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State sponsored prayer

So, good old Governor Rick “good hair” Perry is pushing prayer as the answer to his state’s and this nation’s very real problems.

Wow.

Watch this, and if a chill doesn’t run down your spine, you are a very different person than me:

It has a creepy, 1984 quality. If I didn’t know better, I would think it was an Onion parody.

Unfortunately, it’s serious.

This should automatically disqualify Perry as a presidential candidate.

Not because of his religion, but because he wants to mix it with his role as a legislator and possible commander-in-chief.

This whole attitude strikes me as defeatist and disempowering.

Do these people pray to put food on the table, or do they go out and get a job to earn money to do so?

When they are sick or injured, do they beg their deity for a cure, or do they go to the doctor for proven medical remedies?

Politically, it is the most despicable ploy.

No solutions for our problems?

No problem, we can pray it better.

This is likely an attractive approach to someone as intellectually bankrupt as Perry.

OnKneesForJesus. Really.

Horseshit.

-Chris

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June 30, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

When do tickets go on sale?

Oh Pixar. You and your business model of making involving movies with interesting characters, wonderful stories and fantastic worlds.

You may as well take my money now for this:

 

I must say that I have enjoyed myself at Pixar films, and have been moved by them more than most movies with live actors.

I hope this new film lives up to standard of movie magic that Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Wall-E set.

-Chris

June 30, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Libertarianism debunked by popularizer Nozick

Stephen Metcalf has an excellent examination of Libertarianism over at Slate.com.

The Liberty Scam offers a detailed look at the origins of the modern Libertarian movements, focusing on the career of Harvard philosophy professor Robert Nozick.

Nozick, the author of the highly influential defense of Libertarianism Anarchy, State, and Utopia, argued that taxation is a violation of the liberty of the individual and is akin to forced labor.

Metcalf argues that Nozick had to be aware from his perch at Harvard of a big something America did that required taxation and the combined labor of millions of individuals. That accomplishment was winning World War II.

During and after the war, government programs helped create stability and a stong economy that put American on a strong footing throughout the Cold War:

Harvard’s enrollment prior to World War II was 3,300; after the war, it was 5,300, 4,000 of whom were veterans. The GI Bill was on its way to investing more in education grants, business loans, and home loans than all previous New Deal programs combined. By 1954, with the Cold War in full swing, the U.S. government was spending 20 times what it had spent on research before the war….In 1970, there were nearly 500,000 employed academics, and their relative income stood at an all-time high. To the extent anyone could believe mental talent, human capital, and capital were indistinguishable, it was thanks to the greatest market distortion in the history of industrial capitalism; and because for 40 years, thanks to this distortion, talent had not been forced to compete with the old “captains of industry,” with the financiers and the CEOs.

The irony of what happened next was lost on the Libertarian movement:

By allowing for the enormous rise in (relative) income and prestige of the upper white collar professions, Keynesianism created the very blind spot by which professionals turned against Keynesianism. Charging high fees as defended by their cartels, cartels defended in turn by universities, universities in turn made powerful by the military state, many upper-white-collar professionals convinced themselves their pre-eminence was not an accident of history or the product of negotiated protections from the marketplace but the result of their own unique mental talents fetching high prices in a free market for labor. Just this cocktail of vanity and delusion helped Nozick edge out Rawls in the marketplace of ideas, making Anarchy a surprise best-seller, it helped make Ronald Reagan president five years later. So it was the public good that killed off the public good.

This continued ideological trance has grown a robust tree of rhetoric, by the likes of Ayn Rand, Frederich von Hayek, and Ludwig von Mises — but that tree has born some pretty rotten fruit:

Since 1970, the guild power of lawyers, doctors, engineers, and, yes, philosophy professors has nothing but attenuated. To take only the most pitiful example, medical doctors have evolved over this period from fee-for-service professionals totally in control of their own workplace to salaried body mechanics subject to the relentless cost-cutting mandate of a corporate employer. They’ve gone from being Marcus Welby—a living monument to public service through private practice—to being, as one comprehensive study put it, harried “middle management.” Who can argue with a straight face that a doctor in 2011 has more liberty than his counterpart in 1970? What any good liberal Democrat with an ounce of vestigial self-respect would have said to Nozick in 1970—”Sure, Bob, but we both know what your liberty means. It means power will once again mean money, and money will be at liberty to flow to the top”—in fact happened. The irony is that as capital once again concentrates as nothing more than capital (i.e., as the immense skim of the financiers), the Nozickian illusion (that capital is human capital and human capital is the only capital) gets harder and harder to sustain.

The reality of the marketplace is that the wealthy and connected game the system. The invisible hand of the free market tends to concentrate wealth at the very top, leaving the vast majority of people with little liberty at all.

Undoubtedly, there needs to be a balance to prevent government becoming too intrusive into the liberties of the individual, and a healthy discourse of where to draw the line is in order.

However, when you have an entire movement of people who profess that government has no role save for the provision of military defense, it’s hard to begin that conversation.

Even Nozick, whose book popularized and gave scholarly credence to Libertarian ideas, eventually relented. In 1989, Metcalf notes, he outlined the shortcomings of Anarchy:

“The libertarian position I once propounded,” Nozick wrote in an essay published in the late ’80s, “now seems to me seriously inadequate.” In Anarchy democracy was nowhere to be found; Nozick now believed that democratic institutions “express and symbolize … our equal human dignity, our autonomy and powers of self-direction.” In Anarchy, the best government was the least government, a value-neutral enforcer of contracts; now, Nozick concluded, “There are some things we choose to do together through government in solemn marking of our human solidarity, served by the fact that we do them together in this official fashion …”

These are the words of someone you can begin a dialogue with.

Unfortunately Nozick died in 2002, and his 180 degree turn was little noticed in The Movement.

What has evolved instead is a blast furnace demagogues spouting ideological talking points that equate taxation with slavery, and posit that ANY government intervention into the affairs of market inevitably lead to communism and tyranny on the level of Nazi Germany.

Metcalf’s conclusion is incisive, noting that the cowing of the left and level-headed conservatives alike is largely responsible for our current state of affairs:

Thanks in no small part to that silence, we have passed through the looking glass. Large-scale, speculative risk, undertaken by already grossly overcompensated bankers, is now officially part of the framework, in the form of too-big-to-fail guarantees made, implicitly and explicitly, by the Federal Reserve. Meanwhile, the “libertarian” right moves to take the risks of unemployment, disease, and, yes, accidents of birth, and devolve them entirely onto the responsibility of the individual. It is not just sad; it is repugnant.

In a perfect world, we could sign these principled adherents of Libertarian ideals up for a one-way cruise to a regulation free paradise:

Any takers?

Read Metcalf’s piece. It’s quite good.

-Chris

June 22, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Social Security is solvent through 2036

The Center For Economic And Policy Research (CEPR) cuts to the chase in response to recent comments by GOP Senator Lindsey Graham.

Graham opined to Congressional Quarterly that he thought that Social Security should be put on the table so Republicans can “save” it from bankruptcy.

The folks at CEPR couldn’t let that stand. In A Letter to Senator Graham on Social Security Comments
they respectfully correct him:

However, this is not the case. The Social Security trustees’ projections show that Social Security will maintain full solvency through the year 2036. Even if Congress never makes any changes to the program, Social Security will always be able to pay close to 80 percent of scheduled benefits from then on. This means that when you retire in 2021, you will receive $33,120 a year (in 2010 dollars). After 2036, you would still receive $24,840 a year in Social Security benefits for the rest of your life.

It is true that the long term problems of Social Security need to be addressed, but the fix is relatively minor.

Keep in mind that funds paid into Social Security are often raided by politicians of both parties for use in non-related projects.

Remember how Al Gore was mocked for wanting to create a “lock box” for Social Security?

Many conservatives have a long-standing hatred of Social Security, and want to do away with it — and that’s fine. But they should be honest about their goals.

And they should use actual facts when talking about the issue.

-Chris

June 20, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Russ Feingold is right!

Russ Feingold, United States Senator from Wisc...

Image via Wikipedia

I have always respected former Wisconsin senator Russ Feingold.

Like Paul Wellstone, he has always been a man of principle — even when it was politically disadvantageous. Feingold found that out when he was cast out during last year’s Tea Party putsch.

So I was not surprised when I learned that he was castigating corporate Democrats at this year’s Netroots Nation gathering.

John Nichols in The Nation covered Feingold’s remarks:

If Democrats fuel their campaigns with corporate cash, the senator said, “we’ll lose our souls.”

“I don’t just think it’s wrong. I think it’s a dumb strategy,” he continued, to the enthusiastic crowd hushed and listening to a speech that went far beyond the standard rhetoric of this pre-presidential election year. “Democrats should never be in the business of taking unlimited corporate money…. It’s dancing with the devil…. [The voters] will see us as corporate-lite.”

In an era that has seen the Democratic Party slide further and further to the right, it’s good to see that there are at least some liberals fighting the good fight against corporate domination of politics.

Feingold focused like a laser on the heart of the problem, Nichols reports:

Feingold’s speech was framed around the Citizens United ruling by the US Supreme Court, which struck down legislative barriers to corporate spending on campaigns. He decried the court’s 5-4 ruling as he has since it was issued last year a “lawless decision” that “overturned more than one hundred years of statutes and case law” designed to keep special-interest money out of politics.

I like the message — The Democratic Party has strayed from its ideals, and Feingold and Netroots bloggers (and by extension the liberal base) can prod them back on course.

The annual gathering of liberal bloggers has also been notable for its tough reception of White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer:

White House’s Pfeiffer Draws Boos at Netroots Nation

If Obama is going to be reelected next year, he’ll have to at least satisfy enough of his base (including me) that he is moving in the right direction.

So far, I’m with the Netroots folks. Not impressed.

Update – Huffington Post is reporting that professional dickweed and propaganda manufacturer Andrew Breitbart crashed the Netroots gathering on Friday.

June 17, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The selling of America

Parking meter

Image via Wikipedia

Dylan Ratigan and The Huffington Post have embarked on a project to bring to light a troubling issue that I first learned about in Matt Taibbi‘s excellent book, Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America (buy it here or here).

The project is called America For Sale, and starts with America for Sale: Is Goldman Sachs Buying Your City?

Goldman Sachs, through “sovereign wealth funds” is helping foreigners purchase public property from states and municipalities.

These sales are often done for pennies on the dollar to satisfy immediate cashflow problems, and provide the mostly anonymous investors with monopolies such as parking meters, toll roads, etc.

The scope of this financial takeover of public assets, facilitated by an all too eager banking industry is staggering:

Says Quadrant Real Estate Advisors: “Most assets are monopolistic in nature and have limited competitors, creating the opportunity for stable, long-term investment returns. Investment choices include economic assets and social assets.” Quadrant notes that the market size is between $12-20 trillion, roughly the size of the American mortgage market.

The implications of these arrangements are legion, and it’s hard to see anything good resulting from them.

-Chris

June 17, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Are Christians insecure?

A Christian flag, designed by Charles Overton ...

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I ask because the ubiquitous stories like the efforts to post the Ten Commandments in every public space imaginable, the anti-Sharia hysteria, and the quixotic drive to reintroduce official prayer in the schools.

Today, via American Atheists, Inc. comes word of Christians in King, NC flying a Christian Flag at the local veterans cemetery — against the express wishes of the family of the man chosen to be honored last week.

Tracey Becker Meszaros, the daughter of the veteran who was chosen by lottery by the City of King to be honored at the Memorial the week of June 6 [said]:

“We chose to fly no flag because we believe it more accurately honors veterans,” Meszaros said in a statement issued on June 7. “Veterans of this country are not only Christian. They are Jewish, Muslim, pagan, and, yes, even atheist. They deserve to be honored for their service to this country, too.”

According to recent surveys, approximately 76% of Americans claim to be Christian.

Given that number, what is the pressing need to force their particular brand of religion down everyone else’s throats?

Christians seem to exhibit insecurity in many facets of life — from the terror of Harry Potter and entertainment in general to freaking out that two men or two women may get married.

This country has inscribed in its operator’s manual a protection of religion called the Establishment Clause. You can practice whatever religion you want, or none at all.

What is not guaranteed is that everyone else will conform to the tenants of your particular book of worship.

So relax, Christians. We recognize your right to your particular beliefs and practices and wouldn’t dream of forcing you to stop.

Please have the same consideration for others, and try to understand that it is disrespectful to try to force the minority of people who don’t believe as you do to participate in your religion.

Especially posthumously.

-Chris

June 17, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Conservatives and Muslims

Herman Cain - Caricature

Image by DonkeyHotey via Flickr

I have had several recent conversations with conservatives and have come away disheartened and frustrated by their irrational fear of Muslims.

From the “Ground Zero Mosque” brouhaha to Koran burnings around the country, conservatives are exercised about the phantom threats of Muslims who — LIVE AMONGST US IN AMERICA!! (Duh duh DUUUUNNN!)

The latest  mouth  to capture national attention for a bigoted outburst belongs to flavor-of-the-minute Herman Cain.

Cain is among the undistinguished pack currently vying for the Republican presidential nomination. With the credentials of having been CEO of the Godfather’s Pizza chain, Cain came away from the first debate as the surprise winner.

He said during a March interview that he would not be comfortable having a Muslim in his cabinet in this exchange with Think Progress reporter Scott Keyes:

KEYES: You came under a bit of controversy this week for some of the comments made about Muslims in general. Would you be comfortable appointing a Muslim, either in your cabinet or as a federal judge?

CAIN: No, I would not. And here’s why. There is this creeping attempt, there is this attempt to gradually ease Sharia law and the Muslim faith into our government. It does not belong in our government. This is what happened in Europe. And little by little, to try and be politically correct, they made this little change, they made this little change. And now they’ve got a social problem that they don’t know what to do with hardly.

Historically, the GOP has been obsessed with creating various boogeymen to rally their base against. The blacks. The gays. Feminists. All have had their turns, and the newest scapegoat object of hatred and fear are Muslims.

Witness the ongoing hysteria over the non-existent threat of Sharia law.

Republican politicians use religion and wedge issues like these to motivate their base. Fear brings out the votes.

No amount of reason or evidence to the contrary will convince these folks that there is no threat from their Muslim neighbors.

It encourages their ugliest natures.

I am not the biggest fan of radio talk show host Randi Rhodes, but I do applaud her handling of this caller:

There have been many times that I have been engaged in similar conversations, and it’s like nailing Jello to the wall. Whenever you point out the fallacy of their reasoning, they change the subject — seemingly unable to process facts and form a coherent response.

That said, I do believe that the fear (albeit irrational) that they are expressing is very real to them.

Yes, misguided Muslims did attack the US. They were motivated by religious zealots misusing scripture to commit atrocities in the name of Islam in the way that the deluded assassins of doctors who perform abortions use the Bible to justify murder.

The smart response is not to embrace a strident Christianity to create a barrier between Americans of other religions (or no religion at all).

It is to put the lie to the propaganda that motivates the terrorists. America is a place where the right to worship or not is central to our strength and stability as a nation.

But as long as such lies and manipulations bring out the voters and fill campaign coffers, religion will continue to be a divisive influence on our nation.

-Chris

June 17, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Truth About the Economy in 2 Minutes and 15 Seconds”

Robert Reich sums it up.

-Chris

June 16, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Unconstitutional Christians — again

Doorbell and plate with the Ten Commandments a...

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It seems that a group of preachers, led by an attention-craving attorney have made a costly decision to violate the separation of church and state again.

In this case the Giles County School Board, under pressure from the above, have decided to hang copies of the Ten Commandments in schools using a flimsy pretext.

The action will likely cost the cash-strapped school district in the neighborhood of $350,000.00.

Said school board member Drema McMahon (one of two board members who opposed the decision):
“We do not have the money to fight this battle to the Supreme Court. Our teachers and our staff continue to do an outstanding job, even though they have not had a raise in four years, and we are talking about spending $350,000 to fight this to the Supreme Court.”

Meanwhile, in Louisiana, the State Senate just shot down a bill that would authorize the hanging of the Ten Commandments on public property.

A local church had announced that it is willing to fund the erection of the monument, and the bill’s sponsor, representative Patrick Williams (D-Shreveport) tried to justify the legislation:

“This is for historical purposes, not religious purposes,” to show the effect of the Ten Commandments on history and laws, he said.

This of course, is bullshit.

The bill, rejected on the fears of costly litigation, at least tried a fig-leaf approach to allow the erection of monuments to other religions as well — but there were no financial backers for these hypothetical monuments.

This article on the Discover website does a nice job dismantling the claim for the Ten Commandments as a basis for law:

Are the Ten Commandments really the basis for our laws?

I leave the final words on the subject to the late great George Carlin (LINKED HERE).

-Chris

June 16, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment