Tfgray’s Weblog

Views on life from the Left Coast

“Abraham Came Out of Ur”

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“Abraham Came Out of Ur”

This unremarkable verse may be the most influential in the entire Bible. Let’s unpack it and find out why.

Ur was one of the world’s oldest cities. This is not to imply it compared to, say, modern London or LA. Still, in order to be a city you need rulers, bureaucrats, an army to defend it and maintain order, tax collectors to support the army and the rulers, citizens–merchants, artisans, farmers, peasants, servants– to pay the taxes, and a land base to feed them all. Abraham, on the other hand, was a guy with a wife, a few servants, some livestock, and dreams of nationhood. (That his nation would all worship the same God was not an original idea with him. All the nations were defined not only by territorial boundaries [which were subject to change] but by allegiance to a particular divine order, with a specific god at the top and the ruler immediately below. Add priests and temples to above list.)

As I said, Ur was one of the world’s oldest cities. In other words, there were plenty of political entities with a major head start on the future kingdom of Israel. The good land was already taken. If you read the Bible as a historical document, you’ll notice that the Hebrews spent a lot of time attacking their neighbors and conquering land.

In order to conquer, you need an army. In order to create an army, you need men. In order to have lots of men, you need lots of babies, roughly half of whom will be male. This, I believe, is the root of all that insistence on procreation.

This was the strategy of Mussolini, who handed out gold medals to women who bore 7 or more sons. It’s the strategy of the Communist dictator Ceaușescu, whose “no birth control” policy led to Romania’s over-packed orphanages. It’s also the strategy behind the Aztecs’ belief that the most exalted of their seven heavens was reserved for men who died in battle and women who died in childbirth. Divine command? No. Expansionist military strategy.

And this brings us to the most recent iteration of this doctrine, the Quiverfull movement, headlined by the Duggar family. They say they are raising “the Joshua Generation.” Check your Bible. That generation committed genocidal warfare against their neighboring tribes after the escape from Egypt and 40 years of following a sandstorm around in the desert. At this point, it’s all supposed to be peaceful and metaphoric, using politics, the school system, and various corners of the media and entertainment industry to push their agenda (overthrow of the US Constitution and its replacement by Old Testament law, per R. J. Rushdooney.)

At this point, killing people who refuse to convert is limited to a certain, rather notorious, video game. But still, these are people who take their Bible literally. Are those raising the Joshua Generation aware of its original purpose? Do they share it? How far are they willing to go?

Perhaps my thinking has been affected by the following article, also on Salon today:

Written by tfgray

June 13, 2015 at 3:13 pm

Posted in fundamentalism

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Pattern Recognition

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I remember watching a special on Phyllis Schlafly, the right wing maven and defeater of the Equal Rights Amendment. (Her most recent pronouncement is that women should earn less than men so they will get husbands.) Ann Coulter spoke on the show, talking about how beautiful Mrs. Schlafly was. I never thought of her as particularly attractive, so far as her features went, but she definitely mastered the art of upper-class grooming. You could drop her into any Connecticut country club full of the sort of “Eastern Establishment types” she hates as much as she hates liberals, and she would blend right in.

That got me to thinking. I realized that the current crop of “real” conservatives represent the wealth of the West: oil, mining, Big Ag, (Mrs. Schlafly is a Californian.) whereas the “Eastern Establishment” tends to represent the FIRE sector of the economy–Finance, Investment, Real Estate. (Ironically, the FIRE sector is what went up in flames in 2008, scorching the rest of the country, but I digress.)

So one way to analyze the current disarray within the Republican Party is that the oilmen [Koch]/cattle barons [Bundy]/saloon keepers [Adelson] are fighting the bankers for control of the Party. This allows them to co-opt the Progressive tradition of being against the bankers.

A second fault line is based on religious grounds. Christian Reconstructionism, based on the teachings of R.J. Rushdooney, teaches that it is the duty of the believer to overthrow the secular US Constitution and replace it with Old Testament law. Some of their strategies are overtly religious, such as the illegal religious discrimination and proselytization within military ranks, and various assaults on public education, including rewriting US history to make that noted deist/atheist Thomas Jefferson into a Christian. Other strategies are not overtly religious in nature, such as the Oath Keepers movement’s quest to override police and military Service Oaths with their own, creating a fifth column that will not obey certain orders issued by their chain of command.

Add a few related strands, such as the NRA’s mania for distributing weapons far and wide, regardless of sanity or felon status and the trainwreck known as the US House of Representatives, and what we have here is a full-scale assault on the US Government.

Understand that the participants don’t necessarily share the same goals. Some are religious. Some don’t care about religion, only about maximizing profit by lowering taxes and weakening government to the point where it can’t compel them to pick up their toxic socks. Some have mastered the art of worshiping both God and Mammon. Some seek a perfect government defined as a government they control. Some are explicitly racist in their goals. Some don’t much care so long as they can use right wing beliefs to pump up their business model. (I’m talking to you, NRA.)

It’s my belief that the disorder in the US House of Representatives is an important part of this slow motion right wing coup we are experiencing. Ted Cruz, whose father is a Christian Reonstructionist minister, regularly butts in to House business to give his marching orders to the Tea Party Caucus. Steve Scalise, House Whip, Tea Partier, and overt racist, fails to count correctly and throws the House into chaos over Homeland Security funding. It’s interesting to note that the part of DHS that would carry out Obama’s “amnesty” is funded by fees, and would not be affected by the failure to fund. This tells me that the current circus is not about that policy. It’s about disrupting government. It’s known that ineffective government decreases voting participation. Combine that with the right wing “Vote for us or you’ll Diiiiiiiieeeeeee” appeal to their base, plus throwing roadblocks in the way of full voter participation, and you have a recipe for winning elections while representing a minority, which is exactly what happened in 2014.

Perhaps you think I’m exaggerating. Please click here.

And then you have “The Family” or “The Foundation” or “The Fellowship,” or whatever they call themselves these days. Founded by the same fellow who founded Goodwill, they’ve built up a global network of power players which, includes notorious dictators, presidents, businessmen, senators and representatives, and the fellow who wrote Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill. They also sponsor the National Prayer Breakfast. Since their founding in the 1930s, they have worked to create a network of the powerful based on a religious belief that can best be summed up as “Do whatever you like, just say you’re doing it ‘For Jesus.’” The political philosophy of its founder is that society works best when ruled by the wealthy and powerful. For Jesus, of course.

The thing that astounds me is that the media, even the alleged “left wing” media like Rachel Maddow still express astonishment and puzzlement over current political events. “Are these people stupid?” they ask. “Crazy?”

Like a Fox, I reply.*

*The proposed ATF rule applies only to armor-piercing bullets. Don’t these people support the police?

ps: read this piece on SAlon, if you have not already done so.

Written by tfgray

February 28, 2015 at 9:11 am

Posted in politics

Tagged with , ,

Amy, Amy, Amy

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Conservative blogger Amy Ridenour has been riding her Obamacare horse again.

Some highlights:

Consumers who received too much in federal tax credits when buying insurance on the health law’s marketplaces last year got a reprieve of sorts from the Internal Revenue Service this week. Although they still have to repay some or all of the excess subsidies, the IRS won’t ding them with a late payment penalty if they don’t repay it by the April 15 tax deadline….The IRS will allow people to repay what they owe on an installment basis. But be forewarned: Interest will continue to accrue until the balance is paid off.

Well, I fit into that category. Personally, rather than paying 6% interest to Uncle Sam, I’ll be putting it on plastic and transferring the balance to a 0% promo rate. Was that so hard? Yes, I was over-subsidized, but it was a blessing to have the coverage. In my case, I was stuck in a job 500 miles from my husband and family in order to keep our medical coverage. Obamacare allowed me to rejoin them. I have a new job now, and not having to hold out for one with bennies made all the difference.

The Galen Institute has counted 47 changes (soon to be 48) that have been made to ObamaCare since the law took effect.

So? Laws are amended and tweaked all the time.

A few thoughts in no particular order:  In the Kaiser article, Timothy Jost, a law professor at Washington and Lee University who’s an expert on the health law (and a foremost apologist), said, “They’re trying to make this work.”  Yeah…how’s that going so far?

10 million+ people now have access to healthcare that did not previously. I’d say pretty good, so far.

Finally, I suggest we apply the spirit of ObamaCare to all income taxes.  We shouldn’t have to send in documents to verify our income.  “Self-attestation” of our income should be sufficient.  And if we get it wrong and eventually owe back taxes, we shouldn’t get dinged with a late penalty.

Amy, Amy, Amy…You pay your income tax on the previous year’s income. You know what that is, being as it happened in the past. Your Obamacare subsidy is based on your current year’s income, i.e. future income. You can only estimate that. Will you get the opportunity to work overtime? Will you get a raise? Will you get laid off? That’s why it has to be estimated and corrected when you do your income tax for that year, after that year is over.

Sheesh, Amy.

Written by tfgray

February 5, 2015 at 7:44 am

Posted in conservatism

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Megyn Kelly Admits When It Comes To Vaccines: Some Things Require ‘Big Brother’

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Well, since it’s been all over the news, I’ve been thinking about all this vaccination stuff. And Megyn Kelly’s quote above triggered a response.

Notice how simple public health considerations are now “Big Brother?” Sheesh, Megyn. Are speed limits “Big Brother?” Should one be able to opt out, based upon, say, one’s sincere belief that he or she has such superior driving skills that the limits imposed on other inferior mortals should not apply? Or that stop signs, being red, are satanic symbols that should be ignored, or better yet, torn down. (Note: not all anti -vaxxers are religious, nor is the reverse true. Same with bad drivers.)

When did common sense become optional?

This speaks to a deeper issue. There’s a vocal faction of Americans who treat science as a rival belief system to Christianity. And once proven facts like evolution become controversial, why not vaccination, germ theory, what the hell, let’s throw the Law of Gravity into the mix. Birds fly, don’t they?

[God help me, somewhere a reader is saying, “OMG! Gravity is a lie foisted on us by the elites!” Just like that kid in sophmore year got all wide-eyed when I pointed out that dog is God spelled backwards. She’d never noticed, and I suspect she thought that there was some cosmic significance in the coincidence.]

The above-mentioned faction has made a cottage industry of writing in the fantasy genre called “Alternative History” and passing it off as the real thing. So the Founders, who were prone to saying things like, “The Government of the United States is not founded in any sense on the Christian religion,” were really founding a Christian nation. They morph a renowned scientist like Benjamin Franklin into some sort of Christian Taliban who preferred blind faith to the evidence of his eyes.

The Founders believed that Democracy could never be established in Latin America. Why? Because they were “priest-ridden.” Protestants rejected the authoritarian, top-down Papal dogmatism, and the Founders felt that without independence of thought and belief, there could be no political independence. Ironically, it’s now Evangelical/Fundamentalist Protestants leading the retreat from the Age of Reason.

Written by tfgray

February 3, 2015 at 10:27 am

Lion’s Share

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I rarely agree with the Far Right, but I do see a point in this. One of their complaints, as noted in the article above, is objection to the immigration of refugees from Third World countries. Their problem with it is usually racial purity, or the idea that “they” are taking “our” resources. My objection is that exporting oppressed people from oppressive countries is not a solution.

So what is?

Well, in the tradition of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” might a solution be ending the oppression in Third World countries? Unfortunately, the usual tactic employed involves sending in a bunch of armed dudes in matching suits. And drones. Which creates more refugees.

Scratch that.

In his book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, John Perkins outlines the mechanism by which oppressive regimes stay in business. And it is all about business. Unfortunately, it’s much easier to do business with one guy, even if he is a scum who rules by torturing and killing anyone who gets in his way.

So how do these monsters get in power? Well, businesses need resources, and the point of all the mayhem is control of said resources.

This brings us back to that “them” taking “our” resources, applied to things like refugees getting free rent in squalid surroundings. All too often much of the cool stuff that we First Worlders think of as ours actually comes from the same countries that export all those refugees. Gold. Coltan. Oil. Cheap manufactured goods. Food.

Stuff we buy at bargain prices every day. That would certainly seem to threaten us, wouldn’t it? That is, the thought that our well-being would be diminished by giving people in other parts of the world a fair break. But maybe that’s not quite the way it works.

Just as the lion’s share of the income that comes from selling the resources goes to a tiny minority there, here we have a little thing called “corporate profit” that goes to shareholders, and 50% of all stock is owned by a very small minority of us First Worlders.

So perhaps, if we could remove those glasses that only see skin color, and clean out those ears that can only hear accents, and lose those notions that we of the First World are superior and more deserving by the simple fact of the accident of our birth, we can see that the vast majority of us on this planet are in the same boat.

Perhaps we can even see that the way out of our difficulties does not lie in drowning “them” to keep our own heads above water.

Written by tfgray

January 30, 2015 at 9:09 pm

Posted in politics

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Response to the Response

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#1 Jodi Ernst, the castrating female sent to Congress by Iowans:

Decoded message: “Lower your expectations to having only one pair of shoes. Work hard, like my family did, and someday you will succeed in having the government give you close to half a million dollars. And, by the way, don’t expect the government to help you. Do it all by yourself, like I and my family did.”

#2 Representative Curt Clawson

Decoded message:

Hey, I shot hoops in college. That makes me at least as cool as President Obama, and, by association, the entire Republican Party as cool as President Obama.”

#3 Senator Rand Paul, doctor and son of Representative Ron Paul:

Decoded message:

“They’re picking on me. And you. Those liberal elites with their ‘doctorates’ and their “political dynasties’.”

#4 Senator Ted Cruz

Decoded message:

“All the things hurting you that result from Republican policies are Obama’s fault. Oops. Do-over. I meant to say Obama’s fault.

#5 Representative Carlos Curbelo

Decoded message:

“I did not wear bread bags on my shoes. They sent me here to convince you that the Republican Party doesn’t want to ship you back to Mexico, whether you came from Mexico or not.”

Written by tfgray

January 23, 2015 at 12:39 pm

Save Your Money. Save Yourselves.

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Despite some objections in the House, The Senate appears to be ready to pass the CROmnibus, While there are a number of obnoxious provisions, the one that will affect the most people is the repeal of an important section of the Dodd-Frank financial reform.

Just in case you need the explanation, here is how banking works. You put your money in the bank. The bank lends some of that money to other people. They pay interest, and you get some of it. Under the law, enough deposit money is kept on hand to cover routine withdrawals. This is normal banking, and in case the bank has too any loans that go bad and goes bankrupt, there is something called the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) that will reimburse depositors.

There’s an other type of banking, though: Investment Banking.

In other words, putting money into Wall Street. As a licensed stockbroker friend of mine says, “The only difference between Wall Street and Las Vegas is about 2500 miles.” Investment banking serves a purpose, allowing businesses to gain funding in return for a share of the profits. however, in investing, you have to be prepared to take a share of the losses as well.

Now banks make a lot of money, and what they do with it is their business. However, the part of Dodd-Frank that just got cancelled is the part that says that banks can’t take FDIC-insured deposits and play games with them on Wall Street. This was what got them in trouble in 2008. It’s also what got them in trouble in 1929. The Glass-Steagel Act put an end to that until Gramm-Leach-Bliley put an end to Glass-Steagel. It’s taking your money under the pretext of not putting it into risky investments and then breaking that trust by turning around and doing exactly that. It would be one thing if they were at least paying interest proportional to the risk involved, but no. they keep the gains, pay out a piddly fraction of a percent in interest, and come around, hat in hand, expecting to have catastrophic losses covered by the taxpayer. It’s noteworthy that Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorganChase, of the famous London Whale $6 billion dollar loss (in one trading day, mind you) personally called congressmen to urge them to vote for this abomination.

The biggest banks (JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America) are the most likely to indulge in these shenanigans. It would be wise, therefore, to protect your hard-earned savings by moving them to smaller, local banks. The alternative would be to let the big boys play with your nest egg and either lose it in a bank run, or let them run the same scam they ran in 2008, demanding that you, dear taxpayer, cover their losses, lest they take the entire economy down with them.

Your choice. Be smart. Take your money out of their hands and run to the nearest local bank or credit union. Money talks to these guys. Send them a message. In the process, you will help relieve them of their “too big to fail” status.

No one can do everything. Everyone can do something.

Written by tfgray

December 12, 2014 at 8:28 pm

Posted in economy

Tagged with , , ,

What Next?

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Well, the Republicans, in their infinite kindness, have decided to not shut down the government. What they have done is send a collection of poison pills to the floor. These include:

  • Repealing the Dodd-Frank restrictions on using FDIC insured deposit money for derivatives trading. The biggest banks want this because it would free up more funds to invest in high-risk speculative trading, the sort of deals that blew up the economy in 2008. If they make money on the trades—guess what?–they won’t share those gains with the folks who put their money in nice, safe, FDIC-insured savings accounts. However, if they blow up again and lose their shirts, the FDIC and taxpayers will be on the hook again. After all, if such large institutions fail, it will destroy the entire economy. Yup, pay us or else. Nice house you got there. Sure be a shame if something happened to it.
  • Giving mining access to an Apache burial ground to Rio Tinto, a massive international mining company that had a joint uranium mining venture with Iran. Yes, that Iran.
  • Cutting funding for the EPA to the lowest levels in history at a time when the environment is under more stress than ever.
  • Allowing corporations to cut pension payments to current retirees. (I should note that much of the funding in those pension plans evaporated during the afore-mentioned 2008 meltdown, and some became “executive bonuses” during the merger frenzy of the 2000’s.

Needless to say, such provisions would be bad for the country. However, you get paid a lot for doing what oligarchs tell you to do, so there they are. Not surprisingly, these provisions would not go over well with the general public, so they were snuck in at the last minute. These are just the ones I’ve heard of. God knows what else is in there.

Enough Democrats will refuse to vote for the bill unless the offending provisions are removed to kill it in the House. (The Republicans have a majority, but here are enough Followers of Cruz jonesing to destroy the Federal government to prevent its passage.) Or it will make it through the House and get amended in the Senate and sent back for reconciliation. So here’s what’s next.

The Republicans will then crow that the Democrats are trying to shut down the government.

Anybody want to bet?

Written by tfgray

December 10, 2014 at 9:46 pm

Posted in politics

Worshiping the Antichrist

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Way back in my religious education, I became aware of the existence of the Antichrist. One of the kids in class (I think it was Teddy, who asked the most questions) wanted to know, “How do you know who the Antichrist is?”

The teacher responded, “You’ll know because he teaches the opposite of Jesus, but his followers think he’s Jesus.”

I wrote a post a few weeks back, but have since revised it, so I’ll post in again, below.

The New Conservative Testament, Revised

Now its true that not all Christians are conservative, and not all conservatives are Christian, but there seems to be a fair bit of overlap. After listening to talk radio and watching Fox News, I’m curious as to why. I thought it might be constructive to run a few comparisons. What would the New Testament look like if written by today’s crop of Conservative Thought Leaders? Let’s find out.

Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people.

–Matthew 15:36

Then he took the seven loaves and the fish and when he had given thanks said, “I earned this. If you want to eat, get a job, you leeches.”

–The Gospel According to Ryan

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

–John 2

On the third day a wedding took place in Cana in Galilee…When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “These lazy takers just want something for nothing. I’m outta here.”

–The Epistle of Willard

[T]here was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death….

“Go,” Jesus replied. “Your son lives.”

–John 4

[T]here was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death….

“Go away,” Jesus replied. “You people all think you deserve free health care.”

–The Gospel of Gingrich

The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery and…said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone her to death. What do you say?”

…And Jesus said, “Let he who is without sin among you cast the first stone.”

–John 8

The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery and…said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone her to death. What do you say?”

…And Jesus said, “You should have thought about that before you screwed around, slut.”

–The Book of Rush

The Sermon on the Mount

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

–Matthew 5

The Sermon on the Mount, revised

Screw the poor, the lazy bums.

To those who mourn, quit whining.

The meek? We will crush those suckers.

You who hunger and thirst for righteousness, get over it.

I’m a virgin.

No mercy.

Peacemakers are commie stooges.

Blessed are we who are persecuted by your not agreeing with everything we say.

–The Gospel of Coulter

Of course, there are religious leaders espousing the same doctrines. But I’d like to point out an addition to the Beatitudes in Luke 6, it goes like this:

“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

Just sayin’.

Written by tfgray

December 6, 2014 at 10:05 am

ALEC Strikes Again

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This just in from

The “most extreme” proposal getting attention at this week’s [ALEC] conference, according to the NRDC, is a plan to have Congress disband the EPA, slash funding for environmental protections by 75 percent and replace the federal agency with a group of 300 state agency employees — even though the entire point of having the EPA is because pollution extends beyond state boundaries.

But while that’s something of a long shot, ALEC has plenty of other strategies for undermining the EPA’s current regulations, including its proposed rule to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants and its recently announced plan to limit smog-causing ozone. They’ll attempt to do so using model policies, to be finalized at the conference, that states can adapt to make implementing the rules as difficult as possible. For example, while state environmental agencies are usually tasked with implementing Clean Air Act standards, an ALEC bill would require legislators to vote to approve the state’s plan — an unprecedented measure that, according to the NRDC, “would turn industry-influenced legislators into regulators, interfere with state processes and cause excessive delays.”

I have a modest proposal. While we’re busy changing environmental law, let’s just make asthma a felony. Then parents won’t take their kids to the ER, for fear of them getting a criminal record that would scotch their college entry chances; medical spending would go down; and just a ton of money would be saved. It’s so much cheaper to sit home and watch your kid suffer, and possibly die.

Problem solved.

That is, if you define the problem as “the requirement that you clean up after yourself cuts into corporate profits.”

Written by tfgray

December 4, 2014 at 1:24 pm

Posted in politics

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The New Conservative Testament

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Matthew 15:36

Then he took the seven loaves and the fish and when he had given thanks said, “I earned this. If you want to eat, get a job, you leeches.”

John 2

On the third day a wedding took place in Cana in Galilee…When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “These lazy takers just want something for nothing. I’m outta here.”

John 4

[T]here was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death….

“Go away,” Jesus replied. “You people all think you deserve free health care.”

John 8

The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery and…said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone her to death. What do you say?”

And Jesus said, “You should have thought about that before you screwed around, slut.”

The Sermon on the Mount

Screw the poor, the lazy bums.

Forget those who mourn, the whining bastards.

The meek? We will crush those suckers.

You who hunger and thirst for righteousness, prove it by sending me donations.

No mercy.

Being pure of heart means agreeing with everything I say.

Peacemakers are commie stooges.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, because that’s us, and only us.

Written by tfgray

November 19, 2014 at 8:26 pm


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Apparently there are pastors praying for the President’s death. You don’t have to take my word for it.

You can click here.

Or  here.

This is fascinating. I don’t know which one upsets me more, Pastor Anderson, whose idea of Christian forgiveness is actively declaring his personal hatred for Barack Obama, (although he prefers to call him “Barry Soetero”) or Reverend Drake, who says that “I think it’s appropriate to pray for the will of God. I’m not saying anything, what I’m doing is repeating what God is saying.”

I would love to ask him just how he knows that this voice in his head is God’s. I wonder if there’s white light involved. I think it’s a good rule of thumb to ask that of those claiming to hear the voice of God.

Why do you think they call him Lucifer, in English, “The Light Bearer?”

Personally, I’m praying that every last man jack of them will get his fondest wish and be Raptured, the sooner the better. Then the rest of us can get to work cleaning up the mess they’ve made of the place.

Written by tfgray

November 8, 2014 at 8:45 pm


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“Why,” I asked the lady who was trying to convert me, “is it that so many of the followers of the guy who said, ‘To follow me, sell all you own and give it to the poor,’ are so obsessed with getting rich?”

“The Lord said we are to live life abundantly,” she replied.

I have questions, of course. Did Jesus walk his talk?

Of course he did.

He lived life abundantly?


So what was Jesus worth?


What was Jesus net worth? How much land did he own? How many cattle, sheep, goats, camels? How much gold? Silver? Coin? Bullion? Jewelry? How many slaves?

Short answer: he owned the clothes on his back.

Yet, last I checked, he lived his life abundantly.

Abundantly. “That word,” in the words of the renowned sage, Inigo Montoya, “I no think it means what you think it means.”

Written by tfgray

November 7, 2014 at 12:41 pm

The Usual Right-wing Blather

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I was so flattered when The National Center emailed me and said they were following me on Twitter. The email didn’t have a link to view their Twitpage, so I foolishly hit the follow button.
Oh, my! Their latest tweet:

· Oct 22

Nine “Diseases” CDC Considers More Important Than #Ebola … #tcot #EbolaOutbreak #CDC @CDCgov @DrFriedenCDC

caught my eye. I had to read the article!
So I followed the link to Amy & David Ridenour’s blog where I learned that the CDC had only released 1 (one!) press release on ebola since July 2009. This is interesting, since ebola has only been in this country since, um, earlier this month.
Well, according to Mrs. Ridenour, the CDC is so dumb that they think breastfeeding, auto accidents, and smoking are diseases.
Just in case she wants to say that I misquoted her (I mean, she is following my twitter feed now, and this post will be tweeted there.) let me copy/paste:
“The first thing to notice about the table is that some of these aren’t even “diseases,” e.g., automobile accidents, smoking and breast feeding. Others such as cancer and diabetes certainly qualify as a disease, but by and large, they are non-communicable, so it’s questionable whether the CDC should be tracking them.”
The first thing to notice, of course, is that only Mrs. Ridenour thinks that the CDC only releases PR about “Diseases.” It releases PR about things called “Health-related issues,” Amy.
She even included a chart:


You might notice that the list includes health-related issues that kill tens of thousands of Americans each year. Even though “automobile accidents” are not a disease, Amy, people do sometimes die after experiencing them. Or end up in the hospital with very big bills. Or end up permanently disabled and on public assistance, which Conservatives oppose on account of the expense.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, Amy. Ben Franklin said that.
Other issues, like smoking, have been linked to a variety of rather expensive disorders, such as various forms of cancer, lung, and heart disease. Apparently saving money on healthcare is no longer of interest to fiscal conservatives.
Breastfeeding has many lifelong benefits for babies, including conveying immunity (Yes, from disease, Amy!) from mother to infant but I guess being pro-family no longer includes babies.

Just because a disease is not communicable, doesn’t mean that you can’t control it.
Now her next point is just hilarious:
“Campaigns against smoking and obesity, or promoting breast feeding, no doubt please various parts of the political left. By contrast, the CDC wouldn’t get as much political mileage from talking about all the things it’s doing to prevent an Ebola outbreak.”
Sorry, Amy. I know fat lefties who smoke. I mean, why bother educating the public on things they can do to avoid a painful, lingering, expensive death when you can drum up hysteria over a disease that is fatal in inverse proportion to the health infrastructure of the place in which it occurs? At this point, one person has died of ebola in this country, and all those others infected (5) have been medical personnel who came in direct contact with infected blood, vomit, or feces. Which is the only way you can contract it. And if, as you claim, the CDC only cared (like you) about “Political mileage,” they’d be tweeting non-stop about ebola, since it’s such a hot item these days. (Be Afraid! Cover your house in plastic and duct tape!)
Now this is interesting, since conservatives are the ones fighting to repeal Obamacare. Without the Affordable Care Act, far fewer people would be able to get medical care. In the Conservative Perfect World, those unable to pay for their own medical are would be expected to, well, die. Preferably without having vomited in a place from which one might conceivably track the virus onto one’s living room carpet. And who, according to them, needs the CDC? It’s a government program. (Boo! Hiss! AmIrite, Amy?)
Wait! It really is about drumming up hysteria, isn’t it Amy? Writing anything, including Straw Man arguments, to demonize anything relating to government, at least as long as a Democrat/black man is in the White House.

Written by tfgray

October 23, 2014 at 7:59 pm

Posted in health care, politics

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The Roots of Racism

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“I just don’t like ‘em,” Dan said, in response to my husband’s query about Blacks.

“Why not?”

“I don’t know,” Dan asserted. “I just don’t.”

I wasn’t there to witness the exchange, but I could have explained it to him. Everybody has one in their family. Maybe more than one. You know who I mean. Maybe he sits at the head of the table every night. Maybe he, or she, just shows up on Christmas and Thanksgiving. But the thought is never far from their minds, and their minds are not far from their mouths.

“Them [pick your racial slur] are all [pick your insult: lazy/stupid/crazy/violent/out to get us/smell funny/talk funny/eat weird food]. And there you are, sitting in your high chair, strained peas dripping off your chin, and it’s going in at the level of “This is kitty, that is doggy. This is table, that is spoon.” At that age, you don’t question. “Mommy, are you sure you’re feeding me with a spoon, and not a dog?” You like that ranting guy at the other end of the table. He’s the guy who gives you horsey rides on his foot. It goes in, and sticks, at the level of language.

This is what makes racism so hard to combat. It gets programmed in at such a deep, unquestioned level that even discussing it is like learning a new language. [Insert joke here: What do you call a person who speaks three languages? Trilingual. What do you call a person who speaks two languages? Bilingual. What do you call a person who speaks one language? American.]

Everything else gets filtered through this ground-level understanding. When you get older and start thinking about things like jobs, it gets filtered through that understanding. They are out to get you. They are lazy. They want your job. They.

This, of course, is custom made for the oldest imperial strategy, Divide and Conquer. If you can divide a group of people with common economic interests over an imaginary distinction, like skin color, you can get people to vote against their own economic interests. After all, don’t poor people want to identify with their more successful counterparts rather than others in the same sinking boat with them? Overlay that with the artificial distinction of race (or religion or ethnic origin) and the issue becomes Us sticking together against Them, with those driving the distinction (Hi, Rush!) laughing all the way to the bank.

George McGovern said it better than I ever could, when describing the strategy Nixon used to beat him:

“What is the Southern Strategy? It is this. It says to the South: Let the poor stay poor, let your economy trail the nation, forget about decent homes and medical care for all your people, choose officials who will oppose every effort to benefit the many at the expense of the few—and in return, we will try to overlook the rights of the black man, appoint a few southerners to high office, and lift your spirits by attacking the ‘eastern establishment’ whose bank accounts we are filling with your labor and your industry.”*

And of course, the Southern Strategy is national now. The more successful it is, the worse things get for the majority of Americans, and the worse things get, the more it is blamed on that “other,” who is “out to get us.”

*Quoted in “Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class” by Ian Haney López.

Written by tfgray

December 22, 2013 at 4:36 pm

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Why Republicans Lost: The Juggernaut

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It’s not just their retrograde policies, or their three-ring primary. It’s not about their self-serving polling or their failure to beta-test ORCA. There are some deep psychological reasons behind the Republican losses this cycle.

I call it The Juggernaut.

The word Juggernaut means “A huge, unstoppable force.” It comes from the Hindu festival Jagganatha, celebrated by devotees racing giant chariots through the streets. Thousands participate every year, pulling together under the direction of their priests, working together to carry out this ritual. It’s a good metaphor for any authoritarian organization.

Like, say, the Republican Party.

Let’s break it down. Components of the Juggernaut:

  • Dr. Bob Altemeyer’s work on Authoritarianism and Social Dominance
  • Dr. Sheldon Solomon’s research on Terror Management Theory
  • Dr. Irving Janus’ work on what he named Groupthink

You can read Dr. Bob’s book, The Authoritarians online at It’s free and well worth a read. Unlike most research papers, it’s written with wit and spunk. For those of you with limited time or patience, I will sum up his findings. First, his methodology: He administered multiple choice surveys to thousands of individuals, from students to members of Congress. The survey was composed of a series of statements, ranging from things like “The world would be a better place if people knew their place and stayed in it.” to “The world would be a better place if  people treated each other more equally.” There’s a nine point scale for responses ranging from “strongly agree” through neutral to “strongly disagree.”

The Social Dominance Scale asks participants to rate statements like, “The most important thing in success is learning how to lie with a straight face,” also on a nine-point scale.

He found that about 25% of the North American population fits into the Authoritarian category, believing that society needs to be structured fairly rigidly. They tend to associate with conservative political and fundamentalist religious organizations, and have difficulty dealing with uncertainty. In addition, they tend not to engage in independent thought, preferring to rely on the dictates of authorities, hence the term “authoritarian.”

Most authoritarians are followers. About 5 to 10 % of the general population are Social Dominants, which can range from folks willing to take on the PTA presidency or scout troop leadership to full-blown conquer-the-world Bond villains.  Altemeyer found that, as with the general population, there is an overlap between Authoritarians and Social Dominants, and Altemeyer regards this small subset as potentially dangerous.

Why? They combine the amoral tendencies of the Social Dominants with the Authoritarians’ inability to see the contradictions in their beliefs and tendency to refuse to think critically.

So how does this pertain to the Republican Party? Politically, this can be summed up in the phrase, “Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line.” There’s also the firm association between the political and religious right, which, as noted, tends to attract those who prefer authoritarian mores. Not surprisingly, those who head up top-down structured business enterprises also fall largely into the Republican camp, as does the military, perhaps the ultimate top-down organization.

The second leg of The Juggernaut is based upon the work of Sheldon Solomon. Terror Management Theory has nothing to do with the Patriot Act. It refers to how we, as individuals, deal with the existential fear of death. “Existential” fear is the general awareness that we all die someday.  He and his associates found that an increase in societal instability or threat (such as terrorists flying airplanes into buildings hundreds of miles from your home) increases people’s fear level. No surprise there. The important finding is how people react to those fears.

In general, they react by putting more of their energy into those things personally meaningful to them, those things that give their life purpose, that make them feel that they will, in some way, defy death. This can take the form of such things as conceiving a child, building a fortune, adopting a cause, or joining a religion that promises eternal life. It can also be something as trivial as driving speed or material acquisition (as in shoppping).

Social beings that we are, it also inclines us to associate more and more with those who share that particular manner of coping.  It makes sense, both from the point of view that we tend to hang out with those that share our interests, and that listening to people whose egos have different survival strategies might incline you to question your own. Given that Authoritarians are less tolerant of doubt, this means that they would be more likely to narrow their environment to those holding values with which they agree. (Fox News, anyone?)

This brings us to the third piece of research: Groupthink. Janus did his research by looking at the process that led to the Vietnam War. He found that those who had decision-making authority, famously named “The Best and Brightest,” all came from similar backgrounds: white, male, Ivy League educated. He found that it wasn’t the specific background that mattered so much as the homogeneity. If everyone in the room has the same world view and anyone with different facts or viewpoints is demonized and shunned, (one of the roles in Janus’ model is called “The Gatekeeper) bad decisions result. Further, once Groupthink has taken hold, things tend to move in only one direction. They become increasingly extreme, with a tendency to eventually see one’s position as so right and important that any action, no matter how unethical, is justified. (See Voter Suppression.)

I’m saying that the Republican Party suffers from becoming a Juggernaut. Initially, this seemed like a successful strategy. After all, it worked long enough to give George W Bush two terms and create a congressional majority in 2010. (Unstoppable force!)

This time actually was different. The Republican Party achieved such perfect ideological homogeneity that reality was simply excluded. Voices who failed to adhere to the nativist, militarist, social Darwinist orthodoxy were simply shoved out of the room. Facts that contradicted their narrative were altered to fit, or ignored.

This is not to say that all Republicans agree on everything, just that those who didn’t agree with the dominant faction had little say in the process. The next four years promise to be a fight between those currently holding the dominant position, the more authoritarian wing, who claim that the recent loss was due to their position being ignored and the more moderate wing, who hold that the authoritarians’ excesses are to blame. Should be interesting to watch, and I’m hoping and praying that enough moderates decide to put their votes where their mouths are and face down the Tea Party types. (Not holding my breath.)

One note: the money powering the extreme right wing of the Republican Party comes from businessmen. A very small number of very big businessmen. While some of them (Adelson, Koch) may have been motivated by pending criminal charges, and some (deVoss, Freiss) by religious belief, their bottom line is, yes, the bottom line. The fate of the Republican Right depends upon what these guys decide to do, now that trying to drown the election in a bathtub of money has failed.

Written by tfgray

November 21, 2012 at 9:47 pm

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Budget Negotiations

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Here’s my bet: all the nonsense noise about Susan Rice and Bengazi is a part of the Republican budget negotiation.

It’s not just about the budget. It’s about having as many chips in your pile as possible. Want Susan Rice at State? Kerry at Defense? Well, what are you willing to give us for it, Barry?

Just saw the news piece about Romney saying Obama won by giving stuff to African-Americans, women, and the young. (Tsk, tsk.) Unlike him, who wants to give stuff only to rich people like himself.

So back to the budget. And while we’re at it, secession. Oddly, those states whose citizens are most gung-ho to seceed because of the US taking their money and spending it badly just happen to be the recipients of those funds. As it turns out, only 2 blue states: New Mexico and DC–okay, not technically a state, but still–only these two blue areas receive more government largess than they pay in. Of red states, only Texas pays more tax than it sucks through the teat, and not by much: for each $1.03 in, $1.00 out.

Serious about reducing the deficit? Hey, it’s two birds with one stone.

Written by tfgray

November 14, 2012 at 10:21 pm

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I watched the election results last night, and saw the Fox news response to Obama’s win.

Utter, utter disbelief. Had not their polls, unlike the lying, biased mainstream polls, told them that Romney would win? Had not their own trusted experts: Krauthammer, Rove, Morris, told them it would be so? A landslide, even?

It reminded me of a quote from my Tai Chi teacher, Master Chao, a retired Nationalist Chinese general who had served on Chaing Kai-shek’s personal staff.

One of my fellow students asked him, “Why did Chaing lose to Mao?”

“Oh,” he said in his rolling baritone, “Chaing lost because his propaganda wing so good that even the generals did not know what was really going on.”

Written by tfgray

November 7, 2012 at 7:41 pm

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Debate Dissonance

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Sorry about the delay on this post. WordPress’ reformatted its home page in a netbook unfriendly way, and I wasn’t able to log in using my teeny tiny screen.

That said, for me the most notable thing about the debate, other than Obama’s acting like he had a headache, was the enthusiastic response of the Conservative bubble.

We won! Woot! Woot! Woot!

Romney won on two counts: First, he didn’t act like a guy with a headache, and second, he won by confidently repudiating everything he’d been running on so far. In the sheer rush of victory, the Right, those who threw screaming, carpet-chewing fits every time Romney uttered a peep that conflicted with their anti-Obamacare, anti-deregulation orthodoxy, apparently failed to notice his apostasy.

I haven’t seen Conservatives so enthusiastic since Ann Coulter predicted a Romney defeat in 2012.


Written by tfgray

October 6, 2012 at 8:20 am

Romney’s Resume

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James Clyburn, speaking on MSNBC  today, referred to Mitt Romney’s motive for his presidential run as “adding to his resume.”

I expect the Romney campaign, if they notice the comment at all, to dismiss it with something along the lines of, “Resume for what? What could be a more important role than President of the United States?”

Fair enough, but to a Mormon, the obvious next step would be God of your own planet.

So for those of you that think Romney’s living on his own planet: Not quite yet.

Written by tfgray

September 19, 2012 at 2:23 pm

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That Lazy 47% Who Pay No Taxes

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US population (2011) 311,591,917


23.7% of Americans are under 18 years of age, so this whole “Americans not paying taxes” argument begins to sound mathematically weird right from the git-go.

So who are the remaining 23.3%? Let’s look at the folks receiving government benefits, since that’s the stated assumption. To sum up the percentage of Americans receiving some sort of government benefit:

Social Security = 18%

Unemployment Insurance = 8.1%1

Veterans Benefits = 2.7%

TANF and Food Stamps = 8%

Incarcerated = 0.7%2

This list does not, of course, include such benefits as Federal pensions, farm subsidies, or the billions of Federal tax dollars paid to the oil industry. Nor does the Republican list of tax slackers include any of the highly profitable businesses that pay no US corporate tax.

1While unemployment insurance is taxable income, chances are that any household greater that one member subsisting solely on UI will come in below the minimum to owe taxes.

2Prisoners are paid literally pennies per hour, nowhere near enough to have taxable income.

Some of these individuals get more than one benefit, and some recipients of benefits have other income that they pay tax on. (For example, Social Security recipients who still work or have investment income.)

So I’ll just present the figures (and sources) and let you sort it out for yourselves.

Social Security = 18%

  • In 2012, over 56 million Americans will receive $778 billion in Social Security benefits.

June 2012 Beneficiary Data

Retired workers

36 million

$44.7 billion

$1,234 average   monthly benefit


2.9 million

$ 1.8 billion

Disabled workers

8.7 million

$ 9.7 billion

$1,111 average   monthly benefit


2.1 million

$ .67 billion


6.3 million

$ 6.5 billion

$1,190 average   monthly benefit

  • Social Security is the major source of income for most of the elderly.
    • Nine out of ten individuals age 65 and older receive Social Security benefits.
    • Social Security benefits represent about 39% of the income of the elderly.
    • Among elderly Social Security beneficiaries, 53% of married couples and 74% of unmarried persons receive 50% or more of their income from Social Security.
    • Among elderly Social Security beneficiaries, 23% of married couples and about 46% of unmarried persons rely on Social Security for 90% or more of their income.
  • Social Security provides more than just retirement benefits.
    • Retired workers and their dependents account for 70% of total benefits paid.
    • Disabled workers and their dependents account for 19% of total benefits paid.
      • About 91 percent of workers age 21-64 in covered employment in 2011 and their families have protection in the event of a long-term disability.
      • Just over 1 in 4 of today’s 20 year-olds will become disabled before reaching age 67.
      • 69% of the private sector workforce has no long-term disability insurance.
      • Survivors of deceased workers account for about 11% of total benefits paid.
        • About one in eight of today’s 20 year-olds will die before reaching age 67.
        • About 96% of persons aged 20-49 who worked in covered employment in 2011 have survivors insurance protection for their young children and the surviving spouse caring for the children.
  • An estimated 159 million workers, 94% of all workers, are covered under Social Security.
    • 51% of the workforce has no private pension coverage.
    • 34% of the workforce has no savings set aside specifically for retirement.

Unemployment Insurance = 8.1%

Which is, of course, a limited time offer.


Veterans Benefits 8,493,700 Americans, or 2.7%


TANF and Food Stamps = 8%

If you use [just] those who are supported by Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)–best described as a federal largess to indigent families with dependent children–as stated by the Dept. of Health, the data suggests 1.7% of the total population that derive over 50% of their income from Welfare supports.

The number stated that receive any portion of their support from welfare assistance–including food stamps–it is 29,900,000 or roughly 8% of the total population in the United States.

The eligibility criteria are here:

You will notice that it is possible to collect food stamps while earning enough to pay income tax. (See income tax table below.)

Earnings while an inmate. Amounts received for work performed while an inmate in a

penal institution are not considered earned income by the IRS. However, they are paid literally pennies per hour, well below the income level needed to exceed the minimum needed to pay tax.

Incarcerated 2,284,900 (2009) = 0.7%

So who are the rest of those non-taxpayers?

These are people who work and make less than:

Standard              plus        exemption          which works out to:


Single                                    $  6,800                 +             $3,700   =             $11,500          = $5.73/hr2,3

Married                                $11,600                   +             $7,400   =             $19,000        = $9.46/hr2

Head of Household4         $  8,500                   +             $7,400   =             $15,900        = $7.92/hr2

US minimum wage is currently $7.25. Some states are higher.

2Assuming full-time employment.

3The hypothetical single person making minimum wage and less than $11,500/year would work 29.5 hours/week.

4Assuming a single parent with one child. Each additional dependent brings a $3,700 exemption.

(You will note that the faction that supports ending social programs also opposes minimum wage laws.)

It’s also important to note that anyone who drives a motor vehicle pays gas tax. Anyone who owns a home pays property tax. Anyone who lives in a state other than Oregon or Delaware pays sales tax, so even those who pay no Federal income tax do pay taxes.

Written by tfgray

September 17, 2012 at 9:19 pm

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The Romney Tax Plan

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It’s pretty simple. Lower tax rates, but get rid of loopholes and keep revenues the same. So how does that work?

Easy. first you vote to lower tax rates, especially at the top end. The you leave it up to Congress to figure out what loopholes to close.

What does that mean? Those who can afford to hire the best lobbyists, get to keep their loopholes. Those who can’t? What do you think? How much can you afford to pay a lobbyist?

Written by tfgray

September 10, 2012 at 8:28 pm

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Saw a bumper sticker today:

Freedom isn’t free.

Now the conventional implication of that phrase involves gratitude to the members of our armed services. But I don’t have a conventional mind. I looked at the way this country is moving, particularly since the Citizens United decision.

Freedom isn’t free.

In many states, if you can’t afford a car, don’t have a drivers licence, can’t afford to take time off from work to wrangle the paperwork needed to prove your citizenship, you won’t be able to vote this year, or maybe ever.

Freedom isn’t free.

In Ohio, Republican Election Board members in Republican-leaning districts overwhelmingly voted, along with their Democratic counterparts, to allow early voting. In Democratic-leaning districts, every Republican election board member voted against the practice, citing the expense of extending voting hours. This gave the Republican Ohio Secretary of State the opportunity to freight in as the tiebreaker. Are you surprised that voters in Democratic-leaning districts now have less opportunity to vote than their counterparts across county lines in Republican-leaning districts?

Freedom isn’t free.

See where I’m going with this? Just where do you think the cut-off will be for the freedom to vote? Thirty thousand a year? Fifty thousand? How long do you think you’ll be making that kind of money, if the free marketeers get their way, and even more regulations are savaged in order to allow businesses to wring every last ounce of profit from us?

Just askin’.

I’ve also been wondering for a while, when one of those “job creators” we hear so much about will complain about people seeking employment trying to get something for nothing when they say, “Give me a job.”

Written by tfgray

August 9, 2012 at 10:14 pm

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Romney’s Tithe

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Recently Ann Romney cited her husband’s tithing as a reason that Americans (aka “you people”) don’t need to see her husband’s tax returns. It got me wondering. What happens to Mormons who don’t tithe?

Did a little Googling on the subject and found the following:

“During World War II, my widowed mother supported her three young children on a schoolteacher’s salary that was meager. When I became conscious that we went without some desirable things because we didn’t have enough money, I asked my mother why she paid so much of her salary as tithing. I have never forgotten her explanation: “Dallin, there might be some people who can get along without paying tithing, but we can’t. The Lord has chosen to take your father and leave me to raise you children. I cannot do that without the blessings of the Lord, and I obtain those blessings by paying an honest tithing. When I pay my tithing, I have the Lord’s promise that he will bless us, and we must have those blessings if we are to get along.”

The same site also cited the following biblical quotes:

“Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.”

“Ye are cursed with a curse, for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation.”

(3 Ne. 24:8–10; see Mal. 3:8–10).

So. It’s an investment. Something you do so that a/God will pay you big fat dividends, and b/you don’t piss Him off.

How Romney.

So why won’t Romney show his tax returns? My theory is that it’s not because he’s cheated on his taxes. It’s because a good hard look at his tax returns would rip the ugly scab off the way that our tax code has been deformed in the interest of protecting the interests of the wealthiest Americans. Apparently, at least in the one he released, his wife’s horse saved him tax on $77,000.00. Can you say the same for your pet?

Republicans frequently talk about lowering tax rates and compensating by getting rid of loopholes. Don’t bet on it. The top .01% have investing heavily in those loopholes, and they’re not people who are willing to take a loss on their investment. It’s just another iteration of the bait & switch. The “bracket flattening” (i.e. raising the lower brackets –that would be your tax bracket, darlin’–and lowering the taxes on all those “job creators” that have been doing such a bang up job of creating jobs for the past 5 years or so.) Now, that would happen right away, while the loophole closing would have to be “studied,” and “approached carefully.” Translation: We’ll schedule the vote on that puppy for the thirty-fifth of Never.

Written by tfgray

July 19, 2012 at 9:43 pm

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The MBA of Doom

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When historians look back a hundred years from now and examine the causes of our current social and economic difficulties, I believe they will find the thinking inculcated into MBA students as a primary factor.

Harvard created the first MBA–Masters in Business Administration–program in the Fifties, based upon the notion that Business could be separated out from the particular type of business being operated. In the past, it was fairly standard for a man, or more rarely woman, to learn a business by working in that field for years or decades, and rise through the ranks. Business founders generally learned the elements of their particular business in a hands-on fashion before striking out on their own.

The MBA programs beg to differ. By simply learning generic principles of business and the statistical and mathematic tools necessary to determine their application, a manager can run any business successfully. I have no problem with math, or analysis. It’s the underlying principles that I question.

The first is that maximizing profit is the only goal of business.

The second is that pursuing short-term profit is the the best way to maximize profit.

The third is that in order to maximize profit, you must internalize your rewards while externalizing risk.

Nearly every  current problem in the US economy is a direct result of the application of these principles.

Let’s take the last one first. This is the one nearest and dearest to the oil billiionaires funding the Republican Right Wing. The EPA is what stands between an industry’s ability to save on disposal costs and your drinking water. Oops, bad for profits, right? You get sick? Not my problem. Lose your house due to medical bills? Hey! A buying opportunity for me! National health care!? You expect me to pay for your medical treatment with my money? Parasite. Likewise OSHA. Run your employees into the ground with unending overtime in unsafe conditions? Plenty more where they came from. Goose profits by making loans to unqualified borrowers, then make side bets that the loans will fail, leading to the near-destruction of the global economy? Whatever, I’ve got mine. Save on healthcare costs by moving your factory to a country where those taxpayers pay for a national healthcare system? Rational business move.

The second point–short-term profit being the most desirable goal–is what led to the near-destruction of the banking system by Wall Street in 2008. That saga continues, with its most recent manifestation the Facebook IPO shenanigans. It also, by definition, prevents private enterprise from providing the stimulus to get the economy going. Ending an economic slump takes time. Who wants to jump in first if the returns might not be immediately forthcoming?

The first point–profit being the only goal–I think speaks to the fundamental imbalance in MBA thinking. Life is not just about money. “Man,” as a smart guy named Jesus once said, “does not live by bread alone.” Or, as another smart guy named Benjamin Franklin said, “Great wealth has never made a man happy, nor will it. Rather than fill a vacuum, it creates one.” MBAs put themselves on an endless treadmill….more….more….more…more. Nothing is ever enough. When sales stop growing, you cut your costs by buying cheaper materials, firing employees, increasing production quotas while scaling back hours. Customers, workers, and the environment are sacrificed to the God of the Bottom Line.

One of the first large-scale applications of MBA thinking came when John F Kennedy sent some of his best and brightest from the Harvard Business School to Latin America to study economic conditions there. They came up with the Alliance For Progress, a program that worked to develop export economies in the region. They observed that wealthy landowners, who controlled the lowlands, grew beans. Why grow beans for a nickel a pound when you can get a nickel a stem for carnations? they wondered. By shifting to high-profit export items, cash flow would increase, bank deposits in local banks grow, more loans to middle class entrepreneurs would result and they would hire peons to work for them. Supply and demand would raise wages. Prosperity for all!

With the focus on the profitability of the wealthiest individuals, the unintended consequences were huge and devastating. As more acreage converted to export crops, bean harvests declined. The price of beans rose, but wages did not. As it turned out, those big bank deposits never hit the local banks. It was so much more convenient to keep them in US banks, particularly since US bankers wooed the landed aristocracy with tales of bigger, safer, more experienced US banks giving higher yields than the local yokels.

Eventually, those nations, formerly marginally food self-sufficient, began importing beans, and prices rose further while wages stagnated and the wealthy became increasingly wealthy. This led to years of civil war, genocide, and slaughter in the 1980s. Trickle-Down Economics, as usual, refused to trickle.

There are those who believe that the world is based upon competition, thinking that Darwin’s concept, “Survival of the Fittest,” refers to the species with the biggest metaphorical biceps. They believe in Nature as battlefield.  Their economic policies are based upon this misunderstanding of reality. Darwin defined “the fittest” as the species which fits best in its environment. He viewed Nature as a living, interdependent mosaic.

How much longer can we survive this madness? What will it take to get those who design and teach these programs to evaluate the unintended consequences of their pedagogy, revise their thinking, and teach their students in a manner that broadens, rather than narrows their understanding?

What will it take? Will we be pushed to the extremes that engulfed our neighbors to the South, or will we change in time?

Written by tfgray

June 2, 2012 at 11:21 am

Posted in politics

Tagged with , ,

The Republican Economic Plan

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They’ve kept it a little close to the vest, but tea leaves emerge to be read.

1. Lay off as many government employees as possible. How will adding hundreds of  thousands to the unemployed rolls increase the number of employed Americans? Bear with me.

2. Privatize former government functions. The Postal Service is a ripe, low hanging fruit. Handicapped by Republican insistence that it accrue 75 years worth of pension fund over a 10-year period, it’s running a prohibitive deficit. Sorting facilities and rural post offices will close. However, this is a vital function, so demand will create a market.  Since supply/demand determines price, rural areas where there a few alternatives will pay a premium. Thought 52 cents was exorbitant to mail your electric bill? Hold onto your socks.

2a. The next step will be to sell unused facilities to private companies at a huge discount as surplus government property. UPS and FedEx are the likely beneficiaries of this, but don’t be surprised if other businesses (from Bain Capital on down) become involved in the feeding frenzy.

2b. That hard-won pension fund will be butchered, and end up as executive bonuses and be shown on the books as profit, so it will look like a great deal when the turnaround artists making the initial purchase sell off to unwitting investors.

2c. Unemployed former postal workers will be offered their jobs back at minimum wage, without benefits.

3. Eliminate the minimum wage.

4. Eliminate benefits in general. (Corporations, who are now officially persons, could presumably choose to deny their employees medical benefits based upon religious or moral beliefs. Can a corporation have religious beliefs? Is “corporate morality ” an oxymoron? I can’t wait to see this one work out. I can easily envision a wealthy right-wing fundamentalist decreeing a belief that faith healing is the only acceptable form of medical care, after consultation with his CFO, of course.)

5. Privatize Social Security, pushing small investors into the stock market.

6. Remove regulations on the stock market.

7. Criminalize additional forms of behavior: example, social issues like abortion and birth control, in order to increase prison population.

8. Point out, then utilize, the “idle” prison population at wages amounting to pennies a day, with their living expenses covered by the taxpayer. Fire private sector employees and move their jobs to in-house prison workshops.

9. Lower taxes on the wealthy and raise them on everyone else to balance the budget.

10. Start a war. Oh look! New government jobs! Other growth industries will include prison guards and private security forces, you know, to protect respectable people from all those idle bums.

I’ve probably missed a few…oh, yeah, gut environmental regs while drilling the hell out of everything in sight, and I arrived at steps 2a through c by process of deduction,  but still, there’s nothing in the above list that hasn’t been floated through the media by one Republican talking head or another.

What is the end result of this program? Millions of unemployed, desperate enough to accept any work at any pay with no power to resist. Millions more foreclosures. There are proposals currently afoot to allow major real estate investment firms to buy up foreclosed properties in wholesale lots.

In short, a nation of landless peasants ruled by a tiny elite, whose wealth is shielded from inheritance tax or, in other words, a hereditary aristocracy.

There are those who maintain that the Founders were fighting for the proposition that individual rights are unlimited, and not bounded by the rights of other humans, unless those individuals have enough personal power to fight back. (Uniting, as in union membership or applying the concept “We the people” to instituting government policy is, to their way of thinking, un-American.) They cite Jefferson, “That government that governs best, governs least.” Maybe we need to take a look at the political reality that Jefferson spoke to.

British companies, including Hudson Bay and The British East India Company, the world’s largest and oldest multi-national corporation, were largely owned by the British nobility, who ran the government to benefit their business interests. I humbly submit that this is the situation in which we, as a nation, now find ourselves. A small, aggressive elite has bought control of Congress, used that power to gain control of the Supreme Court, and is hell-bent on regaining the Executive Branch as well.

Long live the King.

Their social conservative colleagues, under the rubric of “freedom of religion” long for that “establishment of religion” prohibited by the Constitution, a nation with an established church, or churches, all of them Christian. Plus, a Mid-East war would hasten in End of Days, after which those who are not Raptured will get all the toys and real estate left behind when Jesus comes back to kill the rest of us off.

No matter how much they proclaim their patriotism, they are not the present-day incarnation of the Minutemen.

They are Tories.

This is not the first time this has happened in our history. Our first revolution was all about ending this state of affairs. A century ago, when the Robber Barons of the Gilded Age ran the country, Progressives fought for the right to organize and Teddy Roosevelt instituted consumer protections with the Food and Drug Administration and environmental protections with the National Park System.

Conservatives came close in 1929, when a stock market bubble, suddenly deflated by banks’ abrupt cessation of credit, cratered the entire economy. Conservative economic theory dictated that the “Free Market” be allowed to sort things out, that assets would return to “those who knew how to manage them.” Teddy’s cousin Franklin thwarted their plans, instituting a social contract based upon egalitarian principles and economic policies based upon using The People’s money for the benefit of The People when the economy is unable to function.

After 30 years of dismantling the protections put in place during Franklin Roosevelt’s term, the inevitable happened. Sequential, speculation-driven bubbles–dot.coms, real estate, and now commodities–have crippled the economy. The official consensus fluctuates between, “Who could have seen that coming?” and “Boy those Republicans sure are stupid.”

They’re not stupid, not by a long road. It’s a deliberate strategy. The question remains, do we, as a nation, have the wit and will of our forefathers, to stand up for our rights?

Written by tfgray

April 22, 2012 at 10:12 am

Posted in politics

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1. Sarah Palin will give an interview at the Republican National Convention in which she hints that she may well run for Senator in 2014 or President in 2016. There will be a flurry of press interest and her true believers will swoon and throw money at her PAC’s website.

2. Herman Cain will not win the Republican nomination, although he may actually win a primary or two…well, I’m not even sure about the primary part. Now that people are hearing more about the 999 Plan than its title, he may be back in the single digits by this time next week. But there are two other reasons that he won’t make it to The Show:

  • Obama v Cain = Michael Jordan v Sherman Jefferson. You tell me who wins that match-up.
  • Those Who Count within the Republican Establishment know that enough potential voters, when confronted with the choice between a black man and a black man, will vote for  None of the Above. They know that most of that group of voters generally vote Republican. There’s a whole political strategy (called “the Southern Strategy”) built around it.

3. The Republicans in Congress will continue their strategy of blocking all legislation relating to jobs and wasting time voting on Social Conservatives’ pet peeves over and over. Reason?

  • When your popular base only has one issue, you have no other way to win their favor. It’s also a good way to conceal the fact that the base their real agenda supports consists of less than 1% of the population.
  •  Ir’s the Economy, Stupid. By refusing to vote on jobs, or voting only on jobs bills consisting solely of tax giveaways to the wealthy, they intend to prolong the economic doldrums and increase economic dissatisfaction, in the hope that they will push Obama out of office and retake the Senate.

4. It won’t work. I know that there are plenty of AM radio listeners who bobblehead along with the notion that Republican obstructionism is all masterminded by Obama, somehow, and that voters will turn to Republicans as the party that gets things done. The basic idea is that if we vote for the people the plutocrats want to see in office, the corporate coffers will open, and prosperity return to the land in a wave of business investment. On the small scale, that would be called blackmail. On a large enough scale, it’s called Business as Usual.

It’ll be a tough sell. Enough of us remember the Bush years when Republican legislators voted themselves a three-day work week, without a corresponding pay cut. We have noticed that they have filibustered nearly every bill proposed in the Senate. And we have noticed the sort of legislation they do pass when elected: Strip workers of their rights, lower taxes for the wealthy, eliminate local government, and selectively restrict voting rights. Americans are showing signs of waking up.

5. It will be a bloody, bruising campaign, and an apparent horse race to the end. But when all the votes are counted, it will be a reprisal of Johnson v Goldwater.

6. If I miss my bet on Prediction #5, the remainder of the American Public sector will be dismantled and sold off to profit-making enterprises. Think 44 cents is too much to mail a letter? Compare it to FedEx. Think your school tax is too high? Try sending your kids to private school. Roads? Tolls. The rationale will be trotted out, once again, that private industry, by adding a layer of profit to the cost of providing a service, will be able to do the job cheaper. Sure, but only if they cut wages and increase workloads. Buyer beware.

Written by tfgray

October 13, 2011 at 8:14 pm

Point of View

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Just as a thought experiment, get three identical cylinders: paper towel rolls, cans of soup, whatever. Stand them up in a straight line on a table. Now get down on their level and walk around the table (or put them on a Lazy Susan, if you have one.) Looked at from one point of view, they appear to be one object. But move just a little in any direction, and you notice that they are, indeed, three separate things.

Hold that thought.

Let’s go back in history a bit. Not to minimized our grandfathers’ sacrifices in WWII, or the”self-evident” fact that our values are better than Hitler’s, or our geographic advantage, if you have to pick one thing that allowed the Allies to win, it was oil. In a giant mechanized war, we had the fuel for the war machines. The Axis ran out of gas, literally.

So what does WWII have to do with paper towel rolls ?

The oil industry was the central pillar of America’s victory and the half-century of American dominance that followed. Once the war was over, we built a brilliant and prosperous culture based upon those vast reserves. The industry made massive profits and these flowed the the shareholders. Keep in mind that most shares are owned by a tiny minority of shareholders. Fortunes were made. Those three objects: the good of the country, the good of the oil industry, and the good of the wealthy and powerful individuals who owned those companies were perfectly aligned.

But times change. In 1971 half of American oil reserves were gone. Two years later, in 1973, we experienced the first Oil Shock. That stuff we were accustomed to buying at 30 cents a gallon suddenly cost a buck, and we stood in line to get it. The table turned, and those unified objects were seen to be separate. The oil companies, with their contracts in the Middle East, still made money, more, in fact, than ever. Their shareholders made money. The nation took a bath, whether you measure that in the whupping motorists’ wallets took, the effect on our balance of trade, or the shift in power from Washington to Riyadh, Teheran, Baghdad.

The longer as the United States allows itself to be stuck in the age of oil and drags its feet in the development of renewables, the further we will fall behind, the more our ecomony will bleed, and the weaker and more dependent on the vagaries of foreign politics we will become. We cannot remain a world power when the source of the power we rely upon comes increasingly from outside our borders, when the cheap, easy-to-access-and-ship-to-market domestic reserves rapidly diminish. Even if we were to drill every inch of soil, every inch of the ocean floor within our jurisdiction, it wouldn’t be as cheap as Colonel Drake’s well in Titusville, dug by hand and its contents sold for 10 cents a barrel. Even Michelle Bachmann’s $2 a gallon target is out of reach. Prodction costs are just too high. If prices fall too far, producers will shut down supply until the prices rise enough to insure profitability.

Tomorrow NPR will air a segment on China’s bid to be the world’s dominant force in renewable energy. You can hear it between 6:30 and 7 pm on your local NPR affiliate. I urge you to listen. And while you are listening, keep in mind that all the opposition to funding for renewable energy development, all the opposition to Climate Change science, comes from the Oil Industry, and, despite their protestations of patriotism, is designed to maximize their profits and political dominance.

Written by tfgray

September 26, 2011 at 6:20 pm

Posted in alt fuel, energy, politics

Tagged with , ,

The Tea Party Opt-Out

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I was thinking about Obama’s speech last night. I was pretty much on board with all the proposals, with the possible exception of those trade agreements, which I’ve heard bad things about. I watched Eric Cantor and John Boehner’s faces assume the “oh, we are so fucked” look. Eric seemed to have recovered his spirits by the time Fox News got a mike in front of his face, though, as he said he thought he could get some of the proposals through quickly, while he’d have to wait and see about the others. (Taking out my secret Republican decoder ring, I quickly ascertained that the tax cuts would pass quickly, while things like infrastructure projects and anything, basically, that would help the general public would be deferred to infinity.)

But there’s still that problem with the purest of the pure, those who believe that government should just curl up and die and would vote against it out of ideology, hatred of Obama, pure cussedness or because God told them to. [Or their husband. Same difference.] Yes, the Tea Party. I though long and hard and figured out a way around that. Actually, I got the idea from watching the Republican debate the night before.

Add two sentences to the bill:

  • A State or Representative district will be required to “opt-in,” in order to collect Federal funds authorized by this act.
  • A Representative or Senator’s vote in favor of this act will constitute a decision to opt in.

That should work. Republicans love the whole optional thing, you know, with opting in being even better than opting out. For example, states should be allowed to set their own pollution standards, unless, of course, they choose standards that the oil companies don’t like, like those hippies in California did. Rick Perry thinks states should be able to opt out of Social Security. Heck, he thinks states should be able to opt out of being states. (If Texas got its wish, I wonder who’d pay for their firefighters? Maybe he could ask the Koch Brothers to pony up.)

The more rightward-thinking Republicans also hate, just hate, hate, HATE, Federal largess. Well, unless there’s a photo-op involving themselves and a giant check involved.

So there you have it: they get to appeal to their base by voting against a landmark piece of Kenyan socialism, then putting their principles into action. What could be more ideologically pure than that?

Written by tfgray

September 9, 2011 at 6:36 pm

Posted in politics


with 3 comments


-Mel Gibson as William Wallace in Braveheart

“…as we go forward, America needs to be about freedom. It needs to be about freedom from overtaxation, freedom from over-litigation, freedom from over-regulation.”

–Governor Rick Perry

“Whenever someone says to you, ‘Freedom,’ ask them, ‘Freedom from what, and freedom to do what?'”

Edward Peter Fitzsimmons

Edward Peter Fitzsimmons wore a handlebar mustache and a three-piece suit with a heavy gold watch chain draped across the brocade vest covering his ample tummy every day that he taught English III at Northern Valley Regional High School. Back then (the late ’60’s) a very different sort of person was shouting the word “Freedom!” from the rooftops. And so, as a rather formal sort whose life was devoted to out-Britishing the British, he cautioned us: “Whenever someone says to you, ‘Freedom,’ ask them, ‘Freedom from what, and freedom to do what?'”

So I’d like to do just that. I’ve only pulled one recent Republican quote, that of Governor Perry comparing tax cuts, deregulation, and tort reform to the Civil Rights Movement, but I’m pretty sure that you can remember off the top of your head any number of Bachmann, Romney, Paul, Cain, etc, quotes featuring the word “Freedom.”

Freedom from what?

According to them, from bank regulations, the EPA, OSHA, investment regulations, the FDA, in other words, pretty much every government function outside of Congress, the courts, the police and the military. Freedom from minimum wage laws, child labor laws, Social Security, Affordable Health Care. Businesses’ freedom from  liability from any damage they do to others in the course of their profit-making enterprises.

Freedom to do what?

To lower wages for the most desperate, to put children in competition with adults in the labor force, increasing the number of potential workers and driving down wages, to poison the environment and skip out on the consequent health care costs, to go back to the pre-Social Security days, when the average worker lived just months past his or her 65th birthday and the leading cause of death among seniors was suicide.

This, they submit, is a way to make America stronger. How exactly having a nation full of injured and sick people unable to afford treatment strengthens us, they’ve yet to explain. Unfortunately, logic leads to the conclusion that the old and sick are just supposed to die off, in a Darwinian survival of the fittest scenario. Maybe that’s why they keep insisting that Darwin is nonsense. Just like the Wizard of Oz kept yelling, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”

The Founders, they say, wanted this. Which Founders? I ask. The Founders from South Carolina who refused to sign the Declaration of Independence unless slavery was maintained? Or Ben Franklin who invented the volunteer fire company and the lending library? (You know, people working together for their own benefit without anyone making a profit off it.) Danged if I know.

The fault lines we are seeing now in our body politic have been there from the beginning. From the moment settlers landed in Virginia with the intention of getting fabulously wealthy. From the moment settlers landed in Massachusetts with the intention of creating a theocracy. From the moment Rhode Island seceded from Massachusetts in pursuit of freedom from theocracy. From the moment William Penn began his grand experiment in creating a society based on the principles of non-violence. From the moment Nat Turner rebelled against slavery. From the moment our grandfathers and grandmothers left the factory gates to protest inhuman working conditions.

The Founders. What about our immediate ancestors, who through our constitutional process established those protections that Conservatives love to hate? What are they, chopped liver? Or are they American citizens using the tools of Democracy to better their lives and create a more just and prosperos society?

“Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.”

Kris Kristofferson, Me & Bobbie McGee

Think about it.

Written by tfgray

August 24, 2011 at 10:30 am

Random Musings

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Mitt Romney: “Corporations are people!”

@tfgray: Yes, Mitt, but would you want your daughter to marry one?

Moot point, he’s got all sons.

Iowa is about to cast it’s straws. Earlier prediction: Sarah Palin will take a family vacation whenever the Palin family finances run low. Oh Look! She’s going to Iowa. How long ago was her last road trip? About a month. Look for another one in 4-6 weeks.

Rick Parry has run a very smart campaign so far, showing himself to be the best of all possible options, based upon all the most successful Republican strategies:

  • Sarah Palin’s will-she-won’t she fan dance to tease the crowd.
  • Michelle Bachmann’s appeal to the Christian Dominionist “Slavery’s a good thing if the slaveowners are Christians” wing of the Party. (See earlier post re Republican principles–Principle #1: It’s okay if we do it.)
  • Sarah Palin again, creating a New Hampshire media event to bigfoot Iowa’s media event.
  • A very good good-ole-boy George W Bush act.
  • A very good impersonation of Mitt Romney’s hair.
  • Plus taking advantage of the notable tendency of Republicans to all jump on board for the newest kid on the block.

I mean seriously, is this guy not the best of all worlds? Except for that Rick Parry guy, of course.

Ba Ram Ewe!


Written by tfgray

August 11, 2011 at 5:22 pm

Posted in politics, predictions

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Open Letter to Eric

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This news report is what set me off:

“Standard & Poor’s cut the U.S. long-term credit rating from top-tier AAA by a notch to AA-plus on Friday over concerns about the nation’s budget deficits and climbing debt burden.

China — the United States’ biggest creditor — said Washington only had itself to blame for its plight and called for a new stable global reserve currency.

“The U.S. government has to come to terms with the painful fact that the good old days when it could just borrow its way out of messes of its own making are finally gone,” China’s official Xinhua news agency said in a commentary.

After a week which saw $2.5 trillion wiped off global markets, the move deepened investors’ concerns of an impending recession in the United States and over the euro zone crisis.

The source said the credit rating downgrade had added a global dimension on top of the euro zone debt issue, raising the need for international coordination.

In the Xinhua commentary, China scorned the United States for its “debt addiction” and “short sighted” political wrangling.

“China, the largest creditor of the world’s sole superpower, has every right now to demand the United States address its structural debt problems and ensure the safety of China’s dollar assets,” it said.

“International supervision over the issue of U.S. dollars should be introduced and a new, stable and secured global reserve currency may also be an option to avert a catastrophe caused by any single country,” Xinhua said.”

Here’s the rant:

Nice job, Mr Cantor. You’ve got the world’s largest creditor nation calling for your supporter’s worst nightmare, a global currency to replace the dollar as the world’s default currency. Plus “international supervision.” The credit downgrade will increase government expenses by driving up interest rates, and, of course, tax increases are, according to you, off the table. Let’s see…how to get the economy moving…hmmm…
Wait! first we’ll throw teachers, police, and firefighters out of work and destroy the right of American workers to organize. Then we’ll give our manufacturers more tax incentives to ship jobs overseas. Then we’ll cut unemployment benefits, get rid of the minimum wage and child labor laws. When the American middle and working class have been starved into submission, we’ll offer them $3 an hour to pick tomatoes…no, wait, make that a dollar a day, you know, like in the good old days before Teddy Roosevelt, when a loaf of bread cost a nickle.
Okay! Corporate profits are up, and being invested in China, Brazil, and India. Americans live in the way the Founders intended: growing their own food and hauling it to market on dirt roads, since government isn’t supposed to maintain infrastructure.

Let’s get rid of the EPA, so industry can save a buck by disposing of toxic waste in people’s lungs, intestines, and bones. Health care crisis? What health care crisis? Anyone who can’t afford a doctor or insurance on their $1 a day can pay with the chickens they are raising in their back yards. You know, just like in the days of the Founding Fathers, when a cancer diagnosis was accompanied by a bottle of laudanum and instructions to take a little nip when the pain gets too bad and plan your funeral.
High tech industry? Why bother? We’ll defund the public school system so nobody will be qualified for those jobs anyway. India’s just chock full of English-speaking geeks. Practically a dime a dozen.
All that money that came out of your payroll for Social Security and Medicare? You really think that will be there when you need it? I bet you thought your 401K was going to be there, too. And that you’d get a pension when you retired, you know, like they promised when you decided to forego that pay increase in favor of better retirement benefits. Sucker. I have a bridge to sell you. (No, seriously, it’s part of the Indiana Turnpike, sold to a foreign consortium a few years back.)
Of course this all will restore America to robust economic health, as the minimally employed will buy tons of consumer goods with the money they are simultaneously spending on food and shelter, saving for their old age, spending on private school tuition for their kids-since “vouchers” are really only discount coupons-and medical care. No, wait…the consumer market will be in places like China and India, oh, right, where the jobs went.
Wow. You’ve succeeded in outsourcing the entire country.
Except for the people.
Did you know that prior to Social Security, the leading cause of death among those over 65 was suicide?
Nice work, you piece of work.

Thought about it some more, put on my tinfoil hat, and thought about the unfolding shakedown of recent events.

  • China’s asking for a global currency (presumably the renmibi). Look for the headlines on NewsMax, Drudge, and Fox to crow, “See! We were right!” Never mind that it was brought on by House Republicans refusal to do the totally normal thing of voting to raise the debt ceiling. Cutting taxes in the middle of a war (Never done before because it’s economically stupid.) =Good. Raising the debt ceiling (Never questioned before.) in the middle of a recession = Bad. How does that go? Right up there with War is Peace. Ignorance is Strength.
  • Expect Limbaugh’s (et al) main talking point to be “Look what Obama did to us!” Um, who was it who started this food fight and refused to settle for anything other than running out the clock? Nevermind.)
  • Look for S&P’s and China’s comments to power a blathering rush to austerity. Yes, the problem is that those who have gotten 88% of the income gain in the last 10 years just don’t have enough money. Those whose incomes have remained flat, or fallen, are just being piggies.
  • The list of things that we can’t afford will encompass everything that can’t afford to have a lobbying firm represent it. It will not include subsidies to the most profitable companies in the history of the world, or military spending on unnecessary and ineffective weapons systems. (Nah, my prediction is that one or two will be sacrificed for appearances.)
  • Look for the flood of ALEC-created legislation to intensify at the state and federal level, especially legislation designed to create barriers to voting for the elderly population,  minorities, and the economically disadvantaged. In their heart of hearts, Conservatives know that they can’t win without gaming the system. This may sound terribly cynical, but “average” means the middle. By definition, half of any population falls below it on some measure, including intelligence. (Rupert Murdoch has made billions off this simple mathmatical fact.) In order to rule, the 1% that benefits from the destruction of the American middle and working classes only needs to persuade 50% of the electorate to agree with them, to which end they have built a massive media structure that relies on misinformation, faulty logic, and appeals to psuedo-religious fervor and base instinct. When 50% of the population can no longer be schnookered, it’s necessary to move the goalposts (i.e 60 votes now needed to pass legislation in the Senate) and shrink the pool of eligible voters by denying the vote to as many likely opposition voters as possible, by whatever means necessary.
  • It’s been documented that negative campaign ads don’t so much change people’s votes as change the likelihood of the target’s supporters voting. This will be an election of unparallelled ugliness. Vast sums of money, from Even God Doesn’t Know Where will be spent.

“The Quest,” as Galadriel told Frodo, “Stands upon a knife’s edge.” So does our Democracy. There are some very odd bedfellows between these sheets. The ideologues on the Right want to prove themselves correct, no matter what the cost, including taking down the US economy. After all, in their view, their policies will work in preciesly the opposite fashion that they ever have throughout history. China will benefit greatly from the collapse of the American economy. Bedfellows! Osama bin Laden’s three goals for 9/11 were Oil at $140 a barrel, up from $28, (60% success on that) US out of Arabia, (announced 3 days before the infamous “Mission Accomplished” banner photo op. I’m still wondering what mission, other than Osama’s #2 goal was accomplished.) and bankrupting the US by bogging us down in a land war in Asia or so.  That makes it a threesome with the Tea Party Right, China, and Al Quaeda. Throw in a bunch of pious folks whose fervent dream is total war in the Middle East, preferably involving nukes and men with scorpion heads, and you’ve got enough for a swinger’s party. Toss in a few of Bush’s Got-Mores, the Saints of Selfishness, who apparently won’t be happy until they’re the Got-It-Alls, and you’ve got a political daisy chain.

They all hate each other, of course, but when you have that many interests lined up, working toward the same goal, wittingly or not, we’re in for a rough ride. We’d better get up off the couch and fight politically before the knives come out. Or the guns.


Written by tfgray

August 6, 2011 at 1:25 pm


with 2 comments

I dunno, sometimes I just can’t help myself. Here’s a quote from the Financial Times, with a link to the original article:

From the Financial Times:

“The equity market’s sell-off is clearly a reaction to the intractability of Congress and the president,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank. “It’s clearly frustrating investors worldwide but is ultimately a buying opportunity as this is a contrived crisis.”

Hat tip to Alex Pareene  Andrew Leonard of Salon for the quote. (Apologies, Andrew.)

Here’s a link  to my post last week.

True, I came up with a different reason for Wall Street’s blasé attitude, but there’s a fundamental similarity. They’ve already figured out a way to make money off it. Buy low, sell high is a lot easier to do when everyone is bailing on their investments in order to cover the expenses that their Social Security check used to.

I’ll take half credit for that one.

I’m sticking by my prediction that Sarah Palin won’t run for president and doubling down. Watch for her to resume her political fan dance whenever the Palin family bank account runs a bit low.  Remember, as long as the ostrich feathers keep moving, the audience will throw money. Once she declares, one way or the other, the show’s over.

I’m also sticking with my prediction that Rick Perry will run. Look for lots of camera crews shooting footage of cheering crowds at the big tent meeting in the stadium. It’ll make great campaign ad footage. Much better than 50 reporters and one’s immediate family watching you stand in front of a boat in front of the Statue of Liberty (which, according to one of the invited clerics at Perry’s event, is a pagan goddess, although not the one that schtupped the Emperor of Japan.) I thought Perry might announce his candidacy at the conclusion of the event, after the revival preachers have the crowd whipped to a frenzy, but he says it’s a non-political event. I dunno, is it really a political act to announce your candidacy if Jesus told you to do it?

I’m waiting for a reporter or town hall participant to ask Michelle Bachmann if she will abandon her God-mandated obligation to obey her husband’s direct-from-the-Divine marching orders if she is elected President. Not holding my breath, exactly, but thinking that it might be a good question to ask, as she’s telling us that her husband and his rather retrograde opinions are irrelevant so far as her campaign is concerned.

One more thing: as much as I would like to see Obama on the tube at 9 pm, August 1, announcing that the lack of a debt ceiling increase has forced him to invoke the 14th Amendment, I feel that it’s more likely that Dems and Republicans will unite to throw whichever constituency they feel is least powerful under the deficit reduction bus. However, it’s important to remember that pretty much everyone, no matter how powerless, has some family member that would be forced to take them in well before November 2012 if their benefits/paycheck/earned income credit dried up and blew away. Those who don’t may well resort to vagrancy or petty theft at a time when, thank you Republicans, police budgets are being savaged.

Be afraid, oh politicians, be very afraid. Be careful what you ask for.

You might get it.

Written by tfgray

July 28, 2011 at 7:26 pm

Why the Markets Aren’t Panicking

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Consider this possibility:

The government is about to get another $2.4 trillion added to the debt limit with no tax hit to the wealthy and a guarantee that we’ll go through another one of these roller coaster rides again in about 3-6 months. Moody’s has warned that the threat of another round of Republican Russian Roulette in the near future will lead to a downgrade of the constitutionally impeccable US credit rating, meaning higher interest rates for all. Under classical economic theory, this is bad for business. Higher borrowing costs mean lower profits. Boo! Hiss!

But this theory forgets that the #1 industry in the country is now Finance. People who make money by shuffling money around. So how will a rise in interest rates work?

  1. Interest rates rise, allowing rates to go up on your adjustable-rate mortgage, credit cards, and any future debt you might take on. This makes it more profitable to lend, especially if you can simply jack up the rates on existing loans, rather than put capital into new loans. Winning!
  2. There will be an additional $2.4 trillion available to invest in. And, coincidentally, there’s over $2 trillion  in profits sitting in corporate coffers. So do you loan it out to Uncle Sam at a newly-attractive rate, or go through the bother of hiring those pesky workers who keep whining about earning a living wage and getting their kids to the doctor? No brainer. Winning again!
  3. But don’t expect lending to loosen Mr. Small Businessman. Let me think…should a bank loan money to your  shaky little start-up when it could get more with less risk by lending it to Uncle Sam? Main St 0, Wall Street 2.4 trillion. Winning!
  4. The Fed will continue to loan mega bucks to bank holding companies at .01 something-something percent, which can then be rolled right back into T-bills at a newly-increased return, paid for, of course, by the taxpayer. Doncha just love the free market?

Yes, and in six months, the Tea Party will stage another tantrum. What will be their next target? Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid have been on the conservative hit list since about 1934. A 9% tax cut for the top and 2% increase for everyone else is also in the cards, according to Paul Ryan’s plan.

Unfortunately we of the under $250K bracket have a guy negotiating on our side whose first move in every hand of poker is to discard his aces. Compromise, shmompromise. Pick the ace back up, Obama. Invoke the 14th Amendment, article 4, “The validity of the public debt of the United States…shall not be questioned.” Dare them to impeach you for following the Constitution.

Stay tuned.

Written by tfgray

July 26, 2011 at 4:31 am

Posted in economy, politics

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As it turns out, Michelle Bachmann and I do have something in common….besides being white females with multiple children over the age of 50.

We both suffer from migraines.

I have no way of telling how severe hers are, but I thought I would, for those of you lucky enough to have never experienced one, give you the cliff notes on the malady.

Migraines are caused by stress. There are approximately 300 known migraine triggers, ranging from motion sickness to food allergies to diesel fumes to tobacco smoke, alcohol, and caffeine to TMJ to eyestrain and the weather, and a given sufferer may be triggered by one or more. It’s hereditary, and more common in women than men. The best explanation of the condition came from my dentist, and here are the Cliff Notes:

Let’s invent a concept called a “migraine point.” This equals one percent of whatever level of stress it takes to bring on a migraine for you. Let’s say that you have a deadline at work, one sufficient to bring on 20 points. Let’s then say that you have to work through lunch to finish the project on time, and that the resulting low blood sugar is worth another 30 points. After work you celebrate with dinner out and a glass of wine, another 30 points worth of stress from the alcohol. You’re at 80 points. No migraine.

But suppose there’s a low pressure front rolling in, and that’s one of your triggers. All by itself, it’s worth 50 points. Now you’re at 130 points and, friend, you have a corking migraine.

This is the problem with migraines. You can’t control all the triggers. Adequate food, sleep, and hydration, yes. Weather conditions and the pollen count, no. Job-related stress or the adrenaline rush when that jackass cuts you off on the way to work, maybe.

But how does a migraine affect your ability to function? Here’s how a migraine works for me:

First, my eye-hand coordination goes. It’s hard to type accurately. Then my eyes have trouble focusing. Unfortunately, even though I have a mild prescription and choose the lightest-weight frames possible, at this point, the weight of the glasses on the bridge of my nose contributes enough discomfort to worsen the rest of the symptoms. The pain gradually creeps up. If the trigger is pollen (and I take allergy meds, thank you) the pain starts in the sinus region and later migrates to the temple. By this time, it’s difficult to form sentences, remember procedures at work, and keep my eyes open. Light hurts. A client gives me their account number and my hand hovers over the keys, wondering which one to strike. But I’m one of the lucky migraine sufferers: I don’t generally toss my cookies.

I’m sharing this for those of you who wonder what this whole migraine thing is and whether or not it should be a factor in presidential politics, not to garner any form of sympathy. I live with it and deal with it, pay attention to avoiding triggers and lay down in a dark room when I can’t.

But I’m not running for president.

Its true that the office of president has the best support system in the world. You have people to cook, clean, dial your phone, fetch your meds when you need them, read lengthy papers and summarize them for you, and do at least part of your thinking. But still, the president needs to be functional at the periods of greatest national stress.

Still, Woodrow Wilson’s presidency continued with his wife Edith at the helm after his stroke. Clandestine, yes. Illegal, yes, but there it was. She ended up with mental problems of her own from the stress of not only trying to do the job but of trying to do it on  the sly. I could see Marcus Bachmann slipping into a similar role, without an ounce of guilt. After all, he’s the  Biblically-ordained boss of the little wife, is he not? Unfortunately, I also could see Mrs. Bachmann, or whoever’s filling in while she’s in a dark room with a pillow over her head, acting on her fundamentalist beliefs in a moment of crisis and behaving in a way guaranteed to make the situation worse, fueled by a belief that an imminent Armageddon is God’s Will and that she was put into the White House in order to bring about the End of Days.

That doesn’t have anything to do with migraines, of course, but that would be a national headache.

Written by tfgray

July 21, 2011 at 5:04 pm

Logic, the Enemy of the State, Apparently

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In the past 30 years, the income of the top 20% has gone up by 20% and the income of the bottom 80% has increased by 4%. Therefore, according to Republican economic theory, the problem is that the bottom 80% is getting too much money. They say that society would be better served if they paid higher taxes and receive fewer services so the top 20% could have more money. This, they claim, would lead to an increase in business activity which would result in more jobs being created.

I read an article recently about the Tiger 21 Club, a self-help organization for New Yorkers with a net worth of over $10 million, which would put them safely in the top 2%, although nowhere close to the top .1%: the Rockefellers, Bushes, and Romneys of the land. One interesting fact is that people in that club (all, the writer notes, self-made, none of that wealth inherited) found that their focus had shifted from gaining wealth to protecting their existing wealth. Translation? Risk-aversion. These guys are looking for safe investments, not providing capital for start-ups. Job creation? Not so much.  

When an entrepreneur goes to the bank for start-up capital, it really doesn’t matter whether that money comes from one guy with a million dollars in the bank or from a thousand depositors with an average balance of $1,000. In fact, from the point of view of the bank, small is better. The big fish regularly demand—and get—higher interest rates. Loaning out money from smaller, lower-yielding accounts creates a bigger spread, more profit for the bank.

And don’t think that millionaires leave their money in savings accounts with a rate of .02%. No, a large proportion goes into the stock market, which takes it out of the realm of small business investment. Little fish can’t get into that pond. A business has to grow to the point where the considerable expense of an IPO is going to pay off before the owners can even contemplate going public. In case no one’s noticed, the strategy du jour of large companies, in these days of increasing raw materials costs and slumping sales, has been to squeeze workers salaries and benefits, downsize workforces, and ship jobs to places where benefits like medical insurance are either unheard of or provided by the State. There’s a relation between smaller workforce, lower wages, and lower sales.

Henry Ford was hardly a left-winger, but he understood the relationship between workers’ pay, their disposable income, and his own bottom line. He paid $5 a day at a time when the average factory worker made $2. (Around that time, my mother made $3 a day as a legal secretary. The $5/week she kept, after giving the rest to her mother to cover room and board, paid for her trolley fare, lunches, and clothing.) By paying his workers above average wages, Ford created new customers, taking the automobile from rich man’s toy to American necessity.

Modern businessmen and shareholders seem to have forgotten this. They’ve become enamored of the notion that profits must always go up. That worked just fine when the economy was growing but now that growth has slowed they’ve shifted to a beggar-thy-neighbor strategy that has sent the entire economy into a downward spiral.

This is not just big-boy, major corporate behavior. My husband’s former employers, a family-owned landscaping firm first reduced their workforce, taking each crew from two to one man while keeping their rates the same.  As they lost customers, a mysterious number began showing up in the middle of each pay stub. Eventually my husband figured it out. They were taking the actual earned pay, multiplying it by the mysterous decimal and reducing the final pay by that amount. They also claimed not to know what that number was or why it appeared on the pay stub and solved the ensuing Labor Board problem by replacing their hard drives and drilling holes in the old ones.

Their rationale? Maintaining the lifestyle they had become accustomed to during the Go-Go 90’s. I believe this behavior is what were looking at on a national scale. Historically, this has never ended well, and despite the fact that all the “Second Amendment remedy” language is happening on the Rightward side of the discussion, it won’t end well this time, either.

Written by tfgray

July 9, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Posted in economy

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Horse Race, First Furlong

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Early polls are fun. They’re pretty much meaningless, but distracting eye-candy for political junkies such as myself who aren’t interested in sports or celebrity mating habits.

And coming into the first turn, it’s…

None of the Above, ahead by 9 lengths.

I’m still sticking with my prediction of Romney/Bachman on the Republican ticket. Gov. Christian-Gathering-in-the-Stadium Rick Perry could change that, and will, if he decides to take advantage of that friendly audience to declare his candidacy and/or have video crews stocking up on potential ad footage for a later announcement. If he goes for it, they’ll still need a Northerner to balance the ticket, but they’ll also need a non-Evangelical, so the default would be Pawlenty. Nobody expects the Veep to be Mr. Charisma.


Written by tfgray

July 2, 2011 at 5:29 am

Posted in politics, predictions

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I read Harold Meyerson’s excellent article in the Washington Post today. He outlined the causes for the bankruptcy of the LA Dodgers and the decline of the LA Times. I’ll give a quick quote, if you don’t have time to click through and read it:

The stories of the Dodgers and the Times can be read as parables of a particularly vicious form of capitalism that America has come to know too well the past few decades: a new owner takes over a venerable firm and extracts what he can for himself, decimating the company and damaging the community in the process.

This brings up for me the concept of the “Stakeholder,” an individual or group who has a stake in the success of an enterprise. Today, it seems that the concept has been pruned back to equate with Shareholder, or Owner. Even employees seem to have been squeezed out of consideration. If you’ll read Meyerson’s piece, he makes a convincing argument that a great newspaper provides a cohesion and sense of identity within a city, and so does a great team. Aren’t a newspaper’s readers and a team’s fans stakeholders as well? Without them, the owners and employees would be looking for other work. Aren’t the local organizations that post their meetings in the newspaper stakeholders? The advertisers?

I’d take it farther than that. It’s not just the shareholders and employees of a company that hold a stake in its success. The luncheonette across the street has a stake in its neighboring businesses’ success. The cops, firefighters, and teachers have a stake in the success of the businesses that contribute property taxes and pay workers who then pay taxes that support their departments. Those same businesses and private citizens have a stake in well-functioning schools, police, and fire departments.

When you get right down to it, we are all stakeholders in each other’s success.

Life is not a zero-sum game, and the sooner we remember that, the better off we’ll all be.



Written by tfgray

June 30, 2011 at 9:24 pm

Posted in economy, politics

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Who the People?

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Michelle Bachman officially announced her presidential campaign a few days ago.  She spoke of “We the People” getting rid of burdensome government regulations.

Her memory is so short. In 1977, my husband watched from the deck of the USS L.Y. Spear as flames swept through the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, damaging his ship and the nearby USS Iwo Jima. The Naval Yard didn’t catch fire, the river did, just like the  Cuyahoga  River did in Cleveland in 1969. Back then, We the People petitioned, hell, nagged, our elected representatives until they passed the Clean Water Act and established the Environmental Protection Agency.

How things have changed. “People” just aren’t like they used to be. Now the richest and most powerful “persons” are corporations. If you prick them, as Shakespeare put it, they do not bleed. These are the “People” whose interests Bachman represents.

It remains to be seen how many voters will go to the polls believing that they are the “people” whose rights Bachman wants to expand.

Written by tfgray

June 30, 2011 at 2:29 pm

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From the Mouths of Babes

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Have you ever met someone whose favorite topic is how smart they are?

What is your estimate of their intelligence?

Exactly. If they have to tell you, they’re not. If they were, they wouldn’t have to tell you. You’d figure it out from their actions.

So what does Michelle Bachman say about herself? She’s serious. She’s a serious candidate. She says it over and over. And over. This is not to say that she, like the people who brag about their intelligence, doesn’t absolutely believe herself. It’s just that it’s not proof of seriousness. In fact, it’s proof of the depths of her delusion.

Likewise for any politician who calls him/herself fiscally conservative and refuses to raise taxes.

Written by tfgray

June 29, 2011 at 2:21 pm

Posted in politics

The Morbidly Obese Economy

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Bear with me. This will make sense.

Fat is necessary in the human body. It produces hormones, like estrogen, and serves as a reserve for lean times, when food is scarce. However, you can have too much of a good thing. Fat as twenty percent of body weight is considered healthy. Over thirty percent is considered obese. Over fifty percent is known as “morbid obesity.” That’s Morbid, as in Preoccupied with Death.

How does fat get there? The body’s main fuel is carbohydrate, a molecule made from carbon and water (carbo + hydrate) When you eat, the digestive process breaks carbohydrates in your food into a simple carbohydrate called glucose, or blood sugar. Whatever glucose isn’t used is converted to a more complex carbohydrate called glycogen and stored in the liver. This gets converted back to glucose and burned when you run low temporarily, like when you miss lunch. When the liver is saturated with glycogen, additional carbohydrate is converted to fat and stored all over the body.

Now here’s why it’s so hard to lose weight: In a word, ghrellin. This hormone triggers feelings of hunger and is produced by your body when blood fat levels rise. In ages past, a rise in blood fat level most frequently occurred during famine, when people literally “lived off their fat.” As fat is consumed, it moves from storage through the blood stream to the liver, where it’s converted back to glucose, temporarily raising blood fat, or “lipid” levels. Your body can’t tell the difference between a diet and a famine. When you diet, you feel hungry.

But your body can also be fooled in another way. If you eat a diet high in fat, the rise in blood fat levels from your food will trigger the production of ghrellin, which triggers hunger pangs. That’s why you feel hungry sooner after a fast food meal than a more balanced meal. It’s almost as though those fat cells will do anything to preserve themselves. In a healthy body, with a modest amount of fat, this is a good thing. It keeps your weight stable, but when the fat cells take over, you’ve got a real problem.

In case you haven’t noticed the website this blog links to,, is a political satire site. Well, sorry to disappoint, if you’re reading this to lose weight. I’m switching gears here because I think the metaphor of morbid obesity applies to our economy. I think you’re smart enough to figure out how to lose weight from the information above. Hint: eat lower-fat food, fill up with water or fibrous foods like fruits and veggies when you feel hungry, and move around more. But keep reading, because stress, as in “I need a job” or “I can’t pay my bills” is a major cause of overeating, too, and that’s what I’m getting to next.

Bear with me. This will make sense.

Let’s compare the economy to the human body. Just how does that work? Let’s start with money.

M1 is what economists call cash plus Direct Demand Accounts (DDA, or “checking accounts”). This is the money we use on a day-to-day basis and would correspond to glucose, the form of carbohydrate that fuels the body.

M2, savings accounts, CDs, and suchlike, is equivalent to glycogen, a little harder to get to, but still available in a pinch.

For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to lump all less liquid forms of wealth into one category, M3, although economists have various numbers to describe them. For purposes of this essay, I’m going to define all of the more difficult-to-access forms of wealth—stocks & bonds, real estate, jewelry, collectibles, precious metals—things that take some time and effort to turn into cash, as fat.

There’s a second way to use this metaphor, as well. Look at the distribution of wealth in a society. If you think about it, what I have arbitrarily classified as M3 above tends to be associated with wealthier folks. It’s not that poor people don’t have gold chains or middle-class people don’t own houses, but if you’re looking at a $1 million dollar house vs a $50,000 house, or someone owning one house vs many, I’m betting it’s the rich guy who comes out on the pricey end of that comparison. What happens when a majority of the wealth in a society is concentrated in few hands? I think we are in the process of finding out. Right now 20% of all income goes to just 1% of Americans, and 50% of the stock market is owned by that same 1%.

Let’s say that the heart is industry, the great engine that pumps goods and services through the economy. What happens when there’s too much fat in the body? Plaque—fatty deposits—in the arteries feeding the heart choke off blood flow to the muscle cells (factory workers) that do the work of pumping. Underfed, those cells begin to atrophy. Perhaps working families borrow to make up for a diminished cash flow, or a cash flow that remains static in the face of rising prices. And don’t get me started on what happens when we ship jobs overseas. For an economic comparison, try this: Unions invest their pension funds in the Wall Street. The stock market crashes, due to irresponsible behavior on the part of bond traders, who make money on their trades regardless of whether their clients gain or lose. Pension funds tank, and the resulting shortfall in pension funds is then blamed on “greedy union members,” who are then asked to take pay cuts, pension cuts, and give up their right to collective bargaining. Somehow this looks a lot like those fatty plaque deposits blocking blood flow to the heart muscle. In health terms, this is called heart failure. I’m not quite sure what the economic term is, [Recession? Depression?] but I think we’re seeing the symptoms now.

Obesity has other effects, such as diabetes, a condition in which the body no longer has the ability to properly regulate its blood sugar level. In the economy, this could correlate to a lack of financial regulation, and the resulting high blood sugar levels might correlate to excess credit. Bubble of 2008, anyone?

But the clearest correspondence between the body and the economy is symbolized by those pesky ghrellins. No matter how much the rich have, they seem to always want more.

There’s problem here in this country. It’s not unlike the one faced at the turn of the previous century, when robber barons ruled the land, and a progressive income tax was instituted, not only to fund the Federal Government, but to put the brakes on the fat cells’ takeover of the body politic. The Republican Party would like to reverse this.

Do you really think this is the way to economic health? I don’t think it is, any more than morbid obesity is the way to physical health.

I’m not alone. Click here.

Written by tfgray

June 15, 2011 at 6:24 pm

Posted in politics

How to End the Debt Ceiling Gridlock, In 4 Easy Steps

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1. Stop all Congressional and Senatorial paychecks until the ceiling is lifted.

If that doesn’t speed things up,

2. Furlough all Congressional and Senatorial aides.

If that doesn’t work:

3. Furlough all Capitol maintenence workers.

If that doesn’t work:

4. Furlough all Capitol security personel.

Step 5, if needed, would be to cancel all military pay.

Written by tfgray

June 10, 2011 at 7:28 am

Posted in economy, politics

Fooling the People

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The partisan health care debate has devolved into a battle of sound bites, which can be basically summed up as, “You’re trying to kill Medicare!”

“No, you’re trying to kill Medicare!”



The root of the problem is, of course, that medical care is pricey, and that the older you get, the more of it you tend to need. So let’s look at some basics.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Ben Franklin said that, I think, so even the Tea Party should be able to agree with it. Prevention breaks down into three components:

Healthy habits: good diet and dental hygiene, moderate eating and alcohol consumption, not using tobacco or other addictive substances, regular exercise. This is the “personal responsibility” component. There are, of course, powerful economic interests lined up against much of this. “Fourth meal,” anyone?

Preventive medical care: regular checkups and dental cleanings. Catching that high cholesterol before it shows up in the Emergency Room clutching its chest. Finding that little lump before one boob is twice the size of the other. Get folks in where the docs can catch things before they involve major surgery. But there’s a personal responsibility issue here, too. You have to make the appointment and show up. And be able to pay for it. This is where Universal Health Care comes in. Yes, I said Universal Health Care, which is what Medicare is for people over 65. More on that later.

Clean air and water: This, I think, is why much of the anti-“Obamacare” funding comes from folks like the Koch Brothers. They’re taking the short-sighted, but standard, corporate view that their own profits trump everything. Internalizing profit and externalizing risk are, after all, standard corporate operating practice. Save money by not having to install smokestack scrubbers? Sure, I’ll donate to that cause! Increase in lung cancer and asthma rates? Not my problem. You people are after my money. Moving the responsibility for providing medical insurance from corporations to taxpayers may be a carrot to offset the stick of environmental responsibility, but corporations can always save money by reducing employee health benefits without the bother of cleaning up after themselves.

You get what you pay for.

I don’t think Ben Franklin said that, but he probably wouldn’t argue against it, either. Want to pay your doctor in chickens? Don’t be surprised, if, when he gives you that cancer diagnosis, the treatment consists of a bottle of Laudanum—tincture of opium—and he tells you to take a little nip when the pain gets too bad and go home and plan your funeral. You know, just like the good old days. [Watch John Wayne’s last film, The Shootist for a primer.]  That state of the art stuff involves a lot of expensive equipment and highly-trained personnel with student loans to pay off.

Strength in numbers

Why is health insurance more affordable for employees of large corporations than small, and more affordable for employee plans than for individual coverage? Because the larger the group, the more the risk is spread. A group of 330 million people is going to have lower rates than any smaller group.

Of course, the Right presents this as “healthy people paying for sick people’s treatment,” which ignores the simple fact that anyone who participates in any insurance plan is, in real terms, paying the medical bills of their less-healthy fellow plan members. The deal is that they’ll pay for yours when it’s your turn. Pretty much everyone has healthy and sick times in their lives. No matter how well you eat, how much you exercise, how diligently you avoid carcinogens, there’s always that hit and run driver out there somewhere, that patch of ice in the parking lot, that loose step on the stairs. A neighbor of mine, a construction worker who climbed ladders every day of his life, became paralyzed from the waist down when he stepped off the bottom rung of a ladder helping a neighbor take a dead branch off a tree. Shit happens.

The Right, on this issue, finds itself arguing simultaneously that we should all get out of paying for medical insurance if we choose, and eat bacon double cheeseburgers for breakfast, lunch, and dinner while chain smoking, and that anything else is some sort of government tyranny over our personal lives. (Our lady parts are, however, a legitimate target of government control, but I digress.)

According to Conservatives, private industry does everything better than the government at all times. Under our current medical system, thanks to the dreaded Obamacare, 85% of your premiums must be spent on actual medical care, leaving only 15% for overhead and profit. (This is a reduction from previous insurance company admin costs and profit margins.) Medicare spends 97% of their funding on medical care, and only 3% on admin, and contrary to what the Right keeps insisting, without sending seniors to government clinics or putting them on waiting lists.

Let me reiterate: Running your health care money through private insurance companies raises medical costs. Want to save 12% on national healthcare spending? Let Uncle Sam do it. Our Medicare system is held in such high regard internationally that when South Korea looked to set up universal health care for its citizens, it compared national healthcare systems worldwide and chose Medicare as their model. Yes, South Korea, the anti-communist one.

Why medical bills are so high.

As noted earlier, high-tech medical care is inherently pricey, but there’s more to the equation. Once upon a time, my daughter needed a standard round of blood work. We weren’t insured at the time, so I told the receptionist at the lab that I’d pay the bill myself. She gave me an odd look and asked me to take a seat. Fifteen minutes later she handed me a bill for over $650, and asked me to pay up front. Fortunately, my daughter didn’t really feel like getting stuck with a needle that day, and even more fortunately, we were able to figure out what caused her problem without the blood work. I remarried a few months later, and my new husband needed the same round of blood work, which was covered by his company’s plan. It cost about $100, of which he paid $33.93.  Yes, the lab was thrilled to get only $67 from the insurance company and another $33 from us and further, they were willing to let him pay a month or so after the tests were done. What gives?

Simple. Medical providers have been burned over and over by deadbeat patients. It’s a trap, because while there are deadbeats who are legitimately able to pay their bills, but don’t, many more fail to pay because they don’t have the means to do so. In addition, since many doctors won’t see uninsured patients without payment in advance, those individuals are more likely to show up at the ER, where it costs a couple of Benjamins just to walk in the door for even minor maladies, or they defer treatment until the ER is the only appropriate place for  them to go. What might have been handled with a ten-day antibiotic prescription or outpatient surgery turns into a week in Intensive Care or major surgery that costs hundreds or thousands of times as much. Given that approximately 1/3 of them won’t pay, those costs get tacked on to everyone else’s bills. Insurance companies bypass this, since they have the size needed to negotiate, (the same principle as collective bargaining, BTW) and because medical providers know they’re generally good for it and let them pay the actual cost. It’s the uninsured—specifically those who own property that could have liens placed on it—who end up paying other people’s bills.

Perhaps, you are thinking, we should change the law that says that everyone who shows up at the ER must be treated. Think about the possibility that your child might be hit by a drunk driver or your father might show up in cardiac arrest, only to have treatment delayed while their insurance status is verified. Still so sure? Universal healthcare, aka Medicare for all, would stop this part of the medical cost spiral.

I just listened to Paul Ryan discuss his plan on TV. He explained that Medicare would be replaced by something very similar to the current Medicare Advantage option, in which, rather than medical providers billing the government directly for their services, government funding (approximately $6,000 per senior per year) would be given directly to insurance companies, with seniors paying the remainder of the premiums themselves. As discussed above, this would automatically result in a 12% reduction of the amount of money available for your medical care. (Watch your premiums rise, Granny!) Increases in Ryan’s voucher or “premium support,” as he now calls it, are indexed to general inflation, which is lower than the rise in medical costs. Year after year, an increasing portion of premiums would be paid by retirees, whose incomes tend to be fixed. The Democratic plan is to keep the current Medicare system and get rid of Medicare Advantage, since that is the most wasteful and least efficient part of Medicare. Meanwhile, Republicans claimed to oppose last year’s health care reform bill, in part, due to the removal of Medicare Advantage, painting it as a defunding of Medicare that would reduce seniors’ benefits.

I can’t be too clear about the effect of Paul Ryan’s plan. It would scrap the most cost-effective parts of Medicare and expand the most expensive, all in the name of saving money.

You can fool all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

Some Republican said that.

Written by tfgray

June 6, 2011 at 5:25 pm

Posted in politics

Funder, Blunder, & Plunder

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It’s said that the three generations of business are “Funder,” the generation that starts and builds the business, “Blunder” the second generation, that lacks Daddy’s innovative talents and seeks to maintain the business without responding to change in creative ways, and “Plunder,” the generation that runs the business into the ground, liquidates the assets, and lives high on the hog until the money runs out.

I think this concept applies to politics, as well. I was watching TV and saw one of Rachel Maddow’s spots in front of Hoover Dam. She spoke about how our grandparents built such projects with the intention of building something lasting and beneficial for us, their descendents: They were the Funders. Conservatives would beg to differ, but I see St. Ronald of Reagan and his political cohort as the Blunder generation, spending trillions, tripling the national debt in pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, while beggaring our infrastructure and furthering the notion that there is no such thing as the common good.

We’re now afflicted by the Plunder generation—sacking our cities and states, stealing our roads, our parks, liquidating the businesses founded by our grandfathers and sending the pieces to China, Burma, the Marianas, anywhere desperate people can be treated worse than livestock to increase profit. Like Ayn Rand’s villains, they create nothing, stifle innovation, and seek to appropriate the institutions built by generations of workers and taxpayers to their own benefit, the leeches. They’ve pretty much run out of private businesses to gut, so now they’ve turned their gimlet eyes to public assets.

Need examples? There’s the Indiana Turnpike, sold to a foreign consortium; Detroit’s public schools, being parceled out to private companies running charter schools; that lakeside park in Michigan on a fast track to becoming a ritzy golf course; Chicago’s parking meters, a 75-year lease sold to a private enterprise for enough money to cover one year’s budget shortfall. Chicago’s downtown parking rates have tripled since then and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

Sure, Conservatives say, let’s dismantle the work of our grandfathers. Social Security? Nanny statism. Let Goldman Sachs have at your retirement funds. After all, they did such a brilliant job with your 401K. Highway maintenance? Pork. We don’t need no stinking maintenance. Roads and bridges, they seem to believe, will fix themselves. (Actually, there’s a strategy here. Let them run down through lack of routine maintenance, then, when they become “too expensive for the state to fix,” they can be sold at deep discount to private owners who will do the needed repairs and erect tollbooths.) Healthcare? Let them eat aspirin. Sometimes I wonder—how many people have become addicted to painkillers, buying them on the black market, because they can’t afford to see a doctor, get physical therapy, or take time off work to heal?

I’m not an Ayn Rand fan, but she did have one gem among her marbles: the notion that established players will act to stifle any innovation that threatens their interests. Miss Rand came from Russia, where bureaucrats—even prior to the Communist Revolution—ran the place, so it’s not surprising that she chose bureaucrats as her progress-stopping villains. Here in America, business runs the place. Is anyone surprised that here, in the Age of Oil, where the entire economy runs on oil, is “addicted to oil,” in the words of a former president, that the primary forces working to hold back change and stifle innovation (other than the transfer of public resources into private hands) all seem to be related to the oil industry?

Ironically, the Koch brothers, those Libertarian icons and sugar daddies, are actively filling the role of Rand’s villainous progress-stopping bureaucrats in this drama. It’s an odd twist to their family history. Their father invented a new process for refining oil. He was driven out of Texas by oil barons invested in older, less efficient refinery technology. He went to Russia, where the Soviet bureaucrats (Soviet bureaucrats!) welcomed his expertise and technical innovation, but he became disillusioned when he learned of Stalin’s gulags. Returning to America, he established his business, became a founder of the John Birch Society, and passed his anti-Communist meme to his sons.

But the brothers are, after all, the second business generation, seeking to blindly maintain the edifice that Daddy built without the innovation needed to respond to a changing reality, so there’s a certain logic to their opposition to all things Progressive, i.e. any transition from an oil-based economy. Acolytes of the Gospel of Selfishness, they are defending their economic interests.

Life is sometimes stranger than fiction.

Written by tfgray

May 18, 2011 at 10:36 am

Posted in conservatism, economy, politics

Tagged with

The American Way

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Mom and Pop came over on the boat. They worked hard at whatever jobs they could find. They lived frugally. Maybe they never learned much English beyond Hello. Goodbye. Please. Thank you, and Police! Their children, Gen2, were most likely bilngual. They, too, worked hard, got more education than Mom and Pop, and did better. If Pop worked as a janitor, maybe Son started a janitorial service. Gen 3 speaks English with an American accent. Possibly went to college, and possibly never learned much of Mom and Pop’s native language beyond Hello. Goodbye. Please. Thank you and the names of the special dishes that Mom serves on holidays.

Oversimplified, maybe, but that’s how it worked in my family. And unless you are a pure-blooded member of a Native American tribe, that’s how it worked in your family, too. (With the exception of those whose ancestors were English-speaking, who, like my Irish forebears, were discriminated against for their accents.)

But here’s the thing: we still need janitors, orderlies, maids, agricultural laborers. Those who object to illegal immigation probably don’t want to push lawnmowers for a living, nor do they favor sending their kids out to pick tomatoes and follow the harvest as migrant farmworkers. Yet there’s pressure in our political system to delay, indefinitely if possible, a serious reform of our current immgration system, which is overwhelmed by the number of people wanting to come here. Why is this?

Many of the nations of Latin America are facing serious political and economic problems. For the most part, small elites control the overwhelming majority of the assets. Poverty, and the resulting desperation, create horrendous living conditions, conditions so bad that coming to the US and living 6 to a room looks good by comparison. I can’t argue. My father’s people came over to escape the Irish potato famine and my mother’s people  come from Germany to escape violence between Catholics and Protestants.

That’s the Supply side. The Demand side comes from employers who boost their profits (aka “remaining competitive”) by hiring illegal aliens. No muss, no fuss, no need to pay minimum wage. Benefits? Who needs Benefits? While honking and quacking over how illegal aliens should not be included in any national health care plan, they are perfectly willing to use emergency rooms to provide free healthcare for their workers. Result? Higher costs for everyone who pays for healthcare, whether on their own dime or through an insurance plan. Sweet deal.

Now the Republicans, while alleging that the Democrats caused Arizona’s ham-handed law by delaying immigration reform, are adamant that now is not the time to bring up the subject. They’re in a real bind. Their constituencies consist, on one side, of those most attached to the idea of a white, English speaking America, who feel that immigrants are competing for their jobs (and want to see their food prices stay low) and on the other those who profit from the cheap labor provided by the existing state of affairs. The Republican position  pretty much cuts them off from any possibility of gaining Hispanic votes. Right now they’re praying very hard to get immigration off the front pages until after November. Out of sight, out of mind.

This is a pattern that goes back to the birth of our nation. Right now we have policies in place that will guarantee a permanent underclass of undocumented workers. When the Constitution was being debated, each slave, while being denied a vote, counted as 3/5 of a man for purposes of assigning representation in Congress. That meant that each Southern vote was worth approximately 1 3/5 Northern vote. The Conservative custom of wanting it both ways dies hard.

Written by tfgray

April 29, 2010 at 10:09 pm

Posted in politics

Tagged with

Universal Health Care, Republican Style

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Sue Lowden, one of the Republicans jousting for the privilege of running against Senator Harry Reid this November, has suggested that a good strategy for bringing down health care costs would be to barter with your doctor. She specifically suggested payment in chickens or housepainting, like “in the old days.”

In return, should we expect the healthcare our chicken-raising forebears got? As in, “You have cancer. Here’s a bottle of laudanum [tincture of opium]. Take a little nip when the pain gets too bad and go home and plan your funeral.”

My husband just had surgery for two herniated discs. We’ve been told that the insurance company will pony up something like $58K. How many chickens is that?

Still, I can see some other uses for this tactic, say, campaign contributions. Twenty-some years ago a friend of mine got a fundraising letter from the Republican Party, complete with postage-paid return envelope. Since he was not particularly fond of the Republican agenda, he wrapped the envelope around a brick and mailed it. Think of the possibilities.

So my only quandary is: Should I send her my campaign contribution fried, grilled, extra-crispy, raw, or live?

Written by tfgray

April 21, 2010 at 8:18 pm

Dad Blamed Gummint

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I was working in the call center today, and a fellow called in to take some money out of his IRA. “Would you like the check overnighted?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said.

“There’s a $15 UPS fee, and someone has to be home to sign for it.”

“That damn Obama! He just keeps taking more of my money!”

“Sir, that money goes to the United Parcel Service. That’s what they charge to deliver a package.”

After he hung up (of course) I wished I’d said, “No sir, that’s the capitalist system taking your money,” just to see how he’d react.

Then I got home, turned on the news, and found out that, now that Goldman Sachs has been busted for massive, intentional securities fraud involving casino-style betting on subprime mortgages derivative trading, the Republicans all signed in blood their intention to filibuster Wall Street Reform. (By casino-style betting, I mean in the sense that the odds are stacked in the house’s favor.)

Now, according to the Tea Party, government is the problem and the solution is to get rid of as many regulations as possible. Hmmmm…. So exactly who will be strong enough to keep the bazillion dollar firms of Wall Street from playing Monopoly with our houses, our savings, and our retirement accounts?

It’s becoming obvious, what with the latest Luntz talking points, the Tea Party strategy memo leaked from the PR firm that consulted in its creation, Rachel Maddow’s excellent investigative work on Koch Industries generous support of the lobbying and PR firms providing infrastructure and organizational help to the TP, and Republican leaders’ recent pilgrimage to Wall Street to assure the current crop of malefactors of great wealth that they’ve got their backs, that the grassy-rooty thing known as the Tea Party Movement is just the latest iteration of that recurring  strategy  by which the smarty-greedy 1% hornswoggle the True Believers into attacking the Middle Class. In the name, of course, of attacking the Lower Class.

Why would the conservative rank and file let themselves be used in this manner, seeing as many or most of them would qualify as Middle Class themselves?  Or Working Class. Or Dependent upon Government Benefits. Just asking.

So looping back to the question I asked earlier, “exactly who will be strong enough to keep the bazillion dollar firms of Wall Street from playing Monopoly with our houses, our savings, and our retirement accounts?” I’d like to propose that We the People are the ones to do it. We can either do it by refusing to entrust our money to the large banks and brokerage firms or by voting in people who take their responsibilities to act on behalf of their constituents, as opposed to their campaign donors, to set up and enforce laws that prohibit criminally reckless behavior or better yet some combination of both.

It’s a delightful image, formerly giant financial institutions chasing after us, begging us to come back, promising honest dealing and transparency to induce us to bring back our mason jars stuffed with cash. In reality, they’d probably just offer us free toasters or a sweet teaser rate and we’d come back like lemmings. After all, Roosevelt’s creation of the FDIC revived the banking system after the series of bank crashes that ushered in the Great Depression, not any voluntary behavior on the part of bankers. Yeah, I’ll review my banking options, but I’ll also root for John Law and the threat of Club Fed to keep the big boys in line.

Most people choose their banks based upon convenience. Yes, it’s true that there all those telephone and internet service options, but for the most part, people choose banks that have ATMs near their home or job; banks where they can trot down the street and ask Doris for the latest CD rates. And there’s a legitimate role for large institutions. A pension fund holding billions of dollars of OPM (other people’s money) needs to deal with someone equipped to invest those funds quickly, efficiently, and honestly. Trotting down to the local credit union and dropping it into a jumbo CD would overwhelm the credit union. Wall Street has the quick and efficient part down pat. It’s the honestly part that needs work.

While it’s popular on the Right to blame the whole problem on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, or poor people trying to buy homes, they were merely a part of the conveyor belt of bad debt that transformed America’s credit rating into a pile of shredded paper. The ability to sell mortgages to investors gave lenders an incentive to relax lending standards. After all, once the loans left their books, it didn’t matter to them whether they got repaid. This problem was worst in the independent non-bank lenders who were free of banking regs and had a business model in which their income stream relied upon a never-ending flow of new mortgages, rather than the repayment schedule. Eventually the pool of qualified borrowers was drained and those firms’ existence came to rely on generating liar’s loans. On the other end, the selling of these bundled securities was driven by the increasing concentration of wealth and the need to invest it. Part of this was driven by the inevitable transformation of those Boom Babies into gray-headed retirees with retirement accounts. Another part arose from the change in American business that saw an advantage in sending as many jobs as possible overseas. Increased profits came back home, but they went to a comparativelysmall pool of shareholders while the former workforce was left to shift for itself. This concentration of wealth created more demand for investible securities, and that demand drove the creation of mortgage-based derivatives.

Derivatives are complicated, and that’s what has enabled the institutions trading them to play fast and loose with their fiduciary responsibilities. That, combined with a culture that unabashedly worships Mammon and glorifies the Big Swinging Dicks (the Salomon Brothers term, from Michael Lewis book Liars’ Poker) who bring the most profit into the firm. But now we’re learning the lingo. Derivatives are bets, bets that the value of something will go either up (long) or down (short). When you are “long” in an investment, you own it, and are hoping that it will increase in value, or in the case of loan-based investment, that the homeowners will continue to make their payments. When you are “short,” also called “hedging,” as in “hedging your bets,” you’re betting against that proposition. Essentially you’ve taken out an insurance policy on the investment ‘s eventual cratering. You have no stake in the underlying investment, or the people living under those roofs. It’s like taking out an insurance policy on someone else’s house. Moreover, for the most savvy players of the game, it’s like inspecting all the houses in the neighborhood to find those with faulty wiring, piles of greasy rags, and people who smoke in bed, preferably in a flood or earthquake zone, and then taking out insurance policies on their homes. Hedgers look for mortgage-backed securities with a high percentage of no-doc “liar’s loans” and adjustable rate mortgages, where the homeowners are pretty much guaranteed to default when the teaser rate expires.

Why would anyone take the dumb end of that trade? Because selling the option brings in cash flow, millions in cash flow, in addition to the income from the mortgage interest. Presumably, you can always sell it to a sucker when it starts to go south, declare bankrupcy, or hold out your tin cup to Uncle Sam if you lose the bet. While that system enables a tiny group of math geniuses to accrue massive profits, it’s nothing but trouble for the rest of us.

That’s what the Dad Blamed Gummint is for…to create a mechanism to enable the many to unite and stand up to the abuses of the powerful, a radical idea in the Eighteenth Century. The powerful know that, and that’s why they support the Tea Party, which has as its primary goal the weakening of the Federal government. So much for returning to the ideals of the Founders.

Written by tfgray

April 17, 2010 at 11:58 am

Posted in reform, tea party, wall street

Tagged with ,

Tea Partypoopers

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Well, the upcoming Tea Party Convention in Nashville has hit a few speedbumps. There seems to be a conflict between people who want to make money without the government collecting taxes on it and people who want to make money off of people who want to make money without the government collecting taxes on it.

Still, you have to admit that $350 a plate for dinner is kind of spendy, especially for a crowd that bills itself as working class. Michelle Bachmann has bailed, Marsha Blackburn has bailed, but what about Sarah Palin?

This is a tough one. She’s demonstrated that she likes to make money, and there’s $115K on the line here. She’s also demonstrated that when the going get hot, she wants to stay in her kitchen in Wasilla. What to do?

Fortunately, there’s an excape clause in her contract: In case of illness, she can send a substitute.

Perfect! A win-win all around, especially now that having done the natural thing of supporting the re-election bid of the guy who dragged her from relative obscurity to the national spotlight has transformed her from Right-wing darling to Tea Party bete noir. She can still get her fat paycheck without having to speak to a hostile crowd.

Who do you think she’ll send? I’m hoping it’s not Bristol. True, she’d be a logical choice. It would keep the speaking fee in the family. Bristol’s starting a public-speaking career and could use the publicity boost. She’d speak on a topic near and dear to Conservative hearts: not having sex outside of marriage, although how many unwed teens could afford $350 for surf and turf is questionable. She’s young, and pretty, and surely their delight at her choice to bear a child out of wedlock rather than abort would outweigh their feelings toward her mother. I mean, it’s not as though anyone would consider asking her to tell her mother anything on their behalf, would they?

Still, there’s that saving yourself by throwing your child to the lions thing.

I fully expect La Palin to ditch at the last minute. It will be interesting to see who she sends in her place.

Written by tfgray

January 31, 2010 at 1:08 pm

Posted in predictions, tea party

Tagged with , ,

Parsing Palin’s Popularity

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I tuned in to Bill O’Reilly the other night, taking a break from the non-stop horror that Haiti has become, just in time to see a clip of Steven Schmidt, John McCain’s campaign advisor, discussing Palin’s profound ignorance of world history and international politics. Her response was that “those reporters,” who “weren’t in the room” would say just about anything. It wasn’t a reporter, however, on the sound bite, but the head of the campaign, who most assuredly was in the room. I puzzled over this. It reminded me of the reporter who asked her to comment after she’d been found guilty of violating Alaska’s ethics laws, to which Madame-then-Governor responded (twice!) that she was pleased to have been cleared of all charges.

WTF? She’s still not been laughed out of town?

I found an answer in Dr Bob Altemeyer’s book, The Authoritarians:

Once someone becomes a leader of the high RWAs’ [Right Wing Authoritarian]  in-group, he can lie with impunity about the out-groups, himself, whatever, because he knows the followers will seldom check on what he says, nor will they expose themselves to people who set the record straight. Furthermore they will not believe the truth if they somehow get exposed to it, and if the distortions become absolutely undeniable, they will rationalize it away and put it in a box. If the scoundrel’s duplicity and hypocrisy lands him on the front page of every daily in the country, the followers will still forgive him if he just says the right things.

Dr. Bob Altemeyer, The Authoritarians, Chapter 3, footnote 5.

Do yourself, and the entire nation, a favor by clicking the link and reading the book.

And getting back to the real world and its concerns, here is an excellent article on Haitian history.

Written by tfgray

January 17, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Posted in authoritarian

Tagged with , ,

Justifiable Homicide

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Emily Bazelon, writing in Slate, discussed the Tiller murder case, specifically the judge’s ruling that

Roeder will be allowed to argue that he was justified in shooting Tiller because he was trying to “protect the unborn.”

Interesting logic, which I suspect the Right will applaud. By the same logic, however, someone could then shoot Roeder, in order to “save the lives of doctors.” For that matter, the Underpants bomber could claim that he was trying to “save the lives of Muslims” by providing a deterrent to US Mideast policy.

That’s one slippery slope, Your Honor, taking the concept of self-defense and applying it to premeditated murder.

Written by tfgray

January 14, 2010 at 9:58 pm

Posted in politics

The Coming of The Christ

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There are those who seem to believe that “Christ” is Jesus’ last name. It isn’t. It’s not even Hebrew or Aramaic. It’s Greek. It comes from chrisum, which is oil that has been blessed, and directly translates as “the anointed one.” Theologically, it relates to the concept known in the Eastern Traditions as “Enlightenment,” which is to say the realization that you are not a special, exceptional, little snowflake, existing in a vacuum, but a part of the entire Universe, and that the rest of the Universe is just as alive and conscious as you.

When I read the link above, it gave me hope. Hope that the current authoritarian hammerlock on Christianity is slipping away. I don’t expect it to go quietly, but Pope Francis and Bernie are undermining its death-grip on what it means to be a Christian.

Written by tfgray

September 16, 2015 at 1:59 pm

Posted in Bernie Sanders, Pope Francis

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God’s To-Do List

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Christian Fundamentalists make much of the Bible verse “Go forth and multiply,” interpreting it as the only reason to get cozy with your beloved, Song of Solomon notwithstanding. Number One on God’s to-do list, as it were.

But think about this: you probably have a to-do list, whether it’s a list of daily chores or a bucket list. And what do you do when you’ve accomplished a task on that list? Do you turn around and do it again and again?

Well, maybe, and if you do (Clean the fridge. Clean the fridge. Clean the fridge. All day long, over and over.) I hope you’ll get treatment for your OCD soon.

So what do you when you’ve accomplished a task on that list? You cross it off.

We’ve reached the point where the planet is creaking under the weight of humanity’s demands upon it. So how about we cross that whole multiplying thing off the list and set about some other divinely-ordained tasks, like husbanding and protecting the earth, feeding the hungry, and, yes, doing a little introspection about that beam in our own eye before grabbing the tweezers and jabbing someone else in theirs?

There are those who think that means that no one can ever have sex again ( or s*x, as they prefer to spell it, since the abbreviation for “sextus” the Latin word for “six” a reference to the Sixth Commandment (the one about adultery) is too graphic for them. And yes, “adultery” is itself a euphemism for—ahem—stuff only adults are supposed to do.

However, God gave humans brains, curiosity, and opposable thumbs and from that we made medical research, which has created population control alternatives to disease, war, and death in childbirth.

Yes, we can do this. Let’s get on with it, shall we?

Written by tfgray

September 13, 2015 at 9:10 am

Posted in religion

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Blood Sacrifice

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In Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, a racist fanatic sacrificed 9 innocent lives. He hoped to start a race war, to strike a blow for an eternally segregated society. The changes he wrought are profound, and not what he expected.

He based his strategy upon the usual racist trope describing people with black skin as less than human, volatile, violent, incapable of reacting with anything other than brutality. Instead, the families of uthe dead lived the highest values of the faith they share with so many white Americans. They forgave him. He admitted that he nearly abandoned his quest, since the people he killed had been so nice to him in the Bible study meeting. His mind had been so poisoned that he, like so many bigots, ignored the evidence of his own senses in favor of the garbage he’d read on the Internet.

The initial reaction of many conservatives in politics and the media spoke volumes: calling the murders “an accident,” saying that there wouldn’t have been a problem if there were just more guns in the room, saying that the victims were attacked for their religion, not their color.

I think this last lie had the greatest impact. Most people recognized it immediately as a lie, but those who initially believed it, for a moment at least, could identify with the dead. Perhaps for one short moment they could think of a black person and say, “That could have been me.” Then, as that particular Fox talking point was revealed as untrue, perhaps a seed was planted: What other lies have they told me?

The dominoes continue to fall. Republican legislators call for the removal of the Confederate flag from state capitols, state flags, license plates. Stores stop selling the things. Manufacturers stop making them. Lee Atwater’s famed Southern Strategy itself appears threatened. Politicians who received funds from the head of the Conservative Citizens Council hasten to return the money or donate it to the church. People who thought the flag was about Civil War history find out that the flag only became an item for public display in the 1960s, after the Civil Rights Movement gained traction. Those who revere the flag as the one their ancestors fought for begin to confront the reality that the “right” they fought for was the right to own other human beings.

The backlash begins, of course. Right wingers invent slopes to slip down. Hey, if you’re against one flag, you’re against them all, right Rush? The NRA actually wants to talk about the Confederate flag. (Anything but guns.) And in doing so, the Right looks increasingly vicious and demented.*

On the other hand, there’s this:

A scab has been ripped from the festering national wound of racism. Will the blood sacrifice enacted in the Mother Emmanuel AME Church generate the power to confront the history of injustice and at long last heal the infection our nation has suffered since its birth?

May the Emanuel 9 rest in peace.






Written by tfgray

June 26, 2015 at 2:56 pm

Posted in racism

Tagged with , ,

Evolution for Fundamentalists

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You’ve been told that if Evolution is true, then God could not exist, but God exists, therefore Evolution can’t be true.

This is a false dichotomy. It’s presented as being an either/or choice, when there are many more possibilities.

There are eleven different position on the Evolution/God debate. The central position is, “God is who, Evolution is how.”

Still, you may argue, since God created the world in 6 days, that can’t possibly be true. Evolution states that the process took millions of years to get to where we are today.

When Charles Darwin lay on his deathbed, he asked for a copy of the Bible. He opened to Genesis, read the first few verses, and said, “Yes, my theory agrees with this.” He died content.

How can this be so?

The first question to ask yourself is, “What is a day?”

You probably answered, “24 hours, of course.”

But my question is what is a day, not how long is a day.

A day is the time it takes for a planet to revolve around it’s axis. From sunrise to sunrise in some cultures, or sunset to sunset in others, or just midnight to midnight. (Our tradition of dividing this into 24 hours comes from Babylonian astrologers, or “magi,” as they are called in the Bible.)

Now, as for the question, how long is a day, the answer is, “It depends upon where you are.”

Let’s take a little side trip. What is a year?”

A year is the time it takes for a planet to circle the Sun. Earth makes 365 turns on its axis in the time it takes to make one circuit around the Sun.

Now Mercury is a lot closer to the Sun. It’s path is shorter. Mercury circles the sun a little over 4 times in the time it takes Earth to go around once. So one Mercury year takes 89 Earth days. But how long is a day on Mercury?

As it turns out, Mercury turns very slowly. Earth revolves on its axis 66 times in the time it takes Mercury to pirouette once. Yes, a Mercury year is about 1 ½ Mercury days long.

For another example, Earth circles the Sun 12 times in the time it takes Jupiter, much further from the Sun than Earth, to go around the sun once. But Jupiter spins really fast, about twice as fast as the Earth does. Yes, a Jupiter day is only 12 hours long. So how long a day or a year is depends upon where you are.

Now let’s think about this from God’s perspective. How long is a day? It’s kind of like that old joke, “Where does an 800 pound gorilla sleep? Anywhere he wants to.” So, to God, how long is a day? Is He such a puny deity that all his days have to be the same length as the one He set for Earth?

Obviously not.

So, “God said, ‘Let there be light.’” That’s a pretty good description of what scientists call the Big Bang. It took something like a millionth of a second. That’s measured in Earth time, of course, but if God wanted to call it a day, who are you to argue with the ultimate 800 pound gorilla?

Then He separated the light from the darkness, a pretty good description of the formation of stars. If God decided that particular day should last 8 billion years, who are you to argue?

Separating land from water? Same deal.

You’ll notice that the Bible and Darwin agree that the other animals precede Man in the greater scheme of things.

Then there’s Man, created from “the slime of the earth.” A few hundred million years of gradually moving up the food chain via the process of evolution? All in a day’s work, for God.

[And about that slime thing. You may have been taught to say, “Well if we evolved from apes, why are there still apes?”

I’ll have to answer that with a question: “If God made Man from the slime of the earth, why is there still slime?”]

Written by tfgray

June 3, 2015 at 10:29 am

Posted in politics


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