Monday, May 30, 2011

'folie à plusieurs'

I finished gathering materials - enough to write a book - last night, in my sleep. I lectured on it in my dream, it was tight. A preliminary title for it might be "hey, that's not conservatism; it's authoritarianism and fascism, and these are pathological, not ideological." What happens in the Western world - in a representative democracy - when fascism in the form of 'folie à plusieurs' is framed as patriotism?
It's time to call out the impact of pathological thinking on our politics:  the bananas.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Why Celebrate?

Out of the several bizarre responses to the killing of Osama bin Laden in the press, Twitterville, Facebook, and numerous comments sections on the Internet, here's a fairly common sentiment from Twitter: 
Why celebrate the death of a man when no body bothered to mourn the millions of Afghans and Iraqis we've killed in the process?
While all civilian casualties of war are numerous and regrettable, the number is hardly "millions". The estimated number in Iraq approaches 125,000.

On mourning these deaths, I refer the questioner to Google.

Over the coming weeks and months we, as a nation, will be reviewing the human cost of war and the strategies and tactics we have employed to bring criminal terrorists to justice. This has already started; the question highlighted here today is but one example of the many questions to be asked. 

On Facebook last night, in the comments on the Al Jazeera report, there were numerous threats of revenge from angry individuals in the Middle East.

I saw people in the Middle East raging against us for invading Pakistan to kill Bin Laden. I thought of our busted treasury, the loss of life for many countries - including our own - and I thought of the unnecessary war we waged on Iraq.

A question occurred to me last night that has never occurred to me before. Bin Laden is responsible for thousands of deaths since 1993, including those of his own countrymen and fellow Muslims. Why has he been protected all these years? 

If Afghanistan and Pakistan had sought out and prosecuted Bin Laden for his crimes, we would not have engaged in military tactics to extract justice for our victims. Instead, he would have been tried and either imprisoned or sentenced to death. For nearly a decade, all our treasury and all the deaths of soldiers and citizens of many countries could have been spared if the Middle East had been responsible world citizens.

So, hey, all you Bin Laden supporters at Al Jazeera:  do you really think the United States would not seek justice? Why did your government sit by while your people died, protecting Bin Laden? Tell your fellow religious warriors that maybe they should wage their next jihad against a country with a few less billions of dollars, less friends and a much, much smaller army.

As fate would have it, the next thing I clicked on in my rounds was a newspaper article in the Guardian, dated October 15, 2001, entitled Bush rejects Taliban offer to surrender bin Laden.
Mr Kabir said: "If America were to step back from the current policy, then we could negotiate." Mr bin Laden could be handed over to a third country for trial, he said. "We could discuss which third country." 
But as American warplanes entered the second week of the bombing campaign, Washington rejected the Taliban offer out of hand. "When I said no negotiations I meant no negotiations," Mr Bush said. "We know he's guilty. Turn him over. There's no need to discuss innocence or guilt."

Was Mr. Kabir's offer reasonable? 

From a future perspective, all considered, yes, quite. 

Why, since October 15, 2001, has there been US media silence in the USA about Kabir's offer? (This is a rhetorical question.)

The next thing I ran across was a Facebook page full of Republicans praising Bush and minimizing President Obama's involvement in bringing Bin Laden to justice. 

I'd like to take a moment to thank Bush, myself. For being "the decider" and "not negotiating". For declaring "mission accomplished" 8 years ago to the day. I'd like to thank him for bankrupting America with two unnecessary wars, unwanted, unfunded tax breaks to Fortune 400 corporations, a donut hole for our seniors, and No Child Left Behind, which, never funded, put teachers on furloughs, raised property taxes for us all, and changed the focus of education to one where teachers are mere test proctors and babysitters.

I celebrate the death of Bin Laden, and mourn every lost life. I mourn for our country. May we all learn from the events of the last decade and move forward. This will only happen if we start asking the difficult questions.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Mitt Romney's Misery Index

Today in The Raw Story there is an article titled:  Romney says he'll 'hang' Obama at GOP group dinner. Of course the title is worded to create the impression- especially to liberals who are primed by recent events - that Mitt was spotted saying something that betrays an underlying racism.The white man wants to hang the black man, and he's going to do in front of eager witnesses at a GOP dinner! (Ok, that last bit is silly, but then so is the title.) Conservatives might have a different response to the title; something along the lines of preparing to defend against "liberal accusations of racism". For starters. But here is what we learn when we read about what poor Mitt said: 
Referring to Ronald Reagan's "misery index" that he wanted to "hang around Jimmy Carter's neck" in the 1980 presidential election, Romney said of Obama, "Well, we’re going to have to hang the ‘Obama Misery Index’ around his neck.
There is nothing racist in that comment that I can see. He is suggesting that Obama should be blamed for the economic misery; wear the mantle of blame. But then,

Romney continued, "We’re going to hang him..." before pausing, Politico reported, then continuing and clarifying. So to speak metaphorically. You have to be careful.
This changes the metaphor. The "Obama Misery Index" is now a noose from which to hang the president. Giving Mitt the benefit of the doubt, I did a little Googling. I reasoned that if Reagan had made some reference to "hanging" Carter with this metaphorical mantle, I would attribute Romney's gaffe to political insensitivity.

I found the inspiration behind Romney's words in his own March 8, 2011 opinion article at Boston In this article, the mantle does not become a noose. What Mitt Romney did, in front of his GOP audience, was to creatively add to his own initial metaphor in a dog-whistle to the base. I don't believe that Mitt Romney is "a racist", but he is a politician who knows what appeals to Obama haters who fill his would-be base by at least half. I believe he sincerely regrets the gaffe and especially having been called out for making it.

The story doesn't end here. In fact, the gaffe pales in comparison to his outright bullshit on the "Obama Misery Index". The the corporate media are now dancing with the clowns and the ponies, instead of fact-checking his malicious misrepresentation of the Misery Index (MI) in the Boston Herald opinion piece and likely in his speech at the GOP dinner.

Wonk alert, 3 paragraphs:  

Carter's MI was at a record high of 21.98% in June of 1980.When Reagan took office in 1981, the Misery Index was 19.33%. Skipping then to the Clinton years, one can see that the MI was 10.56 at the start and went to a term low of 5.74 in April, 1998. (Note:  This terrific MI and a backlash against Republicans for Clinton's impeachment was not sufficient to change the Republican majority status in 1998.)

The MI was up to 7.93 when GW Bush took office. By August of 2008, just before the real estate bubble burst and the markets crashed, the MI had gone up to 11.47. In December, 2008, as Bush left office, the US was in a near economic depression. The MI was 7.29, reflecting 2 - 4 points of deflation.

By December, 2009 - 11 months into Obama's presidency, unemployment was at peak and we actually had some inflation coming back. The MI was 12.72. Data for March 2011 yield an MI of 11.48.

So, let's summarize:  After the worst recession since the Great Depression, the MI is the same as it was in September, 2008, when McCain proudly proclaimed that "The fundamentals of the economy are sound".

The economy is recovering slowly. Unemployment isn't getting much better due to many factors, including Viagra-like attention to the supply-side and a progressive starvation on the demand side of the economic equation.

Mitt Romney tells porkies about the economy because he banks on the fact that Republicans won't fact check anything he says. Not only that, but the Heritage Foundation can always be called upon for fancy accounting tricks that will justify almost anything Republicans want to propose. Which is, almost 100% of the time, deficit splurging tax cuts for billionaires and corporations who are shipping our jobs overseas.

Mitt, you are right about one thing:  people are miserable. But maybe you should attend some of the town halls. Sacrificing Grandma's health care so that GE and BofA can enjoy a negative tax rate isn't playing very well out where the miserable people are.

Thinking people:  Expect Republicans to use the Misery Index throughout the next 18 months, but be smart when you listen to their rhetoric. The numbers between Bush's term and Obama's term are misleading due to deflation.

Democrats:   Use the index. Look how happy we were during the Clinton years. Repeal those Bush tax cuts and let's get some revenue flowing back where it belongs:  To the good people of the USA;  98% of us.