"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Stories Like This

Do not make me feel optimistic:

After five years of bitter clashes, Republican congressional leaders and President Obama on Monday night appeared to settle their last budget fight by reaching a tentative deal that would modestly increase spending over the next two years, cut some social programs, and raise the federal borrowing limit. . . .

The agreement would raise spending by $80 billion over two years, not including a $32 billion increase included in an emergency war fund. Those increases would be offset by cuts in spending on Medicare and Social Security disability benefits, as well as savings or revenue from an array of other programs, including selling oil from the nation’s strategic petroleum reserves. The Medicare savings would come from cuts in payments to doctors and other health care providers.

The offsets sound harmless enough, and it may not be as bad as I think, but then, no one's releasing any details yet because they haven't been worked out.

The sticker is that this is, according to Boehner, to "clean up the barn" before Paul Ryan takes over as Speaker, which is likely. Ryan is the downside. The Times' fawning description:

An accord to lift the debt ceiling and settle the spending impasse before then would free Mr. Ryan to begin his speakership without a pending crisis, and potentially empower him to pursue some of the bold ideas he has put forward previously on tax and budget policy that helped catapult him to prominence and led to his being chosen as the Republican vice-presidential nominee in 2012.

"Bold ideas"? Seriously? The guy's a total ignoramus when it comes to the federal budget and how it works. His "bold ideas" have amounted to "screw the little guy." Sadly, that's not even radical any more.

Given the Obama has demonstrated repeatedly that he is perfectly willing to throw the poor and elderly under the bus to please the Republicans, I have no confidence in this deal at all.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Just In Case

you were thinking that my "Question of the Day" from yesterday was a little alarmist in assuming that the country is being run by an oligarchy, I just want to reassure you -- it's much worse than that:

In 2008, there were financial bailouts for megabanks and foreclosures for homeowners. There was vulture capitalist Paul Singer seizing an Argentine naval vessel in a dispute over debt in 2012. There was the European Central Bank bringing Greece to heel this summer after voters in January elected Alexis Tsipras to end the “vicious cycle of austerity.” Coming Soon: TPP. There are probably other cases as well. If it was not clear already who is really running the planet, here is another clue.

In Portugal's elections earlier this month, Socialists, Communists, and the Left Bloc had won enough seats to form a coalition government, displacing the center-right Forward Portugal Alliance (PAF). And then?
Elections in Portugal this week offered the latest sign that when an individual European nation’s voters challenge eurozone austerity policies, the monetary union -- and the international creditors it represents -- takes precedence. Portugal’s president, Anibal Cavaco Silva, fueled an ongoing debate about the future of European democracy on Thursday when he reappointed an outgoing center-right prime minister despite election results that gave three left-leaning political parties the majority of seats in parliament.
Silva asked incumbent Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho to remain and to form a new government. Opposition Socialists threaten to bring down his government with an immediate vote of no confidence.

If you're reading this blog, you're probably too well aware of what's going on in this country to think "It can't happen here," especially if you look at what the Republicans in office have been doing to "reform" the tax code and "save" Social Security ever since Reagan.

And we've got our "liberal" media flogging the ideology -- even once-respectable journalists are on board:

On Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace asked [Bob] Woodward what he expects from Paul Ryan. Well, since Bob spent hours interviewing him three years ago, he just thinks the world of the Budget Munster. Woodward thinks he's

a real Conservative, the 'big ideas person.' He vibrates reasonableness, he is calm, he has a possible path for doing deals with Obama in the last year.

Since we are on Fox 'News,' no one asks exactly what these big ideas are and who will suffer the most as a result of his bold plans.

Woodward truly thinks that Ryan wants to 'fix the government' by reforming entitlement spending. Fixing the government by hurting the poor is hardly considered a solution for millions of Americans who will suffer from his bold ideas.

As I recall from the last time Ryan came up with an economic policy, those "big ideas" were a little short on details and amounted to yet another giveaway to those who already own everything.

And I don't even want to start with the policy outlines (such as they are) from the candidates for the Republican nomination. Just as a sample, take Ben Carson's plan for Medicare and Medicaid, which is more or less incoherent. The idea of "medical savings accounts" being adequate to cover health-care costs is ludicrous, especially at the level Carson is proposing. Once again, short on details, and let's face it, the devil's in the details. One detail that pertains to today's topic: who administers these savings accounts? Do you really want Bank of America or Wells Fargo handling your health-care money, when they did such a good job with mortgages?

The rest of the news seems to be 90% on the 2016 election, which is just over a year away and I'm already sick of hearing about it. I think campaigning for national office should be limited to law by no more than thirty days -- and the US should adopt mandatory voting.

Then maybe we could do something about the oligarchs. But, given the example of Portugal, I wonder if it's even possible any more.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Bread and Circuses

That's what Congress has become -- well, except for the bread, which the teabagger caucus seems to want to keep for themselves.

Now that Clinton cut them off at the knees on Benghazi!!1!, it's time for another witch hunt:

Speaker John Boehner announced on Friday that Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) will lead the House Select Committee On Planned Parenthood, along with seven other anti-choice Republicans. the outgoing Republican noted the group will be called the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s new Select Investigative Panel, and "will focus on the grisly practices of big abortion providers."

"Recent videos exposing the abortion-for-baby parts business have shocked the nation, and demanded action. At my request, three House committees have been investigating the abortion business, but we still don't have the full truth," Speaker Boehner said in a statement. "Chairman Blackburn and our members will have the resources and the subpoena power to get to the bottom of these horrific practices, and build on our work to protect the sanctity of all human life."

Notice the statesmanlike language. Note to Speaker Boehner: you don't have to placate the teabaggers any more. You quit, remember? What are they doing to do -- fire you?

What they should be investigating is the Center for Medical Progress, which released the heavily edited videos as an attack on Planned Parenthood.


Question of the Day

Which do you think is more likely: That the oligarchs who are actually running this country -- you know, the ones who own Congress and a lot of statehouses, as well as most of everything else -- are going to decide that the "Christian" right is a liability and pull the plug on them, or that they're keeping them going to distract the rest of us from what they're up to?

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Panda Update

The cubs did make an appearance while I was there -- mama came out for some lunch, and the kids followed, briefly. They're livelier than the video posted yesterday, hopping around and scuffling like real cubs. For about a minute and a half. Then back inside.

And that was it.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Big News of the Day

Yeah, I know, Hillary Clinton testified for the Benghazi!!1! Witch-Hunt Commmittee yesterday*, but the real news is that the red panda cubs made their debut at Lincoln Park Zoo:

They're named Clark and Addison, which for those not familiar with Chicago geography, is the location of Wrigley Field. (Get it? Wrigley Field -- Cubs?)

(Come to think of it, we've had a lot of zoo births in the past year or so - a rhino, a couple of gorillas, snow monkey, and there's an infant colobus in the primate house.)

So today I visit the Zoo.

* From everything I've seen, the Republicans on the committee made themselves look like idiots. Someone made the comment that at one point, the expression on Clinton's face was almost as though she were trying to figure how much it would cost for a campaign ad this good.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Culture Break: Depeche Mode, "Slow"

I know I did "Culture Break" posts on Wednesdays, and I may get back to that schedule, but for the time being, they'll happen when they happen.

This one's happening because for some reason I've been listening to Depeche Mode the past couple of days. They really are amazing. This is one of my favorite songs from Delta Machine.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Saturday Science: Pluto

It's been a long time since I've done one of these, but it's Saturday and here's a science article for you: the New Horizons team has published the first findings on the New Horizons flyby of Pluto. A few tidbits:


Lastly, Pluto is sweetly colorful. Look at it through New Horizons' color camera and you'll see "spectacular diversity," the researchers write. The pictures we've all seen are no forgery — Pluto really does have a very distinct color palette. The Cthulhu Regio registers as a deep red, the western section of the heart-shaped Tombaugh Regio is a much lighter, pink-ish red, and the eastern half is lighter still. These colors come from refractory organics known as "tholins," the result of frozen nitrogen and methane in the soil (and atmosphere) being irradiated by UV rays and charged particles.


Charon is also heavily cratered like Pluto. The New Horizons team believes some of these craters (specifically, the ones located in what's known as Vulcan Planum, which is found to the southeast of Charon's massive canyons) appear be about 4 billion years or older, which could link them to the Late Heavy Bombardment that happened in the early days of our Solar System. Charon also has a massive network of canyons. These fractures cuts across most of Charon's southern hemisphere, with the two largest — named Macross Chasma and Serenity Chasma — run for 1050 kilometers. At its widest, Serenity Chasma measures 60 kilometers across and runs, in places, 5 kilometers deep.

Nix and Hydra:

The reflective properties of Nix indicate that the small moon is likely covered in water ice. Hydra is also non-spherical, measuring 43 kilometers by 33 kilometers, with a diameter of about 41 kilometers. It also has a highly reflective surface, and is likely covered in water ice.

That confounded the New Horizons team. "How such bright surfaces can be maintained on Nix and Hydra over billions of years is puzzling," they write. Radiation or impacts with other objects should have darkened and reddened the surfaces of these moons over time, they say. What's also still unknown with any degree of certainty is the mass, volume, or density of these moons.

As for the bright surfaces, if they are covered with water ice, might that not melt and refreeze after impacts, smoothing out the surface?

There's more. Read the whole article.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Tweet du Jour

Under the heading "Do They Ever Listen to Themselves?"

Do I need to say more?

Via Digby.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Starring John Kasich as Chris Christie

So guess who wants to gut Social Security this week. Gov. John Kasich, whose campaign for the GOP presidential nomination seems to have -- well, I can't say it's stall, because it never got going to begin with.

At any rate, his target is now Social Security and Medicare, which is so-o-o 2012.

First off, if you don't know what your benefit is going to be, it's your fault: Social Security sends you a freakin' letter telling you what your benefit is going to be. Sorry, Governor, but it's not part of some nefarious plot to keep people in the dark.

“I’d rather have people be in a position where they’re aggravated with me so I can accomplish something, than have them love me and accomplish nothing,” Kasich told the audience during an event in Concord, New Hampshire. “I’m not there to run a popularity contest.”

The former governor of Ohio preceded the remarks by asking the crowd how many of them knew how much their initial Social Security payments would be. Two people raised their hands to indicate that they did know.

“What if I told you that your initial benefit was gonna be somewhat lower in order to save the program?” he asked. “Would that drive you crazy?”

When one audience member responded that it would “upset” them, Kasich told them, “Well, you’d get over it, and you’re going to have to get over it.”

That's Kasich being real butch, just like the bully from New Jersey.

(Ed. note: As far as I know, Kasich is the current governor of Ohio. My sympathies.)

Kasich later made a similar statement about Medicare, saying that any voter wanting him to “ignore the fact that it’s going broke” would not like him.

In a brief interview later, he accused Democrats in turn of allowing Social Security to “get to a point where it could go bankrupt.”

“We’re getting close to Halloween, and they just want to scare people,” Kasich added.

We've been through this, but apparently Kasich missed class that day: Neither program is anywhere near bankrupt, and is not going to be. For Social Security, the fix is simple: lift the cap on the payroll tax. Medicare is more complicated, but it's in good shape for the next fifteen years: spending has not increased as much as expected, and may follow that trend as more and more people are insured under the ACA. There's plenty of time to do any fixes that are necessary -- of course, that assumes that someone actually wants to fix it, rather than handing it over to Wall Street and the insurance industry.

The Halloween comment, I thought, was pretty funny: pot, kettle.

And a note: I'm of the camp that insists that for Social Security the cap should be raised and benefits increased: the "cost of living" increase doesn't come anywhere near the actual increase in cost of living. And this is coming from someone who lives a fairly Spartan life.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Hogwash du Jour

Remember Robert P. George? One of the authors of the Manhattan Declaration, a document purporting to be a call to "Christians" to stand against the assault of their rights (whenever that might happen). He's come up with a new one, ostensibly from his American Principles Project, a "think tank" that seems to be diametrically opposed to anything recognizable as American principles. Via Joe.My.God., with parsing and commentary by me:

If Obergefell is accepted as binding law, the consequences will be grave. Of the results that can be predicted with confidence, four stand out: First, society will be harmed by being denied the right to hold out as normative, and particularly desirable, the only type of human relationship that every society must cultivate for its perpetuation. This compelling interest is strengthened by the fact that there is strong evidence to support what common sense suggests, namely, that children fare best when raised by their married mother and father who are both responsible for bringing them into the world and who provide maternal and paternal influences and care.

Uproveable assertion buttressed by an outright lie: The first point is questionable, at best: it's a typical "argument" couched in broad, nebulous terms ("Society will be harmed" has no real meaning, when you stop to think about it). The "strengthening" is untrue: there is no evidence that supports the contention that "children fare best" etc., especially since "best" is not a term that a responsible researcher would use in summarizing results.

Second, individuals and organizations holding to the historic and natural understanding of marriage as a conjugal union—the covenantal partnership of one man and one woman—will be vilified, legally targeted, and denied constitutional rights in order to pressure them to conform to the new orthodoxy.

No. Just, no. "Vilified", possibly (and let's make sure to use the scariest language possible -- what he really means is "criticized"), but that's just people exercising their right to free speech, which George would be among the first to defend. (And if you believe that, I can get you a real deal on a bridge in New York.) "Legally targeted and denied constitutional rights"? That hasn't happened yet, and it's hard to see a case where, under our legal system, it could. The only cases where people have been sued or had courts find against them have been cases where they have violated existing anti-discrimination laws and, in the case of the county clerk who shall not be named, violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. There are penalties for breaking the law, no matter what your excuse is. (And the excuses seems to revolve around the idea that, as "Christians," these people are above the law, which isn't an American principle I've ever run across before.)

Third, the new jurisprudence of dignity is unlimited in principle and will encourage additional claims to redefine marriage and other long-established institutions.

Obergefell did not examine the definition of marriage, which is and has been more or less fluid throughout history, although a good, concise definition is one I ran across from Joseph Campbell: "Marriage is the recognition by the community of the establishment of a new household." I don't see how Obergefell alters that at all. Of course, what George is referring to as "the" definition is a secttarian religious definition that has no bearing on American civil law.

Fourth, the right of all Americans to engage in democratic deliberation, and ultimately self-government, will be decisively undermined.

Fundamental rights are not subject to popular vote. How a court decision affirming the rights of a minority affects democratic deliberation eludes me. (And that, by the way, was the tack taken by the majority in the Sixth Circuit decision that brought the marriage issue to the Supreme Court and was overturned.)

Any decision that brings about such evils would be questionable. One lacking anything remotely resembling a warrant in the text, logic, structure, or original understanding of the Constitution must be judged anti-constitutional and illegitimate. Obergefell should be declared to be such, and treated as such, by the other branches of government and by citizens of the United States.

The "evils" brought about by this decision haven't happened and are not likely to, but I guess George felt it was time for another scary word. And the basis of the decision is quite plain: the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees all citizens equal protection of the law and equal access to its benefits. If George can't understand that, he shouldn't be teaching constitutional law.

I think he deserves a Through the Looking Glass Award for turning reality on its head -- although he's not as good at it as some others.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Guess What Didn't Happen Yesterday

The world was not annihilated. Which it was supposed to be:

While our planet may have survived September’s “blood moon”, it will be permanently destroyed on Wednesday, 7 October, a Christian organization has warned.

The eBible Fellowship, an online affiliation headquartered near Philadelphia, has based its prediction of an October obliteration on a previous claim that the world would end on 21 May 2011. While that claim proved to be false, the organization is confident it has the correct date this time.

“According to what the Bible is presenting it does appear that 7 October will be the day that God has spoken of: in which, the world will pass away,” said Chris McCann, the leader and founder of the fellowship, an online gathering of Christians headquartered in Philadelphia.

“It’ll be gone forever. Annihilated.”

McCann said that, according to his interpretation of the Bible, the world will be obliterated “with fire”.

They keep hoping.

My only reaction when I read this story was "Did they specify a time?"

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Today's Must Read: Armed Insurrectionists

Also known as the Republican Party. From Gaius Publius at Hullabaloo:

Using the power of government to subvert the government is itself insurrectionist. Which tells us two things — the insurrectionist strain in voters of the American Right (per their arguments in favor of "gun rights") is matched by the insurrectionist strain in their leaders and those who hold office in their name.

▪ So ask yourself — Why is the rest of the country not treating this insurrection as an insurrection, like the Whiskey Rebellion, instead of treating it as just another difference of political opinion? In other words, why are we not treating the virtual (and sometimes literal) armed rebels in the hills as a threat to the existence of our government?

That's a serious question. The rest of the country does not see the American Right as an insurrection, is determined not to, in fact, and also is encouraged not to. The reasons they don't and won't see the insurrection as an insurrection are both revealing and determinative of the outcome. After all, would the modern and mainly corrupted Democratic Party be able to sell its own brand of "rule by the rich" if they didn't have Republicans to point to as political enemies, instead of what they are, enemies of the state itself?

This extends my thinking on the right as fundamentally anti-American: if you listen to the leading (or at least, most vocal) of the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, as well as the leaders of the "Christian" right, it becomes very plain that they are vehemently opposed to such foundational American principles as equality under the law, the rule of law, separation of church and state, and an independent judiciary that applies Constitutional requirements to laws.

As for using the power of government to subvert the government -- well, take a look at the restrictions on abortion, voting rights, and gay civil rights that are wending their ways, and in many cases have wended their ways, through state legislatures. And of course, in the case of "Christians" versus Obergefell, the latest hot-button issue for the right, it's that they're above the law -- Kim Davis is only the latest example -- remember Aaron and Melissa Klein?

There's a lot more in that post. Read the whole thing.

And another take, from Ed Kilgore at TPM:

And to a remarkable extent, the default position of conservatives has less and less to do with arguments about the efficacy of gun regulation or the need for guns to deter or respond to crime. Instead, it’s based on the idea that the main purpose of the Second Amendment is to keep open the possibility of revolutionary violence against the U.S. government.

This was once an exotic, minority view even among gun enthusiasts who tended to view the Second Amendment as protecting an individual right to gun ownership not to overthrow the government but to supplement the government’s use of lethal force against criminals. Treating the Second Amendment as an integral legacy of the American Revolution appealed to gun rights advocates who sought firm ground against regulations with no possibility of compromise.

But more importantly, it gave a dangerous edge to the claims of conservative extremists—who recently began calling themselves “constitutional conservatives”—that their ideology of absolute property rights, religious rights and even fetal rights had been permanently established by the Founders who added in the Second Amendment to ensure any trespassing on their “design” by “tyrants” or popular majorities could and should be resisted.

Oh, and add that common thief Cliven Bundy -- who wants to graze his cattle on our land without paying the rent -- to the list of insurrectionists.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

I'm Still Here

It's just that by the time I finish going through the news in the morning, I'm numb. I just can't believe the amount of nonsense that people can come up with.

I may do some highlights later. Maybe.