Monday, April 25, 2011

Give credit where credit is due

With John McCain and his death mask cavorting cluelessly around the Middle East as if he thinks he’s still relevant—telling us with a straight face on “Meet the Press” how “proud” he is of his former (and perhaps future, wink-wink) running mate Sarah Palin, you get the impression that the Obama administration is as ripe for the picking as Fox News and CNN make it out to be. The Obama administration has had some notable accomplishments, and not just the first administration to successfully push through something that kind of looks like real health care reform. It was a courageous thing to do, and it cost the Democrats dearly in 2010; it just goes to show you that despite the fact that Americans demand “change,” a majority really are frighten of it. All the budget deficit talk now is mostly bluster; the idea of reducing the deficit is one thing—how to accomplish it in a way that doesn’t “hurt” is another matter.

Obama just can’t “win” with people equating him with the antichrist (hardly a useful comparison, since Obama’s current approval ratings are under 50 percent); the other day I walked into the middle of a lecture by some immigrant proprietor of an ARCO gas station, fulminating about how we can’t allow “him” to have another term, because China will certainly take over the country. He must have seen that creepy political ad on television I talked about before. Such talk tends to raise the level of bile in me; I called out “Is someone blaming THAT on Obama?” after which the place went silent. Right-wing talk, as I’ve discovered, wilts when it is confronted, or resorts to violence (physical or verbal) rather than attempt rational discussion. It also amazes me how non-Anglo immigrants try to “prove” their Americanism by imitating the worst in white American racism.

Lost is all the media myopia is what the Obama administration can rightly call a “win,” at least in comparison to another recent example by the previous administration. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently announced that all federal coastal waters effected by last year’s BP oil disaster are now open for public and commercial use. Despite environmentalists protesting the Obama administration for not going beyond toughening-up regulations for drilling safety rules and standards, and coastal residents complaining about how they don’t trust “the government,” the government—unless you count prime culprit Halliburton’s cozy relationship with the Bush administration (i.e. Dick Cheney)—wasn’t responsible for the spill, but private industry and the “drill baby drill” side of the political spectrum was. BP was allowed, like many corporations, to evade U.S. oversight by operating the Deepwater Horizon oil platform under a “flag of convenience”—meaning operating under the regulations of another sovereign “state,” this time the Marshall Islands. More significantly, BP’s low-rent well design and the shoddy quality of Halliburton’s contract work, and the ignoring of internal warnings of the potential for disaster were the principle reasons for the spill, not “the government” which had to rely first on deliberate misinformation put out by BP, and then on private industry’s so-called “expertise” on stopping the oil leak. Once the oil spill was eventually contained and stopped, “the government’s” overseeing of the clean-up was effective despite the bellyaching of red state residents, with testing done by NOAA, the FDA, the states effected and even an “independent” test done on water and wildlife samples commissioned by ABC News declaring the coastal waters to be essentially cleansed of oil, although the long-term effects of the spill have yet to be fully understood. An HBO special on the rescue efforts of Brown Pelicans also notes that birds released back into the environment after capture and recovery seem to be doing “well” in the former “disaster area.”

Now let’s compare this effort to a disaster that actually had a more human impact—Hurricane Katrina. City and State agencies were not entirely blameless, particularly concerning New Orleans, but the impoverished areas involved clearly did not have the resources to deal with the disaster. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) basically sat around (maybe deliberately, considering HUD director Alphonso Jackson waxing gleeful over the “probability” that New Orleans would become majority white from majority black) for days, apparently expecting the local officials to “ask” for help first. Michael Brown, a political appointee with no experience that qualified him to be director of FEMA, was accused of providing excessive assistance in Florida in response to Hurricane Frances the year before—apparently because Gov. Jeb Bush was the president’s brother—but responded in the opposite direction during Katrina. FEMA “underestimated” the potential impact of the storm, even though it was known that after decades of various disputes, the levee system was not just incomplete but below originally intended structural standards. Even when it was clear that the disaster was beyond local resources, federal authorities seemed to react with all due “deliberateness” rather than with speed. Although FEMA patted itself on the back concerning all the people they allegedly “saved,” more telling was the number of people who died because of FEMA’s lackluster performance in providing aid. While volunteer efforts to deliver food and water were delayed or blocked by FEMA’s insistence on “proper paperwork,” and The New York Times reporting that FEMA ignored warnings that Katrina could cause "human suffering incredible by modern standards," and did not send a single urban search and rescue team to New Orleans until after the storm past, the final death toll in the city would be 1,464 people. Failure to react quickly to contain the situation also led to widespread looting and violence in the 20 percent of the city that was not flooded. The Bush administration’s pouring money and resources into terrorist “disasters” also was to blame for the failure to react with either efficiency or speed in a natural disaster. The Bush legacy: New Orleans still has only 70 percent of its pre-Katrina population, and remains one of the poorest cities in the country.

Except for the men who died on the Deepwater Horizon rig, there were no reported deaths as a direct result of the BP oil spill, and in time livelihoods and wildlife should recover; that is a much better prognosis than expected considering the anti-government hysteria and reports of doom-and-gloom on Fox News and CNN. The same positive outlook cannot necessarily be said the Bush administration’s handling of Hurricane Katrina, when “the government” had fair warning that a disaster was about to occur. I give the Obama administration an overall thumbs up, the Bush administration a thumbs down. It’s remarkable how those Louisiana residents attacking “the government”—i.e. the Obama administration—have forgotten so soon what a bad government response is really like.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

It's OK to cuss it out if it hurts

My previous employer usually rented a suite once a year at Safeco Field for a company “outing” during the baseball season. I have to admit that baseball is one of those games that benefits from television broadcast editing; I always brought a book with me. Truth-to-tell, I was less interested in watching the game or socializing than I was in the free food, which was generally in generous quantities. During one of these functions, my reading and eating was interrupted by one of my colleagues, a woman from Guam, or somewhere, who was quite drunk and unusually chummy given that we didn’t particularly like each other. Working as a shipper, I sometimes commented about the way people like her boxed orders in the shape of the weirdly-shaped Experience Music Project building instead of taking the time to cut boxes in more-or-less right angles, in order to facilitate correct measurements and more efficient use of space to get the lowest shipping cost. And their aesthetic appeal certainly wouldn’t inspire costumers.

Anyways, this very drunk individual put her face very close to mine and told me a couple of “secrets,” despite the fact that she hated my guts: One day after work, she pointed me out to her husband, a retired military man who had just arrived to pick her up; I must be good worker, he told her. How could he tell that, she asked incredulously. Look how fast he’s walking. People who walk fast tend to work fast (at least when they have something to do). She told me another secret: The warehouse manager liked me because of, not in spite of, my occasional habit of swearing; it was a sign that I actually gave a damn about what I was doing. I have to admit that both of these revelations had added value coming from someone who was quite unabashed in confessing her dislike of me, especially if it was the only nice thing she could think to say me.

I bring this little story up because not many employers like swearing occurring in their workplaces; my current employer has a “no-swearing” policy. However, a couple of recent studies out of the UK have lauded the therapeutic effects of using blue language. At the esteemed Keele University (never heard of it), an experiment was conducted with subjects putting their hands in ice water and told to keep them in place for as long as they could. One group was allowed to use what language they chose to describe their feelings, and the other group was only allowed to repeat an inoffensive phrase. People who were allowed to express their thoughts in more aggressive terms were able to leave their hands in the water than the more passive observers of pain.

Another study done at the University of East Anglia (never heard of it, either) in 2007 claimed that swearing at work helps an employee “cope with stress.” That seems as if it should be no-brainer, except that some employers prefer to cut-off this outlet, because it implies something amiss in an imposed feel-good atmosphere. The study found that “taboo language” even boosted “team spirit.” When I was in the Army (when there were hardly any women around to offend), “taboo language” was frequently heard in cadence calls during road marches; it was an outlet for seemingly mindless exercises whose sole purpose seemed to be keeping people occupied. Today, the language has been cleaned up so not to offend the ladies.

A certain Professor Yehuda Baruch warned that “attempts to prevent workers from swearing could have a negative impact” by preventing healthy letting off of stress. Although the professor discouraged swearing in front of customers, he also reiterated that

"However, our study suggested that, in many cases, taboo language serves the needs of people for developing and maintaining solidarity, and as a mechanism to cope with stress. Banning it could backfire. Managers need to understand how their staff feel about swearing. The challenge is to master the art of knowing when to turn a blind eye to communication that does not meet with their own standards."

So there. Swearing is good when used in moderation and directed at immediate sensations of discomfort, appropriate inanimate objects, inefficiency or incompetence. It does not mean a person is unhappy about the overall picture, but just at the moment—or moments.

More "sports" notes

The NFL lockout has led to a number of arrests of players with nothing better to do but drive around turning up the bass on their car stereo systems to ear-splitting levels. Examples:

Louis Murphy of the Oakland Raiders was pulled over for playing his music too loud, then refused to show his ID, then arrested for resisting arrest. A search of his car revealed an unlabeled bottle of Viagra pills; Murphy claimed he took the label off so that his girlfriend would not know what the pills were, which would have suggested that he required extra assistance to get excited by the idea of sleeping with her.

Jason Peters of the Philadelphia Eagles was charged with violating the Shreveport, Louisiana, loud music policy and resisting arrest. No other reason was given for the arrest.

The Raiders may not have been “bad” on the field lately, but they certainly are bad when it comes to music. Another one of the team’s players, Mario Henderson, was pulled over for—yes—playing his music too loud. He was subsequently arrested for having a gun in his car without a concealed weapons permit handy.

These haven’t been the only arrests, nor for reasons as high-handed, but they are suggestive of the fact that being a high-paid black athlete is nothing to local police save a grinning “I got you.” You think police are not on the look-out for black athletes driving expensive cars, trying to show them who is the real “boss?” Frankly, I can’t stand some of this music blasting out of some of these cars, but besides my feelings, there are other good reasons to turn that bass down.

Meanwhile, remember George Stephanopoulos? He used to be a “player” inside the Clinton administration; after that he became a talking head on television, and now has devolved into a high-paying position on Good Morning America, interviewing so-called “newsmakers” such as Jenn Sterger last week. I don’t know who has the time to watch this stuff, maybe desperate housewives and unemployed people who need a titillating diversion in their lives, but apparently Sterger is still playing the victim (although she admits that she and Brett Favre never actually “met”), claims that she never intended things to go this far (of course not—now that she’s been out of job since she was fired from Versus), and she still claims that she doesn’t know how Deadspin got those voicemails and pictures that she gigglingly confessed to having to that website’s editor (they were “fun to laugh at” betwixt friends). Now, of course, she’s mad that her former manager won’t return the “goods” that Bus Cook claimed were being used to “suggest” a money deal over (i.e. blackmail), and plans on writing a “tell-all” book on the case; she knows that any idea of having a “serious” career would be over.

I’ve talked about this issue many times. What Favre did or alleged to have done was stupid given the fact that he was married. But it also remains true that facts suggest that Sterger was an enthusiastic attention-seeker, using whatever “assets” she had. There she was at those Florida State football games, the very sight of her would convince 5,000 “red-blooded American males” to enroll at the school; before long she was posing in Playboy. The next logical step in her career trajectory? Getting a gig on Sports Illustrated’s website, supposedly to provide “atmosphere” posting about college life, like partying. It was reported in September, 2007 that she had been fired. In her predictable cat-claw way, Sterger denied the charge, although given the fact that she had not been given an assignment for several months prior (in fact, her output consisted of a couple of innocuous items over three months), SI was probably just being nice by firing her without telling her. Then she became a New York Jets “hostess”—not a “team reporter” as was initially claimed. One sports reporter who examined Sterger’s blog noted that all of the posts dating from the Jets period were deleted. I wonder why. Sterger managed to find employment on Versus’ “The Daily Line,” which was already in trouble a month in; if someone thought that Sterger’s connection with Favre would bring ratings, it backfired. In between times, Sterger has been looking for “reality” TV work, which is generally the last option for talentless, self-enamored people looking for fame and a quick buck.

The National Sports Daily reported “rumors” that Sterger was less interested in Favre (the “old man” who was “fun to laugh at”), but in Brady Quinn, who was drafted as the “quarterback of the future” by Cleveland, but who since has been keeping the bench warm for Tim Tebow in Denver. If the story is right, Sterger wanted to have an “adult” relationship, which to Quinn apparently meant “wifing” her-up and having kids (god, this is getting worse and worse). However, Sterger didn’t want to be perceived as a “trophy” wife (Sterger a “trophy wife?” How much worse can things get now?). “He never liked what I did for living,” Sterger supposedly wrote. Does she mean this Notre Dame boy didn’t like her selling her frame for fame? Of course not--she meant her alleged acting and writing career, which frankly is as non-existent today as his football career. But that’s all over; the next time she saw him, there were no butterflies in her stomach; it didn’t matter because he didn’t notice her or say hello anyways. “I ignored him…all was right in the world.”

OK,OK, OK. You win.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The violence of "victims"

There has been a story in the news briefly about a woman named LaShanda Armstrong, who deliberately drove her minivan into the Hudson River, drowning herself and three of her children. In a post on the MSNBC website, the writer portrays the mother more the victim than the children, suffering from all kinds of stresses and syndromes that led to “understandable” and “nonjudgmental” homicidal impulses. I wonder if people writing this stuff actually understand just how grotesque they sound. It seems that this killing was one of those “revenge” killings—you know, the mother kills the children to hurt the father. The father of three of the children in this case was not living with the mother (perhaps for good reason), and seems to have breached the etiquette of the reportedly most impoverished community in the state of New York by allegedly “cheating” on her. It was not explained, however, why she tried to kill the oldest boy (who survived), since he was another man’s son.

Armstrong was not in fact suffering from any of the usual “syndromes,” and if she was suffering from the stresses of motherhood, this flies in the face of the usual saintly stereotypes used to describe black mothers. A recent study states that 59 percent of black mothers have children from more than one father (suggesting that they are “cheating” themselves); furthermore, children are viewed not as “burdens” but as possessions of unconditional love in an otherwise uncaring society, filling a void in one’s life—particularly in impoverished communities where “careers” are seldom an option (I am, admittedly, making a great many assumptions here). But in the Armstrong case, there came a point where she no longer saw the children as hers, but his. Three of the children were a part of him, and she hated him, so she hated them. She wasn’t going to let them live, and she couldn’t live knowing that she killed them. This qualifies as a tragic case with no simple answers even about where culpability does not fall.

But other cases of child-killing by mothers are simple to understand. In Florida this past January, Julie Schenecker, wife of a U.S. Army colonel and living in an upscale, gated community, shot to death her teenage son and daughter for “mouthing off” and being “disrespectful”—something that she told investigators she intend to “take care of.” The daughter was shot twice in the head while she was doing her homework on a computer. A police spokesperson stated that "I think we will never understand how or why a mother could take the lives of her children. That was the only reason she provided to our detectives.” Huh? She gave you all the reasons you needed to know. Isn’t it just possible that this person was filled with an almost psychotic self-obsession, self-pity and perhaps acting out an expression of her "power" over the kids? One of the latest parenting fads is showing parents without parenting skills how to "deal" with children who sass; I'm fairly certain that using a handgun is not part of the course work, although something tells me that Schenecker would have lost patience after page 2. Hopefully she will not suffer the same “fate” as our next contestant.

We have been told that one of those “instincts” that mothers have under stress is having “protective” responses toward their children. Or is this just another myth perpetuated by a women’s studies program? In the Andrea Yates case, we were told that she was “insane.” So was Charles Manson. There has been so much bias and sympathy toward Yates that there is little to be understood by a simple recitation of the so-called facts of her case that the media has permitted. Her husband, Russell Yates, has been demonized for “ignoring” the “issues” that would later develop in their marriage, but one fact not generally known is that Yates herself insisted on having “as many children as nature allowed.” Yates’ “issues” did not become apparent until she began to have a close “relationship” with a street preacher named Michael Woroniecki, who preached Apocalypse and Doomsday for apparently everyone except himself and his family. Although Russell Yates also knew Woroniecki, he apparently was not as enamored by his teaching. In a 2002 story in the Dallas Morning News, a former follower of Woroniecki, David De La Isla, related that he believed the preacher was “a true prophet of God.” He was “initially attracted to the message that the true path to salvation was through Jesus Christ but not through any organized religion." De La Isla “quit his job and moved back home with his parents and canceled wedding plans based on suggestions from Mr. Woroniecki. But he said he became frustrated, to the extent that he considered suicide, by constant feedback that he was nowhere close to where he should be in his spiritual development. ‘When you truly believe a prophet from God says you're going to Hell, that's a lot of negative baggage to carry around,’ said De La Isla. ‘You find out just him [Woroniecki] and his family are the only ones who make it.’"

Yates own family was disturbed by her adherence to Woroniecki’s preaching. The psychiatrists who treated her or testified at her trial may well have been incorrect in the usual diagnoses of “syndromes” that only women seem to suffer from, given De La Isla’s testimony that would suggest that a weak mind would be particularly vulnerable to such talk—but not necessarily “insane.” Not knowing the difference between right and wrong is one thing; applying religious “law” that diverges from secular law because one wants to escape responsibility of real life is another thing. And not all women who suffer from what is called postpartum depression kill their children—it is a rare occurrence that can only occur in conjunction with other variables. Nor was Russell Yates ever accused of “mental” or physical abuse—just “willful neglect” of her supposed condition. Even the therapist who advised against having another child did so in concern for Yates' “well-being,” not because she feared for the lives of the children; it would have been criminally negligent not to report such fears. No one, apparently, knew what Yates had planned until she actually did it. Murder rarely is announced before it occurs. We must remember that Yates didn’t try to kill herself, and allowed her attorneys to cop an insanity plea rather than pay the full measure for her crime; ultimately, her act was one of extreme selfishness. The fact is that the physical act of holding down a child in water to drown must have been a most horrific death for the child; it is an act utterly without mercy or compassion. And yet this woman is still viewed as a “victim” and her husband portrayed as a “villain,” as was also suggested in a most biased and untruthful “Law and Order” episode that was later based on the case.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The media and the right misleads the public on the tax "burden" issue

I was listening to a right-wing radio station responding to an Associated Press story on how because of various tax breaks, $1.1 trillion dollars is lost to the U.S. treasury every year. Probably a similar amount is lost to states by all the breaks they give to businesses. One of the right-wing barkers on the ropes complained about how 24 percent of the population paid 75 percent of the taxes (probably a random figure to escalate the “injustice” against the rich barometer; the actual number is 67 percent), and that the “47 percent who thought that taxes should be raised on the rich is equal the number who don’t pay taxes.” Good thing he wasn’t talking about corporations like Exxon—who in 2009 set an all-time record for profits, and paid not a dime in federal income taxes. It is not exactly clear who are the people who are not paying taxes; assuming that it is lowest income bracket is a mistake. I’m surviving (barely) on considerably less than the median wage, but even after the personal exception I still pay 10 percent of my income in federal income taxes. The AP story tells me that in 2007, the top 400 made an average of $345 million dollars each, and paid 17 percent of their income in federal taxes, down 26 percent from 1992; the top marginal rate has decreased from 70 percent when Reagan took office to less than 30 percent by 1992. Despite a top marginal rate of 35 percent today, tax breaks allow these people to pay less than half the taxes they owe. Amazing how those right-wingers miss the cogent facts. Because those same people do not pay Social Security taxes on $344.9 million of those dollars, I pay a similar percentage of my income in total federal taxes.

Think about it: Those 400 individuals make about 16,000 times as much money as I do; that may mean they’re paying 16,000 times as much taxes, but that still leaves them with $285 million to play with; in the state of Washington, they don’t pay any income tax, just the regressive sales tax and property taxes that hit the lower income bracket much harder. So where does the “unfairness” part come in? Just to show you how far the right is gulling the public on tax issues, let’s examine the 75-24 figure that right-winger threw out there (even if it slightly overstates his case). That means that the 24 percent (those making over $70,000) are paying 10 times the amount of taxes as the 76 percent. That would appear to be unfair—if in fact the 24 percent were making was the same amount of money as the 76 percent were earning. But as we all know, income disparities in this country have been growing more and more since Reagan took office (remember the “trickle down” effect?). Some of the 24 percent may be making “only” 3 times my wage, but the those making $250,000 make 12 times as much, those making $1 million 50 times as much, and $10 million 500 times as much, and $100 million 5,000 times as much. So it turns out that maybe the amount of taxes that the 24 percent is not “unfair” after all. Even if there are some who do pay a higher percentage, their disposable income far exceeds that of most Americans. It may in fact it be more “fair” than the tax code intended, considering all the “breaks” their accountants can find for them, and various tax shelters and tax havens to stash their extra dough.

There have been many claims about percentages of incomes and percentages of taxes, yet the reality is that one number often cited—Adjusted Gross Income—is frequently misinterpreted even though it means exactly what it says; it does not represent total personal income. People in the lower 50 percentile who are single tend to be hit harder from all taxes, despite the IRS personal deduction (which everyone receives), while people in the upper-most bracket use all sorts of tricks to lower their adjusted, taxable income. Another fact is that according to 2007 figures, the top 20 percent controls 80 percent of net wealth—and 93 percent of financial wealth; how they manage this despite their tax “burden” is beyond my understanding.

Those aforementioned 400 made a total of $138 billion; that’s 6.4 million of those $20,000 wage earners. Within those two subgroups, to say that .006 percent of the people paid 50 percent of the taxes isn’t “unfair” if you just take the time to think about it. Some of that money made by the top one percent isn’t even justly earned: Rush Limbaugh makes $40 million for rarely stretching himself beyond the same tiresome self-indulging in his personal prejudices, and glibly parroting right-wing talking points for three hours a day; that’s 20,000 times more than a “mudsill” who has to do the “dirty work” to keep the country from falling apart. The reality is that the taxes paid by the upper-income brackets as a percentage of all taxes has little relation to the de facto tax “burden” on the individual in those brackets. Why the media has missed this essential flaw in poor-little-rich-person tax argument is just another element in how the right is allowed to frame the public debate with false and/or misleading arguments. Now maybe the next time the state gives Boeing billions of dollars in tax breaks, maybe it should be contingent on the company promising to hire more people, instead of laying off tens of thousands more.

Brother, can you spare a little airtime for some reality?

Local media outlet KOMO news has always been Tea Partyish (even when there was no “Tea Party”), paranoia-inducing, anti-government, pro-gun, pro-law enforcement, claims to be “pro-consumer” but is predictably anti-labor; you’d think that the world was just one big evil place with a personal grudge against you, if you are the paranoid, conspiracy theory type. The other day it attacked the IRS for allegedly hassling a person who claimed to have paid her back taxes, but who also never said that she kept a receipt or a check stub, which seems rather illiterate. Every day I see ads for lawyers who tell delinquent tax payers that they will end the “harassing” phone calls and save them pennies on the dollar. I am frankly sick unto to death of people who don’t pay their taxes. It makes no sense to me that a person who does not have dependents doesn’t put a “0” in the exception box; doing so will insure not only that your taxes will be paid, but you will probably end-up with a little money saved up in the form of a refund. It’s just common sense. And while KOMO is making the IRS look like the “bad guy,” hundreds of billions of dollars in taxes is going uncollected because of fraudsters and anti-government fanatics; why doesn’t KOMO expose them—well, I’ve already intimated at the reasons. Tax cheats are part of the real crime with education and health care funding going down the tubes. This is why no one should watch or listen to KOMO news or its radio station (I occasionally listen just so you have someone to set you the straight). KOMO’s management wants to gloss your eyes over the true crimes being committed in this country. They’ll tackle the small-time scammer, but in regard to the big-time corporate and Wall Street scammers, their cowards.

Not that KIRO on the FM dial is much better. They can’t afford full-time paranoia-inducers, so they import them from places like right-wing CNBC. There was one talking head Saturday afternoon, who allowed one of those “birthers” to blabber on about the sinister things Obama was allegedly paying millions of dollars to hide from the public. The caller was cut-off after awhile, but this is just more proof about the mentality of the people who listen to right-wing talk. The CNBC guy went on about the flat tax, Ron Paul (he and his son of whom are remarkably ignorant of American history) and that old chestnut “spend less and grow the economy” which is good in theory to the simple-minded, ignoring the reality that through-out American history, adhering strictly to that theory has meant more frequent boom and bust periods (although for a majority of Americans it was always more “bust” than “boom”). That was OK for robber barons, but not so good for people making slave wages in factories and sweat shops. You simply cannot get these right-wing talking heads to get down to specifics; they don’t do so because only a few will benefit from their propaganda being implemented, and many will be hurt. As for the flat tax theory, again, how often must we be gulled by this insane, unfair, unjust talk? States that are dependent on their “flat tax,” the sales tax which is not only regressive and hurts the consumers who actually are responsible for keeping the economy moving, it also allows the wealthy to skirt their responsibilities to maintain a civil society in which allowed them to prosper enormously in the first place. A federal revenue strain based on a flat tax of 15 percent with no deductions or credits which the right-wing likes so much, would require a person making a slave-wage of $20,000 pay $3,000 in federal income taxes. Throw in another $1,500 for Social Security and Medicare taxes—and from Washington, state taxes that eat-up 18 percent of that person’s of income (particularly from that regressive sales tax)—we’re talking over $8,000 dollars before rent, transportation, utility and food. There ain’t much left. No one making over $250,000—let alone $25 million—has that problem, unless they’ve created it themselves by their own excessive greed.

Studies have shown that there is little correlation between the level of marginal tax rates on the wealthy and the rate of economic growth; the high marginal tax rates of the pre-Reagan era actually showed higher growth rates than the post-Reagan lowered tax rates, probably because the anti-tax arguments fails to take into account that most of that tax money is recycled into the economy, either through government jobs, jobs created from government funding, and purchases. This isn’t stealing from one to give to another. People in the lower income brackets actually spend their money on consumer items that maintain the economy; the rich just hide their extra cash. This ultimately about malfeasance and greed. Businesses lay-off people so that they can have more for themselves. Middle and lower income people pay a higher percentage of their income on consumer goods that the well-off; by “redistributing” personal largesse to maintain employment helps the economy, and at the same time lowers government spending on social programs. But the theology of the right simply does not agree: Greed is “good.” Henry Ford was no friend of labor, but he was otherwise a model for what businessmen should stride for: make sure that his workers made enough money that they could afford to buy the automobiles they helped make. Today, that is just another fantasy from a different time.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Obama's deficit reduction plan only a little more sensible than the Republicans'

There was a snap poll on the MSNBC website following President Obama’s deficit reduction speech on Wednesday. Readers were asked to grade Obama’s plan; about 35 percent gave it an “A,” while about 45 percent gave it an “F.” Such a poll hardly reflects critical thinking on the part of the graders; more likely it is a reflection of a voter’s personal attitude toward the president, and the degree of partisanship in today’s political discussion. It would appear that Obama was trying to reach that twenty percent who were at least “thoughtful” enough to refrain from a wholly oppositional attitude. I certainly would not have given Obama’s plan an “A,” particularly given the fact that he once more chose as his starting point a position of weakness. Obama and his advisers are apparently under the delusion that you can put forth a proposal that everyone should think is sensible, because you are dealing with sensible people. He isn't, especially when they call themselves the Tea Party. Hasn’t he learned his lesson after the struggle to get a health care reform bill passed? Rather than propose a Medicare-based public option as a starting point, Obama initially only proposed a health care exchange along the Massachusetts model; only under pressure from the left did he half-heartedly propose a public option, but by then it was an empty gesture. Republicans and Blue Dogs simply brushed it aside, because they knew it wasn’t a serious proposal.

This time, instead proposing an equal split between budget cuts and increasing tax revenue—not just doing away with the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy, but other options like raising the income threshold for Social Security withholding—Obama’s plan envisions a three-to-one ratio of cuts to tax increases. With more Americans reaching retirement age or eligible for Medicare than ever before, this is just barely more functional than the Republican alternative, the work-till-you-die program, which is just dandy for those who are not rich enough to afford to retire, ever. 85-year-olds can keep working at $9-an-hour jobs because we just can’t have those pesky immigrants around here to do those jobs and pay the taxes so the old folks don’t have to worry so much about Social Security running out too soon (that’s another thing Thom never did get right—because of declining birth rates for the “natives,” you have to find younger workers elsewhere). The problem is that life costs will inevitably go up—and there is only so much “fat” in entitlement programs whose pay-outs are not enough to begin with. Given the intransigence of the Republicans and Blue Dogs, Obama had to start from a higher tax increase proposal than the one he is offering, and forcefully defend it—unlike what he did concerning the public option. Of course the Republicans would deride it; that’s what they are programmed to do. But with a Gallup poll showing a solid majority in favor of a tax increase on those making over $250,000, a plan to increase tax revenue by $2 trillion instead of $1 trillion is just a point from where to start a discussion. In the end he would at least have a fighting chance to get that 25 percent he is aiming for now. But because he started with a lower number, he will inevitably get a lesser number than what is necessary, if any tax increase at all.

On the other side, the Republican deficit proposal by Rep. Paul Ryan, embarrassingly from “progressive” Wisconsin, deserves an “F,” but I’ll give it a “D” for chutzpah. It is “bold” and “courageous”—if your frame of reference is a first-grade civics class. The Republican plan envisions no tax increases at all, claiming that this is the path to “prosperity.” How long are Americans going to allow themselves to be gulled by this rhetoric? The Bush tax cuts didn’t create jobs—we lost a net of 3 million manufacturing jobs during the Bush years, and any increase in GDP was a hopeless fraud, based upon unregulated financial and real estate bubbles. All through the Bush administration years, every year at the sports apparel warehouse where I worked the question was the same: When was the economy going to improve? Every year just seemed worse than the last. Wasn’t it supposed to be the well-off types who got the big tax cuts who were supposed to be the demographic into soccer and tennis in this country? They certainly were not spending their money on consumer items that kept the foundation of the economy going. The only certain job creation scheme to get us out from bad to far worse was that by government spending. A lot of people still don’t get it, thanks in no small part to corporate-paid propaganda on the airwaves.

One may recall that the fate of the Bush tax cuts was postponed until after the mid-term elections. The question that Democrats were asking Republicans was “How are you going to pay for allowing tax cuts for the rich to continue?” They never did answer the question, and in return for a few knick-knacks from Republican senators, Obama forced Democrats to accept the tax cuts’ continuation. The CBO states that the Republican plan of making all the tax cuts permanent will not be sufficiently covered by their proposed budget cuts in the short-term, in fact leading to increased budget deficits. Any subsequent decrease in the debt is dependent on several factors that are far from a sure thing. One is the assumption that Republicans will succeed in privatizing Medicare and abolishing Medicaid. The Republican plan is to pass out vouchers to the elderly to pay for private insurance plans—or a fraction of one. I know an over-65 woman who is still working because she can’t afford not to, and who is deathly afraid of what the Republicans plan on doing with Medicare, and she should be. There is a reason why 61 percent of Americans don’t want their Medicare touched; the Republican plan “insures” one thing: That Americans will get less coverage for their money than they would under government-run Medicare, and they will pay much, much more out of pocket.

If the Obama plan is short on specifics, the Republican plan dispenses with them altogether. This is no surprise. Another assumption in the Republican plan is that they say they will reduce non-entitlement programs (like the defense and social safety net programs) by a certain percentage of GDP, kind of like picking a number out of hat. In order to come up with their $4.4 trillion or $5 trillion or whatever it is tomorrow, they simply say, um, 6 percent of GDP will go to those non-entitlement programs, to eventually fall to 3.5 percent. It’s hilarious, and sad all at once. And infuriatingly absurd, showing great contempt for the intelligence of ordinary people. The assumption is that the economy will rise dramatically through that now discredited but-still-warping-Republican-minds snake oil theory of “trickle down economics,” and the cost of everyday living will either stay the same or decrease. It is ludicrous. It is more than ludicrous, it is belongs in an institution for the mentally-challenged. Of course, we haven’t begun to talk about how health care costs will spiral into the space without reform; the only thing certain in the Republican plan is uncertainty about a future where allowing private insurers—shorn of the last vestiges of competition—to not just crush people into utter despair and hopelessness, but virtually dictate to the federal government how much money they require to stay contented with honoring a voucher program. Imagine: Not just corporations, but private health insurers controlling the government, thanks to Republican scheming, short-sightedness, and incompetence.

As Paul Krugman recently opined, the Republican plan should in no way be considered a serious proposal. It is nothing more than everything else House Republicans have done to appease the even more ludicrous Tea Party element—you know, the people who don’t want the government to touch their Medicare—which, of course, is what the Republicans want to do. And much worse, as it turns out. Who will pay the ultimate price? The most vulnerable people in this country, not the rich and powerful that the Republicans are playing for.



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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The South's twisted version of history is still a loser

This week’s TIME cover story, which I perused briefly at the magazine rack, appears to be on the right track—lamenting the fact that many historians and Southern apologists continue to deny that the survival of, and extension of, slavery was the principle cause of the disintegration of the Union into civil war. Some would point to the Nullification crisis during the presidency of Andrew Jackson as “evidence” that this was not so; this was a “states’ rights” issue—ignoring the fact that South Carolina was alone in its extreme view on the tariff meant to protect the fledgling nation’s manufacturing from foreign competition. Others insist that this was a power struggle between the North and South and their vision of the future. But Robert Rhett, the most extreme of the South Carolina fire-eaters, stated after the threat of secession passed that

"A people, owning slaves, are mad, or worse than mad, who do not hold their destinies in their own hands.”

There it was in a nutshell. Rhett saw any increase in the authority of the federal government over the states to come nearer to threatening the future of the South’s “peculiar institution”: “Let Gentlemen not be deceived. It is not the Tariff – not Internal Improvement – nor yet the Force bill, which constitutes the great evil against which we are contending.” Unlike many revisionists and apologists today, Rhett was honest about it; the issue, ultimately, was about slavery.

South Carolina had already given anti-slavery Northerners pause when in 1822 it passed the Negro Seaman Act, in which all black seamen on a foreign ship could be forcibly detained in a prison while in port. Although a court ruled the action unconstitutional, South Carolina simply ignored the ruling, and the federal government failed to act against the state. Despite claims to the contrary, despite the often heated rhetoric in the halls of Congress on the slavery question, slavery where it resided was never directly under threat. Despite the fact that Congress repeatedly showed it was open to “compromise,” it was the paranoid South that always wanted more, was never satisfied. Southern politicians were so fanatical on the slavery issue that they were never able to see that adding more slave states—in order to “protect” the institution—only had the effect of increasing the ire of more people in the North against slavery. This anger was not properly gauged by Southerners, since there was only a limited area in which slavery could expand as a viable economic foundation. The only way slavery could be sufficiently “protected” in their eyes was to make it legal to hold a slave in every state—and they came close to achieving that in a U.S. Supreme Court decision passed down in 1857.

Because of Southern paranoia, the issue of the expansion of slavery had to be addressed time and time again. The Missouri Compromise of 1820, with the exception of the territory from which Missouri would be carved, allowed slavery in any new territories below the 36° 30´ parallel to the Pacific Ocean, or at least in theory since Mexico still claimed the Southwest and California. Under Mexican rule, slavery was illegal in Texas, but most of the white immigrants who were initially welcomed into the territory were Southerners who wished to bring their slaves as well; the ugly little chancre sore in the Texas myth was that slavery was a major factor in the fight for independence, and it was Southerners who most forcefully pushed support for its rebellion. And it wasn’t just north of the Rio Grande that the South saw open horizons; Southern adventurers known by the military term “filibusters”—essentially private citizens who recruited their own private armies to invade and conquer small countries—received tacit support from Southern politicians. One of these “filibusters”—William Walker—had designs first on Mexico and then Nicaragua, where initially he was “invited” as a leader of mercenary troops; Walker subsequently used this “army” to attempt to create his own slave empire with the support of many Southerners, who believed that if Walker was successful, it opened other opportunities for similar action throughout Central America (this would become Sen. John Crittenden’s “compromise” idea to save the Union in 1861). Walker’s adventure ultimately failed miserably, mainly because of lack of support from the federal government, an unfriendly British Royal Navy, and his own incompetence; Walker’s mischief-making came to end when the British handed him over to Honduran authorities, who promptly executed him.

The Missouri Compromise kept Southern fire eaters in check until 1846. During the Mexican-American war, David Wilmot, a Pennsylvania Democrat, attached a rider attached to a funding bill for the illegal war in Mexico. The Wilmot Proviso would prohibit slavery from any territory “acquired” from Mexico. It passed the House, but failed in the Senate. Wilmot was in no way an abolitionist; he was a racist. He wished to keep any new territories whites-only. Southerners, however, believed this was an attack on their “honor” and its equality with the North. The Compromise of 1850 was an effort to weasel out of the implications of the Proviso by allowing the South to maintain its “honor” through a quizzical concept known as “popular sovereignty”—that is, a majority of a territory’s residents could vote on whether to allow slavery. The Compromise did guarantee the dividing line of the Missouri Compromise, with the exception of California, but the territories available (today’s Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada) were unsuitable for slave-based agriculture. In return, however, the North was forced to accept the fugitive slave law, which was widely unpopular in the North. The law required law enforcement and all citizens to assist in the return of runaway slaves, either on the basis of “suspicion” or on a claim by a slaveholder; the law was so draconian that any free black was liable to be accused of being an escaped slave without the right to testify on his or her own behalf. Law officers who did not comply, even only on the basis of a belief that a black might be a slave, were subject to a fine (the ghosts of the fugitive slave law cast a long shadow over Arizona’s anti-immigrant law).

The bitterness the fugitive slave law aroused, and the fact that the South perceived itself to receive the short-end of the stick accepting territory not likely to become slave states, guaranteed that the “peace” would be short-lived. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 was a naked effort by Southern slave-holders and their northern doughfaces (like Stephen A. Douglas, who championed “popular sovereignty”) to over-turn both the Missouri and the 1850 compromises—and allow slavery in any new territory by the “sovereignty” principle. If any revisionist historian claims that slavery wasn’t the overriding issue, then the words of Thomas Hart Benton, a moderate on the slavery issue but no abolitionist, gave the lie to that claim. Benton, who had been defeated after five terms as senator from Missouri in 1851 for his pro-union stance, was elected to the House in 1852; he gave a speech in 1854 on the House floor denouncing Kansas-Nebraska in the following terms: "And now what is the excuse for all this disturbance of the country; this breaking up of ancient compromises; arraying one half the union against the other, and destroying the temper and business of Congress? What is the excuse for all this turmoil and mischief? We are told it is to keep the question of slavery out of Congress! Great God! It was out of Congress, completely, entirely, and forever out of Congress, unless Congress dragged it in by breaking down the sacred laws which settled it!” Benton would pay for his obstinacy, losing his re-election bid that year in a state that was technically slave and South-sympathizing.

Some historians claim that the North’s “free-soil” position was not about slavery per se, but the idea that the North could “dictate” to Southerners what they could or could not do. They might not want to take slaves into a certain territory, but it was nevertheless their “right” to do so. This has been transmuted into “state’s rights” and sectional balance; slavery was just an insignificant issue within the “larger picture.” But let’s not allow ourselves to be deluded; the issue was still about the protection of slavery as an institution and its expansion. The South feared that if the North became too powerful a voting block, it could somehow force the destruction of the “peculiar institution.” But this was simply not true; even in his famous Peoria speech in 1854 which opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Abraham Lincoln did not support the idea that the South should be forced to abandon slavery by coercion, nor did anyone in the North outside the most extreme abolitionists.

If the South feared the “consequences” of free blacks in their midst, or the insane attempt of a northern fanatic like John Brown to arouse a slave revolt, the North also had its grievances, believing that the South was trying to bully its immoral ideology on them—and with violence if necessary. During the House debate on Kansas-Nebraska, Lewis Campbell of Ohio led the filibuster in opposition. After 36 hours of “debate,” the atmosphere had devolved into the firing of verbal missiles between the opposing sides; in keeping with the American fascination with guns, many congressmen pulled out their pistols to make their own “point” more “clear.” After awhile, it was apparent that the mere display of weapons would fail to change minds, and Virginian Henry Edmundson lost his mind and advanced toward Campbell with the intent to make a gesture more physical in nature. The sergeant at arms was forced to arrest him; afterwards, cooler heads prevailed and the chamber was abandoned before anything else unfortunate occurred. The Kansas-Nebraska Act passed by a bare majority in the House, (having already passed the Senate) and was signed into a law by doughface Franklin Pierce; the subsequent revelation of the Ostend Manifesto was seen by the North (probably rightly) as another naked Southern effort to expand slavery in new states created out of Cuba and Central America. Pierce, although a Northerner from New Hampshire, would later shred what was left of his tattered reputation in the North by openly supporting the South during the Civil War.

The Southern inclination toward violence (odd considering their stated adherence to “noble” behavior and principles) was not long to be denied on the floors of Congress. In 1856, following a “damn fool speech” by Sen. Charles Sumner denouncing the slaveocracy, Representative Preston Brooks nearly caned him to death in the Senate chamber for “libeling” South Carolina and his relative, Sen. Andrew Butler. William Cullen Bryant, editor of the New York Evening Post, wrote that "The South cannot tolerate free speech anywhere, and would stifle it in Washington with the bludgeon and the bowie-knife, as they are now trying to stifle it in Kansas by massacre, rapine, and murder...Has it come to this, that we must speak with bated breath in the presence of our Southern masters? ... Are we to be chastised as they chastise their slaves? Are we too, slaves, slaves for life, a target for their brutal blows, when we do not comport ourselves to please them?"

Brooks temporarily resigned, but predictably was re-elected to his seat. He was subsequently ridiculed by Rep. Anson Burlingame as a coward and barbarian, and Brooks challenged him to a duel; Brooks, who had continued beating the unarmed Sumner even as he lay unconscious until his cane broke, later pleaded fear of crossing into Northern territory into Canada (where the duel would be fought to evade anti-dueling laws in the U.S.) when he discovered that he had a better than even shot at being killed by Burlingame. Amazingly, Florida saw fit to name a town (Brooksville) and a county in “honor” of a man who committed an act of shocking, cowardly brutality in defense of slavery. Florida is also currently engaged in an argument with South Carolina over who has the right to claim the first shot of the Civil War; I guess there has to be some silver lining for being on the side of the losers.

In 1857, the infamous Dred Scot decision essentially threw every “compromise” out the window. Not only did blacks have no “rights that a white man was bound to respect,” but Congress had no power to exclude slavery anywhere. For Chief Justice Roger Taney, this was supposed to be the “mortal blow” against anti-slavery agitation. Instead, it was the last straw for the North. In his diary entry of November 2, 1860, George Templeton Strong—having decided to vote for Lincoln—wrote

“One vote is insignificant, but I want to be able to remember that I voted right at this grave crisis. The North must assert its rights, now, and take the consequences…If we accede to Southern exactions, we must re-open the slave trade with all its horrors, establish a Slave Code for the territories, and acquiesce in a decision of the United States Supreme Court…that will entitle every Southerner to bring his slaves into New York and Massachusetts and keep them there. We must confess that our federal government exists chiefly for the sake of n*gger-owners. I can't do that. Rather let South Carolina and Georgia secede. We will coerce and punish the traitorous seceders if we can; but if we can't, we are well rid of them.”

In the South, it had become politically-incorrect to speak against slavery; virtually every white Southerner had been programmed to support the peculiar institution. For slave owners, it was the “positive” good of “civilizing” the Africans; for non-slave owners, it was the “threat” that free blacks posed to their livelihoods. But some in the North were less sanguine about such mendacity. In his 1854 Peoria speech, Lincoln was careful not to offend the "sensitivities" of his white listeners concerning the question of racial equality; however, his stance on slavery was clear:

“This declared indifference, but as I must think, covert real zeal for the spread of slavery, I can not but hate. I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world---enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites---causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many really good men amongst ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty---criticizing the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest.” Lincoln also argued that people should not be lulled into believing that adverse climatic conditions was sufficient reason to assume that slaves would not be brought into the territories, at least not in great numbers. If slavery were allowed into the territories, then it was one small step before slaves were allowed in the North (it should be pointed out that it was only 27 years prior that slavery was officially abolished in the state of New York).

Lincoln went on to argue that the South and its minority view was attempting to impose its immorality on the majority: “Another important objection to this application of the right of self-government, is that it enables the first FEW, to deprive the succeeding MANY, of a free exercise of the right of self-government. The first few may get slavery IN, and the subsequent many cannot easily get it OUT. How common is the remark now in the slave States---'If we were only clear of our slaves, how much better it would be for us.' They are actually deprived of the privilege of governing themselves as they would, by the action of a very few, in the beginning. The same thing was true of the whole nation at the time our constitution was formed.”

Lincoln noted the hypocrisy of the 3/5 of a man “vote”—slaves who cannot vote are used to “swell the influence of white people’s votes…If I am wrong in this---if it really be a sacred right of self-government, in the man who shall go to Nebraska, to decide whether he will be the EQUAL of me or the DOUBLE of me, then after he shall have exercised that right, and thereby shall have reduced me to a still smaller fraction of a man than I already am, I should like for some gentleman deeply skilled in the mysteries of sacred rights, to provide himself with a microscope, and peep about, and find out, if he can, what has become of my sacred rights! They will surely be too small for detection with the naked eye.”

Lincoln went on to deride the fallacy that the Kansas-Nebraska Act would “save” the Union: “But Nebraska is urged as a great Union-saving measure. Well I too, go for saving the Union. Much as I hate slavery, I would consent to the extension of it rather than see the Union dissolved, just as I would consent to any GREAT evil, to avoid a GREATER one. But when I go to Union saving, I must believe, at least, that the means I employ has some adaptation to the end. To my mind, Nebraska has no such adaptation.” He went on: “I particularly object to the NEW position which the avowed principle of this Nebraska law gives to slavery in the body politic. I object to it because it assumes that there CAN be MORAL RIGHT in the enslaving of one man by another. I object to it as a dangerous dalliance for a few [free?] people---a sad evidence that, feeling prosperity we forget right---that liberty, as a principle, we have ceased to revere. I object to it because the fathers of the republic eschewed, and rejected it.”

Lincoln belittled the Southern claim that, after having once placed blame for the "peculiar institution" on King George for introducing slavery into the land, now it suddenly had become a "necessity" and a “sacred” right: “Nebraska brings it forth, places it on the high road to extension and perpetuity; and, with a pat on its back, says to it, `Go, and God speed you.' Henceforth it is to be the chief jewel of the nation---the very figure-head of the ship of State. Little by little, but steadily as man's march to the grave, we have been giving up the OLD for the NEW faith. Near eighty years ago we began by declaring that all men are created equal; but now from that beginning we have run down to the other declaration, that for SOME men to enslave OTHERS is a ‘sacred right of self-government.’"

And finally: “Let no one be deceived. The spirit of seventy-six and the spirit of Nebraska, are utter antagonisms; and the former is being rapidly displaced by the latter.”

Today we see that much the same dynamic is at work, except couched in different terms and different issues. Republicans and Democrats have switched ideological sides. As income disparities increase, the working class has become the new slaves, the greed-driven corporate executives their new masters—with Republicans their whip-wielding over-seers. The U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens’ United decision is a new Dred Scot, and is already allowing an unlimited flow of corporate money (that could be used to create jobs) to delude a gullible public by saturating the airwaves with deliberate misinformation; Republican governors engaged in the destruction of unions—the only effective counter to corporate power—is all part of the plan. Many voters still don’t understand that in this way they are being treated as people with no rights to be respected. Along with the contempt the Republicans have for the less well-off, the lily-white party (and I am including Nikki Haley and Bobby Jindal) with its anti-Latino and coded anti-black rhetoric borrowed from the language of Pat Buchanan, Rush Limbaugh and other “mainstream” white supremacists, Republicans have revived a view of the world comprised of “mudsills” who the “upper-classes” abuse to order to “advance” civilization—meaning their own greed. Working class whites who vote Republican because of their racial prejudices are blind to the fact that “equality” among “classes” as well as race has no place in the Republican view of the universe. They—along with all those held in contempt—exist to Republicans and their corporate masters not as “partners,” but as mere silt and sand to grind their heals on; they exist for no other purpose.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Masters and Mariners

The final phase of the 2011 Masters golf tournament will probably go down as one of its more exciting finishes, if such a term can be applied to golf. At one point on the final nine holes, six players were tied for the lead at 10 under par. 21-year-old Irish “phenom” Rory McIlroy was not among them; entering the final round with a four stoke lead, and still leading at the turn, McIlroy proceeded to an implosion of historic proportions, wilting like a twig in a bonfire with a plus-seven on his back nine—finishing an incredible 10 shots off the lead, a 14 shot swing over 18 holes. Having become the latest “darling” in a post Tiger Woods golf world, the over-confident and over-lauded McIlroy quickly became an afterthought after the 12th hole. Although he ultimately fell short of victory, the story of this tournament was a familiar face: Tiger Woods. Having essentially bogeyed his way out of contention in the third round, people seemed stunned to see his name miraculously shoot-up the leader board on his front nine, tying for the lead at several points, and still only one-shot behind when he completed his round. I work on Sunday, and the television in the break room was glued to NBA basketball until a few people noticed on the Internet that Woods might actually have a chance to win; at that point the TV was turned to the Masters, and people kept watching to see if the golfers remaining on the course had a bogey or two to force a play-off that Woods would be a part of. It wasn’t to be, but no one should underestimate the effect that Woods’ charge had on interest in the final result.

Local commentators like “The Groz” can slobber all over young European players if it turns them on; but like the fact that outside the Williams sisters (when they are not nursing injuries), tennis has no Americans who excite anybody in this country enough to pay attention to it, the same will be for golf. Because golf has not only been viewed as an elitist, country club sport (Arnold Palmer and Lee Trevino were popular because they broke the mold)—as well as a racial divide in the sports world—what Woods represents is something else altogether: A person who by popular prejudice supposedly couldn’t have the “genetic” ability to do so, dominated the game like no other for at least a decade. Woods gave to the alienated and disinterested a vicarious connection: If he could do it, anything was possible for the previously excluded. The casual fan can’t identify with any of these “young guns,” especially the Europeans, except those who have always responded negatively to Woods’ success. When Woods when on a sabbatical in 2008, television ratings for PGA events fell 50 percent, and when Woods is not a factor in a tournament, interest also drops, just not as dramatically. The last thing golf wants is Woods as a nonfactor—or no Woods at all. The sport will survive without Woods, of course—but like hockey, it will return to being a niche sport on the fringes of fan attention.
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Pity the poor Seattle Mariners baseball fan. After a two and zero start to the season, judging from local commentary you’d think that a 162-0 season was closer than a 2-160. The Mariners and their fans have quickly fallen (way) back to reality. Outside of last season’s Cy Young winner, Felix Hernandez, there is no one on this squad that a contending team would deal with to make themselves “better.” There is only one “positive” thing left for the diehard to find worth speculating about: Will Ichiro reach 200 hits again this year? It is certainly fascinating for the amateur statistician. On the surface, Mariner fans should be proud to be able to cheer for a player who not only has tied the MLB record for most 200 hit seasons (10, with Pete Rose), he’s done it in consecutive years. Right? The slap-happy Ichiro certainly has made “pitcher-friendly” Safeco Field his plaything, but his recent loathing to steal bases to make-up for his lack of extra-base hits—and the lack of hitters able to launch baseballs to Safeco’s stratospheric fences on a consistent basis—means that he has not been a particularly productive player, averaging less than .5 runs scored per hit as the lead-off man; until late last season, he was threatening to break the dubious record for fewest runs scored on 200 or more hits. This would certainly be profoundly embarrassing to a true lead-off specialist, like Rickey Henderson.

Perhaps some people are wondering if there is a correlation between the Mariners' losing ways and Ichiro’s hit production. To that purpose, I’ve drawn-up the following table:

Year Hits Won-Loss
2001 242 116-46
2002 208 93-69
2003 212 93-69
2004 262 63-99
2005 206 69-93
2006 224 78-84
2007 238 88-74
2008 213 61-101
2009 225 85-77
2010 214 61-101
2011 9 2-7

I admit that despite the fact I’ve explored the problem six ways to Sunday, I cannot ascertain a direct relationship between these numbers. One interesting fact is that in 2004, Ichiro nearly became the first player in major league history to have 200 more hits than his team had wins. The season following Ichiro’s MLB record for hits (and singles) was his career low for hits. In his five best seasons, the Mariners had a 430-380 record; in his five “worst” seasons, the Mariners were 377-433. In those first ten years, the Mariners have actually had five winning seasons and five losing seasons, and are only 3 wins from being .500 overall; the 2001 season perhaps skewed the record a bit, but when the Mariners have been bad, their badness was multiplied by several factors. Their badness hasn’t seemed to be particularly troubling to the aloof, expressionless Ichiro, who is probably satisfied that he is the “best” player on a bad team, because everyone tells him he is.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Somebody needs to check KOMO's stink bombs at the door

As I’ve suggested a number of times here, Seattle’s KOMO News—especially the radio station—is your typical right-wing fear and paranoia-inducing media with occasional unfunny banter. Their show “Problem Solvers” is just an excuse for some swell-headed reporter with a beef with somebody to go out and ruin their day and make themselves feel like they actually did something to justify their pay. Take, for instance, a recent story about the alleged "security breaches" at Sea Tac Airport, where I work. Airline passengers constantly whine about being scanned, screened and patted down. I suspect some of them are KOMO employees full of self-pity. So they brought their “hidden camera” to the airport and found something “troubling”:

“In the hubbub of a Sea-Tac arrival, you probably never notice. But if you watch the right doors, at just about any time of day or night, you'll see what the our cameras found: A nearly constant parade of Sea-Tac workers carrying bags, backpacks, or purses as they go through. But there are no metal detectors here, no X-ray machines, and those doors lead right into the airport's most secure areas.”

That’s right. Employees arriving for work or leaving for home; you’d think those KOMO people have never seen anyone do that before. You'd think they see a terrorist in every (dark) face. Here's a new one for the uninformed fear freak: If your employer doesn’t provide you with your own locker you don’t have to share with somebody on the next shift, or supplies just a very small one that you can barely fit a sock in, then you have to bring everything you need with you every morning to get through an eleven-hour day (not counting transportation time)--mostly outside in all kinds of nasty weather.

“‘We can go anywhere,’ says an airport worker who asked us to disguise their identity. “‘Biggest concern that someone might bring a bomb onto the plane and blow it up… “The concern of this Sea-Tac worker is disturbingly similar to what a whistle blower first told the Problem Solvers three years ago.” ‘Shocking,’ that whistleblower told us in 2007, ‘knowing that you can go right underneath and not be screened, carry whatever you want.’"

I’d like to know who this ignorant, unnamed, lying scumbag is. I’ve been working here since 2007, and a far as I know, nobody has ever brought in any contraband or explosive devices in those sinister-looking backpacks, and likely for many years before that, if ever. The only people who have time to go "anywhere" are people who carry around hidden cameras or make unfounded comments just to get their 15 minutes of infamy. Now, of course, since the Port doesn't like any adverse publicity even if it is based on ignorance, there are TSA people harassing us every day to satisfy the pettiness of a few vindictive, stereotype-minded bigots. Ironically (or not), not all airlines are treated equally; I've never seen any TSA people checking the BIG airline's employees next door. It appears that a certain amount of profiling is going on; the higher the percentage of minority employees--particularly if they are non-union--appears to be the criteria for determining who gets checked.

So what is this really about? This about some self-pitying, prejudicial, swell-headed white people who because of their natural “gift” for stereotyping non-whites, think these minority-types can’t possibly be carrying around a backpack (or a purse, for that matter) for the same reason any “normal” person—i.e. a white person—is going to work with. Those people at KOMO throw around so many stink bombs they call “news” that somebody should be at the door putting hands on their food. Put somebody who looks like Danny Trejo with that swarthy, pock-marked face and that “What the (bleep) are you going do about it, whitey” expression, and see how they like being harassed every morning for no reason except to assuage the sensitivities of some racial bigot with issues.

Riders in budget deal more sneaky Republican mischief

Turning on the radio early Saturday morning, I heard an ABC News update reporting that the deal that has for the moment averted a government shutdown was a “major victory” for Republicans over Pres. Obama and the Democrats. At first it is hard to fathom why this should be called a “major” victory, since it was assumed by all parties that a compromise would involve some level of federal budget cuts, somewhere between zero and the $61 billion the Republican House was insisting upon. The $38.5 billion cut agreed upon was slightly above the “compromise” mark (the Democrats wanted $33 billion), and a rider eliminating federally-funded abortions in the District of Columbia was approved. In return, the Democrats managed to get the EPA and Planned Parenthood off the trimming block. Republicans also backed off on efforts to immediately defund “ObamaCare”—except for the part about funding the IRS to track slackers who don’t want to pay anything for health care.

On the surface, this wasn’t the “major” or “historic” victory for Republicans and Speaker John Boehner that the right-wing media (I include the Christian Science Monitor in that group) is claiming. Even Michelle Bachmann pressed for a “compromise” when she was convinced that a government shutdown would hurt Republicans more than Democrats. Bachmann, by the way, claims to be a tea partier—which is the same thing as saying that Tea Party Movement is really just a tacked-on name to describe the extremist right. Nevertheless, Democrats cannot claim victory, either. The price to keep the government running for six months is backing themselves into tight corner by accepting some of the “riders” hidden in the agreement.

For example, the Senate will be forced to vote on repealing the health care law, which the House has already dutifully done. This will put unwanted pressure on several conservative Democrats who are up for re-election; there is every reason to believe that senators like McCaskill and Nelson will turn tail. “Studies”—probably by partisan right-wing “think tanks”—will be required to “illuminate” the “true cost” of health care reform. Of course, such “studies” are meaningless without context; health care costs and insurance premiums have been going through the roof for decades, and no Republican thought that there should be a “study” on this. Without reform, health care costs were still expected to double in ten years, and unlike what the reform bill promises, even more people than today will be unable to afford health insurance; the question then is if voters are intelligent enough to see through this Republican/corporate scam.

The “deal” also forces the Senate to vote on defunding Planned Parenthood—but not Title X, one of the numerous “titles” passed in 1970 that aimed to benefit women (the funds from Title X’s “family planning” mandate are not supposed to be used to pay for abortions, but Planned Parenthood is accused of fudging the books about what they are doing with the funds it receives). Unlike affirmative action (which also helped white women—until they didn’t need it anymore), Planned Parenthood is still a sacred cow to many, strangely enough; the original purpose of the PPFA as founded by feminist hero Margaret Sanger was racial in nature. Sanger was a believer in “racial hygiene” and eugenics—targeting birth rates of “inferior” races and “lower classes.” Even so, a vote would likely discomfit some conservative Democrats; I doubt, however, that such a vote would ultimately pass muster since “moderate” Republicans would be frightened of alienating their states’ female voting block. Admittedly there is hypocrisy a plenty to find on this tar-baby; ending federally-funded abortion in the District of Columbia is less a problem for right-wing ideologues, since it doesn’t matter if it votes 70 percent Democratic every time—Congress uses it as a guinea pig for ideological experiments regardless of what its voters think. Throwing the intolerant Tea Partiers that bone came cheap. The greatest effect of that rider is on the 55 percent of the residents who are black, 27 percent who live below the poverty line; the playground bully Republicans are simply piling on the most vulnerable like they always do, and they’d do it more often if no one was looking. And to turn around again, another “irony” is that saving federal funding for abortion options outside D.C. is more sacrosanct than saving social safety net programs that aid the impoverished of either race or gender.

The Dodd-Frank financial reform act is also under assault. The budget “deal” includes a requirement that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau be audited for its effects on the economy and jobs. The purpose of the Bureau is to prevent consumer fraud by financial institutions offering abusive products and services whose sole purpose is to enrich the provider at the expensive of the unwary and deliberately misinformed consumer; again we see who the right is really speaking for. We’ve already seen the economic damage that reckless, unregulated financial gambling has had on ordinary people, and now we are expected to fall for the Republican shibboleth of making a false choice between having a job—or be cheated and swindled for the fun and profit of another. When are Americans (excepting the tea-baggers, whose minds are just as limp and leached of substance as a wet tea bag) going to wise-up to the corporate-paid propaganda? Republicans hate people—especially the “ordinary” ones; it’s their plantation mentality.

I haven’t heard of a rider to force a Senate vote on defunding the EPA or weakening its powers, but with western state Republican angst about Obama’s wilderness preservation proposals (overturning Bush-era “initiatives”), we haven’t heard the last of the ghost of the still kicking ass James Watt and his disciples. Back in the day, Republicans like Teddy Roosevelt only wanted to “preserve” the land so that they could go exterminate the wildlife on it for fun; now they want to exterminate the land as well.

I really fear for this country. After the hard-fought battles to finally address the abuses of the health care system and from financial deregulation, which Republicans never had any intention of addressing—in fact, if they had their way, they’d make the perps even more unaccountable to the public good—we are being set-up for abuse again. I’m sick and tired of these hypocritical, Janus-faced right-wing commentators I’m hearing who claim they were “unhappy” about Bush-era deficits when the Republicans controlled Congress, yet were either content to blame “liberals” or had no "choice." Now they want “courageous” Blue Dogs to turn-tail and “step-up” to oppose the President; the problem is that the Republicans haven't set a very good example to follow--repeatedly voting for Bush’s bloated war-spending-off-the-books budgets.

In hard times like these (thanks to Republicans), the federal government must step in when the “free market” refuses to; government spending that creates or maintains jobs not only in its areas of responsibility (such as transportation infrastructure—painfully ignored by the previous administration for other projects, like needless warfare), and allows the private sector time to regain its footing by maintaining a certain level of consumer spending. As the economy improves, revenues will increase and the need for spending on job-creation projects will decline. It is all so simple, but apparently too hard for some people to comprehend given all the “socialism” hysteria you hear on Fox News and right-wing radio. Instead of comprehending what is best for the country at this time, Republicans would seem to prefer that ALL of your jobs eventually head to Asia (let’s cut that scapegoating NAFTA BS), and all this just to appease their appetite to chop-up the social safety-net programs that they hate, mainly because they are a reminder of the inequities they do support; southern Republican politicians who pine for a past life particularly like to view the country as a vast plantation that they can lord once more over.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

"The Conspirator" plays false with Surratt case to make a political point

Since he generally swings progressive on most (but not all) issues of the day, I have no real beef against Robert Redford. Still, I find somewhat disturbing Redford’s new film soon to hit theaters called “The Conspirator.” I’m sure people have at least seen the trailer on television, which paints the picture of the “full power of the government” against a poor, innocent little white woman. What we have here on celluloid the revisionist version of history concerning the level of culpability of Mary Surratt in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, for which she was hanged. It is also attempting to make a connection with Gitmo and the military trying non-combatant civilians—although it should be noted that the country was still technically at war, with a few Confederate incorrigibles like Forrest who had not yet given-up the fight after Appomattox; further, given the shock and outrage, the venue of the trial for John Wilkes Booth’s motley band of conspirators would have made no difference in the outcome. 360,000 Union soldiers died—ten percent of whom were black soldiers (Did you know that, Ron Paul? I didn't thinks so), and a Southern fanatic crazed for revenge was trying to make this sacrifice moot. From what I gather from the trailer, one should not accept this as an account about “what really happened,” but as contemporary political correctness run wild. I’m not just talking about the “liberal” version; in fact the right-wing version is far worse. Just take the tax issue; Republicans are not allowed to even talk about tax increases no matter how bad budget deficits are, and in California they are not even permitted to run for office unless they sign a “contract” stating they won’t support tax increases.

Back in 1865, few doubted Surratt’s guilt, but the public was as shocked as she was that she was sentenced to die, because she was a woman and of (at the time) “advanced” age. Today, numerous revisionist historians and various pseudo-scholars claim that Surratt was entirely innocent despite the fact that she, as Lincoln’s successor Andrew Johnson reportedly said, “kept the nest that hatched the egg.” The basis for proclaiming Mary Surratt’s innocence rests entirely on three notions: One, that everyone who testified against her lied; two, that her actions had plausible alternative explanations; and three, that because she was a woman, she had merely been used and didn’t have any clue about what either her son John or John Wilkes Booth and his gang were up to right under her nose.

Let’s look at the charges. Mary Surratt is alleged to have had intimate knowledge of, and aided, Booth and his designs. Surratt is alleged to have given a spyglass to a certain John Lloyd—who ran a tavern owned by Surratt family—and informed him to provide this and previously delivered guns to a “party” (Booth and David Herold) when they arrived later. What of the evidence to back-up these charges? Conspirator George Atzerodt, a German immigrant, gave a confession that was never introduced at trial; the confession is rather confusing and speaks of Booth’s kidnapping and assassination schemes out-of-turn. Nevertheless, it implicates Surratt; “Booth told me that Mrs. Surratt went to Surrattsville to get out the guns (Two Carbines) which had been taken to that place by Herold…I (saw) a man named Weightman (Louis Weichmann) who boarded at Surratt's at Post Office. He told me he had to go down the Country with Mrs. Surratt. This was on Friday (the day of the assassination), Also.” Interestingly, Atzerodt also implicated another allegedly innocent person, Dr. Samuel Mudd: “I am certain Dr. Mudd knew all about it, as Booth sent (as he told me) liquors & provisions for the trip with the President to Richmond, about two weeks before the murder to Dr. Mudd's.” This suggests strongly that Mudd was at least a conspirator in the aborted scheme to kidnap Lincoln.

John Lloyd—whose testimony was declared not to be believed by attorney Frederick Aiken (played with righteous intensity by Scotsman James McAvoy in the film) because he was a man addicted to “intoxicating liquors,” gave the following testimony:

“On the 14th of April I went to Marlboro to attend a trial there; and in the evening, when I got home, which I should judge was about 5 o'clock, I found Mrs. Surratt there. She met me out by the wood-pile as I drove in with some fish and oysters in my buggy. She told me to have those shooting-irons ready that night, there would be some parties who would call for them. She gave me something wrapped in a piece of paper, which I took up stairs, and found to be a field-glass. She told me to get two bottles of whisky ready, and that these things were to be called for that night.

"Just about midnight on Friday, Herold came into the house and said, "Lloyd, for God's sake, make haste and get those things." I did not make any reply, but went straight and got the carbines, supposing they were the parties Mrs. Surratt had referred to, though she didn't mention any names. From the way he spoke he must have been apprised that I already knew what I was to give him. Mrs. Surratt told me to give the carbines, whisky, and field-glass. I did not give them the rope and monkey-wrench. Booth didn't come in. I did not know him; he was a stranger to me. He remained on his horse. Herold, I think, drank some out of the glass before he went out.

"I do not think they remained over five minutes. They only took one of the carbines. Booth said he could not take his, because his leg was broken. Just as they were about leaving, the man who was with Herold said, "I will tell you some news, if you want to hear it," or something to that effect. I said, "I am not particular; use your own pleasure about telling it." "Well, said he, "I am pretty certain that we have assassinated the President and Secretary Seward." This last may be just an embellishment, but then again, Booth was proud of what he had done, and seemed genuinely shocked to discover from newspaper accounts that there was near universal condemnation of his act.

Another witness, Louis Weichmann, lived in Surratt’s boarding house. Weichmann (who like Lloyd had been arrested along with everyone else even remotely connected with Booth—including the owner of Ford’s Theatre and Booth’s brother Junius) could not be dismissed as a drunkard, and gave clear and candid testimony. After acknowledging that Surratt was “lady-like in every particular” and claimed he did not believe that she was “disloyal,” he went on make to make claims that were damaging to Surratt. She had of late been “in the habit of saying something was going to happen to ‘Old Abe’ which would prevent him from taking his seat,” probably in reference to the kidnapping plot. He claimed to have talked about Booth’s kidnapping plot with both Mary and her son John. Weichmann wondered why Surratt allowed such low-lifes like Herold and Atzerodt in her home; he was told that they were there to do her son’s “dirty work”—supposedly to clean his horses. Surratt, of course, knew her son was a Confederate spy who would be executed if caught. Weichmann testified that he accompanied Surratt on her trip to meet Lloyd; on the return journey that evening, he commented on the lights of Washington, to which Surratt predicted that there would be “mourning” in the city by daybreak. She declined to elaborate on her meaning. Weichmann also recognized Booth as the man she had a secret meeting with an hour or so before the assassination (other sources claim that this man was actually John Surratt, but both Weichmann in his sworn affidavit and daughter Anna Surratt stated that it was Booth); Mary Surratt and Booth apparently met several times that day. Weichmann claimed that Surratt had told him earlier that Booth was “crazy” on one subject that she wanted to “scold him on.” When Booth left the boarding house that evening on his way to Ford’s Theatre, Surratt seemed agitated, but refused to say why. When informed of the assassination, Weichmann claimed to have overheard her say that Booth was “was only an instrument in the hands of the All Mighty to punish this proud and licentious people.” Daughter Anna was also heard to wax frightened about what would happen to them if it was discovered that Booth had been in the house only hours ago.

There was more. Mary Surratt had two meetings with Richard Smoot, a Confederate officer and farmer who “rented” a boat to Booth initially for the kidnapping scheme, and then was alleged to have been told by Surratt to have it ready the night of the assassination for Booth to make his escape. Surratt also lied when she claimed not to know Lewis Powell, who had been tasked to assassinate William Seward; he had lodged in her boarding house for four days, and in fact was seen conversing with her. It was Surratt the dim-witted Powell (who had declared “I am mad!” as he left the bloodied Seward home) sought out when he went in search for help after Herold had abandoned him. It was the fact that Powell knew Surratt that tipped-off police that she could be implicated; when he made the odd midnight appearance at her boarding house enquiring for her, telling an officer Morgan that he was there to “dig a gutter in the morning.” Surratt’s overly strenuous denial that she knew the man standing at the door seemed to Morgan to be a highly suspicious defensive contrivance.

Two army sergeants, Dye and Cooper, who were passing the boarding house shortly after the assassination when the streets were still quiet, testified that Mary Surratt thrust her head out a window exclaiming what the commotion was downtown. Dye and Cooper were certain that news of the assassination had not yet made its way to this location. What was she doing sitting in her parlor at that hour—10:30 p.m.—anxiously waiting for news? What news? And finally, although the dull Powell would give-in to Anna Surratt’s desperate pleas as the execution date neared and claim that Surratt was innocent, Herold before his execution would (like Atzerodt) implicate Surratt as a party to their schemes.

Booth, Mary Surratt and her son John shared a bitter enmity toward Lincoln. Booth, according to Weichmann, had a “close” relationship with Mary, and a secretive one; when John Surratt wasn’t around, Booth would seek out her out for “private” meetings. We can’t know exactly what was said, but she was certainly aware of her son’s predilections and activities. Although John Surratt claimed to be in New York on the day of the assassination on Confederate spy business, others placed him at various locations that day in the capitol.

On the surface, the particulars of the various testimony can be turned into commonplace banalities, but taken in totality were altogether damning against Mary Surratt. Still, Surratt said little in her defense except declare her innocence, believing that because she was a woman it was certain she was not on trial for her life regardless. In the end, the question of Mary Surratt’s guilt or innocence as an accessory to the assassination hinges on the question of “reasonable doubt.” It’s a bit hypocritical today to convict people for murder on circumstantial evidence, and then turn around and pick apart in isolation the circumstantial evidence that led to Surratt’s conviction, for contemporary political reasons; “reasonable doubt” hinges on that view of the case. But the fact remains that the “dots” in the Mary Surratt case connect too well to be merely random occurrences with easy rationalizations.

What seems entirely rationale is that after Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox on April 9, the kidnapping scheme that had already been aborted on one occasion was now pointless. Four days later, Booth told his cohorts that there was a change in plans: assassination. The question was when and where. Mary Surratt was almost certainly made aware of this new plan, which she would give him a “scolding” about, and was apparently unable to dissuade him from during their last meeting. Did Surratt lie when she claimed to know nothing about the assassination plot? Probably. It does seem reasonable to conclude that not only did she know of the assassination plot, but told no one in authority of Booth's intentions. If we accept Lloyd and Weichmann’s testimony, and Atzerodt’s confession, she may have initially taken a pro-active view of the proceedings given her close relationship with Booth, but then became frightened when the consequences of such actions began to weigh on her mind. Whether or not she deserved to be hanged for mere foreknowledge must be judged by those times, not by today’s standards; after all a war had just ended that cost the lives of 600,000 men, and now here was a fanatical cabal which would not accept reality, and attempted vengeance. Who knows what was next if these people were not punished?

Of course, as I previously mentioned, Surratt is not the only person who has benefited from revisionist history to clear Southern guilt. The family of Dr. Samuel Mudd and his supporters have agitated for the abdication of his guilty verdict. Atzerodt’s confession, however, implicates Mudd in the kidnapping scheme, and other evidence unearthed points to the strong probability that Mudd—who was a Confederate operative involved in an underground network running supplies from Maryland into Virginia—set-up Booth with the escape route and contacts that he would later use following the assassination.

The tangled web of deceit

You can glean golden nuggets of wisdom in the darndest places. For example, how many of us have heard of that old chestnut “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when we first practice to deceive” and don’t have the slightest idea where it came from? A few people might jump up and say that it is a quote by Sir Walter Scott, and they would be correct. What of his works is it derived from? If you said either of his best-known works, Ivanhoe and Rob Roy, you would be wrong, but you shouldn’t feel ashamed just because those books are acknowledged to be classics and you’ve never read them, and probably shouldn’t. Those OLD books; even Don Quixote, which was very amusing at first, ran out of steam after a hundred pages, and I ended-up tossing it aside. If you want to read a book that is not only an exciting and absorbing read, but is also true, I would suggest Jean Denis-Bredin’s account of the Alfred Dreyfus affair; I throw that out there because I can’t believe that no has tried to make an epic movie out of this. Maybe Steven Spielberg can get on the case.

But I’m way off track here, farther than you think (the above quote came from Scott’s epic poem Marmion, if it makes you feel smarter to know that). The point here is about deception. It is my belief that the Seattle Times and its Washington D.C. bureau reporter, Kyung M. Song, was trying to deceive us recently. Song was responsible for an overly fawning story on Republican freshwoman congressperson Jaime Herrera Beutler from Washington’s 3rd District (probably at the direction of the Times’ editors), which had been held by Democrat Brian Baird for 12 years. According to Song’s story, after just two months in office Beutler has proven herself to be a “pragmatist” who wants to “set her own course,” and has a voting record that indicates “independence.” That’s a bit of a stretch, but I’ll get to that later.

Who did Beutler learn her trade from? State senator Joseph Zarelli—who is the principle force behind the state legislature’s current anti-immigrant hysteria—for one. Zarelli is a right-wing extremist, although nobody in the media wants to call him that. At the very least he is a hypocrite; one may recall that this man who seemingly opposes any and all public services himself once collected unemployment insurance while he was pulling in a salary as a legislator; he also blamed his arrest in 1983 for driving with a suspended license and cocaine possession on prejudice against Italian-Americans (can’t you just smell the acrid scent of hypocrisy?). Today, Gov. Christine Gregoire is more or less Zarelli’s lapdog, licking his feet to whatever more services cuts he wants to carve out of the budget while demanding more tax cuts for his corporate pals. Government is supposed to serve the public, not the private, but whose counting?

Who else? U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, to whom Beutler was a senior legislative aid. Suffice it to say that Progressive Punch’s score of 4 percent out of a 100 indicates she is somewhere in the extreme reaches of right-wingdom. Beutler’s rating is 9 percent, but give her time; as state Democratic leader Dwight Pelz told an apparently incredulously Song, "I don't care about her rhetoric as much as her votes. You can't have it both ways." So we know who Beutler’s “mentors” were; during her brief tenure in the state legislature, Beutler was known as pro-business, anti-labor, pro-gun, anti-environment. In a nutshell, a typical visionless Republican.

So how did this “ethnic” candidate get elected to the Congress in a district that was evenly split ideologically? Immigration was a hot-button issue during the 2010 season, but Herrera (as she was known then) barely mentioned it. Despite having a Latino father, she in fact opposes immigration reform. So why did she play “pragmatist” and not discuss it? Although the 3rd District is 90 percent white, it’s largest minority group are Latinos, about 5 percent of the population. The 3rd District voted in the slimmest of majorities for George Bush in 2000 and 2004, and Obama in 2008. Latino voters may have made the difference for Obama, and the district did elect a Democrat to represent them the previous six elections. Did Herrera think that as long as she kept quiet on the immigration issue, Latino voters would be fooled into voting for her just for her name? Is this “pragmatism”—or cynicism and opportunism?

After the election, Herrera started calling herself Beutler, her husband’s name. Why did she do this now? Maybe because during all the anti-immigrant hysteria, it was suggested that keeping it for the time being would “prove” that the Republican Party was “inclusive” and not the hate-mongering bunch they are. But now Beutler (who actually looks more Anglo than ethnic), could throw-off the ethnic label and embrace the Anglo world she wholly desires to identified with; like Michelle Malkin and Clarence Thomas, she doesn’t want to identified with “them.” Her handlers no doubt believe that having used Latino voters once, she doesn’t need them again. Now that she has been elected to Congress, she can prove to her 90 percent white district that she is just as white as they are.

Beutler, of course, voted with the rest of the House Republicans to repeal the health care reform package (she was “delivering on a promise’ she made to what is essentially a vocal minority who oppose anything identified with Obama). Thus she is merely like many Republicans in this state where right-wing extremist rhetoric doesn’t play, no matter how it is couched; Seattle-based KOMO radio has a decidedly right-wing slant which doesn’t “fit-in” with the alleged liberal culture of the city, so commentator John Carlson (and former Republican gubernatorial candidate) tries to sounds “reasonable”—even when it is easy to see that beneath the fa├žade is your typical muddle-brained right-wing extremist with little of substance to say. I was listening to him the other day in a discussion with someone from the Wall Street Journal concerning health care reform. Carlson claimed that Republicans are trying to have an “adult” conversation with the “American People,” when at every turn we see nothing but pit bulls who bite for no reason save instinctive malice. The so-called “Obamacare—the particulars of which were actually constructed by Congressional Democrats—is complex because it needed to cover every hole that private industry would poke in it to avoid adhering to its goals. Republicans—whose commentary when it is “intelligible” is most closely associated with bathroom wall banter—is merely to “live within a budget” which is which is little more than empty rhetoric to satisfy the ignorant masses; if Republicans are serious about cutting out government pension plans, then they should cut out their own voluntary since they don’t need one anyways. Finding new ways to pay for needed programs that address the underlying structural weaknesses of the institutions and infrastructure that maintain a civil society (that private industry will not or cannot address) cannot be countenanced; in pursuit of a visionless ideology, Republicans ultimate creation is how Voltaire once characterized Earth: The privy of the universe.

Having voted to repeal “Obamacare,” what empty Republican gestures is Beutler supporting? A “shopping cart” of health care plans that range from expensive with lower co-pays and deductibles that only the well-off can afford (and thus ultimately pay much lower bills) and the “cheap” than the low-income can afford but with high co-pays and deductibles (and ultimately far higher bills); their only other ideas are tort reform and allowing the purchase of health plans across state lines. Of course, this ignores the differences in health care costs between states; the “health insurance” my company offers is technically illegal in Washington, but is legal in low-services Texas where the company’s situs is. An acquaintance of mine also told me an amusing story about the only time someone attempted to sue his doctor-brother for malpractice; the grandson of a 95-year-old patient who died of cancer sued his brother for not properly telling the deceased the dangers of smoking. The grandson refused to meet him in his office; he preferred to rent a conference room at a hotel. When the grandson learned that the cost of such a rental was $1,500-an-hour, he decided to vacate the suit, apparently there was no easy money in it after all. There are also in fact companies in existence today that offer a smorgasbord of health plans; I checked them out myself. If you are a low-income person working for a business that doesn’t provide health care coverage or “low cost” health insurance, it’s a lose-lose situation. Carlson also took a patronizing tone when he referred to “the poor” in regard to his contempt of Medicaid; like all “reasonable”-sounding Republicans, his “bite” is far more sinister than his “bark.” As an aside, while discussing the possibility of a federal government shutdown this weekend, Carlson's stablemate Ken Schram joked about how "non-essential" personnel like Carlson and himself were the kind of people who ought to be out of a job first; too bad it is just a "joke."

House Republicans are now being called “courageous” for proposing a $6 trillion budget cutting scheme; it's yet another cheap stunt to satisfy "the base." Once more the media and the “experts” are lulled into being gulled not only by the right’s political cynicism and racial hatred, but its long-term goal: Control of the country by elites and corporate interests. This is why some prefer to call this a "republic" instead of a "democracy." Of course the Republican “plan” is skimpy on details: The people who vote Republican are excessively bored by details; they prefer talk that reflects their own self-pity. They think in simple terms; if something doesn’t affect them directly right now, it isn’t a problem. If they can’t see it, it isn’t a problem. There is a new Fox News commercial: “Moving Forward” is its catchphrase; it was aired in the midst of a History Channel show on the country’s crumbling infrastructure. As we recall, the Republicans opposed all of Obama’s stimulus plan—including that which funded infrastructure, even if it did create jobs; how can a country “move forward” when it’s falling apart?

This is the worldview that Beutler and Republicans share in common; it can’t be couched in “moderate’ terms to serve a newspaper’s gender agenda. If someone doesn’t make enough money for his or her family, they don’t need help according to the people Beutlers has attached herself to; they should eat less, or resort to some other extremity. Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” comes to mind; that is the extent of Republican “compassion” for their fellow man.