Republicans Hate the Military

The Benghazi HoaxDavid Brock has a new book out with Ari Rabin-Havt and the Media Matters staff, The Benghazi Hoax. It is an e-book, but for just 99¢ it is probably worth checking out. I just read an excerpt from it on Huffington Post, The Benghazi Hoax. It is a great teaser, because it leaves the reader wanting more.

The book is about all the hoaxes that the right wing media have pushed trying to turn a tragic event into something they could beat up Obama with. But what was most interesting in the bit that I read was to learn about what actually happened in Benghazi. With all the misinformation that was spewed out, the story of what actually happened has only gotten out in the vaguest of ways. And the story itself is dramatic and heroic. Here’s just one example:

Ambassador Stevens—who’d concluded a meeting with a Turkish diplomat less than two hours before the gunshots—and Smith were shepherded by a security aide into a “safe room” in the compound.

But the attackers outside poured out cans of gasoline and set raging fires around two buildings, including their sanctuary, creating an intolerable inferno of heat and smoke. The security officer was unable to extract the two men from the building; Smith was later found by US agents who got through in an armored vehicle, while Stevens was eventually taken to a hospital by Libyans but soon declared dead from smoke inhalation.

The feelings I have about this and the way that the Romney campaign used it are familiar. I remember it very well from the 2004 campaign. Remember the “swift boat” ads? That was a very big moment for me. I’m not big on the military. They do an unpleasant job that is unfortunately necessary. I think we have them do a lot of evil things we shouldn’t be doing. But I respect them even if I don’t think that every man who puts on a uniform is a hero. But the Republicans claim to love the military. Yet they were more than willing to shit all over the reputation of an American war hero just to gain a little advantage in an election. I’ve never had a good opinion of the Republican Party, but that was when I decided that it was an actively evil group.

So the Benghazi “scandal” was very much the same. But in that case, the conservative media and the Republican campaign were more than willing to shit all over the whole military to win that election. If it were the other way around, it wouldn’t be so bad. The Democrats certainly give a lot of lip service to the military. But they don’t bloviate about the military and our national “power” the way the Republicans do. The hypocrisy is stunning. And I would go so far as to say that this is not just about the elites. The base is more than willing to go along with this too. But we really need to do more to get out the word to the people who are not really into politics: don’t believe the nonsense about the Republicans caring about the military. All they care about is power and they will sacrifice anything for it.


Here is a clip of the authors on Karen Finney’s show:

Odds and Ends Vol 1

Odds and EndsI’ve had it. At any given time, I have something like 100 tabs open in my browser. Almost all of these could be filed under, “When I get an hour or two, I want to write about that!” And sometimes I do get around to them. For example, it took me weeks to get around writing, Stalin, Not the Bomb, Defeated Japan. But mostly, I don’t. Some go into an ever expanding folder called, “Story Ideas.” But even more just get deleted. So I’ve decided to do these semi-regular posts of worthy issues. And in some cases, just things I don’t have much to add to.

  1. Fox News Caught in Epic Lie: Last Friday, Eric Stern wrote an amazing article, Inside the Fox News Lie Machine: I Fact-Checked Sean Hannity on Obamacare. I read it on Friday and really wanted to comment on it. But before I knew it, Krugman discussed it briefly, Lies, Damned Lies, and Fox News. And then tonight, apparently Stern was on All In. Basically, Sean Hannity had three couples on to discuss how Obamacare was costing them and their employees. But when Stern contacted them, there was literally nothing to their complaints. The couple who owned a business weren’t forced to give healthcare to their employees because they were too small; they had apparently cut staff hours because business was slow. And the two other couples hadn’t checked the exchanges. When Stern did so for them, they ended up save huge amounts of money.

    Today, Erik Wemple at the Washington Post wrote, Fox News’s Howard Kurtz (sort of) addresses Obamacare distortions on Hannity. Kurtz is Fox News‘ media critic. But he gave the same bullshit we always get from Fox News. More or less he said that since Hannity is an “opinion guy” that he has no obligation to tell the truth. In other words, pure propaganda is just fine. If you ever see someone from Fox News on The Daily Show, you will hear that. But it is noteworthy seeing such nonsense coming out of Kurtz’s mouth, because he used to be considered an actual journalist. It’s interesting that people like him fit so well at Fox News. It really makes you wonder about the mainstream press.

  2. TED Talks Are Useless: Thomas Frank wrote a very interesting article at Salon, TED Talks Are Lying to You. I thought it was going to be about my biggest problem with the TED Talks: they are a megaphone for the elite. His argument is that what the literature about creativity in business and the TED Talks with their “big ideas” are all about one thing: telling a certain class—the professional managers—that they are smart, creative people. He doesn’t go this far, but the fact is that this class is as disposable as assembly line workers. And I suspect they know this and need to be reassured that what they do is really creative and can’t be done by just anyone. Their worst fears are correct.
  3. 60 Minutes Distorts Disability: Two weeks ago, 60 Minutes produced a program that really made me angry, Disability, USA. It was about how all kinds of able body people were scamming the disability program and driving it bankrupt. This is not even one of my issues and I could see all kinds of things wrong with it. It was pure propaganda—the sort of thing that I would once have thought would just air on Fox News. The whole thing was revolving around Tom Coburn “investigation” of the program. But clearly, Coburn doesn’t want to save the program; this is just his effort to destroy it. FAIR published a thorough debunking of the story that I highly recommend reading, What Did 60 Minutes Get Wrong About Disability? The answer is, “Everything!” But let me just leave the subject with this: by making disability rules harsher, it means that more people who really do deserve it will be denied. There will always be abuse, but compared to other programs (both public and private), it has very little fraud. Since the episode, I have been unable to watch 60 Minutes. It really has become nothing but garbage.
  4. Let Pete Rose In: I was very pleased to see Harry Reid call for Pete Rose to be allowed into the Baseball Hall of Fame. I have a huge soft spot for Rose. For one thing, he played the way people did before the age of home runs that is sadly with us still. And also, I like damaged people. But most of all, what the fuck does professional baseball think it is anyway? Monsters have played the game and monsters are in the Hall of Fame. As long as baseball has been professional, it has not been pure. And a bunch of billionaires standing up for community standards is beyond ridiculous; it is appalling. Pete Rose is one of the greatest baseball players of all time. Let him in the fucking Hall of Fame!
  5. No Beaver Butt in Vanilla: I read recently that vanilla comes from castoreum, which beavers excrete from their anuses to mark territory. Despite having heard this, I could not bring myself to find the flavor of vanilla anything but wonderful. It turns out, however, castoreum is sometimes used as a vanilla substitute. Actually vanilla is made from vanillin which is extracted from vanilla beans. And given what we know about fake honey, you might want to choose some expensive organic vanilla the next time you need some.

That’s it for now, but I have a huge backlog, so I’m sure that more are coming soon!

GOP Works to Improve Obamacare

We Heart ObamacareEd Kilgore is worried about the newest court challenge to Obamacare, The Gift to the GOP That May Keep on Giving. But I’m not worried. It is a very clever challenge, however. The law says that people qualify for federal subsidies through each healthcare exchange “established by the state.” But what if the state didn’t set up an exchange and the federal government was forced to do it as is the case in 36 states? The intent of the law is clear, but the letter of the law indicates that the federal government can not subsidize low and moderate income health insurance purchasers in those states.[1]

I don’t see the problem with this case. There is no doubt that just like with Medicare, all states will eventually accept government funding. And disallowing the federal government to give subsidies to the middle class would create a political firestorm. I’m sure that those 36 states would very quickly set up their own exchanges so that their people could get the money. It’s a different thing with the Medicaid expansion. That only affects the working poor. Politicians never listen to them. But a bunch of middle class people will be listened to.

I can’t imagine that there aren’t a fair number of conservatives who understand this. So I doubt that this case will get the broccoli treatment. It was one thing when a case could destroy the law with a single decision. It is quite another when it only weakens it in the states where it is already weak. If I were a conservative, I would think of it as, “The Give Money to Blue States” law. Because that’s what they’d be turning it into.

Now as a liberal, I don’t want this. Depriving support from low and moderate income people is a bad thing. But it isn’t any worse than all the poor who are being screwed by the spiteful refusal of the Medicaid expansion. But the main thing is that I just don’t think this will happen. There are two ways that the case could affect the law going forward. The people effected would either get mad at their state level politicians or at Obamacare. But they won’t be any worse off than they were before. They’ll just see that their states are not allowing them to get thousands of dollars from the federal government.

Who would you blame?

[1] It will be interesting if the case makes it to the Supreme Court. Supposed originalists like Scalia and Thomas ought to throw out the challenge because they are so hung up on “original intent.” But I doubt they would. Maybe Thomas would, because frankly, he’s been more consistent. But Scalia is all over the board. The whole thing just shines a light on the absurdity of originalism. It is such a slippery concept that it could mean anything. In practice, it is just an excuse to accept the most conservative reading on a case.

Do Atheists Care What Oprah Thinks?

angry atheistApparently they do. Did you know that it isn’t only religious zealots who live in a chronic state of twisted panties? Even some atheists have hair-trigger offense mechanisms that one would normally associate with Fox news people. It is a mental state in which some ignorant bastard’s offhand comments will cause the hearer to spew bile like a Westboro Baptist Church member at a soldier’s funeral.

During a recent Super Soul Sunday interview with The Great and Mighty O, Diana Nyad’s self-professed atheism was dismissed and now atheists are pissed.

Diana: I can stand at the beach’s edge with the most devout Christian, Jew, Buddhist, go on down the line, and weep with the beauty, this universe, and be moved by all of humanity — all the billions of people who have lived before us, who have loved and hurt and suffered. So to me, my definition of God is humanity and is the love of humanity…

Oprah: (interrupting) Well, I don’t call you an atheist then. I think that if you believe in the awe and the wonder and the mystery that that is what God is.

Atheist activist: What the fuck?! What do you mean, “I don’t see you as an atheist”?! Did Diana suddenly turn invisible? Was Oprah in effect telling this brave woman that she is willfully ignoring her very existence? “La la la I’m not listening!” Do you think that we will go away if you ignore us? We’re here, and and God isn’t so deal with it lady! “Ooh, ooh, I’m Oprah, I know all there is to know about spirituality and God and what God means to everybody.” Blah blah blah! Do you have any idea how difficult it is to find a non-religion affiliated corporation-produced holiday card? Didn’t think so. I’m Oprah, I have my own cards printed and in them I’m God.

Apathetic Atheist: Jesus Christ. Calm the fuck down. I’m pretty sure Oprah wasn’t brushing aside Diana’s atheism as if it couldn’t possibly warrant the same respect as a legitimate belief. She probably thought she was doing Diana a solid by putting a spiritual spin on her atheism so people wouldn’t hate her more than they already do for being gay. Oprah knows how the game is played, “Act spiritual and then do whatever you want. It’s what I do and I’m Oprah“.

CNN’s Faces of Faith really helped clear up some of the misconceptions about atheists by talking to faitheist Chris Stedman:

Super Soul Sunday? Faitheist? Spare me.

Martin Gardner Playing With Math

Martin GardnerOn this day in 1772, the great poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born. Before getting to his work, I’d just like to say that I’ve always been disappointed with his politics. Like most of those early Romantic poets (with notable exceptions), he was conservative. In a sense you can’t blame them. They were men and women of their time. And they were all pretty well set—at least middle class. But then again, F. Scott Fitzgerald was in the same situation and he had no problem seeing the reality of the world that he lived on the edge of. But I feel sorry for the guy. He was sickly his whole life. He was also addicted to opium most of his life. Even more important, he really was an exceptional poet. In the past, I’ve written about Kubla Khan, an amazing if incomplete work. But The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is his most important work. Although not associated with his opium use as was Kubla Khan, it absolutely reeks of it. But I think that Coleridge worked the poem, unlike Kubla Khan that was simply a core dump. Anyway, it teaches an important lesson: don’t shoot birds that lead you to safety. And it has this great bit:

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

The great Dizzy Gillespie was born in 1917. In addition to his enormous output of great music—including all kinds of collaborations—Gillespie was a mentor to many of the periods greatest talents, most notably Charlie Parker. Here he is with his quintet doing “Tin Tin Deo”:

The great fantasy writer Ursula Le Guin is 84 today. I’m not a big fan, but I want to put in a plug for one of her science fiction books, The Lathe of Heaven. It tells the story (as I recall; it’s been about 30 years) of a guy whose dreams change reality. His psychologist starts manipulating him into creating the perfect world. It is quite good, or at least I thought so at 16. It was also made into a movie for PBS. As I recall, it was pretty good. And more recently there was another TV version starring James Caan. I can’t speak to that one. But the concept itself is very cool, so it would be hard to screw up.

Other birthdays: Italian Baroque painter Domenichino (1581); dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel (1833); bluesman Elvin Bishop (71); author Carrie Fisher (57); and Jim Moriarty in Sherlock, Andrew Scott (37).

The day, however, belongs to the great math and science writer Martin Gardner who was born on this day in 1914. He wrote the kind of books that nerds like me just love. A good example is, My Best Mathematical and Logic Puzzles. But you can pick up just about any of his books and they are great fun. He said of himself, “I just play all the time and am fortunate enough to get paid for it.” I’m with him; if I go on vacation (What a thought!) I’m much more likely to take one of his books than a novel. What can I say? It is who I am. Gardner also wrote a lot about pseudoscience, which is equally fun. He published over 100 books during his career.

Happy birthday Martin Gardner!

Boys Lack Empathy, Vote Republican

Job Creator

The video below discusses new research that shows that girls don’t develop much empathy until the age of 13. It is worse for boys who don’t start developing it until they are 15. In fact, most boys see a dip in empathy between the ages of 13 and 16. This isn’t shocking news. To begin with, this is about the age that children begin to be able to understand hypotheticals, and the essence of empathy is, “What if I were him?” Nor is it surprising that as boys have their bodies flooded with testosterone, they would get even worse on the empathy scale. Doubtless the male brain is turning onto empathy just like the female brain, but the hormone effect is swamping the cognitive effect.

Bottom line: men are pigs. I don’t care how old men are, in my experience they are lacking in empathy. And I think it has a big effect on our politics. Men are far more conservative than women. If only women voted, we would have a far more liberal society. There seem to be two different ways of looking at social ills. It’s like in the Old Testament: wrath or mercy.

The conservative perspective is that generally bad things happen to bad people. It isn’t a surprise that the Christian conservatives are so focused on the Old Testament. It is all about judging people: the good are rewarded and the bad are punished. So without knowing anything about a hungry baby, the conservative attitude is that its parents must have done something wrong.

This kind of thinking leads to some behavior that always shocks me. When conservatives do find out about some injustice, they are often more outraged than liberals. Most conservatives I know are appalled by the greed of the rich. But their operational assumption is always to avoid identifying with others and understanding what they go through. It isn’t that they can’t manage empathy, but it seems more difficult for them and so they don’t use it much.

There is another aspect to this. Conservatives also seem very prone to abstract empathy. This is seen most clearly in the abortion debate. The anti-choice people do show empathy. But it is abstract. They focus on the fetus, even before it has a brain. They ignore the actual living, breathing, thinking host mother. In this way, the empathy they show is not real. Mostly, they’ve been taught that God hates abortion and so they go through the process of this abstract empathy—”If the fetus had a brain and could feel pain, I’ll bet it would be terrible!” But it is little more than an intellectual fantasy to displace any actually feelings of empathy.

None of this should be taken to suggest that no conservatives have empathy and all liberals do. But statistically speaking, conservatives have less empathy and they use it less. And this is largely the outcome of the fact that men don’t have as much empathy as women.

See Also: The Rich Lack Empathy.

Who Mourns for JP Morgan?

Dean BakerDean Baker made some interesting comments at his blog yesterday, Post Granny Bashers Are Whining for JP Morgan. In it, he discusses how the Washington Post has defended JP Morgan against a civil suit the Justice Department was pursuing against the company for mortgage backed securities that they knew were bad. The Post argued that the government were just a bunch of meanies because 70% of those securities were actually sold by two companies that JP Morgan had acquired (Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual). This argument makes no sense on at least two levels. First, when one company acquires another, it also acquires its liabilities, including its legal liabilities. But even apart from this, that still means that 30% of the bad securities were sold by JP Morgan itself. Baker notes, “This means that it could have been involved in misrepresenting tens of billions of dollars in mortgage backed securities sold to investors.”

What’s most annoying about the whole thing is how the Post (along with pretty much everyone else in the mainstream press) thinks that the law ought to be different for people with money. Dean Baker sums this up perfectly:

We have young men sitting in jail for stealing cars worth a few thousand dollars, but the Post thinks that Wall Street bankers should get a pass on fraudulently passing off tens of billions in bad mortgage backed securities.

That’s always the way. It reminds me of the whole Rick Santelli rant that led to the formation of the Tea Party movement.[1] The TARP program that gave $700 billion to banks might have caused some grumbling, but it was no big deal. But $75 billion for homeowners? That was an outrage! Didn’t the government know that its only proper role was to help the super rich? Helping homeowners was just a bridge too far.

For those in the mainstream press, it is clear that the nation is divided into two groups. There are the right kind of people who must always be helped and can never be allowed to fail. And they should never be criminally prosecuted because that would just be wrong. After all, these aren’t criminals. Just look at their nice suits and dashing haircuts! Then there are the wrong kind of people: the poor and middle classes. It isn’t that the Rick Santellis of the world are actively against them. They just think they aren’t deserving of any help ever. So it’s a perverse kind of communism in America: the rich receive regardless of their needs and the poor give regardless of their ability.

And the la-hand of the Freeeeee!
And the hoooome, of thhhhhe, braaaave!

[1] I think it is probably wrong to say that the rant started the Tea Party movement. Certainly it was a galvanizing event. But if it hadn’t been for Fox News pushing it, there never would have been a movement.