Posts from — December 2010
I often suggest to my conservative friends that they should have their heads examined. And at last, someone has done just that – examined conservatives’ brains. And -surprise – it turns out their brains are, well, different.
According to a report by Christopher R. Walker in today’s Salon.com:
A study to be published next year at University College London suggests that conservative brains are structured differently than the brains of other people…
Specifically, the research shows that people with conservative tendencies have a larger amygdala and a smaller anterior cingulate than other people. The amygdala – typically thought of as the “primitive brain” – is responsible for reflexive impulses, like fear. The anterior cingulate is thought to be responsible for courage and optimism. This one-two punch could be responsible for many of the anecdotal claims that conservatives “think differently” from others.
The operative word here, it seems to me, is “primitive.” Knuckles-dragging-on-the-ground primitive.
But conservatives (naturally) see it differently.
They think it’s our brains that are deficient. Here’s how Walker put it:
Predictably, conservatives have jumped on both studies as an indication of their biological superiority. Across the right-leaning blogosphere and twitterverse, DRD4 was cited as the underlying cause of the “mental illness” known as liberalism; and some conservative tweeters have even tried to claim that the enlarged amygdala just means that conservatives “have bigger brains.” Of course, the first claim begs the question, and the second ignores the shrunken anterior cingulate.
So, we might as well stop trying to enlighten those conservatives. They are anterior cingulate deprived.
And it makes no sense arguing with someone with an overgrown amygdala.
Their arguments are bound to be primitive.
December 30, 2010 4 Comments
A funny thing has happened to American journalism in the past few decades. The profession has become so degraded that the best journalist in America today is a comedian.
In an article lauding the Comedy Channel’s Jon Stewart (photo above) for his role in getting health care funds for responders to the World Trade Center attack, Bill Carter and Brian Stelter of The New York Times want to know:
Did the bill pledging federal funds for the health care of 9/11 responders become law in the waning hours of the 111th Congress only because a comedian took it up as a personal cause?
And does that make that comedian, Jon Stewart – despite all his protestations that what he does has nothing to do with journalism – the modern-day equivalent of Edward R. Murrow?
As far as I can see, the answer to both questions is a resounding yes.
Yes, comedian Jon Stewart is without doubt the top journalist in America today. And he doesn’t have much competition. The so-called “reporters” who populate the airwaves, besiege the internet and grind out type to fill the columns of newspapers and magazines are at best passive and at worst corrupt.
You are not going to find any Edward R. Murrows in an America where Rush Limbaugh and the Fox gang are among those entrusted with bringing us the “news.”
The reasons for the profession’s decline are many. They include the demise of newspapers, the acquisition of media outlets by global corporations and an organized crusade by conservative billionaires to bully reporters and manage public opinion.
You have only to watch CNN to see how much the news business has declined. If you’re old enough to remember the news network back in Ted Turner’s time, you will know what I mean. Today’s CNN is a pale shadow of its former self. It provides few original insights or startling disclosures. The voices viewers normally hear are from flacks mouthing tired set pieces composed by opposing political camps.
And who did the best job of showing up CNN? Jon Stewart did. His “let’s leave it there” piece is a classic.
Stewart is a razor sharp analyst who does his homework. He is also blessed with the ability to put the pieces together in a powerful way.
That doesn’t mean there are no talented journalists. Rachel Maddow is as talented as they come, but it seems to me that she is limited by the whims and caprices of a sophomoric bunch of “producers” who think they have to play the fool to keep the audience’s attention (and the advertising dollars rolling in). Ditto for Keith Olbermann.
Fareed Zakaria obviously possesses a brilliant mind. But he is strictly an armchair observer. The same goes for Elliott Spitzer.
That leaves us a choice between such showbiz types as Anderson Cooper and Geraldo Rivera or the likes of the robotic Wolf Blitzer. Even worse are the “reporters” who are married to public figures or have other close relationships with them. It would be really naive to expect objectivity from them on issues in which their spouses or buddies are involved.
No, there’s really no competition. Jon Stewart is today’s Edward R. Murrow. So let’s laugh along with him. There’s no point in crying.
December 29, 2010 1 Comment
Pundit Fareed Zakaria (photo above), whom I respect a lot, lists massive investment in research as one way to kick-start a vigorous American recovery. He is not alone. Several smart people have proposed this kind of economic strategy – including President Obama.
And if you’ve been reading my blogs, you know I have been one of the most persistent advocates for research investment, especially in “green” technology.
It was America’s hi-tech know-how that powered the Nineties boom. But it didn’t take long for that technology to cross the ocean and take the boom with it.
The big corporations are all global now, and they naturally export American-developed technology to their far-flung operations.
So I am left with a question for which I have no answer: How do you keep technology at home once you develop it?
For when America exports its technology, jobs go with it. And not just existing jobs but the capacity for creating future jobs.
I suppose the government could devise some regulatory mechanism to combat this, but I have seen no political will to do this so far.
I wonder if the folks who inflicted globalism on America realized how devastating the implications would be?
But that genie is out of the bottle now. As they say in Jamaica, wa-fe-do?
Maybe you can figure it out. Come on, let’s hear your ideas.
December 28, 2010 4 Comments
I try not to mention Sarah Palin. She gets more than enough attention without my help. But this time she has done something worth mentioning: She has won the Misinformer of the Year award.
You might have thought the folks at Media Matters would tap Glenn Beck for the title. He’s a champion when it comes to making stuff up. Or even that old rascal, Newt Gingrich. Or anyone at Fox News…
But Sarah topped them all.
Media Matters admitted it was a close call. Here’s how they put it:
It was a tough competition. On issues like health care, net neutrality, climate change and immigration, the conservative media offers an unprecedented flood of distortions, exaggerations and utter fabrications. We at Media Matters for America work around the clock to expose, fact-check and counter this non-stop flood of lies and attacks.
This year, Palin stood out for her sheer ability to dominate our national conversation and draw the attention of the entire news media to her factually challenged claims and vicious attacks. She has blurred the line completely between media figure and political activist.
When Glenn Beck’s over-the-top rhetoric and conspiracy theories inspired unhinged gunman Byron Williams to target the Tides Foundation with violence, Palin could have stood up for responsibility and helped rein Beck in. Instead, she legitimized him and his attacks, saying “I stand with you, Glenn.”
From spreading lies about “death panels” to cropping Obama’s comments about “American exceptionalism,” from her comfortable perch at Fox News to her self-promoting books and reality show, Palin has truly broken new ground in misinformation.
In the year to come, Palin is sure to keep up her efforts at dominating the headlines, influencing the political process and advancing falsehoods and distortions at every turn — aided and abetted by millions in free airtime and glowing coverage from her friends at Fox News.
I can’t argue with that. The Titan of Tweets stands alone when it comes to twisting the truth and inventing lies. I pity the millions who follow her dumb TV show and read her silly books.
December 23, 2010 5 Comments
It’s amazing how people believe stuff that has been proved wrong – over and over again. Take the conservatives’ prescription for a better U.S. economy, for example.
Today on the web, Joshua Holland of AlterNet debunks nine pet theories that the Republican PR machine passed off as fact during the past election campaign.
Number one, of course, is the bizarre idea that cutting taxes actually increases government revenue. Holland blows this nonsense out of the water.
He quotes a Time Magazine article by Justin Fox that reported:
Every economics Ph.D. who has worked in a prominent role in the Bush administration acknowledges that the tax cuts enacted during the past six years have not paid for themselves—and were never intended to.
On the notion that taxes on the rich “keep wealth producers from creating jobs,” he comments:
What’s noteworthy about the narrative is the degree to which it defies simple common sense. It shouldn’t be a matter of debate that only one thing creates jobs, and that’s demand for companies’ goods and services. The idea that a business that was booming would refuse to hire people and forego expansion because top tax rates might nudge upward is as silly as the idea that a business that has no customers would add new employees because its owners expect taxes to be low.
He is equally dismissive of the idea that tax cuts for the rich create jobs. In fact, he points out:
Like other types of public spending, giving cuts to those at the top does stimulate the economy, but very, very badly. According Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s, a dollar in tax cuts on capital gains adds 38 cents of economic growth and a dollar in corporate tax cuts brings us just 30 cents worth of stimulus, but a dollar in unemployment benefits gives the economy a boost of $1.63 and a buck worth of food stamps adds $1.73 in stimulus.
Holland takes Rush Limbaugh to task for saying the “so-called rich are about the only ones paying taxes anymore.” He points out that this is “an entirely false narrative that emerges from some rather transparent sleight-of-hand.” Here’s how:
You have to look at the federal income tax in isolation and then pretend that it represents the government’s entire take. But the reality is that the government isn’t financed from federal income taxes alone – far from it. Payroll taxes, for example, represent the biggest tax bite for the average worker.
Holland goes on to debunk the notion that Americans “are taxed to death.” In fact, he notes:
In 2008, we ranked 26th out of the 30 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in terms of our overall tax burden—the share of our economy we fork over to the government. The U.S.came in almost 9 percentage points below the average of the group of wealthy nations, and some 20 percentage points below highly taxed countries like Denmark.
As for the much-touted idea that government spending is out of control, Holland countered:
Public spending has increased with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and, temporarily, with the stimulus package. And it will rise in the future as more baby boomers retire. But beyond that, it’s important to understand how “limited” our government really is relative to other wealthy countries
Sabina Dewan and Michael Ettlinger of the Center for American Progress crunched the data and found that between 2004 and 2007, the US ranked 24th out of 26 OECD countrties in overall government spending as a share of our economic output. Only Ireland and South Korea, both relative newcomers to the club, had a more “limited government” than we did during that span. Again, we came in around 7 percentage points of GDP below the OECD average—and almost 20 percentage points beneath that of big spenders like France.
Then there’s the widely accepted idea that the political right actually implements low taxes and tight-fisted government policies. The facts say otherwise, Holland points out:
In the two years that Gerald Ford presented budgets, government spending as a share of GDP averaged 31.4 percent; in ultra-liberal Jimmy Carter’s four years, it dropped to 30.7 percent; Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of fiscal conservatism, came into office, and it rose to 32.2 percent. It nudged slightly higher during the first George Bush’s term in office, then dropped to an almost Nixonian 30.3 percent during the Clinton years, before rising to 31.6 percent during the second Bush administration.
Looking at the other side of the ledger, overall government revenues have also remained relatively stable, but the pattern is reversed. The government’s take, as a share of GDP, dropped during the Ford era, rose again under Carter, and fell again under Reagan. Revenues rose by almost 2 percent under Clinton and fell by a percent and a half under George W. Bush. (The only exception: government revenues rose from 27.3 percent of GDP during the Reagan years to 27.6 percent under George Herbert Walker Bush – that was the “peace dividend.”)
Although the government taxes and spends at fairly similar rates, under Republican leadership the nation shells out a bit more for government services and takes in just a bit less in taxes. With a $15 trillion economy, those little differences add up to pretty big deficits, and this, rather than hot school lunches for poor kids, is responsible for a large chunk of our federal debt.
The final myth debunked in Holland’s analysis is that “80 percent” of the Bush cuts for the highest earners go to “small business owners.”
The reality, Holland found, is that:
Less than 2 percent of tax returns reporting small-business income are filed by people in the top two income brackets. As a Washington Post analysis concluded, “If the objective is to help small businesses, continuing the Bush tax cuts on high-income taxpayers isn’t the way to go—it would miss more than 98 percent of small-business owners and would primarily help people who don’t make most of their money off those businesses.”
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. The ocean of lies that Republicans sold the public during the past campaign is boundless. Holland doesn’t mention the claim that “Social Security is going broke,” for example. But I don’t think he should have to. You must know that’s a lie. The program is fully funded for several more decades.
But snake oil salesmen have always managed to hoodwink the citizens of America. Perhaps the economic horrors that are sure to come during the next two years will wake them up to reality.
December 22, 2010 No Comments
According to the Atlantic Monthly magazine’s February 1923 issue, a U.S. senator named James E. Watson was fond of the saying, “If you can’t lick ‘em, jine ‘em.” President Obama must have heard it from someone else; he wasn’t born until nearly half a century later. But he certainly seems to be adopting that strategy.
He seems to have been converted to President Calvin Coolidge’s view that “the business of America is business.”
But America, and the world, was much simpler back in the 1920s. Globalism had yet to be invented, for example.
By his own admission, Obama was “shellacked” in the November elections. Shellacked by free-spending Big Business abetted by the most sophisticated psychological tools available.
So the president has decided to play nice with his shellackers.
He is even sounding like Ronald Reagan these days, extolling the virtues of tax cuts for the rich as a way of creating jobs.
And they may – but not in America. Not in today’s world.
Robert Reich analyzes the flawed tax cutting strategy in his blog today. Here’s an excerpt:
The White House caved in on the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, and is telling CEOs it will be on their side from now on. As the president recently told a group of CEOs, the choice “… is not between Democrats and Republicans. It’s between America and our competitors around the world. We can win the competition.”
There’s only one problem. America’s big businesses are less and less American. They’re going abroad for sales and employees. That’s one reason they’ve showed record-breaking profits in 2010 while creating almost no American jobs.
Consider one of most popular Christmas products of all time – Apple’s iPhone. Researchers from the Asian Development Bank Institute have dissected an iPhone, whose wholesale price is around $179.00, to determine where the money actually goes.
Some shows up in Apple’s profits, which are soaring.
About $61 of the $179 price goes to Japanese workers who make key iPhone components, $30 to German workers who supply other pieces, and $23 to South Korean workers who provide still others. Around $6 goes to the Chinese workers who assemble it. Most of the rest goes to workers elsewhere around the globe who make other bits.
Only about $11 of that iPhone goes to American workers, mostly researchers and designers.
Even old-tech American companies made big money abroad in 2010 – and created scads of jobs there. General Motors, for example, is now turning a nice profit and American investors are bullish about its future.
That doesn’t mean GM will be creating lots more blue-collar jobs in America, though. 2010 was a banner year for GM’s foreign sales – already two-thirds of its total sales, and rising. In October, GM became the first automaker to sell more than 2 million cars a year in China. The company is now making more cars in China than in the United States. And GM has just signed a deal with its Chinese partner to try to crack India’s potentially huge auto market.
Meanwhile, back home in the US, GM has slashed its labor costs. New hires are brought in at roughly half the wages and benefits of former GM employees, under a two-tier wage structure accepted by the United Auto Workers. Almost all GM’s US suppliers have also cut their payrolls.
It’s much the same even for America’s biggest retailers. 2010 wasn’t an especially good year for Wal-Mart in the United States. Its third-quarter sales fell as US shoppers continued to hold back.
But Wal-Mart International is contributing mightily to its bottom line. Its UK business, Asda, will be adding 7,500 new jobs next year. Wal-Mart is also doing well in Japan and Brazil, and hiring like mad in both countries.
So when President Obama tells American CEOs our biggest challenge comes from abroad, you’ve got to wonder. The leaders of American business are already abroad, and doing quite nicely.
So by joining Big Business, the president might win a few more friends in high places, but he won’t be doing much for the American economy. The CEOs are doing very well for themselves and their shareholders, which is their job. But they have no loyalty to America or any other country.
They’ll take whatever tax cuts they can get and when the time comes, they’ll put their money on whatever candidates appear most favorable to their bottom line.
I doubt that – even if they want to – President Obama and the Democrats will be able to outdo the Republicans when it comes to currying favor with those “American” CEOs.
December 21, 2010 3 Comments
If you play golf, as I sometimes try to do, you will be familiar with the risk-reward concept. Golf courses are designed to reward risk takers – or to punish them. Faced with the prospect of hitting your ball across a lake, for example, you might choose the safe path around it, sacrificing a shot but avoiding the possibility of dunking your ball in the hazard and taking a penalty.
That’s the way it should be in life. You should have a choice: take a chance and, if you succeed, claim your reward – or, if you fail, take your medicine.
The trouble is that in modern life, we pay the price for the risks others take, and they get the reward.
Enabled by political allies, industry knowingly gambles with the health of the public. When the industrialists win, they make more billions; when they lose the public gets cancer.
There’s no doubt in my mind that cancer is far more prevalent than it was in my childhood. Then, it was as rare as it was deadly.
Now it seems commonplace. And I am convinced that environmental pollution is largely to blame.
Today, for example,an environmental group released a study showing that drinking water in 35 American cities contains hexavalent chromium, which has been labeled “a probable carcinogen” by the National Institutes of Health.
The Environmental Working Group found hexavalent chromium in the tap water of 31 out of 35 cities sampled. Of those, 25 had unsafe levels.
According to a report by the AFP news service:
Hexavalent chromium has long been known to cause lung cancer when inhaled, and scientists recently found evidence that it causes cancer in laboratory animals when ingested. It has been linked in animals to liver and kidney damage as well as leukemia, stomach cancer and other cancers.
A widely used industrial chemical until the early 1990s, hexavalent chromium is still used in some industries, such as in chrome plating and the manufacturing of plastics and dyes. The chemical can also leach into groundwater from natural ores.
The chemical compound was first made famous in the hit 2000 Hollywood movie “Erin Brockovich” about the eponymous environmental crusader who also commented on the EWG’s alarming finding.
“This chemical has been so widely used by so many industries across the US that this doesn’t surprise me,” said Brockovich, known for her fight on behalf of the residents of Hinkley, California against P
In that case, PG&E was accused of leaking hexavalent chromium into the town’s groundwater for more than 30 years, and ultimately was made to pay 333 million dollars in damages to more than 600 inhabitants of the town, which it was required to clean up.
Reading this report, I am left to wonder how many other cancer causing pollutants are released daily by the “entrepreneurs” who gamble with our lives in hopes of winning the jackpot.
December 20, 2010 No Comments
I think voters deserve a choice: political parties should reflect different goals and ideals. But in today’s America, party labels mean nothing. You might assume, for example, that by voting for Max Baucus and Jon Tester of Montana, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, you would be supporting the Democratic platform and President Obama’s agenda. But, once again, these senators have betrayed their party’s principles and proved themselves Republicans at heart.
Their betrayal sabotaged a decent piece of legislation – the so-called DREAM Act. The law would have given hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants a path to legal status if they enrolled in college or joined the military.
President Barack Obama called the vote “incredibly disappointing.”
“A minority of senators prevented the Senate from doing what most Americans understand is best for the country,” Obama said. “There was simply no reason not to pass this important legislation.”
No reason but the Republicans’ insistence on inflicting cruelty on the defenseless and grinding down the impoverished.
Over the past several months, I have come to expect this kind of inhumane behavior from Republicans. They apparently are proud – like other pariah movements of the past – of their ability to resist the natural instinct of compassion. By being merciless and oppressive, they seem to believe that they show strength.
But I expect politicians who call themselves Democrats to be different. I expect them to show some spark of empathy toward society’s underdogs – particularly toward those who are making every effort to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.
And that’s just what the young men and women who would’ve benefited from the DREAM Act are doing.
The five “Democratic” traitors who sided with the heartless Republicans to block passage of the DREAM Act fill me with loathing.
They make me sick to my stomach.
Photos above show – clockwise – Baucus, Tester, Pryor, Hagan and Nelson.
December 19, 2010 2 Comments
These things seem self-evident to me:
- Mankind has a responsibility to protect and preserve the world God gave us, and to try and perfect the natural order with which the earth is endowed. Despoiling nature is a sin – plain and simple. And it should be a crime.
- We are born free and no one person has the right to deny freedom to any other person. Your freedom extends as far as possible without infringing on the freedoms and rights of others.
- That freedom includes the right to speak your mind without fear of retribution from the government. You do not, of course, have the right to shout “fire!” falsely in a crowded theater. BUT you not only have the right but indeed the responsibility to shout “fire!” if there is one.
- Our right to justice is tempered by our obligation to show compassion.
- We should seek peace and brotherhood, share our blessings and try to be tolerant of the shortcomings of our neighbors, as we hope they will be tolerant of ours.
- Greed, gluttony, cruelty, self-righteousness, treachery, lies, deceit and false promises are despicable. We dishonor God’s creation when we resort to such ugly behavior.
That is why I could never be a Republican in America.
Republicans seem intent on destroying America’s environment and wildlife, censoring the media, bringing back school segregation and criminalizing medically and morally motivated abortion, pursuing draconian measures against undocumented immigrants and petty lawbreakers, and dismantling the social safety net. They are apparently dedicated to a system that rewards greed and selfishness to the detriment of the common good.
And their methods are as ugly as their objectives. They lie, they deceive, they are sanctimonious and hypocritical…
This is what a majority of American voters opted for in November?
December 16, 2010 No Comments
Here’s the background, as reported by Jason Leopold of Truthout:
Cheney and other current and former Halliburton executives were charged with bribery and corruption in a 16-count indictment filed in a high-court in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital….
The charges revolve around $180 million in bribes allegedly paid to Nigerian government officials between 1994 and 2004 to win $6 billion in construction contracts for the Bonny Island natural gas liquefaction plant. The bribes allegedly went to the (late) notoriously corrupt Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha (photo above, right) and some of his subordinates. Cheney was chairman and chief executive of Halliburton from 1995 to 2000.
The cash bribes allegedly were laundered through UK lawyer Jeffrey Tesler, who served as a consultant to KBR after it was formed in a 1998 merger that Cheney engineered between Halliburton and Dresser Industries. Tesler was hired in 1995 as an agent of a four-company joint venture that was awarded four engineering, procurement and construction contracts by Nigeria LNG Ltd.,. Tesler was indicted last year and he is fighting extradition to the US.
Also named in the indictment filed in Nigeria last week are KBR’s former chief executive Albert “Jack” Stanley, KBR’s current CEO William Utt and Halliburton CEO David Lesar.
In September 2008, Stanley pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud to settle charges related to a separate kickback scheme and for conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in connection with the Nigeria bribery case.
According to the Department of Justice’s plea agreement, Stanley started paying bribes in 1995, the year Cheney was named chief executive of the corporation, and ended when Stanley was fired in 2004. Stanley faces seven years in prison and nearly $11 million in restitution payments. He remains free on bail pending a sentencing hearing scheduled for January.
Last year, KBR admitted that it paid $180 million in “consulting fees” to Tesler and a Japanese trading company for use in bribing Nigerian government officials. KBR paid a $402 million fine and $177 million in civil penalties as part of its plea deal.
Two weeks ago, the DOJ announced that Tesler’s associate, Wojciech J. Chodan, the former vice president to KBR’s UK subsidiary, pleaded guilty …. in the bribery scandal.
Chodan, who was extradited to the United States from England, is scheduled to be sentenced in February and faces a maximum five years in federal prison.
Leopold reports today that Nigeria’s anti-corruption unit, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, met with representatives for Halliburton and Cheney in London last weekend “in an attempt to hammer out a deal.” Leopold says the Halliburton representatives offered to pay $250 million in what is euphemistically described as “fines,” and Nigerian authorities are poised to accept the offer. Femi Babafemi, a spokesman for the Commission, said it “will need to be ratified by the government” but I bet the government will take the money.
That’s the way things work these days.
In my book the $250 million is just another bribe to keep Cheney and his associates out of prison.
But I am obviously being naive. If you’re looking for justice today, I wish you luck.
Money talks – and moneyed felons walk.
December 15, 2010 No Comments