Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Last Call

Dear Wall Street Journal:

While you're busy this Independence Day telling us how great America was economically in 1776 with low taxes and high per capital income compared to the rest of the world (and waxing nostalgic for that time again, apparently):

Almost every American knows the traditional story of July Fourth—the soaring idealism of the Declaration of Independence, the Continental Congress's grim pledge to defy the world's most powerful nation with their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. But what else about revolutionary America might help us feel closer to those founders in their tricornered hats, fancy waistcoats and tight knee-breeches?

Those Americans, it turns out, had the highest per capita income in the civilized world of their time. They also paid the lowest taxes—and they were determined to keep it that way.

By 1776, the 13 American colonies had been in existence for over 150 years—more than enough time for the talented and ambitious to acquire money and land. At the top of the South's earners were large planters such as George Washington. In the North their incomes were more than matched by merchants such as John Hancock and Robert Morris. Next came lawyers such as John Adams, followed by tavern keepers, who often cleared 1,000 pounds a year, or about $100,000 in modern money. Doctors were paid comparatively little. Ditto for dentists, who were almost nonexistent.

Let's recall that a good part of out national GDP was built on one rather large omission from your article there:  SLAVERY, YOU ASSHOLES.  Frederick Douglass said it best 160 years ago:

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy -- a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.

Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.... 

Or as the Wall Street Journal seems to think, "We miss the good old days."  See, there's a mild problem with all this tricorner hat and drum and fife bullshit, because my ancestors at the time sure as hell didn't have much to celebrate on the 4th of July for the first 175 or so years of this country's existence other than "Well, at least we're not slaves and we can finally vote, so that's pretty good, right?"

Sure.  Happy 4th and all.

Disenfranchised On The Fourth Of July

Hypothetical question for you.  Say you're a Republican politician.

What if, as a Republican politician, you were the deciding vote on a law that would, in the state you are a politician in, legally throw out the votes of:

  • 15% of people who make $35,000 or less
  • 18% of senior citizens
  • 18% of 18-24 year olds
  • 19% of Latinos
  • 20% of Asian-Americans
  • 25% of African-Americans.

It would cost you 8% of the white voters in exchange.  Your campaign manager would walk over hot coals to get you a deal like that.  You would be a moron not to take that deal, given the demographics of who votes for Democrats, namely, the people in that list above, and who votes for Republicans.  You would assure wins for a very long time if you could pass a law that would give you the above results.

And yet Republicans in state after state have already passed laws that do just that.

They're called Voter ID laws that require a state-approved photo ID to vote.

Any questions?

Oh, and as far as women go?  What about disenfranchising them?  Republicans surely would love to find a way to do that, right?  What if I told you Republicans could pass laws that would cut the number of eligible women voters in half?

They already have.

Last year, 12 states introduced laws requiring birth certificates or other proof of citizenship to vote; 3 passed.

Only 48 percent of women have a birth certificate with their current legal name on it.

Coming to a red state near you:  Voting laws that require Photo IDs only obtained through proof of citizenship.  Congratulations.  You maintain absolute power in the state for a generation, power exercised overwhelmingly by wealthier white men.

Do you understand why Eric Holder and the Department of Justice's Voting Rights Division have to be utterly destroyed now as far as the GOP are concerned?

Do we understand now?

Good.  We have work to do.

Don't Buy This Cease Fire For A Second

This may arguably be the most politically naive article I've seen out of the National Journal in some time, and you'll see why pretty quickly:  the notion that Romney is "declaring a cease fire" on health care reform is patently ridiculous.  Josh Kraushaar:

For an issue that's supposedly potent against Democrats, Romney's campaign is declaring a cease fire. This, even as the law polls unfavorably and it proved to be a motivating force for Republicans and disaffected independents in the 2010 midterms.

It's becoming clear that Romney has decided to focus on the economy at the expense of everything else, even issues that could play to his political benefit. He's avoided criticizing the administration's handling of the botched Fast and Furious operation, even as it threatens to become a serious vulnerability for the president. He's been silent in responding to Obama's immigration executive order, not wanting to offend receptive Hispanics or appear like a flip-flopper. He appears more likely to tap a safe, bland running mate like Ohio Sen. Rob Portman or former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty who won't do him any harm but won't benefit him much either. If the economy continues to sputter, that safe strategy might be enough. If not, his options are limited.

In football, there's a well-worn clichĂ© about the prevent defense (a scheme utilized when a team holds a big lead over its opponent): It prevents teams from winning games. In politics, Mitt Romney is testing that proposition as far as he can. 

I don't use profanity much around here, but this calls for it.  Bullshit.

There are three main reasons to just laugh at the notion that Romney will walk away from healthcare:  One, his base will not let him.  Two, his propaganda outfit at Drudge and Breitbrat Land won't let him.  Third, Romney is a habitual liar. 

Romney himself may think he's above the fray, but I guarantee you by the end of this month at the absolute latest, he'll be at campaign stops spewing the same lies about the ACA that the Breitbrat crew tells him to until it becomes the "truth", just like President Obama was born in Kenya and Al Gore claimed he invented the Internet.

Nope, Romney's too far into the red meat Birther twilight zone now to recover into a "above the fray" campaign.  That's nonsense.  Romney will be in the mud, flinging feces, with the worst of them.

Reaction To Cooper's Announcement

As everyone knows by now, Anderson Cooper came out of the closet.  I don't think many were surprised, except that he went on record.  In a very direct, unapologetic and yet eloquent announcement, he announced he was gay and completely happy with his life and himself.  Of course, the stupidity rolled out (doesn't it always?) but there was a lot of positive response and good Twitter discussion.  His beautiful phrasing gave supporters a lot to work with.  It didn't give the homophobes a lot of ammo.  I thought his delivery was just stunning.  "Yup, you knew it, I'm not gonna hide it.  I hope you're cool but if you're not then blow it out your ear and have a lovely evening."  Smashing.

Some reactions were unexpected.  Star Jones, who claims to be a big supporter of the gay community, said Cooper basically revealed it for ratings.  I'm not sure what she was thinking, but she made an ass of herself.  "There were times that you generate information for ratings."  Ouch.  Also, her word choice makes me wonder if she wasn't about to say it wasn't true.  She then apologized, but the damage was done.  It was clear, in the conflict of insulting him and apologizing, in which instance she was truly speaking her mind.

A New York Times opinion starts off trying to compliment Cooper and missing.  Because yes, there it is, about halfway down the author then turns on him and complains he didn't speak up earlier.  After acknowledging in a half-assed attempt at fairness how much he stood to lose if there was a backlash, the author gripes that he didn't put it in a memoir from 2006.  There is no sense of waiting until he was ready, and while the words hint that since it's none of our business the writer's mindset seems to really be the opposite.  Cooper said he wanted to be relentlessly honest about everything, including himself.  Instead of understanding what he did, the author chooses to bash every day of his life that he didn't come out singing about his sexuality.  The author continually swings between passive-aggressive pats on the back and whining about why he didn't wear a scarlet G on his forehead to relieve us of our burden.

Also from the Times, a debate page is up where people have discussions about whether celebrities and people in general have a "moral obligation" to come out.  They have a mostly calm exchange in which they discuss forcing people to sexually identify themselves.  Some people believe you should have to identify yourself visually or go on record to satisfy their curiosity about your love life.  I cannot say how disgusting that is, both the idea itself and that some people don't see the harm in it.

And then I got it. Straight people are checked out all the time and we are "accepted" as normal when we don't ping the gaydar.  But for gay citizens, each ping must feel like a test.  One that you fail simply because the only people who care seem to be the jerks who want to make it a bad thing.  That led to another epiphany, why some people really seem to fear gays.  It's because you can be anybody, anywhere and that scares the hell out of the 'phobes.  See, if they want to discriminate against blacks, Asians or any other group you can usually pick them out of a crowd.  If hating women is your thing, the boobies are a dead giveaway.  But if you want to hate gays... well, you have to actually discern who your bad guy is.  The small-minded want to believe that all gay women have mullets and all gay men love the Latin dances because it makes them feel comfortable.  The idea that their coworker, in-law or neighbor could be gay is terrifying to them.  I guess I knew all of that, but it all came together in a new way before, one that let me understand so much better what my gay friends go through, and more importantly, why.

That is the real value Anderson Cooper had to share, and he did it well.  He called it the value of standing up and being counted, and for him in particular it does matter.  He reaches people everywhere.  He was not obligated to do so, but he did knowing people would benefit.  That is what makes him a hero in my book.  Going on record means he has nothing to hide, and I can't think of a better definition of freedom than that.

Andy Griffith Already Laid To Rest

We were all surprised to hear Andy Griffith passed away yesterday.  He was relatively private, so it wasn't a surprise that he died quietly and had private burial plans.

What is weird, however, is that he was buried within a few hours of his passing.  This came from TMZ late afternoon on the same day:

Andy Griffith only passed away a few hours ago -- but TMZ has learned, the Hollywood icon has already been buried.

A rep for Twiford Funeral Homes in Manteo, North Carolina tells us, Andy was buried at 11:30 AM on his family farm on Roanoke Island. We're told Andy had previously requested to be buried immediately after his death ... so that's why it all happened so fast.

We made calls to find out if Andy was embalmed. No one was talking, but we're told it's legal in North Carolina to bury people without embalming them.

We're told Andy's burial followed a small, private service with close friends and family in attendance.
RIP, good sir.  He was in show business longer than I can imagine being alive.  Yet I cannot recall a single instance in which he was a jerk or caught doing something unkind.  He seemed to be a good man by all accounts, a rarity nowadays.

Baby You're A Fire, Work

And this July is already setting record temperatures in pretty much the first day of the month for not just the date, not just the month, but for new all-time highs as the country is melting under a brutal heat wave combined with devastating drought over nearly three-quarters of the US.  And if you find it to all be a bit too much, keep in mind most likely that this is the new normal.

So far this year, more than 2.1 million acres have burned in wildfires, more than 113 million people in the U.S. were in areas under extreme heat advisories last Friday, two-thirds of the country is experiencing drought, and earlier in June, deluges flooded Minnesota and Florida.

"This is what global warming looks like at the regional or personal level," said Jonathan Overpeck, professor of geosciences and atmospheric sciences at the University of Arizona. "The extra heat increases the odds of worse heat waves, droughts, storms and wildfire. This is certainly what I and many other climate scientists have been warning about."

Kevin Trenberth, head of climate analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in fire-charred Colorado, said these are the very record-breaking conditions he has said would happen, but many people wouldn't listen. So it's I told-you-so time, he said.

As recently as March, a special report an extreme events and disasters by the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned of "unprecedented extreme weather and climate events." Its lead author, Chris Field of the Carnegie Institution and Stanford University, said Monday, "It's really dramatic how many of the patterns that we've talked about as the expression of the extremes are hitting the U.S. right now."

"What we're seeing really is a window into what global warming really looks like," said Princeton University geosciences and international affairs professor Michael Oppenheimer. "It looks like heat. It looks like fires. It looks like this kind of environmental disasters." 

And the bottom line is after nearly 25 years of warnings that we've ignored, we now face the very real prospect that it's now too late to save coastal cities from rising oceans.  The window is all but closed, folks...and we've lost.  Now it's time to pay the piper.

"Even with aggressive mitigation measures that limit global warming to less than 2ÂșC above pre-industrial values by 2100, and with decreases of global temperature in the 22nd and 23rd centuries ... sea level continues to rise after 2100," they said in the journal Nature Climate Change on Sunday.

This is because as warmer temperatures penetrate deep into the sea, the water warms and expands as the heat mixes through different ocean regions.
Even if global average temperatures fall and the surface layer of the sea cools, heat would still be mixed down into the deeper layers of the ocean, causing continued rises in sea levels.
If global average temperatures continue to rise, the melting of ice sheets and glaciers would only add to the problem.

Now the choice is between limiting the damage to the coasts and full-blown catastrophe.  That's the political battle we'll be fighting for the next generation.  That and who will suffer the most due to climate change.

Get used to triple digits, mega-cell storms like the derechos that flattened DC and West Chicago and deadly wildfires in June, folks.  It's here to stay.

Incarceration Nation

Welcome to the newest source of revenue for cash-strapped states and counties:  massive fees for tickets, probation and violations that are leaving more and more Americans broke and at the mercy of private companies collecting debts for counties and cities....and if they can't pay, into the new American Debtor's Prisons you go.

In Georgia, three dozen for-profit probation companies operate in hundreds of courts, and there have been similar lawsuits. In one, Randy Miller, 39, an Iraq war veteran who had lost his job, was jailed after failing to make child support payments of $860 a month. In another, Hills McGee, with a monthly income of $243 in veterans benefits, was charged with public drunkenness, assessed $270 by a court and put on probation through a private company. The company added a $15 enrollment fee and $39 in monthly fees. That put his total for a year above $700, which Mr. McGee, 53, struggled to meet before being jailed for failing to pay it all. 

These companies are bill collectors, but they are given the authority to say to someone that if he doesn’t pay, he is going to jail,” said John B. Long, a lawyer in Augusta, Ga., who is taking the issue to a federal appeals court this fall. “There are things like garbage collection where private companies are O.K. No one’s liberty is affected. The closer you get to locking someone up, the closer you get to a constitutional issue.” 

The issue of using the courts to produce income has caught the attention of the country’s legal establishment. A recent study by the nonpartisan Conference of State Court Administrators, “Courts Are Not Revenue Centers,” said that in traffic violations, “court leaders face the greatest challenge in ensuring that fines, fees and surcharges are not simply an alternate form of taxation.” 

J. Scott Vowell, the presiding judge of Alabama’s 10th Judicial Circuit, said in an interview that his state’s Legislature, like many across the country, was pressuring courts to produce revenue, and that some legislators even believed courts should be financially self-sufficient

In a 2010 study, the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law examined the fee structure in the 15 states — including California, Florida and Texas — with the largest prison populations. It asserted: “Many states are imposing new and often onerous ‘user fees’ on individuals with criminal convictions. Yet far from being easy money, these fees impose severe — and often hidden — costs on communities, taxpayers and indigent people convicted of crimes. They create new paths to prison for those unable to pay their debts and make it harder to find employment and housing as well as to meet child support obligations.” 

Squeezing blood from a turnip, folks.  Get caught these days in the courts for misdemeanors and because courts and justice are expensive (and in the Republican Party world, must be profitized) then the cost of doing business is being taken in pounds of flesh off people who don't have legal representation and get crushed in the courts.  Our lovely friends in Jesusland simply declare "those people" are getting what they deserve, and of course it means we can never raise taxes on the good, Christian Republicans in the tax base.

Meanwhile, states are sucking ordinary Americans dry for being too broke to pay...and if they can't pay, they end up in prison until they can come up with the money.  The Supreme Court made such a practice directly illegal, but in the world of misdemeanors and fees as opposed to felonies, everybody looks the other way as states impose a massively regressive tax on the poor and indigent.

This is what happens when you introduce profit motive into the justice system.  The poor always lose and the rich get richer.

Coming soon to a broke-ass red state near you.  Try not to get any traffic violations.

StupidiNews, Independence Day Edition!

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