Sunday, August 28, 2011

I spent a few days away with family and friends. Needless to say, many are Republicans and worse yet, Tea Baggers.

I'm sure many of you can sympathize (empathize?) with this situation, looking to spend some R&R time away, visiting loved ones, catching up with old acquaintances, and yet knowing all the while the political leanings of those you will meet and that there's always the chance of something being said -- whether it be by them or you -- where if not handled delicately could domino into a full-blown squabble. On the one hand, you simply want to meet/greet/converse and keep things light, not because you want to but rather because you have to. Been there, done that, and past occurrences have dictated that's the way it has to be (unfortunately).

On the other hand, if something is said politically, you do not want to just let things go with a nod and grin, wanting instead to respond to whatever was said. Odds are it was something about Obama, or the deficit, or the woeful economy. Whatever was said, you know it was likely something paraphrased from FOX News and is either based on fiction or incorrect assumptions, or both.

Do you dare say something that undoubtedly will be perceived as "elitist" (code word for factually correct AND liberal-leaning)? Or do you just suck-it up, not wanting to risk having a brief statement mushroom into an ugly scene?

You never know which way things will go. Republicans and esp. Tea Baggers seemingly by nature harbor much inner-anger and are quick to jump all over you if they sense they're not discussing something with like-minded-thinking folks.

I have a tendency to try and go half way, perhaps injecting some facts into the dialogue (without mentioning sources up front since too often if you say NY Times or the like, it's immediately dismissed as leftist dogma), but stopping well short of giving a fleshed-out basis for my thoughts on the matter. I must say though that at times even this brief attempt at introducing something other that what Rush or Hannity might say does ignite some sparks. I must then make a quick decision: do I look to change the subject, if not for anyone else than for the sake of the kids if an argument ensued, or do I gingerly but forcefully rebuff the stoked-up incitement? Do I want to be another wet noodle? Another spineless liberal ala Harry Reid? Or do I do what Republicans and Tea Baggers do best, meet their intimidation and anger head-on with a dose of my own??

Again, for the sake of the kids, you want to avoid what could easily become an embarrassing spectacle. But also I am frequently outnumbered by this crowd and they appear to be fully aware of this and use it to full advantage, pressing their views while knowing they have numbers in bodies and can bully thanks to children being present.

Fortunately this time around, I was able to make some brief comments unscathed, deftly side-stepping any openings or possibilities for eruptions. Whew.

A relief, yes. But still it never ceases to amaze me the things I hear uttered by someone only to later hear something else said by the same person that contradicts or conflicts with what he or she said just a short time earlier.

For example, someone mentioned an article in the latest National Geographic magazine that informs of the women in Brazil having fewer babies thanks to their educating themselves about birth control alternatives. This person felt the article was very interesting and understood that in part Brazil's success over the last several years is due to their population becoming more developed and progressive in their thinking. However, this person is very much against abortion, actually he's against all forms of birth control, and also has a personal situation involving a teen pregnancy -- will leave at that, but I don't believe it was lost on him that education and birth control could have prevented that teen pregnancy.

Conflicting logic and dare I say hypocrisy is the norm when one is with Republicans and Tea Baggers. Yet as I mentioned, it's always amazing to observe their lack of realizing or acknowledging these many conflicts, that they live their day-to-day lives with so much incongruence, denial and (willful?) blindness.

Some other examples of topics that surfaced which I either elected to briefly offer comments and keep fingers crossed heated debate didn't follow, or I just let it go without comment (have to conserve energy, can't risk entanglement at every turn):
* Weather. Irene was obviously a subject of discussion, but so also was the torrential rains this summer coupled with parts of the country experiencing consecutive days of excruciating heat (e.g. Austin had 70 straight days of 100+ degree heat). You'd think maybe climate change would receive a mention as a possible factor in all of this -- nope. Instead, the usual babble about how weather is cyclical, this admittedly strange weather is no different than times in the past, it's just Mother Nature "getting angry", etc. Please. I did state that in fact the trends are not cyclical, that the charts all show the direction of heat and CO2 heading in one direction: up. Cyclical infers an up/down pattern -- over time, it's just not there. I also asked my favorite question, "where do you think the CO2 and pollutants go, into outer space?" and as per usual, never received a response.

* Riots in Philadelphia. I heard accolades given to the mayor of Philly, saying finally that city gets a good mayor, tough on "hoodlums" and enforcing curfews. I didn't think establishing something close to martial law in a U.S. city was a good thing, and was certainly a worrisome development to say the least, not so much warranting congrats to one individual but rather demanding analysis. Why is this happening? What are the root causes and how can those be addressed? I had to remind it's not likely just a coincidence that similar riots had been occurring elsewhere in the world (London, Chile, Egypt, Libya, etc.). The non-rich and non-elite are growing increasingly weary and frustrated with the state of things, whether it be high unemployment, rising food prices, ballooning wealth disparity, entrenched corruption, to name a few. People are getting pissed. Extending unemployment insurance is not just the right thing to do, it may also help to prevent further civil unrest -- but the GOP and Tea Baggers are too short-sighted to recognize such an act as a wise "investment."

* Stock portfolios. There was much chatter about the stock market. Will it go up from here or continue to go down? Do I have too much in stocks? Should I buy gold? Any advice?? No mention about how the stock market began its descent right after the Tea Party debt ceiling victory, effectively initiating a massive austerity program which leaves the economy sputtering on its own, with the government in a fiscal straight-jacket, not able to help. The stock market decline simply reflected the fragile state of the economy but more so it being sent out alone on the high-wire with no balance pole, no net, no nothing. S&P literally stated their downgrade was due largely to the Tea Party hostage-taking maneuver, and according to Sen. Mitch McConnell it will be used repeatedly in future. Heck, even Bernanke strongly hinted that the economy could use more help than just what the Fed could offer in monetary cures. But all of this was lost on this Tea Party crowd, who simply wanted to blame Obama, period.

* Libya/Gaddafi. Much grousing about why are we there at all. Oh boy. So it's OK for GW/Cheney to invade another oil-rich country that had nothing to do with 9/11, spending over $1 trillion to do so, using "shock and awe" methods to both scare and impress the world, and heavily reward a company called Halliburton -- and yet it's not OK for Obama to spend very little regarding Libya, doing so quietly, and obviously getting good results...? Gads, I just let this one go....
You get the point. It went on and on over several days. Some retired folks who were proud government workers for many years (decades), and yet recited more than a few anti-government GOP talking points. Mind you these same people had stated they loved their Medicare (when I asked) and even enrolled their name/address/phone# on a government website to receive robo-calls about Irene. I even heard one person seemingly slip up and tell me that in his town children attending a Catholic school receive busing to that school on the town's dime, via the public school bus system. I asked how could this be, why should the local public there pay for transportation to a non-public school -- never received a coherent answer.

As much as I love vacations and seeing family and friends, this aspect of the visit never changes and serves to spoil what should be an enjoyable time. I have no problem with differences of opinions, as long as the arguments involved are based on facts, reason, logic and non-conflicting beliefs. As you can see, rarely do I encounter any of this. A shame.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Michael Tomasky recently wrote a piece that exposes not only the true culprit behind our deficit (nothing surprising on this front), but also exposes the Tea Baggers as crazed hypocrites.
The Boston Globe ran a chart (see below) last Sunday that I’d buy billboard space to reproduce in every decent-size city in America, if I were running the Democratic National Committee. The premise of it was very simple: It showed how many trillions each president since Ronald Reagan has added to the nation’s debt. The debt was about $1 trillion when Reagan took office, and then: Reagan, $1.9 trillion; George H.W. Bush, $1.5 trillion (in just four years); Bill Clinton, $1.4 trillion; Obama, $2.4 trillion.

Oh, wait. I skipped someone. George W. Bush ran up $6.4 trillion. That’s nearly half—44.7 percent—of the $14.3 trillion total. We all know what did it—two massive tax cuts geared toward the rich (along with other similar measures, like slashing the capital gains and inheritance taxes), the off-the-books wars, the unfunded Medicare expansion, and so on. But the number is staggering and worth dwelling on. In a history covering 30 years, nearly half the debt was run up in eight. Even the allegedly socialist Obama at his most allegedly wanton doesn’t compare to Dubya; and Obama’s debt numbers, if he’s reelected, will surely not double or even come close as we gambol down Austerity Lane.

In percentage terms, the case is even more open and shut. This table (below) tells the sad tale. The percentages in question here are debt as a chunk of the GDP. It was more than 100 percent after World War II ended, for defensible and obvious reasons having to do with financing the war effort (the government buying all those tanks and planes from GM, and everything else). But after it went back down, it had tended to hover in the 40 to 50 percent range during good times. Well, Reagan raised it 20 points, to 53 percent from 33 percent. Bush Sr. a gaudy 13 points more. Clinton lowered it by 10 points, back down to 56 percent. Bush Jr.? Up 28 points, to 82 percent of GDP. Obama has raised it nine points. Once again: In a 30-year increase from 32 percent to 93 percent of 61 points, nearly half, 28 points or 46 percent, happened under Bush.

When I haven’t had to leave the room to avoid smashing the television, I can only laugh when I hear Tea Party conservatives avow today, with all the credibility of Larry Craig explaining his wide-stance technique, that they have no love for Bush. Nonsense. What did they have for him in real time? Were there protest marches, mass donnings of tricorn hats, nullification threats from states regarding federal legislation? Of course not. In real time, there was a little polite caviling, but in the end they voted for all this debt. After all, Bush was defending freedom.

It is truly an incredible record when you stack it up. First, the party fought tooth and nail against every single move Clinton made that ended up putting us in surplus. Then it got power—and let’s not get into how that happened—and ran up completely unprecedented debts and deficits. Then it put the foxes in command of the henhouses at the SEC and OTC and brought the world to the very brink of total economic collapse. (The economic “growth” rate in the fourth quarter of 2008, according to recently revised Commerce Department figures, was negative 8.9 percent; even during the Depression rates were typically higher.) Then a guy from the other party got back in, tried to do what the vast majority of economists would say should be done in such a situation (the government should spend money while the private sector couldn’t), and they fought him tooth and nail. And now they’ve forced him into a deal (which he should not have agreed to) that will help ensure that the economy remains stuck in neutral until, oh, November 2012, to pick a date out of the air. Next, that guy will identify tax cuts to spur job growth, and they will invent reasons to oppose these measures, just as they once invented reasons why “deficits don’t matter."
Well, there you have it, succinctly put. The exploding deficit was not a problem as long as one of their own was in the White House. But with a Democrat winning fair and square to take up residence there, all hell breaks loose, they throw a sh*t fit. And it doesn't help that this Dem is 50% not white, further driving them over the edge.

The key charts are below. In the first graphic, note that almost 50% of Obama's contribution ($2.4 trillion) is comprised of stimulus measures that 1) had to be implemented due to the Great Recession that Obama inherited and 2) which worked.

Click to magnify
In his NY Times op-ed, Warren Buffett sums up today's America:
Last year my federal tax bill — the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf — was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income — and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent....The mega-rich pay income taxes at a rate of 15 percent on most of their earnings but pay practically nothing in payroll taxes.
This country has been reduced to one word: greed. How else to explain the utter silence on this matter? Despite the fact Buffett generously writes, "I know well many of the mega-rich and, by and large, they are very decent people....Most wouldn’t mind being told to pay more in taxes," why is he the only super-wealthy person to regularly speak out about the unfairness in the tax code? Where are all the other "decent" folk of which he speaks, who seemingly hide in the shadows and avoid making such an impassioned plea to raise taxes on their brethren?

Reminder: there were many super-wealthy people on the Titanic.... Rich, poor, there's no difference at the bottom of the ocean.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Newsweek's front cover of Michelle Bachmann has received much coverage, with the photo apparently depicting her not as herself but rather as a crazy woman.

Of course, there's no chance that she actually looks that way in real-life. I mean after all, it's never been said before or written anywhere that she has a crazy-eyes look. No, it has to be that liberal rag Newsweek simply out to get her, to make her look silly.

Oh boy. Anyone with half a brain would know that odds are extremely low that her people did not see the cover photo before it went to press. I'm sure it was OK'd by the Bachmann folks, and I'm sure they felt that's just how she looks when photographed.

But what is frightening is it's my sense that those who first stirred up the controversy and made it into a national crime are Bachmann's supporters, not Bachmann herself or her people. Her die-hard fan base cried foul, clamoring for justice, believing it was another evil, liberal plot.

It's one thing to be an enthusiastic supporter for a given candidate, but many a Tea Bagger goes beyond to what can only be regarded as cult-figure followers. Anything that is perceived to be a slight against their leader(s) is immediately called out and admonished in the most forceful manner -- never mind if there's any truth to their presumption.

Recall when Sarah Palin made incorrect statements about Paul Revere. It was reported then that her followers quickly bombarded Paul Revere's Wiki page, attempting to change the correct facts there to match Palin's wrongness. To me this was horrific. People were more than willing to modify the truth in an effort to "please" or "honor" their glorified leader. It was something right out of Orwell's 1984 -- bone-chilling.

In my opinion this behavior is unsettling to put it mildly and could conceivably devolve into something more dangerous. History shows that followers of cults can get so caught up in their beliefs and so removed from reality that unfortunate actions can result.

It's something to be aware of and keep a watchful eye on.... Nothing good can come from zombie-like hero/heroine worship.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"Let’s take a stroll down memory lane, shall we?" -- Steve Benen

A timeline well-worth memorizing.

It's really incredible to take in what's happened in the last 30 some odd years. From Reagan + $2 trillion in debt, to Clinton amassing a surplus, to GW/Cheney with "Deficits don't matter" and +$5 trillion in debt, to Obama inheriting all the debt and Great Recession and getting shat on for not fixing everything in two years, to most recent S&P "Tea Party" downgrade.

Is this the road to ruin we always hear about, in real-life?

And Einstein's quote keeps coming to mind, "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

Unfortunately, we have devolved into an insane asylum with the inmates running the place. And I give you a senior wacko in charge, along with the Puppet Master.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Anyone or anything most responsible for the S&P downgrade? According to S&P, blame the Tea Party and Republicans. Also click here.

Friday, August 05, 2011

What I would like to know is how many of the 82% voted for Tea Party schmucks last year? And they're going to complain now??

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Krugman makes a good point (one of many). Obama's tactics may work when you're dealing with a conventional foe, but when the opposition is far beyond the norm, well into crazy and nonsensical terrain, then one likewise must operate in an unconventional manner. It's similar to fighting cleanly when your foe is pulling out all the cheap shots to pummel you bloody. I believe anyone would expect in that situation for the person fighting cleanly to toss off his/her gloves and get down and dirty.

Yet Obama continues to live in this delusional world as if today's Republican Party is the GOP of yesteryear. As crazy as Republicans were under GW/Cheney, they're (incredibly) much worse now. And as Kevin Drum wrote today, we're basically being held hostage by about 10% of elected politicians -- how is this possible? As Krugman states, polls show even the average Republican voter is to the left of these Tea Bagger folks in Congress.

How is this happening? One big reason is because one side is functioning on steroids, ripping apart flesh and just going hog-wild nuts to get what they want, while the other side is populated by meek, overly-cautious Democrats who refuse to see the ugly reality of the situation and/or just can't muster an equal-in-force response.

We've always known the Dems to be wet noodles and spineless, but if they remain this way given the piranha-like opposition, there will be nothing left of them but their bones and their dignity.

But then again maybe my prior post will be right, maybe the American public will come to the rescue of the hapless Dems and finally put a stop to this. As Keith Olbermann ranted last night, like the cavalry, it will be up to us since our elected reps are just not up to the fight.
Today will come and go and fortunately it won't be the end of the world as we know it. The Tea Party put a gun to the country's head and the saner in Washington had no choice but to cave, to give in to their demands.

Many will say that Obama should've fought harder from the start, or better yet he should've taken control of the dialogue to prevent the proverbial train from leaving the station. To allow Republicans to win another fight via intransigence just continues to feed the beast and encourage their unyielding ways.

However, I venture to say that with this debt ceiling fiasco, the infantile sect of the clueless have finally pushed too far, with most Americans (including even some lucid, less-crazed Tea Baggers) fully realizing that such acts of brute force without reasonable compromise is no way to run a this country. Maybe a third-world, developing country can have a small faction apply extreme pressure to effectively attain their demands, but not a mature, fully-developed democracy like the United States. Bringing our nation to the brink of an economic meltdown was far more of a treasonous act than the so-called anti-American acts of daring to criticize GW/Cheney post-9/11.

That said I almost encourage the radical right-wing nutbags in the GOP to ratchet things up even further the next time they're itching for a fight. I have to think the next time will be their last. This most recent charade will not be forgotten easily, and they should count their blessings given what they got out of the deal. If they were smart, they'd take their winnings and lay low for a long while. But I have a feeling we'll be hearing from them again soon -- like a junkie hooked on crystal meth or a successful bank robber who doesn't know when to retire.

I have little to no faith that Obama will stand up to these hoods next time as I haven't the empirical evidence to support such a notion. Yet I do believe it will be most Americans next time that will prove to be the difference, as they'll quickly recall this nightmare as fast as one recalls the name of a restaurant responsible for wrenching food poisoning. The memory will be all too real and next time things will go very differently.

If not, if I'm wrong, God help America.