Cosmic Rats Multiply

Multiply Blog Archive 5
September 28 2009 through April 28 2010

Three Preventable Disasters Apr 28, '10
All Bag, No Tea Apr 25, '10
Anti-abortionists Eat Their Own Apr 5, '10
The Health Care Bill: What It Does Mar 23, '10
Success At Last Mar 22, '10
The Austin Crash Feb 21, '10
Dick Cheney, War Criminal Feb 16, '10
A Case of Kidnapping Feb 6, '10
Understanding Politics Feb 5, '10
The most irresponsible decision by the Supreme Court since Dred Scott. Jan 22, '10
To do right, and to stop doing wrong. Jan 17, '10
Haiti Jan 14, '10
Lessons Learned Jan 3, '10
Happy Holiday Of Your Choice Dec 24, '09
Rich versus Poor Oct 26, '09
TIME TO GO Sep 28, '09

Three Preventable Disasters Apr 28, '10 12:04 PM

Sometimes items of bad news teach us nothing at all except to remind us that shit happens.  Earthquakes, volcanoes, tornadoes, hurricanes, etc. are unpreventable.  But sometimes events have built-in lessons.

First, the coal-mine disaster in West Virginia.  Thirty miners died to teach us these lessons:

[1] In many, perhaps most, corporations, profit is valued far more than the lives of workers, customers, or anyone else.  The Massey coal mines have been cited time after time for unsafe conditions, and they are only the 4th worst in safety violations among US coal mines.

[2] Mine inspectors need more power to shut down mines that are unsafe.  

[3] Even this, however, will not be enough unless inspectors are there every day.  What DOES work to make mines safer is a strong miners' union, giving miners the right to refuse to work in unsafe conditions without danger of losing their jobs.

[4] Miners and other workers in potentially hazardous occupations must be guaranteed the right to unionize without threats and intimidation by the companies they work for.  All workers have that right, but too often corporate anti-union tactics effectively deny it.  Along with more and stricter safety inspections, the Labor Department should vigorously investigate all cases where workers have been unable to unionize.

Second, the offshore oil rig disaster, which not only cost workers' lives but threatens to become a worse oil-spill than the Exxon-Valdez, has one lesson: STOP!   Such catastrophes may not happen often, but the environmental cost of just one is so great that no more offshore drilling should be risked.  Obviously oil companies and their supporters have lied to us about the safety of these operations.

We need to wean ourselves off oil, and more drilling only extends our dependency on fossil fuels. Drilling that risks polluting our oceans, shores, fish and wildlife should absolutely be avoided.

Third, Arizona, where I live, has a human rights disaster.  It is man-made, or more accurately, man and woman made.  It is a state that has been talked into fearing immigrant workers by xenophobic bigots, and it has responded to that fear by enacting a police-state law that will wreak much more damage than illegal immigrants ever could.

The only problem with undocumented workers is illegality itself.  Almost all of them work hard and stay out of trouble.  They contribute to the economy, and pay most, if not all taxes.  But they live in fear of being caught and deported.  There is really no reason why they should not be legal.  Immigration laws need to be changed to make it so.

Meanwhile, now aliens will have reason to fear local police, not just immigration agents.  If they are victims of a crime, they won't report it.  If they saw one, they won't be witnesses.  

And unless the law is invalidated or repealed quickly, economic damage from boycotts will will be costly.  People spent $18.5 billion in 2008 on travel in Arizona, 74% of that by non-residents, of which 13% were international travelers.  Tourism generates 166,900 jobs in Arizona.

Natural, unpreventable disasters are bad enough to deal with.  At least, can't we do our best to stop preventable ones?

All Bag, No Tea Apr 25, '10 1:52 PM

Gradually, in small spurts of realization, an increasing number of Americans are seeing that the Tea Party movement is a fraud.  It is all bag and no tea.

Its corporate organizers have proved that with sufficient funding they can assemble a fairly large number of uninformed and generally annoyed people, few of them quite sure what they are annoyed about, give them incitement, exaggerated talking points and fact-free rhetoric, and parade them in front of a story-hungry media.

The messages that come out of these groups have little logical consistency.  They managed to manipulate them into opposing health care reform by calling it socialist and flat out lying about what it would do, even though those same people would vigorously defend Medicare.  The arguments against health care reform were ludicrous to anyone thinking logically, but the propagandists effectively discouraged logic and reason.

Mobilizing them against financial reform was a problem, however.   It was much harder get them  to side with banks and Wall St. gamblers who caused, then profited from, the financial meltdown which has resulted in the serious unemployment problem, the real cause of dissatisfaction that made tea party recruitment possible.

They do complain about unemployment, of course-- that needs no outside prompting, but demanding that the government do more about it goes against the message of their handlers, who seem to want the government to do nothing at all.

Meanwhile, some teabaggers are looking nuttier all the time.  In Nevada a woman running for Senate has actually said people should go back to the barter system to pay for medical care.  Does she even realize how many chickens a bypass operation or chemotherapy might cost today?

And here in Arizona, the same legislature who wants to racially profile suspected aliens also passed a "birther" bill despite the fact that the birther "controversy" was a completely baseless smear that came from racist opposition to the President.

The issue of "bailouts" is used as an emotional trigger, though any serious analysis would show that saving the financial and auto industries is hardly a left-wing move-- it was pro-business and pro-capitalist, but given the emergency it was no more political than response to a natural disaster would be.

It's easy not to like the banks and automakers and to resent their getting loans, but to let emotion over-rule reason would have been disastrous.  And the bailouts have proved to be the right thing to do.  The loans are being repaid, and millions of jobs were saved.

When the emotional approach to issues proves time after time to lead people to the wrong side, most people capable of thinking at all will abandon the tempest in a teapot.  The only problem is that will leave the core of the genuinely stupid and potentially violent, a dangerous combination.

Anti-abortionists Eat Their Own Apr 5, '10 3:19 AM

Out of all the last-minute lying and poor-loser behavior we heard from the anti-health-reform Republicans, one thing stands out in my memory, and that is the disrespect shown to Congressman Stupak.

I say that although I entirely disagree with Stupak's position.  I think abortion and all other aspects of women's reproductive rights should be required coverage under reformed insurance rules, not denied.

But Stupak, though he favored the goal of universal health care, stood for his principles, and won.  Naturally he knew Republicans disagreed with him on health care.  But after what he fought for and achieved for his anti-abortion cause, to hear someone say "Baby killer" was more than anyone should have to take.

The man who said that claimed later he was talking about the bill, not Stupak.  Either way, it was clearly a lie, intended as an insult, and no one knew that better than Stupak.

It was just one more incident, one more example of typical Republican right-wing behavior.  It seems to highlight very clearly the fact that there is no conscience; no honor in the Party of No.

It doesn't matter what the issue is.  If there's a corporation that is profiting from controlling who is insured and who isn't, even if hundreds of thousands die unnecessarily, Republicans find a way to profit from that too, and oppose change.  If Wall Street and banks want to continue their risky behavior that already caused economic damage, they know they can count on Republicans to oppose regulation.  And no one knows better than those profiting from polluting our environment that "conservative" no longer has anything to do with conservation.

A lot of people pay attention to the noise they make and not enough to what side they're really cheering for.  It isn't the people.  It isn't our country.  It's the corporations.

The Health Care Bill: What It Does Mar 23, '10 10:26 PM

Many people who comment about Health Care Reform, especially those against it, don't really know what it does.  The following list was issued by a company to inform its small business members, and is both concise and comprehensive:

The Washington DC NLA-retained government affairs firm, Cornerstone Government Affairs, has provided this list of the health care reform bill’s key provisions that will take effect immediately.  We hope you will find it helpful to gain understanding of the new legislation.

 1.       SMALL BUSINESS TAX CREDITS:  Offers tax credits to small businesses to make employee coverage more affordable.  Tax credits of up to 35 percent of premiums will be immediately available to firms that choose to offer coverage.  Effective beginning for calendar year 2010.  (Beginning in 2014, the small business tax credits will cover 50 percent of premiums.)

 2.       BEGINS TO CLOSE THE MEDICARE PART D DONUT HOLE:  Provides a $250 rebate to Medicare beneficiaries who hit the donut hole in 2010.  Effective for calendar year 2010.  (Beginning in 2011, institutes a 50% discount on brand-name drugs in the donut hole; also completely closes the donut hole by 2020.)

 3.       FREE PREVENTIVE CARE UNDER MEDICARE:  Eliminates co-payments for preventive services and exempts preventive services from deductibles under the Medicare program.  Effective beginning January 1, 2011.

 4.       HELP FOR EARLY RETIREES:  Creates a temporary re-insurance program (until the Exchanges are available) to help offset the costs of expensive premiums for employers and retirees for health benefits for retirees age 55-64.  Effective 90 days after enactment.

 5.       ENDS RESCISSIONS:  Bans insurance companies from dropping people from coverage when they get sick.  Effective 6 months after enactment.

 6.       NO DISCRIMINATION AGAINST CHILDREN WITH PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS:  Prohibits new health plans in all markets plus grandfathered group health plans from denying coverage to children with pre-existing conditions.  Effective 6 months after enactment.  (Beginning in 2014, this prohibition would apply to all persons.)

 7.       BANS LIFETIME LIMITS ON COVERAGE:  Prohibits health insurance companies from placing lifetime caps on coverage.  Effective 6 months after enactment.

 8.       BANS RESTRICTIVE ANNUAL LIMITS ON COVERAGE:  Tightly restricts the use of annual limits to ensure access to needed care in all new plans and grandfathered group health plans.  These tight restrictions will be defined by HHS.  Effective 6 months after enactment.  (Beginning in 2014, the use of any annual limits would be prohibited for all new plans and grandfathered group health plans.)

 9.       FREE PREVENTIVE CARE UNDER NEW PRIVATE PLANS:  Requires new private plans to cover preventive services with no co-payments and with preventive services being exempt from deductibles.  Effective 6 months after enactment.

 10.     NEW, INDEPENDENT APPEALS PROCESS:  Ensures consumers in new plans have access to an effective internal and external appeals process to appeal decisions by their health insurance plan.  Effective 6 months after enactment.

 11.     ENSURING VALUE FOR PREMIUM PAYMENTS:  Requires plans in the individual and small group market to spend 80 percent of premium dollars on medical services, and plans in the large group market to spend 85 percent.  Insurers that do not meet these thresholds must provide rebates to policyholders.  Effective on January 1, 2011.

 12.     IMMEDIATE HELP FOR THE UNINSURED UNTIL EXCHANGE IS AVAILABLE (INTERIM HIGH-RISK POOL):  Provides immediate access to affordable insurance for Americans who are uninsured because of a pre-existing condition - through a temporary subsidized high-risk pool.  Effective 90 days after enactment.

 13.     EXTENDS COVERAGE FOR YOUNG PEOPLE UP TO 26TH BIRTHDAY THROUGH PARENTS' INSURANCE:  Requires new health plans and certain grandfathered plans to allow young people up to their 26th birthday to remain on their parents' insurance policy, at the parents' choice.  Effective 6 months after enactment.

 14.     COMMUNITY HEALTH CENTERS:  Increases funding for Community Health Centers to allow for nearly a doubling of the number of patients seen by the centers over the next 5 years.  Effective beginning in fiscal year 2010.

 15.     INCREASING NUMBER OF PRIMARY CARE DOCTORS:  Provides new investment in training programs to increase the number of primary care doctors, nurses, and public health professionals.  Effective beginning in fiscal year 2010.

 16.     PROHIBITING DISCRIMINATION BASED ON SALARY:  Prohibits group health plans from establishing any eligibility rules for health care coverage that have the effect of discriminating in favor of higher wage employees.  Effective 6 months after enactment.

 17.     HEALTH INSURANCE CONSUMER INFORMATION:  Provides aid to states in establishing offices of health insurance consumer assistance in order to help individuals with the filing of complaints and appeals.  Effective beginning in FY 2010.

 18.     CREATES NEW, VOLUNTARY, PUBLIC LONG-TERM CARE INSURANCE PROGRAM:  Creates a long-term care insurance program to be financed by voluntary payroll deductions to provide home and community-based services to adults who become functionally disabled.  Effective on January 1, 2011.

  After reading this, I found myself wondering anew: How could anyone with any sense possibly be opposed to it?

I would like to see some of its provisions happen sooner, and yes, there is more to be done, but right now we should be elated that we have finally done this much.


Success At Last Mar 22, '10 12:10 AM

The long hard struggle to begin bringing health care to all Americans, not just the most fortunate, is virtually over.  I have been following it closely.  This is indeed a historic achievement, and I am feeling proud of our President and Congressional leaders for finally making it happen.

As in most landmark breakthroughs, all that is needed is not yet done, but this is a vital first step. What is truly amazing is how long it has taken-- not just this bill, which should have passed at least 9 months ago, but that America, over the last 50 years, has allowed our health care system to be surpassed by not only the major developed nations, but by many of the minor ones as well.  This despite the fact that our cost is higher than any other.

The opposition, in the pocket of health insurance companies, is still making increasingly spurious, obviously false and misleading arguments, and they are making them loudly.  They and their supporters are in the minority, but a minority plus lots of money can, like a blow-fish, seem bigger than it is.

I thought it ironic that some of the most disingenuous TV ads were paid for by the US Chamber of Commerce, an organization that was once thought to stand for ethics in business.  

It is no surprise that with a years worth of professionally produced propaganda, Republicans have been able to cast enough doubt on the bill that some polls seem to show approval has declined.  But that reflects an overall impression which results from exasperation over Congress having taken so long, and includes all those who feel strongly that the bill doesn't go far enough.

When shown the actual provisions of the bill, however, majorities ranging from 68 to 74 percent approve of each one. Make no mistake: the people won today.


There is a common theme to almost all the conservative rhetoric, whether it comes directly from the corporate selfists or indirectly through the teabaggers, John Birchers, and similar groups, or the well-paid propagandists of right-wing talk radio.  That is the theme of "anti-government".

They say they don't trust the government, fear "big" government, and don't want the government to "run" anything except perhaps the military, the police, and streets and highways.  Some extremists would even prefer to privatize those.  Others want it to continue what it does already but don't want it to do anything new.

The concept in all of this seems to be that the government is something separate from the people it governs: an opposing force for ordinary people to struggle against.  And when individuals come up against a law or regulation and suffers penalties or inconveniences as a result, some of them are likely to jump on the bandwagon pushing the message that the government is a bad thing; the enemy.

Most of those probably do nothing worse than voting for officials who say "no" to every new proposal, and perhaps writing letters complaining that the government is repressing or persecuting them.

 Only a few, a small percentage, will blow up a Federal building or crash a plane into one, or go to Washington intending to kill someone or destroy something that represents the government.  Their acts may kill a lot of people, a few, or none, depending partly on the plan and partly on luck.  Certainly they will sacrifice their own freedom or their lives.

None of these acts are likely to have the desired effect.  If anything, more restrictions, surveillence, and inconvenience may result for the purpose of preventing future attacks. Hate toward and fear of the Federal government was never the intention of the authors of the Constitution  They designed it so that the ultimate control would remain in the hands of the people, unlike the monarchial/corporate control they had recently rebelled against.  They also had experienced 10 years of a government designed to be too weak to be effective.  Instead they gave the people a way to direct their new nation to effectively do what they could not achieve individually.

There are wide differences in opinions as to what things the voters and their representatives should direct the government to do, and what they shouldn't.  Those differences are exactly what elections exist to decide.

When the government does what the majority have decided to tell it to do, it is not logical to resent the government for acting according to design.  One could blame the voters on the other side of the issue, and try to convince them to change their minds.  That is logical.

So why the attitude toward the government itself?  Is there a psychological need to personify it as if it were a separate entity?  Throughout most of human history there have indeed been monarchs and emperors who ruled with little regard to the wishes of the governed.  Have we not yet internalized the concept of democracy after over two centuries?

It would seem, though, that those promoting the message that the government shouldn't have certain functions might argue just as well without presenting it as a malevolent creature intent on crushing its own citizens.  The difference in focus might well prevent some future tragedies.  It may also make them more effective at directing their political energies.

The Austin Crash Feb 21, '10 6:13 AM

The remarkable thing about the last message from the man who burned his house down and flew a small plane into an IRS building in Austin, Texas is...just how unremarkable it is. I'm sure some people expected a devastating indictment of the Federal income tax system, and maybe Stack thought he had written one, but it only left me wondering 'What was he thinking?'

Presumably this man was intelligent enough to be a successful writer of software.  The tone of his letter does not sound like the usual anti-government ideologue who is  totally against taxation.  There is anger, but not  shrill seething hatred.  More than anything else, he sounds bewildered.

It does seem that at one point he fell in with a group of anti-tax nuts and tried a silly tax-avoidance scheme. Perhaps getting caught at that resulted in the IRS paying extra attention to his returns thereafter. Instead of being extra careful to follow the rules, he reacted with attitude and carelessness.

This advertisement for SynergisTech plainly states it is a system to avoid taxes in hiring technical workers.  It may have been arguably legal, but it was also an uplifted middle finger at the IRS.

  Many years in the taxicab business familiarized me intimately with the independent contractor system.  It is most definitely of advantage to the company, which uses it to avoid its part of Social Security taxes, the requirement to provide workman's compensation insurance, all the payroll-related paperwork, and all other responsibility a company usually has to its employees.

The independent contractor has a slight amount more freedom in when and how to work, but loses all protection and job security that he would have as an employee. In the software business that system may have had short-term benefits to the worker during the boom times, but as his own story shows, when business slows down he can be entirely out of luck.

Anyone who breaks a law and suffers consequences tends to think of that law, or the government that legislated it, as a tyranny.  That doesn't make it so.  Stack is hardly a victim.  He allowed his greed and an antisocial belief that the law should not apply to him, to create a lifetime of problems for himself.  In the end, he could not handle the result

Throughout history there have been true heroes who have fought against real tyrannies, real injustice.  Stack was not only NOT one of them, but he insults them by pretending, if only to himself, to be one of them.

Dick Cheney, War Criminal Feb 16, '10 2:46 AM

 If the United States had a functioning criminal justice system for the powerful – not just for run-of-the-mill offenders – former Vice President Dick Cheney would have convicted himself and some of his Bush administration colleagues with his comments on ABC’s 'This Week.'

On Sunday, Cheney pronounced himself a big supporter of waterboarding, a near-drowning technique that has been regarded as torture back to the Spanish Inquisition and that has long been treated by U.S. authorities as a serious war crime, such as when Japanese commanders were prosecuted for using it on American prisoners during World War II.  Cheney was unrepentant about his support for the technique. He answered with an emphatic 'yes' when asked if he had opposed the Bush administration’s decision to suspend the use of waterboarding – after it was employed against three 'high-value detainees' sometimes in repetitive sequences. He added that waterboarding should still be “on the table” today.

  Cheney then went further. Speaking with a sense of impunity, he casually negated a key line of defense that senior Bush officials had hidden behind for years – that the brutal interrogations were approved by independent Justice Department legal experts who thus gave the administration a legitimate reason to believe the actions were within the law.

 However, on Sunday, Cheney acknowledged that the White House had told the Justice Department lawyers what legal opinions to render. In other words, the opinions amounted to ordered-up lawyering to permit the administration to do whatever it wanted. Read the whole article

Cheney is daring us to prosecute him, and Bush as well, or to turn him over to someone who will.  He is obviously betting that we won't, that, in at least one aspect we are 'soft on crime': crimes committed by Presidents and Vice-Presidents.

It should be clear even to him that better information can be obtained through the legal means of the American justice system than by brutal violations of human rights.  Maybe it isn't clear, but it should be.  His frequent denial of this fact, and his bragging admissions of what are in fact crimes,  begins to sound like a preemptive attack out of desperation.

It's time for Eric Holder to call his bluff.  Try Cheney and Bush in the same courtroom that KSM will be tried.  Not only will the world respect us for it, but we as a nation that speaks of justice for all will once again be able to respect ourselves.

A Case of Kidnapping Feb 6, '10 6:56 PM

When I first heard the story of the Haiti kidnappers' arrest, I thought "Well-meaning but stupid."  But after a few more facts came out, I realized they were not well-meaning at all, and they fully deserve being arrested, tried, and if found guilty, imprisoned.

Taking advantage of a disaster, pretending to "help", and snatching children in order to impose their particular brand of Christianity on them is an even more heinous act than kidnapping for ransom. Secretary of State Clinton has rightly said, "It is a matter for the Haitian courts to decide."  That it is.

No doubt the kidnappers, seeing that at first Haiti was virtually without government and police after the earthquake, thought they could get away with their crime amid the chaos.  In effect, they were looters of the worst kind, stealing not food or even objects, but human beings.

Christianity has a long sordid history of forcing its beliefs on others, fomenting wars to convert the conquered, conducting inquisitions, and, even in the US, kidnapping children to brainwash them.  Despite the First Amendment, that was systematically done to American natives.  Not long ago a local government in Texas tried to confiscate the children of a Mormon sect.

Religions that follow their own best principles usually do good, not harm.  Because religion is by nature irrational, its adherents are also vulnerable to those who would twist its preachings into offensive and often deadly kinds of action.

I hope that a lesson is learned from that crime, that no nation, no culture, no matter what emergencies or problems it may have, takes lightly the insult of kidnapping to prey on the minds of their children. Tags: justice, freedom

Understanding Politics Feb 5, '10 5:30 AM

Politics can be infuriating, not just when you don't understand what's going on, but even more so when you do.

For example, it is obvious that right now people are very concerned about unemployment.  It is also well known that the government does not have direct control over that.  With policy and money the government can stimulate the economy to shorten a recession and the period of excessive unemployment, and it can help the unemployed make it through the recession.  And that is exactly what the Obama administration is doing.

The Republicans, meanwhile, whose policy is to do nothing or far less for the economy and the unemployed, are at the same time criticising Democrats for not having fixed it yet.  They seek to utilize the anger of the unemployed to their advantage, despite the fact that it was their policies that weakened the economy and caused the recession in the first place.

Tonight someone said "We're good at pulling drowning people out of the river and saving them.  We do that over and over.  But sooner or later someone should go upstream and find out who's throwing those people IN the river.

That is what government can do well.  But that is what Republicans try to keep it from doing, because they represent the corporations, the banks, the Wall Street firms; the very wealthy. and they don't like laws and regulations.  They don't want to see the people protected from man-made financiai disasters

It has become increasingly clear who the real Republican and the "Tea Party" constituents are.  They have supported the medical insurance companies, they support unlimited corporate political spending, they oppose protecting the environment and reducing our use of oil.  And even when there is an issue the corporations don't care about, Republicans oppose it anyway, if a Democrat is for it.

What more do we need to know?

The most irresponsible decision by the Supreme Court since Dred Scott. Jan 22, '10 3:03 AM

That was today, January 21, 2010.  No more limits on corporate spending to influence elections and legislators

The fight for health care should have made it perfectly clear, in case it wasn't already, that the primary problem in our system is the ability of wealthy corporations to influence our legislature more than the people themselves can. There were some campaign reform laws in place to try to limit this.  They were never sufficient, but they helped.

Now by a Supreme Court decision, there are no limits on what a corporation, or a whole industry of corporations, can spend on media blitzes to influence votes, or how lavishly they can support candidates who will vote their way. This literally makes it possible for the corporations to control every aspect of our government increasingly until it becomes absolute.

Just as Iran's democracy is limited and controlled by a religious dictatorship, so would ours be by a corporate one.  Voting would matter only if it were on a matter the corporations did not care about, and such matters could become quite rare.

Some believe democracy is already an illusion.  I don't agree, but that may be a moot point.  If a corporation is now considered a person with the unlimited right to "speak" with its comparatively unlimited dollars, there may be very little democracy very soon.

Those of us who believe democracy is a good thing, and an uncorrupt democracy even better, will not just give up.  Barney Franks has suggested corporations could be controlled in ways unaffected by today's ruling.

In theory, of course, if all legislators refuse to be swayed by, or even accept, corporate contributions, and if American voters refuse to be affected by media ads paid for by corporations, then our system could still work as intended. I'm not sure we can count on that, however.

To do right, and to stop doing wrong. Jan 17, '10 8:21 PM

When there's an emergency and someone helps, whether it's a lone hero pulling an injured person out of danger, or a nation responding to a disaster, there is little thought or planning.  You don't ask why, or what you will do afterward, you just do it.  You're not thinking about a reward, or even thanks.

But there is almost  always a reward.  First, there's knowing you did the right thing.  That's the big one.  You can't put a value on that, because it is priceless.  Most people never even have the opportunity to save another's life personally. Secondly, you become an example of someone doing the right thing.  This goes out to everyone else.  It's a message of hope; an affirmation that most human beings are essentially good when it really matters.  It makes us all feel a little better about ourselves, and want to do good things in all the small ways that everyone can.

And, yes, being an example comes back as recognition and admiration. Sometimes when you want someone, or in this case a nation of someones, to stop behaving wrongly, it helps to have a good example of acting rightly.

Even though it is not what CNN is talking about right now, at the same time Americans are bringing help and supplies to Haiti, saving lives and comforting survivors, we are also bringing death and chaos to parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan,where we represent an unwelcome presence. While it is true that this is the result of the misguided actions of the Bush administration, it continues because that approach has not been entirely repudiated.  

With every passing day it is becoming more and more clear that we are doing little good and considerable harm, not just to those countries, but to our own long-term well-being also.  Because we are trying to impose our will, we are spending huge sums of money and risking too many lives, being unhelpful "helpers".

What is needed to end that unwise involvement is an overwhelming voice of the American people to bring the troops home.  Otherwise the pro-war minority is able to keep the status quo.

Absolutely, let us help where we're needed, for as long as we're needed.  Just as emphatically, let us stop doing harm, which only gives AQ more recruitment propaganda. 

Haiti Jan 14, '10 2:44 AM

I think that almost everyone everywhere would agree with me when I say that my deep sympathy and concern goes out to the people of Haiti in this time of disaster, and that I sincerely hope that everyone who can, whether individuals, organizations, or governments will do everything possible to help.

I would like to think that at times such as this, politics and religion should not be a consideration.  Those are human beings there, just like us, though not nearly as fortunate.

I was disgusted by the remarks of Pat Robertson, who claimed that the disaster was punishment from God because the Haitians "made a deal with the devil".  I was equally outraged by the comments from Rush Limbaugh, who expressed his concern that offering disaster aid would help President Obama's popularity.  And some group of supposed "libertarians" is posting a petition to demand that Congress ban using taxpayer money to help victims in Haiti.

I believe such people are but a tiny percentage of humanity, and could go entirely unmentioned except when they have access to microphones and can appeal to the baser instincts of their audiences on other issues as well.  Perhaps we can learn from their detestable utterances something about their character, or lack of it.

I wish the people of Haiti better fortune in the coming days, weeks, and months.  They deserve our help and friendship, which should go even beyond this emergency to try to make that country a better place to live.

Lessons Learned Jan 3, '10 6:30 PM

As the Year 9 fades into the Year 10 of the Century 21, what have we learned so far? [1] Never Start a War Wars of choice are fundamentally wrong, unjustifiable, and cause lasting damage to the wager as well as the wagee. And yes, Afghanistan was a war of choice, just like Iraq.  Previous examples were Vietnam and Korea.  

(The first Iraq war falls in the category of "War due to diplomatic fuckup" As everyone should know, Sadaam asked us before invading Kuwait, and the US answer was "no problem"  The result is history.  The only question is, "Was that a deliberate mistake, or just a stupid one?"  If the answer is "deliberate" then that was also a war of choice.)

It is ironic that those who are likely to claim that government budgets should follow the same rules as personal budgets are the least likely to apply the rules of personal morality to foreign policy.

[2] Never Elect a Republican Republicans make bad Presidents, bad Senators, and bad Representatives.  This has been true for at least 40 years. Nixon, who made a bad war even worse, who gave us the criminal Kissinger, and who tried to subvert the democratic process, should have taught us, Reagan, the robo-wolf in sheepish actor's clothing, who nearly ruined our economy, was another lesson. Bush I did most of his malfeasance as Reagan's VP, running his own unofficial covert-operations group, pursuing illegal foreign policy.  That was covered up long enough for him to win one term as President, during which he waged what may or may not have been an excusable war. Eight years later we got Son of Bush, the worst President America has ever had, together with the worst Vice-President.

When a great many Americans wake up, it makes a difference. We are slow to do so. Until the horror of what we previously ignored is inescapably in our faces, we allow others to make foreign policy. We were finally taught the lesson that foreign policy can affect us directly in a big way on September 11, 2001, and we even ignored that lesson. Instead, we stood by and let Bush and Cheney tell us there was no lesson, no meaning, and we let them do exactly the wrong things in response.

Once the best of all American generations not only rose up to stop a war and worked intensely to advance the cause of equal rights for all, but to a large extent restored a real sense of morality to our national culture.

Why, then, did we have to repeat the lesson we learned from Vietnam? While many individuals may learn such lessons immediately and retain them and try to remind others, a nation of people as a whole can be a slow student. Perhaps repetition is necessary.

[3] Ideology Sucks History has shown us that ideology, even when it proposes to solve a problem, is a destructive force. When religion becomes ideology instead of merely a personal delusion, cruelty and war result. It is the same with economics. Communism didn't work, and caused war and misery instead, not because its scholars were wrong about the evils of capitalism, but because it attempted to force others to act and think in a certain way, like religion often does. The scholarship, the scientific study of economics, became lost to rigidity in the "party line".

The opponents of communism have their own ideology, though it was never intended to solve any problem except communism itself. It is based on, as Ayn Rand phrased it, "the virtue of selfishness". It says to the world, "Nothing matters to me but me; I've got mine, and I'm keeping it."

As ideological communism and socialism have faded away as a means of change, progressive humanitarians have adopted a practical approach to problem solving. It may learn from socialist thinkers, but also from how their theories were misused. It rejects the destructiveness of revolution and force, and embraces democracy and human rights.

But the ideology of selfishness remains as rigid and unthinking as ever. Any attempt to improve and humanize the economic system, no matter how obvious the need, is rejected in exaggerated hysteria. And though the numbers of these reactionaries are small, they are exceedingly well funded by the interests they, sometimes unwittingly, defend.

it is indeed ironic to call the right wing "conservative" since they are interested in conserving nothing except their hatred of change and their love of dollars. The "Selfists" like to throw around the word "socialism" and a justification they pounce on any mention of redistribution of wealth.  Regarding redristribution of wealth:  That is going to happen no matter who is running things.  The only question is "in which direction"

With no management at all, wealth will be redistrubed upward; the rich will get richer, the poor poorer, and the middle will virtually disappear.

That was what Reagan set in motion, reversing a modest growth of the middle class.  The change was slow enough to hide the gradual weakening of the economy; the increasing consumer indebtedness, the erosion of American manufacturing.

Mechanisms need to be in place so that wealth does not stay in the hands of the wealthy, but is distributed fairly.  This is partly done through graduated taxation, though it is not currently- the upper-level tax rates are still much too low.  Another important means, also attacked by Reagan, is the labor union.  A strong labor movement helps insure a fair share of wealth being retained by the middle and lower classes.

The reason for regulating wealth distribution is not primarily altruistic.  It is necessary for a sustainable economic system.  What is often forgotten is: if the workers don't have enough income, who will be the consumers of goods and services they produce? 

Which is more likely to result in the incentive-robbing cliche' "welfare state"-- an economy in which workers have less and less, or one which assures a fair income for all productive citizens?

At its extreme, which has existed and still does in some countries, a sharp divide between rich and poor is a condition for revolution.  It is in no one's best interest that we reach or even approach that point.  Even the most dedicated capitalist should realize that.

Unfortunately, they seem not to, and as heads of corporations become less educated, it becomes less likely they will.  Less educated? Yes.  Education has been replaced by the MBA in such people.  Increasingly, college has to pay for itself, so many use it only for training in how to make money; how to convince the corporate world you can make them money

We have the structure of a democratic system, but its vulnerability to wealth limits it considerably.  It is an uphill battle to reform anything, especially the wealth influence itself.

An ideology, whether it is communsm, Islamic extremism, Christian extremism, or American conservatism is hard to defuse from outside. All we can do as rational pragmatic progressives is to observe them, do our best to protect the public from them, and let them wither on their own.

As an optimist I hope that the next decade might lead to an age of reason, fueled by the negative lessons of the past, and propelled by our first steps, begun last year, toward the future.

[4] The Future We started  the future in November 2008 with many needs, many hopes, and a general vision of what the future should, and shouldn't, look like.  Now that we've spent a little time working on that future. we have a slightly clearer idea of what we need to achieve and how. We knew it wasn't going to be easy; now we have an idea just how not-easy it will be and why.

The fights for universal health care and carbon emissions reduction, still in progress,  have brightly illuminated one fact:  aligned against us is the power of a great deal of money and all the Congresspersons that money can buy.  In nearly everything else that needs to be done we will be battering at this same wall of resistance.

That includes regulation of financial institutions and corporations in general.  And, it includes ending the war in Afghanistan.  It may even include necessary steps to lasting peace between Israel and Palestine.  Sooner or later, we will need to tear down that wall.


Happy Holiday Of Your Choice Dec 24, '09 5:17 AM

As many know, I'll give you my opinion at the drop of a hat. (Hark- I think I hear the sound of headwear hitting the floor) But no matter how well-reasoned my argument, and no matter how right I am, I can't tell you what to think or what to believe.  That is "freedom of thought."

That is one freedom that is not going away.  Might as well respect it, and let's all get along.


We know, of course, that the astroturf organizing of the "tea parties" is funded and propagandized by corporations who see their immense economic power and wealth threatened by increasing awareness of their role in subverting our democratic system, severely damaging the soundness of our economy, and suppressing the income and opportunity of a vast majority of the American people.

But, to the extent that ordinary people are taken in by this "movement", perhaps because it seems logical to be conservative when they remember that things USED to be better, they are working AGAINST their own interests and FOR the very people responsible for their problems.

The reason you now have to work longer hours for less income, on the average, than you did in the 1970's, the reason you owe more money and save less than you used to, and your labor union, if you even have one, can't do much to help you get a raise or benefits, the reason most families need two incomes to make ends meet, so the kids have to stay at day care, or take care of themselves, is that Ronald Reagan decided to redistribute the income in America.  He chose to change the tax structure so that more and more of what the middle class earned by their hard work went instead to the already wealthiest corporations and their management and stockholders.  And to make sure you didn't try to get it back, he took steps to weaken labor unions and make it harder to start one.

Sure, things got better for business.  Economic growth, they call it.  But who benefited?  Over 90% of the increased wealth went to the wealthy. Keep in mind that from the 1930's through the mid 1970's the wealth was much less lopsided, and the middle class was actually doing a little better each year.  More families could afford to send their kids to college.  Almost everyone had a savings account.

And what wonderful new things are the corporations doing with the money the middle class used to have?  Actually, more of the same.  Mostly, they keep it.  They spend huge sums on lobbyists for state and Federal lawmakers, and political contributions.  Buying your Senators and Congresspersons.  Trying to keep the status-quo.

These are the companies that have been outsourcing jobs to other countries.  Insurance companies that don't want us to have health insurance for all, and are spending lots of money to convince some of you that it would somehow be a bad thing.  Oil and coal companies will be spending lots to convince people that we can't afford to save our environment.  The banks and investment companies will do the same against regulation to prevent future meltdowns.

Are these corporations what you want to be helping to keep their advantages?  They propagandize against "big government"  Without a government "big" enough to regulate corporations, who is going to -protect the people from them?  You elect your government; you probably don't have a vote on the board of directors of Exxon or GM.

After the bankers, stock market gamblers, and other financial tricksters ran an already-weakened economy into the ground, we are lucky that we had a government "big" enough to prop up and stimulate the economy; it could have been much, much worse. 

If you're a CEO of a major corporation with a 6-figure salary and you want to keep it all, I understand your motivation.  But if you're a regular person like me who has worked all your life to make a living, and you're arguing that the wealthy should have even more of your share, and the government should let them do what they want, I think you need to think about the facts, and re-evaluate, because you're on the wrong side.

Rich versus Poor Oct 26, '09 3:04 AM

Despite the title, the rich and the poor don't HAVE to be in conflict.  The old Marxist idea of class warfare was mainly a way to get a revolution started if you needed one, and in the early history of industrial capitalism, that did seem to be the only hope for social justice to many.

However, that which starts with animosity seldom has good results. Not all rich people are greedy and ruthless.  A good many of them have a highly developed sense of social responsibility.  People like the Kennedys in politics and Bill Gates in philanthropy are known examples, but there are many others less famous.

If a capitalist economy is administered with sufficient governmental controls and regulation, the right graduation of taxes, and adequate humanitarian, health, and education programs, then it can remain sound and sustainable and maintain  fair economic opportunity for all.

There are some who treat capitalism as not just an economic system but something much like a religion.  Such people often accuse the very leaders who have done the most to save and stabilize capitalism, of being socialists. Neither Franklin Roosevelt nor Barack Obama are socialists.  

Dealing with economic problems and needs requires a practical approach, not an ideological one.  Reagan's damage to Roosevelt's economic reforms  set in motion a severe weakening of our entire system.  It was not immediately evident, but eroding more and more of the income share away from the poor and middle class was destroying their ability to consume American-made goods.  Even shifting to cheaper imported products relied on increasing amounts of credit to sustain the standard of living that most people expect, and a level of consumption adequate to keep money flowing.

Meanwhile, removing some regulations and poor enforcement of others made sure it would crash sooner or later, and it would  be harder to fix when it did. The following table shows an important indicator of the US economy  in relation to 159 other nations.  The GINI factor is a standard measurement of relative income distribution used by both the UN and the CIA.

The US came in 94th, tied  with Turkmenistan, out of 160.  Check out  THE TABLE to see who won, and the other 92 that beat us.


It is encouraging to see that after health insurance companies spent huge amounts of money on media ads to lie to us, organizing the astroturf tea-baggers to lie to us, and even paying Senators and Representatives to lie to us, a strong majority of us are intelligent enough to see that we need a public option along with other reforms. We're tired of having only the 37th best health care with the highest cost. We're tired of seeing fellow Americans die and/or go bankrupt for lack of affordable health insurance and because of untrustworthy insurance companies. I hope all who agree have  emailed their Congresspersons

--cosmic rat

WAR IS A NASTY HABIT Sep 28, '09 3:41 PM

If a nation could be psychologically evaluated based on past behavior, the US might be diagnosed as addicted to war.   When history is taught in our schools, it tends to gloss over all but the most recent of our foreign adventures, and it fails to question the official excuse. 

When we look a little closer, however, our view of our current wars as isolated anomalies begins to look more like part of a general pattern: the nasty habit of war we've fallen into.

Iraq and Afghanistan are hardly the first countries the US has invaded and occupied. There were Germany and Japan, of course, but the history goes back further than that.

In 1909, Nicaragua was negotiating with Germany to build a canal. The US, in order to insure its Panama Canal was the only one, supported a rebellion against President Zelaya. The Zelaya government captured 500 rebels, including 2 Americans, and executed them. Using the excuse of protecting US lives and property, US warships and US Marines were sent. The Marines occupied Nicaragua from 1912 to 1933, except for a nine month period beginning in 1925, when a treaty was signed with the puppet government regarding the canal. Once the Marines left, however, a new rebellion started, led by Gen. Augusto César Sandino (from whom the later Sandinistas took their name), and the Marines returned, facing a sustained guerilla war until 1933.

Although the Marines left in 1933, they left a US-trained and supplied force called the Guardia Nacional, which enabled Anastacio Somoza to defeat and kill Sandino and begin a dictatorial dynasty which would last till 1979.

It is interesting to note how the wrongs done in the past seem to return to haunt our future. History is not a series of isolated stories, but a continuous flow of events, ideas, and people's lives.


TIME TO GO Sep 28, '09 6:35 AM

It would be better if important issues only came up one at a time, but they don't.   In fact there are more of them all happening at once right now than any time I have seen in the last 40 years. Health care reform, green energy legislation, financial regulation, rebuilding the economy, Israeli-Palestinian peace, and dealing with Iran, all demand the Presiden't attention, and that of Congress.  And they all demand the attention of the American people, because each of these things affect us, directly or indirectly.

So, I will not suggest that any of these issues be ignored or delayed, but it is also time to stop a war.  It is time to leave Afghanistan to the Afghans, and Pakistan to the Pakistanis.

Despite the original poor choice to invade Afghanistan, it was reasonable to think that if we had the support of the people there, we could help them defeat the Taliban and strenthen their own capability.  That has turned out not to be the case.  That is not at all surprising.  We are, at best, outside troublemakers there.  Whenever we kill innocent civilians more Afghans feel even more strongly that they want us gone.

Nor have the Afghans likely forgotten how those captured by American troops were treated with extreme brutality.  " In December 2002 , U.S. soldiers beat two Afghan detainees, Habibullah and Dilawar, to death as they hung by their wrists.  Dilawar died on Dec. 10 , seven days after Habibullah died. He'd been hit in his leg so many times that the tissue was "falling apart" and had "basically been pulpified," said then-Lt. Col. Elizabeth Rouse , the Air Force medical examiner who performed the autopsy on him. Had Dilawar lived, Rouse said in sworn testimony, "I believe the injury to the legs are so extensive that it would have required amputation." Those were only the most severe cases.  Beatings of detainees were routine, [By Tom Lasseter, McClatchy Newspapers Wed Jun 18, 2009]

For Afghanistan to continue suppressing the Taliban after US and NATO troops leave, they will need to have a strong national government capable of keeping army troops deployed throughout the country. That is not the kind of government Afghans want.

Many of us assume that the invasion of Afghanistan was necessary and justified following the September 11 attacks. From the beginning the vast majority of the world thought the military invasion was a bad idea, which of course it was.

So why do so many Americans continue to bury our  proverbial heads in the sand about Afghanistan? First, though it is known that plans were made to invade WELL BEFORE Sept. 11, it seems not enough of us have fully grasped the implications of that. In March of 2001 an article in Jane's Information Group (a publication for defense contractors offering "insider" information on upcoming military actions) suggested that invasion plans were being made.  In June of 2001 the Pakistani foreign minister was told that there would be an Afghanistan invasion by October.  By September 9th, the exact plan that was used, with the same official excuse (getting Bin Ladin), was presented in a National Security Presidential Directive.  Whatever else you might think about the Sept. 11 attacks, the words "AWFULLY CONVENIENT" undeniably apply.

Many still think of the originally stated purpose, killing or capturing Bin Ladin, as being the legitimate response to Sept. 11, and assume we need to stay in control of Afghanistan to do that.

There are a couple of problems with that thinking.  The plan to get Bin Ladin was made before there was a Sept. 11 to blame him for.  The Taliban, before we invaded, offered to give him up if credible evidence of his guilt were presented.  It never was, and in fact he is not actually charged for that crime.  It has become fairly clear that neither before nor after Sept. 11 did the Bush administration actually intend to "get" Bin Ladin, but only to appear to be trying to do so.  He was much more valuable as a hateable personification of terrorism.

So, with no legitimate reason for invading, do we have a reason for continuing to occupy?  The rationale now may be "We broke it, so we have to fix it."  Sure we could help improve their infrastructure.  But no matter what we do to the Taliban, what happens when we finally leave will be entirely up to the people of Afghanistan.

--captain rat