, when in fact he raised taxes overall and most of the revenue increase was an illusion created by not factoring for inflation. Or the bookend arguments that (1) we should cut taxes for rich people because they pay the lion’s share of the budget, but (2) we should never raise taxes on rich people because if we took 100% of their money it would only pay for a tiny amount of the budget. These arguments depend upon half-truths and more than a little hocus-pocus with hidden values, enough so that the reader gives up on trying to do the math and just accepts what is heard.

See if you can spot any of the tricks in this often-quoted version of the shell game:

Let’s put tax cuts in terms everyone can understand. Suppose that every day, ten men go out for dinner. The bill for all ten comes to $100. If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this:

The first four men — the poorest — would pay nothing; the fifth would pay $1, the sixth would pay $3, the seventh $7, the eighth $12, the ninth $18, and the tenth man — the richest — would pay $59.

That’s what they decided to do. The ten men ate dinner in the restaurant every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement — until one day, the owner threw them a curve (in tax language a tax cut).

“Since you are all such good customers,” he said, “I’m going to reduce the cost of your daily meal by $20.” So now dinner for the ten only cost $80.00.

The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes. So the first four men were unaffected. They would still eat for free. But what about the other six — the paying customers? How could they divvy up the $20 windfall so that everyone would get his “fair share?”

The six men realized that $20 divided by six is $3.33. But if they subtracted that from everybody’s share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would end up being PAID to eat their meal. So the restaurant owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man’s bill by roughly the same amount, and he proceeded to work out the amounts each should pay.

And so the fifth man paid nothing, the sixth pitched in $2, the seventh paid $5, the eighth paid $9, the ninth paid $12, leaving the tenth man with a bill of $52 instead of his earlier $59. Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four continued to eat for free.

But once outside the restaurant, the men began to compare their savings. “I only got a dollar out of the $20,” declared the sixth man who pointed to the tenth. “But he got $7!”

“Yeah, that’s right,” exclaimed the fifth man, “I only saved a dollar, too … It’s unfair that he got seven times more than me!”.

“That’s true!” shouted the seventh man, “why should he get $7 back when I got only $2? The wealthy get all the breaks!”

“Wait a minute,” yelled the first four men in unison, “We didn’t get anything at all. The system exploits the poor!”

The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up. The next night he didn’t show up for dinner, so the nine sat down and ate without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered, a little late what was very important. They were FIFTY-TWO DOLLARS short of paying the bill! Imagine that!

And that, boys and girls, journalists and college instructors, is how the tax system works. The people who pay the highest taxes get the most benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up at the table anymore.

Where would that leave the rest? Unfortunately, most taxing authorities anywhere cannot seem to grasp this rather straightforward logic!

See how much the poorer men are total assholes?

What the story totally glosses over is the amount of effort each man puts into making that meal possible. The richest guy actually worked least hard of all for his food (but he managed the ordering so well that he deserves most of the credit!). The poorest would have liked to work for theirs but were not given the chance, and the guys in the lower and middle part of the group did the lion’s share of labor.

Not to mention that the story falsely assumes that all men eat the exact same meal—as if the poorest 40% have the exact same lifestyle as the richest 10%, or that a poor man benefits from government largesse more than an oil magnate, military contractor, or media tycoon. In a truer telling of the story, each would eat more or less what they could afford.

Not to mention the old canard that that the poorest pay no taxes. They pay no federal income taxes, but there are many other taxes they do pay, including federal payroll taxes. Even if they can’t find work, they still get hit with other taxes, usually sales taxes at least.

The story also gives the impression that the wealthiest man has simply decided to be generous for no particular reason, because he’s such a swell guy.

That and a lot more is simply assumed or omitted from the storyline, for the simple reason that if the story were told fully and truthfully, the rich guy would not come across so much as the oppressed hero.

Here’s how the story would play out if it were widened to a more realistic scope:

Ten men are associated with a company.

The first two are willing to work hard at the company, but the tenth man, the majority shareholder (who is extremely wealthy), has decided that his profit margin just isn’t big enough to justify hiring them. As a result, these men are dirt poor. When possible, they take on odd jobs at extremely low wages, but for the most part, can barely feed themselves and their families, despite their desperation to find gainful employment.

The next two men work 12- or 14-hour days at backbreaking labor for the company, and receive minimum wage. Their jobs are relatively unskilled, but still critical; the company could never function without someone doing this labor. However, they can only barely support their families. They live from hand to mouth, are usually in debt, and likely will have little pension or savings by the time they are old enough to retire. They always fear losing their jobs and being replaced by the first two men, so they don’t complain much.

These first four men cannot afford company stock, and own nothing of the company.

The next two men work 8- to 10-hour days at less menial jobs, and get paid enough to stay out of poverty, but not comfortably so. They have salable skills, but are still not irreplaceable; they also represent labor that is necessary for the company to function, but similarly fear losing their jobs to others who could fairly cheaply be trained to do their jobs. These two men have enough saved that they can buy a little stock in the company, but not much.

Most of these six would like to improve their condition, but they find themselves having a hard time: every time they find themselves getting ahead in the world, their apartment rents and other expenses go up, leaving them with less than they expected. (Guess who owns the apartment buildings.)

The next two men have fairly established skills. They have pretty good job security, and get stock options that allow them to get a 5% share in the company each. They are hardly well-off, but they are comfortable.

The ninth man is a manger. He owns 10% of the company stock, lives in a nice home, and does well. He may work long hours, but does not need to; banker’s hours would be reasonable for him, and he looks forward to a nice, early retirement.

The tenth man, as noted above, is extremely wealthy. He owns about 75% of the company and controls how it runs. He makes a high salary, but pays a lesser percentage of that salary in taxes than the five men below him, mostly by structuring his salary to take advantage of loopholes he paid to slip into the tax code. He controls everything, and decides what work all the other men do. He could easily employ all nine at comfortable wages, but would rather have a bigger yacht, so he leaves the first four men in poverty. He only creates jobs that are absolutely necessary to make him the most money, and pays as little as he can get away with. He works only when he wants to, and does very little actual labor. His wealth derives from the work of the other men below him. He claims that his “talents” are “invaluable” even when he makes stupid decisions and loses money.

When asked why he doesn’t shell out and hire the first two men or give living wages to the next two, he says that the 7th, 8th, and 9th men depend on him to bring in good dividends for them, so his hands are tied. When asked, the three men below him say that they don’t make the decisions, that the tenth man controls things, so such matters are beyond their control. They could make a fuss, but know that hiring and paying living wages to those below them would cost them, not that the tenth man would ever go along with it anyway.

The ten men go out to dinner, the bill coming to $1000.

The first two men can only afford cold franks and beans, with complimentary table water, for a total cost of $2. The rest of the men at the table chip in coupons so these two can have some bread and maybe a small snack.

The 3rd and 4th men have small burgers, fries, and soft drinks, the bill coming to $4 for each.

The 5th and 6th men have pasta with a small glass of beer, and pay $15 each.

The 7th and 8th men have sirloin steaks with salad, garlic toast, and a few glasses of wine. Their bills come to $50 apiece.

The ninth man has appetizers, a salad, a soup course, filet mignon with a nice Pinot, and his selection from the dessert cart. His bill comes to $110.

The tenth man has a rich 6-course meal with caviar, foie gras, lobster thermidor, and much more, with a few bottles of the best champagne washed down with a smooth 50-year-old scotch. His bill comes to $750.

When he sees the bill, he thinks, “Holy crap! Look at how much I’m paying! These other deadbeats should really help out with this!” However, he knows that the others would not easily go for this, so he tries to come up with some clever schemes to get the others to agree to go dutch, or at least foot more of his own bill somehow.

One such opportunity comes along when the owner of the restaurant, happy to get such good business, and wanting these guys to spend this much at his establishment as often as possible, offers to cut the bill by 20%.

The wealthy man immediately jumps in with an offer: “Let’s try to do this fairly.” He points to the first four men. “You bottom forty-seven perce—er, you four guys, you’re hardly paying a damn thing. You should step up and contribute. I suggest you all chip in and pay a few more bucks apiece. It’s only fair.”

“You next two guys, you pay $15 each; the next two $50 each; and you, the ninth guy, you pay $110. I suggest you and I all get the exact same cut—10% off. So the bills will come to $13.50 for the first two of you, $45 for the next two, and let’s call it $100 even for the ninth guy, just to round things off. I handle the rest, which, you have to admit, is the biggest chunk of the bill!!”

Calculators come out and soon it becomes apparent that the richest guy got a whopping $171 off. “Hey Mitt,” one of them says, “you got the biggest cut of all!”

“Of course,” the wealthy man replies, lounging back in his chair; “I pay the biggest part of the bill, so I deserve the biggest cut.”

Another man protests, “But your cut is much more than 10%; you save about 30% off your original bill.”

The wealthy man counters, “I need to have that money so I can create jobs for you guys!”

“Create what jobs?” one of the poorest two men complain. “You keep saying that, but you never actually spend any of the money you wheedle from us on making any new jobs.” “Yeah,” the next four complain, “You always say we’re in line to get better wages, but when it’s time to renew contracts, you claim that there just isn’t enough money for it!”

The first six men, seeing themselves being slighted, decided to jump the wealthy guy and pound him. However, the wealthy guy’s bodyguards cut that idea short, and guy #3 finds himself fired as an example to the others. Man #4 was told to do the third man’s work in addition to his own without any extra pay, which the wealthy man later boasted as an increase in productivity. There was talk of unionizing, but with the laws allowing the wealthy man to bust unions with impunity (paid for by the wealthy man’s lobbying firm), the working stiffs had no real recourse.

There was talk of voting in the next election to make the wealthy guy pay more of his fair share, but the wealthy guy was able to buy advertising to convince most of the others that this idea was effectively communist confiscation and generally unAmerican and unfair. Most were also convinced that they would someday get rich, and they didn’t want to give up their imaginary future wealth any more than the tenth guy wanted to give up his real wealth.

Also, he was able to convince the 4th, 5th, and 6th men that their problems were a result of the first three men mooching off of them (“Your hard-working dollars ended up paying for their franks and beans!”), and that their salaries were lower because the better pay given to the 7th and 8th men were eating up too much of the budget. That divided all of the other men enough that they accomplished nothing in the end.

By the time everyone finished fighting amongst themselves, they had all but forgotten that not only did the wealthy guy get away with the biggest reduced bill, but he left without paying a tip, which the other nine had to split between them.

Now, if they were able to base their company more on true merit and fairness, they would all have a nice steak dinner for $50 apiece and split the bill evenly—except for the wealthy man, who got pissed off that he no longer gets as much as his heart desires. He has to be satisfied having only ten times more than everyone else—which annoys him, as his management talents are obviously much more valuable than the labor he directs.

So the other nine split a $450 bill nine ways, which is okay because now they all make reasonable wages and can afford it.

Not that that’s ever going to happen. Communism, remember? Society will fall apart if the rich guy can’t take home most of the toys.

And that, boys and girls, journalists and college instructors, is much closer to how the tax system works.

That’s a lot more realistic a scenario than the original mendacious cock-and-bull story; it matches pretty well with the kind of tax policies Republicans have been trying to push through for the past several years.

But it’s also a longer story, and takes a little more thought. Most people won’t get so far as to read this line of text. Too much effort.

Categories: The Class War Tags: by


March 11th, 2015 No comments

It has been four years now.

The Republic of Tom Cotton, et al

March 10th, 2015 4 comments

There is a at which the political antics of Republicans go beyond mere idiocy and becomes dangerously close to sedition and treason. And regarding words like “treason,” I do not mean them in the sense that such words are used by Republicans, as in, “Obama just sneezed, let’s accuse him of treason”; I use them in the actual, legal sense.

Republicans have always used their bully pulpit to make the most sensational of charges against Obama, making wild accusations based upon the tamest of actions. After Obama used his authority to issue executive orders even less than pretty much all other modern presidents, he was widely accused by conservatives of being “menacing” in his threat to rule in a corrupt manner that could “deliver us to tyranny,” abusing his powers to the point where impeachment was a just and proper response.

But for all of the hysterical dramatics displayed, this is all just empty posturing; a quick review clearly demonstrates that every right-wing claim is absurdly childish in both the near-berserk levels of alarm as well as the farcical exaggeration of legal claims. Obama has played within his constitutional authority, and certainly well within the boundaries set by his predecessors.

However, Republicans have now begun to take steps which are—in actual fact—both unprecedented and wholly unconstitutional. They came perilously close to that line last week by bringing a foreign leader to their chambers, without the consent of the president, to make a distinctly partisan speech on the behalf not just of Congress, but on behalf of one party of Congress, in what was effectively a foreign-backed political attack on the president of the United States. That comes perilously close to being brazenly illegal, and is without any doubt a breaking of long-held national standards of patriotic fair play.

But now? Now, as the president carries out his constitutionally mandated powers (Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution) to negotiate treaties with foreign powers, Congress has stepped in and sent a direct message to Iran, both specifically and willfully disrupting that process.

This goes beyond mere political interplay. This even goes beyond the now-well-trodden line of intentionally harming the nation for political purposes. This is a deliberate act to undermine the power of the president of the United States as he negotiates with a foreign enemy. Can you imagine what would have happened if, while Reagan negotiated with Gorbachev in Iceland, the Democrats in the Senate sent a message to the Soviet leadership that Reagan had no ability to deliver on any agreement he made? Would Republicans have accepted that?

Of course not, because it would have been tantamount to treason. And no less here, wether you agree with the Republicans’ point of view on Iran or not. They have the power to advise and consent only, not to directly negotiate on matters of foreign affairs, and especially not to work against the president of their own country in foreign negotiations. Though the pundits now seem to be saying that it only comes close to violating the Logan Act (not to mention the constitution itself), they say that the language of the act is vague enough that a good lawyer could wriggle out of a conviction. That does not in any way mean that the Republicans clearly violated the intent of the Logan Act, and are clearly not just in the wrong on this, but have strayed well into the waters called treason.

It is as if Republicans have effectively established their own independent sovereign nation within the bounds of GOP headquarters, and are now acting as a hostile power against the president of the United States.

And, sadly, when it comes to Obama, he is the classic weak-kneed Democrat when it comes to decisive, strong action to slap down the other side when it clearly oversteps its bounds.

The only real question is, what will the Republicans do next? Because, when—not if—they do get away with this, they will surely see the way clear to go one and then many steps further.

Google Announces “Truth Rankings”; Fox News Objects

March 9th, 2015 3 comments

Well, naturally.

This was bound to happen: some impartial body would begin judging objective truth, and conservatives would start going ape. Because, after all, as Stephen Colbert once so aptly put it, “Everyone knows the truth has a liberal bias.”

And here’s Fox News actually claiming that, in their fashion:

But others who follow media bias note that even the media watchdogs – let alone the sites used by the Google researchers like Wikipedia – are often biased.

“They’re very good at debunking myths if they upset liberals, but if it’s a liberal or left-wing falsehood, the fact-checkers don’t seem as excited about debunking it,” Rich Noyes, research director at the Media Research Center, told

He cited a 2013 study by George Mason University researchers, which found that fact-checking site Politifact declared 52% of Republican claims it looked at to be false, but did the same to just 24% of Democratic claims.

Yes. Because it is inconceivable that Republican claims are actually false twice as much as Democratic claims are.

What’s really laughable here is that sites like Politifact and FactCheck are usually guilty of the reverse: going after fewer conservative falsehoods and more liberal falsehoods in a facile attempt to appear “less biased,” because giving a more accurate measurement of such things would produce a much more lopsided tally, resulting in even more cries of “bias” because false equivalency is not applied. This is referred to as “working the refs,” a sports term in which complaining harshly that the referees are biased against you will cause them to judge more favorably towards you in the future. Conservatives do this with incredible ferocity, and it works: fact-checking organizations fear nothing more than reporting the true balance of bullshit, knowing it will make them ripe for cries of bias. As a result, they let conservatives off lightly.

For example, when Obama and Romney had a debate FactCheck listed five “false claims” by both candidates as if to make it seem like they were telling truth and falsehoods equally—though Obama’s were grouped higher on the list, making him seem a bit more dishonest. Not only that, they had to stretch the definition of “false claims” for at least one or two of Obama’s statements to bring his tally up to five.

What they did not mention was the fact that at least a dozen more whoppers by Romney were left entirely off the list.

PolitiFact did the same thing, ignoring most of Romney’s fabrications, while going out of their way to make Obama seem untruthful. Among the examples I found at the time: Obama’s statement that Romney was proposing a $5 trillion tax cut. Politifact called this “half true,” because Obama did not take into account the fact that Romney intended to offset the tax cut with closing loopholes (which were never specified), even though Obama expressly mentioned that exact fact. Obama’s statement was fully true, but Politifact dinged him on it.

Meanwhile, Romney was rated as fully “true” for criticizing Obama on not halving the deficit in half in four years as he had pledged. Politifact ignored the criticism and only checked the plain fact of the original statement; they did not take into account or even note that any deficit cutting attempted by Obama was fully obstructed by Republicans. To choose this statement to rate as “true” is along the lines of giving Romney credit for telling the truth because he pronounced Obama’s name correctly. In the meantime, Romney was making substantive claims about Obama doubling the deficit, a clearly bald-faced lie—but PolitiFact could not be bothered to focus on that claim.

Conservatives do not want some organization to have an automated system of fact-checking, because you can’t “work” a robotic referee.

And that would screw up their entire game plan.

Categories: Right-Wing Lies Tags: by

Office 2016 for Mac: Because Microsoft Figures You Like Crap

March 7th, 2015 2 comments

For the first day and a half, the download would not work. They seem to have worked that out finally. Got it, installed it. My impression:


Major changes:

  • It now looks very similar to Office for Windows
  • They finally made it work with Microsoft’s cloud service
  • A few new bells & whistles, like a new presenter view in PowerPoint, were added

Maybe there’s more of significance, but I can’t find it, not yet at least. It’s more or less an Office365-compatible version with a more Microsoft-ish Ribbon, and not much more.

But hey, it’s now working with the cloud! Like, only years after Google and Apple have been doing it. But you get to use Microsoft’s version, which is even more difficult to use than Apple’s!

In fact, it has made the save and open dialogs much more annoying. You get the cloud dialog first, and have to click “On my Mac” to get into the dialog box to save the document on your own computer. As if it’s impossible to do what most other cloud services do, which is to create a sync folder on your computer, or allow you to change the settings so that you don’t have to work extra to do what you want to do.

Not to mention that the cloud connection takes time to establish each and every time you open it, making you wait—something I am fairly sure will not improve with the final version of the suite. And from what I can tell, you won’t be able to change that.

There are other bugs which one expects with betas like this—Word’s font menu is fracked up and will not jump to the font you want with keystrokes, and in Excel, simple cell selection is buggy and sometimes gives you the spinning cursor for as long as a minute. Those I presume they will fix in the coming months. However, too much else will obviously not be fixed.

What they did not do: fix the annoying and pointless perennial screw-ups in the software. Such as, why is there no “Default” button in the paragraph dialog box? It makes zero sense. It exists in the Windows version. Why not in the Mac version?

Why are page numbers in headers & footers still fracked up? You used to be able to just add the page number anywhere, in live text. For the past several versions, it was changed to be more like the Windows version, which is not as good as the old way of doing it on the Mac. Worse, the new Mac version is still different from Windows, and in a horribly crappy way: the auto page number fields are separate from the rest of the header text, in a way that is totally screwed up and easy to make the document look horrible.

The preferences pane is also still horrible, with maybe 1/10th of the options available in the Windows version. In fact, they seem to have even removed some things, like the way to get the ruler to stop showing character measurements instead of inches.

The Find and Replace interface sucks even worse than before, and the ^p and ^t in searches never works like it used to in Word 2003. What used to be the best and most powerful find and replace engine I ever saw is now annoyingly useless to me.

MLA citations are still fubar. First, you get that annoying fugly-blue bold “Works Cited” title, and the rest of the citation is just as screwed up. For as long as the MLA citation engine has existed in Word, it never produces a Works Cited list in MLA format. Seriously. More than just the non-centered title. There’s no hanging indent. Data points like the date don’t format right unless you type it in just right, making the point of a reference engine mostly pointless—I still find it much simpler just to use my MLA handbook and type it by hand. And it still seems to be stuck on the 6th edition style, which has been out of date for many years now. Hell, titles are underlined instead of in italics, which was changed at least two editions ago! Really, how hard can it be to get that right? Obviously, someone at Microsoft did a piss-poor job six years ago and nobody has bothered to change it since then.

Automated lists are still aggravatingly idiotic. Want to make an MLA-style outline? Fuck you! We’re giving you a maddening morass of crap instead! First, we change the font to Calibri 14 point (14??), then change the spacing to 1.15, and just to fuck with you, add 24 points of before-paragraph spacing! We’ll make every indent a smaller font size, and just to tick you off, we’ll have the I-A-1 correct, and then switch to a non-sequitur a), in italics to boot! And to change this bizarre styling which no one wants to use EVER, you have to navigate the multi-level list styles, which are frustratingly unclear and buggy! You’re welcome!!!

When I made a list at the end of an MLA-styled essay, before the Works Cited list, it not only made what I selected into a list… but then added two extra empty list points, both centered, one below the rest of the list, and one on the works cited page! And neither formatted like the rest of the list. WTF? Yes, there is a long-standing bug that still hasn’t been fixed in which formatting before a break will spill over between the boundary… but in this case, I had an extra blank line between the list and the break, did not select that extra line, and the bug manifested not when making a numbered list, but instead when I selected the new multi-level style. In short, lists still have all the bugs they used to have, and now a few new ones, too!

In fact, almost every single annoyance from Word 2008 and 2011 seems to still be there, a few even worse than before.

I have seen similar comments in articles about the update: “Great! A new update! I hope they have fixed [perennial failing]. … oh, wait, it looks like they didn’t.”

What Microsoft should have done is said, “Okay, let’s focus on making Word for Mac it’s own product, just like we used to, and concentrate first on making it work better and more smoothly than ever before. Let’s get rid of all the bugs and irritations, and see if we can make it do what users want, without extra hassle.”

They clearly did nothing of the sort.

Instead, it’s as if Microsoft completely ignored user feedback, ignored obvious flaws, and their only mission was to make the Mac version an even more badly bastardized junk imitation of the Windows version. Office for the Mac went downhill ever since they corrupted the entire app by trying pointlessly to do that. It used to be snappy and well-designed. Now it’s a crappy morass of blah.

I’ll still use it when I have to (more often than I would like), but am increasingly moving away. I use Keynote for presentations, Google Docs for word processing (in particular with my classes), and, well, I use Excel simply because everything else I’ve found is even crappier.

But hey, new app icons!

Categories: Computers and the Internet Tags: by

Code Words

March 6th, 2015 2 comments

In the past, there have been a virtual lexicon of expressions designed to sound generally positive and innocuous while in fact forwarding a strident partisan agenda. “State’s rights” has long been used as a means of attempting circumvention of everything from prohibition of slavery to Obamacare. “Victim’s rights” has been synonymous with denying the rights of the accused, an integral—indeed, overwhelming—chunk of the Bill of Rights. More recently, “academic freedom” and “teaching the controversy” have been used as code words for violating the separation of church and state so as to teach creationism in public schools.

Now we have a new one: Religious Liberty. You want to deny women the right to birth control as much as possible? Well, any relationship you have with them, no matter how slight or glancing, gives you the right to do so, because otherwise, your religious freedoms would be infringed! A gay couple comes into your business and you want to discriminate? Sure, it’s illegal—but if you can’t, then your religious rights are being trodden upon! Religious Liberty!

And if you’re a Hindu who wants to give an invocation at a town meeting?


See? Simple!

A Serious Rule, Not a Serious Reaction

March 3rd, 2015 1 comment

Hillary Clinton seems to have broken rules about using a personal email account for official business while Secretary of State, constituting a “serious breach” of the Federal Records Act.

Which essentially puts her on equal ground with virtually every major player in the George W. Bush administration.

Nonetheless, the rule is there for a reason, and should be followed. If she broke it, that’s bad. [Late update: Or maybe she didn't.]

And no doubt Republicans will mass all over this like sharks on chum.

It would be nice, however, if before getting to Hillary, they got to the hundreds of Bush administration officials who did this and much, much more. Which will never, ever happen.

But then, hypocrisy is more or less the name of the game nowadays.

Categories: Right-Wing Hypocrisy Tags: by


February 25th, 2015 3 comments

Every once in a while I find conservative web sites espousing views I disagree with, and so I write a response. Not a drive-by, not a quick, general insult—usually, in fact, a comment I spend a lot of time on, giving as much evidence and example as I can muster, trying to be respectful (aside from taking the stand that their reasoning is terrible) and to the point. No foul language, nothing clearly objectionable—just an opposing voice.

I am rather disappointed, therefore, when I find that, about half the time, my comment gets deleted, or never passed through moderation. A few sites then actually block my IP, without note, as if I were never there. These are not sites with tons of comments, but usually more private forums with limited numbers of commenters.

I have to say, I would be pretty ashamed to sink so low, not to have the courage to allow anyone disagreeing with me to post, much less actually try to answer. Very discouraging.

Categories: Political Ranting Tags: by

I Demand My Right to Take Yours Away

February 23rd, 2015 4 comments

If I’m not allowed to deny you your rights, that’s an infringement on my rights.

Does that make sense? No? Didn’t think so.

However, that’s how conservatives are trying to paint civil rights issues today. Take this reaction to a judge’s decision that a business cannot discriminate against customers based on sexual orientation:

Conservatives criticized the judge’s ruling because it infringes on a business owner’s right to refuse service.

Todd Starnes, host of Fox News and Commentary, said he thinks the court’s ruling shows how the government singles out Christian business owners for their religious beliefs.

“And it appears the courts are consistently ruling that gay rights trump everyone else’s rights,” Starnes said.

It shouldn’t take more than a few seconds to figure out how ridiculous that is. Yes, businesses have the right to refuse service on an individual basis. Businesses, however, do not have a right to discriminate against a class of people based on an innate characteristic. You cannot run a business and refuse to serve black people, or poor people, or disabled people. You can turn away someone if they are behaving badly, or are not wearing a shirt, or for some other individual grounds. But not because they are gay. Remember how lunch counters used to be whites-only? Yeah, that was based on “a business owner’s right to refuse service” too.

Second, if Christian-owned businesses are being “singled out,” it is only because Christian-owned businesses are the ones violating the civil rights of others. It kinda works out that way—but it’s not the fault of the government, it’s the fault of the Christian-owned businesses for breaking the law.

As for “gay rights trump everyone else’s rights,” it is everyone’s right to not be discriminated against, while it is no one’s right to discriminate. So, yes, in that standoff, gay rights trump the right to discriminate. How terrible it is to be you, you poor oppressed soul.

Categories: Social Issues Tags: by

Show Your Love

February 22nd, 2015 8 comments

Let’s see: under Obama, we’ve had 59 consecutive months of private-sector job growth, including six straight months of healthy job gains over 200,000, after Obama came to office while the economy was cratering and we were losing up to 750,000 jobs a month; unemployment has gone from 10.1%—something Obama was not in the least responsible for, despite conservative allegations—to 5.7%; the Dow Jones Industrial Average has nearly tripled, from 6627 to 18,140, since Obama took office, while the NASDAQ had nearly quadrupled, going from 1294 to 4956; most of this economic turnaround has been due to a greatly successful stimulus package Obama shepherded, which while imperfect has nonetheless undeniably turned the economy away from what was certain ruin; about 10 million Americans without insurance are now insured, while crippling restrictions like denial for pre-existing conditions have been outlawed; the auto industry has been effectively saved where conservatives wanted it to collapse so money could be made from the restructuring; and, oh yeah, Obama got Osama bin Laden.

Sure, even despite the effects of massive obstructionism and opposition to almost everything he does, Obama still hasn’t been as strong on ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, shutting down Guantanamo, fighting for gay rights, overseeing Wall Street and political reform, ending the harmful drug war and easing massive incarceration of mostly minority citizens, or helping us achieve energy independence—but overall, he has been moving us in the right direction on all of these issues.

Meanwhile, Republicans have obstructed the political system because “it works for us,” held the American economy hostage as a political ploy to the point where the American economic rating was downgraded, tried to lower taxes for the rich while raising them for the poor, attempted to dismantle Social Security and Medicare, torn down long-standing civil rights, refused to repair the Voting Rights Act while passing laws to suppress voting, incessantly tried to deny health care to millions of Americans, have insulted, browbeaten, lied about, disrespected and even threatened to sue the president for no discernible reason, while generally working against the welfare of the majority of American citizens.

Which is why Obama doesn’t love America, and Republicans do.

Categories: Right-Wing Hypocrisy Tags: by

One Problem with Windows

February 21st, 2015 1 comment

It’s that you really don’t know when the computer you buy is going to be compromised from the word “go.”

Recently, Lenovo sold more than 43 different models of laptops and desktops on which they loaded the usual assortment of crap bloatware. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a collection of various programs which the maker is paid to load onto the computers it sells. Often the bloatware is questionable, producing annoyances for users. More than once I have known people who were incredibly annoyed by it, but could not figure out how to uninstall it—and so were forced to make calls to the maker’s technical support line to find out how they could rid their computer of it all.

Usually, the worst of the annoyances are System Tray popups, like you get now from software like Avast. Stuff that has to constantly be dismissed until you’re annoyed enough to pay—nagware, as it’s often called.

However, recent Lenovo users started noticing that their computers were doing more than the usual amount of intrusions. They began to notice that web site that shouldn’t have any ads in them started showing ads.

I’ve seen this before. I create web sites for the classes I teach, and of course there are no ads. So I was surprised when a student in the computer lab asked me why I had put ads on my site. I looked, and lo, there were huge sidebar ads on the page! For a moment, I thought my site had been hacked, until I checked other machines in the lab, and it became clear that only this one PC was affected.

Another time, a family member was suffering from all kinds of unwanted ads appearing, including those pop-up banners across the bottom of the browser window. Turns out that a browser add-on was responsible.

That’s the kind of thing Lenovo had built into a large number of their computers sold in past months—specifically, adware going by the name of Superfish, which is not just adware, but adware which opens gaping security holes in your system. Worse, Lenovo’s “solution” is to remove the adware… but leave the gaping security holes intact.

It’s hard to tell if this is worse than the time Dell sold computers for a couple years that had severe hardware defects—defects which Dell knew about, but still sold the computers and lied about the flaw to customers. I was acutely aware of this because my school had bought these very computers, and just weeks after the one-year warranty expired, fully half of the computers in our lab failed in the exact same way over the span of just a few weeks.

Nor are these fly-by-night operators: Lenovo is the PC unit of IBM that was sold to a Chinese manufacturer, and Dell is hardly an unknown lightweight in the market. Nor are they the only ones with problems like these.

Discussing this at work, a colleague (who hates anything Apple) complained that Apple computers are loaded with bloatware. And it is true that when you get an Apple computer, there are dozens of apps pre-installed. However, to call them “bloatware” is, I think, more than a little unfair. If you define “bloatware” as nothing more than “potentially unwanted software pre-installed on a device,” then technically the statement is correct.

However, the term “bloatware” has come to mean much more than that. The most powerful connotations include:

  • Demo Software which quickly become useless nagware;
  • Software which runs on startup and consumes significant system resources;
  • Adware, as noted in the Lenovo/Superfish report above;
  • Spyware, collecting data on the user without the user’s knowing consent;
  • Software which creates security risks the user is unaware of;
  • Software which takes up an inordinate amount of disk space;
  • Software which is difficult to remove.

Of all the above connotations, only one, possibly two apply to any Apple products. GarageBand comes pre-installed on most, if not all Macs, and includes almost 3 GB of support files (mostly loops and tutorials) which can be difficult to delete only because most people don’t know where to find them. Once you know, it’s simple—just throw them in the trash, along with the app. iLife and iWork, the next biggest offenders, come with less than a gig of support files between them.

And that’s about it. That’s the worst of it. Most other Apple apps have a relatively small profile before they are used. No demos. No adware, spyware, or malware of any sort. What little that runs on startup is part of the operating system, providing as-advertised system functions. Most are dead simple to get rid of.

And, unlike most of the “crapware” that comes on Windows boxes, Apple’s apps are, for the most part, pretty decent. Take a look at the a list of the the more notable apps:

  • Activity Monitor
  • Automator
  • Boot Camp Assistant
  • Calendar
  • Contacts
  • Dictionary
  • Disk Utility
  • DVD Player
  • Font Book
  • GarageBand
  • Grab
  • Grapher
  • iBooks
  • iPhoto / Photos
  • Keychain Access
  • Keynote
  • Maps
  • Messages
  • Notes
  • Numbers
  • Pages
  • Photo Booth
  • Preview
  • QuickTime Player
  • Reminders
  • Safari
  • Terminal
  • TextEdit

You may not like all of them, or even most of them, but frankly, there’s some excellent stuff in there. I am unimpressed with Pages and despise Numbers… but Keynote is an excellent app. Dictionary is invaluable, especially how it works system-wide. Most people get a kick out of playing with Photo Booth. Keychain Access is imperfect, but very handy, and is much more useful now that it works over iCloud. Previous versions of Messages was so-so until Apple hooked it into your iPhone’s SMS app. Disk Utility is useful in addition to being simple and easy to figure out.

Perhaps the most overlooked app is Preview, which acts as a PDF reader and an image editor… and is really good at both. Not to mention how OS X, from the start, has had built-in system-wide PDF authoring capability.

Out of the 28 apps listed above, I use about half on a regular basis, and others from time to time.

If you want to call this bloatware, fine—but I would take Apple’s bloatware over that on any Windows PC any day of the week and twice on Sunday. There is a massive qualitative difference between the two. Apple’s is designed to be valuable, useful software of use to as many people as possible without cost or annoyance. The crapware on Windows boxes, even when not a major security risk, is put there primarily to make money off of you and annoy the fracking hell out of you.

So, yes, slight difference.

Categories: Computers and the Internet Tags: by

Giuliani Is a Moron—Not That I’m Questioning His Intelligence

February 20th, 2015 4 comments

Giuliani on Obama:

I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.

Later, he explained:

I’m not questioning his patriotism.

Right. because when you say that someone doesn’t love his country, that has nothing to do with his patriotism.

Late edit: Giuliani is now taking the coward’s way out. Instead of apologizing or at least admitting that what he said was stupid, he’s now trying to make himself the victim by claiming that he’s getting death threats. This is a common tactic, used for example by Sarah Palin as an excuse to cancel an event that had to close because attendance would be so low, and as a general “I’m the victim” ploy to avert unwanted attention for a gaffe.

This is not to say that Giuliani didn’t receive any death threats (though there is no evidence and no known police report); rather that death threats are kind of ubiquitous in this day and age. Obama has gotten endless overt and covert death threats on a regular basis throughout this presidency.

Now, if Giuliani had any evidence that he was getting an unusually high number of explicit death threats, that might be something of note; otherwise, it’s just another politician using his usual hate mail as a diversion from something idiotic they did.

Categories: Republican Stupidity, Right-Wing Lies Tags: by

Hypocrisy Can Bite You in the Ass

February 13th, 2015 2 comments

For eight years, after Democrats won control of the Senate in 2006, Republicans had a single strategy: obstruct. They famously became the party known for its “Audacity of Nope,” often called the “Party of Nope.” Session after session, year after year, bill after bill, Republicans blocked pretty much anything and everything—and not even because they always disagreed with the legislation, but rather just because it was on Obama’s watch. It was just No, No, No, No, No, all the time, for eight long years. They weren’t even shy about admitting it:

Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott boasted, “The strategy of being obstructionist can work or fail. So far it’s working for us.”

Well, Republicans finally won back full control over both houses, winning the Senate majority last November. Sessions barely started a month ago, and Republicans have spent much of the time shooting themselves in the foot.

However, one bill passed the House, and Senate Republicans would love to vote for it. The problem: the bill is extremely partisan, essentially destroying all the positive work Obama accomplished on immigration reform over the past 2-3 years, assuring the Democrats would never let the bill through. And that’s what they’ve been doing.

Yep, that’s right: the Democrats filibustered their very first bill. After eight years of Republicans filibustering almost every last bill in sight.

How do Republicans respond?

Well, they’re just livid. John Boehner could not restrain his frustration:

The House did its job. We won the fight to fund the Department of Homeland Security and to stop the president’s unconstitutional actions. Now it’s time for the Senate to do their work. You know, in the gift shop out here they’ve got these little booklets on how a bill becomes a law. All right? The House has done its job! Why don’t you go ask the Senate Democrats when they are going to get off their ass and do something other than to vote no!

Do I even need to point out the extraordinary hypocrisy?


Done with Maher

February 11th, 2015 2 comments

After watching the vaccination discussion from the most recent Real Time with Bill Maher, I’m pretty much ready to throw in the towel on this show. That episode was just painful to watch.

I’ve been borderline about Bill Maher for a while. Discussions on his show can be interesting, and Maher himself can be funny (though his “You’re all jerks for not laughing at that bad joke I just made” schtick gets old fast). However, I’m looking at his show in the same way I used to consider CNN’s Crossfire before I stopped watching it, some time before it got canceled: it has become only barely watchable. I may still keep watching the “New Rules,” but I’m not ever sure about that.

(Want a good show to replace Real Time? It’s even also on HBO: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. It is as brilliant as Maher is dumb. I’d say “more brilliant than” instead of “as brilliant as,” but I’m not feeling generous to Maher at the moment.)

Like Crossfire, a lot of the discussion on Maher’s show is just meaningless babble. Too many guests are pushing an agenda, and are just there to spout completely ridiculous factoids hoping that they either get unaddressed in the rapid back-and-forth, or that no one on the panel knows enough to refute them. Often times a single guest will dominate the discussion and just spew misinformation left and right. Maher, who should have staff whose job it is to prep him on the issues, in particular regarding common and specific tropes his guests are known to champion, often just lets them slips past or feebly says that that “sounds” wrong.

Were Maher to find panelists who vary in their politics but at least stay factual and debate reasonably, that would go a long ways toward making the show better.

But Maher himself is all too often the biggest problem. Aside from not preparing worth a damn, he’s simply too much of an gullible, alarmist schmuck too much of the time. He acted like the fact that 250 tons of radioactive water being released daily from Fukushima is going to kill the oceans or something, when he had no idea how radioactive that water is, or even how much it is, apparently (1 swimming pool has 2500 tons of water, so that’s about 1 swimming pool of water every 10 days), and reacted with disbelief when the scientist he was talking to told him that dissipation in the ocean meant that there was no reason for alarm at the global level (reason: it’s a big-ass ocean; when dissipated, Fukushima’s contribution is hardly even a tiny blip). He’ll accept alarmist crap from dodgy sources and then cast doubt on solid figures provided by respected scientists.

PZ Meyers does a pretty good job explaining how Maher was being an idiot this week—but it didn’t really take a scientist to tell that.

Categories: Entertainment Tags: by

Oh, You Finally Realize It Now, Do You?

February 8th, 2015 2 comments

Because his insistence, his lawlessness, of he, trying to get his way, it tramples our constitution—so—from debt—and I won’t even get into all the details of everything. But from debt.

—Sarah Palin, Freedom Summit, Jan. 24, 2015

C-SPAN has the video and transcript. It’s pretty breathtaking. Jon Stewart did a great job making fun of it. It’s not just the bits like you see above where her sentences were incoherent; it’s also where her entire train of thought just rambles aimlessly around. It was reported that her teleprompter broke—well, that’s happened to Obama, who did fine, and Clinton, who just sailed through magnificently. And considering how much Palin has utterly sneered at Obama for using a teleprompter at all, I don’t think she really deserves a break for this, if the teleprompter indeed broke.

The thing is, when I heard it, I laughed, but was not in any way surprised. It was simply what I expected from her. Palin’s word salad and rhetorical wandering is nothing new. No, what surprised me was how some conservatives, after six years of so much exposure to Palin, only now recognize that she is a moron.

Matt Lewis wrote a piece which got a lot of attention, admitting that finally, after years and years, he has realized that Palin is a schmuck. Noting her nearly incomprehensible speech at the summit, he conceded, “Demosthenes, she is not.” Ya think?

Lewis, despite writing a contrite retreat from Palin, nevertheless attempts throughout to excuse, rationalize, and justify the support given to Palin by him and others. He stresses the times she did not sound like an idiot. He makes it sound like almost all conservatives abandoned Palin as quickly as possible in late 2008. He dredges up samples of his writings which were not entirely supportive. You come away with the impression that he and almost all other conservatives realized long ago she was unworthy of support, despite the fact that he is trying to explain why the exact opposite was in fact true. In short, he does not so much explain why it took him so long to see the obvious as much as he tries to whitewash the fact that he did in fact miss the obvious, for more than half a decade.

And obvious it was. Incredibly obvious. It so happens that I have a blog, and I can look back at my reporting from that time. And yes, it became quickly clear that from the very beginning, Palin was a morass of scandal, idiocy, and nonsense. Anyone with a shred of sense could have seen it immediately.

It only took a day after McCain announced her as his running mate to catch her in her first big lie—that she had opposed the “Bridge to Nowhere.” Two days in, another lie—that, as mayor, she had not terminated the Wasilla librarian and the police chief; it was later revealed that she fired the police chief for trying to curb drunk driving and promote gun safety, and the librarian for refusing to ban certain books. By day three, we were learning a lot about the state trooper scandal. By day four, the McCain campaign was lying not just about her Bridge to Nowhere lie, but also about how she never supported Ted Stevens, when she clearly had. Five days in, we heard Palin’s utterly bizarre story about how she delayed a high-risk childbirth after her water broke so she could give a political speech and then take a slow series of flights and car travel to a small local hospital in Wasilla. That and the Palins’ associations with a secessionist movement.

So, it did not take long to see that Palin was failing miserably in the role of vice presidential candidacy, the major part of which is making the ticket look good, or at least not worse. She was nothing but embarrassment from day one, and it never stopped. In fact, Palin had not even displayed her worst skills as a speaking representative for her campaign.

It was only two weeks after joining the campaign that Palin touted Alaska’s proximity to Russia as good reason to believe she would make a capable leader:

PALIN: … And, Charlie, you’re in Alaska. We have that very narrow maritime border between the United States, and the 49th state, Alaska, and Russia. They are our next door neighbors. We need to have a good relationship with them. They’re very, very important to us and they are our next door neighbor.

GIBSON: What insight into Russian actions, particularly in the last couple of weeks, does the proximity of the state give you?

PALIN: They’re our next door neighbors and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska.

GIBSON: What insight does that give you into what they’re doing in Georgia?

PALIN: Well, I’m giving you that perspective of how small our world is and how important it is that we work with our allies to keep good relation with all of these countries, especially Russia. We will not repeat a Cold War. We must have good relationship with our allies, pressuring, also, helping us to remind Russia that it’s in their benefit, also, a mutually beneficial relationship for us all to be getting along.

She then tried to dodge by pivoting to energy policy; Gibson hauled her back, asking if she had met with any foreign leaders, to which she replied that “international trade activities bring in many leaders of other countries.” After a minute more of dodging, she admitted that she had never met any of them.

Later in the interview, her lack of political knowledge was further revealed:

GIBSON: Do you agree with the Bush doctrine?

PALIN: [pause] In what respect, Charlie?

GIBSON: The Bush — well, what do you — what do you interpret it to be?

PALIN: His world view.

GIBSON: No, the Bush doctrine, enunciated September 2002, before the Iraq war.

PALIN: I believe that what President Bush has attempted to do is rid this world of Islamic extremism, terrorists who are hell bent on destroying our nation. There have been blunders along the way, though. There have been mistakes made. And with new leadership, and that’s the beauty of American elections, of course, and democracy, is with new leadership comes opportunity to do things better.

She obviously had no clue what the “Bush Doctrine” was; her “in what respect” response was clearly an attempt to get the interviewer to fish her out of hot water by telling her. Gibson almost fell for it, but caught himself and did not give her a break on that.

By now, any self-respecting sentient being would realize that Palin was way out of her depth. But hey, let’s give her a chance. Give her two weeks to prep and drill, to take the crash course in Politics 101, so she could have a lightweight interview without looking foolish. Not to mention, come up with a halfway decent way to deal with the foreign policy question.

Here’s how she did, just 4 weeks after joining the ticket, two weeks after the Russia comment:

COURIC: You’ve cited Alaska’s proximity to Russia as part of your foreign policy experience. What did you mean by that?

PALIN: That Alaska has a very narrow maritime border between a foreign country, Russia, and, on our other side, the land-boundary that we have with Canada. It’s funny that a comment like that was kinda made to … I don’t know, you know … reporters.

COURIC: Mocked?

PALIN: Yeah, mocked, I guess that’s the word, yeah.

COURIC: Well, explain to me why that enhances your foreign-policy credentials.

PALIN: Well, it certainly does, because our, our next-door neighbors are foreign countries, there in the state that I am the executive of. And there…

COURIC: Have you ever been involved in any negotiations, for example, with the Russians?

PALIN: We have trade missions back and forth, we do. It’s very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia. As Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where do they go? It’s Alaska. It’s just right over the border. It is from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there, they are right next to our state.

Seriously. She not only doubled down on the whole “Russia is next door to Alaska, therefore I am strong in foreign policy” idea, but she then claims that Vladimir Putin flying over her head gives her foreign policy credentials as well. Despite the fact that a quick check of air routes makes it clear that flights from Moscow fly over the Atlantic and come nowhere near Alaska. But hey, let’s say that a few times Putin came to the U.S. via, say South Korea. In such a case, as his plane flew over Alaska, one can be assured that Palin’s staff instantly alerted her to the fact, at which time she went into deep meditation and all that foreign policy expertise just seeped into her head as the Aeroflot craft flew several miles over her head. Because that’s how it works.

Additionally, you can see that her word salad style of speaking is not just a recent thing, you can see clear elements of it in her speaking shown above. Really, read that last paragraph, check out the wording, try to figure out what the hell she means when she says “we send those out.”

No, the audacious stupidity Palin demonstrated was immediately apparent—so much so that Tina Fey, to get outrageous laughs from her audience, only had to quote Sarah Palin verbatim.

I really cannot stress enough how breathtakingly manifest it was that Palin was an idiot. I wrote and asked aloud many times in the years since then how conservatives could possibly listen to this person and still take her seriously.

But no, instead of cringing, they actually gushed. They loved her winking and folksy expressions, as if the gibberish she spouted was somehow astutely charming.

Seriously, if Obama had chosen the Democratic twin of Palin, there would have been cries of outrage and despair from the faithful from day one. Possibly some would hold out for a few weeks, but few if any would stay beyond the whole Russia thing.

Conservatives, however, not only stayed on with her through that, some of them actually came to like her better than McCain! And while some let go after the failed election bid, most kept on giving her love and support. She maintained her position as a popular movement figure for years—even well after it became clear that her first priority was to cash in.

And although that popularity waned quite a bit over time, the fact remains that she was still invited to speak at the Freedom Summit, and has appeared at numerous high-level conservative events—hell, she was the keynote speaker at the 2014 CPAC conference, and still appears to be slated for the 2015 CPAC coming later this month.

It is not really so amazing that Palin has retained so much support for six years; what really takes your breath away is that she kept support for six months. Six years is so inconceivable that you cannot register astonishment simply due to the numbness of such long-sustained shock.

To Matt Lewis, I can only say, nice attempt to cover up the fact that you championed an obvious lunatic for several years. It still does not explain how you somehow overlooked the obvious for so long.

Unbundling Is Overdue

February 7th, 2015 1 comment

The FCC’s recent stance on Net Neutrality is nice and all, but one critical elements is still missing: unbundling, which requires carriers that own infrastructure to lease their last-mile connections with competing services at low, regulated rates. You might think that it’s unfair to force companies to share private resources, but (1) these resources are built on public land, and (2) were heavily subsidized by federal, state, and local governments—i.e., you, the taxpayer. They may own it, but you mostly paid for it.

This egregious sop to the telecoms largely goes unnoticed, but the lack of bundling more or less prevents meaningful competition, thus causing higher prices and slower service. Unbundling in Japan and Europe has created healthy competition and far superior service. For example, I get fiber-optic FTTH Gigabit service at home, which includes telephone service (we could add TV for a nominal fee if we wanted) and my monthly bill is less than $60. Plus we get $150 – $300 per year off our two cell phone contracts for using the same carrier for both. $30 a month can get you 100 Mbps service.

In the U.S., how many choices do you get for Internet service? In Japan, it’s not uncommon to have your choice of half a dozen providers offering various deals and packages when you go to any electronics store and visit the carrier counter.

My Computer students are always shocked to hear that Internet service in the U.S. is slower and more expensive than in Japan. Yes, some of it is due to the U.S. being a larger country, but the lack of strong government incentives, too little regulation, or any kind of comprehensive national policy to promote a healthy market are far more responsible for the shoddy product so many Americans suffer with nowadays.