Thursday Reads

 

Good Morning!!

It was 3 degrees in my town when I woke up, and the high today will be 10 degrees with a wind chill up to 27 below 0. The previous record for the Boston area was 18 degrees in 1924. I’m not budging outside until the temperature gets up to at least 20 degrees.

In the news, the ugly old dotard is golfing again, so I thought we might have some peace for a few hours, but he found time to send out an idiotic tweet.

The moron doesn’t know that the new editor of Vanity Fair is Radhika Jones. Anna Wintour is the editor of Vogue. Daughter Ivanka probably knows that, but the moron was on the golf course and couldn’t ask her.

Meanwhile Vanity Fair is still dealing with the aftermath of their millennial editors’ insulting advice to Hillary Clinton, who was just voted the most admired woman for the 16th year in a row.

So many young “journalists” can’t seem to wrap their heads around the fact that Hillary got nearly 3 million more votes than the dotard or that she has stated clearly that she is not going to run for political office again.

Up in Minnesota, where it’s much colder than it is here, people don’t want Al Franken to resign.

Public Policy Polling: Minnesotans Don’t Think Franken Should Resign; Franken Remains Popular, Especially With Women.

-50% of voters think he should not resign, to only 42% who think he should go through with his planned resignation. There is little appetite from Democratic voters at the state level for Franken to go, with 71% opposing his departure. A majority of independents- 52%- as well think he should not resign, with just 41% favoring his exit.

-Franken remains well above average in popularity for a Senator, with 53% of voters approving of the job he’s doing to 42% who disapprove. PPP rarely finds Senators with majority approval in their home states. Franken’s continued popularity is being driven especially by women. 57% of them like the job he’s doing to 37% who don’t. By contrast Donald Trump stands at 40/58 with women in the state.

-Minnesotans don’t like how the process with Franken’s resignation has played out. 60% think the Senate Ethics Committee should have completed its investigation (including 79% of Democrats and 61% of independents) before any decision was made about Franken’s future, while only 35% think he should resign immediately. Beyond that 76% of Minnesota voters think their voices should have been more important in determining whether Franken stayed in the Senate or not, to only 12% who think that should have been determined more by his fellow Senators in Washington.

I said awhile back that I thought the rush equate the past inappropriate behavior of men like Franken would lead to a backlash against women that will hurt the cause of fighting sexual harassment and sexual assault. I still believe that. I want to share two articles on the subject that I read yesterday. I don’t agree with everything in them, but I think they are making important points.

Feminist psychologist Carol Tavris writes at The Skeptic: I, Too, Am Thinking About Me, Too.

Our whole country is living in a constant state of hyper-dissonance: “my political candidate/my most admired actor/a brilliant artist/my dear friend has been accused of sexual abuses and misconduct; how do I cope with this information? Do I support him/see his movies/enjoy his art/keep the friendship or must I repudiate him entirely?” Living with dissonance and complexity is not easy, but surely skeptics, of all people, must try. We hear a story that outrages us and, just like true believers and justice warriors of any kind, we’re off and running, and once we are off and running we don’t want to hear quibbles, caveats, doubts, complexities. Thus, when the Guardian (Dec. 17, 2017) reported Matt Damon’s remarks that there was “a difference between patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation. Both of those behaviours need to be confronted and eradicated without question, but they shouldn’t be conflated,” Minnie Driver blasted him: it’s not for men to make distinctions; “there is no hierarchy of abuse”; men should just shut up for once. “If good men like Matt Damon are thinking like that then we’re in a lot of fucking trouble,” she said. “We need good intelligent men to say this is all bad across the board, condemn it all and start again.”

No hierarchy of abuse? Really? That is one of the universal symptoms of revolutionary zealotry: go for broke, ignore gradations of villainy, who cares if some innocents are thrown over the side, we are furious and we want everything at once. No wonder those of us in the boring older generation, who have lived through cycles of anger and protest, are so annoying. “Wait!” we keep saying. “Be careful! Remember the stupidity of ‘zero tolerance’ programs in schools, where a kid who brings a pocket knife for show-and- tell, or a 6-year-old boy who kisses a 6-year-old girl, got expelled?” We have also learned that while there is a time and place for revolutionary zealotry, the hardest challenge comes next, because change will not be accomplished without allies.

While many celebrate the courage of the accusers who are coming forth to tell their stories, let’s keep in mind that in today’s climate it also requires courage to raise dissonance-producing dissent.

Tavris refers to a piece by Claire Berlinski at The National Interest: The Warlock Hunt. Berlinski argues that “The #MeToo moment has now morphed into a moral panic that poses as much danger to women as it does to men.” I hope you’ll read the whole thing, but here’s an excerpt:

Among us, it seems, lives a class of men who call to mind Caligula and Elagabalus not only in their depravity, but in their grotesque sense of impunity. Our debauched emperors, whether enthroned in Hollywood, media front offices, or the halls of Congress, truly imagined their victims had no choice but to shut up, take it, and stay silent forever. Many of these men are so physically disgusting, too—the thought of them forcing themselves on young women fills me with heaving disgust. Enough already. Check out the latest news about satellite media tour here.

All true; yet something is troubling me. Recently I saw a friend—a man—pilloried on Facebook for asking if #metoo is going too far. “No,” said his female interlocutors. “Women have endured far too many years of harassment, humiliation, and injustice. We’ll tell you when it’s gone too far.” But I’m part of that “we,” and I say it is going too far. Mass hysteria has set in. It has become a classic moral panic, one that is ultimately as dangerous to women as to men.

If you are reading this, it means I have found an outlet that has not just fired an editor for sexual harassment. This article circulated from publication to publication, like old-fashioned samizdat, and was rejected repeatedly with a sotto voce, “Don’t tell anyone. I agree with you. But no.” Friends have urged me not to publish it under my own name, vividly describing the mob that will tear me from limb to limb and leave the dingoes to pick over my flesh. It says something, doesn’t it, that I’ve been more hesitant to speak about this than I’ve been of getting on the wrong side of the mafia, al-Qaeda, or the Kremlin?

But speak I must. It now takes only one accusation to destroy a man’s life. Just one for him to be tried and sentenced in the court of public opinion, overnight costing him his livelihood and social respectability. We are on a frenzied extrajudicial warlock hunt that does not pause to parse the difference between rape and stupidity. The punishment for sexual harassment is so grave that clearly this crime—like any other serious crime—requires an unambiguous definition. We have nothing of the sort.

Again, I want to emphasize that I disagree with some of Berlinski’s arguments; nevertheless, her article is worth reading. As I said before, I’m afraid the “Me Too” movement is going to end up backfiring on women.

In political news, Roy Moore refuses to go away. David Wiegel reports: Roy Moore asks Alabama court for a new Senate election.

Roy Moore, the Republican nominee who lost Alabama’s closely watched Senate race this month, has filed a last-minute legal complaint alleging “election fraud” and asking the state not to confirm the victory of Democrat Doug Jones.

In the complaint filed in state court, Moore’s campaign argues that Alabama “will suffer irreparable harm if the election results are certified without preserving and investigating all the evidence of potential fraud.” It cites rumors of election fraud that have already been investigated and refuted by the Alabama secretary of state, argues that high Democratic turnout in key areas was statistically unlikely, and reports that Moore himself has taken a polygraph test — an attempt to disprove allegations that he made unwanted sexual advances on teenagers when he was in his 30s.

Moore’s lawyers filed the complaint at 10:33 p.m. Wednesday night and announced it to reporters less than two hours later. At 1 p.m. Thursday, Alabama’s election officials — all Republicans — are scheduled to certify the election. Early Thursday morning, they gave no indication that they would delay that process. In Washington, leaders of both parties expect Jones to take his oath of office when the Senate returns next month.

This is the man the dotard insisted on supporting in the Alabama special Senate election.

Last night, we learned that Trump and his gang plan to paint Michael Flynn as a liar if he testifies that Trump or his gang “engaged in wrongdoing.”  A liar calling another liar a liar doesn’t sound like a very convincing defense. Plus the dotard swore again and again that Flynn was a fine man who was treated unfairly.

New York Magazine: If Flynn Is Just a Liar, Why Did Trump Keep Defending Him?

As we’ve seen with Paul Manafort and George Papadopoulos, Trump’s default position is to downplay his relationship with any former associates who happen to be indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team. However, it’s harder to distance yourself from a former top White House official who memorably led a “lock her up” chant on the first night of your nominating convention.

The leniency of Flynn’s plea agreement suggests that he’s promised Mueller’s team valuable information, so Trump’s team has come up with another strategy. The Washington Postreports: “President Trump’s legal team plans to cast former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn as a liar seeking to protect himself if he accuses the president or his senior aides of any wrongdoing, according to three people familiar with the strategy.” As one person working on the plan put it, “He’s said it himself: He’s a liar.”

Who are you going to believe, an admitted liar or the president of the United States? sounds like a logical defense until you plug in what we know about this particular president, and his relationship with the liar in question. Aside from the hypocrisy of Trump attacking anyone for misstating the truth, the plan revives questions about why the president went out of his way to defend Flynn, even after he fired him for lying.

In the days after Trump asked for Flynn’s resignation, he said he had to go because he misled Vice-President Mike Pence about his conversations with then-Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the transition. However, Trump argued that by making those calls Flynn was just “doing his job,” and stressed that he still considered him a man of fine character.

That’s all I’ve got for you today. I know there’s lots more news, but I’m ignoring it for the moment. What stories are you following?

 


Monday: Foggy Day Reads

Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!

I’ve talked to people from several places around Texas and they have the same eerie fog that we’ve got here in New Orleans.  Foggy is also a good description  for my brain activity today. It’s also foggy in Minnesota. Nothing seems clear at the moment.

Four US Senators are urging Senator Al Franken to reconsider his resignation over alleged sexual misconduct. It’s a rare day I’m in agreement with Joe Manchin.

“What they did to Al was atrocious, the Democrats,” said West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin in an interview for POLITICO’s Off Message podcast to post on Tuesday.

Franken’s unusual timeline — in his departure announcement he said he’d go “in the coming weeks,” without setting a date — has fed the fleeting hopes that there’s still time to reverse course. However, Tina Smith, Minnesota’s Democratic lieutenant governor, was named last week as his appointed successor.

People familiar with Franken’s plans said he has not changed his mind and intends to formally resign in early January. He praised the selection of Smith and has begun working with her on the transition.

At least four senators are urging Al Franken to reconsider resigning, including two who issued statements calling for the resignation two weeks ago and said they now feel remorse over what they feel was a rush to judgment.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who urged Franken not to step down to begin with — at least not before he went through an Ethics Committee investigation — said the Minnesota senator was railroaded by fellow Democrats.

An Amtrack train derailed this morning outside of Seattle.  It actually dropped from a raise overpass onto a section of I-5.  It is also drizzly and foggy up there too. The cause, extent of damages, and the number of folks injured are unknown. There are eyewitness accounts indicating there are cars beneath the fallen cars.

The Amtrak train car fell from an overpass, landing on the I-5 highway outside Seattle. All lanes of traffic have been closed.

Authorities have not yet confirmed the extent of casualties. But witnesses say several people have been injured.

Local news stations report that this was the inaugural run of the new high-speed rail line.

The crash occurred around 07:30 (15:30 GMT), about 45 minutes into train 501’s journey between Portland and Seattle.

Before the crash, it was travelling at more than 80mph (130kmh), with at least 75 people aboard.

It is unclear if it landed on any cars below, but CNN reports that several cars are crushed below the train.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.

David Leonhardt has a great Op Ed up in the NY Times about the Republican Tax Plan and how it will exacerbate income in equality. Here is one significant finding of three provided in the piece.

The great tax-cutting revolution of the last half-century hasn’t actually been a tax-cutting revolution for most Americans.

True, they have benefited from a series of cuts in income-tax rates, signed by Lyndon B. Johnson, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. At the same time, though, another tax has been rising. It is the quiet giant of federal tax policy: the payroll tax.

It funds Social Security and Medicare, and it has been rising in response to the aging of society and rising medical costs. It increased from 2 percent just after World War II to 6 percent in 1960 to 12.4 percent in 1990, where it is today. It has risen so much that it’s now the largest tax that 62 percent of American households pay — larger than the income tax, which gets much more attention.

The increases in the payroll tax have more than offset the declines in the income tax for most middle-class and poor families. They now face higher total tax rates than a half-century ago.

Kremlin Caligula and his krazy krewe of kooks have developed a new Security Strategy that doesn’t include climate change. It also has weird language for traditionally hostile nations like China and Russia.

The White House will unveil a new national security strategy that, according to multiple reports, will break with the Obama administration by declining to recognize climate change as a threat to national security interests.

Why it matters: The report is the latest sign of how the Trump administration, in addition to unwinding domestic global warming rules, has made a sharp rhetorical break with its predecessor when it comes to the geo-politics of climate change.

Buzz: The New York Times points out that climate will surface in the report in a section on embracing U.S. “energy dominance.” The Federalist reported Friday that the strategy will note that “[c]limate policies will continue to shape the global energy system” but will also state:

“U.S. leadership is indispensable to countering an anti-growth, energy agenda that is detrimental to U.S. economic and energy security interests. Given future global energy demand, much of the developing world will require fossil fuels, as well as other forms of energy, to power their economies and lift their people out of poverty.”

It also underscores the mixed messages from the administration on how to assess climate change.

Russia and China are now “competitors”. 

 President Donald Trump will declare that China and Russia are competitors seeking to challenge U.S. power and erode its security and prosperity, in a national security strategy he will lay out in a speech on Monday.

“They are determined to make economies less free and less fair, to grow their militaries, and to control information and data to repress their societies and expand their influence,” according to excerpts of Trump’s strategy released by the White House.

Still no word about the cyber threat to our elections and the capture of the administration by our ‘competitor’ Mother Russia.’

Twitter has announced new rules designed to promote safety and reduce “hateful conduct and abusive behavior”.  Will it ban Kremlin Caligula?

Today, we will start enforcing updates to the Twitter Rules announced last month to reduce hateful and abusive content on Twitter. Through our policy development process, we’ve taken a collaborative approach to develop and implement these changes, including working in close coordination with experts on our Trust and Safety Council.

New Policies

New Rules on Violence and Physical Harm

Specific threats of violence or wishing for serious physical harm, death, or disease to an individual or group of people is in violation of our policies. Our new changes include more types of related content including:

  • Accounts that affiliate with organizations that use or promote violence against civilians to further their causes. Groups included in this policy will be those that identify as such or engage in activity — both on and off the platform — that promotes violence. This policy does not apply to military or government entities and we will consider exceptions for groups that are currently engaging in (or have engaged in) peaceful resolution.
  • Content that glorifies violence or the perpetrators of a violent act. This includes celebrating any violent act in a manner that may inspire others to replicate it or any violence where people were targeted because of their membership in a protected group. We will require offending Tweets to be removed and repeated violations will result in permanent suspension

We shall see.

What’s on your reading and blogging list?  How’s the weather and end of the year stuff going?


Lazy Saturday Reads: As The Stomach Turns

Good Afternoon!!

I never thought I’d say this, but I’m sick and tired of the media’s coverage of “sexual assault.” I was already tired of hearing about it, but this whole thing with Al Franken using a lot of cerazette is just plain ridiculous. How many days now has it been the top story on cable TV? It feels like a month. What he did was stupid and disgusting, but I’ve heard enough. Franken apologized and wrote a personal letter to the “victim.” She said she accepts his apology.

Should Franken resign? No fucking way! Should we spend interminable days relitigating the charges against Bill Clinton from 20 years ago? No thanks. What Clinton did was disgusting too, but he went through years of investigations and was impeached for Christ’s sake. Enough!

Until Donald Trump resigns, the media needs to lay off Franken. Unless a bunch more women come forward to accuse him, it doesn’t look like he’s predator on the scale of Moore or Trump. We know that numerous other men in the House and Senate are guilty of sexual harassment. How about doing some investigative reporting to find out the names of these men and publish them?

We live in a culture in which women are beaten, raped and murdered on a daily basis. Let the media focus on that for a week. But it won’t happen. They prefer to use the rampant violence against women in this country as entertainment. And this 24/7 coverage of sexual harassment is happening for the same reason–entertainment and ratings. After the past couple of weeks, I’m feeling like I want to resign from the human race.

Meanwhile, the abuser-in-chief is stealing money hand over fist from taxpayers and trying to “reform” the tax code to give himself billions more.

Trump Ocean Club Panama City

Did you watch Richard Engel’s special on Trump’s Panama tower? If not, I highly recommend you check it out. Some interesting reading on just one place where Trump is reaping the rewards of his massive corruption. Some recommended reading on the subject:

Global Witness: Narco-A-Lago: Money Laundering at the Trump Ocean Club Panama. An excerpt:

The warning signs were there from the outset. The Trump Ocean Club, one of Trump’s most lucrative licensing deals to date, was announced in 2006 and launched in 2011, a period when Panama was known as one of the best places in the world to launder money. Whole neighborhoods in Panama City were taken over by organized crime groups, and luxury developments were built with the purpose of serving as money laundering vehicles.

Moreover, investing in luxury properties is a tried and trusted way for criminals to move tainted cash into the legitimate financial system, where they can spend it freely. Once scrubbed clean in this way, vast profits from criminal activities like trafficking people and drugs, organized crime, and terrorism can find their way into the U.S. and elsewhere. In most countries, regulation is notoriously lax in the real estate sector. Cash payments are subject to hardly any scrutiny, giving opportunistic and unprincipled developers free rein to accept dirty money.

In the case of the Trump Ocean Club, accepting easy – and possibly dirty – money early on would have been in Trump’s interest; a certain volume of pre-construction sales was necessary to secure financing for the project, which stood to net him $75.4 million by the end of 2010. Trump received a percentage of the financing he helped secure, and a cut on the sale of every unit at the development.

He and his family have made millions of dollars more from management fees and likely continue to profit from the Trump Ocean Club. Eager for the project’s success, Trump and his children have participated directly in marketing with help from one of the best marketing agencies, management, and even project design. According to broker Ventura Nogueira, Trump’s daughter Ivanka attended at least 10 meetings with him and project developer Roger Khafif.

A large number of those involved with the Trump Ocean Club in its early phase were Russian and Eastern European citizens or diaspora members. In an interview with NBC and Reuters, Ventura Nogueira said that 50 percent of his buyers were Russian, and that some had “questionable backgrounds.” He added that he found out later that some were part of the Russian Mafia.

Two more articles:

NBC News: A Panama tower carries Trump’s name and ties to organized crime.

The Guardian: Trump’s Panama tower used for money-laundering by condo owners, reports say.

Lots of news has been breaking on the Russia investigation. For example, The AP is just out with a new scoop: Moscow meeting in June 2017 under scrutiny in Trump probe.

Rinat Akhmetshin

Earlier this year, a Russian-American lobbyist and another businessman discussed over coffee (checkout this smart coffee cup that was given to me https://www.fastcodesign.com/90150019/the-perfect-smart-coffee-cup-is-here) an extraordinary meeting they had attended 12 months earlier: a gathering at Trump Tower with President Donald Trump’s son, his son-in-law and his then-campaign chairman.

The Moscow meeting in June, which has not been previously disclosed, is now under scrutiny by investigators who want to know why the two men met in the first place and whether there was some effort to get their stories straight about the Trump Tower meeting just weeks before it would become public, The Associated Press has learned.

Congressional investigators have questioned both men — lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin and Ike Kaveladze, a business associate of a Moscow-based developer and former Trump business partner — and obtained their text message communications, people familiar with the investigation told the AP.

Ike Kaveladze and Emin Agalarov meeting with President Donald Trump in Moscow, 2013

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team also has been investigating the 2016 Trump Tower meeting, which occurred weeks after Trump had clinched the Republican presidential nomination and which his son attended with the expectation of receiving damaging information about Democrat Hillary Clinton. A grand jury has already heard testimony about the meeting, which in addition to Donald Trump Jr., also included Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, and his then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

The focus of the congressional investigators was confirmed by three people familiar with their probe, including two who demanded anonymity to discuss the sensitive inquiry.

One of those people said Akhmetshin told congressional investigators that he asked for the Moscow meeting with Kaveladze to argue that they should go public with the details of the Trump Tower meeting before they were caught up in a media maelstrom. Akhmetshin also told the investigators that Kaveladze said people in Trump’s orbit were asking about Akhmetshin’s background, the person said.

How much more evidence do we need to know that Russia has basically taken over our goverment?We’re living in a dystopian nightmare, as Dakinikat wrote yesterday. The world is laughing at us because Trump is rapidly turning the U.S. into a tinpot dictatorship. I’d like to just curl up in my apartment and escape into books, and I may just do that this weekend.

One way to escape the present and perhaps put our situation in perspective is to read dystopian novels, which I love. Louise Erdrich has just published one, and Elle has an interview of her by Margaret Atwood: Inside the Dystopian Visions of Margaret Atwood and Louise Erdrich.

Louise Erdrich

Louise Erdrich, member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, author of more than 20 novels, most of them revolving around an Ojibwe community in North Dakota, won the National Book Award for The Round House (2012), a crime thriller, and was a Pulitzer Finalist for The Plague of Doves (2009), a murder mystery. But when a galley of her new novel, Future Home of the Living God (HarperCollins, out now), came across ELLE’s desk, it seemed to us that Erdrich had gone where she’d never quite gone before.

She’s written a novel—a wonderful, creepy, dystopian novel—in which women become prized, and quickly enslaved, for their ability to produce healthy babies. The pregnant protagonist of the novel, Cedar, an Ojibwe adoptee, is on the run, evading the white male evangelical government that wants to sever her from life as she knows it and use her body to produce healthy babies. Click here

Yes, it sounds familiar, doesn’t it—unless you’ve been living under a rock and missed
The Handmaid’s Tale cleaning up at the Emmys, or the fact that the book by the great Margaret Atwood has been on Amazon’s list of its top-20 most-read books for months.
So who better to interview Erdrich about her new novel than Atwood? Lo and behold: They agreed! Over the summer, the two writers—one in Toronto, one in Minnesota—amid jaunts to the Arctic and Winnipeg, engaged in a cross-border digital interview about the novel, their prophetic fears, politics, climate change, and why we idealize Canada.

Click on the link to read the interview. More dystopian fiction suggestions:

Literary Hub: 30 Dystopian Novels by and About Women.

ShortList: The 20 best dystopian novels.

HuffPost: 17 Spine-Tingling New Books For Fans Of Dystopia.

Another way to escape is to read about earlier times. Here’s an interesting book review I came across yesterday at The New Republic: Little House, Small Government. How Laura Ingalls Wilder’s frontier vision of freedom and survival lives on in Trump’s America.

Laura Ingalls Wilder, who wrote the “Little House on the Prairie” books, lived a good two decades of her 90 years in a covered wagon going west. Only in late middle age did she become the author of the most successful series for children ever written about the settling of the American frontier. In the stories these books tell, the Ingalls family embodies that extraordinary hunger for pioneering that, through the second half of the nineteenth century, sent a few million men, women, and children out into the prairies and mountains of the mid- and far West to farm, raise cattle, mine for silver, pan for gold. One and all, they went in search of a life free from the restraints of the socialized world, to a place where survival depended on the exercise of one’s own wit and strength and backbreaking labor.

Ultimately, that same drive to be alone with the wilderness got converted to a founding myth of individualism, out of which emerged an ideology that visualized freedom from government as an equivalent of freedom itself. The descendants of that myth are among us still. If Laura Ingalls Wilder were alive today she would be a member of the Tea Party. She would almost certainly have voted for Donald Trump, many of whose followers yet believe that he will restore to them the dubious glory of the frontier America that Wilder so passionately celebrated in her books.

Caroline Fraser’s Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder is an impressive piece of social history that uses the events of Wilder’s life to track, socially and politically, the development of the American continent and its people. The frontier, by definition, has always been a place just beyond the point where land meets sky. In America that longing to move beyond the horizon, which is common to all cultures, became not only synonymous with an idea of the national character, but a vital ingredient in the American brand of democracy. The historian Frederick Jackson Turner ardently believed, in fact, that “that restless, nervous energy, that dominant individualism” attributed to the frontier was the major influence on American democracy’s development.

What the people in the covered wagons did not grasp was that to a large extent they were pawns in the hands of political and business interests—especially those of the railroads—that needed to see ground broken across the entire continent. The pioneers never understood the hucksterism behind the “go west, young man” rhetoric that urged them to go where none had gone before, with no hard knowledge of what actually lay before them. All the pioneers knew—in their fantasies, that is—was that just over the horizon lay adventure, opportunity, possible wealth, and certain freedom.

As a kid, I read every one of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s series that began with Little House in the Big Woods and ended with These Happy Golden Years. Oh how I’d love to go back that innocent time in my life for one day. But then, maybe it wasn’t as great as I remember it. The reviewer includes another book about the American frontier that isn’t as joyful as Wilder’s nostalgic tales:

Agnes Smedley’s autobiographical novel Daughter of Earth, published in 1929, gave its readers an altogether different look at the same set of experiences. “I write of the joys and sorrows of the lowly,” she begins, “of those who die … exhausted by poverty, victims of wealth and power…. For we are of the earth and our struggle is the struggle of earth.” Smedley’s masterful work of realism concentrates on everything that Laura Ingalls Wilder either ignores, leaves out, or flatly denies. In this book, capitalism makes a mockery of the illusion of freedom-just-ahead—the promise that sent millions traveling west during those same years when the Ingallses were loading and unloading their covered wagon and then loading it once again.

Smedley was born in 1892 in Missouri into a family of farmers who labored long days in the field and never seemed to get ahead. The father, like Charles Ingalls, was handsome and restless. A lover of music and tall tales, he was possessed of “the soul and imagination of a vagabond,” Smedley wrote. The open road called to him. The mother, unlike Caroline Ingalls, desperately did not want to leave the farm but the father wore her down and at last they packed up and headed out. “And from that moment,” Smedley writes, “our roots were torn from the soil and we began a life of wandering, searching for success and happiness and riches that always lay just beyond—where we were not. Only since then have I heard the old saying ‘Where I am not, there is happiness.’”

The father did not want to homestead; rather, he thought to join the army of miners, loggers, and teamsters who were rushing west right alongside the settlers. Missouri, Colorado—on the Smedleys moved, from one mining camp to another, always working like dogs, always being cheated of their wages, always just barely surviving. “Existence meant only working, sleeping, eating … and breeding…. A book was a curiosity … a newspaper was a rarity; to read was a recreation of the rich.”

The family joined the exploited underclass that got the country built. Men like Smedley’s father, with all his brute strength and hunger of spirit, never realized that they were forever up against the exploitation of the owners of the mines and the railroads, who had the government in their pockets. Smedley himself proved an ignorant and frightened man, helpless before a world he could not fathom, much less define himself against. In time he loses his taste for the songs and the stories that sustained him; he becomes a bully, starts to drink, and beats his wife. Of her mother, old at 30, Smedley writes, “her tears … they embittered my life!” It is above all the hardness of the narrator’s voice that makes Daughter of Earth so unlike anything Wilder could have imagined. For Smedley, the ideology of American individualism proved a bitter punishment, for Wilder the fulfillment of what she took to be a God-given promise.

My grandparents and great grandparents helped settle the Dakota territory. I’d love to read those books. I already have a stack of things I want to read though. There’s never enough time.

I know this is a weird post. I think Trump is slowly driving me insane. What stories are you following today? Any book recommendations?


Friday Reads

Good Morning!

I found a few interesting things for us to look at this morning.  I’m going to start off with the increasingly creepy role Big Pharma plays in what your doctor prescribes for you when you probably don’t need it.   Only one catch here.  You might’ve asked for it based on the constant and perpetual bombardment you get daily of Big Pharma’s ads for Life Style Drugs.  Here’s a great article from Alternet called: “Ask Your Doctor if This Big Pharma Scam Is Right for You: The Dangers of a Drugged Up America; In medicated America, the fix for every problem is just a prescription away. Except that it’s not”.

In the past three decades, America’s healthcare system has radically metamorphosed from a public service network (largely run by independent physicians and nonprofit hospitals) into a corporate profit machine–one that Dr. Arnold Relman, the renowned former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, calls the Medical-Industrial Complex. Drugmakers have been among the most ambitious, in-your-face pushers of this transmutation of medicine into just another commodity to be sold by hook or crook. In this system, the concept of “care” has been reduced to “caveat emptor,” with the shareholders’ interest in monetary gain overriding all other interests.

A fast-moving, systemic epidemic called DTC has swept across America, endangering public health, jacking up our costs, and weakening the curative connection between health professionals and patients. DTC stands for “Direct-to-Consumer” drug advertising. It’s a plague of marketing, empowering profiteering corporations to short-circuit the judgment of doctors by using all of the tricks of Madison Avenue (including lies) to convince viewers and readers that (first) they’re suffering from a particular malady, (second) the advertiser’s brand-name medicine is the very best cure, and (finally) they must go to their doctors pronto to insist on getting a prescription for that specific drug. The essence of this marketing scheme is to turn consumers into sales representatives for drug peddlers. Brilliant.

Greece might be in a better bargaining position than German Bankers would like.  Here’s an interesting article from Bloomberg called: “Greeks May Hold $510 Billion Trump Card in Renegotiation”.

“Greece has got some strong cards to persuade them to go easy on austerity,” said John Whittaker, an economist at Lancaster University Management School in England. “Everyone fears a Greek departure from the euro because they’ll lose money and lose political capital.”

European governments have poured money into Greece since its first rescue was agreed to in April 2010 in a bid to keep the country in the euro and prove that monetary union, a symbol of European post-war integration, is irrevocable.

After receipt of a 7.5 billion-euro tranche in March, Greece now owes other countries more than 80 billion euros in bailout funds. The European Financial Stability Facility said 4.2 billion euros of rescue cash will be disbursed to the nation today.

The ECB also stands to lose much if Greece walks away from its obligations. First, the central bank bought about 50 billion euros of the government’s bonds to push down yields and help the nation retain access to the capital markets.

Al Franken’s career has been a delight to follow.  He’s pressing the DOJ to explain why it’s tracking people via their cellphones. This is via The Hill.

In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Franken asked how often the Justice Department requests that wireless carriers turn over the location data of their customers and what legal standard the department believes should apply.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releaseda report last month that found that local police across the country regularly gather cellphone location data, often without a warrant. The ACLU called the practice “pervasive and frequent.”

The Supreme Court ruled earlier this year in United States v. Jones that tracking a suspect’s car using a GPS device qualifies as a search under the Fourth Amendment.

Franken said that police who obtain location records from wireless carriers might be “working around” the Supreme Court’s decision.

“I was further concerned to learn that in many cases, these agencies appear to be obtaining precise records of individuals’ past and current movements from carriers without first obtaining a warrant for this information,” Franken wrote. “I think that these actions may violate the spirit if not the letter of the Jones decision.”

Franken asked Holder to explain how the Supreme Court’s decision affects the gathering of cellphone data and whether the Justice Department’s practices have changed since the ruling.

Our budget problems are not due to programs that help Low-Income Americans.  Here’s some analysis from the Center on Budget Priorities on what is driving our budget problems.

Several conservative analysts and some journalists lately have cited figures showing substantial growth in recent years in the cost of federal programs for low-income Americans.  These figures can create the mistaken impression that growth in low-income programs is a major contributor to the nation’s long-term fiscal problems.

In reality, virtually all of the recent growth in spending for means-tested programs is due to two factors:  the economic downturn and rising costs throughout the U.S. health care system, which affect costs for private-sector care as much as for Medicaid and other government health care programs.  Moreover, Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projections show that federal spending on means-tested programs other than health care programs will fall substantially as a percent of gross domestic product (GDP) as the economy recovers — and fall below its average level as a percent of GDP over the prior 40 years, from 1972 to 2011.  Since these programs are not rising as a percent of GDP, they do not contribute to our long-term fiscal problems.

Specifically, federal spending for mandatory (or entitlement) programs outside health care (including refundable tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit) averaged 1.3 percent of GDP over the past 40 years.  This spending reached 2.0 percent of GDP in fiscal year 2011, a substantial increase.  But CBO projects that it will return to the prior 40-year average of 1.3 percent by 2020 and then remain there.

Federal spending for low-income discretionary programs is virtually certain to fall as a percent of GDP in the coming decade as well.  Under the Budget Control Act’s funding caps, non-defense discretionary spending will fall over the decade to its lowest level as a percent of GDP since 1962 (and probably earlier).

As a result, total spending for low-income programs outside health care — both mandatory and discretionary programs — is expected to fall over the coming decade to a level below its prior 40-year average.

I’m going to let you know exactly why I would never live in Nebraska again.  A nice Lincoln lady explains why gays shouldn’t be protected from bullying or severe beatings.  Be sure to pay careful attention as to why both Hillary and Judas are ‘homos’.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


SDB Evening News Reads for 072011: Franken, Perry and Kasich walk into a Hooters…

Evening News November 18th, 1914

Well, good afternoon.  Obviously, any blog post that begins with a title like this one has is just trying to make a joke out of a few very serious news articles…which I happily bring to you in this evening’s news reads.

The same state that brought you Bachmann, check out another Minnesotan, Al Franken as he Destroys Focus On The Family Witness, Exposes Misuse Of HHS Study | ThinkProgress

During this morning’s Senate DOMA hearings, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) destroyed Focus on the Family’s Tom Minnery’s argument that children are better off with opposite-sex parents by demonstrating how Minnery misrepresented an HHS study. The study — which Minnery cited to oppose marriage equality — actually found that children do best in two-parent households, regardless of the parents’ gender.

Click that link to ThinkProgress to watch the video.

So here is some more disturbing news, this time from the Lone Star State.  Disturbing in that it involves Rick Perry’s foreign policy education, instructed by none other than Donald Rumsfeld himself.  Be afraid…be very afraid…Rumsfeld had role in Perry meeting – Ben Smith – POLITICO.com

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld helped organize Rick Perry’s foreign policy and national security briefing in Austin last Wednesday, Rumsfeld’s staff confirmed today.

Perry’s aides have been tight-lipped about the gathering, which National Review reported included former Rumsfeld aides Doug Feith, Daniel Fata, and William Luti, as well as the magazine’s Andrew McCarthy and others . But I’m told Rumsfeld helped steer Perry’s staff to the low-key advisory group, and his detainee adviser Cully Stimson was also invited, but couldn’t attend.

Oh great, as if Perry’s Jesus/God prayerfest fasting fundraising party wasn’t bad enough.

Go ahead and give this Colbert Clip a minute of your time:

Tuesday July 19, 2011

God Calls Rick Perry to Run

http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/392478/july-19-2011/god-calls-rick-perry-to-run

With the tough challenges facing America, Rick Perry thinks it’s time to hand it over to God and ask Him to jump in.

I’d embed the video if I could…a bit of comic humor for you all.  Honestly, humor is the only thing that is getting me through all this crap lately.

Update: Here’s the video embed… Vodpod videos no longer available.

And speaking of crap, yes this next video clip shows us what NBC’s Today Show believes is newsworthy, you know…if I was a woman anchor over on the Today Show, I would have to put my foot down on this story.  Today Show Breasts | Why Do Men Like Boobs | Large Boobs | Mediaite

I don’t know the exact figures, but I’m pretty sure the Today Show airs on NBC for about 42 hours every day. With that much time to fill, you’d think some of the content may strain for substance. Not the case, however, as you could see by today’s Today in which the show sought to answer a question that’s been challenging great thinkers for centuries: “Why do breasts turn men into boobs?”

I’m sure all the camera guys who shot b-roll for this segment must have been really excited. You know, for helping with great journalism and all.

Today’s investigating was so good for this piece that they answered their central question in the first minute, showing an interview with sexologist Logan Levkoff who explained everything:

“The fixation on breasts starts with this evolutionary blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah? Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah.”

I apologize if that transcription wasn’t perfect. I got distracted because Levkoff is a woman and therefore has breasts.

Give the rest of that post by Jon Bershad a read, it made me chuckle…if only men would pay more attention to women’s health issues, other than focusing on women’s breasts…ah, I am preaching to the choir…I know.

It is obvious that Ohio Governor Kasich doesn’t give a damn about the health and welfare of the women in his state.  Ohio Governor Signs 20 Week Abortion Ban | RH Reality Check

Ohio has become the latest state to ban almost all abortions after 20 weeks, even prior to viability and without any exception for the health of the mother.  Republican Governor John Kasich signed the bill into law today, making it the second major new abortion restriction to go on the books this session.

Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, released the following statement condemning the new law:

“Once again, Governor Kasich put politics over the safety of Ohio women by signing an anti-abortion bill that lacks adequate health protections.  When a pregnancy endangers a woman’s health, or there are serious complications, politicians shouldn’t interfere.  This intrusive new law will force women who face serious health problems later in their pregnancies to wait until their lives are in jeopardy before a doctor can legally terminate their pregnancy and has no exception to provide care for women carrying a fetus with a severe anomaly.  Ohio is on the fast track to becoming the most dangerous state in the country for pregnant women.”

Yes, read that statement again: “Ohio is on the fast track to becoming the most dangerous state in the country for pregnant women.”

Come on people, this is the USA, not some country that degrades and devalues their women citizens…/snark

And in that respect, I will end with this request from Planned Parenthood.

Yesterday I got a mass email from Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood.  So here is the gist of the email.  Give this link to PPAction a click and send a message to HHS.

No co-pay birth control for millions of women in America is within reach. Right now, the Dept. of Health and Human Services is deciding whether or not to require new insurance plans to cover birth control with no co-pays. We’re almost there — add your name to Planned Parenthood’s petition:
http://ppaction.org/bcmfb

So what else is going on in your world today?


Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!

The Tax Cuts for Billionaires (tm) program has passed and will keep all the scrooges making merry merry for a bit.  Unfortunately, the stimulus and capital investment will probably go outside the United States and a budget fight is on deck.   The next budget crisis is looming.  The Federal government will probably hit the debt ceiling in April.  There’s 50 other problem budgets out there also. CBS has an interesting state of the states piece up called “The Day Of Reckoning”.

Most states will have worse problems because they must balance their budget, they’re running cyclic deficits which happens when unemployment goes up and they can’t print money.  State budgets are overwhelmed with needs for state programs like food stamps and unemployment as well as SCHIP and other family safety net programs.  They are also underwhelmed by incoming revenues because demand for things is way off.  Federal tax cuts make this worse because many states–including here in Louisiana–base their income tax formulas on how much Federal Taxes have been paid. It’s tough for them to change the law at this point to reflect that Obama/McConnell Billionaire rescue plan ™.   States and municipalities must watch their bond ratings and compete with other states for investor funds.  This keeps them on a much tighter rein than the Feds.  Additionally, there was some stimulus money in the original Obama stimulus progam that is not being renewed and will run out.    All-in-all, 2011 will be a bad year for states. The worst is yet to come.

This situation has already worried Wall Street and  will undoubtedly cause an increase in unemployment as state and local workers are laid off to balance budgets.  One problem that we’ve had here in Louisiana is that state employment levels have been frozen in the clerical areas and the increased demand for unemployment has led to a 4 – 6 month backlog in processing unemployment benefits.   If you don’t have a rich relative or an emergency savings fund, you’re most likely going to find yourself out on the street.  It’s been the topic of many an investigative report in local TV.  I found that it’s not just in Louisiana.  It’s happened in Connecticut, Kansas, Rhode Island, and California too.

The states have been getting by on billions of dollars in federal stimulus funds, but the day of reckoning is at hand. The debt crisis is already making Wall Street nervous, and some believe that it could derail the recovery, cost a million public employees their jobs and require another big bailout package that no one in Washington wants to talk about.”The most alarming thing about the state issue is the level of complacency,” Meredith Whitney, one of the most respected financial analysts on Wall Street and one of the most influential women in American business, told correspondent Steve Kroft

Whitney made her reputation by warning that the big banks were in big trouble long before the 2008 collapse. Now, she’s warning about a financial meltdown in state and local governments.

“It has tentacles as wide as anything I’ve seen. I think next to housing this is the single most important issue in the United States, and certainly the largest threat to the U.S. economy,” she told Kroft.

Asked why people aren’t paying attention, Whitney said, “‘Cause they don’t pay attention until they have to.”

Whitney says it’s time to start.

This investigative report has examples of looming problems for California, Arizona and New Jersey.  If you live in any of these three states, you should be prepared for an incredible scale back of government services and possible tax hikes. Another state with serious problems is Illinois.  Illinois is already in the ‘deadbeat’ state category.  Here in Louisiana, severe budget cuts by “Bobby is for Bobby” Jindal have led to attempts to break all public service unions including the ones for teachers, state clerical workers, firefighters and police.  Here’s a list of targeted furloughs, layoffs, and firings in Louisiana as reported by WBRZ, a Baton Rouge TV station last month. If they’re not happening in your state already, they will undoubtedly be starting next year when the stimulus funds run out.  Prison guards are even on the list.  I wonder who will win the debtor’s prisons and poor house farms?  Halliburton perhaps?

There is one more major lame duck issue sitting on the docket.  Democratic senate leaders are hopeful they will get the START treaty ratified despite ongoing Republican obfuscation. Let’s hope they’ve got the votes they need.  Even Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell are on board with ratification.

By the end of another tumultuous day, treaty backers said they could count more than the two-thirds majority required for approval in votes that could begin as early as Tuesday. The Senate mustered as many as 64 votes in defeating Republican amendments on Monday, just two short of what supporters need for final approval, and three senators who supported one of the amendments have already said they will vote for the treaty in the end.

The momentum building for the treaty came despite the announcements of the two top Senate Republican leaders, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Jon Kyl of Arizona, that they will vote against the treaty, known as New Start. Treaty supporters pressured wavering Republicans on Monday with an appeal by Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the nation’s top military officer, to approve the agreement.

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour’s recent slip of the tongue will undoubtedly create issues should he decided to make a run for the presidency in 2012. Barbour gave an extensive interview that basically showed how many parts of the south have not changed.   The Mississippi governor praised a civic group that is–for all intent and purpose–a  white supremacist group  in the state.  He also made a comment about the things not being so bad during the civil rights era.  Kinda makes me think Trent Lott might have a better shot at the presidency than good ol’ Haley does.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour says he doesn’t remember the Civil Rights era being “that bad,” citing his attendance at a Martin Luther King Jr. rally nearly 50 years ago.

“I just don’t remember it as being that bad,” Barbour (R), 63, told the conservative Weekly Standard, which did a lengthy profile on the governor. “I remember Martin Luther King came to town, in ’62. He spoke out at the old fairground and it was full of people, black and white.”

The profile also showed Barbour’s ignorance of the role of hate group in trying to maintain segregation.  The group has a long history of white supremacist activities and writings.

“You heard of the Citizens Councils? Up north they think it was like the KKK,” said Barbour. “Where I come from it was an organization of town leaders. In Yazoo City they passed a resolution that said anybody who started a chapter of the Klan would get their ass run out of town. If you had a job, you’d lose it. If you had a store, they’d see nobody shopped there. We didn’t have a problem with the Klan in Yazoo City.”

The White Citizens Council movement was founded in Mississippi in 1954, shortly after the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that outlawed segregated public schools, and was dedicated to political activities opposing civil rights — notably boycotts of pro-civil rights individuals in Barbour’s hometown, as opposed to Barbour’s recollection of actions against the Klan. It was distinguished from the Klan by the public self-identification of its members, and its image of suits and ties as opposed to white robes and nooses.

If you check the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hate map of Mississippi, you’ll see that they’ve identified approximately 25 hate groups there.  Many are in the area surrounding Yazoo.  You’ll see that the Council of Conservative Citizens is quite active around the area. Some of these groups have changed their name to sound more palatable but it’s the same old racist screeds. It wouldn’t take much for Barbour to learn about these folks.

The Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) is the modern reincarnation of the old White Citizens Councils, which were formed in the 1950s and 1960s to battle school desegregation in the South. Created in 1985 from the mailing lists of its predecessor organization, the CCC, which initially tried to project a “mainstream” image, has evolved into a crudely white supremacist group whose website has run pictures comparing pop singer Michael Jackson to an ape and referred to blacks as “a retrograde species of humanity.” The group’s newspaper, Citizens Informer, regularly publishes articles condemning “race mixing,” decrying the evils of illegal immigration, and lamenting the decline of white, European civilization.

In Its Own Words

“God is the author of racism. God is the One who divided mankind into different types. … Mixing the races is rebelliousness against God.”
— Council of Conservative Citizens website, 2001

“We believe the United States is a European country and that Americans are part of the European people. … We therefore oppose the massive immigration of non-European and non-Western peoples into the United States that threatens to transform our nation into a non-European majority in our lifetime. We believe that illegal immigration must be stopped, if necessary by military force and placing troops on our national borders; that illegal aliens must be returned to their own countries; and that legal immigration must be severely restricted or halted through appropriate changes in our laws and policies. We also oppose all efforts to mix the races of mankind, to promote non-white races over the European-American people through so-called ‘affirmative action’ and similar measures, to destroy or denigrate the European-American heritage, including the heritage of the Southern people, and to force the integration of the races.”
—Statement of Principles, Citizens Informer, 2007

“Controlling immigration is about the security of this republic [terrorists illegally crossing the borders] and making sure countries like Mexico stop dumping their murderers, rapists, those carrying AIDS and other communicable diseases and gang members on America’s door step.”
—Devvy Kidd, Citizens Informer, 2006

Yup, nothing to see here.  Just about as benign as your local chamber of commerce or Elk’s Club. You’d think a governor would be familiar with terrorist and hate groups in his own state, wouldn’t you?

This Politico op-ed by Robert Kuttner is undoubtedly one of the first in the a number that will come up as Obama moves on Social Security. It’s called ‘Obama to blink first on Social Security’. Kuttner says that key senate Democrats and the White House are moving to embrace the Cat Food commission report AND cuts in social security. We’re supposed to hear about it in the State of the Union address coming up in January.

The idea is to pre-empt an even more draconian set of budget cuts likely to be proposed by the incoming House Budget Committee chairman, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), as a condition of extending the debt ceiling. This is expected to hit in April.

White House strategists believe this can also give Obama “credit” for getting serious about deficit reduction — now more urgent with the nearly $900 billion increase in the deficit via the tax cut deal.

How to put this politely? For a Democratic president, this approach is bad economics and worse politics.

For starters, cutting Social Security as part of a deficit reduction deal is needless — since Social Security is in surplus for the next 27 years. The move also gives away the single most potent distinction between Democrats and Republicans — Democrats defend your Social Security, and Republicans keep trying to undermine it.

If you think the Democratic base feels betrayed by Obama’s tax-cut deal, just imagine the mayhem when Obama proposes to cut the Democrats’ signature program.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) compared Obama’s tax deal to punting on first down. A pre-emptive cut in Social Security is forfeiting the game before kickoff.

Hey, Al, I got an idea.  Why don’t you and the others fight him just for once?  Frankly no deal is better than the deals he’s been negotiating for us.  Don’t hold your nose and vote for this one like you did with the Tax Cut for Billionaires (tm) plan.  Please?

Altogether now,  “We are so F’d”.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?