Mitt Romney’s Ads: Still Wrong on the Stimulus | Swampland |

Mitt Romney’s Ads: Still Wrong on the Stimulus | Swampland |

One of Romney’s ads on the stimulus package gets a distortion busted.  Very good observation on this with some depth on the issue.

One More Step Toward Marriage Equality

A federal appeals court unanimously decided DOMA is unconstitutional today edging the United States one step closer to an inevitability: nationally legalized gay marriage.

The reality of gay marriage has always been that it should be recognized as legal because of the Constitution and the fact it has been outlawed and restricted in different states and still not recognized as equal to hetero marriage is ridiculous.  There is little doubt that in time (as Fox’s Shepard Smith said) the opponents of gay marriage will be on the wrong side of history on this and the videos of people demeaning the homosexual community will be looked upon with scorn similar to the videos we now watch of past segregationists.

Some may say this debate is different at its core.  It’s not.  Both were about equality and gaining rights a majority of the country possesses and a smaller portion does not.  The idea each person should have the same rights as the next is not radical or evil or unholy.  It’s in the Constitution and is not really arguable.

Which is why the opponents of gay marriage wanted the Constitutional amendment banning it so badly.  Despite the fact it was a pipe dream in terms of passing from the beginning, the opponents knew a day would come when the courts would rule on this issue and the courts would have no choice how to rule on it no matter who the judges were.  They could scream about activist judges all they want but today is indicative of what they knew.  Three judges ruled in favor of gay rights and two were appointed by Republican presidents.

When it comes down to the bare bones of this debate it is simply a belief in a rite versus actual rights.  One has a legal reason for being.  The other is just a symbol in our minds left to be interpreted in whatever way pleases our consciences and beliefs.  Letting rituals be the basis for decision making and not proper equality in law reeks of a society of the simple minded too afraid of change to embrace the idea of treating law abiding citizens the same.

One of the realities of this fight is just a simple fact of politics: politicians need targets to fire up people for their election prospects.  They need bogeymen and the best ones to rail against are the ones with little or no rights and power because they can’t be hurt as badly by them.  Illegal immigrants and criminals are perfect examples of this.  What does a politician have to lose by saying anything vile about these folks?  They can’t vote so what does a politician care when he knows he can light a fire in his constituents by saying how tough he will be on this group of people regardless of how inefficient it might be?  The gay community has been similarly demonized because of the bigotry toward them and this gave politicians another target.  And since gays are a relatively small portion of the population, there has been little risk in attacking them in the interest of getting elected.

But, happily, that’s changing and changing quickly now.  For now, we’ll just have to wait and see if the Supreme Court will take this case on and bring it to its logical conclusion: true equality in marriage across the U.S.

The Bigger Issue of Chris Hayes’ Comments

An extremely well argued and thoughtful defense of the Chris Hayes’ controversy was given in The Atlantic today and was done by someone whose “politics are different enough from his (Hayes) that we’re often at odds.”  Well worth the read to put the situation into a reasoned context but there is a bit of a bigger picture looking at this incident.  A few lines at the end of the article sum this up:

Their (Hayes’ critics) larger transgression is contributing to a political culture where most participants shy away from certain subjects because they cannot be forthrightly addressed without ginned up bursts of pointless outrage, much of it feigned. You can have a political culture where controversial subjects are discussed with maturity, or you can have one where nothing arguably offensive is ever said without paroxysms of upset. But you can’t have both.

This is an exceptional point about political debate and the depth in which it usually delves into issues.  Let’s face it.  If American political discourse was a pool, the depth we get out of most debates is typically not safe enough for an ant to dive into without breaking its neck.

The reason for this varies from person to person and is in the eye of the beholder.  It is part lack of interest in politics, part laziness, part overconfidence of knowledge, and many other parts I’m sure others could add.  But the fact is sound bytes have their effect and usually go with little challenge for one reason or another without thorough debate of what is said.  This is what should really worry people in the interest of democracy.

Let’s take the reality that Hayes’ comments during just a few seconds of his show honoring the Memorial Weekend overshadowed everything else that was said.  People focused on just a tiny part and ignored the rest without reason despite a lot more information and depth being included.  Is this right?  Judge for yourself but I would say no.  And there is an important reason.

Now let’s apply this logic elsewhere.  From the Hayes’ incident we see the effectiveness of ignoring so much information in the rest of the show and the shock waves created by a few words.  What if we apply this to, say, the financial sector and the men who run that area of the economy?  What if they don’t say something controversial and instead say something soothing and appeasing, like “everything is fine and we are not going to make bad decisions”?  If we assume the same reaction from Hayes’ comments that many people will just take that short statement and decide the rest of the info is the same and fine without investigating further, what happens?  Unfortunately, we already know this answer.

Sound bytes are effective usually in a horrible way regardless of where they come from and are difficult to combat for the people who have genuine interest in the depths of debate.  But the first step to try to combat this is the simple acceptance there is depth to every debate no matter how easily it can be turned into a slogan or a thirty second commercial.  It is from that initial step reasoned answers can follow.

Beyond Corporate Capitalism: Not So Wild a Dream | The Nation

Beyond Corporate Capitalism: Not So Wild a Dream | The Nation.

Really interesting read about the idea of competition in the private sector that includes publicly-owned enterprises.  This argument certainly merits some thought particularly if it makes a sector of the economy (whichever one that may be) more efficient overall. Some good examples of government competition are mentioned, such as publicly-owned banks that have been successful in other countries like Japan.

In a way, we can actually look at it as a wrinkle of capitalism.  Capitalists believe in essentially a Darwinian, survival-of-the-fittest economy where the most efficient business wins in the end so the question can be asked, what if the government is well fit and efficient enough to simply compete in a certain sector of the market, such as health care?  This isn’t even to suggest a full take over.  It is just to ask the question about whether it should be allowed to compete if it can produce a service efficiently.  And if, in the end, the government is the most efficient in delivering a service and ends up with a near monopoly, such as the military, why should the populace (or even a capitalist) complain when the best won the market?

And the idea in the article about embracing the word socialism is a worthy tactic in the interest of simply opening up a wider debate on various issues.  The reality is we don’t have an administration espousing the ideas of socialism yet they get pounded by fear of the word and their rather moderate policies get deteriorated because of it.  That’s politics, for sure, but at least looking at a wider range of political solutions gives us a better chance of getting things right the first time instead of possibly ignoring the best route and having to correct it later with something that got drowned out of debate because of fear.

Scientists Make New Discovery, Find Out Terrorists Are People Too

An intriguing article about a subject that is regularly ignored too often appeared in The Christian Science Monitor Friday.  Can radicalized people who are terrorists or are potentially on their way to becoming one be won over by actually addressing their needs peacefully?

The answer is not a definitive yes but it appears to be a strong yes most of the time.  Some of the programs around the world used to address the concerns of radicalized organizations and reintegrate extremists back into society are mentioned in the article and most have been heavily successful with a relatively small number of failures.  Surprisingly, even the U.S. government might finally be catching on to this idea:

The Pentagon recently gave a $4.5 million grant to a group of psychologists based at the University of Maryland to conduct a five-year study on not only how to deradicalize militants, but perhaps also find ways to intervene with potential recruits before they sign up.

Obviously, this idea is hugely controversial (though not often debated) and not everyone is going to agree on these issues.  One of the realities Americans must accept is no matter how good most of us think a societal environment is, there will be unhappy people who look to terrorism because of what they see as injustice.  Timothy McVeigh would be a quintessential example of this.  On the other hand, the numbers game is easy to see.  The likelihood of someone becoming that radicalized in the U.S. certainly appears to be lower per capita.  (Or maybe we just express extremism in different ways, both violent and non-violent).

Another reality is these programs will do a lot of good because “sometimes all that’s required is to make sure militants get a job and find a place in society”, but there will still be a minority who are not appeased unless they see blood.  There is no answer with a 100% success rate at this time.  This makes sense in that almost no one would be satisfied with just a job if, for example, their family, who were innocent civilians, had been wrongly killed by a foreign entity in wartime.  We are kidding ourselves if we assume that type of created hatred would be extinguished so easily.  But the importance of preventing what can be stopped before people choose that route should not be overlooked.

The detailed reasons for how militants are created, what they want exactly, and the methods for creating peace will vary from place to place and person to person (i.e. a militant in the Middle East probably has very different circumstances than one in Southeast Asia).  But the important point here is the simple recognition by even the most ardent supporters of military solutions that violence through warfare by the U.S. is not always the answer and might even be (soon possibly scientifically proven!) the worst answer with violence begetting violence.

The difficulty now is the acceptance by the American populace of this after we have been brainwashed through so much propaganda about what “they” are and how evil these extremists can be.  That is not to excuse crimes that have been committed but is about the future and diminishing violence as much as can reasonably be accomplished.  In the past, we were told “they” were evil, crazy, and hated us because of the way we live.  We are then further distanced from “them” through simple linguistic tricks in warfare, such as the idea of collateral damage.  If civilians are killed in a gunfight in the U.S., they are innocent bystanders which notes the recognition they are people and creates feelings of empathy.  If the same happens outside our borders, they are collateral damage which suggests physical damage to a lifeless entity and breeds feelings of apathy.  Generating support for warfare would be far more difficult without these distortions of language.  And therein lies the difficulty of making such a drastic change in tactics by the U.S. government.

But these changes are possible and the sooner we accept them the sooner we can truly make strides in the War on Terror.

Excellent Opinion Piece on Iranian Situation

By not lifting sanctions, West and Obama are helping Iran enrich uranium –

A lot of interesting stuff in this one if you follow the situation between Iran and the international community over its development of nuclear material for civilian purposes.  This includes some of the conditions needed for the U.S. to lift sanctions on Iran and these conditions are standards even the U.S. itself arguably would not meet.

But the most important part of this article at the moment is toward the end and the reality most experts agree there is still no proof Iran is pursuing nuclear materials for military purposes.  The former head of the IAEA, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, and the Secretary of Defense are all on record recently saying no evidence exists on this belief.

So a bunch of defense hawks with no apparent basis for their argument are saying a Middle Eastern country is pursing dangerous weapons when the experts are saying their is no evidence to back up those claims.  And some people in the U.S. are threatening war over this.  Sounds eerily familiar.  Where have I seen this situation before…?

Let’s just hope cooler heads prevail for now and another U.S. foreign policy mistake can be avoided.

To the Shock of No One, CEO Pay Hits Record Highs Again

The Associated Press reported on the pay of CEOs last year and as expected their pay has continued to increase at levels higher than the pay of everyone else.  CEO pay increased by over 6 percent while the pay of the average worker increased by only 1 percent, less than the rate of inflation.  These statistics exclude the high unemployment rate which makes life even harder for the average person versus the now even wealthier CEO.  All of this should make perfect sense (to the clinically insane) since those CEOs have done such a wonderful job of hiring people and getting the economy going again.  Or was it that they didn’t do that?  I get confused based on looking at their pay sometimes.

Lots of interesting points in the article such as the fact shareholders now have the ability to vote down a CEO’s pay package.  This helps to bring down the average pay of CEOs (not really as the stats show) and gives shareholders more power over what happens at the companies they invest in.  Right!…Right?…No.  Since their vote was given no teeth whatsoever you get what happened at Simon Properties:

Simon Property’s shareholders rejected (CEO) Simon’s pay package ($137 million) by a large margin: 73 percent of the votes cast for or against were against.

But the company doesn’t appear likely to change the 2011 package. After the shareholder vote, it released a statement saying that “we value our stockholders’ input” and would “take their views into consideration as (the board) reviews compensation plans for our management team.” But it also said that Simon’s performance had been stellar and it needed to pay him enough to keep him in the job.

That worked well.  Good to see being a shareholder at Simon Property matters to the company.  And I guess the company is correct.  I mean, seriously.  What kind of a desperate low life would stay at a company for a paltry $50 or $60 million?  The shareholders clearly have no idea how hard it is to make it in this world on only eight figures a year.

This ridiculousness was later followed by this incredible sentence:

Military contractor General Dynamics stopped paying for country club memberships for top executives, though it gave them payments equivalent to three years of club fees to ease “transition issues” caused by the change.

My apologies.  Need a second.  My head just exploded on my screen.

Message to General Dynamics: that is not a “transition issue”.  A real transition issue is when you actually lose something, like your job, and you have to figure out what to spend the last of your money on, food or bills.  In this case, no one lost anything.  When you take a lavish perk away then compensate the party enough money to recover said perk the only “transition issue” is filling out the paperwork yourself for your own country club membership.  That is not a real issue.  It’s a slight inconvenience at best.  Real issues, like unemployment and rising health care costs, are appalled by your attempt to associate country club memberships with them.

And, as if this even needs to be pointed out anymore, this article shows the continued failure of the absurd idea of “trickle down economics”.  A tiny group of people at the top of the income ladder increasing their pay by over 6 percent last year.  A far larger group’s wages not keeping up with inflation.  Obviously the trickle down effect is working like a charm…if you are one of the few at the top, of course.  I’m not sure how many times the theory has to fail in reality before people catch on that the only ones pushing hard for trickle down policies are the very few who stand to heavily benefit from them and they have so much money they are able to flood the media with their dreadful theory.  This propaganda tricks people into thinking they are right and it does somehow work.

But then again, even if we had a group of people who didn’t believe the theory become shareholders in a company, it’s not like it would matter regardless of what the majority says.

Worthy Criticism of Second Amendment by Mexican Official

Christiane Amanpour’s recent video report on the violence in Mexico because of the drug war includes a calm and rational interview with Mexican Ambassador to the U.S., Arturo Sarukhan.  At the 5:25 mark in the video, Sarukhan makes a reasoned assessment of the controversial 2nd Amendment in the U.S. Constitution and its intention by stating:

Every time there’s a gunfight at the state and local level, we have to call in our 7th Calvary, the armed forces, because they are being simply overpowered by the firepower that these thugs are wielding.  What I am convinced of is that the Founding Fathers did not draft the 2nd Amendment to: A) allow international organized crime to illicitly buy weapons in the United States, B) to cross them over international borders, and C) to allow individuals who should not be buying weapons in the first place to acquire those weapons.

His concerns are valid and the reality that these things are happening is indisputable at this point.  We are well aware of the 70,000 guns seized by Mexican law enforcement the ATF traced back to U.S. sellers so one fact needs to accepted: our ridiculously lax gun laws have created a war zone in Mexico.  The level of brutality has increased over time and some of the most gruesome acts make headlines in the U.S., such as the 49 mutilated and decapitated bodies found a couple of weeks ago or the 23 people murdered roughly a week prior to that.  If this is what it takes to make the headlines in the U.S., imagine how much doesn’t make it.

The fact there is little compromise in the debate on this issue is really an impressive feat by the gun lobby.  They have been so successful at their propaganda campaign that even the slightest restriction on firearms is seen as an extreme act.  Case in point, a fact from one of the articles linked above:

U.S. gun store owners in southwestern border states sued to overturn an Obama administration requirement that they report to the ATF when customers buy multiple high-powered rifles within a five-day period. A federal court upheld the requirement.

Why is this unreasonable?  Remember, this isn’t stopping the purchase of the military weapon.  It’s just trying to alert officials to potential gun smugglers yet policies like these are portrayed as if the government is bringing about the apocalypse.

Our nearly non-existent gun laws have been a significant factor in creating a war zone in Mexico and their government officials are appalled by the fact over 50,000 of their people have died in six years because of it.  The sad part is the people contributing to the sale of these military weapons are too busy making money to care.

PolitiFact | Facebook post on target about Obama’s spending

PolitiFact | Facebook post on target about Obama’s spending.

The fact checking article on whether Obama is the slowest spending president in recent decades.  Turns out he is contrary to Romney’s claims.

Interesting Release From the State Department

A short press release was issued by the State Department today regarding a very small amount of funding ($1.5 million) going toward the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development for the countries of Jordan, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia.  The statement has some interesting tidbits but one short sentence in this statement was particularly fascinating:

Other donors will fund the OECD project in Egypt.

Hmm.  Looks like someone isn’t too interested in U.S. support anymore.  The reason for others donating to Egypt and not the U.S. was not given but I’m assuming the Egyptians have decided they have received enough ‘help’ from America over the past few decades and aren’t too keen on wanting much more.  In fact, this could be the big difference between Libya accepting these funds and Egypt wanting them to come from other countries.  The U.S. at least denounced Libya’s brutal dictator, Gaddafi, more profoundly (even while working with him) compared to America’s almost unending support for former Egyptian dictator, Mubarak.  The Egyptian people clearly have long memories when it comes to who helped keep the previous regime in power and do not want that same U.S. intervention in the new political era.

Another point of this release is worth noting:

(One aspect of the project will focus on) helping to increase women’s participation in policy making as well as reaching out to other underrepresented groups and potential change-makers.

Improving the standing of women is certainly a noble cause and worth commending.  Helping underrepresented groups…well that depends.  We’ve done that in the past in the interest of working with the group most likely to play ball with the U.S. regardless of how ferocious they might be.  Take Saddam Hussein.  His relationship with the U.S. prior to the Gulf War is no secret at this point and he was a minority in his country.  Obviously, he was not underrepresented once he was in power but this is about who we support when they are minorities in their homelands.  As a Sunni Muslim, Hussein was a part of roughly one-third of the Iraqi population while Shia Muslims make up most of the remaining majority.  We supported a minority group in Iraq and many people paid dearly for that, ourselves included in the end.  Let’s hope for better judgement on who we support in that respect.

One last irony in this statement is the State Department’s concern for making sure the governments in these countries are open and their actions are transparent to their people.  Really?!  So I guess the U.S. government really had no problem with those Wikileaks releases over the past few years because they are all for openness and transparency in governing.

Correction.  They are for ‘openness and transparency’ by the U.S. government’s definition and not by the actual definition of those words.