Tuesday, September 30, 2008

High Fructose Corn Syrup is swell ... say people who manufacture High Fructose Corn Syrup

The other day I saw a commercial* from the Corn Refiners Association saying that high fructose syrup is swell because it's made from corn, doesn't have more calories than other forms of sugar, and it is fine in moderate amounts and what not. CRA is apparently trying to counter the negative public perception of HFCS

The Corn Refiners Association launched an 18-month, $20 to $30 million public relations and advertising campaign "to convince consumers that HFCS [high-fructose corn syrup] isn't the evil it has been made out to be." The industry group is running ads in major newspapers -- under the banner "time for a little food for thought" -- that say HFCS has the "same natural sweeteners as table sugar and honey." The campaign, which was created by the Omnicom Group firm DDB, also includes television and online ads and "phone and in-person conversations with influential mommy bloggers." The Corn Refiners Association "has been trying to counter the bad publicity around HFCS since 2004," but concluded it "could no longer afford to rely on simple grass-roots marketing tactics such as talking with nutritionists and doctors." Major food and beverage producers, such as Kraft, are now promoting products as HFCS-free. The American Medical Association recently concluded that HFCS "doesn't appear to contribute more to obesity than other caloric sweeteners," but called for "further independent research."

Ok, let's see here:

1. HFCS being "natural" because it's made from corn is irrelevant, not to mention somewhat misleading since it's an artificial creation. Of course, that doesn't matter either: what matters is the effects the substance has.

2. HFCS is fine in moderate amounts and is going to have insignifcant differences with refined sugar, true. This misses the point.

Foods that have HFCS - like sodas, for instance - tend not to have HFCS in them in moderate amounts. What's more, foods that have HFCS in them tend not to be healthy whole foods, period. Show me something with HFCS in it and it's likely to be some form of junk food or refined, processed, garbage.

They also tend to be foods with a high glycemic response, which tends to decrease insulin sensitivity (increasing your risk of developing type 2 diabetes) and playing havoc with your appetite.

Bottom line is that you generally want to avoid eating foods that add HFCS in them because the foods that don't have HFCS in them tend to be the ones that by default promote a healthier diet. These are the foods that are on the perimeter of grocery stores: fruits, vegetables, lean meats, fish and whole grains.

For a basic and quality healthy eating guide, see Walter Willett's Healthy Eating Pyramid and/or his book Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy.

*The one I saw featured a couple, with the girl making the guy look dumb for thinking there's anything wrong for eating a popsicle. There is another commerical targeting mothers who don't want to feed there kids HFCS.

Things that apparently make me paranoid

Checking my web traffic and seeing someone visited my blog from the scandal ridden Department of Justice after getting e-mailed a link to my Fox as Pravda post.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Wall Street Bail-out: The 10 rules for understanding how government functions

Via Glenn Greenwald

1. Incredibly complex and consequential new laws are negotiated in secret and then enacted immediately, with no hearings, no real debate, no transparency.

2. Those who created the crisis, were wrong about everything, drive the process.

3. Public opinion is largely ignored, as always, and public anger is placated through illusory, symbolic and largely meaningless concessions.

4. The Government begins with demands for absolute power so brazen and absurd that anything, by comparison, seems reasonable.

5. Wall Street, large corporations and their lobbyists own the Federal Government and both parties, and (therefore) they always win.

6. The people who run the Washington Establishment are drowning in conflicts of interest.

7. For all the anger over what Wall St. has done, the Government -- as it bails them out -- isn't doing anything to rein in their practices.

8. When the Government wants greater and greater power and wants to engage in pure corruption, it need only put the population in extreme fear and it gets its way in every case.

9. On the most consequential and fundamental questions that define the country, the establishment/leadership of both political parties are in full agreement, and insulate themselves from any political ramifications by acting jointly.

10. Whenever you think that the Government has done things so extreme that it can't top itself -- torture, theories of presidential lawbreaking, a six-year war justified by blatantly false pretenses -- it always tops itself.

And, of course, there's much more in the original post at the link.

Even worse

Paul Krugman's op-ed today is about how little McCain knows about economics and about how bad his economic advisors are.

We’ve known for a long time, of course, that Mr. McCain doesn’t know much about economics — he’s said so himself, although he’s also denied having said it. That wouldn’t matter too much if he had good taste in advisers — but he doesn’t.

Remember, his chief mentor on economics is Phil Gramm, the arch-deregulator, who took special care in his Senate days to prevent oversight of financial derivatives — the very instruments that sank Lehman and A.I.G., and brought the credit markets to the edge of collapse. Mr. Gramm hasn’t had an official role in the McCain campaign since he pronounced America a “nation of whiners,” but he’s still considered a likely choice as Treasury secretary.

And last year, when the McCain campaign announced that the candidate had assembled “an impressive collection of economists, professors, and prominent conservative policy leaders” to advise him on economic policy, who was prominently featured? Kevin Hassett, the co-author of “Dow 36,000.” Enough said.
Mr. Krugman fails to mention the most significant and telling economic advisor that McCain has: Arthur Laffer. Yes, that Arthur Laffer. Laffer of supply-side infamy - the crackpot theory which has been put into practice twice now and failed spectacularly. And the same Laffer who was on the Rush Limbaugh radio program somewhere back in Dec. 06/Jan 07 (I failed to mark down the date in my notes) discussing how America currently had the greatest economy in the history of the planet.

McCain may try to portray himself as a champion of the people and what not, but having Laffer on board signifies that he'll be working for the rich just like George W. Bush did.

And then there's McCain having answered to the question: what one book would you take with to the White House? The Wealth Of Nations by Adam Smith.* That's an answer that is to Wall Street what George Bush saying Jesus is his favorite philosopher was to the Religious Right.

*Barack Obama answered Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, a biography of Abe Lincoln which focuses on how he chose for several cabinet positions members of his opposition during a time of national crisis.

The other revolving door

I flipped by Fox News last night only to see a pilot for a talk show hosted by the fresh off of a Republican presidential race Mike Huckabee. Although people in politics moving into journalism already happens much too often, Fox has again taken it to another level.

At any given moment you can turn to Fox and get "analysis" from Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich, Frank Luntz, Rick Santorum, Tom DeLay or some other firebreathing partisan hack who is barely -if at all - out of the political scene. Fox isn't merely blurring the line between reporting and promoting Republican views, it's erasing it.

It really does make one think of Pravda.

Gonzo journalism

Matt Taibbi may be a bit (ok, a lot) crude, but wow can he pack a punch.

Sarah Palin is a symbol of everything that is wrong with the modern United States. As a representative of our political system, she's a new low in reptilian villainy, the ultimate cynical masterwork of puppeteers like Karl Rove. But more than that, she is a horrifying symbol of how little we ask for in return for the total surrender of our political power.

Not only is Sarah Palin a fraud, she's the tawdriest, most half-assed fraud imaginable, 20 floors below the lowest common denominator, a character too dumb even for daytime TV -and this country is going to eat her up, cheering her every step of the way. All because most Americans no longer have the energy to do anything but lie back and allow ourselves to be jacked off by the calculating thieves who run this grasping consumer paradise we call a nation.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

John McCain should now be completely and utterly unelectable

I'll make the case in bullet points

- Pretty soon Congress will have doled out upwards of a trillion dollars of taxpayer money to bail-out Wall Street.

- John McCain plans hundreds of billions of dollars of taxcuts for the wealthiest Americans and corporations: the very same people who are going to be on the receiving end of that trillion dollars and who profited from the conditions that led to the financial mess in the first place.

- John McCain plans to couple his supply-side cuts for the mega-wealthy with severe spending cuts that would cut or cripple the programs that help and benefit the rest of the 99.9% of Americans.

How can anyone who is aware of this - excluding those who benefit from mortgaging the future of the American middle class and the working poor to subsidize the lifestyle of Richistan -possibly vote for John McCain?

Sourcing an inspiration for the conservative movement's partisan extremism

Thomas Frank provides this Grover Norquist quote in The Wrecking Crew

First, we want to remove liberal personnel from the political process. Then we want to capture those positions of power and influence for conservatives. Stalin taught the importance of this principle. He was running the personnel department, while Trotsky was fighting the White Army. When push came to shove for control of the Soviet Union, Stalin won. His people were in place and Trotsky’s were not … With this principle in mind, conservatives must do all they can to make sure that they get jobs in Washington.
To give you an idea of the role Norquist plays in the conservative movement, it is fair to say that to a large extent Norquist's efforts are why John McCain had to embrace Bush's disastrous supply-side economics to get the Republican nomination.

Can you imagine what the response - especially on AM radio - would be if some influential figure in the Democratic party cited Stalin as a political role model?

In case you missed it

Tina Fey does a brilliant impression of Sarah Palin.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Very tough times for the super mega-rich

"I talked to one guy who had to give up his private jet recently. And he said of all the trials in his life, giving that up was the hardest thing he's ever done." - Robert Frank (h/t The Vanity Press)

45+ million Americans don't have health insurance, but we can't have universal health care because that's socialism. A few hundred Americans (or less) might have to give up their private jets and its time for a massive socialist redistribution of wealth from the taxpayer to Wall Street.

That's not to say I don't believe something is necessary to avert a finacial crisis. It's just that the current plan appears highly dubious.

Guarding the hen house with wolves

From The Wrecking Crew by Thomas Frank

On my way out of the library I found, literally on the floor, a pamphlet called A Day in the Life of a Regulated American Family, signed by one Susan Dudley of the Mercatus Regulatory Studies Program, and apparently published by this PhD-flaunting institution with the goal of frightening small children. It is the perfect inversion of that story from 1945 about the happy dime, whose wanderings showed generations of schoolkids the many ways government improves our lives. Using the same kid-friendly technique, Dudley gives us a parable of deepest paranoia: Nearly everything in life, the pamphlet tells us darkly, is tainted by the hand of government. It regulates the radio stations, inspects our food, fiddles with our cars, restricts what we can do with our employees, and it might just declare our backyard a wetland if we don’t look out. Each of these examples is meant to terrify, and when the totalitarian threat isn’t immediately obvious – I, for one, wish the government would do more food inspecting, not less – Dudley sticks in an extra sentence establishing its awfulness (“John … is not made safer by the airbags”). The pamphlet is illustrated with clip art of the kind found for free on the Internet and used to enliven elementary school newsletters.

The trash was where this thing belonged, and I hastened to deliver it to its rightful resting place. But for some reason I hesitated, brought it home, looked up its author: and behold: a few years after excreting this thing, Susan Dudley succeeded John Graham as chief of OIRA [the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs]; she is today our government’s chief regulatory officer. The effect is like a hammer to the head, like learning that they’ve put a ten-year-old Quaker lad in charge of the Strategic Air Command.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Was Mitt Romney trying to prove my point?

A while back I posted an e-mail that I wrote that read:

Another issue that this brings to light: Thomas Frank has a new book coming out in a few days called The Wrecking Crew about how the conservative movement in power yields incompetent and ruinous government. Yet, whether in power or not, the noise machine figures spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week blaming "liberals" for all problems in America.

For example, they say vote for Republicans as a solution to fiscally irresponsible Democrats. They get in power and bankrupt the country and then say vote for Republicans as a solution to fiscally irresponsible Democrats. You get the idea ... they're very good at scapegoating, not so good at governing.
Despite my awareness of this Republican penchant for tilting at windmills, I still find it flabbergasting to witness in action. Take, for example, Mitt Romney's speech at the Republican National Convention. He could hardly have done more to make my point for me.

Romney begins by saying that we need to "change from a liberal Washington to a conservative Washington!" and to "throw out the big government liberals." Remember that this is a campaign speech for the Republican presidential candidate. Is Mitt Romney unaware that the Executive office has been under Republican rule for the last 8 years? that the "big government liberals" Romney is talking about are President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney and the Republican Congress that they had for much of their time in office?

The thing is is that it doesn't matter that Republicans have controlled much or most of the federal government - executive, legislative and judiciary - since 1980. Republicans such as Romney exist in a realm of mythology and imagination; where "liberals" are always to blame and "conservatives" by definition are never responsible for bad government. As Thomas Frank puts it in The Wrecking Crew (since blockquoting translates all text into italics, I've bolded words that Frank had italicized)

If we adopt the conservatives' own timeline and date their "revolution" to Reagan's election, it has been twenty-eight years. From that day to this, with only a few interruptions, conservatives have held either executive or legislative power over the very state that it is their article of faith to despise. The big government that they rail against, is, by and large, their government.
But "conservatives" can not recognize responsiblity for their governance because it is at odds with their ideological mythology. The narrative remains the same regardless of what the reality is: "liberals" and the "big government" establishment are the problem; "conservatives" are the solution. Frank elaborates this point through out the book

The conservatives' sense of their own exclusion is fundamental; it predicates everything they do, say, and enact. The government is never theirs, no matter how much of it they happen to control ...


The hallucination is dazzling, awesome. For most of the last three decades these [self-described] insurgents have controlled at least one branch of government; they were underwritten in their rule by the biggest of businesses; they were backed by a robust social movement with chapters across the radio dial. Still, however, they are the victims, the outsiders; they fight the power, the establishment, the snobs, the corrupt.
Why? Because faux populism is the movement's answer to selling an agenda designed to benefit a select few that in reality is unpopular with the American public. Heads we win, tails you lose scape-goating is a built-in epistemic component of the ideology of the conservative movement.

The conservatism that made such a huge comeback in the seventies and eighties was a mutation specifically adapted to survive a disaster of the 1929 variety. By which I do not mean that conservativsm abandoned laissez-faire, its raison d'etre, but that from now on it would present itself to the world as a form of opposition to the established order, changing its shape as circumstances required. From now on it would be a movement not of bankers and manufacturers but of outsiders, of rebels, of freedom fighters, even. It would recruit and mobilize the embittered and the aggrieved - blue-collar patriots worried about the Soviet threat, born-again Christians watching their culture fall apart - and form them into a vast grassroots insurgency. It would wallow in preposterous theories about the secret treason of the ruling liberals and encourage the darkest imaginable interpretation of the government's every deed. This was a movement defined by what it was against.

And the main thing it was against, as everyone knows, was Big Government, which is to say, the liberal state or, more commonly, just Washington. To this day, conservatives keep the volleys coming with remarkable consistency, deouncing the federal city and its works.
It's a sort of perverse form of the No True Scotsman tactic. Witness this dazzling jewel from Romney:

Is a Supreme Court liberal or conservative that awards Guantanamo terrorists with Constitution rights? It's liberal!
I'm not even sure where to begin with this; it's impressive the amount of b.s. Romney can manage to fit into a 14 word sentence. But let's star with this: There are 9 justices on the Supreme Court. Exactly 2 of those 9 were appointed by a Democratic president. The "liberal" Supreme Court has a majority - 6 out of 9 justices - appointed by either Bush 41, Bush 43, or Reagan - all appointments made since the conservative movement has taken over the Republican party. Given that Antonin Scalia has rebuked the Bush administration on occasion for its unilateral assertion of extra-Constitutional authority, that would make him a "liberal" too.

Which leads to the second point: the Supreme Court has never ruled that "Guantanamo terrorists" should be awarded "Constitution rights." The Supreme Court has ruled, however, that the President can not unilaterally abrogate the rule of law; that he can not unilaterally strip American citizens and legal residents of the rights that they are guaranteed by the Constitution; it has ruled that the most basic and essential foundation of our democratic society which stretches back to the 13th century - habeus corpus - can not be unilaterally voided by the President.

Romney's ideal "conservative" Supreme Court would hand the President the powers that when exercised by other countries we rightly denounce as the tools and foundation of tyranny. This reveals how authoritarian and fundamentalist the psuedo-conservative mindset has become; a "conservative" jurist is not defined by having conservative leanings and political views, but by how loyally the jurist is willing to provide sanction for the fiat of a Republican president (so long as that President himself is considered a "conservative" true believer.)

And lastly, it is by now well documented that many of those persons held at Guantanamo are not terrorists, nor were they captured on a battlefield. And we know that at least dozens have been held in error. For Romney to continue to collectively refer to everyone who has been held at Guantanamo as "terrorists" is sickening. Apparently, in "conservative" America the standard of justice is innocent until designated guilty by the President and then guilty for then and evermore no matter what. Or like the Red Queen said: Sentence first, verdict after.

Here are a couple more whoppers from Romney:

  • Is government spending — excluding inflation — liberal or conservative if it doubles since 1980? — It's liberal!
  • The right course is the one championed by Ronald Reagan 30 years ago and by John McCain today. It is to rein in government spending and to lower taxes ...
Here we see the best examples of what I was originally talking about. Government spending is "liberal" by definition, even when the "liberals" doing it are named Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush. And yet since Reagan is a hero of the conservative movement he is still credited as "rein[ing] in government spending." The compartmentalized thinking neccesary to circumvent cognitive dissonance is truly staggering.

Back to Thomas Frank:

When Reagan took over in 1981, he inherited an annual deficit of $59 billion and a national debt of $914 million; by the time he and his successor George Bush I had finished their work, they had quintrupled the deficit and pumped the debt up to $4 trillion.
And then Clinton came into office and the budget eventually got balanced and the annual deficit was transformed into a surplus. Which George W. Bush - the man Romney has conveniently forgotten has been President for the last 8 year, and whose economic policies McCain plans to continue - immediately turned back into massive deficits. Romney truly is residing in some sort of imaginary parallel universe. As Frank puts it

The irony of it all has been noted so many times that it is unnecessary to describe it in detail here. Republicans come to power again and again promising balanced budgets and howling against deficits - government debt was "mortgaging our future," Ronald Reagan admonished in his inaugural address - but once in office they proceed, with a combination of tax cuts [mostly for the super-rich] and spending increases, to balloon the federal deficit to levels far beyond those reached by their supposedly openhanded liberal rivals. So mechanically and so predictably do they embark on this course that it has basically become part of their identity, their brand. Vote Republican and watch the deficit grow.
Now here’s my favorite bit of reality revision from Romney

It's time for the party of big ideas, not the party of Big Brother!
I can imagine that George Babbitt – pre crisis of conscience – might have been able to interpret 1984 as an allegorical attack on liberalism and the welfare state, but that isn’t exactly what the social democrat George Orwell had in mind. No, what Orwell was actually concerned with was how a totalitarian state would attain and maintain power; and the primary means by which the party of Big Brother did so was by creating a state of perpetual war which was used to justify a state of perpetually curtailed liberties. Quoting Douglass Kellner in Towards a New Political Humanism:

In his prophetic novel 1984, George Orwell envisaged a grim condition of total warfare in which his fictional state Oceania ruled its fearful and intimidated citizens through war, police state terror, surveillance, and the suppression of civil liberties. This constant warfare kept Oceania’s citizens in a perpetual situation of mobilization and submission. Further, the Orwellian state controlled language, thought, and behavior through domination of the media and was thereby able to change the very meaning of language (“war is peace”) and to constantly rewrite history itself.
If anyone is the “party of Big Brother” it’s the one that gave us the Patriot Act, illegal authorization of the Pentagon to begin warrantless surveillance on US citizens, unilateral assertion of Executive authority to throw American citizens in prison indefinitely without charge or trial; the party which sells wars by rewriting history to link the enemy of the moment to 9/11 (e.g. Iraq and Iran); the party which desires to make the actions of its leaders secret and unaccountable to the public; the party which wants to roll back the Posse Comitatus Act; the party which wages an open assault on science – the most reliable means by which the human species ascertains reality. And that is the Republican Party.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Return to regular blogging

I should be back to posting tomorrow.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The real road to serfdom

Jack Balkin on socialized capitalism:

The country is currently enmeshed in a very serious financial crisis, one of the most serious since the Great Depression. The causes of this crisis are many, but one of the most important is the deregulatory philosophy that has suffused this Administration. This philosophy has proved intellectually bankrupt and now threatens to bankrupt the country as well. Had the Administration been willing to rein in the financial excesses of the past seven years, the crisis might have been avoided with far less cost to the country.In response to the crisis created in part by its own incompetence and ideological blinders, the Administration now asks for enormous new powers to run the economy in a form of state planning that would make Friedrich Hayek turn over in this grave but would surely bring a smile to Carl Schmitt's lips.

In the latest version of its plan, the Secretary of the Treasury is given authority to take 700 billion dollars (that's 700,000,000,000) from the federal budget and spend it pretty much however he likes, free from any oversight requirements or estrictions that apply to public contracts and especially free from any form of judicial review. (The technical term for this is "committed to agency discretion.").

Oversight and regulations of public contracts are designed to prevent malfeasance, corruption, self-dealing and conflicts of interest in the distribution of federal monies. (Here is a brief history of the Bush Administration's sorry legacy of squandering taxpayer money.). The Administration wishes to dispense with all of these restraints and precautions, just as it sought to run the Iraq war on no-bid contracts. That was bad enough, but here the dangers of bad deals and conflicts of interest are staggering. The Secretary is asking for authority to bail out Wall Street and enter into negotiations with financiers who include important parts of the political and financial base of the Republican Party. Not only will the Secretary be figuring out appropriate compensation for these people, he will also to a certain extent be deputizing a number of them to carry out a wide range of functions for the government.

Put differently, the Administration wants the Secretary to take over a sizable chunk of the nation's capital and insurance markets, and run them as a firm. It is a merger of public power and private capital that would have made a 1930s advocate of state corporatism proud. And because the Secretary's power is effectively unreviewable, he can make sweetheart deals with any or all of the firms and financiers that got us into this mess, providing handsome compensation packages to outgoing executives or, in the alternative, bring these failures into the government to run the new grand public/private business enterprise.
There is much more at the link, but you get the point.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Quote of the day

"Those who are to conduct a war cannot in the nature of things, be proper or safe judges, whether a war ought to be commenced, continued, or concluded. They are barred from the latter functions by a great principle in free government, analogous to that which separates the sword from the purse, or the power of executing from the power of enacting laws.... " - James Madison, Helvidius No. 1 Aug. 24, 1793

Slow blogging this week

I'll have limited access to the internet this week. So the posts I have waiting in draft form are going to be even more dated than they already are by the time I get around to posting them.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

How I'd respond

You may have noticed the latest phony controversy manufactured by the conservative movement. First, I would do what Obama did (his response is contained in that link). But then I'd go further and say something to this effect:

Look, what this is about is an attempt to divert the attention of the American public away from the real issues of this election. For example, while the McCain camp has been engaging in pretended outrage and indignation over this fake controversy, there's a real scandal in the news. At the Minerals Management Service, which collects about 10 billion dollars a year, we now are hearing has been run - under the watch of man whose policies McCain plans to continue - as a means of scoring drugs, sex and graft from the oil industry.

The report says that eight officials in the royalty program accepted gifts from energy companies whose value exceeded limits set by ethics rules — including golf, ski and paintball outings; meals and drinks; and tickets to a Toby Keith concert, a Houston Texans football game and a Colorado Rockies baseball game.

The investigation also concluded that several of the officials “frequently consumed alcohol at industry functions, had used cocaine and marijuana, and had sexual relationships with oil and gas company representatives.”

The investigation separately found that the program’s manager mixed official and personal business. In sometimes lurid detail, the report also accuses him of having intimate relations with two subordinates, one of whom regularly sold him cocaine.

The culture of the organization “appeared to be devoid of both the ethical standards and internal controls sufficient to protect the integrity of this vital revenue-producing program,” one report said.
This isn't just another case of "bad apples." This is a direct consequence of the ideology of the conservative movement being put into action. It's what happens when you hold the notion of civic service in contempt, when you exalt private interest over public interest; this is crony capitalism at its finest (worst.) And this is the movement to whom John McCain has entered into some kind of Faustian bargain with, having betrayed his own stated principles and values in order to secure the Republican presidential nomination.

And so this is what you can expect if vote for four more years of President Bush style "conservatism."

Ok, I'm no speech writer (and I'm writing off the top of my head,) but you get the general idea. Every single time the McCain camp and the Republican Noise Machine tried to make this campaign about nonsense I'd tie McCain to any one one of the seemingly never ending stories of corruption and incompetence that have been happening under the watch of President Bush and the movement that empowered him.

Update: For a lucid book length explanation of why "This is a direct consequence of the ideology of the conservative movement being put into action" see The Wrecking Crew by Thomas Frank.

It pays to hate ("liberals")

I flipped to the Glenn Beck radio program a while ago. Beck was saying that Barack Obama has to use the "change" slogan because his policies are those of angry "socialists" like Michael Moore and Keith Olbermann. Flipped over to Neal Boortz and he was saying that Barack Obama wouldn't be able to get a job at the Pentagon if he tried because he wouldn't be able to pass a background check because of his "associations" with extremists.

Which just goes to show. No matter how large of an imbecile you are, if you can hate "liberals" and keep a straight face no matter how f'ing stupid what you're saying is, and never have your conscience troubled by whatever malicious lies and misinformation you're spreading, there is a job waiting for you in the conservative movement.

Less than one half of one percent of media reports do their job

You want to know why Republicans can have a shot at gettting a president elected despite coming off of eight years of one of the worst, the most corrupt, and the most unpopular presidents in U.S. history? It's because we have an irresponsible press that doesn't report on reality

Polls show that most Americans want to drill here and drill now. Why? Because the television media haven't told them just how stupid an idea that really is. That's the conclusion of a study by a group called the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a relatively independent economic think tank. The authors point out that there's a perfectly reliable source, in the form of the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Agency, that predicts that drilling on the outer continental shelf (OCS) will have little impact if any, on oil prices any time soon.

And yet, a survey of broadcast and cable network programming found that:

... out of 267 news programs between June 16th and August 9th, in major media outlets on this subject, there was only one, or less than one half of one percent, that cited the EIA's estimate that the increased oil production would not significantly affect gasoline prices.
Here's a relevant excerpt from the 2007 EIA study that got a single mention (on CNN):

The projections in the OCS access case indicate that access to the Pacific, Atlantic, and eastern Gulf regions would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030.... For the lower 48 OCS, annual crude oil production in 2030 is projected to be 7 percent higher — 2.4 million barrels per day in the OCS access case compared with 2.2 million barrels per day in the reference case. Because oil prices are determined on the international market, however, any impact on average wellhead prices is expected to be insignificant.
"Drill here, drill now" is just another means by which Republicans scapegoat "liberals" for problems that Republicans won't solve, but will exacerbate.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Quote of the day

"CYNIC, n.: A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be. Hence the custom among the Scythians of plucking out a cynic's eyes to improve his vision." - Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

This quote comes to mind for me everytime I hear someone say The Daily Show has a deleterious effect because it promotes political cynicism.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Book spotlight: Giordano Bruno

Giordano Bruno: Philosopher/Heretic by Ingrid D. Rowland

From the New Scientist review

WE OFTEN lump Galileo and Giordano Bruno together, since the Inquisition persecuted both for heresy. But Bruno was no orthodox scientist. He preached about an infinite universe and flirted with inventing calculus, but also talked of magic, flying around with cherubs, and atoms as universal sperm. In lush writing that delves as deep into the sewers and prisons of Renaissance cities as into Bruno's philosophy, Ingrid Rowland details the bizarre intellect of her vitriolic, uncompromising hero. Little wonder that, while cagey Galileo lived, Bruno burned at the stake.
And from the Discover review

The 16th-century Italian philosopher (and former Catholic priest) Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for a stubborn adherence to his then unorthodox beliefs—including the ideas that the universe is infinite and that other solar systems exist. Art historian Ingrid Rowland vividly recounts Bruno’s journey through a quickly changing Reformation-era Europe, where he managed to stir up controversy at every turn. Having a habit of calling schoolmasters “asses,” Bruno was jailed in Geneva for slandering his professor after publishing a broadsheet listing 20 mistakes the man had made in a single lecture.

Bruno’s adventures in free thought ended when the Roman Inquisition declared him “an impenitent, pertinacious, and obstinate heretic,” to which he characteristically replied, “You may be more afraid to bring that sentence against me than I am to accept it.” In 1600 the inquisitors stripped Bruno naked, bound his tongue, and burned him alive. At least his universe survived.
And for a full review of this "the first full-scale biography of Bruno in English" see this New Yorker article.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Gene Healy speaks about the cult of the Presidency

I'm about half-finished with The Cult of the Presidency: America's Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power, a book which drives home the message that presidents, when they can, will abuse unchecked power and thus should not be allowed to abuse such power (i.e. should be held within Constitutionally prescribed limits.) As you'll see from the lecture, Healy argues that our cultural expectation of the President to carry out all the functions of the government and perform quasi-magical feats of accomplishment (e.g. defeating Evil or winning a "War on Poverty") has hollowed out our democracy.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Orwellian propaganda at the RNC

On the night that McCain gave his acceptance speech, the RNC featured a 9/11 "tribute" (read: neoconservative propaganda) video which implicitly links Iran to the 9/11 attacks.

In a better America this manipulative, war-mongering lie would get ripped to shreds by the news media.

Friday, September 05, 2008

What partisan hacks say when they think no one is listening

Peggy Noonan, gushing about Sarah Palin in the Wall Street Journal

She has the power of the normal. Hillary Clinton is grim, stentorian, was born to politics and its connivances. Nancy Pelosi, another mother of five,often seems dazed and ad hoc. But this state governor and mother of a big family is a woman in a good mood. There is something so normal about her, so "You've met this person before and you like her," that she broke through in a new way,as a character vividly herself, and vividly genuine.

Her flaws accentuated her virtues. Now and then this happens in politics,but it's rare. An example: The very averageness of her voice, the not-wonderfulness of it, highlighted her normality: most people don't have great voices. That normality in turn highlighted the courage she showed in being there, on that stage for the first time in her life and under trying circumstances. Her averageness accentuated her specialness. Her commonality highlighted her uniqueness.
In contrast to Noonan's substance free, trite character based propaganda gibberish above which is Noonan's trademark, here is what Noonan had to say about Palin when she thought no one would hear.

"It's over" she says in regards to McCain's election prospects.

This is the partisan hack who Brian Williams thinks should get a Pulitzer for her Republican propaganda. She's doing the same thing now as when she was a Reagan speechwriter, except that now it's under the guise of being opinion journalism.

h/t The Lippard Blog

Update: In a previous column - the first one I linked is from two days after the clip, this one from the day of - Noonan added an update disputing the context of the clip.

In our off-air conversation, I got on the subject of the leaders of the Republican party assuming, now, that whatever the base of the Republican party thinks is what America thinks. I made the case that this is no longer true, that party leaders seem to me stuck in the assumptions of 1988 and 1994, the assumptions that reigned when they were young and coming up. "The first lesson they learned is the one they remember," I said to Todd -- and I'm pretty certain that is a direct quote. But, I argued, that's over, those assumptions are yesterday, the party can no longer assume that its base is utterly in line with the thinking of the American people. And when I said, "It's over!" -- and I said it more than once -- that is what I was referring to. I am pretty certain that is exactly what Todd and Murphy understood I was referring to. In the truncated version of the conversation, on the Web, it appears I am saying the McCain campaign is over. I did not say it, and do not think it.
I'm skeptical, but it's presented in the interest of fairness. Still, it's interesting to note the disconnect from reality: when has the base of the current incarnation of the GOP ever been "utterly in line with the thinking of the American people?"

But regardless: Noonan is still full of it. In the clip she says that Palin is not the most qualified choice and - most astonishingly of all - says that her addition to the ticket is "bullshit" because the Republicans went for narrative over substance which is "not where they live and it's not what they're good at."

Ok, first: promoting a narrative - the same exact narrative, i.e. "liberals" want to kill the economy with regulation, want to take away your money with taxes, want to spend your money, make people dependent on the "big government" nanny state, etc. - is what Republicans do and excel at. It is the reason that the conservative movement has been able to remain in power despite promoting an agenda that is at odds with public opinion.

Secondly: promoting a narrative is Noonan's specialty. It is - as far as I can tell - what she exclusively traffics in. A mere two days after she said that Palin's choice was a "bullshit" attempt at selling a narrative, Noonan was selling that EXACT narrative in her op-ed column.

Which gets me to the most important element of the speech, and that is the startlingness of the content. It was not modern conservatism, or split the difference Conservative-ish-ism. It was not a conservatism that assumes the America of 2008 is very different from the America of 1980.

It was the old-time conservatism. Government is too big, Obama will "grow it", Congress spends too much and he'll spend "more." It was for low taxes, for small business, for the private sector, for less regulation, for governing with "a servant's heart"; it was pro-small town values, and implicitly but strongly pro-life.

This was so old it seemed new, and startling. The speech was, in its way, a call so tender it made grown-ups weep on the floor. The things she spoke of were the beating heart of the old America. But as I watched I thought, I know where the people in that room are, I know their heart, for it is my heart. But this election is a wild card, because America is a wild card. It is not as it was in '80. I know where the Republican base is, but we do not know where this country that never stops changing is.
And recall that Noonan said that Palin "has the power of the normal." Does that ring a bell for anyone? Here's Noonan on Bush back in 2004: "I was asked this week why the president seems so attractive to the heartland, to what used to be called Middle America. A big question. I found my mind going to this word: normal." [Bold emphasis in both instances mine, italics Noonan's.]*

How can anyone take anything Noonan writes or says seriously? She seems to be able to believe whatever is convenient to believe at the moment. Did she really think the campaign was over or that the time (which never existed) when the Republican Party's base was in line with the thinking at large of the American public was over? Could it be both? How can anyone know - anyone who thinks that the message above is in anyway different from the message that Republicans always deliver at election time is someone whose grasp on reality can not be trusted.

Here's another instance of Noonan promoting substance free narrative. And another. You'll notice both of those links promoting the same narrative that Noonan is promoting in this column: that McCain represents traditional heart of America patriotic values and that Obama does not. This is Noonan's modus operandi: Republicans are saintly, virtuous patriots (until they're sufficiently unpopular or failed like Bush 43 and can be denounced) and Democrats are not.

Back to Noonan's ever changing grasp on reality, in the McCarthy-esque column above from April 25, she asserts that "I finally understand the party nostalgia for Reagan. Everyone speaks of him now, but it wasn't that way in 2000, or 1992, or 1996, or even '04."

What? Is she serious? Again, how can anyone know if she is able to believe something so absurd. I mean, heck, you tell me if this video from the 2004 Republican National Convention seems a tad bit nostalgic

Does Noonan believe the Reagan nostalgia is new? Probably. But she probably does because it serves the purpose of her propaganda, and she can or will probably believe the opposite in the blink of an eye if it becomes convenient to do so.

*This one is from 2000: "[Rick Lazio and George Bush] appear to be good, honest men, normal men, maybe too normal." She continues on to promote several of the numerous false stories about Gore being a serial liar that circulated back then (one of those narratives that Noonan asserted the Republicans aren't good at) and then gives us this mind-numbing sentence: "Interestingly, I think, Mr. Gore, with his cast iron pecs and the superman hair and the steely cold eyes, actually looks like Evil-Smart. Mr. Bush in his shambling gray suit and every-which-way hair and sweet insecurity looks Dumb-Good."

Update II: Another example of Noonan's ability to induce selective amnesia when convenient. Back in April of 2000, in a column about angelic miracle dolphins of God saving Elian Gonzalez and the evil Clintons capitulating to communists, Noonan wrote (bold emphasis still mine):

And some of us, in our sadness, wonder what Ronald Reagan, our last great president, would have done. I think I know. The burden of proof would have been on the communists, not the Americans; he would have sent someone he trusted to the family and found out the facts; seeing the boy had bonded with the cousin he would have negotiated with Mr. Castro to get the father here, and given him whatever he could that would not harm our country. Mr. Reagan would not have dismissed the story of the dolphins as Christian kitsch, but seen it as possible evidence of the reasonable assumption that God's creatures had been commanded to protect one of God's children. And most important, the idea that he would fear Mr. Castro, that he would be afraid of a tired old tyrant in faded fatigues, would actually have made him laugh. Mr. Reagan would fear only what kind of country we would be if we took the little boy and threw him over the side, into the rough sea of history.

He would have made a statement laying out the facts and ended it, "The boy stays, the dream endures, the American story continues. And if Mr. Castro doesn't like it, well, I'm afraid that's really too bad."

But then he was a man.
This Reagan nostalgia/worship was subtitled "And what would Jesus Reagan have done?"

Ok, I imagined the striked out bit.

Update III: More evidence from 1995 that the Reagan-talk is a totally new and what not. [Blogger's Note - sentence should be read as extreme sarcasm.]

WITHOUT a trace of embarrassment, Senator Bob Dole this summer delivered an utterly undisguised political appeal: "I'm willing to be another Ronald Reagan," he told members of the Republican National Committee gathered in Philadelphia, "if that's what you want."

Giving the impression that his transformation from a pragmatist to a devoted Reaganite occurred overnight, Mr. Dole said he was responding to people who told him the night before that "what they are really yearning for in Philadelphia is another Ronald Reagan."

Quote of the day

I'm frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in 'A,' 'B,' 'C,' and 'D.' Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate.

I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of "conservatism."
-- Barry Goldwater

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Double standards standard for those who think in double think

h/t The Vanity Press

The real issue behind the pregnancy of Sarah Palin's 17 year old daughter

Rob Boston hits the nail on the head.

But it will be an issue, and it should be. Here’s why: Public policy questions are implicated. Sarah Palin, as a candidate for governor of Alaska, expressed her opposition to comprehensive sex education in public schools. She told the Eagle Forum she would support only “abstinence based” sex education and remarked, “The explicit sex-ed programs will not find my support.”

Of all the components of President George W. Bush’s “faith-based” initiative, none has failed more miserably than abstinence-based education. Many of the programs are thinly veiled religious dogma. Study after study has shown them to be ineffective.
And recall what born again evangelical Christian Jimmy Carter had to say about the "pro-life" forces Palin represents (as reported by Gary Wills):

Carter is opposed to abortion, as what he calls a tragedy "brought about by a combination of human errors." But the "pro-life" forces compound rather than reduce the errors. The most common abortions, and the most common reasons cited for undergoing them, are caused by economic pressure compounded by ignorance.
Yet the anti-life movement that calls itself pro-life protects ignorance by opposing family planning, sex education, and informed use of contraceptives, tactics that not only increase the likelihood of abortion but tragedies like AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. The rigid system of the "pro-life" movement makes poverty harsher as well, with low minimum wages, opposition to maternity leaves, and lack of health services and insurance. In combination, these policies make ideal conditions for promoting abortion, as one can see from the contrast with countries that do have sex education and medical insurance. Carter writes:

Canadian and European young people are about equally active sexually, but, deprived of proper sex education, American girls are five times as likely to have a baby as French girls, seven times as likely to have an abortion, and seventy times as likely to have gonorrhea as girls in the Netherlands. Also, the incidence of HIV/ AIDS among American teenagers is five times that of the same age group in Germany.... It has long been known that there are fewer abortions in nations where prospective mothers have access to contraceptives, the assurance that they and their babies will have good health care, and at least enough income to meet their basic needs.
Update: From Mother Jones

It would also be taking a narrow view of things, however, to forget that the Palins are a two-income family: The mother is a public servant, the father is a union worker, and they no doubt have excellent private health insurance. Both Bristol and Sarah Palin have the luxury of exercising true reproductive choice, and continuing with pregnancies that would have devastated—financially and emotionally—many an ordinary family. A recent Gates Foundation survey found that one-third of female teenage dropouts cited pregnancy as the reason they couldn't stay in school. Another survey studied women in their 30s who were once teenage moms and found that only 3 percent of them completed a college degree. Just in Alaska, families with Down syndrome children—half of whom have congenital heart defects in addition to some degree of mental retardation, hearing, and vision problems—report long wait lists for subsidized medical care and special education programs.

If John McCain wins the election and Palin becomes the kind of vice president who exerts any influence over policy, she will no doubt do what she can to overturn Roe v. Wade and make abortion illegal again. That's her calling and her base; that's the reason she has, as campaign talking points would have it, "energized" the conservatives who eluded the maverick McCain. But what I wonder is this: Can we also expect that she will fight for longer maternity leaves and subsidized child care? Will she fight for programs that assist parents in raising disabled children, and force private insurance companies to pay for their care? Will she make it possible for a working-class college student to provide her child with a solid education in a safe neighborhood, and finish her education herself?


Palin is a book banner

From Time

Stein says that as mayor, Palin continued to inject religious beliefs into her policy at times. "She asked the library how she could go about banning books," he says, because some voters thought they had inappropriate language in them. "The librarian was aghast." That woman, Mary Ellen Baker, couldn't be reached for comment, but news reports from the time show that Palin had threatened to fire Baker for not giving "full support" to the mayor.
Anyone in favor of banning books and firing librarians for not banning books (which Palin was unable to do because of public outrage over the attempt) has no business being the second ranking Executive officer of the United States of America.

And over at Hullabaloo, Tristero points out that Palin has "ties" to extremists that are at the least (in reality, they're more substantial and significant) as deep as those that Fox News has endlessly alleged Obama to have. But Frederick Clarkson gets to the heart of the matter, noting that Palin belongs to an End Times church and that she herself apparently believes that we are currently living in an End Times scenario.

In light of Palin's having been vetted, as Max Blumenthal reported by the religious right leaders of the Council for National Policy; Palin's views regarding creationismm; her 100% prolife views (meaning no exceptions for rape and inccest and opposition to stem cell research) her efforts as governor to roll back advances in LGTB civil rights in Alaska; her efforts to censor public library books in Wasilla while she was mayor; as well as he claims that the war in Iraq is "God's plan" and that the proposed gas pipeline is "God's will" suggest that Sarah Palin is by far the most theocratic candidate ever to make it onto a major party ticket.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

"Reagan saved our America"

The Republican Party is coming very close to literally worshipping Ronald Reagan. Last night the RNC featured a hero-cult tribute to Reagan - who despite being dead must still be summoned forth to bless the Republican hopeful as being a Reagan conservative. (This is precisely what the video did.)

The video was purely propaganda, claiming that Reagan was hated by the media, collapsed the Soviet Union with his force of will, brought prosperity to the working class, and "saved our America" and "saved our century."

All I'll say is that if you want an accurate picture of the life and career of Ronald Reagan, then read Reagan's America by Gary Wills.