Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Christmas story

I'd describe her as a sweet little old lady except for the nearness of our vintages, but she's barely five feet tall and fragile. We'd been talking about the Kindle e-book reader and she had asked if I'd read Bill O'Reilly's book on Lincoln. 

"Umm..." I said, stalling for time. 

I remember not long ago having shocked her, and the entire dinner table for that matter, by expressing distaste for Glenn Beck as a reliable source of information, and I really try to be polite to nice people but I went on: 

"Well, I'm not a big fan of his."


"Yeah, I think he tends to make things up or tell us things he gets from rumors and websites without verifying them, but I think that's true of Fox in general. I remember the first time I listened to him years ago, but maybe it was Hannity. I get them confused sometimes because I never watch Fox." 

The look of astonishment still had not faded. 

"But anyway, he was going on and on about how the PC liberals had banned Christmas lights in -- I think it was Muskegon, Michigan -- or wearing red and green clothing on Christmas -- and of course it was immediately checked by another network and it wasn't and of course it was a surprise to the mayor who had never heard of the whole thing -- and of course Fox never hinted that it had been caught in a lie."

Well here I go, I've lost another friend, I thought, but actually she was smiling.

"You know my son says the same thing about Fox: 'They make up stories, mom, don't watch them.'"

"He must be a brilliant guy if he agrees with me," I said, a bit relieved.

"He's got a Ph.D. in biochemistry."

"He sounds smart in spite of that."

"He is," said the proud mother, "but still, what I don't like is when they tell us we can't say Merry Christmas any more."

"But who ever told you that? That's what I mean. Nobody, and certainly not anyone in government has said that -- only Fox News! Merry Christmas! See, no black helicopters." 


I try so hard to avoid such things. I'm much nicer in public than I am here, really, and I don't want to make people feel bad, but you know the day is only half over and I have already read in several places how those PC liberals won't let you say Merry Christmas and make you say Happy Holidays, which means you have to allow people other options, which means our Christianity is under attack and we're all victims of those PC liberals who hate Christmas. As I said, they're putting words in the mouths of their straw men and we're believing it, and it may be that the only people defending the right to celebrate whatever we want in our own way and the right not to be forced to celebrate are those damned PC liberals and their damned Bill of Rights.

So maybe Lyin' Bill and Insanity Hannity and the Fox Fiends have done their work well, or maybe the people who pull their strings are pulling other strings, I don't know, but if you want to wish me Eid Mubarak or happy Adam and Eve day (which in fact it is) or Krishna's birthday (if he has one), I'll wish you one too and I'll celebrate our secular laws that allow it and curse the bastards who equate that right with the fall of American values. 

Merry Christmas. 

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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Friday, December 23, 2011

Nat King Cole sings "The Christmas Song"

In keeping with my promise to list my top three favourite Christmas songs, I give you number two: "The Christmas Song."

Mel Torme
I think most people know that vocalist Mel Torme co-wrote this one. They may not know that his collaborator was Bob Wells. In any case,  the legend associated with its composition has received a fair bit of play, but I'll repeat it, briefly.

It had something to do with the fact that Torme and Wells were trying to think cool thoughts on a very hot summer day and in the process of writing down things that might remind them of a less a sweltering time, they came up with "The Christmas Song" in something like 40 minutes. Good story.

The Nat King Cole Trio first recorded it in 1946. A while later a second recording was done with strings, and redone a couple more times after that, again, with strings. Apparently, the 1961 version, the fourth recording, is the one with which most people are familiar.

A lot of artists have, of course, recorded "The Christmas Song" including Torme himself, several times in fact. The Wikipedia entry lists about a hundred who have taken a shot at it including: Bob Dylan, James Brown, Hootie and the Blowfish, The Jackson 5, and The Partridge Family. Really sorry, I'm not familiar with that last one.

It's a Christmas classic, one of the best loved. I'm partial to the Nat King Cole version, but like Torme's take as well as versions by Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby.  It's just not Christmas without those chestnuts roasting on an open fire.

Somebody went through a lot of trouble to pull together some great stills of Nat King Cole. Nice job.

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Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride" performed by the Boston Pops

Leroy Anderson
Just for something to do, I thought I would post my three favourite Christmas songs leading up to the big day. Who knows if these really are my three favourites. It's a fairly arbitrary exercise when it comes right down it. A mug's game, as they say.

Maybe it's from my years in a high school band, but I have a real soft spot for light orchestral pieces, and Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride" is one of my most loved, which I'll say comes in at number three for me as Christmas songs go.

Anderson finished writing it in 1948 and the orchestral version was first recorded by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra in 1949.

In 1950, lyrics for the song were written by Michael Parish. Check out the Wikipedia page for a comprehensive list of those who recorded it. I always liked Karen Carpenter's version.

Curiously, the song's original lyrics don't mention Christmas at all, though it's probably considered by most to be a Christmas song. And, if there is any doubt, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), in their annual review of Christmas music, report that "Sleigh Ride" consistently ranks in the top 10 of most performed songs written by ASCAP members during the holiday season worldwide.

Many works composed by Leroy Anderson (1908-1975) were introduced by the Boston Pops Orchestra under the direction of Arthur Fiedler. In the clip below, John Williams, who led the Orchestra from 1980 to 1993, conducts them in this rendition of "Sleigh Ride."

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Euphemism of the Day: George H.W. Bush says he's not Newt's "biggest advocate"

For what it's worth, which may not be all that much, George H.W. Bush has endorsed Romney.

(While being "careful" with Perry, because "he's our governor," even though it's widely known that the Bushes don't much care for Perry. Just ask Karl Rove. Bush also said that Perry "doesn't seem to be going anywhere; he's not surging forward," which is certainly true.)

Of Gingrich, though, Romney's chief (and really only) rival, Bush said this: "I'm not his biggest advocate."

In other words, I loathe him, I think he's nuts, he'd be a disaster of a candidate, and we'd be crazy to nominate him.


More from Bush on Newt:

"I had a conflict with him at one point," Bush recalled, alluding to the crucial moment in 1990 when a recession drove him to renege on his "no new taxes" pledge. He needed a bipartisan group of party leaders, including then-House Whip Gingrich, to stand with him.

"He was there, right outside the Oval Office. I met with all the Republican leaders, all the Democratic leaders," Bush recalled. "The plan was, we were all going to walk out into the Rose Garden and announce this deal. Newt was right there. Got ready to go out in the Rose Garden, and I said, 'Where's Gingrich?' Went up to Capitol Hill. He was here a minute ago. Went up there and started lobbying against the thing.

"He told me one time later on, he said, 'This is the most difficult thing I ever had to do.' I said, 'I didn't like it much myself, Newt.'"

Is it any wonder the GOP "establishment," or the remnants of the old one at least, oppose Newt with such vehemence? It's not just that he's unelectable, it's that he has a long history of being an egomaniacally disloyal thorn in their side.

(It surely wasn't difficult for Newt to work against Bush on this or on anything else. As has always been the case, Newt is about one thing: Newt. Damn all else.)

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Egypt's progress

By Ali Ezzatyar

Approaching the one-year anniversary of the Arab spring, it's very easy to forget that the events of 2011 would have been unthinkable last Christmas. Browse through the op-ed pages of every major newspaper or foreign policy journal, or the title of any of the books that were being published on the region this time last year: not a single clear, quantifiable notion that one man's self-immolation in Tunisia would light the entire region on fire. One of the earliest, and perhaps the most important, of these fires, was Egypt. I venture to say, contrary to many, that things are going fine there a year later. 

It's not ideal that the ruling military establishment remains effectively in power even now; its promises to step aside and hand rule over definitively to elected civilians are still unfulfilled. It is also clearly tragic that about 200 Egyptians have lost their lives since the stepping down of Hosni Mubarak, in continued clashes with each other and the security forces. But, almost a year after Egyptians rallied past security forces and into Tahrir square, the signs appear more positive than negative.

One big fear of mine was that, with the ouster of Mubarak, the leaderless mass movement comprising most of Egyptian society that ousted him would get complacent. That could have happened for many reasons. It could have happened because a society that is not allowed to demonstrate in mass for decades out of fear of reprisal can easily lose focus when its immediate goals are achieved. It could also happen, like it did in Iran, because an event or series of events from outside of Egypt would allow the military to consolidate its power at the behest of the people. In fact, Egyptians have demonstrated remarkable resilience and intolerance for the continued vestiges of authoritarian rule. With the help of social media, activists have continued to organize and maintain focus on the goal they espoused on the eve of their revolution. They are keeping the pressure on the military, including through democratic elections and continued reforms.

Additionally, the extreme elements of Egyptian society, notably the Islamists who were supposed to fight for an Islamic State, never showed up. I don't know if they existed, existed in such a small number, or are singing another tune post-revolution, but the reality is clear: The largest Muslim block in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, has not espoused ideas that are any less democratic than most "Western" countries. They are also being watched closely by those same Egyptians watching the military, since their inactivity in the early revolution has discredited them, and their unwillingness to confront the military head on continues to do so. This is all healthy. While the Muslim Brotherhood probably has a plurality of Egypt's support, there are probably more people who, together, could combine to make their lives very difficult when they step out of line. So, while the military has always acted as a counterbalance to the Brotherhood, a large cross-section of the Egyptian population now has the tools at its disposal to create its own counterweight, and it has done so.

Finally, while fully-fledged democracy hasn't been born overnight in Egypt, nobody can say the revolutionary project has unraveled. It is a work in progress, and it is moving forward. Continued strife, even oftentimes despotic rule by the Egyptian military, has not slowed it down. The more the military ratchets up its behavior or words the people don't like, the more people are pouring back into Tahrir square. The Egyptian blogosphere is as active as it has ever been. Everyone is under scrutiny by everyone else, and the system in place now is moderately democratic and moving in the right direction.

We can't say we are happy with Egypt as it is today, but a status quo takes years to build. Perhaps we can say, at least (and with tacit encouragement for Egyptians to continue), that we are happy with its progress, less than one year in.

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Waiting for Gandhi

By Capt. Fogg

Those Polls are hardly scientific nor do they claim to be, but when I read that 76% of participants think the payroll tax cut extension should be approved, I have to wonder at the Republican pose that insists such 'socialist' things are being stuffed down our throats by tyrannical Democrats who don't represent us as well as billionaires and multinational corporations do. Other things like medicare and Social Security and health care reform have been stuffed down our throats even though three quarters of us support them. Yes, Americans can seem like geese sometimes, but it's mostly the people eating foi gras and hating Democracy who want to run the farm.

Even my most intransigently Republican friends are risking an eternity in hell by suggesting that the GOP is deliberately sabotaging the government and the economy and the well being of our citizens for political gain and Obama's approval rating is slowly climbing as the flock of candidates chortle about sin and repealing child labor laws. So perhaps the slow shift in mood has to do with the traveling freak show from whom Republicans will be forced to choose as well as the unavoidable recognition that our definition of "smaller government" smells so much of the 19th century British colonial attitude: do nothing, have nothing done and don't allow anyone to do anything. Gandhi was able to turn it back at them. It should be easier for us. We already have the vote.

(Cross posted from Human voices)


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Republican class warfare revisited: Rick Perry says he's fine with drug testing for welfare recipients

Like The Newt, Rick "is he really still running?" Perry thinks that welfare recipients should be drug-tested as a condition for receiving welfare:

Texas Gov. Rick Perry said Wednesday he wouldn't be opposed to welfare recipients also being drug tested, joining fellow candidate Newt Gingrich in suggesting that federal aid should be tied to substance use.

"I don't have a problem with before you get any dollars from the federal government that you're drug tested," Perry said in response to a man who suggested the idea in a question to him at a meet-and-greet in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, that drew over 80 people. Perry pointed out that as a pilot in the Air Force, he himself had been drug tested. "I don't have a problem in the world with that," he said.

That's rather different. You don't want Air Force pilots, or any pilots, taking drugs. They have responsibility over other people's lives and, in the case of military pilots, supposedly defending the country. Furthermore, there's something to be said for privacy -- for the government not intruding in the lives of private citizens (as opposed to voluntary members of the military, for example). Are Republicans not ideologically committed to reducing such intrusion? Oh, right, not when it comes to the poor or women, or when they're advancing their natinoal security authoritarianism. They're fine with the moralizing police state when it's about other people.

On the specific issue of testing welfare recipients, though, let me go back to a post I wrote back in August in response to an Ohio legislator, the odious Tim Grendell, seeking to require such testing:

I'm strongly against this -- anywhere and everywhere. It's an appalling violation of privacy and quite probably unconstitutional (even if the conservatives on the Roberts Court would applaud it). As well, it's an ideological effort, common on the right, to disadvantage (and punish) the poor. Everyone, after all, receives some form of government support. Why should only those seeking unemployment benefits be subjected to drug testing? No, I wouldn't support this either, but if you're going to test those seeking unemployment benefits, why not test everyone?

Actually, here's an idea: Mandatory drug (and alcohol) testing for all executives of companies receiving some form of government support, including corporate tax breaks. And while we're at it, how about testing for all executives of companies receiving government contracts, including military contracts?

Oh, you don't like that? You think it's mean and unfair to target corporate executives? (They're such wonderful and amazing people, after all, with not a drug or alcohol abuser among them, right?)

Then shut the fuck up and stop your class warfare.

Stop punishing those who need your help, the vast majority of whom are good and decent people who just want to be able to put food on the table (if they have a table at all), pay their bills (and maybe not sink so quickly into the quagmire of debt), and take care of their children (who deserve the opportunity to have a better life).


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Matt Damon's leftier-than-thou rant against Obama


Yeah, well, I like Matt Damon. I think he's a smart guy. I usually like his movies. I generally like his politics. But I don't think much of his "leftier-than-thou" rant about Obama's performance in the White House.

In an interview with Elle magazine, Damon had this to say:

"I've talked to a lot of people who worked for Obama at the grassroots level. One of them said to me, 'Never again. I will never be fooled again by a politician.'" He then added, "You know, a one-term president with some balls who actually got stuff done would have been, in the long run of the country, much better."

Referencing the Occupy protests, Damon said the Democrats have received a mandate from people who are "just wandering out into the streets to yell right now because they are so pissed off." He wondered aloud, "Imagine if they had a leader."

Here's a little piece of important information for you, Mr. Damon. Social movements are not the same thing as electoral politics. They can work well together to achieve spectacular results, but they are not the same thing. Movements can often send a clear and important message about what needs to happen. Politics is the art of compromise that sometimes gets some of that done. 

I understand that a lot of people don't like politics because you are always in the process of finding the votes to make good on your promises. It requires compromise and it's easy to get shut down when your opponents are able to use or even abuse the rules of the game to make your life difficult.

So, you say that Democrats have received their marching orders from Occupy protesters and all they need to do now is do it, whatever the "it" is.

Mr. Damon, you have no idea what political leadership is, how hard it is. I'll bet making movies is a lot easier. You get to write down how things come out and that's exactly what happens. Not so much in real life. But thanks for coming out.

I liked what Obama had to say about an earlier instance in which Damon criticized the president:

"I've even let down my key core constituency: Movie stars," he said. "Just the other day, Matt Damon — I love Matt Damon, love the guy — Matt Damon said he was disappointed in my performance."

Obama then threw in a zinger of his own, saying "Well, Matt, I just saw 'The Adjustment Bureau,' so... right back atcha, buddy." 

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)



I like Damon a lot as well, including, for the most part, his politics. And I understand progressive frustration with President Obama as well. But come on. If you paid any attention at all during the 2008 campaign, you knew that he was something of a non-ideological centrist. Yes, there was all that talk about change, but the demands of a campaign call for exaggeration.

Now, has there been change? Well, first, he himself is change. Think about what he means, what it means to have him as president. There's a reason so many Republicans have been so virulent in their attacks on him. You think it all has to do with his policies? Not, it has more to do with him, with what he represents, namely, something other than a privileged white man occupying the highest office in the land.

And, second, what about health-care reform? Even if it wasn't as much as many of us wanted, it was a hell of a lot. Democrats had been trying for decades to reform a corrupt, unjust, and simply cruel system. Obama actually did it. Or how about the stimulus package? Is there more he could have done? Maybe. But it's hard to do a lot when you've got a Republican opposition that absolutely refuses to work with you, a conservative movement that has taken it upon itself to try to destroy you.

If you want to criticize him, go after his continuation of some of the worst elements of the Bush-Cheney national security state. Fine. I'm right with you. But to abandon him because he hasn't lived up to your inanely high and totally unreasonable expectations? That's just ridiculous.

Could he have been more ballsy? Sure. Am I disappointed with him so far? Yes, of course. But not to the point where I'll refuse to support him ever again, and not to the point where I'll never trust any politician ever again. If that's what you think, or if that's what your gut tells you, you really don't understand politics at all.

And Matt Damon, a really smart guy, should know better.

It makes me think he should stick to making generally entertaining movies (i.e., not The Adjustment Bureau) and doing his fantastic impersonation of Matthew McConaughey on Letterman.

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The U.S. Navy embraces the end of DADT

Here's a great story for the holidays, reported by the Associated Press:

A Navy tradition caught up with the repeal of the U.S. military's "don't ask, don't tell" rule on Wednesday when two women sailors became the first to share the coveted "first kiss" on the dock after one of them returned from 80 days at sea.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta of Placerville, Calif., descended from the USS Oak Hill amphibious landing ship and shared a quick kiss with her partner, Petty Officer 3rd Class Citlalic Snell of Los Angeles. The crowd screamed and waved flags around them.

Both women, ages 22 and 23 respectively, are fire controlmen in the Navy. They met at training school and have been dating for two years.

Navy officials said it was the first time on record that a same-sex couple was chosen to kiss first upon a ship's return. Sailors and their loved ones bought $1 raffle tickets for the opportunity. Gaeta said she bought $50 of tickets. The Navy said the money would be used to host a Christmas party for the children of sailors.

For the record, the picture was posted on an official Navy website, so they are obviously good with it. And, apparently, this happened a year to the day after Obama signed the bill that repealed DADT.

I'd like to think I'll live long enough that this sort of thing won't stand out as extraordinary, but, until then, I'll enjoy watching progress wherever I find it.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Democrats Republicans cave on payroll tax cut extension

Wait... what? The Republicans caved? Not the Democrats?

Then again, this one would have been hard even for the Dems to lose. Even after caving on the spending bill to keep the government running, they didn't back down when House Republicans demanded unacceptable offsets for a one-year extension of the payroll tax cut, Senate Republicans were already on board for a two-month extension, the extremists in the House were being challenged by members of their own party, like John McCain and Scott Brown, and, in the end, House Republicans faced a simple choice: support a highly popular tax cut or oppose it. Even for this radical bunch of partisan ideologues, the demands of immediate political calculation triumphed.

And it's not just the payroll tax cut, it's unemployment insurance and reimbursement rates for Medicare physicians. Sure, it's just short-term, there will be a go-nowhere conference committee to try to work out the details of a full-year extension, and there will be many more opportunities to cave, but, for the Dems: win, win, win.

What a nice Christmas present. And what a refreshing change.

Oh... so long, John Boehner. You're the biggest loser here.

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This day in music - December 22, 1958: Alvin and the Chipmunks' "The Chipmunk Song" hits #1

"Christmas Don't Be Late" may or may not be the better-known name for the song, but it's formally called "The Chipmunk Song." Whatever the name, for those of a certain age, this is one of the worst ear worms of all time. If you don't know what an ear worm is, it's a song or melody that you can't get out of your head, no matter how hard you try.

"The Chipmunk Song" was written by Ross Bagdasarian (a.k.a. Dave Seville) in 1958. You may recall that Dave was the name of the Chipmunks' adoptive father who, strangely enough, was a human cartoon character, while the Chipmunks were cartoon chipmunks, if you know what I mean. I'm sure there's a backstory, I just don't really care.

I assume that most people are familiar with The Chipmunks, or at least the remake. Although Bagdasarian wrote and sung the song, credit is given to The Chipmunks, a fictitious singing group consisting of Alvin, Simon, and Theodore, who are chipmunk brothers. The sound of The Chipmunks was created, as you might imagine, by speeding up the playback.

Although the song was produced as a one-off novelty number, The Chipmunks was later made into a cartoon of its own, airing from 1961 to 1962. This would have been where I was introduced to them. Although it only lasted one season on CBS, it went into syndication and lived on from there.

As for "The Chipmunk Song," it won three Grammy Awards in 1958: Best Comedy Performance, Best Children's Recording, and Best Engineering Record (non-classical).

Like I said, it's an ear worm. I apologize ahead of time for what this might do to your day.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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The problem with libertarianism

By Carl 

It excuses a multitude of sins: 

Do I think that Paul wrote the offending newsletters? I do not. Their style and racially bigoted philosophy is so starkly different from anything he has publicly espoused during his long career in public life -- and he is so forthright and uncensored in his pronouncements, even when they depart from mainstream or politically correct opinion -- that I'd wager substantially against his authorship if Las Vegas took such bets. Did I mention how bad some of the newsletters are? It's a level of bigotry that would be exceptionally difficult for a longtime public figure to hide.

For that reason, I cannot agree with Kirchick when he concludes that "Ron Paul is not the plain-speaking antiwar activist his supporters believe they are backing -- but rather a member in good standing of some of the oldest and ugliest traditions in American politics." 

I usually disagree with Freidersdorf. This time, vehemently. 

To excuse this bigotry published in his name or to claim there's some "naivete" clause that allows Ron Paul to emerge washed clean of the stains of Lew Rockwell (who apparently authored the newsletters) minimizes a basic fact of the newsletters: they enriched Ron Paul, the brand, by passing themselves off as his wit and wisdom.

There's a basic term of art in corporate law that covers this: "agency."

Agency can be defined as those people who act in the name of or on behalf of an enterprise. If they represent themselves as agents, and enter a contract, it is as if the CEO of that corporation entered into the contract, and the contract is deemed as enforceable (that's a very simplistic outline, to be sure, but essentially how it's defined).

In this instance, the contract is the publication of the newsletter, purported to be Dr. Paul's own strategies, opinions, and news, in exchange for the price of a subscription.

Implied in this definition of agency is the understanding that, to reverse caveat emptor, the person who is ultimately responsible for the publication, Ron Paul, is fully aware of its contents.

This is why newspaper publishers hire proofreaders and editors. After all, if The New York Times published a demonstrably false piece, and it has, it is usually followed by the firing of the reporter in question, and often his or her editor.

That's how a responsible organization does it. Ergo, the conclusion we can draw from the fact that, not only has Paul barely repudiated the comments in the newsletters (and done so only after those newsletters were re-published, highlighting the offensive pieces, but that Lew Rockwell was permitted to continue to ghostwrite pieces under Paul's name, that Paul is accepting both responsibility, but more important, credit, for the ideas espoused.

Too, the whole nonsensical idea that Ron Paul is somehow a "good guy because he's plainspoken" (my summary of Freidersdorf's assessment) ignores the basic fact that, in this instance, he has not only danced around the subject, but has literally turned his back on it.

It further discredits a libertarian movement that is in desperate need of folks like, well, me: true libertarians who recognize that the hate-filled, greedy libertarianism of the Pauls and the Freidersdorfs needs to be replaced with a libertarianism that understands that the ultimate expression of freedom and individuality is opportunity, and that to try to ignore history, to turn your back on it, is to deny freedom to some.

Any libertarian worth his salt can see that if one man is not free then no man is. And we owe it to society and to the people in that society to level the playing field first and install governance that ensures that equality and freedom remain available to all people.

Clearly, Ron Paul is not a libertarian if he can even condone and ignore this issue.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

This day in music - December 21, 1966: The Beach Boys' Good Vibrations is certified Gold

And what, you may ask, is involved in certifying a record "Gold"? Well, the wiki on this offers the following:

Presently, a Recording Industry Association of America-certified Gold record is a single or album that has sold 500,000 units (records, tapes or compact discs). Originally, the requirement for a Gold single was one million units sold and a Gold album represented $1 million in sales (at wholesale value). In 1975, the additional requirement of 500,000 units sold was added for Gold albums.

And, if you're a lawyer and have the patience, you may want to check out the RIAA website here. They'll be happy to confuse you.

Bottom line is that a Gold record means a lot of sales and a lot of cash for someone, probably the record company.

Here's "Good Vibrations" from a 1967 performance:

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Francisco Franco is still dead, and Mitt Romney is still a lying liar

By Richard K. Barry 

How big was it again, Mitt?
Well, we can't say that Romney didn't warn us. We can't say that he didn't tell us that he would try to lie his way to the White House. But I'm a little surprised by this one, if only by its magnitude.

The man is so desperate to secure the Republican presidential nomination that he is now engaging in Glenn Beck levels of hysterics. Exhibit A is a speech by Romney delivered in New Hampshire last night, and posted earlier today by Steve Benen at Washington Monthly. Here's what Mitt had to say:

Just a couple of weeks ago in Kansas, President Obama lectured us about Teddy Roosevelt’s philosophy of government. But he failed to mention the important difference between Teddy Roosevelt and Barack Obama. Roosevelt believed that government should level the playing field to create equal opportunities. President Obama believes that government should create equal outcomes.

In an entitlement society, everyone receives the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort, and willingness to take risk. That which is earned by some is redistributed to the others. And the only people who truly enjoy any real rewards are those who do the redistributing — the government.

The truth is that everyone may get the same rewards, but virtually everyone will be worse off.

Here's Jon Chait's take on Romney's turn towards the dark side, although I suspect Romney has always had this kind of bullshit in him.

This isn't just a casual line. In eight sentences, Romney asserts over and over again that Obama wants to create "equal outcomes" and give everybody the "same rewards." This is nuts, Glenn Beck–level insane. Restoring Clinton-era taxes is not a plan to equalize outcomes, or even close. It's not even a plan to stop rising inequality. Obama's America will continue to be the most unequal society in the advanced world — only slightly less so. The alternative proposals accelerate inequality even further.

Steve Benen makes a point, though, that I would like to emphasize, which is that anyone who has even a passing interest in reality or civil discourse needs to be outraged by Romney's statement. If those who imagine themselves in leadership roles in their respective parties aren't even going to make a passing effort at integrity, where does that leave us?

We have all come to expect this kind of thing from Beck, Limbaugh, Hannity, and even Palin, but from the guy who bills himself as the sober voice of Republican reason?

I know I shouldn't expect any better, but if the general election ahead ends up being full of this kind of rhetoric, this kind of lying, it will be a very dark time for democracy in America.

Hey, PolitiFact, this is what a real fucking lie looks like. And the year isn't even over, so maybe it's not too late to change your mind.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Let's get something straight: Ron Paul will never ever be the Republican nominee for president.

My, are Republicans shaking in their boots. If it weren't bad enough that a faux conservative like Mitt Romney seems to be the favourite to win the nomination despite an embarrassingly low ceiling of support from the base (which loathes him), and that a disaster-in-waiting like Newt Gingrich is still a serious contender (if not so much the clear frontrunner he was as recently as just a week ago), GOP bête noire Ron Paul, renegade right-wing libertarian extraordinaire, is threatening to tear the party apart. With Newt's recent decline, he has surged into the lead in Iowa, where his fanatical supporters may propel him to the win, and there's even the possibility he could run as an independent, pulling over enough support to doom the Republican nominee.

Just how worried are Republicans? So worried they're ratcheting up the anti-Paul fervor. As Politico (which is very much in tune with mainstream Republicanism) reports:

Conservatives and Republican elites in the state are divided over who to support for the GOP nomination, but they almost uniformly express concern over the prospect that Ron Paul and his army of activist supporters may capture the state's 2012 nominating contest — an outcome many fear would do irreparable harm to the future role of the first-in-the-nation caucuses.

Note the clear anti-Paul bias here: He's bad for the GOP and bad for Iowa. And leading conservatives, like National Review's Rich Lowry, are going negative, ratcheting up the attacks:

Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul is in a bid to make history in Iowa. Can he become the first marginal, conspiracy-minded congressman with an embarrassing catalog of racist material published under his name to win the caucuses?

In 2008, the surest way to get applause in the Republican primary debates was to excoriate Ron Paul. This year, the Texas libertarian stands much closer to the emotional center of gravity of the party in his condemnations of government spending, crony capitalism, the Federal Reserve, and foreign intervention. He brings 100-proof moonshine to the GOP cocktail party. It can be invigorating and fun, if you ignore the nasty adulterants.

Even if Republicans remain unsure of Romney (to put it mildly), even if they're divided between Mitt and Newt, they're sure of one thing: It absolutely must not be Ron Paul.

And you know what? They're right. While there is much to admire in Paul's support for civil liberties and opposition to American imperial militarism, there's no denying he's a man of the far right. Not only does he not speak for today's Republican Party, which is socially conservative / theocratic and convinced of America's exceptional imperial mission, he promotes an anti-government agenda that is closely connected to extremist right-wing elements. There's just no way the GOP wants to or ever will nominate a man who is opposed to central Republican dogma and who has spent much of his career on the fringe. As Jon Chait explains:

It would be nearly impossible to imagine the Republican Party nominating a candidate who spent years and years publishing a racist newsletter and has deep associations with the fringe far right. (Here he is speaking to the John Birch Society on the occasion of its 50th anniversary.) It would be even more impossible to imagine the Party nominating a candidate who favors total withdrawal from world affairs and takes a Chomsky-ite line on American power. The notion that the Party might nominate a candidate who does both these things is totally preposterous...

Paul's supporters seem to believe that the media ignoring him is the only thing keeping him from challenging for the Party nomination. More likely, it's the only thing that's allowed his candidacy to progress to this point. If more people actually understood the full scope of Paul's fringe-right views, a huge portion of his support would peel off.

I think that's right. Paul has his hardcore support, and that will remain, but many of those who are merely attracted to his anti-government views and who respect him as a man of principle without really knowing much about him would recoil in horror if they knew what he was really all about.

In a recent piece at The Huffington Post on Paul's anti-Newt "serial hypocrite" ad, I included a throwaway line (as the post was mostly about Newt) about how Paul wouldn't win the nomination and was subjected to a blistering response from Ron Paul fanatics in the comments section (now 299 of them), accusing me (as a member of the hated media) of being biased against Paul and just plain wrong. I had been aware of it all along, but it was an up-close-and-personal look into the delusional state of Ron Paul fanaticism. Maybe some of these people know of Paul's fringe politics, but I suspect that most are just on board with his outsider image and anti-government libertarianism. They believe in him, and really want to believe in him, not least because he's something other than the sell-out politics-as-usual that you find in both major parties, someone seemingly authentic in an inauthentic political world.

I understand where they're coming from, and, again, there is much to admire, but his supporters just don't get it. They don't understand how the Republican Party works, nor what it stands for. Paul may well win Iowa, with its ridiculous caucus system, but that would be it. He would go no further. As extreme as he is, he's just not Republican enough for the Republican Party.

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In Obama we trust, at least more than the other guys

Yes, according to a new CNN/ORC international poll out a couple of days ago, the president's approval rating is nearing 50 percent:

According to the survey, 49% of Americans approve of the job Obama's doing in the White House, up five points from last month, with 48% saying they disapprove, down six points from mid-November. The 49% approval rating is the president's highest since May, when his number hit 54% thanks to a bounce following the killing of Osama bin Laden. Since then, in CNN polling, Obama's approval rating has hovered in the mid-40s.

"President Barack Obama's approval rating appears to be fueled by dramatic gains among middle-income Americans," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "The data suggest that the debate over the payroll tax is helping Obama's efforts to portray himself as the defender of the middle class."

Obama's gains have come at the expense of the Republicans in Congress and the GOP in general. By a 50% to 31% margin, people questioned say they have more confidence in the president than in congressional Republicans to handle the major issues facing the country. Obama held a much narrower 44% to 39% margin in March.

One of the most consistent political themes for some time has been that Americans are not as critical of Obama for the weak economy as we might think. If they were, his approval ratings would surely be a lot lower. 

The GOP strategy was always going to be to attempt to paint Obama as a weak manager, incompetent and clueless. I suspect that what we are seeing is a significant and perhaps increasing number of Americans coming to the realization that no one was going to do a better job with the mess left behind by George W. Bush and that middle-class voters and others without a silver spoon up there ass are better off sticking with Obama, who is clearly more concerned about their interests than are the Republicans. 

On that point, the survey also says that:

The Democrats do particularly well among middle income Americans, while the Republicans win support only from the top end of the income scale.

It is worth noting that the president remains personally popular with three-quarters of Americans, indicating that they like the guy. It seems pretty simple. Who you gonna love? The guy you think cares out you.

This has to be driving Republicans crazy. They need voters to see our economic difficulties as Obama's fault. They need voters to believe that the best way out is a return to the same unchecked market principles that got us into trouble in the first place. 

Lawyers sometimes say that jurors, untrained in the law, will frequently be able to break down a very complicated case and offer the correct verdict. Voters, at their best, are often able to do the same thing. 

Obama didn't start the fire, but he's doing his best to put it out and start building again. Republicans want him to fail for the sake of narrow political gain, not for the good of the economy or the country.

Few people, even those who make a living trying to understand, fully grasp how we should manage the myriad forces at play to get the economy going again, but they know who they would rather be at the helm to try.

Under almost any other circumstance, the current employment numbers and other economic indicators would be a big problem for Obama, which would be true if the meaty part of the electorate thought the other guys had any answers that addressed their interests -- their middle-class interests. 

Like the old game show, this election may come down to one question: Who do you trust? If that's the question, Democrats may end up liking the answer. 

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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I think it's fairly safe to say that Rick Santorum will be the 2012 Republican nominee for president

A pictorial representation of the race to be the 2012 Republican nominee for president.


Why not?

Every other sensible prediction I and many others have made has gone down in ruins -- like the Hindenburg, if you will:

It'll be Romney. Republicans like establishment types, he's got money and organization, and he's next in line for a party that likes clean succession.

Wait. Bachmann is crazy, but maybe the right sort of crazy for today's crazy GOP.

No, she's insane. And Perry is much more appealing. He sounds a bit too much like Bush, but he certainly looks the part, more down-home and authentic than stuffed-shirt Romney.

But Perry's such a dolt. Check out his embarrassing debate performances. Can he string a coherent sentence together? And why does he keep sticking his foot in his mouth?

This Cain guy is clearly unqualified even to go on a White House tour, and his support is clearly just protest support, but maybe he'll be a factor.

So it has to be Romney. If only by default. He's got a low ceiling, but eventually the party will learn to love him, or at least to live with him. He's already got the "elite" behind him, knocking off his challengers one by one, and he's electable, so they say.

Wait... what? Newt? He's still in the race? But he doesn't even have a campaign staff. But you know what? Sort of makes sense. Good media presence, reputation as an ideas man, known commodity, and he seems to be in the right place at the right time. With the other anti-Romneys falling away, he's left to carry the flag for the majority. And look! He's surging in the polls! He's even saying he'll win! It's... it's... inevitable!

Oh, right, Newt is Newt. A disaster for the party, and the "elite," pundits and politicians alike, knows it. Now they're going after him. His poll numbers are tanking. He's way back even in Iowa now. He won't even make it to Christmas.

How about Huntsman, though? He's doing okay in New Hampshire. No, forget I brought him up.

Or Paul... He's surging in Iowa! He'll win Iowa! But of course he'll never be the nominee. Just too... out there.

So now it has to be Romney, right?

I mean, who else is there? Palin is talking about "folks" -- i.e., herself -- getting into the race even at this very late date, but that's just unrealistic. Maybe there'll be a brokered convention, maybe it'll be Christie, or maybe even Jeb, but that's highly unlikely. Republicans don't like such uncertainty.

But... what about Santorum? He's picking up big-time endorsements, by Iowa standards, left and right -- or rather, far right (Schultz) and even more far right (Vander Plaats). The Christianists love him, because he's one of them. He's crazy, but keeps his craziness in check (unlike Bachmann). He's polished from his years in the Senate (unlike Perry). He's a social but also economic conservative (unlike Romney and Paul). He doesn't have a history of personal misdeeds (Gingrich).

And, well, it's his turn... isn't it? Makes sense, no? He's the one!


Okay, okay, I'm not being serious. (For those of you who couldn't tell.) But there's been such consistent and pervasive nonsense in this embarrassingly awful Republican race for president that nothing, no prediction, can really seem all that ridiculous at this point.

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The best laid plans of mice

By Carl 

People over a certain age, say twenty, will recall the last time a GOP Congress tried to hold a presidency hostage.

Clearly, overtones of that debacle shadowed Republican obstructionism all year, but as I predicted early on (can't be arsed to do the search, I'm guessing it was late February,) sooner or later events were going to catch up with Weaker Boehner and his faction. The split in the Republican party was too deep for the usual "marching orders" to have much effect.

In the 1995-1996 shut down, the signature moment, when the Republican Congress became the hated enemy and lost the political ground they slowly earned in the 1994 election as well as any moral authority with the Clinton administration, came during a trip to Israel aboard Air Force One for the funeral of Yitzhak Rabin. Newt Gingrich lambasted the president on the record for not taking the opportunity to discuss the budget impact and for making Gingrich exit through the back door of the plane (like every other Congressional leader before and since).

Any negative impact the shutdown had on Clinton's poll numbers immediately shifted to Gingrich and he lost the battle and the war. 

Weaker Boehner has been particularly circumspect when it comes to overt signals like that, and avoiding a shut down in the first place (something that would have angered his constituency more than a small tax hike on the rich, I suspect).

Until now. By walking away from a tax cut, albeit a stop-gap cut designed to allow Congress to head home for the holidays but more important, to give hope to the working people of America, Weaker Boehner has committed the unpardonable sin of not only raising taxes, but taking away a tax cut he himself opposed in the first place, but eventually acceded was a good idea.

Meaning, he's going to get blamed for this failure. Correctly, in my view. It's disingenuous to first oppose, then grudgingly support, then steal back a tax cut, particularly in an era when real Americans are watching every penny. Now he'll have to pass the original tax cut Obama proposed extending (one year) which he vehemently opposed in favor of the two-month stop gap, which he was okay with then, but not now. 

$40 a week matters to people who live paycheck to paycheck and that sadly has become the norm in the American middle and especially working classes. It's a day or two worth of food. It's bus fare for a month. It's a tutor for a child struggling with algebra. It's gas for the car.

Boehner's shortsightedness looks like it may finally have driven a stake deep into the heart of the undead party that is the GOP, as well. He will have to continue to placate the Eric Cantor batwing, while explaining to the Senate Republican caucus, which backed this extension by 83% to 17%, how he could sell them out so readily.

There's a woodshed on the back of which his name is emblazoned, methinks.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The dishonesty of PolitiFact's 2011 "Lie of the Year"

The influential PolitiFact's 2011 Lie of the Year: "Republicans voted to end Medicare," a "claim" made by Democrats.

Basically, PolitiFact claims that "Democrats and liberals overreached." Had they just said that Paul Ryan's budget plan would have "privatized" Medicare, that would have been fine. But no: "They used harsh terms such as 'end' and 'kill' when the program would still exist, although in a privatized system."

Now, perhaps PolitiFact is just trying to be, oh, fair and balanced, to prove its non-partisan bona fides by giving their dubious award to the Democrats:

It's the third year in a row that a health care claim has won the dubious honor. In 2009, the winner was the Republicans' charge that the Democrats' health care plan included "death panels." In 2010, it was that the plan was a "government takeover of health care."

Republicans lied before and were called out on it. Now it's the Democrats' turn.

The problem is, this just isn't true. As Paul Krugman explains:

Republicans voted to replace Medicare with a voucher system to buy private insurance — and not just that, a voucher system in which the value of the vouchers would systematically lag the cost of health care, so that there was no guarantee that seniors would even be able to afford private insurance.

The new scheme would still be called "Medicare", but it would bear little resemblance to the current system, which guarantees essential care to all seniors.

How is this not an end to Medicare? And given all the actual, indisputable lies out there, how on earth could saying that it is be the "Lie of the year"?

So why did they do it? Just what I wrote above -- which I wrote before reading Krugman:

[T]he people at Politifact are terrified of being considered partisan if they acknowledge the clear fact that there's a lot more lying on one side of the political divide than on the other. So they've bent over backwards to appear "balanced" — and in the process made themselves useless and irrelevant. 

PolitiFact ought to be ashamed of itself, writes Steve Benen. Indeed.

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Ashley Madison for Newt Gingrich

A website that promotes adultery has endorsed Newt Gingrich for president, and even erected a giant billboard in Pennsylvania to announce it. Next to a picture of Gingrich making a "shh" gesture, the billboard reads: "Faithful Republican, Unfaithful Husband.", a dating website for people looking to cheat on their spouses, welcomes visitors with the tag line, "Life is short, Have an affair." Gingrich has admitted to cheating on his wives, and Noel Biderman, the founder of the cheaters website explained, "Now that Newt is the leading contender in the race for the GOP nomination, we felt compelled to make a point to illustrate how times have changed when a serial divorcee/adulterer is capturing the hearts of the American people."

I would just like to repeat -- again -- that the issue is not, or should not be, that Newt has been unfaithful. While we call his judgement and self-control into question, his past philandering is a private matter. Rather, the issue is that he has been an extraordinary hypocrite, and it's actually quite hilarious now that he claims to have changed, all the while continuing to be an aggressive right-wing moralizer.

I would further like to note that Newt is not "capturing the hearts of the American people." Even right-wing Iowa Republicans appear to have had enough of him.

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