Friday, September 30, 2011

Bloomberg defends the banks

New York mayor and former Republican Michael Bloomberg has said some surprisingly sane and occasionally even progressive things over the last couple years. But the Occupy Wall Street protests have brought out his old self. I suppose it's not surprising since he did make most of his fortune from investing. Appearing on a local radio show, he had this to say about the protests:
The protesters are protesting against people who make $40-50,000 a year and are struggling to make ends meet. That’s the bottom line. Those are the people that work on Wall Street or on the finance sector.

This is a complete mischaracterization of the protests. The protests are not against mid-level employees. They are against bank presidents and top level executives, the ones who make policies for the banks. They are against the biggest people at the investment houses, the ones who make millions from inventing "financial products," irresponsibly throwing millions and billions of our dollars around, and who still get million dollar bonuses when everything goes south. When people say "banker," they do not mean the cashier at their local branch.
We need the banks, if the banks don’t go out and make loans we will not come out of our economy problems, we will not have jobs.

We need banks. I can agree with that, but I don't think many, if any, of the protesters are saying let's abolish all banks.
I think we spend much too much time worrying about how we got into problems as to how we go forward.

Why is it that only white collar and well connected criminals get this blanket pardon when they destroy other people's lives? You never hear other crimes treated that way. "I think we spend much too much time worrying about who murdered whom. The important thing is talk about how to prevent murder as we go forward." I have a better idea. Let's investigate. If crimes were committed, we put the criminals on trial and send them to jail. We test out that old deterrent theory of harsh punishment. Saying no one will ever be prosecuted sure hasn't helped prevent crime.
Also we always tend to blame the wrong people. We blame the banks. They were part of it, but so were Freddie Mac and Frannie Mae and Congress.

Yes, Congress does deserve a lot of the blame for the collapse. But their responsibility lies in deregulating the financial sector and not performing any over site on Wall Street.

There might be some legitimate reasons for criticizing the Wall Street protesters, but their choice of target is not one of them.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

It's Banned Book Week

The First banned book I ever read was Beastly Boys and Ghastly Girls a collection of children's poetry edited by William Cole. It showed up in our libray at Temple View Elementry in 1964. It was so popular the librarian would only let us keep it for one day. A few days after I read it, some parents complained and it was pulled from the shelves. I can still recite some of the Shel Silverstein poems from the collection.

Lists of banned books can be found all over the internet. Here are a few of the books that I've read. A longer list of mine would be very heavy on young kids' books. When I worked in bookstores, I often read illustrated kids' books on my breaks. Not all of these books were banned in the US. The Bible, for instance has never been banned in the US, despite what Tea Partiers and religious right fund raisers will tell you.
  • The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
  • The Glass Teat by Harlan Ellison
  • Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Stupids (series), by Harry Allard
  • Good Soldier Schweik by Jaroslav HaĊĦek
  • The Bible
  • The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
  • A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
  • His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
  • American Heritage Dictionary
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • The Call of the Wild by Jack London
  • All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
  • Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel
  • The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Sophie's Choice by William Styron
  • In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
  • Dictionary of American Slang
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  • Howl by Allen Ginsberg
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  • New Class by Milovan Djilas
  • Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
  • Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
  • Macbeth by William Shakespeare

What's on your list?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

We won't have Thaddeus to kick around any more

Michigan Rep. Thaddeus McCotter ended his presidential bid Thursday, after struggling to secure a foothold in the race for the 2012 GOP nomination.

“Today, effective immediately, I have withdrawn my candidacy to become the Republican Party’s nominee for the Office of President of the United States of America," he said in a statement.

A show of hands please. Who even knew that he was running, or remembered, if you if you once heard about it.

Monday, September 19, 2011

More news for your crazy uncle

Taxes are at historically low levels.

The stimulus bill cut taxes for working people.

Obama increased spending for border conrol, increased the number of agents patrolling, and is deporting more people per year than any other president in US history.

The Obama administration has issued over 200 permits for offshore oil drilling

After Reagan cut taxes in 1981, the economy went into a recession.

Inflation is extremly low right now

Obama is not a socialist. He's not even very liberal. Take my word on this one. I'm a socialist.

Ninety seven percent of climate scientists are sure global warming is real and that humans are responsible for it.

The rest of the world respects the US more under Obama that it did when Bush was president.

Monday, September 12, 2011

So much propaganda in such a little piece

Here's another one of those chain mail style statuses floating around Facebook. As far as I can tell, it's been around since early summer.
SO LET ME GET THIS STRAIGHT ... If you cross the North Korean border illegally, you get 12 yrs. hard labor. If you cross the Afghanistan border illegally, you get shot. Two Americans just got eight years for crossing the Iranian border. If you cross the U. S. border illegally you get a job, a drivers license, food stamps, a place to live, health care, housing & child benefits, education, & a tax free business for 7 yrs ...No wonder we are a country in debt. Re-post if you agree

Where to start... where to start? Lets start at the bottom.

"No wonder we are a country in debt." The implication here is that our national debt is caused by giving goodies to illegal immigrants, not by running two wars while reducing revenue or from any other cause. For over a year now, politicians and pundits have been telling us that the debt and deficit are the single worst problems facing the country, that they are a threat to the very existence of our country. In that context, this little note is is saying that "they," the illegal immigrants, are destroying America. It is only self-defense to fear and hate them. That is, as our high-school English teachers tried to teach us, the thesis statement of this particular essay.

Now lets go to the top. "If you cross the North Korean border illegally..." Why are we talking about North Korea, Afghanistan, and Iran? Two of these countries are the surviving members of the Axis of Evil and the third is one of the worst places on Earth to live. Is the writer saying that we should view them as role models and try to be more like them? Even though many of the intended readers of the note will say "hell, yeah!" at the idea of killing people who try to cross our borders without the proper papers, that's not really the point of mentioning these three countries. The point is a matter of contrast. The brutal punishments handed out by the Axis of Evil are strong. Handing out goodies is weak and that weakness is destroying us.

Who is it that is creating that weakness? Is it the writer? No. Is it the reader? Presumably, also no. Since the writer and the reader would never do anything to destroy America, it must be someone more powerful. The policies that are destroying America must come from an elite internal enemy, a second "they" aligned with the external enemy to bring about our destruction.

Let's look at that list of goodies. At a casual glance, it would be easy to say, "yeah, if you pretend to be a citizen, you can get the same things citizens get. So what?" But the response this kind of letter is trying get isn't a shrug. It's phrased so that the implication is not that illegal immigrants can get these things, it's they will automatically be given these things.

To make that implication, the writer has engaged in an intellectual bait-and-switch. The US example comes forth in a list, which makes it appear that all four are talking about the same thing. If you enter North Korea illegally you get prison; Afghanistan, shot; Iran, prison; America, presents! But, the four are not the same. If you enter North Korea illegally and get caught, the government sends you to prison. If you enter the US illegally and get caught, the government does not give you presents; it puts you in jail for a while, then deports you. Maybe that's more lenient than shooting you on the spot, but it is not a basket full of goodies.

The list of goodies itself isn't just dishonest; it's calculated to create a strong sense of resentment. The reader sees that illegal immigrants automatically are given a job, health care, child benefits, a place to live (and housing!), and a tax free business for seven years and the reader's expected reaction is, "no one gave me those things. I have to work hard for what I get." A sense of personal injustice is created. Before the reader has a chance to think about anything, their mostly emotional response is further provoked by the sneering conclusion, "No wonder we are a country in debt." Not only is the reader being screwed, but our children and the whole country are being screwed by these foreign invaders and the enemy within.

If the reader had paused long enough to look closely at the list and think about it, they would have seen how laughably absurd it is. A tax free business for seven years? Just for being an illegal immigrant? How do you get these things? Is there a government office that you go to to apply for them? If I go to that office and tell them I'm an illegal immigrant, can I get health care and a seven year tax exemption?

The whole piece would be laughable if it, and others like it, weren't resonating with so many good people. Americans are hurting. The working poor are seeing their hopes of rising into the middle class dashed. Millions in the middle class are facing the real possibility of sliding downward. Additional millions are unemployed, using up their last resources, and facing a national leadership that is indifferent to plight when it isn't openly hostile to them. We're scared, we're hurting, and we want to know how we got into this mess. We want someone to blame. Propaganda like this little note distract us from finding real answers.

Propaganda like this is calculated to bring out the bully in people. We feel powerless in the face of an increasingly cold and hostile world. Rather than confront the forces that are hemming us in and taking away our sense of control over our lives, this kind of propaganda encourages to find someone even more powerless than we are and to take our our frustrations on them. As long as we are fighting each other down here, the people at the top of the food chain have nothing to fear from us.

The person who wrote this little note almost certainly did not have all of this in mind when they wrote it. Many of the elements in the note have been circulating for years. This particular version dates back to the beginning of the summer. A longer email blaming the debt on immigrants was circulating two years ago. It was based on a piece published on a conservative web site two years before that. Scopes traces the seven tax-free years claim back at least to the sixties. In a more generalized form, this kind of politics of resentment is as old as propaganda. And that's old.

So much propaganda in such a little piece.
  • Scapegoating. Check.
  • Conspiratorial paranoia. Check.
  • False equivalency. Check.
  • politics of resentment. Check.
  • Bald-faced lies. Check.
  • Divide and conquer. Check and check.

98% of the people who read this post won't send it on to their crazy uncle...

Thursday, September 01, 2011

They are not the same

Yesterday, disgusted over Boehner telling Obama that the time he requested to address Congress just wasn't convenient, I posted on Facebook:
I have never seen a president treated with as much disrespect by the other party as Obama by the Republicans. Not Nixon by the Democrats. Not Bush by the Democrats. Not even Clinton by the Republicans. It seems there is no bottom to how low the modern Republican Party will go.

I received some "likes" from the usual liberal suspects. I also received some surprisingly tough pushback from friends who I think would all call themselves independent. All of them forcefully argue that Democrats are just as bad a Republicans. One says Bush had it tougher. Another said " The bile ... oozes out about equally from both sides of the aisle." I tried to clarify several times that I'm not talking about pundits, talk radio, or some guy with a blog. I'm talking office holding politicians and republican Party officials. I offered this as evidence:
  • What is the Democratic eqivalent of a Republican mayor and party official sending around pictures of a watermelon patch replacing the White House lawn?
  • What is the Democratic eqivalent of a member of Congress shouting "you lie" during a presidential address?
  • What is the Democratic eqivalent of a member of Congress calling the president "God's punishment on us" as leo Berman did?
  • What is the Democratic eqivalent of members of Congress questioning the president's citizenship or encouraging those that do?
  • What is the Democratic eqivalent of a member of Congress calling the president "an enemy of humanity" as Trent Franks did?
  • What is the Democratic eqivalent of a member of Congress saying of the president that they are "very concerned that he may have anti-American views” as Michele Bachmann did or un-American as Trent Franks did?
  • What is the Democratic eqivalent of members of Congress saying the President leads a “gangster government” as Steve King and Bachmann did?
  • What is the Democratic eqivalent of a governor saying a presidential contender "pals around with terrorists?"
  • What is the Democratic eqivalent of a member of Congress saying the president should be impeached even though he can't think of a reason why as Michael Burgess did?
  • What is the Democratic eqivalent of a member of Congress comparing the president to Hitler as Paul Broun has done? For decades that has been the hallmark of extremist political commentary.

You might have noticed that I have no patience with arguments based on a false equivalency. The behavior of the two parties is not the same and hasn't even been close since the early nineties. Again, there have always been nuts in the streets, but before about '92 both parties kept them at an arm's length. For the last two decades, the Republicans have been embracing their worst extremists and legitimizing them and the Democrats have not.

I'm going to throw this open to a new audience. Understand, I'm not looking for people to gang up on my friends, I really want to know how equal you think it is. If you know someone with a good argument for equal nastiness from the Democrats, I'd like to hear it. Give me examples. Are there equivalent cases of Democratic Party officials and office holders treating a Republican President the way Republicans are treating this Democratic President? Feel free to go back through both Bush's, Reagan and even Nixon.