Tuesday Reads: Nightmare on Capitol Hill

Nightmare on Capitol Hill Dave Granlund

Good Morning!!

Yes, it’s real–too real. We’re approaching the deadline for raising the debt ceiling–it’s Thursday–and Congress is still dithering. But it looks like they may figure out a way to kick the can down the road again, as long as Ted Cruz doesn’t decide to have another tantrum.

According to the Hill this morning, Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell are close to agreeing on “a deal” to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling for a few more months. The two Senate leaders huddled for hours yesterday trying to put together some kind of package that would satisfy House Republicans and convince them not to bring down the U.S. Government and the global economy.

An emerging deal to reopen the government and raise the nation’s debt ceiling until February gathered political momentum Monday evening after Senate Republicans signaled they would likely support it.

Lawmakers and aides said the legislation would fund the government until Jan. 15 and extend the nation’s borrowing authority until February but leave ObamaCare largely untouched.

The agreement would also set up another “supercommittee” to try to deal with the next round of automatic sequester cuts. The committee would have until December 13 to report to Congress. Anyone who thinks they’ll agree on anything, please raise your hand.

The big question is whether a package to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling can pass muster in the House.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was briefed on the deal Monday, and members of his conference were taking a wait and see attitude.

“When we see it, we’ll know what it is. Do you know what it is yet?” Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), chairman of the House Rules Committee, asked reporters as he left Boehner’s office.

“As soon as we see something in writing, then we can understand how we can thoughtfully understand what we’ll do with it,” Sessions said.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) wouldn’t comment on the emerging Senate deal, but he told reporters House Republicans will meet Tuesday morning “to discuss a way forward.” “Possible consideration of legislation related to the debt limit” was added to Cantor’s daily House schedule for Tuesday.

Ted Cruz Onward Michael Ramirez

Of course the biggest potential fly in the ointment is Texas junior Senator Ted Cruz and his gang of Tea Party House members. Cruz wouldn’t say whether he’s planning another fake filibuster or some other effort to kill the Affordable Care Act. However, Cruz did hold a secret meeting with House Republicans last night, according to Roll Call.

Sen. Ted Cruz met with roughly 15 to 20 House Republicans for around two hours late Monday night at the Capitol Hill watering hole Tortilla Coast.

The group appeared to be talking strategy about how they should respond to a tentative Senate deal to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling without addressing Obamacare in a substantive way, according to sources who witnessed the gathering. The Texas Republican senator and many of the House Republicans in attendance had insisted on including amendments aimed at dismantling Obamacare in the continuing resolution that was intended to avert the current shutdown.

Sources said the House Republicans meeting in the basement of Tortilla Coast with Cruz were some of the most conservative in the House: Reps. Louie Gohmert of Texas, Steve King of Iowa, Jim Jordan of Ohio, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Raúl R. Labrador of Idaho, Steve Southerland II of Florida, Mark Meadows of North Carolina and Justin Amash of Michigan.

The group is a collection of members who have often given leadership headaches in recent years by opposing both compromise measures as well as packages crafted by fellow Republicans….While the emerging deal to reopen the government and hike the debt ceiling increase may have been a hot topic, it was not immediately clear what the group actually discussed. But the fact that such a group met with Cruz at all could give House GOP leaders even more heartburn as they consider themselves what to do if the Senate passes the measure.

If Cruz and his buddies decide to cause more trouble, they could bring about a default by dragging the fight out until after Thursday. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew could probably keep the U.S. afloat for a few more days, but it would be touch and go. Joshua Green wrote yesterday at Bloomberg Businessweek that “Ted Cruz Could Force a Debt Default All by Himself.”

How could this happen? Because the Senate can move quickly when necessary, but only by unanimous consent. Let’s say Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) strike a deal today (that’s looking unlikely). Cruz surely won’t like it and has said repeatedly, “I will do everything necessary and anything possible to defund Obamacare.” If he’s true to his word, he could drag out the proceedings past Thursday and possibly well beyond. “If a determined band of nut jobs wants to take down the global economy, they could do it,” says Jim Manley, a former top staffer for Reid. “Under Senate rules, we are past the point of no return—there’s not anything Reid or McConnell could do about it.”

If Cruz is truly determined to block or delay any deal that does not touch Obamacare, here’s how he’d do it: The hypothetical Reid/McConnell bill would probably be introduced as an amendment to the “clean” debt-ceiling raise that Democrats introduced—and Republicans defeated—last week. Reid voted against cloture on the motion to proceed to that bill, a procedural tactic that allows him to reconsider the bill later on. Let’s say he does so by 5 p.m. Monday. There would need to be a cloture vote on the motion to proceed. Cruz would dissent, but he wouldn’t be able to round up 41 votes for a filibuster….

The real killer is that Senate rules stipulate there must be 30 hours of post-cloture debate, unless senators agree unanimously to waive it. Reid and McConnell would want unanimous consent to move quickly, but Cruz could refuse, thereby forcing 30 hours of debate. This would drag things out until Tuesday at 11:30 p.m. Then there would be a vote on the motion to proceed (requiring a simple majority), followed by an intervening day, assuming Cruz withheld his consent to vote earlier. So now we’re looking at a Thursday cloture vote on the bill itself, followed by another 30 hours of post-cloture debate that would blow right past the Treasury deadline.

Ted Cruz Jesus

Let’s hope even Cruz isn’t that delusional and foolhardy. Booman also points out that the Senate can change the rules and limit post-cloture debate for this one vote. That takes 67 votes.

At The Daily Beast, Lloyd Green calls what Cruz and other Tea Party Republicans are doing “backdoor impeachment.”

The dance over the debt ceiling and the fight over the government shutdown are nothing less than impeachment on the cheap: a chance to negate the will of the majority by ostensibly placating the letter of the law. Unable to win the last two presidential elections or to persuade a Supreme Court majority that the Affordable Care Act was unconstitutional, House Republicans have arrived at a point where default and closure are the next best things. This combustible brew of race, class, and economic anxieties bubbles all too closely to the surface.

These days, the GOP comes across as hating Obamacare more than loving their countrymen, and the nation is returning that ire (PDF). Less than a quarter of Americans view the Republicans favorably, and a majority dislikes them, three-in-10 intensely. The GOP’s goal of recapturing the Senate in 2014 is now looking more like a dream than a reality, as Republicans are “forced to explain why they are not to blame and why Americans should trust them to govern both houses of Congress when the one they do run is in such disarray.” Indeed.

Unfortunately, the calamity of a potential default has tempered neither judgment nor passion. On Saturday, Ted Cruz—the man who lit the match, won the Values Voters Straw Poll with 42 percent of the vote. Channeling her inner Glenn Beck, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) concluded that the President “committed impeachable offenses.” Bachmann also proclaimed that civil disobedience was a potential response to Obama’s “thuggery,” and compared the Obama presidency to Egypt’s deposed Muslim Brotherhood.

I hope you’ll read the rest at the link.

Ted Cruz is stealing the right wing nut show for now, but in the House Paul Ryan raised his ugly head over the weekend to complain about the ACA’s individual mandate and requirement that women have access to birth control. From HuffPo:

Sources told the Post that, in a private meeting with House Republicans, Ryan said that by kicking the can down the road, the GOP would lose “leverage” in their fight against Obamacare.

Ryan’s main concern appears to be delaying the health care law’s individual mandate, but ThinkProgress points out that Ryan also emphasized the need to give employers the ability to deny birth control coverage based on moral or religious reasons.

Meanwhile most people around the country and even on Wall Street don’t seem all that concerned about what’s happening in Washington DC. I guess that after multiple emergencies in which political leaders “cried wolf,” everyone just assumes that Congress will find some way to keep the country going. Still, is this any way to run a country? Shouldn’t citizens be up in arms? Will Durst has a wacky column about this at Cagle Post called “Fukushima Sushi.”

Which is harder to believe? The ludicrous shenanigans going down in Washington or the fact that nobody seems particularly interested in doing anything about them? Good neighbors — it looks like we got ourselves one heck of a bumper crop of official dysfunction this year. Near as high as Manute Bol’s eye.

You’d think with national parks closed, veteran’s benefits being withheld and a possible catastrophic debt ceiling crisis looming, folks would be atwitter like chicken inspectors on a rotisserie spit during a power surge. And you’d be as wrong as a Bergman film on Comedy Central.

What the country seems to be seeking here is a little something called political responsibility. Which, in these dark days, is a wee bit of a tad of a total and complete oxymoron. Real similar to saying Fukushima sushi. Or elegant squalor. Comfortable rock.

Driving the point home: Weird normality. Spherical edge. Iron kite. Freedom shackle. Fresh detritus. Flammable sleet. Placid hammer. Colossal shrimp. Diminutive giant. Formal jeans. Sensitive linebacker. Salable autonomy. Veteran rookie. Vegetarian butcher. Pork tartare. Reality TV.

Keeping it real: Precarious certainty. Serene devastation. Bitter honey. Catholic condom. Heaven’s basement. Gelatinous needle. Sadistic lover. Banker’s compassion. Macabre solace. Chaste indiscretion. Temporary tax. Restorative annihilation. Healthy fries. Unhungry shark.

Lots more oxymoron’s at the link. How he came up with so many, I’ll never know.

Now what stories are you focusing on today? Please share your links on any topic in the comments.


Monday Reads: Coming apart at the seams

palin-cruz-wwii-march-confed-flagGood Morning!

Every time I see a member of the Tea Party talk about “taking their country back”, I wonder which country they mean?  Yes, nothing says respect our vets like waving confederate flags and telling our President to put down his Q’uran.   Senator Ted Cruz and professional gadfly Sarah Palin have once again proven that their followers are just plain off their proverbial rockers.

“Veterans” – basically Tea Partyers – led by Palin and Cruz, marched today on the World War II memorial in Washington, DC, stole the National Park Service’s protective barriers, and then threw them at the White House.

This was intended to show their ire over the fact that the World War II memorial, along with every other federal land, site, office and program, was closed once the GOP shut down the federal government in the hopes of extorting the President into defunding health care reform, aka Obamacare, aka the Affordable Care Act.

The Tea Party “vets,” led by Palin and Cruz, are apparently so outraged at themselves for shutting down the federal government, that they’re now protesting the President for listening to them.

Tea Party protesters also concerned about Obama being a Muslim

According to CNN, the Tea Party protesters gathered at the White House are also very concerned that President Obama is a Muslim:

One speaker went as far as saying the president was a Muslim and separately urged the crowd of hundreds to initiate a peaceful uprising.

“I call upon all of you to wage a second American nonviolent revolution, to use civil disobedience, and to demand that this president leave town, to get up, to put the Quran down, to get up off his knees, and to figuratively come out with his hands up,” said Larry Klayman of Freedom Watch, a conservative political advocacy group.

Fox’s Brit Hume is quite upset that Politico’s Ben White appears to have a brain

Of course, leave it to Fox News to come to the defense of today’s contradictory Tea Party protest against the very shutdown policy the Tea Party championed.

elGo read the twitter exchange between Hume and White.  It’s worth the look. The rally wasn’t very big but  the radical right  can still grab media attention. That probably explains one of the reasons that Palin showed up given she’s about as relevant as a French Franc these days.

About 200 people, counting among their ranks Republican Senator Mike Lee, Senator Ted Cruz and former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, converged on D.C.’s World War II memorialSunday morning. Slightly overselling themselves as the ”Million Vet March on the Memorials,” they cut through barriers to protest the site’s closing during the shutdown.

“This is the people’s memorial,” Cruz said in a speech. “Let me ask a simple question. Why is the federal government spending money to erect barricades to keep veterans out of this memorial?”

Those present weren’t all agreed upon the specifics of their grievances, according to the Washington Times. As one protestor put it: “There’s a three-part focus: veterans, impeachment and the truckers.”

Other Tea Partiers heckled the police at the White House. 

The fine, upstanding patriots who protesting at Washington, DC memorials ganged up on police at the White House calling them names like “Gestapo,” “Brown Shirts,” and “Stasi.” They also yelled that the security unit “looked like something out of Kenya.” These Tea Partiers have been making public displays about how much they love Americans serving in uniform, but that, apparently, doesn’t extend to police uniforms.

Stay classy my friends!!!

Meanwhile, the relevant people in the government were trying to figure out a way to open the government and avoid defaulting on the national debt.  Reid and McConnell are taking the three day weekend to try to find some common ground.  McConnell appears quite wed to the sequester which is devastating essential government services in an outrageous way. There doesn’t appear to be much movement on any one’s part.

In talks between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the main sticking point is now where to establish funding levels for the federal government and for how long. The Republican offer made on Friday — to set spending at sequestration levels of $988 billion for the next six months -– was rejected by Reid and others on Saturday on the grounds that it was too favorable to the GOP position and discouraged future negotiations.

By Sunday morning, little notable progress toward a resolution had been made. McConnell, according to sources, was adamant that the spending cuts of sequestration be maintained in any final arrangement.

“Sen. McConnell will defend the commitment Congress made on spending reductions; he’ll defend the law that Sen. Reid voted for and the president signed — and subsequently bragged about in his campaign,” said McConnell spokesman Don Stewart. “As I recall, Sen. Reid voted for, and President Obama signed the Budget Control Act [which established sequestration]. They may not like that the supercommittee didn’t act and we’re left with sequester, but under their own rhetoric, it’s ‘the law of the land.’”

Some of McConnell’s top deputies that echoed sentiment on the Sunday talk shows. “The president and leaders of Congress need to take the responsibility of dealing with the underlying problem and keep the budget caps in place,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) told “Meet The Press.” “My gosh, we just put them in place two years ago.”

“If you break the spending caps, you’re not going to get any Republicans in the Senate,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C.) said on ABC’s “This Week.”

There doesn’t appear to be any movement really on either side.  As I’ve written about before, nations around the world are not responding well to any of vintage-circus-and-sideshow-posters-2these.  The Chinese are calling for “De-Americization”  saying that Pax America has failed on all fronts.

China’s official news agency has called for the creation of a “de-Americanised world”, saying the destinies of people should not be left in the hands of a hypocritical nation with a dysfunctional government.

Heaping criticism and caustic ridicule on Washington, the Xinhua news agency called the US a civilian slayer, prisoner torturer and meddler in others’ affairs, and said the ‘Pax Americana’ was a failure on all fronts.

The official news agency of China, which is seen as the pretender to the world’s superpower crown, then rubbed in more salt, calling American economic pre-eminence just a seeming dominance.

“As US politicians of both political parties are still shuffling back and forth between the White House and the Capitol Hill without striking a viable deal to bring normality to the body politic they brag about, it is perhaps a good time for the befuddled world to start considering building a de-Americanised world,” the editorial said.

It asks why the self-declared protector of the world is sowing mayhem in thefinancial markets by failing to resolve political differences over key economic policy.

“… the cyclical stagnation in Washington for a viable bipartisan solution over a federal budget and an approval for raising debt ceiling has again left many nations’ tremendous dollar assets in jeopardy and the international community highly agonised,” the agency said.

It is not the first time Chinese leadership and newspapers have criticised Washington over a policy paralysis that threatens to devalue its dollar assets.

According to US Treasury Department data, China is the biggest foreign owner of US Treasuries at $1.28 trillion as of July. Besides, China also holds close to $3.5 trillion of dollar-denominated assets.

A US debt default and consequent credit downgrade would significantly erode the value of China’s holdings.

A U.S.default would put is in the company of some pretty rogue nations including 1933 Germany.

Reneging on its debt obligations would make the U.S. the first major Western government to default since Nazi Germany 80 years ago.

Germany unilaterally ceased payments on long-term borrowings on May 6, 1933, three months after Adolf Hitler was installed as Chancellor. The default helped cement Hitler’s power base following years of political instability as the Weimar Republic struggled with its crushing debts.

“These are generally catastrophic economic events,” said Professor Eugene N. White, an economics historian at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. “There is no happy ending.”

The debt reparations piled onto Germany, which in 1913 was the world’s third-biggest economy, sparked the hyperinflation, borrowings and political deadlock that brought the Nazis to power, and the default. It shows how excessive debt has capricious results, such as the civil war and despotism that ravaged Florence after England’s Edward III refused to pay his obligations from the city-state’s banks in 1339, and the Revolution of 1789 that followed the French Crown’s defaults in 1770 and 1788.

Failure by the world’s biggest economy to pay its debt in an interconnected, globalized world risks an array of devastating consequences that could lay waste to stock markets from Brazil to Zurich and bring the $5 trillion market in Treasury-backed loans to a halt. Borrowing costs would soar, the dollar’s role as the world’s reserve currency would be in doubt and the U.S. and world economies would risk plunging into recession — and potentially depression.

Ever thought about working for Amazon?  Well, Business Week’s look at Jeff Bezos may give you pause. 

The people who do well at Amazon are often those who thrive in an adversarial atmosphere with almost constant friction. Bezos abhors what he calls “social cohesion,” the natural impulse to seek consensus. He’d rather his minions battle it out backed by numbers and passion, and he has codified this approach in one of Amazon’s 14 leadership principles—the company’s highly prized values that are often discussed and inculcated into new hires:

Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.

Some employees love this confrontational culture and find they can’t work effectively anywhere else. “Everybody knows how hard it is and chooses to be there,” says Faisal Masud, who spent five years in the retail business. “You are learning constantly, and the pace of innovation is thrilling. I filed patents; I innovated. There is a fierce competitiveness in everything you do.” The professional networking site LinkedIn (LNKD) is full of “boomerangs”—Amazon-speak for executives who left the company and then returned. 

But other alumni call Amazon’s internal environment a “gladiator culture” and wouldn’t think of returning. Many last less than two years. “It’s a weird mix of a startup that is trying to be supercorporate and a corporation that is trying hard to still be a startup,” says Jenny Dibble, who was a marketing manager there for five months in 2011. She found her bosses were unreceptive to her ideas about using social media and that the long hours were incompatible with raising a family. “It was not a friendly environment,” she says. Even leaving Amazon can be a combative process—the company is not above sending letters threatening legal action if an employee takes a similar job at a competitor. Masud, who left Amazon for EBay(EBAY) in 2010, received such a threat. (EBay resolved the matter privately.)

vintage_circus_sideshow_fire_eater_posters-ra89fd673f2134c598efee923234cc864_850gq_8byvr_512Gladiator Culture?   Oy!!!

So, today is a holiday and I have to join a lot of people in asking why the heck do we still celebrate Columbus Day?  How do you “discover” something when it’s already been there and you actually were looking for some place else?  Then, you basically turn the place into a living hell for those you “discovered”?  Just don’t get it at all!

I’m still one of those that believes we should honor the first Americans!  That would be the ones who were already here when the Europeans invaded the place.

One issue that came up during our conversation was the fact that Columbus Day really should be renamed to Native American Day, in honor of the millions of people whose heritage has been ridiculed and ruined in mainstream media (when the plight of people living on reservations isn’t being ignored entirely, that is). However, when Brown University exchanged “Columbus Day” language for more neutral “Fall Weekend,” they were met with opposition from their College Republican group, whose leader argued “Columbus should be celebrated for bringing the European political tradition to the New World, which led to the foundation of the United States.”

Oh, dear!  I’m back to xenophobic and racist republicans again.  How did that happen?  Like I said, when they say take ‘our’ country back.  What the hell country and who do they mean?

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Sunday Reads: GOP and Agnotology

This vintage ad about sums it up...look at the symbolic GOP elephant and his poison can...

This vintage ad about sums it up…look at the symbolic GOP elephant and his poison spray can of DDT …

Good Morning

Agnotology. New word, for me at least…read this explanation and tell me if it strikes a chord with you. (Emphasis mine.)

Agnotology is the study of culturally induced ignorance.

Agnotology refocuses questions about “how we know” to include questions about what we do not know, and why not.

Londa Schiebinger, in the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 1 Sep. 2005.

Historians of science have tended to focus on the processes by which scientific knowledge gets accepted. In recent decades, some scholars have come to see that processes that impede or prevent acceptance of scientific findings are also important. Such processes include the very human desire to ignore unpleasant facts, media neglect of topics, corporate or government secrecy, and misrepresentation for a commercial or political end. They often generate controversy, much of it ill-informed. Examples include the health implications of tobacco and of genetically modified plants, the safety of nuclear power, the environmental consequences of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), and the existence or extent of man-made climate change.

Seriously, by that definition alone, and with those examples…you could just say that Agnotology is the study of Republicans.

While we are going through a GOP induced hell here in the states, some parts of India are living a real hell…being hit by one of the strongest typhoons in years. Cyclone Phailin makes landfall in India

A huge cyclone that has forced as many as 500,000 people to flee their homes has made landfall in eastern India.

Map of India

Winds were measured at 200 km/h (125mph) as Cyclone Phailin hit the coast near Gopalpur, Orissa state, at about 21:15 (15:45 GMT).

Authorities had predicted a storm surge of at least 3m (10ft) that was expected to cause extensive damage.

Officials say they are better prepared than in 1999 when a cyclone killed thousands of people in Orissa.

Cyclone Phailin has been classed as “very severe”, and the head of India’s Meteorological Office, LS Rathore, said it would remain in that category for six hours before losing strength.

An hour before Phailin made landfall, winds were over 150 mph.  New York Times is reporting that over 800,00 people have been evacuated…We will learn more as the morning progresses, I will post updates in the comments below.

Heading toward Russia, there was some violence at St Petersburg when a Russian gay rally ends in fights and arrests.

The clashes began after a protester had her rainbow flag ripped from her hands [Reuters]

Sixty-seven people were arrested after fightes broke out between gay rights activists and opponents at a rally in the Russian city of St Petersburg, according to local news sources.

Several dozen activists for  lesbian, gay, bisexual and transexual rights had gathered in the centre of the city for a sanctioned LGBT rally, which was held on what activists termed as “international coming out day”.

They were far outnumbered by the anti-gay demonstrators, including several dressed as Cossacks and Orthodox priests, who had occupied the site of the planned demo.

Fights broke out after anti-gay protesters tore a rainbow flag from a woman’s hands, and police then moved in to arrest those involved. They eventually detained 67 people from both sides, Russian news agencies reported.

The Winter Games are going to be one shitty scary mess.

Back here in the states, there was an arrest yesterday in a famous unsolved murder case out of New York City. New York police arrest man in 1991 ‘Baby Hope’ killing

New York City police have arrested a cousin in the killing of a 4-year-old girl dubbed “Baby Hope,” whose body was found crammed in a picnic cooler in 1991, police said on Saturday.

Conrado Juarez, 52, early on Saturday confessed to sexually assaulting and then smothering the girl, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told a news conference.

Police detained him at a Manhattan restaurant on Friday, more than 22 years after the girl’s death, he said.

The girl, dubbed “Baby Hope” by investigators, was never reported missing and was only recently identified.

Kelly named her as 4-year-old Anjelica Castillo.

Her bound, asphyxiated body was discovered stuffed underneath cans of soda inside a blue-and-white cooler alongside the Henry Hudson Highway in northern Manhattan in July of 1991. She had been starved and sexually abused, police said.

New York police announced on Tuesday they had identified the girl’s mother after following through on a tip they received over the summer. Her identity was confirmed through DNA testing and she was cooperating with the investigation, they said.

Finally some closure for the people who have worked this case for all these years, because it is obvious the family didn’t give a damn about this little girl at all.  Police say Juarez’s sister, who is dead, helped him dispose of Anjelica’s body. More information at this CNN link: NYPD arrests man in killing of ‘Baby Hope’

Update on Dartmouth: Dartmouth Suspends Wholesome Frat Over Hazing Emails

Meanwhile, Georgia’s Governor Deal may be under investigation. Read this AP report from North Georgia Access…it is a long article. I wonder if anything will come of it.: Attorney who raised questions about ethics complaints against Deal contacted by FBI  

I saw this next link via Google News from my hometown of Tampa: 10 News Investigators find memo warning about terrorist “dry-runs” on airplanes | wtsp.com Strange…and again not a lot of news on this in other media outlets.

Of course, if you want to see what is up with the shutdown: Senate leaders take over government shutdown talks – The Washington Post

Hey, I mentioned yesterday that I was having some problems with my gmail account, well…here are two links that you need to read if you use Facebook or Google:

Facebook Removing Option To Be Unsearchable By Name, Highlighting Lack Of Universal Privacy Controls | TechCrunch

“Who can look up your Timeline by name?” Anyone you haven’t blocked. Facebook is removing this privacy setting, notifying those who had hidden themselves that they’ll be searchable. It deleted the option from those who hadn’t used it in December, and is starting to push everyone to use privacy controls on each type of content they share. But there’s no one-click opt out of Facebook search.

Your Face May Appear in a Google Ad Soon- Mashable

If you’ve ever been appalled to see yourself or your friends used in a Facebook ad, then you’re not going to like Google‘s new terms of service.

The company updated its TOS on Friday to allow an adult user’s profile name and photo to appear in reviews and advertising starting Nov. 11.

And let me tell you, it is a bitch to find the dashboard on Google where you can fix this shit!

We have a personal connection to the PBS Frontline “League of Denial” that aired this past week, Boston Boomer’s brother created the trailer that angered the NFL so much they pressured ESPN to drop out of the project….well here’s a round-up of responses to the show via The Dish: The Football Fan’s Dilemma « The Dish

I think you will find this infographic from Huffpo interesting: The Geographic Inequality Of Death Row (INFOGRAPHIC)

October 10 marks the 11th World Day Against the Death Penalty, and the United States remains one of the top five countries in the world for executing its citizens — along with China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, according to Amnesty International. The 43 executions we carried out last year happened in just nine states; 15 of them were in Texas.

I am going to move on to the better part of today’s post…nothing depressing or disturbing.

There was this article at The New York Times which touched a personal side for me. Growing Up With a Disabled Sibling

Some research suggests that growing up with a disabled sibling can also infuse a person with a greater sense of responsibility, patience and compassion for others. Some siblings may be inspired to go into a helping profession, like medicine, teaching or public interest law. Others translate their early experience with disability into a greater appreciation for, and understanding of, the wide spectrum of human differences. I confess to keeping my own list of successful and accomplished people who have a sibling with Down syndrome, which includes the Olympic snowboarder Kevin Pearce (now himself disabled by a traumatic brain injury), the actor and singer Jamie Foxx, the actress Eva Longoria, and Amy Chua of “Tiger Mom” fame (and a Yale Law School professor).

That is just one paragraph I want to point out, you have to read the whole op/ed. It is great.I guess it is for me because I know the outcome of growing up with a disabled sibling…in my situation, Denny and I were always a package deal. So I see the hope in that piece.

There are some cool pictures at this link: We Could Stare At These Defaced Bills All Day

And hey…check it out: [VIDEO] ‘Remington Steele’ Reboot — NBC Plans Sequel I used to love that show, Pierce Brosnan was so damn hot.

Oh, and since this is October, two links on horror movies:

Future Recall: 10 Cage-Free Horror Films on the Web (Netflix, AMC, youtube) that span time… – Bright Lights After Dark

A Very Brief History of a Very Famous Mask – She Blogged By Night

And one on Classic Movies from the 50′s:

moviemorlocks.com – Biting the Hand That Feeds You: Movies About the Movies In the 1950s

Finally, this last article…which proves that an animal without a backbone is more intelligent than one of those Republicans, or at least the octopus can assist in the Agnotological study of the Republican Brain:  How the Freaky Octopus Can Help us Understand the Human Brain – Wired Science

If you were to measure octopus smarts by the number of neurons the creatures have (500 million to our almost 100 billion), they’d come up pretty dull. But forget that metric. The octopus’s neurons aren’t even concentrated in its head; about two-thirds of its “brains” are distributed in its arms, dedicated to the fine operation of these limbs and each of their hundreds of suckers. The rest of the neurons are split between a central brain—surrounding the esophagus—and large optic lobes behind the eyes. Like we said: alien.

But somehow octopuses do things that suggest they’re brainier than plenty of animals with backbones and more familiar nervous systems. Here’s an easy one: Lots of octopods have learned to twist off standard jar lids. But in 2003, biologists at the Seattle Aquarium challenged Billye, a female Enteroctopus dofleini—a giant Pacific octopus—with a childproof bottle, the kind that can baffle even the smartest Homo sapiens. Billye figured out the push-and-twist trick in a little less than an hour. And in subsequent attempts, she popped those tricky tops in a mere five minutes.

Is the vertebrate brain optimized for intelligence? Ask the octopus. | Robert Eikelpoth/Corbis

This is just the beginning of their abilities. Octopuses in the wild may be using tools—a feat that, not so long ago, was considered the exclusive domain of humans (though now we know it’s the province of other species too, like dolphins and some birds). Researchers have observed octopuses off the coast of Indonesia collecting—and awkwardly carrying—coconut shell halves along the sandy seafloor. For a shelter on the go, they whip out the two pieces of shell, swoop inside, and snap the pair shut. “That’s a spectacular example, because it really does suggest foresight,” says Jennifer Mather, who studies animal behavior at Canada’s University of Lethbridge. “In terms of cognition, that’s pretty good.”

Have a great Sunday!

Stop by and share what you are reading and blogging about today.


Saturday: 18 million

Hillary, the advocate. For 18 million and counting…

Morning, newsjunkies.

What a difference a few election cycles make… did you catch this from a week or so ago?

Samantha Power, October 2013:

Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in an interview broadcast Thursday that she regrets calling Hillary Rodham Clinton a “monster” during the 2008 presidential campaign.

“I regretted it pretty much every day since,” Power told NBC’s “Today.”

Interesting timing, that. The creative class-er set are gunning for their continued relevance in the Democratic party looking toward 2016 and beyond, and it’s been pretty clear that the comments coming out of the Obama ’08 veterans about Hills 2016 are at least partially  self-serving in that vein. (Past is prologue, and as Peter Daou reminded back in April–anyone calling Hillary inevitable in 2016, really isn’t the strongest of Hillary allies.)

Nonetheless–good for Power for saying the above anyway. Still have yet to hear of Axelrod’s regret over blaming Benazir Bhutto’s assassination on Hillary Clinton, but hey. I’m a realist. *wink*

Additionally, I think it’s good any time anyone on the D side reflects on 2008-present and recognizes that going after your core constituencies of women, working class, and older voters isn’t a good strategy strategically in the long term or morally ever.

Moarr, from the Power link:

“It just completely broke my heart that there is a fair amount of negativity heaped upon her that I find massively unfair,” she told “Today.” “And the idea that I could have contributed in some way to that narrative is just terrible.”

Power said apologizing to Clinton in person was “very emotional” for her.

Again, good for her and for women’s political participation in general, including Power’s herself. Hopefully. *Fingers crossed.*

Because, if this lesson isn’t retained–understand, this is the kind of negativity that we reinforce and exponentially multiply any time any of us calls any woman in politics a monster.

I was especially thrilled to hear this very un-monster like statement make it into the headlines and thus into our public discourse this morning, and of course from, of all people, our Hillary:

Hillary Clinton has called for a “sensible adult conversation”, to be held in a transparent way, about the boundaries of state surveillance highlighted by the leaking of secret NSA files by the whistleblower Edward Snowden.

In a boost to Nick Clegg, the British deputy prime minister, who is planning to start conversations within government about the oversight of Britain’s intelligence agencies, the former US secretary of state said it would be wrong to shut down a debate.

Clinton, who is seen as a frontrunner for the 2016 US presidential election, said at Chatham House in London: “This is a very important question. On the intelligence issue, we are democracies thank goodness, both the US and the UK.

“We need to have a sensible adult conversation about what is necessary to be done, and how to do it, in a way that is as transparent as it can be, with as much oversight and citizens’ understanding as there can be.”

THANK YOU, Madame Secretary! I have been waiting for someone more versed on the matter than me to make this point and make it forcefully. Awhile back I attempted to write a post on the competing issues of privacy vs. security–though I had tried to wade through the mass of expert opinions and viewpoints on the issue of surveillance in this country, including those contained within articles bostonboomer had been kind enough to send me at my request, I just felt woefully out of league in discussing the subject. It helps (well at least it helps me personally) to hear an emeritus [sic] stateswoman say we need to have a debate–that it would be wrong to shut it down. With Hillary having been on the frontlines of a sort of World Apology Tour in the aftermath of Wikileaks, it feels good to hear that she recognizes the complexity of the issue and doesn’t just dismiss out of hand concerns about privacy, the public’s right to have oversight over its government, etc. I would not expect any less from the woman who as a young Hillary Rodham cut her legal and political teeth working on the Watergate investigation.

Here’s an interesting open letter to Hillary in the Monterey County Herald:

Dear Hillary:

I’m a beleaguered elementary school teacher fighting in the California front-line trenches and I need to give you a guilt-ridden, heartfelt apology. Although I embraced most of your political positions, I felt at the time I had to vote strategically. When it mattered most, I voted for Barack Obama. But it ate my soul because you were the only candidate against No Child Left Behind.

NCLB destroyed public education. It was the biggest of bamboozles, gutting science and social studies for more than a decade, and the whole intrusion of private involvement (testing) in public education has been one of extracting money from classrooms. Race To The Top and Common Core are destructive subtractive chaotic cousins to NCLB.

I teach fifth-graders in a little town near Monterey. My kids are 10 years old. Last year, five students had dead parents. I had 30 kids, so that means one of six had a dead parent. Cancer, cars and gangs were the culprits. This year, I have 31 kids. Two of them soil themselves regularly. Remember, they are 10 years old.

One of my parents warned me her child has Tourette’s syndrome and will upon whim scream, “Chicken!” Nine of my students have set foot in a jail or prison to visit a family member. One of my favorite former students was incarcerated at age 13. He is 30 now and has spent 17 years in and out of prison. At the moment, he has two strikes and is on the run.

I have four special education kids in my class. The pull of gangs is all-powerful here. A few years ago, a former student’s mother was gunned down in a gangland slaying in nearby Salinas. The same child’s grandmother was shot in the face in another gang incident.

I boil over and fester when I hear any mention of “failing schools.” I teach in a desperate community of abject poverty. Poverty is the failure, not the bricks of my building nor the many noble and heroic teachers who have chosen to work in my school. Making teachers accountable for testing results with the abominable life conditions here is a disconnect so large the country is lucky teachers are not engaged in open rebellion. And the money lost to testing, test preparation, test result trainings, test motivation and test-improvement- consultant-magic-dances is repugnant.

All is focused on language arts and math. Nothing else matters, as it is not tested. Result — a diminished curriculum, no music, art, band, restricted field trips, if any. But unctuous consultants show up with paycheck regularity, drive-by checklists in hand. It is, as Diane Ravitch writes, a “Reign of Error.”

Therefore, Hillary, I apologize for voting strategically last time. Obama sang his song, “Yes, We Can,” but the reality is, “Nope, He Didn’t.” We need a president with brains and testicles — figuratively, that is. Bush qualified in one respect, but was shy in gray matter. Obama has brains, but many disappointed supporters wonder what is below the belt.

It is up to you. We need a president with brains and more. That would be you. Please, just remember the teachers and help us help our desperate kids.

 

Paul Karrer teaches in Castroville.

Do you think the above is emotional “hurt feelings” over 2008?

I don’t think Obama is the worst president in American history. In fact I was pretty adamant about Hillary not being the type to primary Obama in 2012, and precisely because I didn’t think he was a “monster” that needed to be removed from the presidency by extraordinary means that virtually no white male president before him ever had to face. (and, yes, I’m aware of the history with LBJ, but that’s really an exception that proves the rule.)

Yet, Obama is a moderate Republican president in all but name. Can’t we do better as a Democratic party? Because, I agree very much with this blog headline from WaPo in spirit: Hillary Clinton could win all 50 states running against Banana Republicans in 2016.

But, that only approaches some sort of realization in practice if we push this Democratic party to the left and make them prove they are an actual meaningful alternative to the Republicans. Just my two, anyway.

Also, too: Figuratively and literally, I think it’s time for ovaries over brovaries. Wendy 2014 and Hillary 2016.

Your turn in the comments, Sky Dancers. Have a wonderful weekend!


Friday Nite Lite: Hey big dummy…

…them little dummies are making you look dumber.

Evening Y’all!

Just a few today, the first one made me think of Sanford and Son, even though there was nothing “Sanford” about it:

Big Dummy – Political Cartoon by Rob Rogers, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – 10/11/2013

Cartoon by Rob Rogers - Big Dummy

Spreading democracy – Political Cartoon by Bruce Plante, Tulsa World – 10/04/2013

Cartoon by Bruce Plante - Spreading democracy

AAEC – Political Cartoon by David Horsey, Los Angeles Times – 10/11/2013

Cartoon by David Horsey -

STOOGES IN CONGRESS by Political Cartoonist Randy Bish

138687 600 STOOGES IN CONGRESS cartoons

10/10 Luckovich cartoon: On second thought… | Mike Luckovich

101013-toon-luckovich-ed

Tea Bug by Political Cartoonist Steve Sack

138658 600 Tea Bug cartoons

Smokin’ Bishop by Political Cartoonist Steve Sack

138695 600 Smokin Bishop cartoons

Russian Olympic torch by Political Cartoonist Jeff Darcy

138661 600 Russian Olympic torch cartoons

League of Denial by Political Cartoonist Milt Priggee

138644 600 League of Denial cartoons

10/13 Luckovich cartoon: What’s in a name? | Mike Luckovich

101313-toon-luckovich-ed

Koch Boys by Political Cartoonist Randall Enos

138663 600 Koch Boys cartoons

It’s an open thread…


Friday Reads

tumblr_m606wf7J3K1rrnekqo1_1280 Good Morning!

I think most of us that have lived awhile can attest to the fall in lifestyle and standards of living in the country.  I think it’s been rather obvious that it’s much more difficult to “get ahead” more than at any other time in recent U.S. history.  I ran across some interesting articles that sort’ve validated my gut feeling so I thought I’d share them with you.  I hope you don’t find them too depressing.  The first one indicates that the longevity of U.S. women just isn’t what it used to be. Why are U.S. women dying younger than their mothers?

Whether you think the Affordable Care Act is the right solution or a dangerous step toward tyranny, it’s hard to dispute that the U.S. health-care system is broken. More than 48 million people lack health insurance, and despite having the world’s highest levels of health-care spending per capita, the U.S. has some of the worst health outcomes among developed nations, lagging behind in key metrics like life expectancy, premature death rates, and death by treatable diseases, according to a July study in theJournal of the American Medicine Association.

For some Americans, the reality is far worse than the national statistics suggest. In particular, growing health disadvantages have disproportionately impacted women over the past three decades, especially those without a high-school diploma or who live in the South or West. In March, a study published by the University of Wisconsin researchers David Kindig and Erika Cheng found that in nearly half of U.S. counties, female mortality rates actually increased between 1992 and 2006, compared to just 3 percent of counties that saw male mortality increase over the same period.

“I was shocked, actually,” Kindig said. “So we went back and did the numbers again, and it came back the same. It’s overwhelming.”

Kindig’s findings were echoed in a July report from University of Washington researcher Chris Murray, which found that inequality in women’s health outcomes steadily increased between 1985 and 2010, with female life expectancy stagnating or declining in 45 percent of U.S. counties. Taken together, the two studies underscore a disturbing trend: While advancements in medicine and technology have prolonged U.S. life expectancy and decreased premature deaths overall, women in parts of the country have been left behind, and in some cases, they are dying younger than they were a generation before. The worst part is no one knows why.

I’ve always thought that the American Lifestyle that you find touted on TV and at most restaurants and stores is really at odds with living well.   Here’s an interesting vandongenkees-lucieandherpartner-inkblueskylist of items that also reminds me why I always wanted to just stay in Europe whenever I visited there. Are Europeans better at just living life?  Here’s one of the statistics that makes me realize how overworked the U.S. worker is and why we all just sort’ve wear out at some point in time.

Europeans:

The top seven nations in the world, in terms of time off? All European. Austrians get 35 (35!) paid days off per year. Nobody criticizes them for being lazy.

Americans:

Meanwhile, the U.S. is the sole developed nation that requires no paid vacation time or holidays by law.

There’s a lot of fun comparisons there including cars, cheese, and sports.  The link is good for a few smiles.

So, I lot of people subscribe to the idea of peak oil.  I’ve always thought I’d really rather go solar or some alternative for energy in the future since fossil fuels have such incredible problems.  I’m not all that concerned about an oil shortage, but a cocoa bean shortage?  That’s a completely different matter!!!

The world will officially run out on October 2, 2020.

Industry experts met in London last week to discuss the impending meltdown.

Confectionery giants revealed there are just not enough cocoa plantations across the globe to feed the demand.

They warned we would need the ­equivalent of another planet Earth to fill the gap needed to keep the chocolate ­industry going.

Prices are set to soar over the next few years as chocolate becomes harder to get hold of.

As a result many big-name ­companies are ­expected to fill bars that are smaller in size with more nuts and fruit because they are cheaper to produce.

Chocolate taster and expert Angus Kennedy said: “There will be a chocolate shortage and there isn’t a solution to the problem. Seven years is what we think we have left.

“Experts have worked out we need 2.3 globes to accommodate man’s needs for chocolate in terms of forestry and space.

“We need another Earth basically if we carry on at this rate. We are ­destroying the whole thing.

“The problem we’ve got is that much of the space that was used for cocoa ­plantations is no longer there.

“The Chinese love their cars and they have found that rubber makes more money than cocoa and at a much quicker pace.

“Cocoa farms are being chopped down and turned into rubber ­plantations because they get a ­better yield.

“If you plant a cocoa plant you get cocoa beans in four years, which means the farmers are ­waiting four years for a profit so ­obviously they think ‘What is the point?’”

Manufacturers from all over the world including Iran, Belgium, Lebanon, Germany and Switzerland met at the British Library last week for the annual Chocolate Industry Network Conference where they heard the worrying news.

3307_o_matisse_musiqueAt all curious about real US CIA agents in clandestine service?  Try reading this article at Newsweek.

After a stint in the Marines, Archibald began his CIA career as a weapons man in the agency’s special activities division – the “knuckle-draggers,” as they’re known around headquarters – during the Bosnian civil war. From there, he made it into the agency’s elite spy corps, rising to the rank equivalent of general in Pakistan.

How Archibald got his new job remains a mystery to everyone Newsweektalked to. One source thought he’d caught the eye of David Petraeus, whose brief tenure as CIA chief was short-circuited in 2012 by an extramarital affair. Other agency veterans think current CIA director John Brennan liked the former Marine’s non-confrontational style. Bonus points: There was not a whiff of scandal in his background, unlike that of the acting chief, who was closely identified with harsh interrogations and passed over in favor of Archibald. She stayed on as his deputy.

One agency veteran has a more nuanced take on the appointment: “Brennan is his own clandestine ops chief.” Another added, “[Brennan] doesn’t like anyone to argue with him much.”

But there are plenty of things to argue over, insiders say, starting with the layers upon layers of assistants to deputy assistants that clog the agency’s chains of command. Many agency old-timers are also dismayed that the CIA’s core mission of spying on major adversaries seems to have been eclipsed by constant commando raids and drone strikes against terrorist targets. All that, they contend, diverts the agency’s finite resources, time and attention from finding out what’s really going on inside Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin, China’s weapons labs or Iran’s nuclear program.

What does Frank Archibald think? Sorry. We can’t ask him.

Today is payday for hundreds of thousands of federal workers.  What will they get?

The paycheck federal workers have been dreading hit bank accounts across the region Friday, representing salaries cut in half for most idled employees. The next payday will be all zeros, and with furloughs dragging on, civil servants are settling into a financial crouch, slashing expenses, canceling vacations, tapping retirement savings and taking second jobs.

“We have no income coming into the house right now, but the bills haven’t stopped,” said John Ferris of Falls Church. He is in a two-furlough marriage; both he and his wife, Lena, are locked out of jobs at the Environmental Protection Agency. With both of their paychecks dwindling, the family of six has put a scalpel to the household budget.

They’ve cut out restaurants and expensive groceries. Gone are the motel stays at their kids travel softball tournaments; instead, they drive all night. But the most painful cut has been a furlough of their own, laying off their autistic son’s longtime reading specialist.

“He’s been with our family for years, and I love him to death, but I thought, ‘Wow, how am I going to pay him if we don’t have paychecks coming,’ ” Lena Ferris said. She worries that one of the shutdown’s lasting aftershocks could be her son’s having to adjust to a new tutor. “He needs money, too,” she said of the tutor. “I’m worried he’s going to start working for another family.”

Federal workers say they were hugely relieved by last week’s House vote toguarantee the missed pay after the furlough’s over. But that hasn’t eased their anxiety over the bills stacking up in the meantime. Some parents are stretching to pay for day care they don’t need just so they don’t lose their slots while waiting to go back to work. All around the region, the furloughed are looking for money to satisfy their creditors or begging fauvism3them for more time to pay their bills.

“A lot of our members have been asking to skip a payment,” said Pamela Hout, chief executive of the Census Federal  a Credit Union. Her staff has been working a few hours a week at the nearly deserted Census Bureau headquarters in Prince George’s County to meet the demand. “We’ve been accommodating them; all they have to do is show us their [furlough] letter.”

I need to add one more thing before I sign off this morning.  This is the month that we need to renew our domain and our ability to customize things here.  The bill is about $100  per year so just a bit of a donation to the blog would be much appreciated.  The specialized font comes due in about a month after that so any thing above that will be held until that comes due!!!  Thanks so much!!!

So, that’s my little bit of this and that on a Friday.  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Thursday Reads: Psychological Approaches to the Current Political Situation

Harvard Bookstore, Cambridge, MA

Harvard Bookstore, Cambridge, MA

Good Morning!

Today I’m going to focus on some psychological studies and psychological ideas that relate to the news of the day.

A recent study by two social psychologists at The New School in NYC, found that reading literary fiction improves Theory of Mind, or the “ability to infer and understand other people’s thoughts and emotions” as well as the “capacity for empathy.”

From Scientific American:

Emanuele Castano, a social psychologist, along with PhD candidate David Kidd conducted five studies in which they divided a varying number of participants (ranging from 86 to 356) and gave them different reading assignments: excerpts from genre (or popular) fiction, literary fiction, nonfiction or nothing. After they finished the excerpts the participants took a test that measured their ability to infer and understand other people’s thoughts and emotions. The researchers found, to their surprise, a significant difference between the literary- and genre-fiction readers.

When study participants read non-fiction or nothing, their results were unimpressive. When they read excerpts of genre fiction, such as Danielle Steel’s The Sins of the Mother, their test results were dually insignificant. However, when they read literary fiction, such as The Round House by Louise Erdrich, their test results improved markedly—and, by implication, so did their capacity for empathy. The study was published October 4 in Science….

The results suggest that reading fiction is a valuable socializing influence. The study data couldinform debates over how much fiction should be included in educational curricula and whether reading programs should be implemented in prisons, where reading literary fiction might improve inmates’ social functioning and empathy. Castano also hopes the finding will encourage autistic people to engage in more literary fiction, in the hope it could improve their ability to empathize without the side effects of medication.

There’s a little more detail on the study at the Guardian books blog:

“What great writers do is to turn you into the writer. In literary fiction, the incompleteness of the characters turns your mind to trying to understand the minds of others,” said Kidd.

Kidd and Castano, who have published their paper in Science, make a similar distinction between “writerly” writing and “readerly” writing to that made by Roland Barthes in his book on literary theory, The Pleasure of the Text. Mindful of the difficulties of determining what is literary fiction and what is not, certain of the literary extracts were chosen from the PEN/O Henry prize 2012 winners’ anthology and the US National book awards finalists.

“Some writing is what you call ‘writerly’, you fill in the gaps and participate, and some is ‘readerly’, and you’re entertained. We tend to see ‘readerly’ more in genre fiction like adventure, romance and thrillers, where the author dictates your experience as a reader. Literary [writerly] fiction lets you go into a new environment and you have to find your own way,” Kidd said.

As the authors admit, one problem with this study is determining what is “literary fiction” and what is “genre fiction.” In some cases, there is quite a bit of crossover in the selections they used. For example, they classify Louise Erdrich’s The Round House as “literary,” and Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, as “genre” fiction. But The Round House has characteristics of a “thriller,” in that its subject is crime; and Flynn is a fine writer, and Gone Girl is in many ways a “writerly” work with a heavy focus on characters’ thinking processes and internal dialogues.

The Guardian quotes a psychologist who objects to Kidd and Castano’s use of Theory of Mind tests to measure the effects of reading different types of fiction.

Philip Davies, a professor of psychological sciences at Liverpool University, whose work with the Reader Organisation connects prisoners with literature, said they were “a bit odd”.

“Testing people’s ability to read faces is a bit odd. The thing about novels is that they give you a view of an inner world that’s not on show. Often what you learn from novels is to be a bit baffled … a novel tells you not to judge,” Davies said.

“In Great Expectations, Pip is embarrassed by Joe, because he’s crude and Pip is on the way up. Reading it, you ask yourself, what is it like to be Pip and what’s it like to be Joe? Would I behave better than Pip in his situation? It’s the spaces which emerge between the two characters where empathy occurs.”

Nevertheless, it’s an interesting study. Now if we could only get the Tea Party folks and super-rich Wall Street types to read more literary fiction!

Harvard Bookstore, Harvard Square

Harvard Bookstore, Harvard Square

The results of another social psychological study, this one at Duke University, showed that people with “extreme” political views have a sense of superiority over people with different views. From Psych Central:

Duke University investigators examined whether one end of the American political spectrum believes more strongly than the other in the superiority of its principles and positions.

They found both sides have elements of “belief superiority,” depending on the issue.

When asked about nine hot-button issues, conservatives feel most superior about their views on voter identification laws, taxes and affirmative action. Liberals feel most superior about their views on government aid for the needy, torture and not basing laws on religion.

The study is found in the online edition of Psychological Science.

Investigators questioned 527 adults, (289 men, 238 women), ages 18-67, about the issues. They then examined whether those who endorse the extremes of conservative and liberal viewpoints demonstrate greater belief superiority than those who hold moderate views.

The study asked participants to not only report their attitudes on the nine topics, but also how superior they feel about their viewpoint for each issue.

According to Diana Reese at the Washington Post, 

The study was inspired by the 2012 presidential election campaign. “We were looking at things like comments on blogs and pundits and politicians on TV,” Dr. Kaitlin Toner said in a phone interview. “It seemed like there were a lot of people who felt very certain that their views were correct but they contradicted one another and there’s no way that everyone could be 100 percent correct all the time.” Toner, the lead author on the study, did the research while a graduate student at Duke….

Don’t confuse belief superiority with dogmatism, though. The latter is “a personality trait,” Toner explained. “It’s a measure of inflexibility….You’re holding a belief rigidly and won’t change.”

In other words, you can hold “superior” beliefs that you’re right and the rest of the world is wrong about a particular issue, but still be able to change your mind, unless you’re dogmatic about your viewpoint.

Previous research has shown that conservatives tend to be more dogmatic, and Toner said their study found the same results, with dogmatism increasing as views moved to the right of the political spectrum.

Another social psychologist from Duke University has a post at HuffPo called The Psychology of Being Online, in which he discusses several studies of the ways in which people react to being in virtual world. You can check them out at the link.

City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco, CA

City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco, CA

Here’s a fascinating article by Justin Fox at the Harvard Business Review. It’s based on behavioral economics–a sort of combination of economic and psychological theories. Fox attempts to explain our current political/economic impasse using game theory. You should read the whole thing, but here an excerpt:

Some portray it as a Manichean struggle between good and evil. Warren Buffett says it’s “extreme idiocy.” I’d like to recommend another way of looking at the government shutdown and the looming battle over the debt ceiling in Washington. It’s a game, played by flawed-but-not-crazy human beings under confusing circumstances. In other words, it’s an interaction among “agents” who “base their decisions on limited information about actions of other agents in the recent past, and they do not always optimize.”

That quote is from economist H. Peyton Young’s “The Evolution of Conventions,” one of several works of game theory I plowed my way through this week in an attempt to find a way to think about the government shutdown and looming debt ceiling fight that didn’t make me want to bang my head against a wall. My reading made the dynamics at work in Congress and at the White House a bit clearer — and thus slightly less maddening, if not less ominous.

The debt-limit game

There are lots of different games being played in Washington at the moment, but the main one I have in mind pits the Democratic White House and Senate against the Republican House of Representatives over the federal budget. The deadlocked players have already landed us in a partial government shutdown, but it’s the 18th since 1976 and thus really not that big a deal. The far bigger stakes involve the federal borrowing limit that is due to be breached in a couple of weeks if Congress doesn’t approve an increase. Without further borrowing, much higher taxes, or draconian spending cuts — none of which may be possible or even legal on short notice — the government might not be able to service its existing debts, leading to a default. Congress has never allowed this to happen, so the consequences are unknowable, but they could be really bad.

Now go read the rest if you’re interested, and see what you think.

Here’s another interesting article that combines economic and psychological approaches by Douglas T. Kenrick of Psychology Today: Cruzonomics: The Problem of Free Market Psychology,

Senator Ted Cruz is a fan of the classic model of economic decision-making: sometimes called the Rational Man* view.   On this view, every one of your decisions is designed to maximize “utility” – which translates loosely into personal satisfaction.  If it feels good now, or will make you feel good later, choose it!  Advocates of this position believe that we are, in general, pretty facile at processing information, and at coming to shrewd self-serving decisions.  If you read the book Freakonomics, the authors explain how even seemingly senseless decisions, like changing one’s occupation from computer technician to prostitute, or living at home if you are a drug dealer, are well explained by economic incentive structures.  We are all, on this view, continuously operating like the high-roller in the movie Wall Street, who, while considering a shady deal, asks: “What’s in it for moi?”

Ask NOT what you can do for your country…

On this view, selfishness is not a bad thing.  On the contrary, it is a virtue.  The intellectual patron saint of free-market economics is Adam Smith, who argued that an “invisible hand” moves us toward mutually beneficial arrangements when everyone pursues his self-interest.  For example, if consumers freely compare different fruit vendors at the market place, they will choose the one who charges the lowest price, but the price will not fall below the farmer’s costs of production, or he will go out of business.

But there are a few problems with the Rational Man view.  One is that people often fail to act in ways that economists regard as perfectly rational.  For example, there is a laboratory game called the Ultimatum Game.  Imagine that an experimenter hands you $100 and instructs you to divide it between yourself and a stranger in the next room.  You can divide it any way you want, but there is one stipulation: If the bloke in the next room doesn’t like your offer, nobody gets anything.  What should you offer?

And if you happen to be the bloke on the receiving end of such an ultimatum, how low an offer should you accept?

Again, I hope you’ll read the whole thing and share your views.

The science fiction section at City Lights Bookstore

The science fiction section at City Lights Bookstore

Finally, check out this sociological/psychological essay at Salon, by Michael Lind: Tea Party radicalism is misunderstood: Meet the “Newest Right.” Again, I can’t really do the piece justice with an excerpt, but here’s a taste:

To judge from the commentary inspired by the shutdown, most progressives and centrists, and even many non-Tea Party conservatives, do not understand the radical force that has captured the Republican Party and paralyzed the federal government. Having grown up in what is rapidly becoming a Tea Party heartland–Texas–I think I do understand it. Allow me to clear away a few misconceptions about what really should be called, not the Tea Party Right, but the Newest Right.

The first misconception that is widespread in the commentariat is that the Newest Right can be thought of as being simply a group of “extremists” who happen to be further on the same political spectrum on which leftists, liberals, centrists and moderate conservatives find their places. But reducing politics to points on a single line is more confusing than enlightening. Most political movements result from the intersection of several axes—ideology, class, occupation, religion, ethnicity and region—of which abstract ideology is seldom the most important.

The second misconception is that the Newest Right or Tea Party Right is populist. The data, however, show that Tea Party activists and leaders on average are more affluent than the average American. The white working class often votes for the Newest Right, but then the white working class has voted for Republicans ever since Nixon. For all its Jacksonian populist rhetoric, the Newest Right is no more a rebellion of the white working class than was the original faux-populist Jacksonian movement, led by rich slaveowners like Andrew Jackson and agents of New York banks like Martin Van Buren.

The third misconception is that the Newest Right is irrational. The American center-left, whose white social base is among highly-educated, credentialed individuals like professors and professionals, repeatedly has committed political suicide by assuming that anyone who disagrees with its views is an ignorant “Neanderthal.” Progressive snobs to the contrary, the leaders of the Newest Right, including Harvard-educated Ted Cruz, like the leaders of any successful political movement, tend to be highly educated and well-off. The self-described members of the Tea Party tend to be more affluent and educated than the general public.

Read the rest at Salon.

I hope you’ll find something useful and/or enlightening among these psychological approaches to our current crazy political environment. Now what stories are you focusing on today. Please share your ideas and links in the comment thread.