Wednesday, November 26, 2014

More about the Benghazi report

Here's more about that Benghazi report from the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee. Apparently, not all Republicans are willing to give up on the crazy on this issue.

If it's too crazy for House Republicans, you know it's completely nuts. But hey, crazy has worked very, very well for them politically.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

America's wonderful healthcare system

Insurance companies screw people because it makes them more money. Ironically, they're not in the business for their health - or yours.

And you can't trust them in the slightest. Before 'Obamacare,' you could pay your insurance company for years, but they would still dump you if you got sick with something expensive (cancer, for example). And that's if it was covered at all. (The fine print in their policies is written by lawyers.)

Furthermore, they risk nothing by denying coverage. Even if you're in the right, it takes a lot of money to go to court over such things. For you, I mean. Insurance companies already have lawyers.

If they lose, they're not out anything, because they just have to pay what they should have paid in the first place. So why not deny expensive coverage? There's no downside for the insurance company, none at all.

Unfortunately, you don't find out if you've got a crappy insurance policy until you get sick. At that point, the company wants to get rid of you. Again, the only downside is for you.

'Obamacare' - originally the right-wing Republican health care plan, before the Democrats agreed to go along with it, too - is a very modest step forward, and it was like pulling teeth to get even that much. Not a single Republican in Congress ended up voting for their own health care plan, and even Democrats - like Nebraska's infamous Sen. Ben Nelson - had to be courted and bribed to support it.

At the very least, we need a public option - like opening up Medicare for everyone. (Younger people would have to pay premiums, of course.) But that's completely out of the question in our current, dysfunctional political system.

The Republican Party is why we can't have nice things. Until they crash and burn - and that's going to take progressives who actually bother to vote - we're all screwed.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

GOP debunks its own Benghazi hysteria

So, how much news time do you think Fox 'News' - or most other media outlets - will devote to this?
A two-year investigation by the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee has found that the CIA and the military acted properly in responding to the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, and asserted no wrongdoing by Obama administration appointees.

Debunking a series of persistent allegations hinting at dark conspiracies, the investigation determined that there was no intelligence failure, no delay in sending a CIA rescue team, no missed opportunity for a military rescue, and no evidence the CIA was covertly shipping arms from Libya to Syria.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, intelligence about who carried it out and why was contradictory, the report found. That led Susan Rice, then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to inaccurately assert that the attack had evolved from a protest, when in fact there had been no protest. But it was intelligence analysts, not political appointees, who made the wrong call, the committee found. The report did not conclude that Rice or any other government official acted in bad faith or intentionally misled the American people.

The House Intelligence Committee report was released with little fanfare on the Friday before Thanksgiving week.

"Little fanfare." Remember, before the current immigration hysteria, before the Ebola hysteria, there was the Benghazi hysteria.

Benghazi! Benghazi! Benghazi! Fox 'News' brought it up at every opportunity. Congressional Republicans held hearing after hearing. Benghazi was the worst thing to ever happen to our country, and Republicans competed on who could invent the most over-the-top Benghazi conspiracy theory.

Undoubtedly, the Benghazi attack was a tragedy. After all, four Americans died. But more than a thousand times as many Americans were killed in Iraq, because we invaded an innocent country based entirely on a lie pushed by the Bush administration. Where are all the hearings about that?

Now, with "little fanfare," the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee has just debunked the Benghazi hysteria. But hey, they won the election. That's what counts, right?

Don't get me wrong. Four American officials died at Benghazi, and we have a duty to keep our diplomatic personnel safe. Whenever we lose people, mistakes have been made - pretty much by definition.

But using such tragedies for political purposes doesn't help us identify and correct any mistakes. Hysteria doesn't help. Politically-motivated conspiracy theories certainly don't help.

But hey, if you care more about political power - and money - than you do about that, those things do seem to work. As I say, Republicans won the election. And Fox 'News' makes money hand over fist.

40 years in prison on coerced testimony

Man, this would be hard to take, wouldn't it? It's hard to even read about.
After nearly 40 years in prison, a man convicted in a 1975 Cleveland slaying has walked out of the county jail as a free man.

Fifty-seven-year-old Ricky Jackson was dismissed from the Cuyahoga (ky-uh-HOH'-guh) County jail and walked out of the adjoining courthouse Friday about an hour after a judge dismissed his case.

The dismissal came after the key witness against Jackson and brothers Wiley and Ronnie Bridgeman at trial, a 13-year-old boy, recanted last year and said Cleveland police detectives coerced him into testifying that the three killed businessman Harry Franks the afternoon of May 19, 1975.

This is the only life we've got. He missed his 20s, 30s, 40s, even most of his 50s locked up for a crime he apparently didn't do. Can you imagine?

Incidentally, this is the reason I oppose the death penalty - the only reason, in fact. I have no sympathy for violent criminals, and if the crime was bad enough, I'd pull the switch myself.

But we're not infallible, and we're never going to be infallible. Sometimes, we convict the wrong people.

One more thing: you might think that Jackson really did commit this murder, that the police knew what they were doing,... but how do you know that? In America, there's a presumption of innocence, you know.

And Jackson is a black man. Even today, let alone 40 years ago, black men face an automatic assumption of guilt from many people. "Well, he must be guilty of something," huh? Everywhere in our justice system, even today, there are racial disparities.

Unarmed black men routinely seem to be shot for no reason, too - sometimes by police. Accidents? Well, sure, sometimes. But do you think that race plays no part in 'accidents'? Or in cases like the Trayvon Martin incident where an unarmed black teenager, minding his own business, can be stalked and killed, and the police just shrug it off?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Republicans hid their principles; Democrats feared theirs

I've always liked Howard Dean. It's a real shame that the media torpedoed his presidential bid in 2004 (based on nothing real, either).

Anyway, I wanted to post this video clip because of Dean's comment:
The Republican message was, "We're not Obama." No substance whatsoever... "We're not Obama." What was the Democrats' message? "Oh, we're really not, either." You cannot win if you are afraid. Where the hell was the Democratic Party? You have to stand for something if you want to win.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Way of the Mister: Mormon testimony

I never knew any Mormons when I was growing up - not as far as I know, at least. Did they go door-to-door back then?

I've met some since then, of course. They've been nice people, but I can't imagine how they can believe the crazy stuff their religion teaches them.

Actually, some of the young guys who come to my door - in pairs, of course, and never any women - don't really seem to believe it, either. But they risk losing their family if they don't go along. That's a pretty strong incentive not to rock the boat.

Robert G. Ingersoll's Suffrage Address

This is Jenniffer Masterson speaking from Robert G. Ingersoll's "Suffrage Address." She's taking part in the 2013 Ingersoll Oratory Contest. (As good as this is, she only came in fourth in the contest. Yes, there were some excellent speakers. Check out the rest of them here.)

I wanted to post this one, though, because of the topic. Ingersoll was speaking in 1880, but it sounds remarkably modern, doesn't it? Residents of Washington, D.C. are still disenfranchised in America. Voter suppression is still occurring - indeed, it's increasing.

The rest of it, too, could be talking about events today, not 134  years ago. Yes, there has been progress since then, but not nearly enough. And today's Republican Party seems determined to roll back the progress we have made.

The GOP doesn't want people to vote. Many Republicans even admit it. Why shouldn't the rich decide everything? Why let the poor and the ignorant vote?

This is wrong in so many different ways. But let me just point out one of them. If you restrict voting to just the well-educated, politicians will have a real incentive to keep most people poorly educated. If you let only the rich vote, then politicians will have an incentive to keep most people poor.

If everyone is allowed to vote, and most everyone does vote (currently, voter turnout in America is disgraceful), then maybe the smart thing to do would be to make sure that everyone is educated. Of course, that's only if your political party isn't relying on ignorance and gullibility. So yeah, that's not actually how it would work.

Nevertheless, if you object to the poorly-educated voting, maybe you should work harder to educate everyone. If you're actually telling the truth, at least. If that really is your concern.

Monday, November 10, 2014

John Oliver: Salmon cannon

No deep commentary about this one. It's just for fun.

John Oliver: The lottery

I've never bought a lottery ticket in my life - not because a dollar or two is such a big deal, but because I don't want my state government thinking I'm that stupid, that ignorant, that gullible. I mean, I've got my self-respect.

And no, the money does not go to a good cause, unless you think that cutting taxes on the rich is a good cause.

Taxes are a good thing. As Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. pointed out, "Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society."

Certainly, we shouldn't be promoting addiction and preying on our poorest and most vulnerable citizens just to keep the wealthy from paying their fair share to support the society that gave them the opportunity to become wealthy in the first place (even if they just inherited their money).

Friday, November 7, 2014

Thank you, Democrats!

Seems like TYT sees this pretty much the same way I do. Jebus, the Democratic Party is frustrating!

Not a scientist

I'm not a scientist, either. That's why I listen to scientists.

I know enough about the scientific method to understand how scientists come to a worldwide consensus about reality (while religions and other faith-based institutions can never agree even among themselves).

And I know enough about history to see the immense benefits science has given us all in the relatively short span of just a few hundred years. We live lives that emperors could only dream about - assuming they could even imagine it at all - a few centuries ago.

We live longer, healthier, easier lives - and we can expect our children and grandchildren not just to survive childhood (which was a real achievement before science) but to enjoy even greater understanding, more progress, and a better life than we have.

Note that even scientists can't be experts in everything. A scientist outside his own field of expertise might have a little more knowledge than you - or might not. Either way, it's the scientists working within their own field of expertise who demonstrate reality to their peers through research and evidence. (Thus, biologists come to a worldwide consensus about evolution, climatologists come to a worldwide consensus about climate change, etc.)

You don't have to be a scientist to understand this, and it doesn't take an advanced degree. Heck, you should have learned it in grade school! "Not a scientist" isn't an excuse to be that ignorant, and it's not an excuse to be that stupid, either.

Oh, and Sen. James Inhofe is not a skeptic. Skeptics are people who match their beliefs to the evidence. Inhofe is entirely faith-based, not evidence-based. If the evidence contradicts his dogma, he rejects the evidence. Inhofe, and people like him, are global warming deniers, not skeptics.

If you're not a scientist - and even if you are a scientist, but it's a question outside your own specialty - you should still know enough about the scientific method to accept the scientific consensus, whatever it is, as the best answer we've got.

No one is infallible, of course. There are no guarantees. But it would be stupid to bet against the scientific consensus, and if it is wrong, scientists will be the first to discover that and correct their error.

Republican politicians are using "not a scientist" to avoid saying anything. Some of them know better, but they want to toe the party line without looking too stupid. After all, they're being funded by fossil fuel companies, the Koch brothers, and others who're making a great deal of money on America's continued stupidity.

Others are so entirely faith-based that they don't care about looking - or being - stupid, but like politicians everywhere, they don't want to give opponents any ammunition. As I say, "not a scientist" is just a way to avoid giving an answer.

James Inhofe doesn't have to worry about that. For a senator from Oklahoma, stupid is a benefit, not a drawback - especially when it pleases big campaign donors.

Democrats still infuriating

Yesterday, I noted that the Democratic Party makes me want to pull my hair out in frustration. Here's another example.

Barack Obama agreed not to do anything his supporters wanted him to do, because doing anything makes some people angry. Democratic candidates in red states asked for the delay.

They all lost, anyway! Well, of course they did. Right-wing voters already hated Obama with a passion, partly because he's a Democrat and partly because he's black. Haven't they figured that out by now?

At the same time, the Democrats didn't actually do anything their supporters wanted, so why would the Democratic base care enough to get to the polls?

The Democratic Party tried to use fear to motivate Democrats, but they're not nearly as good at it as the GOP (and Democrats aren't nearly as easy to scare as Republicans). Why not try to use enthusiasm to motivate their supporters? After all, that worked superbly in 2008.

But Democratic politicians tend to be terrified of offending anyone. And, as I noted before, doing anything offends some people. What they forget is that doing nothing offends people, too! It certainly does nothing to motivate the base.

Now, I am not saying to just write off red states. But what's the point if you're not going to stand for anything? As I said yesterday, you're probably going to lose anyway, but you'll lose while not standing for anything. And in the long-term, you'll never persuade anyone if you don't stand up for what you believe.

Furthermore, if you do get elected, but you're too timid to actually do anything, what's the point of getting elected in the first place? I wish the entire Democratic Party would fire their political consultants and just say - and then do - what's right. Jebus, how refreshing would that be?

You know the craziest thing about this? It was the Democratic Party which performed the greatest act of political courage in the past century - heck, maybe in American history - by repudiating their own racist Dixiecrat wing and supporting civil rights for racial minorities. They suffered politically for that, as they knew they would, but they still did what was right. Hard to believe these days, isn't it?

(In response, the Republican Party gleefully - and cynically - took advantage of that and began their notorious 'Southern strategy' of deliberately wooing white racists. Politically, that worked great. They took the entire South, all those former Dixiecrats, for themselves. But in so doing, they changed the GOP into the Dixiecrat Party, and they continue to get crazier by the minute.)

Hey, as long as the Republican Party remains batshit crazy - bigoted, faith-based, anti-science, incompetent in domestic and foreign policy, alike - I'll be voting Democratic. But why can't you give me good reasons to be enthusiastic about that, instead of always wanting to pull my hair out?

Heck, I don't have that much hair left.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Hope and change

"If Democrats had accomplished all that, they would have been out there bragging about it for months." Ha! Only if you don't know Democrats.

David Letterman put it like this:
The Republicans, of course, have turned against Obama, and the Democrats have also turned against Obama. That’s a lonely, lonely gig being president, ladies and gentlemen.

Take a look at this: gas under $3 a gallon – under $3 a gallon. Unemployment under 6%, whoever thought? Stock market breaking records every day. No wonder the guy is so unpopular.

Can you imagine if the Republicans could run on a record like that? We'd never hear the end of it. Instead, they have a record of two unpopular, unnecessary wars still dragging our country down, tax cuts for the rich which caused massive budget deficits (combined with waging war on credit, rather than actually paying for it), and the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression, among other disasters.

When Barack Obama took office, our economy and our stock market were both cratering, with no bottom in sight. We were stuck in two idiotic, unnecessary wars (it's far easier getting in than out), and Osama bin Laden - remember, the guy who actually attacked us on 9/11? - was still at large. (Yeah, we started two wars for nothing.) Budget deficits were going through the roof.

So what did the GOP do? Republican leaders met before Obama even took office and agreed to stonewall everything, no matter what it was. Yes, while America was at war, Republican politicians agreed to do nothing to help. Can you imagine if the Democrats had done that with Bush? Our ears would have been ringing with Republican cries of "Treason!"

Even when the Democrats agreed to adopt the Republican health care plan, every Republican immediately turned against it. Their own plan instantly turned into the worst threat to America we've ever seen. How crazy was that?

But it worked:
In the winter of 2008-2009, the leaders of the Obama transition effort had a theory as to how things would go and mainstream Washington agreed with them.

The theory went like this. With large majorities in the House and Senate, it was obvious that lots of Democratic bills would pass. But the White House would be generous and make concessions to Republicans who were willing to leap on the bandwagon. ... As a result, bills would pass the Senate with large 70- to 75-vote majorities, and Obama would be seen as the game-changing president who healed American politics and got things done.

McConnell's counter plan was to prevent those deals. ...

To prevent Obama from becoming the hero who fixed Washington, McConnell decided to break it. And it worked. Six years into the affair, we now take it for granted that nothing will pass on a bipartisan basis, no appointment will go through smoothly, and everything the administration tries to get done will take the form of a controversial use of executive power.

It's been ugly. But in most voters' mind, the ugliness has attached to Obama and, by extension, Democrats. It was a very counterintuitive strategy, but it was well-grounded in the best political science available. And it worked.

It worked because we let it work. And Democratic politicians - feckless, timid, ineffectual - hardly seemed to fight back at all.

For the most part, that's still what's going on. Here's Andrew Sullivan:
I'm not a Democrat, and I've never understood the Democratic Party. You've got a president who's actually got a terrific economic record compared to any other developed nation on the planet. ...

Here's what I don't understand about the Democratic Party. You have a president enact universal health insurance, which is their goal for 40 years, and they run away from that achievement and refuse to talk about it. They're real week-kneed, lily-livered cowards, essentially, when it comes to really fighting the good fight.

You know, I'm still kind of... psychologically, temperamentally Republican, but I'm supporting this Democrat president, because I think he actually has done a really amazing job in the circumstances.

Well, you can tell he's not a Democrat, huh? At least not a Democratic politician.

And yet, they still lose. They run away from their president, they run away from their party, they run away from their accomplishments,... and they lose anyway. So all they've done is reinforce what the Republicans are saying,... for nothing!

In the 2012 elections here in Nebraska, we were absolutely bombarded with campaign ads which started with, "All the Democrats want to do is spend money." I got so sick of hearing that. But that campaign ad was from Bob Kerrey, the Democratic candidate!

He lost anyway, of course. He spent a ton of money (from Democratic supporters) reinforcing the Republican message about Democrats,... and somehow they're surprised to lose? Somehow, they're surprised that Democrats never get anywhere here in Nebraska?

Over the long-term, how is that supposed to accomplish anything. And note that it doesn't even accomplish anything over the short-term! By and large, they still lose when they don't stand for anything. They just do it without standing for anything.

I don't get it. I get so frustrated at the Democrats that I want to tear my hair out. My choices in nearly every election are between feckless cowards and... complete insanity. I vote for the feckless cowards, but I can't say that I enjoy doing so. (Don't tell me about third parties. Third parties are just a way to help the people you dislike the most.)

OK, not every Democrat is this bad. And here in Nebraska, at least, Democrats definitely have an uphill struggle (a struggle made worse, not better, by past Democrats in our state who've run away from their own party like it had Ebola).

But here's the deal in Nebraska - and I don't think it's too much different in other red states. As usual, Republicans won every statewide election Tuesday by two-to-one margins. It wasn't even close.

However, a measure to raise the minimum wage was also on the ballot, and it passed by a similar two-to-one margin. The same thing happened in Arkansas, Alaska, and South Dakota - red states, all. Even here in Nebraska, voters are more progressive than most people think. OK, maybe that's not too progressive, even so, but they never hear anyone standing up for progressive values.

Nebraskans vote Republican because they've always voted Republican. I mean, they certainly wouldn't vote for a Democrat. Even Nebraska Democrats don't stand up for the Democratic Party. It just drives me nuts. You're going to lose, anyway, so why not lose while standing for something?

And this is particularly insane when those policies are popular - popular even in red states. Why not stand for something, Democrats? Yeah, you might lose, but you're probably going to lose anyway. So what do you really have to lose? Are you really such "week-kneed, lily-livered cowards" that you won't even stand up and fight for something when it's popular?

Admittedly, when it comes to the midterms, this is also a huge problem:

NBC News

Old people - old, white people, in particular - vote in every election. Young people can't be bothered. Minorities tend to vote only in presidential years. (Of course, note that those old, white people still voted for a minimum wage increase in every red state where it was on the ballot. Meanwhile, at the federal level, the Republican Party has been filibustering it.)

But do you wonder why young people can't get college loan relief? Politicians pay attention to old, white people because they vote. And sure, money rules, but that's only because we let it. If we weren't swayed by attack ads, money wouldn't be so important in our political system.

And if we all voted, we'd discover that we outnumber the 1% by... well, you can do the math yourself, I hope.

But it doesn't help when even the Democrats don't support Democratic policies. It certainly doesn't help when they run away from those policies, not through conviction, but because of cowardice and fecklessness. But for us voters, progress happens one small step at a time. If you're waiting for utopia, you'll have a long wait!

Republicans won the midterm election, just as pretty much everyone predicted. (Heck, even the Democratic Party was sending out "All hope is lost!" emails. Yeah, that's a great way of motivating your base, isn't it? That's another thing I'll never understand about the Democrats!)

But you know, that's how it works in a democracy. You win some, you lose some. Republicans had a natural advantage this year. (In fact, when it comes to Congress, they had a natural advantage in 2010 and 2012, too, but they blew it, both times.)

This will make things harder, no doubt about it. But it's the Democrats who'll have a natural advantage two years from now - if they don't blow it. (Maybe they'll finally start listening to Elizabeth Warren? We can only hope.)

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Democalypse 2014 - voter suppression

The really funny thing about 'voter fraud,' as I've said before, is that there's a public record of everyone who votes. Who you vote for is secret, but not the fact that you did vote.

So if voter fraud were happening at all, it would be the easiest thing in the world to discover. The Bush administration wouldn't have needed to spend eight years searching for evidence (and they would have found some, if they had).

Voter fraud isn't even plausible. It's so clearly an excuse for voter suppression, that...well, it really couldn't be any more obvious.

It's the whole idea of the big lie, I suppose. It's like Charles Krauthammer claiming that the Democrats can't run on the economy. You have to know, if you're old enough to vote, that it was the Republicans who crashed our economy. When Barack Obama took office, the collapse looked to have no bottom. He not only stopped the collapse, he's started us growing again - and against the complete opposition of every Republican in Congress, too.

Today, the elections are supposed to go badly for Democrats. I just don't get it. Are our memories that short? Have we not seen the Republicans, at a time when our country is at war and during the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression, refuse to do anything to help?

The Democratic Party is no great prize, I suppose, but I find it hard to believe that the Republican Party - the Dixiecrat Party, in fact, if not in name - still exists.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Scientists on abrupt climate change

Future generations will curse us. They'll think about us like we think about those Southern slave-owners or the Inquisition. Except that climate change will affect everyone.

This is what faith-based thinking is doing to us - well, one of the things. If you don't accept the scientific consensus on global warming, and you're not a climatologist yourself (so you've got the education and experience to disagree, in your own field of expertise), you're just believing what you want to believe. If you know anything about science and the scientific method, you should know how stupid that is.

Thursday, October 30, 2014


I've been meaning to blog about "Gamergate," but of course, it's just one of the many things I never got around to. So I'll just post these two video clips, instead.

I'm a gamer, though I don't own a joystick, and I don't actually play any of the games mentioned by Stephen Colbert. Still, as a man and as a gamer, I'm hugely embarrassed by the threats and other harassment Anita Sarkeesian and other women get.

Similarly, as a man and as an atheist, I'm hugely embarrassed by the misogynists in the atheist community, too. In both cases, they're a minority, but a very loud, angry, and bullying minority. They make the rest of us look bad.

Whether you agree with Sarkeesian or not is hardly even the point. The anger, the harassment, the threats of physical - and often sexual - harm, well, that just shows that we've got a real problem here, whatever you think of the details.

After all, reasonable people can disagree about specific features of specific video games, but these misogynists aren't even close to being reasonable people. Even if I disagreed with her - and I've played enough computer games to understand her point, just as I've seen way too much misogyny online - she should have the right to say what she thinks.

As a man, I'm hugely embarrassed by other men - boys, at least - who seem so threatened by intelligent, outspoken women. But men - white men, specifically - have always had a privileged position in America. When that is threatened by equal rights for women or racial minorities, many of them seem to be terrified that they won't be able to compete.

What losers!