Thursday, December 20

Darden Restaurants, purveyor of mediocre food, in trouble as more customers see the company in its true light

Customers continue to realize that Darden is more interested in producing net income than quality food: the company's sales are dropping. And it doesn't help that they're making moves to avoid providing health benefits to their employees:
"In cutting its forecast for the year earlier on Dec. 4, Darden also said that it was hit by a publicity backlash from tests intended to gauge how it could limit costs for workers' health care. Starting in 2014, big employers such as Darden will be required to provide health insurance to full-time workers. The company had tested hiring more part-time workers and replacing full-time workers who left with part-time workers in select markets to gauge how it could mitigate those costs."
Darden Restaurants Profit Plunges 37 Percent After Bad Publicity Over Attempt To Skirt Obamacare

Wednesday, December 19

The Correlation Between Gun Availability and Homicide

During the current national discussion on gun control in the wake of the Newtown, CT tragedy, I have found two articles particularly informative. First, a statistical review from the Harvard School of Public Health:
  • Where there are more guns there is more homicide
  • Across high-income nations, more guns = more homicide
  • Across states, more guns = more homicide
Second, an article in the Atlantic on Japan's gun-less culture, and its near total absence of homicide:
"Of the world's 23 'rich' countries, the U.S. gun-related murder rate is almost 20 times that of the other 22. With almost one privately owned firearm per person, America's ownership rate is the highest in the world..." ... 
"In 2008, the U.S. had over 12 thousand firearm-related homicides. All of Japan experienced only 11, fewer than were killed at the Aurora shooting alone. And that was a big year: 2006 saw an astounding two, and when that number jumped to 22 in 2007, it became a national scandal. By comparison, also in 2008, 587 Americans were killed just by guns that had discharged accidentally."

Monday, December 17

The Great American Streetcar Scandal

Have you ever heard of "The Great American Streetcar Scandal", the theory that General Motors bought-up all of the United States' streetcar systems in order to make the nation dependent on the automobile? It's something that I think we all need to be reminded of from time to time.
"During the period from 1936 to 1950, National City Lines and Pacific City Lines—with investment from GM, Firestone Tire, Standard Oil of California, Phillips Petroleum, Mack Trucks, and the Federal Engineering Corporation—bought over 100 electric surface-traction systems in 45 cities including Baltimore, Newark, Los Angeles, New York City, Oakland and San Diego and converted them into bus operation. 
"In 1946, Edwin J. Quinby, a retired naval lieutenant commander, alerted transportation officials across the country to what he called 'a careful, deliberately planned campaign to swindle you out of your most important and valuable public utilities—your Electric Railway System'. GM and other companies were subsequently convicted in 1949 of conspiring to monopolize the sale of buses and related products via a complex network of linked holding companies including National City Lines and Pacific City Lines. They were also indicted, but acquitted of conspiring to monopolize the ownership of these companies."
This is one conspiracy theory that I lean toward believing. (Wikipedia Article)

Thursday, December 13

Fox News, desperate for a story, decides to pull out the 'Emergency Muslims'

We really need to reduce government spending. Here are a few ideas for military cuts.

I'm just going to pull out a few interesting bullet points from the linked article:
  • "The Pentagon…runs a staggering 234 golf courses around the world, at a cost that is undisclosed."
  • "A New York Times analysis showed that simply the staff provided to top generals and admirals can top $1 million — per general. That’s not even including their own salaries — which are relatively modest due to congressional legislation — and the free housing, which has been described as 'palatial.'"
  • "According to William Hartung, a defense analyst at the Center for International Policy in Washington, D.C., about 70 percent of recently retired three- and four-star generals went straight to work for industry giants like Lockheed Martin.... This type of government-to-industry pipeline, which he said was comparable to the odious Wall Street-to-Washington revolving door, drives up the prices of weapons and prevents effective oversight of weapon manufacturing companies — all of which ends up costing taxpayers more and more each year."
Also, maybe we could lose just a couple of our 10 in-service aircraft carriers.

The Republican Party is viewed as "too protective of the wealthy"

"A majority of Americans say the Republican Party needs a major overhaul after electoral losses revealed demographic, messaging and technological shortfalls compared with Democrats, a Bloomberg National Poll shows.
"Even among Republicans, just 16 percent say their party is fine and doesn’t need to change. The survey also shows the party is viewed as too protective of the wealthy..." 
Republicans Deemed Too Pro-Rich, 57% in Poll Want Change (Bloomberg)

Tuesday, December 11

Remarks that make one question the sanity of Antonin Scalia

"Speaking at Princeton University, Scalia was asked by a gay student why he equates laws banning sodomy with those barring bestiality and murder. ...
"'If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder? Can we have it against other things?'"
I could not possibly respond better than Reddit user Oscar_Wilde_Ride:
"There is a clear moral difference. Murder infringes on the domain of autonomy of another; homosexuality does not. In fact, legislating against homosexuality infringes on that other person's domain of autonomy making it more akin to murder than the act of homosexuality."

Friday, December 7

"A King is fine, so long as he’s one of us"

"If you ever find yourself mystified by the tolerance people across history or the world have for giving their rulers great discretion, just because they are charismatic or part of the same cultural group, just look around and you’ll see the same instinct remains all around us today."

FedEx CEO: Tax hikes on top 2% as job killer is ‘mythology’

Another highly-visible business leader talking sense:
"On Tuesday, FedEx Chairman and CEO Fred Smith, an adviser to Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign, said that the notion that tax hikes on the richest Americans would kill jobs was simply 'mythology.'"
Let me just remind everyone of something: Businesses thrive when CUSTOMERS WANT THEIR PRODUCTS. That is the one and only requirement for a business to be successful (assuming they are competent). The more purchasing power that consumers have, the more they will demand goods and services, the more the economy will grow. It's as simple as that.

Previously on Opensewer, on this topic.

Top Two Percent To GOP: Tax Us (Huffington Post)

Thursday, December 6

In support of a higher minimum wage: A report from the National Employment Law Project

Key findings in the report:
  • The majority of America’s lowest‐paid workers are employed by large corporations, not small businesses, and most of the largest low‐wage employers have recovered from the recession and are in a strong financial position.
  • Federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour is decades out of date.  In terms of purchasing power, its value is 30 percent lower today than it was in 1968.
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 7 out of the top 10 top growth occupations over the next decade are low‐wage ones.
  • From 2010-2012, total U.S. employment has grown by 2.3%, whereas low-wage food service jobs have grown by 5.1%.
  • The three largest low‐wage employers in the United States – Wal‐Mart, Yum! Brands (the operator of fast food chains Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and KFC), and McDonald’s – were profitable during all of the last three fiscal years, and each of them now earns profits that are substantially higher than their pre‐recession levels.

Wednesday, December 5

Senate Republicans act like frightened animals with new Disabilities law

"...this underscores how far out of the mainstream the GOP has moved over the last 20 years. While the ADA has proven to be a rousing success, it was at least possible for conservatives in 1990 to raise non-paranoid concerns about it, mainly relating to the burdens it would place on businesses and the potential for a lawsuit bonanza. In fact, these types of concerns were raised as the law was debated, and some changes were made in response to them – which explains why most of the conservative senators of 1990 were ultimately willing to go along with the law. 
"By contrast, the U.N. treaty raises none of the concerns about business and lawsuits that the ADA did; it simply seeks to hold up existing U.S. law as a model for the world. And yet the vast majority of Republicans in the U.S. Senate sided with the arguments of the paranoid far right and voted against it anyway. This doesn’t mean that every Republican senator who voted against the treaty actually believes these arguments. For all we know, Lindsey Graham (for instance) was treating the vote as a chance to shore up his standing with the right in advance of a potential 2014 primary fight. But that’s still telling: In the GOP of 2012, the “safe” vote is against something as noncontroversial as an international treaty based on American law and championed by a Republican icon from another era." (Emphasis mine.)
What the Republican Party has become (Salon)

Tuesday, December 4

Just a few key statistics on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Palestinians killed by Israeli security forces: 6,622
Israelis killed by Palestinians: 1,097

These numbers (from 2000-2012), along with the following map, tell quite a story (notice the Israeli settlement locations);

Monday, December 3

Republicans seem to be quite good at complaining, but unable to come up with their own proposal to avoid the fiscal cliff

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner:
"'What we're going to do is continue to look for ways we can solve this problem. But ultimately, they have to come to us and tell us what they think they need,' Mr Geithner told ABC’s This Week. 'What we can’t do is to keep guessing about what works,' he said in an interview broadcast on Sunday."
Geithner takes hard line on fiscal cliff (Financial Times)

Friday, November 30

Pat Robertson blows other Fundamentalist's minds by suggesting Earth is more than 6,000 years old

Earlier this week, Pat Robertson pissed off a lot of Young-Earth Creationists:
"'You go back in time, you've got radiocarbon dating. You got all these things, and you've got the carcasses of dinosaurs frozen in time out in the Dakotas,' Robertson said. 'They're out there. So, there was a time when these giant reptiles were on the Earth, and it was before the time of the Bible. So, don't try and cover it up and make like everything was 6,000 years. That's not the Bible.'"
Robertson's statement didn't go long without a response. One of the most notable came from crazy Ken Ham. Here's a screenshot from his Facebook timeline earlier this week:

This has been a week for finding cracks in the armor. First, with Republicans (Tom Cole), now, with Young-Earth Creationists.

Pat Robertson Challenges Creationism

Thursday, November 29

The GOP is sealing its own fate if it does not become more attuned to the changing demographics of the United States

A graphic created by ThinkProgress, showing the diversity of the 113th Congress. Only 5 of these people are Republicans. Full graphic here.

Wednesday, November 28

We pay a high price for Wal-Mart's low prices. In this case, 112 human lives.

"Over the weekend, a horrific fire swept through a Bangladesh clothing factory, killing more than 100 workers, many of whose bodies were burnt so badly that they could not be identified. In its gruesome particulars — locked doors, no emergency exits, workers leaping to their deaths — the blaze seems a ghastly centennial reenactment of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire of 1911, when 146 workers similarly jumped to their deaths or were incinerated after they found the exit doors were locked." ... 
"The Bangladesh factory supplied clothing to a range of retailers, and officials who have toured the site said they found clothing with a Faded Glory label — a Wal-Mart brand. Wal-Mart says that the factory, which had received at least one bad report for its fire-safety provisions, was no longer authorized to make its clothing but one of the suppliers in the company’s very long supply chain had subcontracted the work there 'in direct violation of our policies.' 
"If this were an isolated incident of Wal-Mart denying responsibility for the conditions under which the people who make and move its products labor, then the Bangladeshi disaster wouldn’t reflect quite so badly on the company. But the very essence of the Wal-Mart system is to employ thousands upon thousands of workers through contractors and subcontractors and sub-subcontractors, who are compelled by Wal-Mart’s market power and its demand for low prices to cut corners and skimp on safety. And because Wal-Mart isn’t the employer of record for these workers, the company can disavow responsibility for their conditions of work."
 Wal-Mart’s strategy of deniability for workers’ safety (Washington Post)

Related: Garment Workers Stage Angry Protest After Bangladesh Fire (New York Times)

Tuesday, November 27

Silence the corporations and the unions, because...

... Rome fell? Response to the most tortured attempt yet to make an "historical" case against the Citizens United decision.

Update/related: Floyd Abrams, who represented the New York Times in the landmark Pentagon Papers case, with a letter to the editor of that paper correcting its grasp of the issues in the Citizens United decision:
The law at issue in Citizens United permitted The Times to endorse candidates while making it a felony for nonmedia corporations to do so. It made it a crime for a union to distribute [the Times's] endorsement of President Obama for re-election to its members. It should come as no surprise that the same First Amendment that was held to shield the press in landmark cases of the past now shields such speech as well. 

On the matter of slowing, halting the aging process

Take the time to read the entire story linked at the end of this excerpt. As an optimistic believer in the ability of humans to create their own fate, this is one of the most beautiful things I've read.
"Stories about aging have traditionally focused on the need for graceful accommodation. The recommended solution to diminishing vigor and impending death was resignation coupled with an effort to achieve closure in practical affairs and personal relationships. Given that nothing could be done to prevent or retard aging, this focus made sense. Rather than fretting about the inevitable, one could aim for peace of mind. 
"Today we face a different situation. While we still lack effective and acceptable means for slowing the aging process, we can identify research directions that might lead to the development of such means in the foreseeable future. “Deathist” stories and ideologies, which counsel passive acceptance, are no longer harmless sources of consolation. They are fatal barriers to urgently needed action. 
"Many distinguished technologists and scientists tell us that it will become possible to retard, and eventually to halt and reverse, human senescence. At present, there is little agreement about the time-scale or the specific means, nor is there a consensus that the goal is even achievable in principle. In relation to the fable (where aging is, of course, represented by the dragon), we are therefore at a stage somewhere between that at which the lone sage predicted the dragon’s eventual demise and that at which the iconoclast dragonologists convinced their peers by demonstrating a composite material that was harder than dragon scales.
"The ethical argument that the fable presents is simple: There are obvious and compelling moral reasons for the people in the fable to get rid of the dragon. Our situation with regard to human senescence is closely analogous and ethically isomorphic to the situation of the people in the fable with regard to the dragon. Therefore, we have compelling moral reasons to get rid of human senescence. 
"The argument is not in favor or life-span extension per se. Adding extra years of sickness and debility at the end of life would be pointless. The argument is in favor of extending, as far as possible, the human health-span. By slowing or halting the aging process, the healthy human life span would be extended. Individuals would be able to remain healthy, vigorous, and productive at ages at which they would otherwise be dead."
The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant

Monday, November 26

Higher marginal tax rates do not stop wealthy people from investing

Warren Buffett's op-ed in yesterday's New York Times is well worth reading. His common sense cuts through all of the political posturing, straight to the heart of the matter:
"SUPPOSE that an investor you admire and trust comes to you with an investment idea. 'This is a good one,' he says enthusiastically. 'I'm in it, and I think you should be, too. 
"Would your reply possibly be this? 'Well, it all depends on what my tax rate will be on the gain you're saying we're going to make. If the taxes are too high, I would rather leave the money in my savings account, earning a quarter of 1 percent.' Only in Grover Norquist’s imagination does such a response exist. 
"Between 1951 and 1954, when the capital gains rate was 25 percent and marginal rates on dividends reached 91 percent in extreme cases, I sold securities and did pretty well. In the years from 1956 to 1969, the top marginal rate fell modestly, but was still a lofty 70 percent — and the tax rate on capital gains inched up to 27.5 percent. I was managing funds for investors then. Never did anyone mention taxes as a reason to forgo an investment opportunity that I offered."
A Minimum Tax for the Wealthy (New York Times)

Friday, November 23

No worries, everything is fine, just KEEP SHOPPING.

Seventy percent of the U.S. economy's lifeblood (measured in GDP) is dependent on consumer spending. I've frequently made the point that this fact supports policies which keep purchasing power in the hands of middle and working-class households. While this is true, I cannot help but recognize the sad conundrum we're in: Our economy is dependent on consumption, but aggressive consumer spending (particularly when it puts people in debt) is very bad for individual households (and all these products eventually make their way to landfills). 

Over time, we must structurally rebuild our economy so that is not so dependent on growth in spending from the consumer sector. We need an economy that can be healthy while still allowing people to live within their means. We need an economy that minimizes the impact of our consumer needs and wants on the environment. How exactly we do this, I don't know. It's extraordinarily complex. But it's a problem worthy of the undivided attention of our best minds. 

Buy Nothing Day (Adbusters)

Thursday, November 22

Gratitude can do wonders for the human brain, as long as it doesn't fade away when Thanksgiving ends.

"...researchers at the University of California-Berkeley report mounting scientific evidence that thankfulness also has concrete health benefits, such as lower blood pressure, stronger disease immunity and fewer symptoms of depression.
"Their research is a product of UC-Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center, which recently launched a three-year, $5.6 million project to 'expand the scientific database of gratitude, particularly in the key areas of human health, personal and relational well-being, and developmental science.' As part of this project, the GGSC has also created, a 'sharable gratitude journal' that aims to teach people the tangible power of thankfulness while also helping scientists better understand it.
"GGSC research on this topic began several years ago, as an assignment for Berkeley students to keep gratitude journals in spiral-bound notebooks. By writing down everything for which they were grateful, the students boosted their 'overall resilience,' according to a university news release, and reportedly grew less susceptible to daily stresses as well as minor maladies like rashes and headaches." ...
" is just one piece in the fast-growing field of gratitude science. In one recent study, for example, scientists found that teenagers who reported the most gratitude after a four-year research period became '17 percent more happy and more hopeful about their lives' while experiencing 'a 13 percent drop in negative emotions and a 15 percent drop in depressive symptoms.'"
The science of being thankful

Wednesday, November 21

Republican consultants admit the party appears as 'loons & wackos' to swing-voters

Steve Schmidt, manager of John McCain’s 2008 campaign: "To too many swing voters in the country, when you hear the word 'conservative' now, they think of loons and wackos."

Mike Murphy, adviser to Mitt Romney’s campaign: "We alienate young voters because of gay marriage, we have a policy problem. We alienate Latinos — the fastest growing voter group in the country, because of our fetish on so-called amnesty, when we should be for a path to immigration. And we’ve lost our connection to middle-class economics."

GOP civil war: Limbaugh vs. the consultants (Salon)

Warren Rudman's Passing Reminds Senators of What They Can Be

" was a time when the national interest was identified; science, economics, and arithmetic were respected; Republicans sat down to negotiate with Democrats; argument raged, and compromise ensued. There were bitter partisan battles over military spending, Supreme Court nominations and other weighty issues, but no one dreamed of destroying the country in order to save it. The Senate had a big, rowdy bloc of centrists who would not recognize, and would no doubt deplore, the political polarization that stifles initiative today."
National Journal

Friday, November 16

A Benghazi cover-up makes no sense, and could not have had any conceivable goal.

"...the reason it is absurd to suspect the existence of a "cover-up" over the Benghazi attack is that such a cover-up could not have had any conceivable goal. Back to the beginning: the underlying accusation about Benghazi is that the Obama administration deliberately mischaracterised the terrorist attack there as having grown out of a spontaneous demonstration because that would be less politically damaging. Such a cover-up would have made no sense because the attack would not have been less politically damaging had it grown out of a spontaneous demonstration. The attack on the Benghazi compound would not have been any less politically difficult for the administration if it had grown out of a riot, nor would any normal voter have expected it to be less politically damaging, nor would any normal campaign strategist have expected any normal voter to have expected it to be less politically damaging."
Benghazi-gate gets even more ludicrous (Economist)

A monument to superstition and illiteracy: Ten Commandments monument installed at Oklahoma state Capitol, with spelling errors.

"A Ten Commandments monument is up on the grounds of the state Capitol, but it didn't pass spell check.
"'Remember the Sabbeth day, to keep it holy,' reads one.
"'Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidseruent,' reads the last one."
I don't have a whole lot to add to this story; the situation speaks for itself.

Ten Commandments monument is installed at Oklahoma state Capitol

Wednesday, November 14

UN declares access to contraception a human right

"The United Nations says access to contraception is a universal human right that could dramatically improve the lives of women and children in poor countries. 
It is the first time the U.N. Population Fund's annual report explicitly describes family planning as a human right. 
It effectively declares that legal, cultural and financial barriers to accessing contraception and other family planning measures are an infringement of women's rights. 
The report released Wednesday isn't binding and has no legal effect on national laws. 
The global body also says increasing funding for family planning by a further $4.1 billion could save $11.3 billion annually in health bills for mothers and newborns in poor countries."
There's little questioning the cultural and health benefits that come with access to contraception, but is it going to far to declare such access a 'human right'? (Link to AP news story)

Tuesday, November 13

This is the first intelligent thing I've heard a Republican say since election day

"Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal on Monday called on Republicans to 'stop being the stupid party' and make a concerted effort to reach a broader swath of voters with an inclusive economic message that pre-empts efforts to caricature the GOP as the party of the rich.
"In his first interview since his party’s electoral thumping last week, Jindal urged Republicans to both reject anti-intellectualism and embrace a populist-tinged reform approach that he said would mitigate what exit polls show was one of President Barack Obama’s most effective lines of attack against Mitt Romney."
Jindal: End 'dumbed-down conservatism'

Turns out telling people that they may go to Hell if they vote for Obama may not be a good idea

"Political watchdog and secularist groups are asking the U.S. government to investigate whether Catholic bishops and a Christian evangelical group headed by preacher Billy Graham should lose tax breaks for telling followers how to vote in this year's election.
"Under constitutional protections of free speech and separation of church and state, churches are free to speak on any issue. But they risk losing tax breaks worth $145 billion in the past decade if they violate Internal Revenue Service rules by promoting or opposing any particular candidate."
This is particularly disturbing:
"Springfield, Illinois, Bishop Thomas Paprocki who warned his flock in a letter of 'intrinsic evils' in the Democratic platform's support of abortion and same-sex marriage. A vote for someone who promotes such actions 'places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy,' he said."
Election blurring of church, state separation draws complaints.

Increasing tax rates on incomes over $250,000/year has almost no impact on the economy

The Congressional Budget Office has found that increasing tax rates on incomes over $250,000/year has almost no impact on the economy:
"Extending all expiring tax provisions other than the cut in the payroll tax and indexing the AMT for inflation—except for allowing the expiration of lower tax rates on income above $250,000 for couples and $200,000 for single taxpayers—would boost real GDP by about 1¼ percent by the end of 2013. That effect is nearly as large as the effect of making all of those changes in law and extending the lower tax rates on higher incomes as well (which CBO estimates to be a little less than 1½ percent, as noted above), primarily because the budgetary impact would be nearly as large (and secondarily because the extension of lower tax rates on higher incomes would have a relatively small effect on output per dollar of budgetary cost)."
This affirms a previous study by the Congressional Research Service. Bad news for GOP propaganda.

Talk, Petition, Publish Freely

More evidence that money has little measurable effect on the outcome of US political campaigns (lots of links).

Wednesday, November 7

2012 is a year chock-full of religious insanity

Inspired by my high school friends on Facebook who are calling for the Rapture after Obama's reelection yesterday (I'm not joking), I present this little bit of 'news':
"World Bible Society President Dr. F. Kenton Beshore has said that based on a lifetime of study, he believes that the 'Rapture' is likely to occur before the year 2021, while the Second Coming of Jesus Christ will happen between 2018 and 2028."
Toss in the Mayan 2012 end-of-world date, and our brush with electing a Mormon President, and you've got a full court press of religious insanity for the year. (I'm sure I'm forgetting a few things.)

Tuesday, November 6


What most of us think we're endorsing at the polls is mainly a function of partisan branding. Admittedly, it's rather more fun to vote expressively—to make a statement to oneself about the kind of person one likes to imagine oneself to be—than to vote based on a realistic appraisal of the actual difference between the candidates' approaches to governance. So I suppose it's not really surprising that political commentators offer us almost no help at all in making such appraisals. There's no demand! Unionised teachers don't want to think of themselves as voting Democratic because Democrats protect the interests of unionised teachers, just as rich people don't want to think of themselves as voting Republican because Republicans protect the interests of rich people. We like to see ourselves as voting according to conscience. The branding function of philosophy in politics is to give individual conscience a form congruent with group interest, to transform the mathematical necessities of coalitional partisan politics into many millions of separate acts of self-congratulating private virtue. It's a neat trick.
On the choices of the day.

Monday, November 5

Gouging in theory and in practice

The cost of fueling up has really exploded here in Brooklyn!
With the price remaining in the mid $4 range, the result is a big gas line at the station in my neighborhood - multi hour wait times for paltry amounts of gas!
Hmm, so while the price in $ reamins the same, the amount of time one needs to invest (time being the most non-recoverable resource there is) to get some fuel, has greatly increased.
Decree can hold down prices, but it would be foolish to think that decree can also hold down real costs.
Deeper thoughts on experiences with "gouging"  here.

Origins of the saying, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

The saying, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence," which Carl Sagan popularized, has a heritage. Sagan's phrasing was inspired by Marcello Truzzi, founding co-chairman of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP):
"In science, the burden of proof falls upon the claimant; and the more extraordinary a claim, the heavier is the burden of proof demanded. The true skeptic takes an agnostic position, one that says the claim is not proved rather than disproved. He asserts that the claimant has not borne the burden of proof and that science must continue to build its cognitive map of reality without incorporating the extraordinary claim as a new "fact." Since the true skeptic does not assert a claim, he has no burden to prove anything. He just goes on using the established theories of "conventional science" as usual. But if a critic asserts that there is evidence for disproof, that he has a negative hypothesis—saying, for instance, that a seeming psi result was actually due to an artifact—he is making a claim and therefore also has to bear a burden of proof."
Marcello Truzzi, On Pseudo-Skepticism, Zetetic Scholar, 12/13, pp3-4, 1987

Friday, November 2

Krugman: The hard men of the Republican Party must be appeased, or their wrath will rain down upon us.

"If President Obama is re-elected, health care coverage will expand dramatically, taxes on the wealthy will go up and Wall Street will face tougher regulation. If Mitt Romney wins instead, health coverage will shrink substantially, taxes on the wealthy will fall to levels not seen in 80 years and financial regulation will be rolled back.
"Given the starkness of this difference, you might have expected to see people from both sides of the political divide urging voters to cast their ballots based on the issues. Lately, however, I’ve seen a growing number of Romney supporters making a quite different argument. Vote for Mr. Romney, they say, because if he loses, Republicans will destroy the economy."
The Blackmail Caucus (Paul Krugman in the New York Times)

The way we fund and publish science encourages fraud

"Science is broken. Psychology was rocked recently by stories of academics making up data, sometimes overshadowing whole careers. And it isn't the only discipline with problems - the current record for fraudulent papers is held by anaesthesiologist Yoshitaka Fujii, with 172 faked articles.
"These scandals highlight deeper cultural problems in academia. Pressure to turn out lots of high-quality publications not only promotes extreme behaviours, it normalises the little things, like the selective publication of positive novel findings – which leads to "non-significant" but possibly true findings sitting unpublished on shelves, and a lack of much needed replication studies.
"Why does this matter? Science is about furthering our collective knowledge, and it happens in increments. Successive generations of scientists build upon theoretical foundations set by their predecessors. If those foundations are made of sand, though, then time and money will be wasted in the pursuit of ideas that simply aren't right."
Scientific fraud is rife: it's time to stand up for good science (Guardian)

Wednesday, October 31

Romney fakes storm relief event

From the Atlantic Wire:
"Mitt Romney was really concerned that his 'Storm Relief Event' in Kettering, Ohio yesterday would look like a dud, so he and his team stocked their donation tables with $5,000 worth of supplies at Walmart. The props, according to Buzzfeed's McKay Coppins, were things like granola bars, canned food, and diapers which were strategically placed to make sure that the photographs taken at Romney's 'Storm Relief' campaign didn't a show very un-busy, un-stocked relief table (what else do you expect when you give people short notice to donate their canned goods?)."
This sort of disingenuous gesture reminds me of something his running-mate did a few weeks ago.

A $5,000 Shopping Run to Walmart Turned Romney's Campaign Stop into a 'Relief Event' (The Atlantic Wire)

Tuesday, October 30

The Most Anti-Science Candidates in America

Mother Jones has compiled a list of the nine most anti-science candidates currently running for U.S. House and Senate seats. A few highlights:
  • Paul Broun, Republican candidate for US Representative of Georgia's 10th congressional district (incumbent): "...all that stuff I was taught about evolution, embryology, Big Bang Theory—all that is lies straight from the pit of hell." 
  • Richard Mourdock, Republican candidate for US Senate in Indiana: "He calls climate change 'the greatest hoax of all time' and says basing energy policy off of it 'is a threat to our national security.' At a news conference last week, he also told reporters, 'I believe God controls the universe…I don't believe biology works in an uncontrolled fashion.'"
  • Todd Akin, Republican candidate running for US Senate in Missouri: He "...has an unusual perspective on climate change. 'In Missouri when we go from winter to spring, that's a good climate change,' he said in 2009. 'I don't want to stop that climate change you know.' Despite confusing the change of seasons in Missouri with global climate change, Akin serves on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology with Broun."
Somewhat surprisingly to me, not all of the anti-science candidates listed in the article are Republicans.

The 9 Most Anti-Science Candidates in America (Mother Jones)

Censorship, embraced in the Academy?

The American university is not a place where one can expect respect for free expression.

Greg Lukianoff's new book "Unlearning Liberty" is not a feel-good opus. In fact, it ought to leave us feeling very concerned about the attitudes being taught in universities across America. Why? Greg offers a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln: "the philosophy of the classroom today will be the philosophy of government tomorrow." Greg presents a disturbingly persuasive case that the philosophy of the American classroom today is intolerant of dissent and accepting of all sorts of censorship.

Quick review with related links of plenty of examples.

Monday, October 29

New research shows economy healthier under Democratic presidents

From Bob Deitrick and Lew Godlfarb's new book, "Bulls, Bears and the Ballot Box":
  • Personal disposable income has grown nearly 6 times more under Democratic presidents
  • Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has grown 7 times more under Democratic presidents
  • Corporate profits have grown over 16% more per year under Democratic presidents (they actually declined under Republicans by an average of 4.53%/year)
  • Average annual compound return on the stock market has been 18 times greater under Democratic presidents (If you invested $100k for 40 years of Republican administrations you had $126k at the end, if you invested $100k for 40 years of Democrat administrations you had $3.9M at the end)
  • Republican presidents added 2.5 times more to the national debt than Democratic presidents
  • The two times the economy steered into the ditch (Great Depression and Great Recession) were during Republican, laissez faire administrations
Want a Better Economy? History Says Vote Democrat! (Forbes)

Sunday, October 28

"Fate's distribution of long straws is wildly capricious."

Excerpted from “Assholes: A Theory” by Aaron James.
"Assholes largely share a thick sense of moral entitlement. Just as hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue, late 19th and early 20th century businessmen like Cecil Rhodes, Albert Beveridge and John D. Rockefeller all felt a need to invoke entitlement on a cosmic scale, in effect sensing that something might be majorly amiss. In stark contrast with the grandiose reasoning of the era of colonialism, the asshole in more recent modern life often requires little or no pretext of larger cause for the special privileges he feels entitled to enjoy. He will usually have some sort of rationalization ready at hand — he is not the psychopath who rejects moral concepts altogether — but the rationalizations are becoming ever thinner, ever more difficult to identify. This newer, purer style of asshole often just presumes he should enjoy special privileges in social life as a matter of course and so requires little by way of reason for taking them as the opportunity arises."
"...on philosophical grounds, however, this view [that in a capitalist society, a free market, people get what they deserve] is exceedingly hard to defend. That is true according to none other than the archconservative twentieth-century apologist for capitalism, F. A. Hayek. He writes:
" 'There is little a man can do to alter the fact that his special talents are very common or exceedingly rare. A good mind or a fine voice, a beautiful face or a skilful hand, a ready wit or an attractive personality are in a large measure as independent of a person’s efforts as the opportunities or the experiences he has had. In all these instances the value which a person’s capacities or services have for us and for which he is recompensed has little relation to anything that we can call moral merit or 'deserts.' '
"The billionaire investor and oracular philosopher Warren Buffett echoes the point:
" 'My luck was accentuated by my living in a market system that sometimes produces distorted results, though overall it serves our country well. I’ve worked in an economy that rewards someone who saves the lives of others on a battlefield with a medal, rewards a great teacher with thank-you notes from parents, but rewards those who can detect the mispricing of securities with sums reaching into the billions. In short, fate’s distribution of long straws is wildly capricious.'
"In other words, ideas of deserts just don’t justify the going rate of rewards."
How Fox News created a new culture of idiots (Salon)

Obama On Paul Ryan’s Hero: Ayn Rand Is Something You Pick Up When You’re "17 or 18 and Feeling Misunderstood"

I love this, and I'm so glad that Obama had the stones to say it:
"Q: What do you think Paul Ryan’s obsession with her work would mean if he were vice president?
"Obama: Well, you’d have to ask Paul Ryan what that means to him. Ayn Rand is one of those things that a lot of us, when we were 17 or 18 and feeling misunderstood, we'd pick up. Then, as we get older, we realize that a world in which we’re only thinking about ourselves and not thinking about anybody else …  that’s a pretty narrow vision. It's not one that, I think, describes what’s best in America. Unfortunately, it does seem as if sometimes that vision of a 'you’re on your own' society has consumed a big chunk of the Republican Party."
I suppose I run the risk of being labeled an intellectual snob when I say this, but I just can't help myself: If you still hold on to Rand's philosophy as you progress into your 20s and 30s, you have a serious disconnect from the rest of the world, and might need to be treated for your blinding narcissism.

Link to original post, in The Daily Dolt.

Saturday, October 27

Debunking Romney's ad claiming Obama went on an 'apology tour'

[The ad] selectively edited Romney’s statements — much as both campaigns have done with their opponent’s words. (A Romney spokesman declined to comment on why the excisions were made.)
Here are the relevant quotes, with the words that have been removed in bold type:
And then  the president began  what I’ve called  an apology tour of going to various nations  in the Middle East  and criticizing America. I think they looked at that and saw weakness.” 
Mr. President , the reason I call it an apology tour is because you went to the Middle East and you flew to Egypt and to Saudi Arabia and to Turkey and Iraq. And,  by the way, you skipped Israel, our closest friend in the region.  But you went to the other nations. And by the way, they noticed that you skipped Israel. And then in those nations and on Arabic TV you said that America had been dismissive and derisive.  You said that  on occasion  America had dictated to other nations. Mr. President, America has not dictated to other nations. We have freed other nations from dictators.”
Pretty clever, right? The net effect is to suggest Obama made those supposed apologies to Arabs, without actually saying so, because that would be incorrect. But even careful editing still does not fix the basic problem in the first place — there was no apology tour.
Romney doubling down on debate misstatements (Washington Post)

Wednesday, October 24

Saudi Arabia, the world's second-largest producer of oil, is focusing its resources on renewable energy, while back in the U.S., fossil fuels dictate energy policy

Enjoying the policy contrast, everyone?
"The Saudi government targets 41,000 megawatts of solar capacity within two decades. That would save as much as 523,000 barrels a day of oil equivalent, according to Ka-Care.
"That target is 'not just a short-term measure to meet energy demand,' said Amin of the Irena industry group.
"'It’s a strategic approach through which Saudis are slowly beginning to compensate for internal consumption and to develop the possibility that they can become exporters of renewable energy, particularly solar,' he said. 'It’s at the beginning point, but it’s happening.'"
Mecca Seeks to Lead Saudi Arabia’s Solar Energy Expansion

The crazy, Tea Party-fueled fight against evolution and science in school textbooks

"The Revisionaries", a new shoestring-budget independent film focuses on the battle between science and young-earth creationists over Texas school curriculum.
"As a Tea Party zealot, fundamentalist Christian, young-Earth Creationist and, for a while, chairman of the Texas State Board of Education, [Don] McLeroy became nationally notorious for his efforts to undermine scientific education and sneak covert religion into textbooks. One of the great things about Scott Thurman’s film — a low-budget but thoroughly watchable documentary, largely funded on Kickstarter – is that it helped me see the world from McLeroy’s point of view, which I might previously have considered impossible. He feels almost painfully oppressed by arrogant experts with fancy university degrees who insist on a difference between scientific evidence and faith-based personal opinion, and he genuinely believes that the half-baked, cherry-picked 'weaknesses' in evolutionary theory expose the ideological underpinnings of modern science."
"The Revisionaries": Texas schoolbook battle — crazier than you thought! (Salon)

War, Made Permanent

The kill list will outlast this administration.

Monday, October 22

Congressional Research Service finds no correlation between a low top marginal tax rate and economic growth

In short, evidence points to the conclusion that trickle-down economics is a myth.
"The top income tax rates have changed considerably since the end of World War II. Throughout the late-1940s and 1950s, the top marginal tax rate was typically above 90%; today it is 35%. Additionally, the top capital gains tax rate was 25% in the 1950s and 1960s, 35% in the 1970s; today it is 15%. The average tax rate faced by the top 0.01% of taxpayers was above 40% until the mid-1980s; today it is below 25%. Tax rates affecting taxpayers at the top of the income distribution are currently at their lowest levels since the end of the second World War. 
"The results of the analysis suggest that changes over the past 65 years in the top marginal tax rate and the top capital gains tax rate do not appear correlated with economic growth. The reduction in the top tax rates appears to be uncorrelated with saving, investment, and productivity growth. The top tax rates appear to have little or no relation to the size of the economic pie."
Taxes and the Economy: An Economic Analysis of the Top Tax Rates Since 1945 by Thomas L. Hungerford

Friday, October 19

GOP contractor arrested for destruction of voter registration applications

"A 31-year-old man working for the Virginia Republican party was arrested on Thursday after he was caught throwing out voter registration forms, Richmond, Va., the Rockingham County sheriff's office confirmed to CBS News.  
"The man, Colin Small, faces 13 felony and misdemeanor counts relating to voter fraud, including one count of obstruction of justice, four counts of destruction of voter registration applications and eight counts of disclosure of voter registration applications."
CBS News Link

Thursday, October 18

68 Nobel Prize-Winning Scientists Endorse President Obama’s Science Policies

"President Obama understands the key role science has played in building a prosperous America, has delivered on his promise to renew our faith in science-based decision making and has championed investment in science and technology research that is the engine of our economy. He has built strong programs to educate young Americans in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and programs to provide Americans the training they need to keep pace with a technology-driven economy. 
"His opponent supports a budget that, if implemented, would devastate a long tradition of support for public research and investment in science at a time when this country's future depends, as never before, on innovation. He has also taken positions that privilege ideology over clear scientific evidence on climate change."
Article & Letter

Wednesday, October 17

If you are a business person, if you truly understand the laws of supply and demand, you cannot in good conscience vote for Mitt Romney.

The facts: 70% of gross domestic product (GDP) comes from consumer spending. Around 80% of U.S. households make under $100,000 per year. This is the middle (and "working") class. All the credible analyses of Romney’s tax plan indicate that it will take purchasing power away from the middle class and below (see link).

If you take purchasing power away from the middle class, you drag down the largest part of the economy…END OF STORY!

Please don’t call yourself a capitalist if you don’t believe in GDP growth.

On the Distributional Effects of Base-Broadening Income Tax Reform (Brookings)

Tuesday, October 16

Without permission, Paul Ryan shows up to manufacture a photo-op washing dishes at an Ohio soup kitchen

Perhaps one of the most blatant examples of the disingenuousness of the Romney/Ryan campaign. Do the middle and working classes really believe that these guys are looking out for them?

Monday, October 15

Women are ‘too emotional, too diabolical’ to vote, says Mississippi tea party leader

Janis Lane, president of the Central Mississippi Tea Party:
"Our country might have been better off if it was still just men voting. There is nothing worse than a bunch of mean, hateful women. They are diabolical in how than can skewer a person. I don’t see that in men."
I'll just let this one speak for itself.

Friday, October 12

Woman at VP debate calls Obama a Communist, Chris Matthews calls out her stupidity (video)

A woman at yesterday's Vice-Presidential debate called Obama a communist. When reporter Chris Matthews confronted her on the statement, she couldn't explain what a communist is. 

Transcript of the video:
Matthews: Who said communist down here?  What did you mean by that?
Woman: Well, all you have to do is study it out.  Just study it out and you'll see.  You haven't done your homework, buddy.
Matthews: And what do I need to study?
Woman: Go to somebody else.  He's a communist and those of us who are not voting for him know it.
Matthews: What do you mean by communist?
Woman: You don't know?
Matthews: No, just tell me.  Help me out here.
Woman: You don't know?
Matthews: I just want to know what you mean.
Woman: Oh, I know what I mean.
Matthews: Well, help us out.  You're on national television.
Woman: Oh, I know I'm on national television.
Matthews: Well, tell me what you mean when you've just accused a guy of being a communist.
Woman: You just study it out.
Matthews: Do you think he's American?
Woman: Oh no.
Matthews: He's not an American?
Woman: No.
Matthews: What is he?  What country's he from?
Woman: Just 'cause he was born here doesn't mean he thinks like us.  He's a communist, buddy.
Matthews: Okay, thank you.
By the way, the phrase "study it out" comes straight from the Latter Day Saints scriptures. Classic.

Paul Ryan lied when he said, "I never asked for stimulus." The letters exist to prove that he did.

"After repeated denials, Paul Ryan has admitted he requested stimulus cash even after sharply criticizing the program.
"Ryan had denied doing so as recently as Wednesday, when he spoke to ABC’s Cincinnati affiliate, WCPO, in Ohio.
"'I never asked for stimulus,' Mitt Romney’s new running mate said. 'I don’t recall… so I really can’t comment on it. I opposed the stimulus because it doesn’t work, it didn’t work.'
"Two years ago, during an interview on WBZ’s NewsRadio he was asked by a caller if he “accepted any money” into his district. Ryan said he did not.
"'I’m not one [of those] people who votes for something then writes to the government to ask them to send us money. I did not request any stimulus money,' the congressman answered.
"But as we’ve now learned, Ryan did write letters. He did request stimulus funds."
Presented With Letters, Ryan Admits Requesting Stimulus Cash (ABC News)

Thursday, October 11

Contrary to Romney's claims, lack of health insurance is linked to thousands of U.S. deaths per year

Mitt Romney claims that people don't be because of lack of health insurance.
“We don’t have a setting across this country where if you don’t have insurance, we just say to you, ‘Tough luck, you’re going to die when you have your heart attack,’  ” he said as he offered more hints as to what he would put in place of “Obamacare,” which he has pledged to repeal. 
“No, you go to the hospital, you get treated, you get care, and it’s paid for, either by charity, the government or by the hospital. We don’t have people that become ill, who die in their apartment because they don’t have insurance.” 
He pointed out that federal law requires hospitals to treat those without health insurance — although hospital officials frequently say that drives up health-care costs.
Here's a Harvard Medical School study that links uninsurance with mortality.

Romney: 'We Don’t Have People Who Die Because They Don’t Have Insurance'

Science Vs. Religion Over the Years

Via Reddit user Wertecs.

Monday, October 8

We should wake up from the delusion that the private sector can do everything better - Honey Boo Boo as case study

"People forget or did not know that once upon a time The Learning Channel was founded in 1972 by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and NASA as an informative/instructional network focused on providing real education through the medium of TV; it was distributed at no cost by NASA satellite. Then it was privatized in 1980 (Reaganism) and was then named the Appalachian Community Service Network. In November 1980 this name was changed to 'The Learning Channel', which was subsequently shortened to 'TLC.' From then on we have a sad decline to the abomination of child and poverty exploitation of the TLC’s current hit freak show 'Here Comes Honey Boo Boo'." ...  
"So when Mitt Romney and the Republicans talk about how much better off PBS would be de-funded and privatized, remember what privatization did to TLC and how TLC went from NASA beaming information into student classrooms to the disgraceful programs it runs today (many of which exploit children)."

Friday, October 5

The next time someone tells you that the U.S. can drill its way to energy independence, tell them they're full of ... crude.

"Fuel demand from China, India and Brazil -- three countries with a combined population of 2.7 billion -- is the chief factor behind rising prices." ...  
"The U.S. can drill all it wants but it's hard to find anybody who expects greater domestic production to move gas prices by more than, say, two percentage points in the next six months. The problem is that the market for oil is global and U.S. supply is too small to make an impact."
What Determines the Price of Gas: A Visual Guide (The Atlantic)

Thursday, October 4

God apparently created the earth about 1,000 years after the Sumerians invented glue

"...more than half our neighbors believe that the entire cosmos was created six thousand years ago. This is, incidentally, about a thousand years after the Sumerians invented glue."
Sam Harris, from "Letter to a Christian Nation"

Related: Sumerians Look On In Confusion As God Creates World (The Onion)
Maybe, there's a better way.

Wednesday, October 3

Paul Ryan apparently does not like operating in the realm of facts

"The Romney tax plan is premised on a mathematical impossibility. It promises to reduce tax rates by 20 percent and cover the lost revenue by eliminating tax deductions, exempting tax breaks for investment income. Even making a series of assumptions ranging from friendly to impossibly friendly, it can’t add up. The lost revenue from the tax rate cuts on income over $250,000 exceeds the available revenue from eliminating deductions. Even Republican attempts to disprove this finding have inadvertently confirmed it."
The Paul Ryan Legend Dissipates (New York Magazine)

Tuesday, October 2

If most women vote in November, Barack Obama will be re-elected

"An 18 point lead among women puts President Barack Obama ahead of Gov. Mitt Romney 49 – 45 percent among likely voters nationwide, and voters expect 54 – 28 percent that the president will win the debates, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released today.
"The president leads 56 – 38 percent among women and 94 – 2 percent among black voters, the independent Quinnipiac University poll finds. Men back Romney 52 – 42 percent while white voters back the Republican 53 – 42 percent. {…}
"President Barack Obama won only about 43 percent of the white vote in 2008, so his current standing among whites tracks his earlier winning performance,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “If the president can match or exceed his 2008 showing among whites it will be difficult to impossible for Romney to win.
"It is also very difficult to win an election when you are getting shellacked among women, the group that makes up about half the electorate."
 EclectaBlog Link

Monday, October 1

Severely Obese Are Fastest Growing Group of Overweight Americans

"The proportion of Americans who are severely obese -- those people 100 pounds or more overweight -- continues to increase rapidly and much faster than those with moderate obesity, but the rate of growth has slowed, according to a new RAND Corporation study. 
"The RAND study found that from 2000 to 2010, the proportion of Americans who were severely obese rose from 3.9 percent of the population to 6.6 percent -- an increase of about 70 percent."
Science Daily Link

Friday, September 28

Romney cites Massachusetts health care law as sign of his empathy, proceeds to cry bleeding heart liberal crocodile tears

"Mitt Romney on Wednesday cited his record in shepherding through the Massachusetts health care law as a sign of his empathy for all people, talking far more openly than usual about a controversial plan that has caused him so much strife with conservative Republicans. 
"'Don’t forget -- I got everybody in my state insured,' Romney told NBC late Wednesday afternoon. 'One hundred percent of the kids in our state had health insurance. I don’t think there's anything that shows more empathy and care about the people of this country than that kind of record.' 
"Romney made the comments just before going on stage in Toledo, for a rally in which Romney used President Obama’s health care law as a chief example of what’s wrong with the current administration. The dichotomy of his statements further illustrated the tightrope Romney has had to walk in pledging to repeal President Obama’s federal law, while simultaneously trying to take credit for the state-level plan he signed into law in Massachusetts." Mitt for universal health care or against it? Did he convert to a liberal this week? Talk about a campaign with an identify crisis...

Link (Boston Globe)

Thursday, September 27

Slavery Still Exists

"Around the world human traffickers trick many people into slavery by false promises of good jobs or good education, only to find themselves forced to work without pay, under the threat of violence. Trapped by phony debt, these slaves are hunted by local police and private security guards if they try to escape. Sometimes slaves don't even understand that they're enslaved, despite people working 16 or 17 hours a day with no pay. They're simply used to it as something they've been doing their whole lives. Their bodies grow weak and vulnerable to disease, but they have nothing to compare their experience to."
Slavery Still Exists: Photographs of human trafficking and enslavement around the world (The Atlantic)

Tuesday, September 25

Obama: "I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day, and I will always defend their right to do so."

Worth repeating, worth memorializing: Obama's comments on the video being blamed for being the catalyst for the recent violence in Libya:
"I know there are some who ask why we don’t just ban such a video. The answer is enshrined in our laws: our Constitution protects the right to practice free speech. Here in the United States, countless publications provoke offense. Like me, the majority of Americans are Christian, and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs. Moreover, as President of our country, and Commander-in-Chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day, and I will always defend their right to do so. Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views – even views that we disagree with. 
"We do so not because we support hateful speech, but because our Founders understood that without such protections, the capacity of each individual to express their own views, and practice their own faith, may be threatened. We do so because in a diverse society, efforts to restrict speech can become a tool to silence critics, or oppress minorities. We do so because given the power of faith in our lives, and the passion that religious differences can inflame, the strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, it is more speech – the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy, and lift up the values of understanding and mutual respect."
Full Text of Obama’s Remarks to United Nations (Wall Street Journal)

Monday, September 24

"America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves."

"America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves. To quote the American humorist Kin Hubbard, 'It ain’t no disgrace to be poor, but it might as well be.' It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters. The meanest eating or drinking establishment, owned by a man who is himself poor, is very likely to have a sign on its wall asking this cruel question: “if you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?” There will also be an American flag no larger than a child’s hand – glued to a lollipop stick and flying from the cash register. 
"Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue. Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say Napoleonic times. Many novelties have come from America. The most startling of these, a thing without precedent, is a mass of undignified poor. They do not love one another because they do not love themselves."
From Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. 

Saturday, September 22

Some Rough Thoughts on Globalization, and the Most Likely Types of Businesses to Thrive in a Local Economy

In general, globalization presents a massive challenge to the health of local economies everywhere. If we could balance a global economy for high-value products with a local economy for basic needs/wants, that would be ideal. Unfortunately, global companies dominate both high-value products (think Apple and Honda) AND basic needs/wants (think Wal-Mart and Home Depot). This strips the teeth out of local economy--local businesses that are actually manageable by 'normal folks' like grocery and hardware stores cannot compete with the behemoths. Not everyone has the expertise and education to create a global company, but in every town there are at least a few people who can run a grocery or hardware store.

Yay, global Apple and Honda. Boo, global Wal-Mart and Home Depot.

Friday, September 21

"The problem with any ideology is that it gives the answer before you look at the evidence."

From President Bill Clinton's appearance on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart:
"If I come to you and I say we have this terrible national debt and here's my opening gambit. First thing I want to do is increase it by $5 trillion over a decade by doing another round of tax cuts that mostly benefit the people we benefited in the last decade, even thought it didn't produce jobs. Now we're in a really deep hole, much bigger than this clock I just showed you. Now let me tell you how we're going to get out of it. Well, what about the details? See me about that after the election.
"So I wanted to try to explain that in very simple terms. No one else would do that; no one . Unless you were being driven by ideology instead of by evidence. This is a practical country. We have ideals. We have philosophies. But the problem with any ideology is that it gives the answer before you look at the evidence. So you have to mold the evidence to get the answer that you've already decided you've got to have. It doesn't work that way. Building an economy; rebuilding an economy is hard, practical nuts and bolts work."
Daily Kos

Friday, September 14

The Stock Market Likes Obama Very Much

Are we better off than four years ago? I was thinking about this, and so I asked my good friend, the S&P 500 index. And, lo, he said unto me, "Yes, Jason, you idiot, we’re at 172% of where we were when Obama took over!" So it looks as if Mr. S&P 500 is voting for Obama. (Mr. Dow Jones Industrial Average and Ms. NASDAQ Composite are also voting for him.)

On a side note, if Obama is a Socialist, he's the worst Socialist the world has ever seen.

Wednesday, September 12

The Perverse Incentive to Keep Our Prisons Full

As a society, we should be working to reduce the number of inmates in our prisons. The current trend toward prison privatization, however, seems to be creating an 'inverted incentive' to keep prisons full.
"At a time when states are struggling to reduce bloated prison populations and tight budgets, a private prison management company is offering to buy prisons in exchange for various considerations, including a controversial guarantee that the governments maintain a 90% occupancy rate for at least 20 years. 
"The $250 million proposal, circulated by the Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America to prison officials in 48 states, has been blasted by some state officials who suggest such a program could pressure criminal justice officials to seek harsher sentences to maintain the contractually required occupancy rates. 
"'You don't want a prison system operating with the goal of maximizing profits,' says Texas state Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat and advocate for reducing prison populations through less costly diversion programs. 'The only thing worse is that this seeks to take advantage of some states' troubled financial position.'"
 Private purchasing of prisons locks in occupancy rates (USA Today)

Tuesday, September 11

The bottom 90 percent of U.S. households hold just 23.4 percent of all wealth (and other stories)

The State of Working America is an ongoing analysis by the Economic Policy Institute, and includes a wide variety of data on income, unemployment, wealth, and poverty. Here are a few key recent statistics:

  • In 2000, median family income was $66,259. In 2010, it was 6 percent lower ($62,301), constituting a “lost decade” for income growth. African American and Hispanic families had substantially lower incomes.
  • Incomes for middle-class households and families are not likely to reach their 2000 levels until 2018.
  • In 1962, the wealthiest 1 percent had 125 times the wealth of a median household. In 2010, the ratio was 288-to-1.
  • In 2010, the top 1 percent of households received 17.2 percent of all income in the economy, in addition to holding 35.4 percent of all wealth.
  • In 2010, the bottom 90 percent received only 55.5 percent of all income and held just 23.3 percent of all wealth.

At the State of Working America website, you can find more statistics on incomewealth, poverty and upward mobility, along with a host of additional information.

Monday, September 10

98% of August 2012 donations to the Obama campaign were for $250 or less

"The Obama campaign said on Twitter that 98 percent of donations in August were for $250 or less. The Republican effort raised about $34.6 million in donations of less than $250, the campaign said, about a third of the total..."
I wonder which candidate's message resonates more with the middle class?

Obama Campaign Says It Beat Romney in Fund-Raising for August (New York Times)

Friday, September 7

Tom Morello: 'Paul Ryan Is the Embodiment of the Machine Our Music Rages Against'

In case you missed Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello's fantastic op-ed in Rolling Stone a few weeks ago:
"Paul Ryan's love of Rage Against the Machine is amusing, because he is the embodiment of the machine that our music has been raging against for two decades. Charles Manson loved the Beatles but didn't understand them. Governor Chris Christie loves Bruce Springsteen but doesn't understand him. And Paul Ryan is clueless about his favorite band, Rage Against the Machine." ... 
"I wonder what Ryan's favorite Rage song is? Is it the one where we condemn the genocide of Native Americans? The one lambasting American imperialism? Our cover of "Fuck the Police"? Or is it the one where we call on the people to seize the means of production? So many excellent choices to jam out to at Young Republican meetings! 
"Don't mistake me, I clearly see that Ryan has a whole lotta 'rage' in him: A rage against women, a rage against immigrants, a rage against workers, a rage against gays, a rage against the poor, a rage against the environment. Basically the only thing he's not raging against is the privileged elite he's groveling in front of for campaign contributions."
Paul Ryan Is the Embodiment of the Machine Our Music Rages Against (Rolling Stone). Thanks to rixi for the reminder.

Thursday, September 6

Costco Founder Says Obama Better For Business Than Romney

"Companies need 'a president who takes the long view and makes the tough decisions,' said Sinegal, who remained on the board of the largest U.S. warehouse-club chain after retiring as its chief executive officer in January. 'That’s why I am here tonight supporting President Obama, a president making an economy built to last.'"
Link (Bloomberg)

Wednesday, September 5

Isaac Asimov on Anti-Intellectualism

"Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'"

Tuesday, September 4

You Can Vote, As Long As the GOP Approves of Your Race, Class and Social Status

Republicans have been working very hard to make it more difficult and costly for the young, the elderly, minorities, union members and single and elderly women to cast a vote for Barack Obama. Bill Blum writes:
"According to the Brennan Center for Justice, since the start of 2011, 16 states—accounting for 214 electoral votes—have passed restrictive voting laws. Each law is different, with states such as Florida seeking to curb voter registration drives and others such as South Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania imposing new requirements on voters to produce government-issued photo IDs at the polls." ... 
"...the scope of the suppression movement and its potential impact are staggering. The Brennan Center reports that as many as 11 percent of eligible voters—roughly 21 million Americans—lack current, unexpired government-issued photo IDs. The percentages are even higher among seniors, African-Americans and other minorities, the working poor, the disabled and students—constituencies that traditionally skew Democratic and whose disenfranchisement could prove decisive in any election." ... 
"With the anticipated triumph of voter suppression, the American right will finally achieve the new political order it has long craved—a trifecta of institutionalized class domination in which (1) the poor, the elderly and minorities in large numbers are denied the right to vote; (2) labor unions are crippled; and (3) massive corporations—considered “people” under the law and set free to spend unlimited sums to rig the outcome of elections—have become the only 'people' who matter."
Voter Suppression and John Roberts’ New World Order (TruthDig)

Friday, August 31

World's Richest Woman (Who Inherited Her Wealth) Says Poor Should Work Harder and Socialize Less

"'If you're jealous of those with more money, don't just sit there and complain,' she said in a magazine piece. 'Do something to make more money yourself -- spend less time drinking or smoking and socialising, and more time working.' ... 
"Rinehart made her money the old-fashioned way: She inherited it. Her family iron ore prospecting fortune of $30.1 billion makes her Australia's wealthiest person and the richest woman on the planet."
Not so sure this is good advice on her part. If the poor stop having fun, they'll have nothing to distract them from revolting against the rich.

World's richest woman says poor should have less fun, work harder (LA Times)

Thursday, August 30

Paul Ryan's Anti-Randian Moment: Use Government Money to Bail Out the GM Plant in His Hometown

Matthew DeLuca writes:
"Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican vice-presidential candidate, was a leading member of a task force convened by the state’s Democratic governor in 2008, Jim Doyle, to save a once-flourishing automobile plant in Ryan’s hometown of Janesville, according to state officials. 
"After General Motors announced on June 3, 2008 that it intended to close the nearly 100-year-old plant by 2010, Ryan joined a core group of about a dozen other Wisconsin officials from both parties in the GM Retention Task Force. Their efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, and the company suspended all operations at the facility by Dec. 23, 2008, eliminating 2,400 jobs. It has been in “standby” mode since. 
"In his role on the task force, Ryan—the House Budget Committee chair whose plans to reduce the size of government and with it the extent of what he’s called “crony capitalism” made him a national figure—negotiated directly with GM executives about a taxpayer-funded “incentive package” to try to convince the company to keep the plant in his district running."
So...let's keep the government small and out of our lives...except when we need the government to bail us out. Very consistent.

Paul Ryan Used Government Funds and Power to Try and Save GM Plant in His District (The Daily Beast)

Wednesday, August 29

Ron Paul Supporters Silenced at Republican National Convention

John Nichols writes:
"Paul was the Romney challenger who stayed in the race longest, and who won almost 200 delegate votes. (The actual delegate vote for Paul was hard to measure, as RNC officials only announced votes for Romney during Tuesday night’s roll call, but the Seatte Times counted 193 for Paul.) 
"Not that many years ago, coming second in the convention vote might have guaranteed Paul a convention speaking slot. 
"At this convention, it guaranteed him—and his supporters—treatmet so rough that his supporters, the largest dissident block on the floor, openly accused party chair Reince Priebus and his team of 'corruption.' 
"Paul backers had enough delegates and support in the states to have their candidate’s name put in nomination. But that didn’t count in the Priebus party. As the New York Times noted: "'Delegates from Nevada tried to nominate Mr. Paul from the floor, submitting petitions from their own state as well as Minnesota, Maine, Iowa, Oregon, Alaska and the Virgin Islands. That should have done the trick: Rules require signatures from just five states. But the party changed the rules on the spot. Henceforth, delegates must gather petitions from eight states.'"
 Looks like the GOP is no friend of Ron Paul.

His Supporters Treated 'Atrociously,' Ron Paul Refuses to Back Romney (The Nation)

Tuesday, August 28

Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants

Our children are 'digital natives'--young citizens born into a world immersed in technology:
"While many of us can bemoan this change in childhood and look back longingly on the time when baseball and outdoor activities were more prevalent than video games, the reality is that technology is here to stay and children are its consumers as much as adults, for better or for worse."
One would think that today's young people, being digital natives, would have an almost innate ability to use technology more effectively than their parents (who are 'digital immigrants'). This is not necessarily so:
"We, as 'digital immigrants,' remember writing research papers by reading through piles of journals, books, and archives of periodicals. When we approach online research, we realize how revolutionary the Internet is because we know what it was like before. We then apply those research techniques to online search engines, and find our tasks much easier to complete. Our students have no frame of reference of a 'pre-Internet' world. They are accustomed to working with intuitive electronics that provide instant gratification, and when they are not able to be 'done' quickly, they tend to become discouraged."
The challenge:
"This leaves us with the question of how to inspire students to look through Internet search results with tenacity, to approach new technologies that may require more problem-solving skills, and to address tasks that are not as instantaneously gratifying as playing video games. It is our role as teachers to help students develop the skills to problem solve independently and collaboratively use 21st-century skills while not relying on technology to do all of the thinking for them."
Being a Digital Native Isn’t Enough (Scientific American)

Monday, August 27

'Liberal Professor' Sends Video of Himself Being Liberal to Right-Wing Campus Group, Hopes to Claim Reward

Campus Reform, a right-wing college student organization, asked students to submit videos of 'liberal professors,' for which they would be awarded $100 if their submission led to a news story. Kieran Healy, a sociology professor at Duke, submitted a video of himself (in all his liberal glory) in hopes of claiming the cash. Now that this has gone viral, I think he's due his $100, don't you?

Bottom Feeders (

Friday, August 24

Does Mitt Romney's Flip-Flop on Gay Rights Make Him Malleable, or Simply a Liar?

So, do we believe the Mitt Romney of 2012, or the Mitt Romney of 1994?
"Mitt Romney earned huge cheers at a conservative conference in February when he bragged, "On my watch, we fought hard and prevented Massachusetts from becoming the Las Vegas of gay marriage." But in 1994, running for Senate against Ted Kennedy, he told a local gay and lesbian paper he was even more pro-gay rights than Kennedy."
This Is How Proud Romney Was to Be Pro-Gay Rights in 1994 (The Atlantic Wire)

Thursday, August 23

Symantec: Religious Websites Have 3X More Malware than Pornographic Sites

Symantec's 'Internet Security Threat Report', published earlier this year, makes the following observation (p. 33):
"...religious and ideological sites were found to have triple the average number of threats per infected site than adult/pornographic sites. We hypothesize that this is because pornographic website owners already make money from the internet and, as a result, have a vested interest in keeping their sites malware-free – it’s not good for repeat business."
Internet Security Threat Report (PDF, Symantec)

Wednesday, August 22

Maureen Dowd Eviscerates Akin and Ryan

I suppose it's low-hanging fruit, but Maureen Dowd's column on the Todd Akin debacle in yesterday's New York Times is just too good to resist highlighting. Here are a few choice excerpts:
"Paul Ryan, who teamed up with Akin in the House to sponsor harsh anti-abortion bills, may look young and hip and new generation, with his iPod full of heavy metal jams and his cute kids. But he’s just a fresh face on a Taliban creed — the evermore antediluvian, anti-women, anti-immigrant, anti-gay conservative core. Amiable in khakis and polo shirts, Ryan is the perfect modern leader to rally medieval Republicans who believe that Adam and Eve cavorted with dinosaurs."
Ouch. Quoting a Standford professor:
"'The biological facts are perhaps inconvenient, but whether the egg meets the sperm is a matter of luck or prevention,' says Dr. Paul Blumenthal, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology who directs the Stanford Program for International Reproductive Education and Services. 'If wishing that 'I won’t get pregnant right now' made it so, we wouldn’t need contraceptives.'"
And she brings in the thoughts of a Republican strategist:
"'Next we’ll be trying to take away the vote from women,' lamented Alex Castellanos, a Republican strategist who advised Romney in the 2008 race. 'How can we be the party of cool and make the generational leap forward when we have these recidivist ideas at the very core of our base?'"
Finally, I cannot help but include a concisely worded comment from New York Times reader "Ralph":
"The problem is not limited to Missouri. A number of voters are willing to consider voting for Ryan as VP; his views are every bit as retrograde as Akins'. The only difference is he is oblique, rather than honest."
Just Think No (New York Times)

Tuesday, August 21

Douglas Adams on Money and Unhappiness

"This planet has - or rather had - a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movement of small green pieces of paper, which was odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy."
From the late, great Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.