Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Ed Stein's commentary:
It’s not even a question that the national economic policies of the last few decades have favored the wealthy at the expense of the middle class. We’ve seen an astonishing increase in income inequality as taxes have become more regressive and the marketplace has been increasingly deregulated. The percentage of the nation’s wealth controlled by a tiny minority has grown exponentially while the income of lower- and middle -class Americans has stagnated.

I’ve wondered for years how so many people have been persuaded to vote again and again against their own economic self-interest. A revealing article by Jane Mayer  in the August 30 issue of The New Yorker magazine helps explain it. Over the years billionaires like Rupert Murdoch and the Koch Brothers have steadily funded operations designed to stoke populist anger against the government and progressive ideas. The Tea Party, far from being a spontaneous populist movement, has been underwritten with tens of millions of dollars and coordinated through a network of organizations with names like Americans for Prosperity, with the singular goal of creating an angry block of disaffected voters who will unwittingly vote for policies that benefit the very wealthy.

Lurking behind the trumped-up fear of a government takeover of our lives is a desire on the part of these rich funders to force government out of the job of regulating how they do business, protecting workplace safety, defending the environment, overseeing the safety of the food supply, and raising their taxes–in other words, doing anything that might reduce their profits. That would also include, by the way, paying for the safety net. How this will be good for the army of middle class Americans they’ve enlisted to fight their battles for them is something I can’t answer, and I suspect the zealous Tea Party devotees can’t either. But letting out the anger, I guess, feels really good, even if the eventual consequences most certainly won’t. But, by then, we might have another Democrat in the White House we can blame for our troubles.

I guess people are persuaded to go against their own interests by constant repetition. After all, the super-wealthy have been making out like bandits, so they've plenty of money to spare for propaganda. And Fox "News" not only gives a million dollars to the Republicans, it also broadcasts their ideology constantly.

In both cases, it's an investment. The more Republicans Fox can make, the more viewers they will have and the more money the station will make. And when the super-wealthy can influence politics, they can make sure their donations more than pay for themselves.

Well, thanks to the Supreme Court, we've got corporations making the same calculation these days. When Best Buy and Target give $100,000-$150,000 to a right-wing candidate, they expect a return favor that will make that amount seem negligible. It's legalized corruption on a grand scale.

Sadly, it's just human nature that a lie told over and over again will be believed. If you have enough money to push pretty much any point of view, you can develop a following. And if you have a "news network" dedicated to pushing that philosophy day in and day out, logic and evidence have little chance to compete.

At the same time, demagogues are most successful when times are bad. Apparently, it doesn't even matter that they were the ones who created the bad times in the first place. Fear, stress, uncertainty - all of these lead people into a mob mentality, easy prey for fanatics. And what has happened to the moderate Republicans, who might well put America first? For the most part, there are no moderate Republicans left. Or if there are, they're frightened of admitting it.

We've been on the wrong path in this country for decades, and that path itself has made it more difficult to change course. I fear for my country. What happens when the Republicans retake Congress in November - or even just the House of Representatives - and completely shut down our government?

We could survive that in the 1990's, when our economy was booming. But now that we're in the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression? After eight years of George W. Bush, we are in no shape to suffer yet another era of disastrous right-wing incompetence. We haven't had nearly enough time to recover from the last time Republicans were in charge (mainly, because they've been so determinedly dragging their feet for the past year and a half).

Paul Krugman makes this point in his New York Times column:
So what will happen if, as expected, Republicans win control of the House? We already know part of the answer: Politico reports that they’re gearing up for a repeat performance of the 1990s, with a “wave of committee investigations” — several of them over supposed scandals that we already know are completely phony. We can expect the G.O.P. to play chicken over the federal budget, too; I’d put even odds on a 1995-type government shutdown sometime over the next couple of years.

It will be an ugly scene, and it will be dangerous, too. The 1990s were a time of peace and prosperity; this is a time of neither. In particular, we’re still suffering the after-effects of the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, and we can’t afford to have a federal government paralyzed by an opposition with no interest in helping the president govern. But that’s what we’re likely to get.

If I were President Obama, I’d be doing all I could to head off this prospect, offering some major new initiatives on the economic front in particular, if only to shake up the political dynamic. But my guess is that the president will continue to play it safe, all the way into catastrophe.

I don't understand what Barack Obama is thinking. True, he campaigned on bringing back bipartisanship, but he's bent over backward trying to be reasonable and look where it's gotten him. He's been compromising with people who won't compromise an inch in return. And he's been using calm reason to combat demagogues. I wish that worked, but it doesn't.

I suspect that he wants to get along with everyone. I suspect that he's afraid of being pegged as "an angry black man." That's understandable, I guess, especially considering how racial bigotry has made such a strong resurgence lately. But we need a bold leader in the White House. He's got to see that, doesn't he? We can't expect leadership in Congress, especially when a minority can so completely shut it down.

Maybe Obama is as astonished as I am at how dumb the American people really are. They want the Republicans back in power? Really? What would the right-wing have to do to lose their credibility? Whatever it is, they've certainly done it in the past ten years, don't you think? But not all of us deserve what's going to happen when they gain power again. Heck, I didn't deserve it the first time.

It's almost too late. The polls for the November election are looking worse and worse. I don't know if bold action by President Obama can change that, but we're on a guaranteed course for defeat right now. And after that, it will be too late, too late for us all.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Russia, a century ago - in color!

I thought these photos were really interesting. They're color photographs which were taken in Russia one hundred years ago. Take a look. They've very large, detailed, colorful photos. The example I've posted above, shrunk down to fit my column width, hardly does them justice.

No, the past wasn't black and white, though that's normally how it appears in old photos. Color makes it easier to see these as real people, just like us, don't you think?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Notice a pattern here?

Bret Schundler is a right-wing Republican politician from New Jersey who campaigned on tax and spending cuts. The government can't do anything right. Social spending is just wasting your tax dollars. Read my lips! You get the idea.

But now he's been fired as state Education Commissioner at his own request. You see, the governor had asked him to resign because he'd lied* about a screw-up that cost New Jersey $400 million in federal "Race to the Top" education funds. But Schundler asked that he be fired instead,... so he could collect unemployment benefits.

Here's the quote in the Star-Ledger:
“I asked if they would mind writing a termination letter, instead of a resignation letter, because I do have a mortgage to pay, and I do have a daughter who’s just started college,” he said in an interview this morning. “And I, frankly, will need the unemployment insurance benefits until I find another job. ... And they said fine. They said sure.”

Yes, people have mortgages to pay. People have families to support. Even when they've screwed-up, they still need to survive until they can find another job - and in this job market, that's not easy. This does make sense.

But Republicans like Schundler only value such things when it affects them personally. When it's other people facing joblessness, Republicans see no value in these programs at all. They're always eager to slash social spending. They rant about tax-cuts, tax-cuts, tax-cuts. They make government programs sound like it's all about black people (got to get the racial angle in there, don't they?) picking up welfare checks in their Cadillacs.

When it's about them personally, though, they're quite eager to take advantage of these things. After all, it only makes sense, doesn't it? They've got mortgages to pay and families to support. It matters, then. It just doesn't matter when it's someone else who needs this kind of help.

You see this with elderly Tea Partiers, too. They are adamant that government spending be slashed to the bone. However, you'd better not touch their beloved Social Security and Medicare (which just happen to be the biggest government spending programs of all). No, cut spending that benefits other people, not them. Because, obviously, spending that benefits other people is just... wrong.

In fact, polls show that two-thirds of people over 65 - people who are on Medicare, so they won't be affected by the bill at all - oppose the health care reform bill. A majority of people in every other age group - those who will be affected by it - support the bill. You see, the elderly have their own government health insurance, and they love it. But they fiercely oppose providing similar benefits to anyone else. After all, if it doesn't benefit you, personally, it's just a waste, right?

And most of these people reliably vote Republican (ironically, since the Republican Party fought tooth and nail against Social Security and Medicare and is still fighting against both programs).

Here's another example. Ken Mehlman, George W. Bush's campaign manager in 2004 and formerly chairman of the Republican National Committee, has just announced that he's gay. Apparently, it took a long time for him to come to grips with that. "It's taken me 43 years to get comfortable with this part of my life." Meanwhile, he was actively pushing a political party and a political philosophy that sought to deny civil rights to homosexuals.

Mehlman's leadership positions in the GOP came at a time when the party was stepping up its anti-gay activities -- such as the distribution in West Virginia in 2006 of literature linking homosexuality to atheism, or the less-than-subtle, coded language in the party's platform ("Attempts to redefine marriage in a single state or city could have serious consequences throughout the country..."). Mehlman said at the time that he could not, as an individual Republican, go against the party consensus. He was aware that Karl Rove, President Bush's chief strategic adviser, had been working with Republicans to make sure that anti-gay initiatives and referenda would appear on November ballots in 2004 and 2006 to help Republicans.

Mehlman acknowledges that if he had publicly declared his sexuality sooner, he might have played a role in keeping the party from pushing an anti-gay agenda.

"It's a legitimate question and one I understand," Mehlman said. "I can't change the fact that I wasn't in this place personally when I was in politics, and I genuinely regret that. It was very hard, personally."

And, of course, why would you work to support civil rights for gay people if you hadn't realized you were gay yourself? Why would you support civil rights for other people? Republicans just don't seem to get that. If something doesn't affect them personally, why should they favor it?

Now, of course, Mehlman is all for gay marriage and other civil rights. Now it affects him personally, so now he sees it as important. The article mentions Republicans like Dick Cheney who also support gay rights (though Cheney never seemed to think it a particularly important matter, did he?). But Dick Cheney has a daughter who's a lesbian. Is that what Republicans need? Do each and every one of them need to be gay, or at least have a gay family member, before they'll support civil rights for homosexuals?

I just don't get that. I'm not gay, but I support civil rights for everyone. I'm not religious, but I support freedom of religion. I'm white, but I've always opposed segregation and discrimination of racial minorities. And I've never, ever, received unemployment benefits, food stamps, or welfare payments of any kind, but I still understand the need for a strong social safety net.

I'm not a Republican, so me, me, me isn't the entire focus of my political and economic thinking. I support some policies that would probably hurt me personally, in the short-term, but would be beneficial to the nation as a whole. I want a fair, progressive tax rate, even if it means that I pay more taxes myself. Of course, what benefits my country as a whole is going to benefit me personally as well, at least in the long run. I understand that, too.

More importantly, I see civil rights as important in themselves, whether or not I'm a member of a minority that really needs such protections. (The majority doesn't really need such things, not in a democracy. But this is the other side, the complementary side, of any modern democracy - one side: majority rules; the other side: minority rights.)

I've always liked this quote by Martin Niemoeller:
First they came for the Communists but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists but I was not one of them, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews but I was not Jewish so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.

Isn't that, basically, why we support civil rights for everyone in this country? If you allow discrimination and oppression of any group - because, after all, you're not a member of that group yourself - why should you expect help when you're the target? Likewise, you may not need a social safety net yourself, but you might someday. What then, when you've spent a lifetime trying to gut such programs?

There's a lot I don't understand about Republicans (including why most of their policies are considered to be "conservative" at all), but this might be the biggest. Why do they support only those policies which will directly help them, personally (and even then, only in the short-term)? We are social animals. We have to live together. So why aren't they even a little concerned with the welfare of everyone else? This is our community, after all.

*PS. It's a bit off-topic, but regarding the Schundler affair in New Jersey, I thought this was kind of funny, too. From TPM:

On Wednesday, Christie held a press conference in which he strongly blamed the Obama administration for the loss of federal funding, saying that Schundler had tried to fix an error in the state's application during his presentation to federal education officials, but they would not let him. Then on Thursday, the federal Education Department released a video of the presentation itself, showing the officials pointing out the error to Schundler, who was unable to correct it.

Of course, the first thing Republican politicians will do, in every situation, is to blame Barack Obama. But in this case, federal officials had a video to set the record straight. Oops! It turns out that Schundler had lied. Heh, heh. Well, lies have worked very well for Republicans over the years. Just look at Fox "News." These days, I'm sure that's the first thing any Republican politician will consider as a solution to a problem: can he lie his way out of it?

Saturday, August 28, 2010


Ed Stein's commentary:
Now that the stimulus spending is winding down (note to critics of stimulus spending, who said it didn’t do anything: if it didn’t do any good, why is the loss of it endangering the recovery?), the job market is looking grim again. For reasons I can’t quite fathom in this oddest of election years, neither party seems to have much to say about the number one issue in the polls: jobs. The Dems know that they can’t pass anything right now, but instead of trying to get a big jobs bill through, and forcing the GOP to defend the indefensible, they seem to have given up. The Republicans are all about one issue only–extending the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, because it’s not a good idea to raise taxes in a recession, although it’s hard to know who will be hurt by taking a bit more from really rich people, and on the discredited theory that keeping the tax cuts will create jobs, (note to GOP: where are all the jobs that the tax cut was supposed to produce in the first place?).

In the meantime, the millions without work can spend their days waiting for the economy to tank again and looking for jobs that don’t exist, or worrying about a mosque in New York or immigrants taking the jobs that don’t exist in Arizona.

On that Islamic Center issue, I just returned from a few days in New York, where nobody I met was talking about the Ground Zero mosque (note to readers: it’s a community center, not a mosque, and it’s not at Ground Zero) even though Rupert Murdoch’s Post was doing its lurid best to keep up with his Fox News and make an election issue of it. I’m convinced the only politician in America with any courage at all is Mayor Bloomberg (a Republican), who is still standing firm on the principle of freedom of religion.

As usual, Ed Stein makes some good points. If the stimulus package didn't do any good, why is the loss of it now threatening to put us back into recession? And why did it stop the downturn in its tracks, and cause the stock market to immediately change course, when it was first implemented?

And if tax cuts for the rich creates jobs, why didn't it during the Bush administration? Why was our economy so much better under Bill Clinton, who actually raised taxes - a bit - and began to pay off the debt we'd accumulated from previous Republican administrations? Yes, he raised taxes and the economy boomed!

Yes, Republicans claimed that trickle-down economics wasn't voodoo, that it would actually pay off for our nation. But the evidence - poor job growth, record-breaking deficits, and bubbles that gave us the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression - clearly shows otherwise. By any measure at all, we were far better off under Clinton than under Bush.

Yes, the stimulus was absolutely the right move, but it was too small, and too much of it went to tax cuts (which Obama and the Democrats got no credit for, anyway). We needed to be bolder about such things. The economy has to be humming again before we start cutting back on government stimulus. Heck, we learned that in 1937. None of this is rocket science. We've been through all this before.

Unfortunately, the Democrats don't do "bold." If there's a timider bunch of politicians in the world, I'd be surprised. Not all of them, of course, but most. Now they're mostly trying to hide under the bed, hoping that voters will just overlook them in November.

Where's the sense in that? They should be screaming to high heavens about Republican obstructionism. They should be proposing bold new jobs packages. If the Republicans want to filibuster, they should let them filibuster a jobs bill. They should let them filibuster a military appropriations bill that ends "don't ask, don't tell." They should be standing up for what they believe.

And yes, they should be standing up for freedom of religion, without wishy-washy qualifiers that attempt to keep everyone happy. Sometimes compromise is valid. But there are other situations, like this one, where right is right and wrong is wrong. Freedom of religion doesn't need qualifiers. You either stand up for the Constitution of the United States or you don't. (Admittedly, some Democrats seem to recognize this.)

I fault Barack Obama for this. Congress can't provide leadership. That's the President's job. He's got the bully pulpit, and he needs to be using it. He needs to - publicly -  push Congress into doing the right thing. If Democrats in Congress are too timid, he needs to kick some ass. He needs to lead.

Given Republican filibusters, the Democrats probably can't pass anything worthwhile. But they should still try. They should fight the good fight, even if it's a losing proposition. They should make the Republicans "defend the indefensible." And if some of their own members drag their feet (Ben Nelson, I'm referring to you), the majority should stick to their guns. There's no sense in compromising with the very worst elements in your own party when the Republicans are going to filibuster everything anyway.

Like most Democratic politicians, Barack Obama wants to get along with everyone. He needs to forget that. He's been as moderate, as compromising, as... nonthreatening as he can possibly be, and the Republicans still call him a Marxist, a fascist, a terrorist, a socialist, a Muslim, a Communist, and a Nazi. According to them, he's still the embodiment of the scary black man who plans to steal their wallets and their daughters.

Meanwhile, he's getting kicked around by lunatics on Fox "News" and burned in effigy at Tea Party rallies. He's got supporters, plenty of them. But after showing real leadership during the campaign, he's abandoned all that as president. He wants to be president of all the people. He wants to rise above petty partisan bickering. He wants to bring the nation together.

Well, nice thought, but it's not going to happen. What we need now is leadership. Otherwise, we're going to be back under the control of Republicans who've become complete lunatics. You think the Bush administration was bad? Just wait. I don't think the nation could survive another George W. Bush, and the next one is likely to be even worse.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Community center of death

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You know, I wonder if those right-wing lunatics have ever read the Bible. There's some disgusting stuff in that, too. But most Christians have learned to ignore it.

We also used to worry that American Catholics would do whatever the Pope told them to do (because, you know, they're supposed to). But they don't. For the most part, they do what they think is right.

So why should American Muslims be any different? Well, bigotry doesn't have to make sense, does it?

Meanwhile, according to Fox "News," we have to give up our rights in America so the terrorists don't celebrate a victory. You know, I don't care what the terrorists think, I want to keep our civil rights. If they want to celebrate that, they're welcome to do so.

A new TIME magazine

Funny, huh? From The Onion, of course.

Life sure is frustrating

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The hurt talker

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The Hurt Talker
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That rant by radio personality Laura Schlessinger has been both disgusting and - for me, as a white man and an American - embarrassing. How can anyone in America be this clueless?

Obviously, it's not about saying "nigger" on the air. I hate even posting the word, considering the tragic history of race relations in our country, but as Jon Stewart says, it is a matter of context. But when she gets a call from a young black woman, concerned about the racial slurs she hears from her white husband's family and friends, what does "Dr. Laura" advise?

First, she starts ranting about Barack Obama. Yeah, of course. Because that's so pertinent to the problem, right? "Without giving much thought, a lot of blacks voted for Obama simply 'cause he was half-black. Didn't matter what he was gonna do in office, it was a black thing. You gotta know that."

Sure, just like a lot of whites voted for McCain just because he was white. And we all know how welcoming the Republican Party has been to minorities, don't we? Gee, I wonder if the GOP's "Southern Strategy" of appealing to white racists has been noticed by black voters at all? Or did they really think that Bill Clinton was black, too?

But really, what does this have to do with her caller's problem? Well, apparently, now that we've elected a black man to the presidency, African Americans should stop complaining about being called "nigger." Jebus, what do they want, anyway??? We elected one of "them," so isn't that enough? They actually want fair treatment, too?

So what's Dr. Laura's advice to the young woman whose in-laws call her "nigger"? It's that the black woman should get a sense of humor! Or else she shouldn't have married a white man in the first place. (Apparently, in Dr. Laura's mind, that's just what white people do. So blacks should get used to it, or stick to themselves. Yeah, segregation... *sigh*  Don't you miss it?)

A lot of people - myself included - thought that this was disgusting and wrong. In fact, there was so much criticism that two of Dr. Laura's sponsors got cold feet (not at all an unusual response to controversy, is it?). So Dr. Laura has announced that she is leaving radio, claiming that her First Amendment right to free speech is being violated.

Of course, where there's right-wing lunacy, Sarah Palin is bound to show up, in this case supporting Dr. Laura with one of her goofy tweets: "Dr.Laura:don't retreat...reload! (Steps aside bc her 1st Amend.rights ceased 2exist thx 2activists trying 2silence"isn't American,not fair")."  Heh, heh. Does she do that on purpose, I wonder? Or is she just not that bright?

Anyway, as all rational people understand, free speech also includes the right to criticize someone else's speech. All Americans are free to criticize Dr. Laura and Sarah Palin alike. Since the government didn't get involved with this at all, there is no First Amendment issue here.

Or are they suggesting that the government should get involved, that their idiotic comments should be immune from criticism? Hey, why should right-wing lunacy get a free ride? If you don't want to be ridiculed, don't be ridiculous.

And I've got to laugh when the right-wing, which seems to worship private businesses and corporate interests, complains that it's not fair when corporate sponsors drop them like a hot potato. How is that not fair? What, do you want the government to prevent your sponsors from leaving? Honestly, is there anything about this that makes sense?

To recap, Laura Schlessinger never "lost her First Amendment rights." She can say whatever loony thing she wants. But I can criticize her for it, because I've got First Amendment rights, too. And depending on the details in their contract, her sponsors can stop paying her vast sums of money when she gets too loony even for them. That's not a First Amendment issue at all, but contract law. She can take them to court if it violates some prior agreement. (This is what conservatives say they want. Or does she expect special treatment here, too.)

Neither Laura Schlessinger nor Sarah Palin, celebrities both, have any right to be immune from criticism. The criticism doesn't even have to be just, though it certainly seems to be in this case. But then, if you disagree with this post, you can criticize me, too. Should I then claim that my First Amendment rights are being violated, because someone dares to disagree with me? Or is it only right-wing extremists who are supposed to be immune from criticism?

Fox News: fair and balanced?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Losing his religion

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The funny thing about this...  OK, OK, I don't mean "humorous," because for humor you can't beat a random black carpenter walking past the anti-mosque loonies and being berated (falsely) as a Muslim. It's a sad reflection of the bigotry and ignorance of these people (all white, of course), but it is pretty funny.

I particularly liked this comment from Stephen Colbert: "Still, it was pretty insensitive of him to seem a Muslim so close to Ground Zero."

No, the... weird thing about the increase in the number of people who think Barack Obama is a Muslim (one in five Americans? is it something in the water making us this stupid?) is that progressives like me have been disappointed in Obama's record on the strict separation of church and state. He's been bending over backward in his support of Christianity (admittedly, while acknowledging the diverse beliefs - including non-belief - of America's citizens).

I wish Barack Obama would lose his religion. But really, that's none of my business. However, as an American, it is my business that the wall of separation of church and state in this country remain strong. For 200 years, opponents have chipped away at it. They were particularly active during the McCarthy era and again during the eight disastrous years of George W. Bush.

I'd hoped that Obama would be more aggressive at rebuilding that wall, turning our country back on the right path again. But, as with most other issues, Barack Obama hasn't been very aggressive at all. In fact, he's bent over backward compromising with people who will never give him an inch in return.

OK, maybe he believes this. Obama was never as progressive as his opponents have made him out to be. (Obama as a Marxist is one of the funnier lies of the far-right.)  And the Christian church has traditionally been powerful in the black community. Well, for a long, long time, it was the only institution permitted them by white racists. It's no surprise that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a minister.

Nevertheless, it's ironic, isn't it, that the result of his efforts has been an increase in the number of people who think he's Muslim? Well, Barack Obama is a black man with a funny name. Racist whites find it very easy to believe the worst of someone like that. He might as well be wearing a skullcap, like that carpenter.

And, yes, 30% or more of Americans believe in all sorts of things that aren't backed by good evidence at all: UFOs, ESP, homeopathy, God. We skeptics believe that it's important to have evidence for your beliefs. Otherwise, how can you ever tell when you're wrong? After all, none of us is infallible. In fact, without evidence, you're just believing what you want to believe.

And from believing without good evidence, it's just a short step to believing despite the evidence. That's how we end up with global-warming deniers, young-Earth creationists, and supply-side economists. And yes, that's how we end up with 18% of Americans believing that Barack Obama is a Muslim.

Evil or stupid?

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Is Fox "News" evil, or just stupid? You decide. Either way, I agree that, as a nation, we should stop watching Fox.

In a way, I hate to be posting so many clips of the Daily Show, but I'm a big fan. And I have to admit that I'm really short of time these days, and posting videos (and cartoons) is quick. I've got lots of topics to blog about, and I plan to get to them as soon as I can. But for now, these video clips are very useful.

And this one is a follow-up to a previous clip, so that's a good excuse, too, right?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

"Carbon dioxide is plant food"

Water is "plant food," too. At least, it's essential to plant (and animal) life. So therefore it's impossible to have too much water?

Think of that. No one would be dumb enough to think that too much water can't possibly be a problem - ever - just because water is essential for life. So why are people this dumb when it comes to global warming?

I've said it before and I'll say it again: the only rational position on a complicated scientific issue like this is to accept - tentatively, as all science is accepted - the overwhelming consensus of the scientists who specialize in that field. They are the ones with the education and experience to clearly evaluate competing claims. Choosing to believe anyone else, including individual scientists who dissent, is just picking what you want to be true.

The consensus might be wrong, of course. There are no guarantees. The Earth could be flat. The universe could be only 6,000 years old. The Moon could be made of green cheese. But that's not the way to bet. In fact, it would be a very, very stupid bet, since your odds would be terrible and the likely result disastrous. And you're not just betting with your own life, but with everyone else's.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Guilt by association

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How did we Americans get to be such hopeless cowards? I really don't understand it. Jon Stewart is right to say, "In our panic, we've lost sight of something very important." But how did we get to be so panicky, all the time?

Of course, the Republicans did - and continue to do - this same guilt-by-association, fear-mongering thing against Barack Obama. Well, fear-mongering has worked well for them for years, all through the Bush administration and even before that. OMG, we're all gonna die!!!  Be afraid, be very afraid.

But how can this continue to work, year after year? How can Fox "News" base an entire business model around it? Are we Americans just especially gullible, or are we really this cowardly? What has happened to us?

As an aside, note the Saudi Arabian who owns 7% of News Corp. - the same News Corp. that just gave $1 million to the Republican Party. Nice, isn't it, that foreign interests can influence our political system like this? How is this even legal?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Activist judges

How far we've come

Ed Stein's commentary:
On the wall of the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island–the oldest synagogue in America–is a letter from President George Washington welcoming the congregation to our shores. It is a moving document, for it affirms that this new nation, only a few years old,  intends from the beginning to live up to the ideals upon which it was founded.

Washington eloquently states, “The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent national gifts. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”

Here are the words of Newt Gingrich, welcoming another religious congregation: “Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington,” and “we would never accept the Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor. There is no reason for us to accept a mosque next to the World Trade Center.”

At least he can speak in complete sentences, unlike Sarah Palin, who tweeted her own strident opposition to the mosque with these words: “Doesn’t it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate.”

My, how far we’ve come.

If you think that's bad, here's Ron McNeil, Republican candidate (FL) for the U.S. House of Representatives:
“That religion is against everything America stands for. If we have to let them build it, make them build it nine stories underground, so we can walk above it as citizens and Christians.”

Ron, even leaving aside the bigotry of this, and our First Amendment rights of freedom of religion, not all Americans are Christian. I'm not, for example. Many Americans are Muslim. Who are you to restrict any American's religious beliefs?

Yet this is the kind of unthinking nonsense that goes over big in the GOP these days. Incredible, isn't it?

Follow the money

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Stephen Colbert covered this earlier, but it's worth the emphasis. Besides, Jon Stewart has his own humorous take on it.

$1,000,000 to the Republican Party? So much for "fair and balanced," huh? Of course, this just makes it official. But I'm with Stewart. I think the Republicans should be paying Fox "News," not the other way around.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"Mouse and Dragon" by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller

(cover from Fantastic Fiction)

Mouse and Dragon is the new Liaden Universe novel from Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, and like the last two of their books I've reviewed (here and here), it's for existing fans of the series only. It's a direct sequel of Scout's Progress, first published ten years ago. In fact, it starts immediately where the previous book ended, with no prologue or other explanation.

Scout's Progress was a standalone book, albeit part of a series with common characters and setting. Mouse and Dragon is definitely not. The first book was a real tearjerker, especially at the end, and this one starts off the same way (and continues pretty much for the whole book). It's more romance than science fiction, but all of these books have been heavy on the romance. Still, it's a fascinating culture with some great characters. Unfortunately, we already know all that.

As usual for these authors, this book is well-written, but it suffers from two problems. The first is that we already know what's going to happen. The book fills in a small gap in the series (a gap that didn't need to be filled, IMHO), so we know exactly how it's going to end. And I've got to say that the authors really have nothing new to say about the setting or the characters. As part of a long-running series, it's just... filler. Their last book, Saltation, had the same problems.

I haven't said anything about the plot, because there's nothing much to say. Although we thought that Daav Yos'Phelium and Aelliana Caylon had solved their problems and were free to marry, Clan Mizel drags its feet. Of course, we know the problem is solved, if you're familiar with the series (and if you're not, you shouldn't be reading this book). And we know what happens after that. There aren't any surprises - indeed, there can't be any surprises, not without contradicting the rest of the series.

And as I say, we don't learn anything new about Liaden culture or about these familiar characters. So why continue a series if you don't have anything new to say? At least Saltation can promise something new in the next book. This one can't even do that much.

OK, if you're a diehard fan of the series, and you want every detail you can get of the Liaden Universe, no doubt you'll want to read this. It's a romantic tearjerker, just as you'd expect, and it's an enjoyable read. But it's just cotton candy. There's nothing of substance to it. It's an entertaining read, but an hour later, you'll wonder what was the point.

I hate to say this, because I really admire Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. I'm a big fan. They tried getting away from the Liaden series with The Tomorrow Log (2003), but I'm guessing that didn't sell very well. And maybe they really don't have anything new to say about Liad. But one of my favorites in the series is the standalone novel, Balance of Trade, which has completely different characters on a different world. And even Fledgling introduced a new character on a new planet, with a culture all its own.

So instead of filling in these tiny gaps in the existing story, or even continuing into the future with the same characters, why not move on to the next generation? Or make a bigger change, to a different planet with all new characters, even if it's still in the Liaden Universe. A universe is a big place, after all.

The Gaping Hole

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This is my third posting about Gomer (see here and here), but what can I say? He's the gift that keeps on giving. Unfortunately, Louie Gohmert is a congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives, not a stand-up comic.

The bright side is that he's not my congressman. But someone (Republicans in Texas, in this case) voted him into office. Yes, he's actually supposed to be a leader in America. Hard to believe, isn't it? Sadly, he's not an aberration, not in today's GOP. What in the world has happened to my country?

Is this kind of marriage even legal?

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Not just a catchy slogan

Ed Stein's commentary:
I know people are angry; heck, I’m angry. It’s an inevitability of American politics that the party in power during bad economies gets punished at the polls, and the Democrats certainly haven’t distinguished themselves with the power we’ve given them. But I keep coming back to this question–what has the Republican party done to earn our trust? Their unanimous obstruction of any and all proposals has paralyzed Washington, and helped create the climate of voter anger. To remind you of how extensive this opposition has been, Republicans unanimously (or almost unanimously) opposed the health care bill, the energy bill, the financial reform bill , aid to small businesses, the extension of jobless benefits, the oil spill protection act, and recently and most egregiously, help for 9-11 first responders. More than 120 Obama nominees for important posts and judgeships are still blocked.  This is the party we will reward in November, expecting them to do what, exactly? Other than absolute opposition to anything Obama, do they have a plan for getting the nation back to work (other than cutting taxes for the wealthy and cutting Social Security for the rest of us)? So, is this how we will conduct business from now on? The minority party, so long as it has at least 41 votes in the Senate, simply filibusters everything, and sweeps to power in the next cycle. When and if the GOP regains the majority, I can’t wait to hear their furious denunciation of the filibuster they abused to such devastating effect when they were the minority.

But the Democrats will never filibuster everything, not like the GOP has. Republicans tend to value order and obedience above all else. They find it easy to march in lockstep. Any dissent is considered traitorous and is quickly punished. Republicans don't always agree, but they're far more likely to follow the leader anyway.

Democrats aren't like that. Getting them all facing in the same direction is like herding cats. You can do it, sometimes, but it's a lot of work. You can't do it as a regular thing. Democrats tend to value diversity and independence more than obedience and order. And while the GOP is all right-wing these days, Democrats run the gamut from liberal through moderate to very conservative.

Stein says that Democrats "certainly haven't distinguished themselves," but if they found it easy to march in lockstep, they'd be Republicans. And the fact is, if majority vote still ruled in the Senate, the Democrats would have distinguished themselves. They easily had the majority of votes for nearly every issue. And they've got Joe Biden to break ties. When was the last time that was needed? Never, in this Congress, because majority vote is meaningless now.

Republicans are filibustering everything. This is unprecedented (and unconstitutional, I'd say). At most, there were only 58 Democrats in the Senate (now only 57), and it takes 60 votes to break a filibuster. There are two independents who caucus with the Democrats, but one is Joe Lieberman, who campaigned for John McCain and has supported more Republicans than Democrats in recent years. So, frankly, it's remarkable that they've been able to pass anything at all, let alone bills on critical issues like health care reform and financial reform.

I'm angry, too, but I'm angry at the Republicans. And I'm angry at the America people who are apparently too dumb, too gullible, too bigoted, too short-sighted, too cowardly, and/or too apathetic to see what's going on and hold the Republicans responsible. All through eight long years of the Bush administration, I was just astonished at what had become of my people. But today, I think, I'm even more astonished. What has happened to us?

"Is it right or wrong???"

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It's simple enough, don't you think? Your religion is your own business, and you can build a mosque anywhere you can build a church or a synagogue. I don't know why the right-wing has such a difficulty understanding this simple concept: American Muslims have the same rights as you do.

Was this a good location for a Muslim cultural center? That's not my decision. Or yours. Or even the president's. The fact is, idiots are protesting mosques all around the country, so I think the location of this one is just an excuse for bigotry. It's going in a Burlington Coat Factory, for crissake, next to a strip club, and apparently you can't even see Ground Zero from there (it's two blocks away). What's the big deal?

The 9/11 attackers were Muslim, true, but have Christians never committed murder for their religious beliefs? Tagging the group with the actions of individuals is how bigots always treat minorities. But you'd be aghast if that was applied to you, wouldn't you? Should we restrict your rights because Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people when he bombed that federal building in Oklahoma City? Obviously, we can't trust white Christian men, right? Should we prohibit the building of Catholic Churches within a certain distance from schools and playgrounds because some priests have been pedophiles?

I have no liking for Islam, myself. I don't like any religion much, and Islam is one of the worst, as far as I can tell. But we have freedom of religion in this country. I'm free to criticize and even mock their religion, which I do, but I still support their right to believe anything they want. And we have freedom of speech and freedom of association, too. So no matter what you believe, you can get together with fellow believers and worship - or not - as you see fit. That's your right as an American, a right that applies to Christians and non-Christians alike.

I really don't understand the self-proclaimed "patriots" on the right. They claim to love this country, but they're oh so eager to destroy what makes America America. They have no use for freedom of religion (except their own) or the strict separation of church and state (as long as their belief is in the majority). They despise traditional legal freedoms, like habeas corpus and our longstanding prohibition of torture. Really, they're a lot like our enemies, aren't they? The America they want to create bears no relation at all to the America I love. And when they don't get their way in every little thing, they threaten secession! Some "patriots"!

Finally, I chose to quote Jon Stewart for the title of this post. He's right, that's the real question here. How has American news journalism declined this badly? Is it all a result of the financial success of Fox "News"? Journalists talk only of political repercussions. Is that what's really important here - and in every other issue, too? How about right and wrong? How about constitutional and unconstitutional? How about American and un-American?

Monday, August 16, 2010

The war on brains

Funny, isn't it? Now Einstein's theory of relativity is a liberal plot. You know, I'm wondering how anyone could possibly write a satire of these people. What could you say that would be funnier and more idiotic than what they really believe?

Rachel Maddow does a great job with this, but I saw it first on TPM:

To many conservatives, almost everything is a secret liberal plot: from fluoride in the water to medicare reimbursements for end-of-life planning with your doctor to efforts to teach evolution in schools. But Conservapedia founder and Eagle Forum University instructor Andy Schlafly -- Phyllis Schlafly's son -- has found one more liberal plot: the theory of relativity.

If you're behind on your physics, the Theory of Relativity was Albert Einstein's formulation in the early 20th century that gave rise to the famous theorum that E=mc2, otherwise stated as energy is equal to mass times the square of the speed of light. Why does Andy Schlafly hate the theory of relativity? We're pretty sure it's because he's decided it doesn't square with the Bible.

In the entry, "Counterexamples to Relativity," the authors (including Schlafly) write:
The theory of relativity is a mathematical system that allows no exceptions. It is heavily promoted by liberals who like its encouragement of relativism and its tendency to mislead people in how they view the world.

Heh, heh. Of course, for those of us with a few brain cells still functioning, Einstein's theory of relativity has nothing to do with relativism as a moral or philosophical stance. The names are similar, that's all. But Schlafly should know that. After all, he has a degree in "Engineering Physics," supposedly. What, is that Princeton's version of Rocks for Jocks or something?

Of course, maybe he skipped that part of the course. It's dangerous, you know. As Conservapedia warns, "virtually no one who is taught and believes relativity continues to read the Bible..." Well, that's the whole point of Conservapedia, isn't it? Conservatives never want to hear anything that might cause them to question their preconceived biases. Cults are the same way. You keep your people from interacting with anyone outside the group. That way the group's views are all they ever hear.

Indeed, science makes every effort to counter preconceived biases. We all have them, even scientists. But the scientific method has been designed to overcome such problems. It's the best way we've ever discovered to overcome biases and determine the real truth. Maybe that's what bothers conservatives the most.

And yes, people who get a good education in science tend to stop reading the Bible. Gee, I wonder why that is? It's not just physics, either. In fact, I believe that understanding biology tends to have a bigger impact on fundamentalist religious beliefs. But any science will do. Science is a way of looking at the real world that makes it harder to lie to yourself. Give it half a chance, and you'll start to understand why your religious fantasies can't hold up to an honest examination.

OK, it's easy to laugh at lunatics like Schlafly, when they come up with something crazy and new like this. But what about the old crazy? What about global warming deniers? What about creationists? These people are just as crazy, but we don't laugh anymore, do we? To any rational American's intense embarrassment, they're darned near mainstream. Evolution is the bedrock of modern biology, and global warming is the overwhelming consensus of climatologists. But only a minority of ordinary Americans accepts either. I guess there's nothing as easy to spread as ignorance.

And now, rejecting science has become the standard Republican position. How's that for scary? One of the two major political parties in America is explicitly anti-science. That's not to say that the Democrats are pro-science, necessarily, because all politicians are terrified of seeming to be anti-God. And the left has plenty of woo of its own, mostly New Age and alternative medicine pseudoscience. But at least the Democratic leadership tends to support science, if not as vigorously as I'd wish.

But the Republican leadership is explicitly anti-science these days, even more so because they're terrified of appearing sane in the age of the Tea Party and Fox "News." When crazy is in charge, you can't afford to be any less crazy than the real lunatics. In fact, you need to try to lead the parade of crazies, if you can. We've seen what happens when you can't keep up. It's the French Revolution all over again, with Republicans running as fast as they can to keep up with the extremists.

It's a frightening time. We are abandoning science just when we need it the most. So yeah, laugh at Schlafly and the other crazies. We've got to keep our spirits up somehow.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Guild Wars 2

I don't play MMOs, and I'm hopelessly incompetent at most real-time combat in games, but I've got to say that this looks intriguing.

Be sure to watch it full-screen, and give it time to load, if necessary. The graphics really are something, don't you think? We're getting closer and closer to being able to explore a whole new world, gorgeously detailed. It might be worth buying the game just to look around, avoiding combat as much as possible.

And I like the implication that they're trying something new. Well, it's different right from the start, since this is an MMO without monthly fees. But we need bold experimentation. Sure, this is a marketing video, but it's a very effective one. Is it a stretch to think that the game itself might be equally impressive?

Incidentally, this is safe for work, assuming that you can watch gaming videos at work in the first place. I don't know what the bold warnings are all about, that the video "may contain content inappropriate for children." If it does, I sure missed it.

How did someone this dumb get elected?

Frankly, it's incredible that someone as dumb as Louie Gohmert (R - TX) is a congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives. OK, he's from Texas, but still.

I posted about this previously, just briefly, but Gohmert is continuing his asinine campaign. Well, that's what his party, now firmly controlled by teabaggers who seem to be completely insane, wants to hear. It's just incredible, don't you think? No doubt they think that Barack Obama was a "terror baby." Heh, heh.

I watched the entire video clip above, but I'll understand if you couldn't get through the whole 9 minutes. Don't worry, you didn't miss anything. It's the same thing, from beginning to end, with Gohmert shouting down Anderson Cooper and refusing to give any evidence at all to support his claims. Well, of course not. There isn't any.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Tom Toles' rant - heat exhaustion edition

Tom Toles' commentary (not directly on the topic of this cartoon, but close enough):
This will be my last rant about the climate. Cartoonists sometimes look just like the archetypical cartoon character crawling across the desert. Gary Larson did a cartoon about two guys crawling across a desert, dying of thirst. They have come upon a drinking fountain. One is letting it run without drinking and saying he's going to let it run until it gets cold. That's about as sensible as the debate on climate change.

We are apparently going to let the debate on the science run until hell freezes over. If you can't accept the conclusions of 98 percent of the scientists whose FIELD IT IS, then why even bother with science? If that high a percentage of field of study is to be discounted ENTIRELY, then we are in deep trouble, which, of course, we are. It would be so simple if it were just a matter of ignoring the yelping commenters hereabouts: "Move on, Mr. Cartoonist! Chill out Tommy! There are more important things to worry about!"

Really? Which would those things be? This may be the only political issue whose results could be catastrophic PERMANENTLY. But the deliberate dust storm thrown up by fossil-fuel-centric interests has succeeded in contaminating and paralyzing the American response. Quite a victory for the deniers! It looks like mass-suicide to me. And so, my final rant on climate. Except not really. There has to be a drinking fountain out there somewhere.

He makes a great point there, doesn't he? If you're going to ignore the conclusion of 98% of the scientists who specialize in this field, why bother with science at all? If your uneducated guess, your gut feeling, or the ignorant ranting of some politician is worth more to you than the overwhelming consensus of the scientific experts - on a scientific issue like this - what's the point of even giving lip service to science? Why pretend that you see any value in science at all?

Of course, we do the same thing with evolution, and in that case the consensus of biologists is far higher than just 98%. But evolution isn't an issue this immediately dangerous to human life. And opposition to that is not just a matter of ignorance, but of clinging desperately to ancient religious beliefs. Well, global warming deniers show a similar faith-based mindset, I must admit. Heh, heh. It's kind of ironic, I guess. If anything shows that we're just one species of ape, only slightly smarter than other apes, it's this.

That political cartoon is a good one, too, isn't it? Unfortunately, that mad dog could destroy our country, if we let it. I thought the GOP was bad during the Bush years, but we really hadn't seen anything yet, had we? They almost destroyed us then, and now they seem determined to finish the job. And so far, we seem to be dumb enough to let them.

"Grand Central Arena" by Ryk E. Spoor

(cover image from Fantastic Fiction)

The first manned test flight of a faster-than-light starship ends up with ship and crew inside an enormous alien construction. At first, it appears to be a scale model of our solar system, enclosed by a shell. But exploration reveals that's only a tiny fraction of the whole, a construct which extends for light years and contains thousands of alien species, all competing for status and power.

The eight humans quickly make some powerful enemies, as they struggle to learn the complex rules of this cutthroat society. It turns out that every technological species ends up in the Arena, the same way this human ship did, when they discover FTL travel. But humanity is the youngest faction of First Emergents by hundreds of years, and they must overcome incredible odds to survive, to defend their home territory, and to prove that humans deserve respect.

Ryk E. Spoor was the coauthor, with Eric Flint, of Boundary, an entertaining story about our first trip to Mars (following the discovery of alien ruins on Phobos). Those two also co-authored the short fantasy novel, Diamonds Are Forever (in the book, Mountain Magic), which, to be honest, didn't impress me. But this is the first story I've read from Spoor by himself.

Grand Central Arena is a huge book, almost 700 pages long, but it's a surprisingly quick read. It was entertaining enough to easily hold my interest. And the setting was really neat. The total construct of the Arena is light-years in size and contains about 5,000 other intelligent species. Well, I'm a sucker for aliens, and it's lots of fun to see humanity kicking butt, surprising all the older, more powerful, more scientifically advanced factions that are constantly competing for status. It's not at all plausible, of course, but it's certainly entertaining.

Unfortunately, the characterization could be better. Even with only eight crew members, most of them stay firmly in the background. The novel focuses on two or three who are geniuses and pretty much supermen. I don't know how some authors can create wonderful, appealing, sympathetic characters, I really don't. But Spoor just doesn't seem to have that knack.

The book is dedicated to E. E. "Doc" Smith, the "father of space opera," who wrote the Lensman and Skylark series in the 1930s and 1940s. One of the characters in Grand Central Arena is even named for the super-villain in the later series, so clearly Spoor means this to be a tribute. And really, the book reminds me of that kind of early science fiction - the poor characterization, the overly-powerful heroes, the triumphant rise of humanity that seems to be only our due.

I like the idea behind this book, the alien construction (built millions, perhaps billions, of years ago by some unknown power) that brings together every technological species in the universe and pits them against each other. It's a mind-blowing setting. It's got room for every manner of strange alien. And it's got human beings as the newcomers, who must desperately use their wits to survive. It's lots of fun.

But David Brin did this far better in his Uplift Universe series. His characters weren't all supermen, but they were admirable and very effective. They were really likable, too, and they seemed real. Grand Central Arena just doesn't come off very well compared to that. Admittedly, most books would struggle in comparison to Brin's best work. It might not be very fair of me to compare Grand Central Arena to Hugo Award winners and true classics of the genre.

Nevertheless, this book could have been a lot better. Yes, it's still entertaining, if you don't take it seriously. And, in fact, I'll probably buy the sequel, if one is written. It was mind-boggling, and it was good clean fun. I really hate to seem so critical, but I can't help but be disappointed, just because it could have been so much better. The idea was great, but IMHO, the execution - especially in respect to the characters - was just average.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

On the unlit, unpaved road to nowhere

Here's a great column by Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman in the New York Times (registration required, though it's free). It starts:

The lights are going out all over America — literally. Colorado Springs has made headlines with its desperate attempt to save money by turning off a third of its streetlights, but similar things are either happening or being contemplated across the nation, from Philadelphia to Fresno.

Meanwhile, a country that once amazed the world with its visionary investments in transportation, from the Erie Canal to the Interstate Highway System, is now in the process of unpaving itself: in a number of states, local governments are breaking up roads they can no longer afford to maintain, and returning them to gravel.

And a nation that once prized education — that was among the first to provide basic schooling to all its children — is now cutting back. Teachers are being laid off; programs are being canceled; in Hawaii, the school year itself is being drastically shortened. And all signs point to even more cuts ahead.

We’re told that we have no choice, that basic government functions — essential services that have been provided for generations — are no longer affordable. And it’s true that state and local governments, hit hard by the recession, are cash-strapped. But they wouldn’t be quite as cash-strapped if their politicians were willing to consider at least some tax increases.

And the federal government, which can sell inflation-protected long-term bonds at an interest rate of only 1.04 percent, isn’t cash-strapped at all. It could and should be offering aid to local governments, to protect the future of our infrastructure and our children.

But Washington is providing only a trickle of help, and even that grudgingly. We must place priority on reducing the deficit, say Republicans and “centrist” Democrats. And then, virtually in the next breath, they declare that we must preserve tax cuts for the very affluent, at a budget cost of $700 billion over the next decade.

In effect, a large part of our political class is showing its priorities: given the choice between asking the richest 2 percent or so of Americans to go back to paying the tax rates they paid during the Clinton-era boom, or allowing the nation’s foundations to crumble — literally in the case of roads, figuratively in the case of education — they’re choosing the latter.

Even before this economic collapse (brought to you by the same people who are still pushing tax cuts for the wealthy and resisting rational government spending), I felt that America was turning into a third-world country. But it's even worse now. Anti-government fanatics have nearly succeeded in their lunatic quest.

And as Krugman points out, federal stimulus spending has barely kept pace with cutbacks by state and local governments. We learned the solution to this kind of problem during the Great Depression, but we are simply refusing to heed it (partly because Republicans see a political advantage in keeping our economy hurting).

And no, tax cuts for the rich don't help. We tried that during the Bush years, and it was a complete failure. You couldn't ask for better evidence that supply-side economics doesn't work. But, of course, evidence means nothing to fanatic right-wing ideologues.

Everything we know about economic growth says that a well-educated population and high-quality infrastructure are crucial. Emerging nations are making huge efforts to upgrade their roads, their ports and their schools. Yet in America we’re going backward.

How did we get to this point? It’s the logical consequence of three decades of antigovernment rhetoric, rhetoric that has convinced many voters that a dollar collected in taxes is always a dollar wasted, that the public sector can’t do anything right.

The antigovernment campaign has always been phrased in terms of opposition to waste and fraud — to checks sent to welfare queens driving Cadillacs, to vast armies of bureaucrats uselessly pushing paper around. But those were myths, of course; there was never remotely as much waste and fraud as the right claimed. And now that the campaign has reached fruition, we’re seeing what was actually in the firing line: services that everyone except the very rich need, services that government must provide or nobody will, like lighted streets, drivable roads and decent schooling for the public as a whole.

So the end result of the long campaign against government is that we’ve taken a disastrously wrong turn. America is now on the unlit, unpaved road to nowhere.