Sunday, December 6, 2009

When Mothers Are Enslaved...

I just read that the Stupak amendment is even stupider than I thought. There was already a really good, balanced amendment, the Capps amendment, which proposes that the government ensure that all patients have access to at least one plan that covers abortion and services and one that does not. Anything less amounts to state establishment of religion.
This is not self-government. This is nothing but polarized party politics. Parties are not in the Constitution; when will the Supreme Court just uphold a prohibition?
And this is not about life, it is about domination. About men, some of whom cannot stand to not dominate women, to just be co-operative. Men like women to respect them; respecting women, mothers, and children is the best way to get there.

Friday, November 13, 2009

ACORN Fights For Equal Treatment

Democracy Now reported today that ACORN is suing the U.S. government on the grounds that singling out one organization for special treatment, whether favorable or punitive, is unconstitutional on several counts.

Dec. 7, 2009 update:
Darcy Burner recently said on C-SPAN that there had been a small problem with the legislation defunding ACORN for fraud, namely that almost all defense contractors would also have been similarly affected.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Update on Rightwing Persecution of ACORN

At the very end of an op-ed piece posing as journalism, I learned that the cowardly Congressional ban on federal funding for ACORN expires on December 18.

The ax-grinding that precedes this lone piece of information contains a number of accusations about ACORN's radical advocacy for extremist groups such as a Working Families Party that advocates for living-wage jobs. Although somebody thinks I should be very afraid of advocacy for working families and voter registration for poor folks, I don't get why ACORN's victimization by internal embezzlement means that registering poor people as voters is bad.

Similarly, allegations - that minor instances of registration inflation by a handful of young staffers among thousands nationwide constitute voter fraud that is anywhere near as momentous as what we witnessed in Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004 - are apparently more examples of straining at gnats while swallowing elephants, since these claims seem to be more related to party affiliation than anything.

Other allegations that ACORN is connected with violations of campaign funding cite a source that doesn't clearly support the allegations, at least for this reader. But that hasn't stopped fishing expeditions by investigators.

Don't Republicans and so-called conservatives have anything constructive to do with their time? There are a lot of real problems, such as homelessness and nuclear weapons that are far more hazardous to the health of our nation than a grassroots community organization that focuses on voter registration and financial literacy.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Truth: Evolution or Creationism?

The truth is that this teapot tempest is an effective way for creationists to distract attention from a far more important discussion, namely, about practicing the key moral precepts that make Christ a guy worth listening to, such as the golden rule, or judging ourselves rather than others.
I'm sure there are also advocates of the theory of evolution who would benefit from some consideration of ethics and civility, as suggested by Professor David Sloan Wilson.
He expressed heartfelt sympathy for those "fighting for the middle ground." It seems to me that one very important weapon in this fight is an awareness of the emotional tone of a discussion. Naming it, particularly when a fervent advocate believes that making his opponent wrong will make him right, is also essential.
Fighting one's own prejudices and habitual perceptions - the most challenging kind of jihad - is a far sharper weapon for cutting away falsity than is any fight against another person or idea.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Clueless on Wall Street

This morning in USA Today, Charles Elson, director of the Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware is quoted as saying, "It's true that salaries are out of control, but this is not the right approach - politics and business do not mix."
Does this mean the end of corporate lobbying and massive political contributions to the politicians that toady to corporate CEOs and their profiteering agendas? Don't hold your breath.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Do Parents Believe Their Own Bullshit?

I read in the paper this morning some news about lying. According to a newly-released study, most parents want kids to do as they say, not as they do, when it comes to not saying what they think.
I, unlike most kids, was raised by parents who generally said what they thought, and what they meant. They expected me to do what they said, and they followed these prescriptions themselves. But that doesn't mean they told me that Santa or the Easter Bunny didn't exist before I had noticed on my own.
Not all lies are created equal. Some, such as great novels, express deeper truths about human emotions, about human nature. And others can be transformed into truth with a little editing. For example, a parent said, "Lying is for bad people and witches; good people and fairies never tell lies." It would be more accurate to say that lying can make people feel bad and even mean, while telling the truth in a fair-minded and cooperative way can make everyone feel good, even if it seems like only a perfect fairy can achieve this.
So it's very important to understand all the key kinds of lies, and the reasons for them, good, bad or forgivable. Lies of commission are usually judged worse than lies of omission. But often people lie because they don't know how to tell the truth in a kind, gentle, simple way. It can be uncomfortable to say things we think will be unwelcome, but with a little guidance and practice it's possible to remind yourself: "Don't Be Nice, Be Real."
The kind of nice we really don't need is telling white lies about things that aren't that important. Or flattery. Or advertising, which leads to telling lies to make money. Eventually, lying too much can lead to losing track of the truth.
Lying will continue to be a subject of moral and philosophical inquiry. It's worth noting that the government can only lie to us be means of individuals who choose to hide the truth and betray the transparency that democracy requires.
Of course, the most devious and stubborn untruths are the ones we believe in all conscious honesty.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Straining at Gnats... and ACORNs

Republicans' vendetta against ACORN for registering poor people to vote proves beyond any doubt that they are not the fiscally responsible party they pretend to be.
They continue to harass ACORN, which was apparently the victim of a private political sting operation, after reluctantly pretending to investigate Diebold and related scams in 2004, not to mention companies like KBR and Halliburton that have been stealing $billions of taxpayer money in Iraq with contract fraud and featherbedding - Republicans are straining at gnats and swallowing camels.
I am also wondering if the Republicans put something in the water in the House, which is supposedly controlled by Democrats who, unbelievably, joined Republicans in voting to pull ACORN's funding and instead waste the money investigating them. For Sacramento, this means less assistance for hapless homeowners facing foreclosure and fraud. Gee thanks.
This is not the first time Democrats have allowed Republican hissy fits to derail due diligence and the greatest good for the greatest number. When wingnuts act out, that's a good time to sit back and make sure you have all the information you need to actually understand the whole situation. It turns out that the undercover movie producer and accomplice are elite young Republicans who will never have to worry about foreclosure happening to them. And it turns out they visited a third of ACORN offices nationwide, and were at times so pushy ACORN staff had to call the cops. I wonder who paid for all their equipment and expenses?
I think the real agenda here is to get ACORN out of the 2010 census, so more poor people can be missed. Republicans have "trust issues." I'll say they do; you can trust them - and Democrats - to care more about power than people.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Republican Health Care Whores

Yesterday on C-SPAN I listened in to a North Carolina town hall revival meeting where Rep. McSomebody revealed himself as being in the health insurance companies' pocket. On key points of misinformation, such as the Palin-manufactured death panels and the spin that our health care is better than Europe's and Canada's, he resolutely agreed with constituents' cranky delusions and general ranting, rather then speaking the truth.
Even more interesting was a wrinkle, new to me, about health care choice being construed as a new right for health insurance corporations to sell insurance across state lines, to people hundreds of miles away who would have even less practical recourse than at present if they got screwed. The mantra of individual choice and competition was invoked numerous times to sell an approach which gives insurance companies all the power to divide and conquer. And we all know that competition will increase choice and lower prices, right?
There were a few voices in the wilderness, people who had come to say they wanted single-payer, or a public option, and generally would appreciate the government sticking up for them in the face of companies who don't hesitate to kick people's policies to the curb just when they are most necessary. Mostly these people were health care workers and sick people. But they got little sympathy from Rep. McWhatever, who is as skilled as most politicians in answering the question he wants to hear rather than the one that's actually been posed.
No Republican who gets lots of contributions from for-profit health insurance corporations and his marching orders from the chamber of commerce is going to admit that when competition is for money, for-profit businesses just want your money.
If we want competition for actual health care and wellness, we won't be getting it from insurance companies' gigolos.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Giant Log in Birthers' Eyes

True-blue Amurricans who see specks in Obama's birthright are overlooking some giant blots in our own.
Assuming that what I learned in school was not a Communist plot, the whole concept of birth certificates was imported to this continent, along with too many Europeans, for the very dubious benefit of the pre-existing population.
So before more people complain that Obama may not have the right to be president, I think we should carefully consider our own right to be here at all.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Gates-gate: Are Cops & Blacks On The Same Planet?

One of the most disturbing things about Sergeant James Crowley is that he has been teaching other cops about racial profiling for five years. Is he teaching them that law enforcement means never having to say you are sorry? And as Wayne Martin asked, "When did it become illegal to be angry at a law enforcement official?"
I would like to know how much anger one can express verbally before being arrested for disorderly conduct or resisting arrest. Like world-famous professors and presidents, cops are accustomed to being heeded. But if they really want to be peace officers, they can't be thinking that gentleness is weakness.
New York State Senator Eric Adams, a retired police captain, seems to understand that law enforcement does mean having to say you are sorry. Constables on patrol regularly confront people to verify that someone is not up to no good. And when it turns out they have accosted law-abiding citizens inaccurately, courtesy suggests that one apologize for the intrusion when it turns out to have been fortunately unnecessary.
So who should apologize? Professor Gates? Probably not, but I'd have to know more about the exact events. Sgt. Crowley? Only if he wants to keep teaching. President Obama? Definitely not. I agree that Sgt. Crowley acted like his prefrontal cortex was on vacation. I'd also like to know what Miss Manners thinks.
We need nonviolent law enforcement. While this may seem like an oxymoron, Gandhi found that his most dependable nonviolent supporters were the Sikh warriors, who were accustomed to confronting physical force. It is possible to use physical force in a nonviolent way, just as it is possible to be violent in ways that are verbal, economic, emotional, etc.
It may not always be simple or easy, but isn't that why we pay cops the big bucks? If they don't have the spiritual stamina to say they are wrong when they are wrong, then they are in the wrong line of work.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Terrorist Deputies

Recently I tuned in to a rerun of the July 14 Board of Supervisors meeting wherein Sheriff McGinness and chorus offered some well-rehearsed propaganda designed to save some deputies' jobs. Apparently somehow someone in the Sheriff's department had miscalculated, and the budget allocation decided in June meant that the Sheriff would have to lay off 70 more deputies than originally believed. So Agenda Item 64 was McGinness, back to ask for more money for these deputies.
McGinness presented an explanation that I found confusing, in part because I understand numbers much much better when they are written down. But after reading his staff report later on, I still felt at least as unclear as most of the supervisors seemed to. Although professing trust and confidence in the Sheriff, this substantial error clearly disturbed them. Several supervisors expressed concern about having incomplete financial information pertaining to this proposed change.
Personally, I would have thought that information about current crime rates and trends would also be relevant, but apparently no one else missed it.
McGinness also stressed that public safety deserves more money because everyone benefits from deputies' work, unlike those special interests like social services that only benefit some people. (But I thought that deputies only patrolled the unincorporated areas, whereas health and welfare spending is county-wide. Go figure.)
In any event, after McGinness had finished his handwaving, the supervisors heard comments from many members of the public who had been assembled and apparently briefed by the Sheriff's PR department, to "give the public a voice." We heard from a number of deputies, past, present and future, as well as their friends and families, who all described a variety of terrible things that would doubtless happen if the extra 70 layoffs were to occur.
Property values will "plummet," all the "monsters" out there, such as sex offenders, parolees, and tent-city "transients" will be preying on Sacramento's most vulnerable citizens. People will buy guns to protect themselves. These layoffs will make the force less representative of the community because young ethnic deputies will go first. More deputies will die because they will be spread too thin. More citizens will die because deputies will be spread too thin and emergency response times will be compromised. Search and rescue operations for lost old folks with Alzheimer's will be gone. Business investment in the community will be diverted to Nevada and Sacramento will be irreparably blighted. Many of these themes were echoed by multiple speakers.
Enthusiastic applause followed each touching expression of concern, despite Chairwoman Susan Peters' request to the audience to refrain, as applause takes time and was also causing some audio feedback. Although such esprit de corps may be good for morale, disrespect towards local leadership calls into question their respect for others who have no authority.
Deputies claimed no special interest of their own, only that they want to protect and serve. They are heartbroken that some of the comrades will fall by the wayside, but down by the budget ax. One guy even compared their pain to the death march on Bataan in World War II. Who knew cops were so emo?
Several solutions were also suggested by many commenters, such as diverting money from the golf course or the airport construction. Unfortunately, none of the suggestions were feasible, as County Executive Terry Schutten explained at Chairwoman Peters' request. Nonetheless, subsequent commenters failed to edit these ideas out of their scripts. After almost two hours, all those who had signed up to speak were heard and applauded.
The bottom line? Be afraid. Be very afraid. That is their message.
After a short discussion, the supervisors asked Schutten to review the June version of the budget and report back on July 28 at 3:30 pm as to what it would take to find another $10 million for these 70 at-risk deputies.
As soon as supervisors seemed to be coming around, McGinness started emphasizing his department's ability to "do a great deal with minimal resources." Still, Supervisor Dickinson did caution him that basic human needs like adequate food are also be defined as safety bysome members of the public, and that the state may yet again raid local funds.
Mulling over all the emoting I heard, and the facts I didn't hear, I can't help wondering about the quality of their criminal investigations. Mysteries and crimes are far more likely to be resolved through dispassionate rational analysis than through the kind of self-serving sentimentality I saw. And if they can't even keep track of their own personnel budget, how well are they keeping track of evidence and other minor details?
Anyway, if you would like to "have a voice" and share your opinion about the balance between public health and public safety with the supervisors, you have until July 28.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Breast-Feeding Under the Influence

According to police, Stacey Anvarinia's recent arrest for breast-feeding was not just because she was drunk, although the other reasons were not reported. Perhaps the nerve-wracking sight of a woman breastfeeding while being investigated is the reason they forgot to actually test her. I am wondering what the cops were under the influence of.
I don't think they were under the influence of concern for babies, otherwise they would be out arresting the management of Nestle's, a corporation which has done more than anyone to malnourish infants by pushing the substandard nutrition of formula onto naive and trusting mothers worldwide. Not to mention the industrial corporations that are responsible for mothers' milk containing trace amounts of various toxic chemicals.
They would be going after bosses who make it hard for women to breastfeed naturally, instead of early weaning or tiresome pumping which really just isn't as nurturing for anyone.
They might even look into the classism of our educational system, whereby poor kids are preselected for failure in underfunded, unsafe and boring schools. Or they could stick up for the rights of all children to be raised with emotional and economic security.
But there's no point in working themselves out of their jobs, after all.

Friday, June 26, 2009

In Memoriam

I've been catching up on what Michael Jackson is all about. I guess I've led a sheltered life, because I didn't even know what the moonwalk was. (Too bad he never met Marcel Marceau.)
His videos offer some insights, like Beat It, a phrase that means both fight and flight, a wonderful paradox given that it's about gangs, kind of like West Side Story. Opponents grasp hands and pull knives at the same time, just as we are always tied to what we resist. It reminded me of a former lover, who wanted me to tie his hands to the bed. I found a similar solution - I tied one of his and one of mine.
But Smooth Criminal ain't smooth, he's scandalous. And Scream totally says how I feel about Harleys and leafblowers.
Michael doesn't care if you're Black or White, which I appreciate. But I have to confess I have trouble understanding all the lyrics, so hopefully he was good enough to explain everything visually too. So I don't know really if Michael cared if he was black or white. I'm not sure he cared if he was male or female, either. As he became whiter, he looked more and more femme.
It's clear that his affinity with, and affection for, children was part of his nature. Children love to play. And the younger they are, the less they care if you are rich and famous. Plus which, the psychic pressure of being that rich and famous must have made kids' indifference to it seem so, so gentle and playful to him.
A lot of people are mourning more than I would have thought. And it's too bad he's gone, though it's easy to think he wasn't having that much fun anymore. No wonder his poor heart gave out. It's so, so sad that friendly touch has become suspected of sex and exploitation. Throwing that baby out with the bathwater is an ongoing social tragedy.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Co-Opting of a President

     I hope President Obama has noticed Kevin Baker's article listing the ways he has broken campaign promises, because he really should think about what he is doing. While I am sure he is thinking, and carefully, about his decisions, I have also noticed too much continuity with the previous administration's perspective on secrecy, economics and military action.
     Moreover, the Democrat party needs to also read and ponder this article; ideally, they would have an epiphany and maybe even turn back into the Democratic party.
     Last night on C-SPAN, I happened to see Obama and former President Clinton speak at a Democratic Leadership Council event. (When did everyone else forget that there's only one POTUS at a time?) Anyway, Obama told some funny in-jokes, roasting various political players, and then Clinton talked about how wonderful the DLC has been for getting Democrats elected.
     While this may be true, it's less clear that the DLC is actually that wonderful for a lot of ordinary Democratic voters. Moving the party to the center may get more centrists elected, but thinking that populism is obsolete or that the grassroots activists don't matter leaves the party without a vision. Democratic leadership needs to listen to leftist prophets like John Todd or Noam Chomsky, because if they don't they'll just end up being anti-Republicans rather than pro-progressive.
     But, while Obama seems to be following the same split-the-difference political navigation that the DLC pushes, most Congressional Democrats are just as frozen in the headlights. 
     So we still have far more government secrecy than in 2000, part of a trajectory that really got going in WWI. Meanwhile, we see glacial progress on getting out of Iraq, and plans to beef up the war on Afghanis, both a poor way to win hearts and minds. If Pakistanis are outraged by a video of Taliban vigilantes terrorizing women who show a shred of independence, how can anyone imagine that videos of collateral damage by our soldiers and mercenaries will get us anywhere? Our mercenaries should be cashiered, the National Guard should return home, and the soldiers should be transferred to another service.
     The veteran Wall-Streeters in charge of economic policy still think that financial institutions, rather than the ordinary livelihoods of ordinary people, are what keeps the economy going, . There can be no other explanation for the fact that none of the banks that received bailout money are willing to reduce the principal on any of the unsustainable loans they have on their books. They would rather use the bailout money to pay for all the costs of eviction, repossession, maintenance and insurance on an empty house, and then the cost to resell the house for a lower price, when they could have just reduced the price for the original homeowner who is now probably homeless. 
     The financial pyramid is built on the livelihoods of ordinary people, and allowing ordinary lives to crumble strengthens nothing. Will Obama and Congress manage to think outside the box? 
     Baker's article concludes by noting that "all of Obama's major proposals ... are labyrinthine solutions designed mainly to avoid conflict." Marginal changes will likely not suffice. "Obama will have to directly attack the fortified bastions of the newest  "new class" - the makers of the paper economy in which he came of age - if he is to accomplish anything. These interests did not spend 50 years shipping the greatest industrial economy in the history of the world overseas only to be challenged by a newly empowered, green-economy working class. They did not spend much of the past two decades gobbling up previously public sectors such as health care, education, and transportation only to have to compete with a reinvigorated public sector. They mean, even now, to use the bailout to make the government their helpless junior partner, and if they can they will devour every federal dollar available to recoup their own losses, and thereby preclude the use of any monies for the rest of Barack Obama's splendid vision."

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Iranian Democracy Puts Us To Shame

     The massive peaceful resistance by the Iranian people to apparent election fraud offers U.S. citizens a perfect example of how to protest election fraud and corruption. If only enough of us had been capable of that kind of free and independent thought and action in November 2000.
     While some believe the Republicans didn't cheat, a number of researchers, such as David Moore, Bev Harris, and a number of law professors who regard the election as far from definitive.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

State Budget Reality Check

     Like me, you have probably been getting lots of news about the budget crisis, and hearing all kinds of lamentations about cuts that will allow crime to run rampant, leave disabled people alone to die, and double classroom sizes.
     You may have also shared my frustration with the complete lack of financial perspective accompanying these terrifying prophecies of disaster.
     Recently, I attended a panel discussion where several policy wonks shared new revenue ideas. During the Q&A, I expressed my feelings about the total lack of perspective offered by anyone. Another attendee referred me to the State Controller, and indeed I found on their website the unsung foundation of the discussion. A few calculations allowed me to finally feel like I have my conceptual feed on the ground.
     For starters, actual state operations are only a little more than 1/4 of the budget, and CDCR is the biggest portion, over 1/3 of 1/4, or 1/11 of the total state spending in the 2008-9 fiscal year to date. Debt service is just under 4% of total spending, and UC+CSU are just over 6% of total spending. Are we spending more on prisons than higher education? The community college portion is accounted in the local assistance part of the operating results, and is just over 4% of total expenditures, so that looks like the state spends just 1% more on higher education. (Of course, counties spend a chunk on jails and courts.)
     But state spending to assist local operations is almost 3/4, dwarfing spending on state operations. And spending on K-12 operations is 1/3 of the total budget and 4/9 of local assistance. State spending on "medical assistance" is 1/8 of the total budget. Social services are between 1/8 and 1/9 of total spending, over 4/5 of which is local assistance.
     Newsflash! State worker salaries are not the place to go for serious savings. Combining agencies is like moving the deck chairs around on the Titanic. $24 billion is 1/4 of annual state spending. And if there is fat and wasteful spending to cut, 3/4 of it will be local assistance.

To recap, the big expense categories are, in order:
     33% local assistance for K-12
     12.5% local assistance for health care
     9% prisons
     5% SSI etc.
     4% community colleges
     3.9% interest on state debts
     3% each UC & CSU
     3% on CalWORKs

     The immediate question is how to deflate state spending to match state revenues. Perhaps we can keep K-12 class sizes manageable by cutting middle management positions and drafting laid-off Californians who are collecting unemployment and CalPERS retirees as volunteer replacements. 
     Perhaps we can reduce health care needs by switching to a 20-hour work week, which will double the number of jobs and give everyone time to live in a healthy way, with healthy family dinners, plenty of sleep, and plenty of exercise in the garden and on sidewalks and bicycles. 
     And we could even start paying attention to academia's evidence-based solutions to prison spending which is probably growing faster than any other category.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Emotional Extortion Holiday

     As usual, Memorial Day brought out the same old guilt trip about honoring our brave soldiers, even though our wars are generally invasive rather than defensive. Meanwhile, more soldiers are committing suicide and fewer are being killed by suicide bombers. According to the Washington Post, "Many soldiers are now in the midst of their third of fourth combat tour, and Army surveys show that mental health deteriorates with each one."
     The fact that our invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have required our soldiers to kill far more women and children than alleged terrorists, with no sure end in sight, isn't helping their mental health any.
     If we really respected our soldiers' honor, we wouldn't be wasting them like this. We would be reserving their strength and service for a time when it will really matter, such as when we are actually attacked by another nation.
     Apparently one of the people responsible, if not accountable, for these and other betrayals of democracy and international law, has been raising obscene amounts of money for his presidential library. I suspect more victims of emotional extortion have been scammed.
     But more to the point would be a vice-presidential library, for all of Cheney's secret papers and subversive Constitutional sabotage. And I have the perfect location for it, a very secure facility which will soon be available: Guantanamo!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Be The Tortoise & Win Life's Race

     It turns out that the race goes to those who can wait, according to Jonah Lehrer in the New Yorker. Based on research with roots in the 1960s, kids who can figure out how to postpone one treat in order to get two usually grow up to be more adept in school and in life. 
     The ability to control one's choices and actions, to choose to delay gratification for a better long-term outcome, helps tortoises think ahead and plan their futures. 
     It also turns out that poor kids tend to have more trouble waiting. Fortunately, it also turns out that many kids who are hares for treats can learn the self-control strategies that are instinctively used by natural tortoises. So there's no reason to think that poverty is hereditary; rather, poor people don't have many gratifications that they can practice delaying.
     Basically, all you have to do is control what you are thinking about, what you are paying attention to. Meditation is perhaps the oldest and best practice for paying attention. While it may or may not raise your IQ, it can help you use your head. And meditation usually improves your emotional intelligence too!
     But I can't help noticing that we live in a culture where we are constantly extorted by advertising to act like hares, to work and earn more, to buy and consume more and more junk products, to worry about winning the image race, instead of just being ourselves and being good for ourselves
     If you can't be good enough for yourself, you'll never win your own race or your own life.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sinful Marriage

     The crusade against David Thompson, who may or may not still be the pastor of Westeminster Presbyterian Church, makes me wonder why gays want to participate in any club that includes the sort of selfish and intolerant people who want to monopolize marriage.
     According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the definition of marriage was expanded several centuries ago to describe the integration of two entities which were not even human, let alone hetero. So that horse has escaped the barn and died long since.
     Perhaps it's just my personal preference to simply go away and not play with people who are mean.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Whose Vengeance?

Reportedly, Obama recently declined to pursue criminal cases against Bush administration decision-makers whose actions violated the international laws of war, saying that "retribution" is not productive.
If we have no avenue of justice for these criminals other than retribution, that means that our system of criminal justice has no other avenue than retribution, which is another word for vengeance. But twice in New Testament epistles, the Bible recommends karma instead, saying "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto God's wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord."
It's interesting that karma is here framed as "repayment." Classical economic theory defines transactions as consensual, so "repayment" suggests a restorative justice process where all parties converse and come to mutual agreement.

How Can Israelis Be Racist?

     I learned in school that Jews and Arabs were both Semitic peoples, and wikipedia confirms this. So how can the Israeli-Palestinian conflict be racist?
     The evidence I'm aware of indicates that Israel has been violent and mean towards the Palestinians, and the U.S. has been funding this for decades. If saying so is racist, does that mean that lies are egalitarian? I'm confused. And not all Jews agree with Israel.
     Also overlooked is the role of water, precious in the desert, and other resources. But the news we get is rarely truly balanced. We don't really get complete information about the facts and implications on the ground. The further away you are from another person or place, the more fanciful your notions of them will be.
     I don't believe we can count on getting the kind of news a democracy needs until we end its addiction to advertising. It corrupts and censors media content, because commercial purposes and messages are almost never free of attachment, and attachment is a recipe for believing your own bullshit. More and more, this attachment sabotages public discourse.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

War on Drugs = War on Economics

     The economic Law of Supply & Demand is no more likely to be repealed by any Drug Czar than are the laws of physics which describe the engineering of the guns which are causing so much havoc further and further from the U.S.-Mexican border.
     The desire to kill one's physical and/or emotional pain - the typical motivations for self-medication - is immune to criminal punishments which only cause more pain.
     The most noticeable achievement of the War on Drugs is the creation of a black market where prices are directly related to the level of government enforcement of laws based on the idea that guns and prisons can reduce demand or supply. Of course, black market participants have no recourse to civil enforcement of contracts, so the law of the street is the rule. When might makes right, guns are the only law enforcement.
     Apparently the government is on drugs far more hallucinogenic than those consumed by the average addict, or even by Rush Limbaugh. The drug of wishful thinking is indeed potent, affecting voters as well.
     Why don't politicians try instead to heal the physical and emotional pain felt by so many? Maybe they want to keep getting campaign contributions from all the law enforcement agencies, private prison operators, and other corporations which make big bucks supplying junk food to all prisons. Maybe they think all the money spent on the criminal justice system represents economic growth and productivity.
     Why don't teachers notice and explain that the War on Drugs is based on atrociously bad science, a flagrantly bad example to young minds? Why don't journalists report on the corruption of science, or on the reasons for the physical and emotional pains that lead to addiction? Or on the fact that malnutrition causes much, even most, of the health problems associated with addiction? Or that healthy food can protect one from addiction? That healthy food can be affordable?
     Is it because they are afraid of being scapegoated and fired? That is the usual reaction to whistle-blowers and truth-sayers who rock comfy boats.
     But killing the messenger can't change the truth. And ignoring truth is just a recipe for more pain. They say you get what you pay for. Why not stop paying for the pain of more enforcement, more punishment, and more injustice? We certainly can't kill the pain with more guns.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sentimentality & Self-Righteousness

     The killing this weekend of the four unfortunate Oakland cops, presumably by Lovelle Mixon, comes less than three months after the killing of an unarmed man in Oakland by a BART cop on New Year's Day. This cannot have made Mr. Mixon feel any safer when his car was pulled over by Oakland cops, who have a reputation for brutality.
     Predictably, online comments are almost all snarky put-downs of blacks and progressives, or glorification of the guns belonging to our allegedly chivalrous protectors.
     Sentimental support for the protection racket is very popular, and very dangerous, as it affirms our feelings of powerlessness, and fails to address the accurate perceptions of danger among all residents of high-crime neighborhoods, whether they are law-abiding or the designated scapegoats.
     I found no comments about the stupidity of drug prohibition, nor about our inability to even have a meaningful public discussion about stupid laws which create felonies for no good reason. Not even two weeks ago, a Washington Post editor, speaking on C-SPAN, publicly ducked responsibility for not reporting on the idiocy of drug prohibition, let alone on the pathetically bad science which supports it.
     Nobody deserves this kind of fallout from our collective failure to practice meaningful democracy, neither Mr. Mixon nor the Oakland cops. But it will continue until we get smart.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Protection Racket & The Cult of Security

     On the research channel this morning, Dr. Robert Gould of Physicians for Social Responsibility spoke about U.S. military activities that are endangering the world and incidentally sabotaging our economic welfare.
     We all know about the kind of protection racket run by organized crime, but too few notice that cops and soldiers are also susceptible to this kind of sabotage. Mind you, that's not their intent. But organized use of physical force, whether government-sanctioned or not, inevitably contaminates the goal of safety, security and protection from (other) dangerous people.
     Paradoxically, like yin and yang, any idea carried to its extreme will shape-shift into its opposite. Thus, our natural desire for safety induces us to steep in a slowly warming bath of more and more security measures, typically involving physical separation from the designated threat. Paradoxically, in a police station where you would think people would feel safe, there is always more bullet-proof glass than anywhere else.
     Women who have patriarchal expectations inflicted on them are more likely to sense this paradox, but that doesn't stop many women from feeling safer with 'bad boys' who promise to protect them physically, in return for various services such as traditional women's work.
     Bad, unobedient girls, feminists like Susan Griffin, Susan Faludi, and Ellen Goodman, have made the connection between the personal and the political, extending the traditional meaning of "protection racket" to refer to men who 'rescue' women by insisting on protecting them from dangerous strangers when it is actually the so-called protector who will turn on the women who reject his protection and deprive him of his excuse for self-righteous violence. 
      And most men don't notice that they are just as vulnerable to this bullshit until they themselves are arrested, like Scott Baugh, the sanctimonious Republican who complained about being "assaulted by police officers during the search" of his home pursuant to suspicion of improper campaign contributions, according to the Fresno Bee of December 25, 1995. (Not surprisingly, instead of calling on WEAVE or his lawyer, Baugh called on his political buddies who froze the indicting DA out of the Republican old boys club.)
     But as Eve Ensler vividly explained in her recent book, "Insecure At Last," the perfect security con that apologists of wars and prisons are trying to sell you simply doesn't exist. The cultists of security want you to accept the bubble inside the protection racket without complaining, and certainly without any public hearings. 
     Don't let them smother you to death. Freedom requires insecurity. 
     There will always be things to fear, so it's easiest to just learn to adapt to your fears. Let your rational mind attend to the fears, and devote your heart to discerning what's best for all.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Capitalists Aren't Conservative

     In his recent book, "Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What's at Stake for American Power," Mark Schapiro describes the 21st-century divergence of consumer protections in the U.S. from just about everywhere else. 
     It's been a decade or more since the European Union decided to adopt the Precautionary Principle as a key guideline for consumer protection. But, wouldn't you know it, U.S. imperial capitalists want no part of this kind of conservative cautious approach. They would rather keep making the kind of easy money to be had when 'buyer beware' is the rule.
     The result is that the U.S. is in danger of becoming a dumping ground for toxic or substandard products of all kinds that other countries - including China - are deciding to ban. Make-up and other household products, pesticides, GMOs, cars, and electronic equipment are some of the key industrial sectors where U.S. standards are rapidly falling to dead last.
     Notice that farmers are particularly hard hit by lack of demand for GMO corn & soybeans; Schapiro reports that only ethanol demand has so far saved the U.S. commodities markets from a price-busting glut.
     Recently, at the California Small Farm Conference, I heard more bad news for family farmers who practice earth-friendly farming. Recent minor outbreaks of e. coli have blocked anti-erosion projects because government inspectors from cities think crops should be hermetically protected from the natural world, just because a few people got sick from eating bagged salad that was past its pull-date and had been sitting in its plastic germ incubator for too long.
     The other day, the Sacramento Bee reported that a federal judge upheld requirements that raw almonds, including organic ones, must be pasteurized to protect us from salmonella. (How do almonds get salmonella anyway?) This judge upheld the result of a weaselly process whereby the Almond Board of California got away with pretending it's a government agency that has the authority to promulgate regulations like this, despite the protests of a few consumers and nonprofit organizations who were paying attention.
     The solution? Labeling. Complete, transparent, honest labels on every product. Why wouldn't an honorable corporation want to share with consumers complete information on their products? Because they don't want you to know; if they tell the truth, people won't buy their crap.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Real Conservative Leaders Are Women

     The teapot tempest about Rush's leadership of Republicans blipped by my radar screen the other day, but no one seemed to be talking about what exactly the sacred conservative principles actually are. That's probably because the standard Republican version is about as self-contradictory as the Bible, an inconvenient fact which many religious conservatives are similarly in total denial about.
     For example, how can people whose Bible says "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" be comfortable in the same party as corporations who say 'Do unto others before they do unto you?'
     My Bible says "For where your treasure is, there will you heart be also. Behold the fowls of the air; for they sow not neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?" Where are the hearts of the Republican party's elected leaders who look at Mother Earth and think only of money and profit and never of loving stewardship?
     My Bible says "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it." How can anyone who understands that a shallow materialistic life is spiritually unsatisfying accept, let alone embrace, the cut-throat concept of homo economicus, an isolated individual in the lonely crowd? This inhumane view of humans is the uneasy foundation for most of the allegedly scientific mathematics on which modern economic analysis rests. But corporations believe that they will only make money if they never lose.
     My Bible says "The love of money is the root of all evil." Only people who don't believe this can support corporations whose god is profit or vote for politicians who gain office through multi-million dollar campaigns.
     But the reason that women are the real conservatives has little to do with the Bible. It is really about sex, and about children. You may have noticed that women can bear and care for just a few children, compared to the large number men can sow. Thus, women are constrained to be more risk-averse about their children's care, all other things being equal (as they say in economics).
     So if conservatism means being economical in using one's resources, if it means traditions of caution in adopting new habits, if it means using what you have rather than trashing your stuff and buying more because corporations are advertising you to death - then women are by definition the true conservatives.
     Not Rush. Anyone who disses women can't really be conservative.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

It's A Myth That War Is Good For The Economy

     While it's true that the stimulus of World War II played a role in ending the Depression of the 1930s, it's not true that military spending is economically healthy.
     As Bob Herbert pointed out today in the NYTimes, ongoing military spending in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere creates economic stress that the national budget can ill afford. While Obama has provided a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq, no end is in sight for Afghanistan.
     But Herbert overlooks other states where military spending remains high, namely the 50 United States. Canny military contractors and Congress have distributed manufacturing of military items throughout every congressional district in the nation, so addiction to these counter-productive jobs is widespread, despite then-President Eisenhower's prescient farewell warning about the military-industrial conspiracy. And of course these jobs are now even more difficult to forswear due to the unraveling of the worldwide economic system.
     Military spending is bad for the economy because it only produces things which are destructive, such as huge amounts of greenhouse gases. Moreover, the concept of the economy which was used during World War II excluded many necessary and important kinds of work, such as women's work, because it was unpaid and they needed to focus on paid work they could tax for the war effort. But this very incomplete picture of the economy has persisted since then, resulting in a highly lopsided and skewed notion of what's good for us economically. When crooks do this, it's called the protection racket.
     And as everyone knows, the protection racket doesn't care about actually taking care of women and children. If we really cared about children, none would be living in poverty rather than almost half now. If we really cared about children, bringing up children would be a respected and well-compensated profession. And if we really cared about our retirement security, we would be investing properly in the health, welfare, and education of all the children who will be taking care of us when we are too old to work. Bombs are not edible, and tanks do not empty bedpans.
     Now I realize it is comforting, especially to men, to unconsciously believe that mom loves you enough to take care of you for free. But there ain't no free lunch. Women need support as much as soldiers do. And they deserve it too.
     In classical times, men faced death in battle and women faced death in childbirth. But without the latter, the former is meaningless.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Corruption & Accountability

     We usually think of corruption as personal favors that subvert the proper procedures. But this kind of subversion is so common I can't help wondering if the personal relationship network is really the proper way to build human communities.
     Corruption of this kind is seen as subverting the ideal operation of the good classical and transparent economy. But nowadays the psychological economists point out that people just don't work that way anyway. Plus which, most students admit having cheated in school.
     People cheat when they think the end justifies the means. But the means are the ends in the making. If I cheat on papers and exams, what will I do when I get the job I cheated to achieve? I am always at risk of being less skilled and knowledgeable than others believe (if they are foolish enough to take my certificates at face value). I will never feel secure in my position as I would if I had just done my own work and learned the material, and achieved my own accomplishments without cheating or even without the blandishments of spin.
     A subtler example is the cop who portrays certain youth as scary gang members which makes his services seem more necessary. This is the protection racket. Such self-serving (and often unconscious) cops also fail to warn the public about the true underlying causes of the behavior labeled as criminal and dangerous, nor that the prescription of punishment is worse than the disease. Take the kid who hacked into his school's computer to raise his GPA by 1.9; he's now facing a possible 38-year sentence while Bush and Cheney are still at large. How can we trust a government that condones this?
     But who is accountable? And how would we recognize actual accountability if we saw it? What would it look like? Currently, I am using the ex-boyfriend standard. People who dodge the tough questions aren't being accountable. If an ex-boyfriend has the backbone to answer tough questions when he's not getting laid, he's worth keeping as a friend.
     So was Obama holding himself accountable when he took the rap for nominating Daschle? Maybe, but not in a useful way. There are way too many other tough questions he hasn't addressed (to my knowledge), like why the CIA really needs extraordinary rendition? Or why we need to continue to occupy Afghanistan and when will we stop? Or why we can't have a moratorium on evictions? Or why we can't just make the banks put homeless people in empty foreclosures, if they want more bailout money?
     I think Obama should hold Congress accountable. I believe the chief executive's function is to facilitate the will of Congress. Given current polarized partisan politics and absence of moderation, successful facilitation means insisting that both Democrats and Republicans take up the tough questions that, if addressed honestly and truthfully, will allow us to proceed in a sensible way. There are positive aspects to conservatism and to liberalism, even if they have been co-opted by ideologues. But we will never find them, let alone integrate them, while we accept weaseling, spinning, or changing the subject instead of insisting on honest and responsive answers.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Straining at Gnats & Swallowing Camels

     Why is everyone so worried about Blagojevich, Burris, Daschle, Geithner, and other garden-variety funny business that's just about money? Why are we giving the international war criminals, Bush & Cheney, a pass? Where is our perspective? 
     Do we really care more about traditional Chicago political games or cutting corners on one's tax return than we care about spending (eventually) trillions killing millions of Iraqis and destroying their infrastructure as well as the financial health of our own nation?
     Pretty pathetic. 

Monday, January 26, 2009

Sex Abuse & Zero-Tolerance Bullshit

     At a recent workshop state parole management staff described the challenges of finding housing for sex offenders covered by Megan's Law. The legal requirements suggest that magical thinking is widespread among voters. For one thing, sexual exploitation by strangers is a small minority of all sex abuse, most of which is perpetrated by family and trusted friends.
     CDCR staffers also shared anecdotes about the extremes some people will go to in order to achieve the precision specified - 2000 feet and not an inch less even if they have to hire a surveyor to prove it. Or the insta-park designed expressly to exclude the evils of sex from their sanitary suburb. 
     But there's another problem with zero-tolerance. It's a step on a particularly slippery slope that leads to persecution and facism. It makes people feel like they are doing something without actually having to take the trouble to understand anything.
     And I can't help noticing that strangers can only sexually molest children when the parents aren't there. Late last year I read in the paper about a career couple whose nanny was subcontracting some of the work to a cheaper babysitter. Apparently this had gone on for years before she was found out by accident and NOT because the parents were paying attention or talking to their kid enough to notice.
     So how many people like that voted for Megan's Law because they are actually neglecting their kids and can't admit it? Taking your unconscious guilt out on people who in many cases are nonviolent, passive and pathetic is mean and lame.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Watch Out For the Thought Police!

The only other choice is to figure out our own defenses against bullshit. As defined by Harry G. Frankfurt, bullshit isn't necessarily a lie. It's persuasion by any means necessary. The motive is to achieve a certain effect, and a bullshit artist believes the ends justify the means.