Wrapped in the Flag and Carrying a Cross.

18 06 2016

That headline is from a quote by Sinclair Lewis which seems more and more to be chillingly prescient. Here’s another quote appropriate to the topic at hand:

Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.”- George Santayana

You may be curious about where I’m going with these quotes. I’m going to post a link to a news article here that will make my meaning crystal clear:

http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/14/politics/newt-gingrich-house-un-american-activities-committee/

Is everyone all through vomiting at the idea? Good. Let us continue.

For those who may have been living in a cave for the past few decades, there is an election approaching. This country has been mired in an election campaign for what seems like six or seven squintillion years. A campaign where the presumed nominee of one of the two major political parties has been openly espousing fascist ideology and overt racism to throngs of cheering supporters. Those same supporters who appear to be just fine with physically attacking anyone who vaguely hints at disagreement with their Leader or anyone with a less than lilly white skin tone. Supporters who have openly warned they would resort to violence if their Leader doesn’t win.

That’s bad enough, but now we have a retired politician from that same major political party saying- on camera- to a news organization that the country needs to return to the halcyon days of yesteryear in the form of the House Un-American Activities Commission. If you aren’t familiar with HUAC, go look it up. I’ll wait.

Here’s a bit of background for those unwilling to learn from history. In the 1950’s, a US Congressman names Joseph McCarthy claimed that he was in possession of a list of communists who had “infiltrated” the US government. He gleefully exploited public fear over the “Red Menace” (OMFG- the eebil rooshians are gonna come pollute our precious bodily fluids!) to establish the House Un-American Activities Commission in order to search out these communist infiltrators, wherever they might be- presumably including under your bed.

And so, the witch hunt was on. American citizens were accused to being communists or communist sympathizers, and the resulting public furor meant most of them lost their jobs and couldn’t get hired anywhere else. People were exhorted to inform on their friends, neighbors, and relatives if there was even a vague hint of “un-American activities”. Fear and prejudice and panic ensued, resulting in the director of the FBI investigating thousands of government employees to determine if they were sufficiently loyal to the United States- essentially based upon whether or not J Edgar Hoover agreed with their politics. Actors, writers, journalists, and publishers joined government workers in the endless search for the evil commies.

Please note that there was no burden of proof involved. Merely being accused was enough to destroy someone’s life and livelihood, and even successfully avoiding getting convicted in court wasn’t enough to undo the damage caused by being denounced.

This is what “the smartest man in the GOP” has publicly called for. On camera.

Never mind that HUAC was a cynically successful ploy by a small number of senior government officials and congressmen to gather more power for themselves. All these few people had to do was continually warn everyone they were in danger from godless communism and should therefore allow the power of the US government to be turned upon US citizens without check or hindrance. And the American people fell for it.

And a large number of Americans are being led down the same path to Hell today by their Leader.

Ooga booga! The evil moose limbs are coming to kill your children. Only we can protect you from this existential threat, but you gotta let us throw out that pesky Constitution in order to keep you safe. We pinky swear these powers will only be used against “them“. Them. The “others“. The people who don’t worship your god the same way you do. The people possessed of insufficiently white skin pigmentation. People who speak other languages. People who disagree with you politically. “Them“.

Shockingly, this message of xenophobia and bigotry is finding eager listeners among people who aren’t willing to use their brains much. Thinking is hard, and so is remembering lessons learned from long ago. Sure, it turns out that locking up tens of thousands of Americans who happened to be descended from Nipponese immigrants was stupid, expensive, wrong, and totally ineffective. Never mind that. This time is different, because … uh … because reasons.

Actually, there is a reason why dumb white people are buying into this line of thinking. There’s a reason why they have so much trouble articulating the source of their ignorant fear, and that reason is demographics. It turns out that white people will soon be less than half of the population. Oh, the horror! Rather than learning to treat other people equally, these dim-as-five-feet-up-a-pig’s-ass yokels are willing to destroy the very thing that made this country great: our non-homogenous society.

Every group of immigrants has made America richer. They bring in new ideas, new foods and drink, new attitudes, new beliefs, and America gets better and stronger from adopting the globe-spanning range of new stuff brought here by immigrants. And every single one of those immigrant groups is treated like shit by the descendants of previous immigrants. In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was the Irish being vilified by descendants of English and Dutch immigrants.When Italians began arriving on our shores, the descendants of those Irish immigrants who been the subject of bigotry treated the Italians the same way. Asians, Africans, and Jews have been perennial victims of American xenophobia, along with anyone from any cultural background who doesn’t belong to the right religious group. They’re different, and therefore suspicious- if not outright evil.

Here’s a clue chit for the small-minded bigots among us: Different does not equal evil. Stranger does not mean enemy. Those “foreigners” you’re wetting your panties about aren’t foreigners anymore- they’re Americans. What are you imbeciles afraid of?

I want you

WITCH HUNT by Rush

The night is black
Without a moon
The air is thick and still
The vigilantes gather on
The lonely torch lit hill

Features distorted in the flickering light
The faces are twisted and grotesque
Silent and stern in the sweltering night
The mob moves like demons possessed
Quiet in conscience, calm in their right
Confident their ways are best

The righteous rise
With burning eyes
Of hatred and ill-will
Madmen fed on fear and lies
To beat and burn and kill

They say there are strangers who threaten us
In our immigrants and infidels
They say there is strangeness too dangerous
In our theaters and bookstore shelves
That those who know what’s best for us
Must rise and save us from ourselves

Quick to judge
Quick to anger
Slow to understand
Ignorance and prejudice
And fear walk hand in hand…

Current status: Appalled

Current music: We Belong by Pat Benatar

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Enough is Enough!

6 10 2013

Key-riced! Just when you think Congress couldn’t get any more irrational, they go and pull this crap.

For those of you living in a cave, or who get all their news from a certain vulpine “news” network (essentially the same thing, I admit), a small faction of one party in one half of one third of the government have decided to stamp their little feet and hold their breath until they turn blue unless they get their own way. They’re also threatening to take their ball and go home, completely ignoring the fact that it isn’t their ball to begin with. What’s worse, the supposed leader of that portion of the government- the horribly misnamed House of Representatives- is playing along with these imbecilic spoilsports as they ride their bikes at full speed toward the edge of the Grand Canyon.

Let’s take a look at this “House of Representatives”. They do not appear to be very representative of the country at all. The median net worth of House members is just a skosh under a million dollars. This is something like twelve times the median net worth of Americans in general. Leaving aside net worth, members of the House are paid $176,000.00 per year. The median US income is $51,000.00 per year (less than 1/3 what a Congresscritter makes). Women and minorities are dramatically under-represented, making the so-called House of Representatives a misnomer unless we’re talking about representing the richer areas of Vermont or New Hampshire.

So a cabal of psychologically stunted rich white guys have decided that they’re going to shut down the government and are threatening to tank the world’s economy  unless they get their way. Why are we letting a small group of extremist pinheads hold the country (and possibly the world) hostage unless we agree to their petty demands? I thought we didn’t negotiate with terrorists.

That is what the current situation boils down to- a hostage situation. A few desperate extremists are threatening economic violence unless their unreasonable demands are met. Unlike every other hostage situation in history, the US media seems determined to avoid casting the hostage-takers in an unsympathetic light. There’s endless blather about stalemate, gridlock, and similar weasel-words, but none of the US “news” outlets are willing to call it a hostage situation. In fact, the only place you hear comparisons to hostage-taking is on late-night comedy shows and on a few blogs (or similar non-media web sources).

The really scary part of this is the fact that no one seems to have any idea how the hostage-takers plan to get out of this. They have publicly announced that they have no strategy or end game. They are clueless about how to avoid the consequences of their petulant actions. All of their options end up with the opposite of what they claim to have wanted at the start of the hostage-taking.

More rational actors- denizens of Bedlam, for example- might realize that they’ve publicly fornicated the canine on National TV, murmur something vaguely apologetic, and quickly retire to a corner pub in the hopes that they could avoid any further disgrace by keeping quiet and off the public radar. This particular batch of loons are incapable of shutting the fuck up- and damn the consequences. Every time one of these guanopsychotic suits gets his or her face in front of a microphone or camera, they are apparently psychologically compelled to blurt out whatever imbecilic ramblings that pass for thought in their minds. They can’t help being stupid in public, bless their poor, dear hearts.

Not too long ago, people like these would have been kept out of sight by relatives or State institutions. Even when allowed out in public, the words and actions of such people were dismissed with embarrassment by those who knew them. “I’m sorry about Uncle Edward. He just can’t control himself, bless his heart. Pay him no mind.”

Now, however, the loonies are running the asylum. And we are all in the rooms with mattress wallpaper wondering what the fuck happened.

Not everyone is aware of the consequences of a government shut-down yet. Here are a few low-lights:

– Close to a million government workers have been sent home without pay.

– Those government workers who are still at their jobs are also not getting paid, although they might get back pay whenever Congress gets its act together.

– A large number of contractors working for the government have been sent home- also without pay.

– All of those people not getting paid are tightening their belts and cutting back on expenditures to ride out this Congressional temper tantrum. This means that everyone who does business with those people is suddenly earning less money. So they cut back on their expenses- perhaps they order fewer replacement parts or supplies. All of their suppliers are suddenly going to see a drop in their revenue streams as well. Can you say ripple effect?

– After a week of furlough from the shut-down, Federal workers are all eligible for Unemployment benefits. Imagine what the October labor report will look like after a million or so Federal employees and contractors all sign up for Unemployment. Note that the states where these people live will have to pay out more than they had planned, resulting in state and local budget issues as well.

And all of this is yours, thanks to the actions of a few spoiled children in the inaptly-named House of Representatives.

 

Current status: Enraged

Current music: Toccata and Fugue in D by Johann Sebastian Bach





Cliff Diving

3 12 2012

If you are considered a sentient life form and live in the United States, you should know about the “looming fiscal cliff”. In order to remain ignorant of the “fiscal cliff”, you would have to work very hard at avoiding any form of media for months on end- starting back in June. Since you are reading this on your computer, I can safely assume you might be aware of the existence of this fiduciary peril. Not many people really understand much beyond the nifty name, however. In order to do any trace amounts of justice to the topic, I’ll have to delve into some history. Try not to disturb the other students with your snoring.

Back in the bad old days (the summer of 2011), the US government was about to hit its Congressionally-set limit on how much money it could borrow. This is known as the “Debt Ceiling”. Historically, whenever the government approaches this limit, Congress harumphs loudly and raises its own credit limit. This is possible because Congress is apparently immune to cause and effect, rational thought, or any possibility of serving the public who hired them. The idea of living within our national means does not seem to have occurred to anyone in Congress, ever.

At any rate, raising the debt ceiling- particularly in the middle of a fiscal year- was never a big deal until the summer of 2011. That was when the opponents of President Obama decided to use what used to be a pro-forma action to get even with him for being insufficiently republican, or something. Despite a couple of centuries of nearly-automatic approval for raising the debt limit, the House of Representatives voted to play “chicken” with the country’s credit rating.

Mind you, a great many people whose business it is to know such things warned repeatedly that playing stupid political games over the country’s ability to borrow money would have consequences. These warnings had no observable effect on the Congress-critters who were dead set on using the issue to punish the president for some imagined transgressions. The credit ratings agencies which decide how much it costs to borrow money weighed in, warning that this sort of partisan dickery would lower the country’s credit rating, but Congress didn’t listen- even after the US credit rating was downgraded. The end result of this political bullshit? Glad you asked. First, it now costs the government more to borrow money, making our financial situation even less secure. Second, Congress decided to pass a law allowing our debt limit to increase if a certain set of conditions were met. The rest of the government agreed to meet those conditions, and the crisis was averted … sort of.

Those “conditions” in exchange for increasing the debt ceiling were pretty basic. First, Congress would have to form a special committee to negotiate budget and spending cuts to avoid such problems in future. This committee would be formed of equal numbers of democrats and republicans, from both Houses of Congress, and they had to come to an agreement by a certain date, or a bunch of extremely painful spending cuts would automatically take effect … more than a year later. If you think that all boils down to merely postponing the problem until after the next General Election, you have a lot of company in that opinion.

To no one’s surprise, the Super-Committee utterly failed to reach any sort of agreement, so- theoretically- a great many budget cuts would automatically take place on January 1st, 2013 (the so-called “Fiscal Cliff”). The problem, of course, is that Congress can always pass a law to nullify the law they passed earlier. The House republicans were confident that they’d win enough additional seats in the House and Senate (and possibly the White House) during the General Election to allow them to merely ignore the spending cuts by Congressional fiat.

Oops.

Contrary to the optimistic predictions of the republicans, they lost seats in the House and Senate and failed to win the Presidency. The ultra-faux-conservative “Tea Party” wing of the republican party took the brunt of the public ire, which might- theoretically- make it easier for House republicans to compromise with democrats and the White House to avoid the upcoming budget cuts. Early returns are in, and the same problems which prevented the “Super-Committee” from accomplishing anything are still in place. The Speaker of the House is still acting like he’s the one driving the debate, and is unwilling to compromise. The democrats are acting like they were the big winners in the General Election, and are pushing for concessions from the republicans. The People … well, we’re pretty much screwed no matter what happens.

One of the painful budget issues which start on New Year’s Day is the expiration of the “temporary” tax cuts from the previous administration. This means that everyone in the US who earns a paycheck is going to pay more in taxes. One group in the government wants to make those tax cuts permanent. Their opponents want to allow the tax cuts to expire, then re-instate them for everyone making less than $250K per year. Since neither side appears to be willing to budge on this, you can count on paying more in taxes in 2013. It will be mildly painful- basically returning to the tax levels from the end of the Clinton administration- but we, the People, have survived worse. It’s the rest of the slash-and-burn budget cutting which is going to really throw a wrench into the economy’s gears.

Here is the White House description of what is going to happen should the government go over the fiscal cliff. Note that, even in an official White House document, the President can’t resist taking a few partisan jabs at his opponents. Note also that Congress wrote a lot of exemptions into the budget butchery they approved. Things like Congressional perks are in no danger of having to make sacrifices.

Short version (the linked document is almost 400 pages long): Sweeping spending cuts to every single program in the federal budget go into effect on January 1st. These cuts will affect every program, no matter how important. The democrats are facing cuts to social welfare programs like Medicare, and the republicans are facing deep cuts in military programs. Everyone will feel the pain. Congress-critters will face lost jobs in their districts as government and military programs are reduced or eliminated. People on Welfare or Medicare will get less support from the Federal government and the States. Consumer Safety organizations will be forced to curtail inspections of workplaces, factories, and food-production facilities. The military will have to eliminate research and development of weapons systems and procurement of replacement parts. People will lose their jobs. The ripple effects from this sort of draconian budget cutting will slow the economy so badly we may slip back into recession and stay there for a long time. Among other things, our credit rating will take another hit, making it even harder for the government to borrow money.

Why is all this happening? Why is the government risking the lives and livelihoods of millions of Americans on political brinksmanship? The short answer is the fact that our elected representatives are more interested in making political points than in doing the job they were hired to do (running the country, for those of you not paying attention).

Governing in a democracy- or a democratic republic like ours- is dependent upon compromise. Those who we elect to represent us in government are expected to do the work of keeping the country running. This involves providing basic functions which are beyond the ability of individuals, localities, or States to provide. Our elected representatives are expected to debate, negotiate, and compromise as necessary to provide these essential functions and services.  Despite that, our elected representatives spend most of their time trying to score points at the expense of their political rivals. The tone of political discourse has grown increasingly combative and strident over the last couple of decades. Both sides demonize the other, and issue public statements claiming that their political rivals are enemies of the people. This is hardly an environment conducive to debate, negotiation, or compromise. Why do they continue with this course of action, which is so profoundly at odds with their actual job?

Because we let them get away with it.

Too many Americans are willing to allow their elected representatives to commit any perfidy so long as they aren’t personally discomfited thereby. So long as they have a few perks of their own, too many Americans have been willing to let the government descend into partisan bickering and gridlock because there was something amusing or titillating on TV. Guess what, Sparky? The free ride is over. Best part? It’s your own damned fault.

So buckle in, everyone. We’re going for a wild ride over a fiscal cliff of our own making. Note that the safety of those buckles cannot be guaranteed, because the government regulators who are supposed to inspect them for quality were laid off. Enjoy the ride!

Wile-E-Coyote_falling

Current status: Disgusted

Current music: Young Turks by Rod Stewart





What’s in a Name?

25 10 2011

How about … bullshit?

The doddering old geeps who currently infest the halls of government in the Logic-Free Zone (who are collectively unlikely to understand email, let alone anything complicated like the internet), have decided that we cannot be trusted with free and unfettered access to data online and are trying to pass a law called- ironically- the PROTECT IP Act. This name is ironic, because the actual wording of the legislation- as currently written- protects nothing more than the unearned income of the RIAA, MPAA, and similar parasitic organizations.

Remember the First Amendment to the US Constitution- the one preventing Congress from passing any laws abridging free speech? It seems that our bought-and-paid-for Congresstoadies have decided that it would be a better idea to legislatively turn that power over to a couple of corporations and bypass that pesky 1st Amendment thing. Under this law as written, any website can be held criminally and civilly liable for any copyright infringements committed by any user of the website. In short, corporations can censor and shut down any web site accused of copyright infringement. Note that I said, “accused”. Not convicted- merely accused. As currently written, an employee of RIAA (for example) could accuse me of using this blog to infringe on copyrighted materials. Without benefit of trial or even presenting a warrant, RIAA would be able to shut me down based solely on the say-so of any random stranger. Think about that for a moment and realize why I referred to the 1st Amendment in the past tense. RIAA and MPAA don’t have a history of malicious litigation against totally innocent people, after all. We can trust them, right?

In a pig’s eye. We, the People, don’t trust our elected representatives with this sort of power. Why should we trust another entity without even the tenuous level of control we currently hold over Congress?

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Bill of Rights and the protections it guarantees for individual liberties, let me put this another way. As written, Youtube, FaceBook, Twitter, and every news aggregator site in existence would be forced to shut down. That’s just for openers. Any site with user-generated content would be hostage to the tender mercies of whatever rapacious corporate entity was unhappy with their content.

Aside from giving faceless corporate drones total control over online content (and thereby destroying the internet) in the interest of nearly microscopic profit increases for their corporate masters, why would our trusted and honorable elected flunkies corporate whores representatives want to do such a thing? Why would those in power feel threatened by free and unfettered communications and information?

Perhaps the worthless cretins in our gummint have been paying attention to the so-called “Arab Spring”. Without exception, the uprisings and revolutions occurring throughout the middle east were fueled and organized by ordinary people with Twitter and FaceBook and YouTube accounts. By an odd coincidence, those are the very communication tools this bill seems to have been written to control or destroy. Whodathunkit?

Methinks it is time and past  time to remind our elected representatives who they are supposed to be working for. Any congressmoron who votes for this bill (and this has “broad, bi-partisan support”, so neither political party should escape our righteous wrath) should be drummed out of office- preferably immediately. These vermin-in-office are “public servants”, and we are the fucking public. The sponsors and co-sponsors of this bill should probably be indicted for treason, and- if convicted- shot.

Perhaps the “distinguished” members of the House and Senate haven’t thought their cunning plan all the way through. If this bill passes as written (or even in any vaguely similar form), the US Government will effectively- and immediately- piss off almost everyone in the country at the same time. Many businesses would be crippled by this bill, and millions of voters would be mightily wroth at the loss of their social media and porn. The only “people” (I include corporate drones and executives as an unearned courtesy) who will like this law are those who make their living shitting on the American people as a matter of habit. Revolutions have been started for less.

You “honorable” members of the House and Senate may wish to read the Declaration of Independence sometime. It’s obvious you incompetent shills have never done so before. Read the bits listing the sins of King George, and realize that those exact same crimes can be laid at your collective feet. Your current actions are in direct contravention of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights- which you paid buffoons swore an oath to protect and defend. If Congress cannot or will not uphold their oaths to the Constitution, they will have abrogated any authority they may currently hold and removed any possible justification for their continued pay and privileges. Congress serves the People of the United States, not various wealthy corporations at the expense of the People.

Let us go back to Ed Howdershelt’s Four Boxes: “There are four boxes to be used in the defense of liberty: soap, ballot, jury and ammo. Please use in that order.”

We can use the First Box right now. Send an email, tweet, postcard, or phone call to your congresscritter and senator and make sure they know you oppose this malicious legislation. If they fail to listen to their constituents, we open that Second Box and vote the motherfuckers out of office. ALL OF THEM. If this fails to correct the problem, take the bastards to court. This sort of assault on our basic liberties should be easy to fight in court- assuming the federal courts are even remotely as independent as their documented status under the Constitution. If the courts uphold this law, we’d be forced to open that last box, and that would be the end of the United States. For those of you not certain about it, this would be a BAD THING. Every rational person in this country should do their utmost to avoid getting to that point. Evidently rational people are somewhat scarce on Capitol Hill. Who knew?

There are already peaceful mass protests going on in most of our major cities. These protests have largely been marginalized by the government and media- despite their numbers and endurance. Add in a populace growing increasingly frantic financially and feeling betrayed by those in power, and season with sweeping legislation from Congress which demonstrates in no uncertain terms that our government has become the legislative arm of the extremely wealthy. Cook quickly by- effectively-  shutting down the internet, and voila! Revolution.

The really sad bit is that the scenario I’m painting here is easily avoidable. All it would take to avoid this whole mess is for our politicians to realize that blatantly fucking over 300 million armed and increasingly desperate people is incomprehensibly stupid. We, the People, have been very forgiving of Congressional misdeeds so long as the basic social contract between governed and government is maintained, but our patience and tolerance has limits. Brazenly and openly treating the People like serfs will neither be forgiven nor forgotten. Under those circumstances, those who see themselves as our rulers would be considered fortunate to only get turned out of office.

It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress. -Mark Twain

Current status: Enraged

Current music: Touch of Grey by the Grateful Dead





A Smattering of Miscellania

24 07 2011

When I post an article here, I prefer to focus on one subject- or at least, on a series of deeply inter-related topics. This gives me space to delve into the facts and occasionally extrapolate the consequences of those facts into the future. Sometimes, however, the topic du jour does not lend itself to such analysis and discussion, which would result in a very brief posting with commensurately less value. At other times, there are so many topics in the news that I have trouble providing the depth of focus those events deserve. This is one of those times.

NewsCorp

According to most researchers not directly involved on either side, Montgomery Burns’ Rupert Murdoch’s publications have been conducting illegal raids into the cell phones of newsmakers for a considerable period of time. Aside from being illegal, the information so gathered is unlikely to be considered newsworthy to anyone with an IQ higher than room temperature. The now-defunct News of the World, however, pandered directly to the prurient interests of the stupid. The editors of that rag therefore gleefully published every hint of salacious gossip they could squeeze out of those illegal downloads- and profited mightily. All that is bad- unquestionably immoral as well as illegal.

Those same researchers have concluded that many other publications and news organizations use essentially the same slimy tactics to draw in readers/viewers, and thereby increase their ad revenue. For this, they should all be lined up outside Parliament to answer for their misdeeds. NewsCorp’s goons went completely beyond the pale, however. Where Murdoch’s henchmen really jerked the trigger was when they hacked into the voice mail records of a missing girl who later turned out to have been murdered. Completely erasing any vain hopes that they might yet retain a few shreds of human decency, the hackers deleted some of the voice mails in order to allow more voice mails to be recorded for them to profit from. There is some evidence that NewsCorp personnel also tried to hack into the voice mail records of victims of the 9/11 attacks for the same purposes. If either claim is true, the perpetrators should be lined up against a wall and shot.

There is an unspoken bargain between the media and the public. We put up with many of their questionable antics as part of the price we have agreed to pay for unfettered access to the truth. In return, the media are supposed to report the facts and occasionally give their opinions on the significance of those facts. We have accepted that certain public figures will lose a significant amount of privacy as a result of this bargain, but those who become newsworthy through no fault of their own- like young women who get kidnapped and murdered, for example- should be allowed as much privacy as possible by the media. News organizations which breach this public trust should be scoured from the Earth with fire. The survivors should then take the lessons to heart, and we could then return to factual news reporting in lieu of the “journalistic, infotainment-like art product” we are now subjected to.

Putting the “Final” in Final Frontier

I’ve written about NASA before, and rarely in a positive way. In a generation, NASA went from the bleeding edge of space exploration to bumming rides into orbit from the Russians. The US has received great benefits from our exploration of space, not least of which is a lot of national pride. That pride has been misplaced for at least a couple of decades. NASA turned away from sustainable manned space exploration in favor of the shuttle program. If the shuttles had been used as originally intended- as part of a generational effort to send humans throughout the solar system- the US space program would not now be in its current sorry state.

Relying on private industry to return Americans to space will be a very long wait. The return-on-investment from space exploration takes a very long time, and the up-front non-recoverable expenses are enormous. There’s a reason the Russian, European, Chinese, and Japanese governments run their respective space programs- only government have the cash to undertake such dangerous work with the pay-off taking generations.

In their short-sighted ignorance, Congress is turning the country’s back on space. Never mind the material benefits we’ve already received from space exploration, just considering the military advantages of mastering space makes this decision a turning point in America’s destiny. We have stopped looking forward, and started turning inward. Historically, societies which do this tend to decline rapidly.

I’ve said this before, and it’s still true: Humans will explore and exploit the solar system. Those humans will almost certainly not be speaking English.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

When the news first broke about the carnage in Oslo, almost everybody immediately jumped to the conclusion that Islamic extremists were responsible. This could perhaps be understood, given that Islamic extremism gets most of the press these days. What is less understandable is the fact that few of those who publicly denounced the massacre in Norway as the result of Islamic fundamentalism have come forward to admit they were wrong. Another fact which is less than understandable is the relative paucity of news coverage on this side of the Atlantic. As soon as the bomber/shooter was revealed to be a right-wing christian conservative xenophobe, the coverage dropped off precipitously.

Granted, US news organizations are traditionally uninterested in news overseas which doesn’t involve Americans, but the speed at which this story dropped below the fold is astonishing. Apparently, you can;t sell newspapers or advertising space unless the atrocities are committed by muslims.  We need to get past this blind spot and face facts- there are a lot of loonie-toons out there. I guarantee that several people knew the shooter and many more read his facebook. Those people could have called attention to the fact that he had lost his ticket to the rationality train and this tragedy might have been prevented thereby. We also need to come to grips with the fact that almost every single muslim you meet is just an ordinary person going about his or her life just like you are. He or she is entitled to believe what they wish, providing their actions on those beliefs do not intrude upon the rights of others- just like you. I have no use for Islam, or any other flavor of religion. That said, my personal desire to have no truck with gods does not make me hate those who want to believe. Instead of focusing on the fact that another person might believe something differently than you do, try paying attention to how they act. Minding your own business is the very best rule for a civilized society. The fact that so many are unwilling or unable to mind their own business is direct evidence that our society is no civilized.

To Be or Not To Be

… in a world of shit. That is the question. Whether ’tis nobler to ignore the manifold stupidities coming out of Washington or endure the intelligence-destroying fumes throughout the Logic-Free Zone in an attempt to forestall a global economic disaster.

Leaving my butchery of Shakespeare aside for the moment, the gaggle of criminal imbeciles we’ve elected to Congress are playing a game of Chicken- with the life and livelihood of most of the planet as the stakes. No matter who “wins”, we all lose. For those of you who don’t understand the extent of the crisis, let’s review a couple of basic facts:

1- The US currency is what is known as “fiat” currency. This means that it is backed up by nothing more than “the full faith and credit of the US Government”. In other words, you can buy something with a dollar because everybody agrees that it is a viable medium of exchange. There are some very good reasons why this is so, but there are risks.

2- The US dollar is the world’s reserve currency. Translated, this means that the dollar is accepted all around the world for almost any purchases. Many other currencies measure their value against the US dollar. The US government makes a modest amount of profit from these facts, and our current consumer-based economy is absolutely dependent upon it.

3- One of the biggest outstanding debts in the US budget are Treasury bonds. The US borrows money by selling bonds, with a promise to pay the buyer back with more money than the original purchase. US treasury bonds are considered the safest investment on the planet, and everybody buys them. The US enjoys extremely low interest rates when borrowing money as a result of the stellar reputation of our bonds for safety. Congress- specifically, the House of Representatives- decides how many bonds the government can sell. This is known as the Debt Ceiling.

4- The Debt Ceiling was actually reached back in May of this year. This means that the US government can only pay out what is currently coming in. In order to buy more time before a default, the US government started cutting back on some functions to allow Congress to raise the debt ceiling and keep the government operating.

5- The US takes in about $200 Billion each month in revenues (taxes, fees, etc). We pay out about $330 Billion each month. Once we reach the end of our current reserves, many government functions will be completely shut down for lack of money.

In the event Congress fails to pull their heads from their collective asses, the President will have to make a whole bunch of difficult choices on which bill gets paid. Failure to pay interest on our outstanding debt  (currently estimated at $400 Billion per year) would cause economic upheaval all over the world. Leaving all that aside for a moment, it would also cost the US our current low interest rate for debt. Among other things, our annual debt-service payment would rise to somewhere north of $600 Billion per year. Any future borrowing would also be subject to higher interest rates, creating a self-perpetuating spiral of default and higher payments.

Now let us examine some of those real-world repercussions from a US default. Financial institutions all around the world would take a beating as customers try to convert their savings into usable forms. International trade would be severely affected for decades until a stable reserve currency could be created. US business would find it harder to do business overseas as credit dries up. Several million government workers- including the military- would suddenly find themselves going without a paycheck. Companies which provide goods and services to the government would stop getting paid and no new orders for their goods and services would be coming in. Furloughed government workers would have to dramatically cut back on expenses until the mess gets straightened out, and some of them will go bankrupt. The businesses which provide goods and services to those people would take a large financial hit from which many will not recover. The people thrown out of work as a result of this will all be looking for unemployment benefits, which the states will be unlikely to be able to pay. State services which are partially or wholly funded by the Federal government such as Medicare and Medicaid will suffer funding cuts, which will affect the services they can offer.

The ripple effects of a default would leave chaos and catastrophe in their wake, both here and overseas. Yet our elected officials are playing political games with the lives and livelihoods of billions of people at stake. Whether or not the debt ceiling gets raised, the stupid antics of the clowns-in-office is putting the country’s credit rating at risk. Our government’s inability to do their fucking jobs without playing political fuck-you games is a greater threat than any number of homicidal religious fanatics.

That’s All Folks

That’s all for this week. Don’t forget to stock up on booze, porn, and ammunition. You can use the ammo to protect booze and porn you’ll be trading for food.

Current status: Disgusted

Current music: Pumped Up Kicks by Foster the People





Jerky Knees

11 01 2011

I love the smell of feel-good, do-nothing legislative pandering. It smells like … fucking stupidity.

In the wake of the massacre in Tucson this past weekend, a republican Congressmoron from New York has proposed new legislation which would make it illegal to carry a firearm within 1,000 feet of any federal government official or judge. I’ll give you all a moment to let that sink in.

All done? Excellent. I wager that a large minority of the people reading this might be nodding their heads in agreement with this idea. A somewhat larger minority are probably scratching their heads and saying, “That probably isn’t Constitutional.” The few remaining readers are probably staring at their monitor screens in shock.

Let me clue those larger groups in on a couple of basic facts regarding this proposed legislation: In the first place, it won’t work. Short of disarming the entire population by force (also impossible under our government as Constituted), there is no way of preventing armed citizens from entering this zone of exclusion. Is the Federal government going to physically search every citizen who gets within 1,000 feet of every government official? What about people who live within 1,000 feet of a official’s home? Do these people suddenly lose their right to keep and bear arms because Joe or Jane Congresscritter down the street just got elected? What about other government officials? Will judges be forbidden from having armed security? Will the President be forced to go without Secret Service protection? If the law does not apply to everyone equally, it probably won’t pass Constitutional challenge in the courts.

Second, assuming a miracle occurred to make this legislation work as intended, it would not have prevented Saturday’s tragedy. You see, anyone who has decided to kill a government official (or anyone else, for that matter) is probably not too worried about the fact that he or she would be breaking the law by doing so. It’s already illegal to commit murder, and the would-be murderer isn’t bothered by breaking that law. Why would one more law stop him/her? Furthermore, having read the “alleged” shooter’s diatribes, I can safely say that he was and is a genuine whackjob (I am not a psychologist, nor do I play one on TV, but nobody with a properly functioning cerebellum could possibly think the shooter was sane). He’s goofier than bug shit, and no laws were going to slow him down or even mildly inconvenience him from committing mass murder. According to the reports I read, the shooter was carrying ninety rounds of ammunition for his pistol. He obviously planned on killing as many people as possible before he went down. Does anyone really think that some words on a piece of paper would have stopped him?

Third, this horseshit legislation is un-Constitutional on its face. Unless Rep. Pete King (the panties-wetting toady behind this legislation) is planning on overturning the Second Amendment and a whole host of Supreme Court rulings based upon it, anyone even mildly perturbed by this proposed law could successfully challenge it in court with almost no legal training whatsoever. The end result of this legislation- whether or not it gets passed- is a great deal of wasted time, energy, and money. This country is just a little short on all three these days, so I am deeply pissed off by Rep. King’s stupid antics- even more than the antics of Congress usually piss me off.

Even more despicable than King’s blatant stupidity is the shameless jockeying by both major parties to take political advantage of the brutal murder of six innocents. This happens when any major news event grabs the nation’s attention, and it’s sickening every time. In lieu of dealing with the actual problems (in this case, the dearth of effective mental health care- and the funding thereof- for people like the shooter), government officials are quick to slap a few Band-Aids™ over the symptoms of the problem in order to crow about how they “took decisive action” to deal with the crisis-du-jour by passing feel-good legislation which accomplishes nothing. They get the appearance of action to lull the public into a false sense of security without having to face up to the really tough decisions.

Hey, Congress! If you really want to do something to prevent another tragedy like Tucson, why not look into the abysmal condition of mental-health services in this country? The last few tragedies like Tucson had plenty of warnings leading up to them, but our mental-health systems couldn’t act on the problems because of: A- lack of reporting, B- lack of statutory authority, C- lack of funding, or D- all of the above. Despite the Tucson shooter’s known or suspected mental issues, he did not get the medical attention he obviously needed. Because he was never identified as having mental problems, there was no legal way of preventing him from buying a gun. Fix that problem without further destroying the public’s civil rights, and you’ll have real accomplishments to replace the empty rhetoric, posturing, and blatant pandering to the lowest common denominator which is what passes for government action these days.

In the meantime, and I mean this with all due respect, Representative Peter King is cordially invited to devour an entire bowl of dicks. The same goes for the rest of the two-legged vermin in Congress who are trying to make political hay on the corpses of six innocents.

Current status: Livid

Current music: I Will Follow You Into the Dark by Death Cab For Cutie





Sick and Tired

23 08 2009

Against my better judgement, I’m going to hurl myself into the breach of rational debate regarding the proposed reformation of health care in the US. This action I deem necessary due to the total lack of rational debate on the subject. Demagogues and pundits on all sides are substituting volume for facts.

Please take a moment and review the Constitution of the United States, particularly Article I. This article identifies the powers and limitations of Congress. Please note that this was written a long time ago by men who were among the intelligentsia of their place and time. They realized that they could not possibly foresee every aspect of future life in their newborn nation, and accordingly wrote the operating instructions to be a broad as possible.

This particular section (Section 8, appropriately enough) of the article seems to be the operative one:

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

To borrow money on the credit of the United States;

To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;

To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;

To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;

To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;

To establish Post Offices and Post Roads;

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;

To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offenses against the Law of Nations;

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

To provide and maintain a Navy;

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings; And

To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

Note that there is nothing specifically written permitting Congress to deal with something as complex as modern health care. Congress was never intended to be so deeply enmeshed in the private lives and businesses of the citizens. This was originally assumed to be a power relegated to the States. That said, the first paragraph might contain a loophole, sufficient for Congress to interfere in the day-to-day lives of the citizens.

provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States

Here’s where the baby goes out the airlock: Congress is empowered to provide for the general welfare of the United States.

The Founders made their Constitution deliberately ambiguous to allow for changing circumstances in a future they could not foresee. Many legislators are lawyers. Lawyers just love to make hay by wringing whatever meaning they can from ambiguous legislation. And therein lies the problem today.

Looking at the offending paragraph one way, Congress must provide for the general welfare of the United States as an entity. Therefore, Congress should not have the power to get involved in health care. On the other hand, the citizens are part of the United States, so one could use the exact same paragraph to justify Congress getting mixed up in private health care decisions. It is the nature of Government to create more government. Given that, Congress will interpret their operating instructions (the Constitution) in such a way that suits Congress’ purpose.

I am personally horrified at the idea of the US Government providing health care. I have lived through that while I was on active duty and since then through the Veteran’s Administration. Due to my service-connected disabilities, I am entitled to “free” medical care from the VA. And yet, I have private health insurance. I pay roughly five thousand dollars a year to a health insurance company because government-managed health care sucks donkey balls.

It is a truism that Congress is the opposite of progress. The US government is patently incapable of efficiency or cost-effectiveness. It is not possible for the Government to make a profit- government is inherently wasteful. It is often, however, useful and necessary.

Let us now cut through the layers of bullshit being tossed about by everyone involved in this alleged “debate”. There are US citizens who- for a variety of reasons- do not have access to adequate health care (however one defines “adequate”). Most of those citizens are living below the poverty line or are otherwise on government assistance of one sort or another. The government programs put in place to help those people are so badly managed that they risk bankrupting the entire nation and still fail to deliver adequate health care to those dependent upon it. We, the People, have a responsibility to help those who cannot help themselves. It is an inherent responsibility in our status as citizens and as humans.

If Congress insists upon trying to “fix” health care, let them create a program to help those who need it. The vast majority of Americans do not need the Gummint’s help to get adequate health care. Junk the Medicare program and replace it with a program allowing people making less than the poverty line to get medical care for a nominal fee per month. This care would be in the form of an identity card issued by the Government which would allow the card holder to get whatever medical care is required at any hospital. Card-holders who manage to get themselves out of poverty and no longer require the card will be required to maintain the nominal fee until any costs incurred while in the program are repaid.

As for the rest of us, we’re going to have to pay into this program as well. The hundred and fifty million or so workers in this country are going to pay a little more in taxes to cover this program. Done properly, this could take care of the so-called “health care crisis” without violently ass-raping the Republic to death. All of the various bills being bandied about in Congress are horrible examples of legislation. Here’s a clue to everyone in Congress: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Because the current “debate” is making me sick and tired.

Current status: Annoyed

Current music: Bad Day by Daniel Powter