Friday, November 28, 2008

Third World Scenes

A 34 year-old temporary worker is trampled to death by shoppers as he opened the doors at Wal-Mart--at 5 a.m., in NY.

Seriously. What is wrong with people?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

A growing number of people are going hungry. Much needed help is on the way, on January 20th.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Bailing Out Killers

Now that I got your attention with that headline, may I draw your attention to this video?

Then, after you have watched it, ask yourself whether you cannot think of several billion ways to waste the money that our government is thinking of giving the three automakers.

This is one case in which, before you meet the enemy, you should prepare a really long list of preconditions so they don't just take the money and run, again. After they kill your hopes, of course.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Free Market Religion

Stephen Colbert's wit is the best antidote for the platitudes that regularly find their way in the mainstream media. It's about time someone took on the myth of the "free market" as the best possible system, requiring no changes, no intervention, and incapable of doing any harm if left to its own devices. Colbert analogizes the free market with religion, calling it "moneytheism." Colbert's satire, as usual, is unassailable. He is a true national treasure.

The juicy part of the segment starts at 2:14 (the rest ain't too bad, either.) Watch.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
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Wednesday, November 19, 2008


The recent electoral drubbing suffered by the Republican party at the hands of the party that was a master at snatching defeat out of victory's jaws is starting to open some eyes.

Kathleen Parker, conservative writer, has already been highly critical of McCain's choice of a running (play)mate. Now she's going full bore against the religious extremists in the Republican Party, and against "the base" that turned the party of Lincoln into the anachronistic joke before our eyes.

In The Valley Of Elah

Roger Ebert nails it when he says that "[t]hose who call In the Valley of Elah anti-Iraq war will not have been paying attention." The film does a masterful job to portray the effects, as predictable as they are unintended, that the war has on soldiers and their families, without shoving an anti-war message down your throat. It is a movie about real people, with real human feelings, behaving as you would expect them to behave under the circumstances. It does not overdramatize reality, there is no need to. It makes its points not by shouting about life, but by simply observing it. That is what makes it so compelling.

Perhaps In The Valley Of Elah would not have won a Best Picture award even if it had been nominated, given the strong competition of the ultimate winner, No Country For Old Men, and of the other two excellent movies in the category (the magnificent There Will Be Blood and Michael Clayton). But the fact that it was bypassed in favor of Juno is to the everlasting infamy of the Academy.

With Tommy Lee Jones, once again incomprehensibly snubbed by the Academy for Best Actor, Charlize Theron, Susan Sarandon and Josh Brolin, among others.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Can't Say I'm Sorry

Focus On The Family, our evil neighbor 60 miles or so down the road, is laying people off. The fewer the better. I am sure god will help the laid off employees find gainful employment somewhere not quite as evil.

On The Future Of Same-Sex Marriage

As I already said many times, same-sex marriage will become law in this country sooner rather than later. Certainly in my lifetime, and hopefully fairly soon. The longer this injustice is allowed to rankle, the more damage it does to civil society. The longer we tolerate abuses against human rights--in the name of Christianity, no less--the longer we will be guilty of complicity in the unnecessary and unwarranted unhappiness of many of our brothers and sisters.

It is always heartening to see someone else's optimistic perspective on the subject, so I was happy to find this article on the Seattle PI.

What About Mass Transit?

One of the hardest things to comprehend for Europeans who live in the United States is the sorry state of public transportation, particularly at a time when energy consumption and costs rank as one of the highest concern on the minds of Americans.

Few American cities, NY above all, have mass transit systems worthy of the public's time and money, whereas urban sprawl, with its myopic view that what is good for the individual is good for America, has only made matters worse. 

Not only that. Now that American car manufacturers are suffering financially for their own stupid choices, and for the decades of opportunistic alliance with the oil industry, we are supposed to bail them out? Not so fast, says Harvey Wasserman. Particularly in GM's case, given the instrumental role they played in killing America's mass transit.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Bailing America Out (Of Money)

Reading Naomi Klein's books or articles is almost never uplifting, but then accounts in the "reality-based community" rarely are.

Her latest two articles do not subvert the trend of depressing news, they just give a very stark and faithful account of reality. Do your brain a favor, and read either article, or both: The New Trough, and In Praise Of A Rocky Transition.

Pickens On The Daily Show

The oddly charismatic and amazingly youthful 80 year old T. Boone Pickens made quite an appearance on last night's Daily Show. As Jon Stewart remarked, "I feel as right now I and the rest of my audience would follow you out the building.


Pithy Remarks On The Pity Party

When it comes to skewering hypocrites, Colbert has no peers.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Loonies' Fear (Of The Leftist Media)

Here are a couple of closely related links: the first describes the relationship between people and the media under an Obama administration, and the second takes a look at the howls from the right about the perils of the Obama presidency.

Interestingly Jon Stewart spent the better part of tonight's The Daily Show debating his guest, Bill O'Reilly, on the absurdity of the fear of the great Obama unknown that O'Reilly's Fox News is peddling daily to its viewers. In the rest of the interview, Stewart questioned the myth, endorsed by O'Reilly, that we are a center-right nation, a meme that many MSM outlets have been echoing uncritically since the day of Obama's election.

The Republicans' most successful tactic against Democrats in power can be summarized as follows: when you have nothing going for yourself, the only way to look better than your opponents is to paint them as worse than you are. It could not have worked without the media's willing complicity. Absent significant changes in the media landscape, it will work again, no matter who's president. That is President-elect Obama's biggest challenge to overcome in the next four years.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

On Gay Marriage, California Supremes Already Weighed In

Granting homosexuals the legal right to marry is not a matter of religious belief, it is a matter of fairness. And the California Supreme Court already weighed in on this issue last May, when it issued its opinion that the right to marry should be extended to homosexuals, because a ban on homosexual marriage is irrational, unfair, and unconstitutional.

It won't be long before this illegal ban is reversed. And, just as it was not judicial activism the first time around, it won'be the next time. Those who think fairness and equality are unconstitutional should go form their own Republic of Discrimination.

Discrimination, For God's Sake

By now you probably heard that a majority of California voters has passed a ban on gay marriages in that state. Ironically, the ban (labeled "Proposition 8") was passed on the same day that Barack Obama was voted the first black President of the United States. Even more ironically, the ban could not have passed without the overwhelming support of the black community.

I have already written about the trampling of the human and civil rights of gay people, here and here. My prediction is that gay marriage will be legalized by a majority of the states within my lifetime.

Now Keith Olbermann weighed in, with a special comment that hits the nail on the head, on many counts. Watch it below.

Monday, November 10, 2008

We Dodged A Bullet

I am not flogging a dead horse when I say to you: we dodged a bullet, just barely, and just with regard to the presidential election.

But that doesn't mean that the recent election was not ridden with problems, as this Alternet article says.

There is a lot of work to do between now and 2010.

Obama's New Deal

Paul Krugman makes the case that the financial times we live in require another New Deal, with added focus on the present.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Election Isn't Over Yet

It would be too easy, now that Barack Obama has been elected the next president of the United States, and that Democrats have seen gains in both chambers of Congress, to pretend that there is nothing wrong with the United States electoral system. What has transpired as a triumph of American democracy. Far from it.

I personally witnessed a ridiculous incident in Denver, where one polling place was missing the voting rolls for all voters with last names beginning with letters from G to S when the polls opened, which meant that the identity of any of the good people that stood in line at 7 a.m. could not be verified. They were told they could vote using a provisional ballot, or return to the polls later. I say it is a ridiculous incident because this election was highly anticipated and there is no excuse for unpreparedness on this scale, regardless of which party might have been hurt the most by it.

As Rachel Maddow pointed out on her MSNBC show, being forced to stand in line for hours in order to cast one's vote is equivalent to an implicit poll tax. What poor American, making the minimum wage, can afford to take a whole day off to carry out his or her civil right? (What poor American could afford not too, given the choice of candidates?)

Brad Blog, the website devoted to election integrity monitoring, reported several instances of vote flipping, almost all of which favored Republican over Democratic candidates.

Voters in several states were purged off the voter rolls due to a practice called "caging", first revealed by investigative reporter Greg Palast on his website, which consists of deleting off the voter rolls anyone whose address is not verified after he or she has been sent a do-not-forward notice to a no longer valid address.

And, in case you did not know, the election isn't over yet in Alaska, and it isn't over in Minnesota, where at least two U.S. Senate races are too close to call. (Begich v. Stevens in Alaska, and Franken v. Coleman in Minnesota.)

Brad Friedman has a piece called Alaska Stinks, And Minnesota's On Edge. You should read it. Then you will understand why, as I said a long time ago, the real work of election reform in the United States needs to go on, because we cannot afford to vote the same way we did this time four years from now, no matter the result. Because democracy is not about winning: it is about making sure that the will of the people is recorded accurately, no matter what the outcome is. Without that guarantee, democracy loses its meaning.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

A Return To Fairness

I like driving to Las Vegas from Denver, more than flying. True, flying is quicker and--the price of gas being what it's been like for a couple of years--cheaper, too. But when I fly, I miss the chance to stop at Canyonlands and Arches, two of my favorite places in the world. (Incidentally, President Bush is trying to open the land surrounding them up for drilling, in the last gasp of the OIL* Administration.) The drive through Utah's desert and red rock landscape never gets old for me, no matter how many times I've done it.

The only problem is, I cannot listen to the radio. You see, I like listening to talk radio and political commentary, and when I am looking for the news I turn to NPR. But during most of the Denver-Las Vegas drive all I can hear is a cacophony of voices like Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh, Mike Savage, Dr. Laura's, and so on. No Air America. No NPR. No Thom Hartmann, let alone Randi Rhodes. None of the progressive voices one might be able to hear in a big, blue town when you are driving through a land populated by ranchers, farmers, and Mormons.

This dearth of progressive voices on AM radio is due in large part to the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, brought about by former appointees of Ronald Reagan during his administration. The Fairness Doctrine's main requirement was that contrasting viewpoints had to be allowed by each broadcaster, though it did not set any requirements in terms of the time allotted to each opposing viewpoint. That, of course, made it possible for hate-spewing, falsehood-peddling personalities like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity to push their viewpoints without fear of rebuttal, without any moderating influences, and without any need for restraint. The negative consequences of the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine have now been under everyone's eyes for close to thirty years.

But now that Barack Obama has risen to the presidency, and that the House and the Senate have seen big Democratic gains, there have been rumors that the Fairness Doctrine may be brought back in some form.

The airwaves have been dominated by right wing hate-mongers for too long, under the pretense that this was what a center-right country wanted to listen to. But with the majority in the House and Senate firmly in Democratic hands, and now that the country has even found the ability to look away from racism and elect a Democratic black president, the right's explanation for its domination of the airwaves is getting harder to believe. The right is going to fight tooth and nail to keep the status quo and, in so doing, it will be fighting against fairness. What else is new?

Resurrecting the Fairness Doctrine seems only fair. It will give the country a more balanced outlook on political matters, and it will make my drives through Utah all the more enjoyable.

*OIL also stands for Operation Iraqi Liberation, as the Bush administration had originally termed Operation Iraqi Freedom, in an belated effort to hide its true motives.

Friday, November 07, 2008

The "Center-Right Nation" Myth

Long before the election was called, pundits all over the airwaves and printed matter were cushioning the coming Republican fall with appeals to political moderation because--they say--the United States is basically a center-right nation.

A Media Matters analysis disagrees--in some detail.

Has The Christian Tide Turned?

In a comment to my recent post called A Different Perspective the name of the Rev. Jim Wallis came up.

As it happens, the Rev. Wallis has an interesting analysis about the shift that has occurred in the faithful in the 2008 election.

Krugman's Voice Stands Out

In the crowd of voices that are calling President-elect Obama to use moderation, one stands out. Paul Krugman makes a case for an Obama New Deal and quotes an important passage from FDR's second inaugural address: "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics". It still rings true, some 70 years later.

Krugman's full opinion is here.

A Different Perspective

Here is an opinion (thanks Tom for passing it on) that comes from a very different angle than those usually represented on The Daily Fuel. I post it because I often decry the insane rage of the posts of one particular Christian fundamentalist on these pages (you all know whom I am talking about,) but that does not mean that I think all Christians are created equal.

America Has Chosen A President is a good example of the fact that--while we can disagree vehemently--civility and rationality do not have to be sacrificed.

By no means you should read this post as an endorsement of the views expressed by Mohler elsewhere. He wrote, for example "we must pray that Americans will vote by conscience, not merely on the basis of celebrity or emotion," which may be subtle code for "a vote for Obama is a vote for "*the* celebrity candidate," not one based on conscience.

Rather, you should consider this post my olive branch to any Christians I might have offended "by association" with The Constructive Curmudgeon.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Paul Krugman's Excellent Year

Paul Krugman's year keeps getting better. Not only he won the Noble Prize in Economic Sciences this year. In his New York Times blog he announces with joy that The Monster Years have ended.

I could easily add to his list of monsters a few of my own. Perhaps another time.

Memorable Times

I learned a lot over the last four days.

Though I consider myself very engaged politically, no candidate has ever inspired me enough to get my butt of the couch (where I spend most of my time blogging) and to physically help his or her campaign. That is the power of the Obama campaign, which is truly unlike anything I have ever seen.

On Saturday, I volunteered to make phone calls from a Denver office. By the time I left, I had dialed 260 phone numbers, spoken with over 60 people, and helped a few of them follow through on their committment to vote for Obama. I was surrounded by other phone volunteers, canvassers, organizers, in an atmosphere of enthusiasm mixed with anxiety for a result no one could predict. One of the organizers convinced me to take the day off on Tuesday to give more help. I couldn't say no.

On election day the office was flooded with volunteers: some were people I had already met on Saturday, most were new people who had come straight from the polls to do what they could to help Obama conquer Colorado.

As I wrote to a friend, it was inspiring to see so many people donate their time, money and energy to prevent the downward spiral of the Bush years from continuing under a McCain presidency. It was humbling to see how many people had flown in from non-contested states (even foreign countries) to help Obama carry Colorado, and to see even really young kids work with their parents to make banners, sort lists, and make phone calls.

A good friend called me from Western Pennsylvania, and told me she went to a polling place with her 18 month old daughter, and both distributed stickers and buttons to voters.

That, I believe, is the spirit that put Barack Obama over the top in this contest: his ability to mobilize so many first-timers, who had never actively participated in a political campaign before. This spirit of participation, this belief that we are truly all in this together, that change comes from the bottom, is the true promise of the Obama presidency, and I hope that he won't let us down, if we don't abandon him.

For the greater part of the last eight years I had only seen the worst of America's democracy. Over the last four days, I was humbled by the passion and the dedication of the many volunteers who helped the cause we all believe in, giving everything they could afford to give.

I am deeply grateful to Jamie, Holly, Deneen, Madeleine, Greg, Chris, Steph, Maggie, Lisa, Julie, Will, and all the other great, selfless people I met over the last few days.

These are truly memorable times.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Now It's Up To All Of Us

The people who elected George W. Bush got what they asked for, and what they deserved. We were innocent bystanders, for eight, long, nightmarish years.

President Obama comes with a lot of promise, but our job does not end with helping to elect him. Never forget: a President is only as good as the people that elect him and keep him in power. It's up to us, now, to rise to the occasion.

Before And After

November 3

November 4, Obama 44

Tears Of Joy

The night is still young, but rumors have it that McCain is getting ready to concede.

MSNBC has just announced that our eight year long nightmare is over!

It's done!

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Time Is Now

One would hope for Sen. Obama, and for our nation, that the sadness for the death of his beloved grandmother will make room for the honor of being put in charge of leading this country back on the tracks of progress, social justice and international cooperation.

Today is our day.

Know your rights, go out and vote, and call 1-866-OUR-VOTE in case you experience any kind of trouble at the polls!

Vote, If Only To Defeat This Prick

Surprise, surprise!

Paul Weyrich, one of the true enemies of progressive politics, is against high voter turnout. Watch this "patriot," then go vote and kick his ass!

By the way, this all but proves what I have known instinctively for a long time: this nation is not as conservative as conservatives would have you believe--it is moderately liberal, and if 80 or 90% of eligible voters turned out to vote on election day, conservatives would be a quasi-permanent minority. Unless they cheated and suppressed the vote, of course.

Our Discriminatory Election System

Smart and pointed as always, Rachel Maddow decries the indirect poll tax which disadvantaged electors have to suffer if they want to cast a vote.

Guys, as I keep telling you: the light you that shines in American democracy is not that of a beacon: it's the light of a flare! It's the sign of a democracy in trouble. Nowhere else in the civilized world do people have to stand in line for hours to cast a vote, even though voter turnout in the U.S.A. is lower. Nowhere else in the world do people have to vote on a mish-mash of voting equipment, under partisan secretaries of state that set the rules to the advantage of their party.

Stop flexing your muscles in the mirror, and get to work to fix this tragic, goddamn it!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Spreading The Burden

In answering Joe The Plumber's concern that his taxes might increase under an Obama presidency (if he can come up with a plumbing license, and if he can put together the money he would need to buy the plumbing business he wishes to acquire), Sen. Obama tried several different approaches to hammer the concept of fairness in taxation into Joe's thick skull. After a few minutes of patiently trying to explain to Joe The Dullard why his tax plan would be good for 95% of Americans, including most likely Joe himself, Sen. Obama uttered the famous sentence that may haunt him on November 5th, if he loses the election: he told Joe that the idea behind his tax plan was to "spread the wealth around."

What Obama meant to say, but what no savvy politician can say and reasonably expect to win an election, was this: "Joe, I am trying to spread the burden to those who are better equipped to carry it." Immediately, Sen. McCain and his minions jumped at the opportunity to paint Obama as a socialist, a noun that in America is only surpassed by pedophile in order of unpopularity. This strategy of attack has already cost Obama dearly among the undecided (or, as Bill Maher correctly calls those who have not been able to find enough differences to make a decision, "the retarded.")

But the truth remains: a burden is how most Americans regard taxes.

In the United States, the purpose and the history of taxation have always been misinterpreted and misunderstood by most, since the early days of the nation. Take for example the Boston Tea Party.

Most American think that the Boston Tea Party, a seminal moment in the history of the nation, was a revolt against unjust taxation. In fact, it was a revolt against the tax breaks given by the Crown to the most powerful British trading company, the British East India Company, allowing it to sell its tea at lower prices than those offered by colonial merchants and smugglers. Get it? A revolt against tax breaks, for corporations no less!

Another example of the complete misalignment of perception and reality concerning taxes is the estate tax. It was Jack Faris of the National Federation of Independent Business who renamed the estate tax as "death tax", a neologism then picked up and popularized by evil genius Frank Luntz. The intended message was clear: You die, your wealth is taxed.

In fact, the purpose of the estate tax, which affects less than 1% of all estates in the United States (not the United Estates) is to safeguard democracy against the perils of the accumulation of riches into the few hands of plutocrats, which always, historically, leads to the creation of a feudal society, where the rich and noble lord over the serfs.

What separates the New World, the United States, from the Old World, Europe, is in large part a system of taxes which rewards individual merit over inherited wealth and status. That is why the United States has not had to endure the rule of nobility which, for centuries, hampered progress of the working masses on the European continent. It has not had to, yet, but it is heading in the wrong direction.

Typical of this dangerous shift in the wrong direction is the resentment that many feel against a system of progressive taxation, which establishes different tax rates for different income levels, with the goal of achieving a more equitable distribution of the tax burden by having those with a higher discretionary income carry a larger percentage of the nation's tax load.

Republicans have been masters at influencing public opinion against government and taxes, first by creating the most incompetent and crony governments in history and, in a complete twist of logic, by using the very incompetence and cronyism they injected in government to create a backlash against taxes that fund incompetent government.

Once established, this backlash has been used by Republicans to justify tax cuts that have disproportionally benefited the wealthiest individuals and the largest corporations, leaving an increasing number of people with the impossible task to do more with less.

Another symptom of this dangerous shift away from equitable, progressive taxation is the push toward the so-called Fair Tax (read "Flat Tax", a regressive tax system), which is just as Luntzian a concept as the "Death Tax" and all the other Orwellian phrases popularized under the autarchy of George W Bush. No one has yet come up with a Fair Tax proposal that does not reward the highest income earners to the detriment of the vast majority of the population.

Most people regard taxes as a burden for a couple of primary reasons:

1) The systematic corruption, cronyism and abuse of public funds that all levels of government are guilty of, to varying degrees;

2) The failure of government to establish a clear, irrefutably positive nexus between the taxes we pay and the quality and quantity of the services we enjoy, the infrastructure we use, and the benefits we reap as the results of the taxes we paid.

History teaches us that we cannot expect the current bastardized breed of Republicans to reduce the hijacking of public resources for the benefit of the largest contributors of the party. Unfortunately, many Democrats are too much like their Republican opponents when it comes to responsible allocation and use of public funds.

So it is up to progressives to be leaders in reforming politics, and to reverse the trend of growing disillusionment regarding government that has clutched the majority of the population.

It is up to us to restore the people's confidence by establishing a philosophy and a system of government capable of managing revenues responsibly, transparently, and fairly.

It is our duty to educate the public against the negative connotation of socialism, and to explain the role that an equitable distribution of the tax burden has for the health of our society and, just as importantly, on our democracy.

It is our job to transform the perception of taxes, from an unjust burden to a necessary element of prosperity for the nation.

The mantra that "the power to tax involves the power to destroy" can only be true if the people allow the power to tax to be used as a means of creating division rather than unity, if politicians and the intellectuals that abet them continue to represent taxes as a system of confiscation of wealth and class warfare.

Instead, we should focus the frame on the principle that an equitable tax system is the price that individuals and businesses should be willing to pay, in proportion to their ability to do so, in order to create and maintain the conditions that allow our nation to progress beyond past achievements in pursuit of a possible, better future for all, with better education, better health care, better infrastructure, and the promise that we can all share, once again, a part in the American dream.

Though he won't be caught saying it, Sen. Obama has given us ample evidence during this campaign season that he understands that taxes are perceived almost universally as a burden, and that the idea is not to spread the wealth but to spread the burden, so that the middle-class can be lifted back from the depths that it has been cast into by eight years of callous Bush rule. He understand that the role of the next president will be to make government "cool" again, and his "Google For Government" bill is a clear attempt to restore public trust in the government's management of public resources. His toughest challenge will be to reverse the disastrous course that the falsely grandfatherly Ronald Reagan set the nation on when he declared government to be the problem.

If President Obama should succeed, with our help, we will then have an opportunity to move from spreading the burden to spreading, once again, the wealth.

NOTE: I recommend a short, enlightening, and cheap book called 10 Excellent Reasons Not to Hate Taxes. It presents a series or articles aimed at educating readers on the positive effects of taxes on our lives in areas that range from education, to health care, science and business, etc.
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