Friday Reads

Good Morning!

I thought I’d try to get off the topic of the midterm elections specifically and get on to some general things about why the U.S. Political System seems so completely screwed up right now.  What exactly has led us to the point where the Republicans seem to be a combination of the John Birch banksy-dreams_00349040Society and Theocrats and the Democratic Party sits idly by and twiddles its thumbs hoping the process works like it used to?

William Pfaff has a few things to say about this in an article titled “How Ronald Reagan and the Supreme Court Turned American Politics Into a Cesspool”.   One of the things that does completely amaze me is how the entire Reagan Presidency has turned into a narrative that’s more saga and drama than reality.  There’s some really interesting points here.  How did this election get so removed from reality in that people voted for one set of priorities when it came to issues like marijuana legalization and the minimum wage but then sent people to the District diametrically opposed to these policies?

The second significance of this election has been the debasement of debate to a level of vulgarity, misinformation and ignorance that, while not unprecedented in American political history, certainly attained new depths and extent.

This disastrous state of affairs is the product of two Supreme Court decisions and before that, of the repeal under the Reagan Administration, of the provision in the Federal Communications Act of 1934, stipulating the public service obligations of radio (and subsequently, of television) broadcasters in exchange for the government’s concession to them of free use in their businesses of the public airways.

These rules required broadcasters to provide “public interest” programming, including the coverage of electoral campaigns for public office and the independent examination of public issues. The termination of these requirements made possible the wave of demagogic and partisan right-wing “talk radio” that since has plagued American broadcasting and muddied American electoral politics.

Those readers old enough to remember the radio and early television broadcasting of pre-Reagan America will recall the non-partisan news reports and summaries provided by the national networks and by local stations in the United States. There were, of course, popular news commentators professing strong or idiosyncratic views as well, but the industry assured that a variety of responsible opinions were expressed, and that blatant falsehood was banned or corrected.

The two Supreme Court decisions were “Buckley v. Valeo” in 1976 and “Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission” in 2010. Jointly, they have transformed the nature of the American political campaign, and indeed the nature of American national politics. This resulted from the nature and characteristics of mass communications in the United States and the fact that broadcasting has from the beginning been all but totally a commercial undertaking (unlike the state broadcasters in Canada and Britain, and nearly all of Europe).

The two decisions turned political contests into competitions in campaign advertising expenditure on television and radio. The election just ended caused every American linked to the internet to be bombarded by thousands (or what seemed tens of thousands) of political messages pleading for campaign money and listing the enormous (naturally) sums pouring into the coffers of the enemy.

Previously the American campaign first concerned the candidate and the nature of his or her political platform. Friends and supporters could, of course, contribute to campaign funds and expenditures, but these contributions were limited by law in scale and nature. No overt connection was allowed between businesses or industries and major political candidates, since this would have implied that the candidate represented “special interests” rather than the general interest.

The Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission verdict is well known and remains highly controversial since it rendered impossible the imposition of legal limits on political campaign spending, ruling that electoral spending is an exercise in constitutionally-protected free speech. Moreover, it adjudged commercial corporations as legal citizens, in electoral matters the equivalent of persons.

BanksyCleaningUpWhat role has Citizen’s United played in our elections? 

Don’t think Citizens United made a difference for the GOP in Tuesday’s midterms? The plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case thinks so.

Citizens United, our Supreme Court case, leveled the playing field, and we’re very proud of the impact that had in last night’s election,” said David Bossie, chairman of the conservative advocacy organization.

He complained that Democratic lawmakers were trying to “gut the First Amendment” with their proposed constitutional amendment to overturn the 2010 ruling, reported Right Wing Watch, which allowed corporations to pour cash into campaigns without disclosing their contributions.

Bossie said this so-called “dark money” was crucial to Republicans gaining control of the U.S. Senate and strengthening their grip on the U.S. House of Representatives.

“A robust conversation, which is what a level playing field allows, really creates an opportunity for the American people to get information and make good decisions,” Bossie said.

Besides the role of dark money, the number of states that will continue to enact voter suppression measures between now and 2016 is expected to increase.

Voters across the country trying to cast votes in Tuesday’s elections ran into hurdles erected by Republican legislatures, governors and secretaries of state. Along with mechanical glitches and human error — which occurred in states with leaders on both sides of the political spectrum — voters faced new laws and policies that made it harder to vote.

In Alabama, a last-minute decision by the attorney general barred people from using public housing IDs to vote. Voter ID laws in North Carolina and Texas sowed confusion. Georgia lost 40,000 voter registrations, mostly from minorities. In all, the group Election Protection reported receiving 18,000 calls on Election Day, many of them having to do with voter ID laws. The group noted that the flurry of calls represented “a nearly 40 percent increase from 13,000 calls received in 2010.”

In the presidential election year of 2016, it looks unlikely that those problems will subside — especially if Congress fails to restore the Voting Rights Act. The two states that had the closest vote tallies in the last presidential election — Florida and Ohio — will go into the presidential election year with Republicans controlling the offices of governor and secretary of state and holding majorities in their state legislatures.

In Florida, Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who won reelection yesterday, will be able to appoint a secretary of state and will enjoy the support of a veto-proof Republican majority in the state House.

In Ohio, controversial Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted won reelection on Tuesday, along with Gov. John Kasich. They’ll be able to work with a strengthened GOP majority in the state legislature.

In North Carolina, where a Republican legislature and governor have cracked down on voting rights, the GOP held onto its majority. Republican secretary of state candidates in the swing states of Colorado, Iowa and Nevada also won elections yesterday.

Two influential elections for voting rights also took place in states unlikely to be presidential swing states. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a national ringleader for advocates of restrictive voting laws, won reelection. In Arizona, which has been working with Kansas to defend their states’ respective tough voting requirements, Republican candidate Michele Reagan also won her contest.

Suppression of voting rights and purposeful spread of lies, propaganda, and disinformation are likely to continue as the 2016 Presidential Political season begins.Will the Democratic Party learn anything from the last two disastrous mid term elections? banksy-w1200

This fall, Democrats ran like they were afraid of losing. Consider the issues that most Democrats think really matter: Climate change, which a United Nations report just warned will have “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts” across the globe. The expansion of Medicaid, so millions of poor families have health coverage. Our immoral and incoherent immigration system. Our epidemic of gun violence, which produces a mini-Sandy Hook every few weeks. The rigging of America’s political and economic system by the 1 percent.

For the most part, Democratic candidates shied away from these issues because they were too controversial. Instead they stuck to topics that were safe, familiar, and broadly popular: the minimum wage, outsourcing, and the “war on women.” The result, for the most part, was homogenized, inauthentic, forgettable campaigns. Think about the Democrats who ran in contested seats Tuesday night: Grimes, Nunn, Hagan, Pryor, Hagan, Shaheen, Landrieu, Braley, Udall, Begich, Warner. During the entire campaign, did a single one of them have what Joe Klein once called a “Turnip Day moment”—a bold, spontaneous outbreak of genuine conviction? Did a single one unfetter himself or herself from the consultants and take a political risk to support something he or she passionately believed was right?

I’m not claiming that such displays would have changed the outcome. Given President Obama’s unpopularity, Democratic victories, especially in red states, may have been impossible.

But there is a crucial lesson here for 2016. In recent years, some Democrats have convinced themselves they can turn out African Americans, Latinos, single women, the poor, and the young merely by employing fancy computer systems and exploiting Republican extremism. But technologically, Republicans are catching up, and they’re getting shrewder about blunting, or at least masking, the harshness of their views.

We saw the consequences on Tuesday. According to exit polls, voters under 30 constituted only 13 percent of the electorate, down from 19 percent in 2012. In Florida, the Latino share of the electorate dropped from 17 to 13 percent. In North Carolina, the African-American share dropped from 23 to 21 percent.

If Hillary Clinton wants to reverse those numbers, she’s going to have to inspire people—people who, more than their Republican counterparts, are inclined toward disconnection and despair. And her gender alone won’t be enough. She lost to Obama in 2008 in part because she could not overcome her penchant for ultra-cautious, hyper-sanitized, consultant-speak. Yet on the stump this year, she was as deadening as the candidates she campaigned for. As Molly Ball put it in September, “Everywhere Hillary Clinton goes, a thousand cameras follow. Then she opens her mouth, and nothing happens.”

Then, there is this: Former Republican Committeemen Claim Election Judges Coerced Into Voting GOP. banksy-wallpaper-tumblr-12-wide

A day after the election, officials are still counting ballots and the investigation into who made robocalls that allegedly persuaded many judges not to show up Tuesday is heating up.

Two former Republican committeemen are telling 2 Investigator Pam Zekman they were removed because they objected to those tactics.

Judges of election are appointed by their respective parties and they look at a judge’s primary voting records as part of the vetting process. But in these cases the former committeemen we talked to said that vetting crossed a line when judges were told who they had to vote for in the Tuesdays’ election.

One says it happened at a temporary campaign headquarters at 8140 S. Western Ave, which we’ve confirmed it was rented by the Republican Party where election judges reported they were falsely told they had to appear for additional training.

And a former 7th ward committeewoman says she witnessed the same thing at 511. E. 79th Street campaign workers calling judges to come in for additional training. She says there wasn’t any training.

“They were calling election judges, telling them to come in so they could get specific orders to vote for the Republican Party,” said Charon Bryson.

She says she is a Republican but objected to the tactic used on the judges.

“They should not be be pressured or coerced into voting for someone to get a job, or to get an appointment,” said Bryson.

Bryson says she thinks it is like “buying a vote.”

“If you don’t vote Republican you will not be an Republican judge, which pays $170,” she said.

The Board of Elections is now investigating whether calls to judges assigned citywide resulted in a shortage that infuriated the mayor.

“What happened with the robocalls was intentional. As far as we can tell somebody got a list, a list with names and numbers, called them, not to educate, not to promote the democratic process, but to sew confusion,” Emanuel said.

imagesScared by polls that show that people do not want Republican policies and by changes in demographics, Republicans have been pulling out the stops to turn back the tide.  However, none of these fundamentals seem to be driving voting trends or turnout.  WTF is wrong with people?  As a member of the White Women Constituency who seem to be one of the groups that continues to vote against their own interest, I can agree that we should all get our acts together now.  Nowhere was this more evident than in the Wendy Davis campaign.

Once more, with feeling: Greg Abbott and the Republican Party did not win women. They won white women. Time and time again, people of color have stood up for reproductive rights, for affordable health care, for immigrant communities while white folks vote a straight “I got mine” party ticket—even when they haven’t, really, gotten theirs.

The trend is echoed in national politics; we saw it play out across the country last night. To be sure, there are many factors that contributed to America’s rightward dive over the cliff: In a post-Citizens United electoral landscape, racist gerrymandering and voter ID laws appear to have had their intended effects of dividing and disenfranchising already marginalized voters.

But there’s another factor at play that Democrats fail to grapple with, and the Republican Party capitalizes on, time and time again: the historical crisis of empathy in the white community, one much older than gerrymandered congressional districts or poll taxes.

Let’s talk about what a vote for Wendy Davis meant: It meant a vote for strong public school funding, for Texas Medicaid expansion, for affordable family planning care, for environmental reforms, for access to a full spectrum of reproductive health-care options.

On the flip side, a vote for Greg Abbott meant a vote for the status quo, for empowering big industry and big political donors, for cutting public school funds and dismantling the Affordable Care Act, for overturning Roe v. Wade.

White women chose Greg Abbott Tuesday night. We did not choose empathy. Texas has been red for two decades. We do not choose empathy. We choose the fact that our children will always have access to education, that our daughters will always be able to fly to California or New York for abortion care, that our mothers will always be able to get that crucial Pap smear.

We chose a future where maternal mortality—but not our maternal mortality—rates will rise. We chose a future where preventable deaths from cervical cancer—but not our deaths—will rise. We chose a future where deaths from illegal, back-alley abortions—but not our illegal, back-alley abortions—will rise. We chose ourselves, and only ourselves.

Is white privilege such an enticing thing to us that we’ll sell ourselves out just to protect what scraps we’re thrown?

Anyway, between dark money, voter suppression, and the number of voters willing to vote against their policy beliefs and interests, we’re in trouble as a nation.  The Democratic Party just bailed on Mary Landrieu and I’m about to get a Senator that wants to raise Social Security eligibility to age 70, privatize Medicare with vouchers,  and defund student loans.  This doesn’t even count that he voted no to hurricane relief for his own constituents after Hurricane Isaac. At this rate, every white person in the country should get a tube of astrolube with their ballot.  Bend over folks, cause you’ve done it to yourselves!

What’s on your reading and blogging list?


It’s Finally Happened: Obama Has Driven the Pundits Insane!

samuelson

Sure, these two guys were a little nutty to begin with, but now they’ve gone around the bend.

First up: Have you seen the latest drivel from Robert J. Samuelson? Seriously, even the Washington Post should be ashamed to publish this guy. Get this — Samuelson says that sequestration is John F. Kennedy’s fault!

How so?

Fifty years ago, President Kennedy made a decision that, with hindsight, ranks as the biggest mistake of domestic policy since World War II. In many ways, it led directly to today’s “sequester” debacle.

Good Grief! What’s he talking about? The Bay of Pigs? The Cuban missile crisis?

No silly, President Kennedy decided to stimulate the economy.

In early 1963, he proposed a $13.6 billion tax cut (today: about $320 billion) even though the economy was not in recession and the tax cut would enlarge the budget deficit. Kennedy adopted the theory that government could, by manipulating its budgets, increase economic growth, reach “full employment” (then a 4 percent unemployment rate) and reduce — or eliminate — recessions.

It was a disaster.

High inflation was the first shock. An initial boom (by 1969, unemployment was 3.5 percent) spawned a wage-price spiral. With government seeming to guarantee 4 percent unemployment, workers and businesses had little reason to restrain wages and prices. In 1960, inflation was 1 percent; by 1980, it was 13 percent. The economy became less stable. From 1969 to 1982, there were four recessions, as the Federal Reserve alternated between trying to push unemployment down and prevent inflation from going up. Only in the early 1980s did the Fed, under Paul Volcker and with Ronald Reagan’s support, crush inflationary psychology.

JFK tax cut

A disaster? Really? I was a kid in the 1960s. The economy was great in those days–until 1973, those were the best economic times I’ve experienced in my lifetime. Unemployment was low, wages were good, people like my parents were movin’ on up to the middle class. But don’t take it from me–let’s see what an actual economist has to say about this. Here’s Dean Baker at the Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR):

Samuelson’s economic history is even more striking than the linking of Kennedy to the sequester. He notes the fiscal stimulus that was sparked by the Kennedy tax cuts (and the Vietnam War and Johnson’s Great Society programs) and the boom that resulted, and tells us that “it was a disaster.”

….

Before looking at Samuelson’s horror story here, it is worth noting what happened in the boom, which can be treated as going through 1973, in spite of the recession in 1969. Growth over the 10 years from 1963 to 1973 averaged 4.4 percent, by far the most rapid stretch in the post-World War II era.

The unemployment rate hovered near 4.0 percent for most of this period, as Samuelson complains. This led to large gains in real wages and sharp declines in poverty. The overall poverty rate fell from 19.5 percent in 1963 percent to 11.1 percent in 1973, an all-time low. For African Americans the poverty rate fell from 55.1 percent in 1959 (annual data is not available) to 31.4 percent in 1973. I suspect most folks wouldn’t mind a few more disasters like this one.

As far as the recession story, Samuelson might have told readers that we had the same number of recessions in the 13 years following 1969 as we did in the 12 years preceding 1961. I suppose those recessions were also due to the Kennedy tax cut.

There’s lots more at both links. But you have to read Samuelson’s column to believe it. He goes on to claim that because of JFK’s tax cut, we developed “the loss of budgetary discipline,” and we’re still suffering from that 50 years later. So how does he rationalize the deficit spending under Reagan and W. Bush? He doesn’t.

And over at The New York Times, Iraq War propagandist Bill Keller disagrees with Samuelson: he thinks sequestration is “Obama’s Fault.” And of course he’s still droning on about “entitlements.” Keller admits that both parties agreed on the sequestration cuts, but it’s still really Obama’s fault because he hasn’t completely destroyed the safety net yet. And here’s the best part: Obama refuses to enact Simpson Bowles.

11keller

In December 2010 the commission, led by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, delivered its list of spending cuts and revenue increases, plus the entitlement reforms necessary to fortify Medicare and Social Security for the surge of baby-boom retirees.

The Simpson-Bowles agenda was imperfect, and had plenty to offend ideologues of the left and right, which meant that it was the very manifestation of what Obama likes to call “a balanced approach.”

Ummm…no, Bill, the Commission never issued a report. They couldn’t agree on a unified agenda, so Simpson and Bowles wrote up their own report which was never approved by the commission members.

Now here’s where Keller really goes off the rails:

If Obama had campaigned on some version of Simpson-Bowles rather than on poll-tested tax hikes alone, he could now claim a mandate from voters to do something big and bold. Most important, he would have some leverage with members of his own base who don’t want to touch Medicare even to save it. This was missed opportunity No. 1.

That’s really funny. If Obama had campaigned on Simpson-Bowles, Mitt Romney would be president now. Because if you campaign on really really unpopular issues, people have a tendency to like, not vote for you.

There’s much more at the link, but you get the idea.


Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!

I was working on this post for a good hour last night, and when I went to save what I had written, WordPress logged me out and wiped out the whole thing! I couldn’t begin to recall everything I had written, and I was extremely discouraged to put it mildly.

Next time, I’ll try to remember to save my work more often. For awhile there WordPress had managed to save posts even when they did their stupid logout trick. But not last night. I did my best to redo the stuff I lost, but I know I lost some bon mots.

After a brief truce in deference to the latest mass murder in the U.S., President Obama and Mitt Romney returned to campaigning yesterday. President Obama spoke to the Veterans of Foreign Wars while his challenger raised more millions. The LA Times summarizes the back and forth.

President Obama’s campaign…accus[ed] Romney of harboring a “secret” foreign policy, and pushing him to detail his plans to end the war in Afghanistan and his approach to Russia and Israel. The Romney campaign responded by saying the president had eroded key alliances and promising Romney would “restore the pillars of American strength.”

In a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Reno, Obama portrayed his foreign policy record as one of promises fulfilled, and he took veiled jabs at Romney and other critics of his withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and drawdown of troops from Afghanistan.

Today Romney will speak to the VFW before heading off to London to see the Olympics, attend two posh fundraisers, and meet with some British VIPs. After that he heads to Israel for a meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu and another fundraiser, and then on to Poland, where he

will visit Gdansk and Warsaw on July 30 and 31 at the invitation of Lech Walesa, the communist-era dissident who in 1983 won the Nobel Peace Prize for his defiance of the communist regime.

There were a couple of good hit pieces on Romney at the Huffington Post yesterday.

Ryan Grim: Mitt Romney Made Over $25 Million In Foreign Income While Governing, Campaigning.

Mitt Romney accumulated more than $25 million in foreign income between 2005 and 2010, while he was governor of Massachusetts and a presidential candidate, according to an analysis of his 2010 tax return.

The 2010 return lists foreign tax payments Romney made dating back to 2000. By Romney standards, the payments were modest through 2004, averaging $37,000 a year. In 2005, however, his foreign tax bill shot up to $333,149 and stayed high for the next three years, before dipping in 2009, as the financial crisis hit hard.

In 2010, Romney’s foreign tax bill was down to $67,173 on declared foreign income of $1,525,982. That’s a 4.4 percent rate. After expenses and various other deductions, Romney declared a net foreign income of $392,000, making his net tax rate 17 percent.

Because the presumptive GOP presidential nominee has so far declined to release his earlier tax returns, HuffPost made a rough calculation of his prior foreign earnings by assuming he paid similar tax rates in previous years.

Read the rest at the link.

Jason Cherkis and Laura Bassett: Bain Capital Created ‘Demoralizing’ Culture of Layoffs At Florida Plant.

When Dade Behring started cutting employees under Bain Capital’s management in the late ’90s, Cindy Hewitt was on the front lines. As a human resources manager for the Dade East plant in Miami, Hewitt had to decide which employees had needed skills and whose jobs were expendable.

News of the latest layoffs trickled down to the Dade company cafeteria. The room could seat more than 1,000, and it had been enough of a draw that it even offered breakfast.

But as the layoffs hit, the mood in the cafeteria could be as somber as a funeral, Hewitt recalled. Multiple members of the same family might be gathered to commiserate over being laid off one by one by one. Some of them had worked for the medical diagnostics company for more than a decade.

Hewitt saw her colleagues crying on a daily basis and loudly celebrating on the rare occasion that someone found a comparable new job. “There was a tremendous sense of loss and this kind of outpouring of grief and mourning as every day they waited for the announcement of who was going next,” she said. “People were on pins and needles. Who’s going next? They’re worried for themselves, worried for their co-workers, worried for their families. They’d talk about how they were going to send their kids to college. It was an incredibly depressing and demoralizing environment.”

There’s lots more at HuffPo.

Here’s some more proof that the rich keep getting richer and the poor get poorer: Yankees Acquire Ichiro Suzuki From Mariners

With a little more than two months remaining in the season, the Yankees acquired Ichiro Suzuki, who became the first Japan-born position player in the majors when he joined the Mariners in 2001, when he was named the rookie of the year and the Most Valuable Player.

Before Monday’s game between the two teams at Safeco Field, the Yankees sent minor league pitchers D. J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar to the Mariners for Suzuki , whose five-year, $90 million contract expires after this season. The Yankees will also receive cash considerations to offset the financial commitment.

Wearing a dark blue suit with gray pinstripes, Suzuki walked down the hallway from the Seattle clubhouse over to the visitors’ side, stopping in the middle to speak at a news conference.

“I am going from a team with the most losses to a team with the most wins,“ he said through his interpreter, “so I am not able to contain my excitement in that regard.“

Once a great player, Suzuki is now just another mercenary.

Scott Brown has pulled another dumb trick. He’s using a line from a famous poem by Langston Hughes, “Let America Be America Again,” to attack President Obama and Elizabeth Warren for saying that governments provide services and infrastructure that support businesses. If that makes no sense to you, you’re not alone. Interestingly, Rick Santorum used the same line during the Republican presidential primaries and was mightily mocked for it. But Scott Brown was probably meeting with Kings and Queens at the time and missed the uproar. Besides, he’s really not all that bright, poor thing.

A new video from Brown, soliciting donations for his neck-and-neck campaign against Democrat Elizabeth Warren, is headlined “Let America Be America Again” – the title of Hughes’ well-known 1935 poem, first published in Esquire magazine, that suggests the American dream never really existed for many Americans, including the lower classes, blacks, Native Americans, and other minority groups.

“There’s never been equality for me/Nor freedom in this ‘homeland of the free,’” Hughes writes in an aside between verses. “America never was America to me.”

The Brown campaign’s two and a half minute video tribute to small business, complete with stirring music and iconic images such as flags and white picket fences, chronicles what it portrays as a change in the United States from the words of John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton and Lyndon Johnson – Democrats all – as well as Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, to current President Barack Obama and Warren, his uber-progressive rival.

watch?v=oqDIjGsBEP8&feature=player_embedded&w=400

Langston Hughes died in 1967 at the age of 65, but chances are if he were still alive today he would not be a Republican. Hughes’s poetry was frequently published in the Communist Party USA newspaper and he was involved in various initiatives supported by leftist organizations. Hughes traveled widely in the Soviet Union in 1932, and was later inducted into the International Union of Revolutionary Writers.

Oh, and BTW, Hughes is believed to have been gay.

USA Today had an interesting article on a polar bear DNA study.

Polar bears split from ancient bears more than 4 million years ago, suggests ancient DNA and the gene maps of multiple bears.

The polar bear genome finding reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal contradicts earlier gene studies finding much more recent times for the ancestral split, within 600,000 years, between polar bears and grizzly bears, which can still mate and produce viable offspring.

What’s more, the report suggests that polar bear numbers have been on the decline for at least 500,000 years, driven by climate fluctuations.

“Although polar bears ( Ursus maritimus) and brown bears (Ursus arctos) are considered separate species, analyses of fossil evidence and mitochondrial sequence data have indicated a recent divergence of polar bears from within brown bears,” begins the study led by Penn State’s Webb Miller.

For those who are still interested in thinking about the why of mass murders, I suggest reading a 2005 interview with Mark Ames, who wrote a book on school and workplace shootings called “Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion — From Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine and Beyond.”

Ames is a true radical, and so of course he has a radical hypothesis about these horrible murders that have become pretty common in our culture. He argues that they are rooted in Reganomics and the philosophy of greed and avarice that he made popular back in the ugly ’80s. From the interviewer’s introduction:

Ames takes a systematic look at the scores of rage killings in our public schools and workplaces that have taken place over the past 25 years. He claims that instead of being the work of psychopaths, they were carried out by ordinary people who had suffered repeated humiliation, bullying and inhumane conditions that find their origins in the “Reagan Revolution.” Looking through a carefully researched historical lens, Ames recasts these rage killings as failed slave rebellions.

And from Ames himself:

Put it this way: rage murders in the workplace never existed anywhere in history until Reagan came to power. Reagan made it respectable to be a mean, stupid bastard in this country. He is the patron saint of white suckers. He unleashed America’s Heart of Vileness — its penchant for hating people who didn’t get rich, and worshipping people who despise them, and this is the essence of Reaganomics.

I hate to sound like a Clintonite here, but let’s remember Hillary Clinton became the most hated human being alive because she tried to give most Americans the opportunity to lead longer, healthier lives, while these same Americans adored goons like Sam Walton, George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump — everyone who has dedicated their lives to transferring wealth, health and pleasure from the masses to a tiny elite. Liberals are hated in America precisely because they want to help people, which is seen as “patronizing.”

You can see how this kind of cultural insanity, unleashed by Reaganomics after decades of New Deal (relative) harmony, could make someone snap, when the cognitive dissonance suddenly strikes on a very personal level, and you realize that you’ve been screwed hard by your own dominant ideology.

Here’s an interesting 2007 review of Ames’ book by Ed Vulliamy from The Guardian UK.

Ames also wrote a lengthy analysis of One L. Goh’s rampage at Oikos University in Oakland, CA.

For a more mainstream take on the recent events in Aurora, Colorado, check out this piece by Dave Cullen, author of the book “Columbine.” He points out that just about everything the media immediately assumed about Harris and Klebold was wrong and that we still know almost nothing about James Holmes or his motives. Obviously, I agree.

Finally, here’s a piece that provides some support for Mark Ames’ argument that our culture has just plain turned mean and is getting meaner all the time: The Elites Are Unanimous: Lower Everyone’s Wages and Standard of Living — Except They Don’t Say it Out Loud

That’s it for me for today. What are you reading and blogging about?


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

I just spent the last two days kid sitting for my two nephews, ages 7 and 9, and boy am I beat!  Am I a great sister and sister-in-law or what?  It may take me a day or so to recover.  Kids sure do have a lot of energy!  It was fun though.  

The good news is that late yesterday afternoon, thundershowers moved into the Boston area and began cooling things down a bit.  My house is still hot inside though.   But we are going to get some relief from the heat for a couple of days–it might even be in the high 70s on Friday!  Anyway, enough about my boring life, let’s get to the news.

As we learned yesterday, Mitt Romney has decided to “take the gloves off,” meaning he’s going full-on birther and the dog whistles have been upgraded to overt race baiting.

Mitt is so infuriated about being asked to do what past presidential candidates have done and release several years of his tax returns that he seems to have lost sight of his long-term goal of winning over independent voters and decided to figuratively don one of those hats with tea bags dangling from it.  This is going to be an ugly and embarrassing spectacle.

Ed Kilgore asks: “Is Team Romney Becoming Unhinged?” Kilgore concluded yesterday, as I did, that John Sununu’s ugly remarks on Tuesday morning were part of a deliberate strategy by the Romney campaign to follow Donald Trump and the Tea Party in trying to paint President Obama as “foreign” and not a real American.

Did Team Romney really think their candidate could run around the country citing the brilliant job-creating success of Bain Capital as his primary credential for becoming president and not get challenged about it? And did they not expect demands that the richest man ever to win a presidential nomination release his tax returns? I mean, the attacks they are dealing with now are blindingly obvious. Any Romney opponent who didn’t make them would be guilty of extreme political malfeasance. So what gives?

Apparently what really got Romney’s goat was Obama adviser Stephanie Cutter’s statement that if Romney had lied on SEC forms, that would be a felony.

Romney’s aides remain particularly livid about Obama spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter’s suggestion last week that Romney committed a crime by filing apparently conflicting documents to the FEC and SEC.

“[Obama’s] policies have been such utter failures, the only thing he can do is to try to destroy a decent man and his wife,” the adviser said. “So he gets some hack political adviser from Chicago who has nothing to point to in her own life, and tells her to call him a felon… When did our politics get to that point? I mean, it’s Nixonian.”

Kilgore writes:

Try to destroy a decent man and his wife? Nothing to point to in her own life? This is such an over-the-top reaction to a banal comment by Cutter (who didn’t call Romney a “felon,” but simply observed that if he did misstate his role at Bain in a SEC filing, that’s potentially a felony) that you have to believe it’s coming from the candidate himself. Apparently, the mere suggestion he might have possibly committed a crime has sent him and his staff into a real spiral.

Don’t you bet Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich wish they had known about this particular soft spot! Mention the criminal code and watch Mitt melt down!

At Talking Points Memo, Benjy Sarlin and Evan McMorris-Santoro opine: Romney’s New Plan To Go After Obama’s Biography Is A Gamble.

The Romney campaign had previously shot down the idea of revisiting many of the character attacks that first emerged in the 2008 election. Romney strongly repudiated an independent proposal by Republican ad man Fred Davis to run ads reviving the Rev. Jeremiah Wright controversy, for example.

Asked by TPM whether he felt reports of Romney’s new approach “kinda vindicate [sic]” his biography-based ad pitch, Davis e-mailed: “Only kinda?”

The assumption up to this point among strategists on both sides has been that objections to attacking Obama as a teen drug user or as personally corrupt were about keeping the message on the president’s record in office. The biggest conservative outside money groups, like American Crossroads, focus on Americans’ economic struggles, based on research showing it to be the most effective angle.

“Obama is setting a trap, and Romney is not a Chicago street fighter,” unaligned GOP consultant Ford O’Connell told TPM. “If Romney dabbles in this tit-for-tat style of political warfare for too long, he will lose.”

Romney is really playing into Obama’s hands by refusing to just release his tax returns and now embracing Tea Party bigotry. Obama’s advisers must be high fiving each other and grinning ear to ear.

Check this out: Mitt Romney On Tax Return Controversy: ‘It’s Kind Of Amusing’

“It’s kind of amusing,” Romney told Columbus, Ohio, CBS affiliate WBNS. “I’m releasing two years of records as well as all that’s legally required and, for that matter, I’m doing the same thing John McCain did when he ran for president four years ago, which is releasing two years of returns, and we’ll see what time has to say about this.”

Yep, we’ll see. And watching Mitt self-destruct is going to be a lot of fun. Time to stock up on popcorn.

And speaking of right wing bigots, Supreme Court Joke Justice Antonin Scalia told CNN’s Piers Morgan that anyone who is unhappy about the Bush v. Gore decision should just “get over it.”

“Well, I guess the one that created the most waves of disagreement was Bush v. Gore,” says Scalia, referring to the famed United States Supreme Court decision dealing with the dispute surrounding the 2000 presidential election. “That comes up all the time, and my usual response is ‘get over it.'”

Noting that it was the Democratic candidate who brought the case into the Courts, Scalia says he hasn’t lost any sleep over the result:

“No regrets at all, especially since it’s clear that the thing would have ended up the same way anyway,” recalls the 76-year-old. “The press did extensive research into what would have happened, if what Al Gore wanted done, had been done, county by county, and he would have lost anyway.”

I’ve found a couple of important long reads for you. First, from Alternet: How America Became a Country That Lets Little Kids Go Homeless. If you guessed it goes back to the mean-spirited Reagan administration, you’re correct.

An interesting fact about family homelessness: before the early-1980s, it did not exist in America, at least not as an endemic, multi-generational problem afflicting millions of poverty-stricken adults and kids. Back then, the typical homeless family was a middle-aged woman with teenagers who wound up in a shelter following some sort of catastrophic bad luck like a house fire. They stayed a short time before they got back on their feet.

In the 1980s, family homelessness did not so much begin to grow as it exploded, leaving poverty advocates and city officials stunned as young parents with small children overwhelmed the shelter system and spilled into the streets. In New York City, the rate of homeless people with underage kids went up by 500 percent between 1981 and 1995. Nationally, kids and families made up less than 1 percent of the homeless population in the early 1980s, according to advocate and researcher Dr. Ellen Bassuk. HUD estimates put the number at 35 percent of people sleeping in shelters in 2010….

The reasons behind the jump in family homelessness are not complex, Núñez says. “It was the gutting of the safety net. Reagan cut every social program that helped the poor. Then there’s inflation so their aid checks are shrinking. Where are they going? Into the streets, into the shelters.”

It’s so true. When I first moved to Boston in 1967, the only homeless people you saw were down and out alcoholic hobo types. Then Reagan emptied the state psychiatric hospitals and cut funds for low cost housing, and other safety net programs. Suddenly, the Boston area was filled with homeless people–people who slept in their cars in supermarket parking lots or outside along the Charles River in Harvard Square. It was truly horrifying.

At the New York Review of Books, David Cole reviews two new books on Obama’s terrorism policies and concludes that Obama isn’t exactly Bush III, but he hasn’t restored our constitutional rights either.

While President Obama, unlike his predecessor, has steered clear of the politics of fear, he has also steered clear of the politics of defending our ideals. Like many Democrats, he seems afraid of being painted as soft on terrorism if he advocates for respecting the rights of others. We can only hope that in a second term, with more confidence and an eye on his legacy rather than short-term polls, he will take on the defense of American ideals that he let pressure from the security bureaucracy and political caution stop him from pursuing in the first.

And while you’re at the NYRB, take a look at this piece by William Pfaff: When the Army Was Democratic.

The US had national service from September 1940, just before World War II, until 1971, when the Vietnam War was ending. It was accepted with patriotic resolution at its start, and hated by its end. I am of an age to have put on my country’s uniform in high school ROTC in 1942, when I was fourteen years old. I put it on again for the Korean War, and did not take it off for the last time until 1958, after limited active reserve service. That was a total of sixteen years.

I can’t say that I enjoyed military service, but I learned a lot, about myself and about others—including the young black men who made up a good half of my all-southern, and mostly rural, basic training company (where I was not only the sole college graduate but probably the only high school graduate). This was just two and a half years after President Harry Truman had ordered the army desegregated. The regular army—which has always been essentially a southern institution—hated and feared the consequences of that order, but said “yes, sir” and did it, producing undoubtedly the biggest and most successful program of social engineering the United States had ever experienced. It also created what remains today the most successful route of social and professional ascension for talented young black males from poor communities that the country has ever known.

The army, in my opinion, did more to desegregate the United States than the civil rights movement of the 1960s. From 1948 on, nearly every able-bodied young man in the United States served and lived side by side with Americans of all colors, all in strict alphabetical order, in old-fashioned unpartitioned barracks, sleeping bunk to bunk, sharing shelter-halves on bivouac, in what amounted to brotherly endurance of the cold, heat, discomfort, and misery of military training—and following that, of service.

Just a few more quick links I want to call your attention to. Joseph Cannon has a horrifying post up about connections between Mitt Romney and the teen rehab industry in which kids are abused, tortured, and brainwashed. Also see this article in Salon linked in the Cannon piece.

Dakinikat will be interested to know (if she doesn’t already) that Bobby Jindal’s exorcism history has made it into the corporate media. And Charlie Pierce wrote about it yesterday.

Those are my suggestions for today. What are you reading and blogging about?


Reagan Administration Complicit in Baby Theft Schemes

Any of us that endured the Reagan years know of the horrific US policy in Central and South America that included propping up dictators at any cost. Reagan’s paranoia of leftist regimes led to the Iran-Contra Scandal which probably would have led to impeachable crimes had Reagan been in better mental health and George Bush lost the election.  This Alternet article on leftist Argentinian mothers who were murdered is highly disturbing.  It just shows the high human cost of our cold war mentality.  Not only were these mothers murdered, but their infants were stolen and given to their murderers to raise. The disturbing article is called “What did Reagan Know about the Argentine Dictator’s Baby Thefts?”

An Argentine court has convicted two of the nation’s former right-wing dictators, Jorge Rafael Videla and Reynaldo Bignone, in a scheme to murder leftist mothers and give their infants to military personnel often complicit in the killings, a shocking process known to the Reagan administration even as it worked closely with the bloody regime.

Testimony at the trial included a videoconference from Washington with Elliott Abrams, then-Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs, who said he urged Bignone to reveal the babies’ identities as Argentina began a transition to democracy in 1983.

Abrams said the Reagan administration “knew that it wasn’t just one or two children,” indicating that U.S. officials believed there was a high-level “plan because there were many people who were being murdered or jailed.” Estimates of the Argentines murdered in the so-called Dirty War range from 13,000 to about 30,000, with many victims “disappeared,” buried in mass graves or dumped from planes over the Atlantic.

You may remember that Reagan sent the CIA to Argentina to run a dirty, nasty, covert war.

After becoming President in January 1981, Reagan entered into a covert alliance with the Argentine junta. He ordered the CIA to collaborate with Dirty War experts in training the Contras, who were soon rampaging through towns in northern Nicaragua, raping women and dragging local officials into public squares for executions. [See Robert Parry’s Lost History.]

Yet, Reagan kept up a happy face, hailing the Contras as the “moral equals of the Founding Fathers” and heaping gratitude on the Argentine junta.

The behind-the-scenes intelligence relationship apparently gave the Argentine generals confidence that they could not only continue repressing their own citizens but could settle an old score with Great Britain over control of the Falkland Islands, what the Argentines call the Malvinas.

Reagan isn’t the only Republican linked to South American Death Squads.  Bain Capital probably would not exist were it not for blood money coming out of El Salvador. BostonBoomer has pointed to this Salon article before but it’s worth remembering that the 1980s were basically a free for all for Republicans. Romney personally benefited from the Reagan-backed South American Dictators that violently suppressed civil uprisings.

A significant portion of the seed money that created Mitt Romney’s private equity firm, Bain Capital, was provided by wealthy oligarchs from El Salvador, including members of a family with a relative who allegedly financed rightist groups that used death squads during the country’s bloody civil war in the 1980s

Bain, the source of Romney’s fabulous personal wealth, has been the subject of recent attacks in the Republican primary over allegations that Romney and the firm behaved like, in Rick Perry’s words, “vulture capitalists.”One TV spot denounced Romney for relying on “foreign seed money from Latin America” but did not say where the money came from. In fact, Romney recruited as investors wealthy Central Americans who were seeking a safe haven for their capital during a tumultuous and violent period in the region.

Like so much about Bain, which is known for secrecy and has been dubbed a “black box,” all the names of the investors who put up the money for the initial fund in 1984 are not known. Much of what we do know was first reported by the Boston Globe in 1994 when Romney ran for U.S. Senate against Ted Kennedy.

In 1984, Romney had been tapped by his boss at Bain & Co, a consulting firm, to create a spin-off venture capital fund, Bain Capital.

A Costa Rica-born Bain official named Harry Strachan invited friends and former clients in Central America to a presentation about the fund with Romney in Miami. The group was impressed and “signed up for 20% of the fund,” according to Strachan’s memoir. That was about $6.5 million, according to the Globe. Bain partners themselves were putting up half the money, according to Strachan. Thus the Central American investors had contributed 40 percent of the outside capital.

Back in 1984, wealthy Salvadoran families were looking for safe investments as violence and upheaval engulfed the country. The war, which pitted leftist guerrillas against a right-wing government backed by the Reagan administration, ultimately left over 70,000 people dead in the tiny nation before a peace deal was brokered by the United Nations in 1992. The vast majority of violence, a UN truth commission later found, was committed by rightist death squads and the military, which received U.S. training and $6 billion in military and economic aid. The Reagan administration feared that El Salvador could become a foothold for Communists in Central America.

Cannonfire is currently looking in to the possibility that Bain was set up to be a money laundering scheme.

Here’s a few more details on the Baby Theft Scheme from the Altnet article.

General Videla also was accused of permitting – and concealing – the scheme to harvest infants from pregnant women who were kept alive in military prisons only long enough to give birth. According to the charges, the babies were taken from the new mothers, sometimes after late-night Caesarean sections, and then distributed to military families or sent to orphanages.

After the babies were pulled away, the mothers were removed to another site for their executions. Some were put aboard death flights and pushed out of military planes over open water.

One of the most notorious cases involved Silvia Quintela, a leftist doctor who attended to the sick in shanty towns around Buenos Aires. On Jan. 17, 1977, Quintela was abducted off a Buenos Aires street by military authorities because of her political leanings. At the time, Quintela and her agronomist husband Abel Madariaga were expecting their first child.

According to witnesses who later testified before a government truth commission, Quintela was held at a military base called Campo de Mayo, where she gave birth to a baby boy. As in similar cases, the infant then was separated from the mother.

What happened to the boy is still not clear, but Quintela reportedly was transferred to a nearby airfield. There, victims were stripped naked, shackled in groups and dragged aboard military planes. The planes then flew out over the Rio de la Plata or the Atlantic Ocean, where soldiers pushed the victims out of the planes and into the water to drown.

I guess as long as they weren’t killing zygotes, Reagan and krewe must’ve been fine with all this.


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!

Last night, George Zimmerman, the man who shot unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin and triggered nationwide outrage was booked on second degree murder charges and is now in Seminole County jail. He will appear before a judge this morning.

George Zimmerman arrived at the Seminole County Jail this evening, about two hours after officials announced that he will face a second-degree murder charge in the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

Special Prosecutor Angela Corey announced the second-degree murder charge at the State Attorney’s Office in Jacksonville tonight, more than six weeks after Trayvon and Zimmerman’s fatal encounter.

If convicted, Zimmerman would face up to life in prison on the first-degree felony charge. He arrived at the Seminole County jail about 8:30 p.m. tonight, greeted by a throng of reporters shouting questions.

George Zimmerman's booking photo

I’m not a doctor, but I’ve seen broken noses before. Zimmerman’s doesn’t look like the ones I’ve seen, but as I said, I’m not a doctor.

I just have a few more links related to this story. Trayvon Martin’s parents have behaved with dignity and grace during a time that for them can only have been nightmarish. Via Raw Story, yesterday, they reacted to the arrest and charging of the man who killed their son in an interview with the AP. When asked what they would do if they had an opportunity to talk with George Zimmerman.

“I would probably give him the opportunity to apologize,” said Sybrina Fulton, Travyon Martin’s mother. I would probably ask him if there was another way he could have helped settle the confrontation that he had with Trayvon, other than the way it ended, with Trayvon being shot.”

Tracy Martin, the boy’s father, said he would ask Zimmerman what his motive was.

“Why was he patrolling the neighborhood with a 9mm gun?” he said. “What was it about my son that made him suspicious? What made him decide to disobey the dispatcher, who is trained to handle 911 calls? Why does he feel his life is so altered and does he understand that he altered his own life by refusing to stay in his vehicle? Was it really worth it? Was it really worth taking an innocent child’s life?”

The right wing site the Daily Caller, which has had access to Zimmerman family members reported that George Zimmerman used the My Space handle “datniggytb.”

George Zimmerman, the Hispanic Floridian who killed black teenager Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26, had a MySpace account whose username was “datniggytb,” The Daily Caller has learned.

According to a family member whose identity The Daily Caller has agreed not to reveal for safety reasons, the “datniggytb” name is not a racial slur, but a friendly nickname that referred to George himself.

“That was an old nickname his black friends gave him,” the Zimmerman family member said. “He didn’t have an issue with the profile name.”

The family member at first denied that George had a My Space account, and later came up with the “black friends” explanation. I hope someone in the Justice Department reads The Daily Caller.

In other news, the US Justice Department has filed an anti-trust lawsuit against Apple and three publishers for conspiring to fix the price of e-books in order to force Amazon to charge higher prices.

The announcement, made in Washington by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and Sharis A. Pozen, the acting assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, capped a long investigation. The inquiry hinged on the question of whether publishers, at the urging of Steven P. Jobs, then Apple’s chief executive, agreed to adopt a new policy in 2010 that in essence coordinated the price of newly released e-books at the price offered in Apple’s iBookstore — typically between $12.99 and $14.99.

At the time, Apple with its blockbuster iPad was trying to challenge Amazon’s hold on the e-book market. Amazon, the online retail giant, had become a kind of Walmart for the e-book business by lowering the price of most new and best-selling e-books to $9.99 — a price meant to stimulate sales of its own e-reading device, the Kindle.

Publishers, looking for leverage against Amazon, saw Apple as their white knight. The Justice Department complaint, using language that could have been inspired by a best-selling white-collar crime novel, describes how executives from the publishing companies met to discuss business matters “in private rooms for dinner in upscale Manhattan restaurants,” tried to hide their communications by issuing instructions to “double-delete” e-mails, all the time complaining of Amazon’s increasing influence over the e-book market.

Ultimately, the Justice Department charges, the publishers and Apple conspired to limit e-book price competition, increasing Amazon’s e-book retail prices and causing “consumers to pay tens of millions of dollars more for e-books than they otherwise would have paid.”

Three publishers have already settled with the Justice Department. As a Kindle owner, I’ve long hoped this would happen. Steve Jobs made me pay more for books, and I strongly resent it.

Yesterday, while promoting “the Buffet rule,” President Obama used the sainted Ronald Reagan as a stick to beat Republicans with. From Raw Story:

He described for the audience the actions of one of his predecessors in the Oval Office, a president who “gave a speech where he talked about a letter he had received from a wealthy executive who paid lower tax rates than his secretary, and wanted to come to Washington and tell Congress why that was wrong. So this president gave another speech where he said it was ‘crazy’—that’s a quote—that certain tax loopholes make it possible for multimillionaires to pay nothing, while a bus driver was paying 10 percent of his salary.”

“That wild-eyed, socialist, tax-hiking class warrior,” he said, “was Ronald Reagan.”

Mitt Romney is still struggling to convince women that He and other Republicans aren’t waging war on them. He’s trying to do this by accusing the Obama administration of a war on women, but he can’t articulate how that war works, according to Talking Points Memo.

The campaign faced a number of questions in [a] press call as to just how Obama’s supposed “War on Women” worked, none of which produced a direct answer. Asked by TPM on the call to explain how another president taking office in January 2009 might have affected the gender gap in job growth, Romney adviser Lanhee Chen only said that the pattern was unusual compared with other recessions and that he believed a president like Romney would have gotten different results….

Chen was pressed again by another reporter to explain why women were disproportionately affected and what “difference in policy” would have changed the equation.

“The president’s policies in general, whether it’s Obamacare or Dodd-Frank or any of the policies they have pursued have really hurt both men and women,” he said. “This president has demonstrated that he’s doing everything in his power to scare away job creators and that’s had a disproportionate impact on women. That’s just a statistical fact.”

Asked a third time to explain the origins of this gender divide and how Romney would tackle the ratio of job losses specifically, Chen again said “it is a fact” that women have suffered disproportionately but offered no specific answer.

“[Romney] would undo the damage that President Obama has done,” he said. “He would take the economy in a very different direction and, as a result of that, produce very substantial job gains and growth for men and women.”

Al-righty-then.

Dakinikat covered that story really well yesterday, so if you haven’t read her post yet, be sure to check it out.

RNC chairman Reince Priebus announced yesterday that he isn’t backing down on his comparison of the notion of a Republican war on women to a war on caterpillars. Politico:

Reince Priebus said Wednesday he has no intention of taking back his “war on caterpillars” comment that landed him at the center of criticism last week — in fact, the chairman of the Republican National Committee vowed he’d gladly “double down” on the remark.

“I’m not going to walk back — I’ll double down on it,” Priebus said on MSNBC when asked whether he wanted to walk back or clarify his choice of words. “This war of women is a fiction that the Democrats have created, and the real war on women is the war that this president has put forward on the American people by not following through on his promises, by having women disproportionately affected by the Obama economy.”

He continued, “Go read Anita Dunn’s book if you want to go read about a war on women in the workplace — go read that book and you’ll see what the White House’s record is on women.”

Yes, Obama treated women working in the White House like shit. I read Confidence Men. So because Obama is a dick, Priebus wants us to vote for the party of personhood bills, vaginal probes, and birth control bans? A plague on both their houses.

Remember “killer bees?” A beekeeper in East Tennessee was stung 30 times by “partially Africanized bees” AKA “killer bees.”

Africanized bee swarm

A swarm of as many as 100,000 bees attacked a Tennessee beekeeper last month, and genetic testing of the angry critters has now revealed that they were partially Africanized bees. This is the first time that Africanized bees have been found in Tennessee.

Africanized bees, often referred to as “killer bees,” are a hybrid cross between the bee species normally found in America and African honey bees (Apis mellifera scutellata), which were originally introduced to the Americas as a productive source of honey. But the African honey bees take over hives wherever they spread, killing the hives’ original queens and hybridizing with resident populations. The hybridized Africanized bees are significantly more aggressive than other bees and more likely to attack in massive swarms when defending their nests. Their stings are no worse than those of other bees, but the sheer number of them can create more life-threatening situations, especially in anyone who is allergic to bee stings.

According to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, genetic tests on the recent swarm found that the bees were less than 17 percent Africanized, which is why they are considered “partially Africanized.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture considers truly Africanized bees to have 50 percent African genetics.

Eeeeeek!

In related news, Africanized bees are suspected in a recent Texas swarm that attacked three people and a horse. The horse, which was observed almost completely covered in bees, later died from allergic reactions to the stings.

Finally, Connie from Orlando (AKA ecocatwoman) sent me a link to an interview that Terry Gross conducted yesterday with singer/songwriter Carole King. I grew up listening to Goffin-King songs, so I plan to listen to it ASAP. The occasion for the interview was her memoir A Natural Woman.

King, a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, has written for everyone from Little Eva to Aretha Franklin to James Taylor. Her 1971 solo album Tapestry spent 15 weeks at the top of the charts, and stayed on the charts for more than six years.

But King was just 15 when she and three classmates formed a vocal quartet called the Co-Sines at James Madison High School. At night, she attended disc jockey Alan Freed’s concerts — a veritable “who’s who” of rock ‘n’ roll performers — and later set up a meeting with Freed, an internationally known rock promoter she thought could help her break into the songwriting business. Freed told her to look up the names of record companies in the phone book.

She recounts the story in her new memoir, A Natural Woman, explaining that she called Atlantic Records and arranged a meeting. Soon after, she wrote her first big hit — the Shirelles number, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” — with Gerry Goffin, who would later become her husband.

So in honor of the woman who helped to create the soundtrack to my pre-teen and teenage years:

Now what’s on your reading and listening list today?


Embarrassing Tales Told by Politicians

Brain areas involved in memory

Human memory can be amazingly accurate and detailed. It is possible for people to accurately recall events that happened in the decades previously. Yet humans are also subject to numerous memory errors, which are actually adaptive for most purposes, but can be embarrassing when they happen to people in the public eye.

On Saturday it happened to Mitt Romney. During his speech to a Tea Party rally in Flint, Michigan, Romney described a vivid childhood memory

Romney recalled he was “probably 4 or something like that” the day of the Golden Jubilee, when three-quarters of a million people gathered to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the American automobile.

“My dad had a job being the grandmaster. They painted Woodward Ave. with gold paint,” Romney told a rapt Tea Party audience in the village of Milford Thursday night, reliving a moment of American industrial glory.

The Golden Jubilee described so vividly by Romney was indeed an epic moment in automotive lore. The parade included one of the last public appearances by an elderly Henry Ford.

But Romney couldn’t possibly have been a the Golden Jubilee, because it happened in 1946–about 9 months before baby Willard was born. Was he lying? No, of course not. He probably formed this false memory based on stories told by family members, and perhaps family photos. This is a very common type of memory error–confusion about the source of a memory. Romney probably heard this story many times and perhaps rehearsed it by thinking about it and talking about it to family and friends.

Most theorists now believe that memories are stored in various locations in the brain and have to be reconstructed each time we recall them. Confusion can develop if we have memories of several events that happened in the same place–people can get mixed up about which time a specific event happened.

As you might expect, memory errors become more common with age. There are a number of famous stories about Ronald Reagan’s outrageous memory errors. He repeatedly told a heartrending story about a World War II bomber pilot who ordered his crew to bail out after the plane was hit by enemy fire. His young belly gunner was wounded so seriously that he was unable to evacuate the aircraft. Reagan could barely hold back tears as he related the pilot’s heroic response: “Never mind. We’ll ride it down together.” Supposedly the pilot had received the Congressional Medal of Honor, awarded posthumously.

Journalists searched in vain to learn about the war hero. They could find no Medal of Honor winner whose story matched the one told by Reagan. Finally the source of the story was identified as a scene from a Hollywood movie, “A Wing and a Prayer.” Reagan had recalled the “facts,” but not their source.

Another famous example is Reagan’s oft-repeated tale about how he had helped to liberate Auschwitz after World War II ended. In fact Reagan event repeated this “memory” to Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, explaining that he had

returned to Hollywood with film footage of the ghastly scenes he had witnessed, and if in later years anyone controverted the reality of the Holocaust over the Reagan dinner table, he would roll the footage till the doubts were stilled.

Of course no Americans were involved in the liberation of Auschwitz, which was a Russian operation. And although Reagan was in the Army, he never left California where he was involved in making propaganda films. Interestingly, Barack Obama also told a story about the liberation of Auschwitz back in 2008. Speaking to a New Mexico audience about the need for mental health care for veterancs, Obama recalled a family story about his uncle.

“I had a uncle who was one of the, who was part of the first American troops to go into Auschwitz and liberate the concentration camps,” Obama said, slowly and methodically. “And the story in my family is that when he came home, he just went into the attic, and he didn’t leave the house for six months. Alright? Now, obviously something had affected him deeply, but at the time, there just weren’t the kinds of facilities to help somebody work through that kind of pain.”

It turned out that Obama’s Uncle actually was involved in the liberation of a concentration camp, but it was Buchenwald, not Auschwitz. This was probably a story that was told repeatedly in Obama’s family, and he simply forgot the name of the camp and substituted a famous name–Auschwitz.

And then there was the 2007 speech in which Obama seemed to suggest that his parents had been brought together because of the Civil Rights march in Selma, Alabama in 1965. Obama was born in 1961. The speech actually had two doozies in it. Obama also claimed that the Kennedy family had been responsible for bringing his father to the U.S. Here’s the relevant quote:

What happened in Selma, Alabama and Birmingham also stirred the conscience of the nation. It worried folks in the White House who said, “You know, we’re battling Communism. How are we going to win hearts and minds all across the world? If right here in our own country, John, we’re not observing the ideals set fort in our Constitution, we might be accused of being hypocrites.” So the Kennedy’s decided we’re going to do an air lift. We’re going to go to Africa and start bringing young Africans over to this country and give them scholarships to study so they can learn what a wonderful country America is.

This young man named Barack Obama got one of those tickets and came over to this country. He met this woman whose great great-great-great-grandfather had owned slaves; but she had a good idea there was some craziness going on because they looked at each other and they decided that we know that the world as it has been it might not be possible for us to get together and have a child. There was something stirring across the country because of what happened in Selma, Alabama, because some folks are willing to march across a bridge. So they got together and Barack Obama Jr. was born. So don’t tell me I don’t have a claim on Selma, Alabama. Don’t tell me I’m not coming home to Selma, Alabama.

I’m here because somebody marched. I’m here because you all sacrificed for me. I stand on the shoulders of giants. I

Actually, the Kennedy family did donate $100,000 to the airlift program, but not until Barack Obama, Sr. was already in the U.S. As for how his parents got together, Obama’s campaign staff claimed that he had meant that the Civil Rights movement generally was responsible, but I think it was probably just an honest mistake. Certainly his speechwriters should have done some more careful fact-checking, but Obama was probably reporting what he “remembered.”

I’ll just share one more interest example of a high-profile false memory. This one from George W. Bush. Bush was in Orlando, Florida at a town hall meeting where he took questions from the audience. A young boy asked Bush how he felt on 9/11.

QUESTION: One thing, Mr. President, is that you have no idea how much you’ve done for this country, and another thing is that how did you feel when you heard about the terrorist attack?

….

Well, Jordan (ph), you’re not going to believe what state I was in when I heard about the terrorist attack. I was in Florida. And my chief of staff, Andy Card — actually I was in a classroom talking about a reading program that works. And I was sitting outside the classroom waiting to go in, and I saw an airplane hit the tower — the TV was obviously on, and I use to fly myself, and I said, “There’s one terrible pilot.” And I said, “It must have been a horrible accident.”

But I was whisked off there — I didn’t have much time to think about it, and I was sitting in the classroom, and Andy Card, my chief who was sitting over here walked in and said, “A second plane has hit the tower. America’s under attack.”

But Bush could not have seen the plane hit the first tower, because there was no footage shown on TV until the next day. Bush obviously watched the footage later and became confused about when he had first seen it.

We all make errors like this–we just don’t often do it in front of a crowd of people and then end up getting fact-checked afterwards. The fact is, our memories are quite reliable for most daily purposes. It wouldn’t be adaptive for us to remember every single detail of what happens to us. But it pays to be aware that our memories can fail us is predictable ways.