Sunday, January 30, 2011

Fwd: I thought this pretty good.......... ans

Hi -- This was sent in by one of our readers.  a cute analogy. 

Submitted by Paula Duffy on 2011-01
Bill Maher may have broken new ground on
his HBO program "Real Time", by using
Major League Baseball and the National Football League
to make a point about socialism.

The owners in baseball represent the philosophy of those that believe in not penalizing winners by asking them to contribute to those who are losing. It's a sink or swim attitude that rejects the necessity of keeping all thirty MLB franchises in contention to win championships.


The NFL on the other hand distributes wealth evenly among clubs and strives for parity of performance. Its financial model does what it can to keep franchises in the playoff hunt so that fans don't stay away from games that aren't competitive. Here's some of what Maher had to say in his closing monologue New Rules:


"Football is built on an economic model of fairness and opportunity, and baseball is built on a model where the rich almost always win and the poor usually have no chance."


"The NFL runs itself in a way that would fit nicely on Glenn Beck's chalkboard - they literally share the wealth, through salary caps and revenue sharing - TV is their biggest source of revenue, and they put all of it in a big commie pot and split it 32 ways."


"Baseball, on the other hand, is exactly like the Republicans, their economic theory is every man for himself. The small market Pittsburgh Steelers go to the Super Bowl more than anybody - but the Pittsburgh Pirates, well Levi Johnston their economic theory is every man for himself. The small market Pittsburgh Steelers go to the Super Bowl more than anybody - but the Pittsburgh Pirates? Levi Johnston has sperm that will not grow up and live long enough to see the Pirates in a World Series"


Maher decided to use stats to show how obsessed Americans are with a sport that is designed to give everyone hope. An estimated 100 million people will watch the Super Bowl, while less than 20% of that number saw the World Series last year.

Support for the NFL's business model isn't the reason however, but it is the end result of how well that model works.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Birth of the Beat: The Vital Musical Dimension of Mother-Infant Interaction ANS

This one is short.  It's about how new mothers and infants interact in a musical way that ends up being a precursor to social interaction and taking turns.  I think.  
Find it here:  

Reported by the New York Times

Birth of the Beat: The Vital Musical Dimension of Mother-Infant Interaction

The following are passages from a longer article –which can be found in its entirety at– from Science News, in an issue in which the scientific study of the role of music in human nature is reported.


Birth of the beat
Music's roots may lie in melodic exchanges between mothers and babies

by Bruce Bower
Science News, August 12, 2010

[Stephen Malloch, a musicologist at the University of Western Sydney in Australia] probed mom-baby conversations by measuring sound waves, pitch patterns and timbre, or tone attributes, starting with those in Trevarthen's video. An acoustic analysis revealed three features of communicative musicality ­ pulse, quality and narrative.

Pulse refers to a timed series of sounds and words in an interaction. Each utterance by mother and daughter lasted about one and a half seconds, with little variation. Quality consists of emotional signals conveyed by voice and gestures. One example is the swoop of a mother's hand accompanying a dropping, then rising vocal pitch. In the recorded encounter, mother and daughter used the pulse and quality of the interaction to create musical narratives lasting no more than about 30 seconds.

One narrative begins with the mother uttering low-pitched phrases, such as "come on" and "that's clever," for five seconds. Her daughter's voice rises in response and the mother moves her vocal pitch an octave higher. Mom prompts responses from baby for about eight seconds. Their voices rise to a peak of intensity during a back-and-forth exchange that lasts another seven seconds. Mother and daughter then take six seconds to return to the mother's original, low voice pitch. So, Malloch says, each collaborative story contained an introduction, development, climax and resolution.

In an upcoming issue of Infant and Child Development, Trevarthen marshals evidence suggesting that even newborns purposely coordinate vocalizations and movements with those of caretakers. An innate impulse to forge emotional ties with others drives such behavior, he posits. In the months after birth, babies build on this impulse by adopting a native culture's style of emoting vowel sounds.

Psychologist Maya Gratier of Université Paris X–Nanterre and psychiatrist Gisèle Apter-Danon of Université Paris Diderot have examined communication breakdowns that afflict babies born to mothers diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. This condition revolves around a tendency to form intense, unstable relationships.

People with borderline personalities act impulsively, feel emotionally empty and constantly fear abandonment. Many have survived severe child abuse and neglect.

Gratier and Apter-Danon codirect a project that has tracked the interactions of about 150 pairs of French mothers and their babies from birth to about age 5. Many mothers qualify as having borderline personality disorder. Others have obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, paranoid personality disorder or no mental ailments.

In brief laboratory exchanges, these mothers awkwardly repeat one phrase over and over or produce strings of unusual sounds, such as tongue clicking and whistling. No rhythmic flow characteristic of typical baby talk emerges. It's almost as if a baby isn't there at all.

That leaves infants unable to get a sound in edgewise. They withdraw from mothers with borderline personalities, vocalize little or get fussy and upset.

Depressed mothers offer a more varied verbal diet to their babies than borderline mothers, but in an unusually low, unexpressive voice devoid of rhythmic timing, according to studies directed by psychologist Lynne Murray of the University of Reading in England. Infants interact hesitantly with depressed mothers, mimicking their low, flat vocal delivery.

Borderline personality disorder and depression alike deprive women of the flexibility and expressiveness needed for communicating musically with babies, Gratier holds. When there's no room for playful musical exchanges, interactive sync is sunk. In their long-term study, Gratier and Apter-Danon find that disrupted musical communication between mothers and babies heralds social difficulties for these children in preschool.

Scientists already knew, she notes, that 4-month-olds who coordinate pauses, turn taking and other conversational rhythms with mothers ­ without becoming rigidly synchronized and unable to adjust ­ interact well with others at age 1 (SN: 6/23/01, p. 390). That's consistent with the idea that mothers and babies employ just enough musical structure in their encounters to enable creative storytelling, thus grooming the child to deal flexibly with others.

This entry was posted on Saturday, January 29th, 2011 at 9:40 pmand is filed under Articles. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site

Gaming the Emotions: Very Interesting Research Reported in Harvard Magazine ANS

Here's an article about a possible new technique for learning to control ones anger.  It's for kids and families who have problems with anger control, explosiveness, etc.  Very clever idea.  And brains are very plastic.  I read it through Andy Schmookler at None So Blind.
Find it here: 

Gaming the Emotions: Very Interesting Research Reported in Harvard Magazine

I found the report of this research quite exciting. Very creative stuff, with potentially far-reaching implications for how this kind of "teaching" might be put to use. So it seems, intuitively, to me.


Gaming the Emotions

by Erin O'Donnell
Harvard Magazine, January/February 2011

Video games may have a reputation for being violent and overly stimulating, but in a new study led by Harvard psychiatry professors, one video game appears to help kids with severe anger problems gain control of their emotions.

The pilot study at Children's Hospital Boston tests an intervention that features a video game based on the 1980s arcade favorite Space Invaders. Players shoot down space aliens, but with an important modification: they wear a monitor on one pinkie that tracks heart rate as they play. If that indicator rises above resting levels­signaling that they're overexcited­players lose the ability to shoot.

The study subjects are patients in Children's inpatient psychiatric unit. "These are kids who have high levels of anger and hostility, often with explosive behavior," explains assistant professor of psychiatry Joseph Gonzalez-Heydrich. They commonly resist psychotherapy, and usually don't want to try anger-management techniques such as relaxation, "yet they will spend hours trying to master a computer game," Gonzalez-Heydrich continues. Succeeding at the game, known as RAGE Control (Regulate and Gain Emotional Control), is a careful balancing act. "You need to learn how to control your level of arousal," he says, "but just enough that you can still react rapidly and make quick decisions."

Participants play during sessions with Peter Ducharme, a licensed clinical social worker who has adapted traditional anger-management therapy to complement the game. During the course of five hour-long sessions, he teaches kids strategies to regulate their emotional states­including deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation­and then encourages them to experiment to see which strategies aid their game play.

Gonzalez-Heydrich developed the game with Jason Kahn, a software developer and postdoctoral fellow at Children's, hoping that it would both engage kids and allow them to practice these skills in ways that translate into other areas of life. Typical anger-management therapy teaches patients to step away from difficult situations and use techniques such as visualization to imagine themselves in a calm setting. In contrast, RAGE Control requires patients to soothe themselves in the midst of a high-pressure activity while simultaneously exercising key executive functions, such as the ability to "inhibit," or stop shooting, when friendly spacecraft swoop across the screen.

This study is based on a long-standing hypothesis that children with severe anger problems have what amounts to a learning disability, triggered by flaws in portions of the prefrontal cortex responsible for emotional regulation. Over time, the game may strengthen these brain areas in the same way that physical therapy helps a stroke patient regain use of a limb. "We're giving that part of the cerebral cortex and the network that connects it a way of getting exercise," Gonzalez-Heydrich says. "Our theory is that this will help these kids improve."

The researchers are less than halfway through this small pilot study led by assistant professor of psychiatry Elizabeth Wharff. Although it's too soon for definitive conclusions, patients so far have enjoyed the game, and "their heart rates during the game have shown improvements with each round, which indicates their ability to learn self-regulation with targeted practice," Ducharme says.

The team plans to apply for funding to launch a longer controlled trial eventually at Boston's Manville School, which serves children with emotional and behavioral disabilities. They're also developing a multiplayer version of the game for family therapy, which may help address the dynamics that contribute to angry outbursts. The entire family will wear heart-rate monitors, and if anyone's pulse escalates, everyone loses the ability to shoot. "The trick is to not only get yourself calm, but also promote emotional regulation in your family members," Gonzalez-Heydrich says. "The usual response of these kids would be to yell at their mothers, which makes Mom's heart rate go even higher. We hope kids will learn that the right approach is to say something supportive." Many parents, he adds, will benefit from the emotion-regulation practice as well.

The enthusiastic response from patients, parents, and therapists gives Gonzalez-Heydrich hope that RAGE Control may eventually offer an alternative to the powerful psychotropic medications often used to treat these children. He concedes that a shooting game is a surprising way to address anger disorders, but points out that RAGE Control lacks the "graphic reality" of many current video games. "We have to meet these kids where they are," he stresses. "If we had a game where they were, say, picking daisies in a field, these kids just wouldn't be interested."

This entry was posted on Thursday, January 27th, 2011 at 10:18 pm and is filed under Articles. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Their Own Private Europe ANS

Here's an article in response to Paul Ryan's Republican response to the State of the Union address by Obama.  It gets into the Republicans' imaginary Europe. 
Find it here: 

Op-Ed Columnist

Their Own Private Europe


Published: January 27, 2011

President Obama's State of the Union address was a ho-hum affair. But the official Republican response, from Representative Paul Ryan, was really interesting. And I don't mean that in a good way.

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
Paul Krugman

Mr. Ryan made highly dubious assertions about employment, health care and more. But what caught my eye, when I read the transcript, was what he said about other countries: "Just take a look at what's happening to Greece, Ireland, the United Kingdom and other nations in Europe. They didn't act soon enough; and now their governments have been forced to impose painful austerity measures: large benefit cuts to seniors and huge tax increases on everybody."

It's a good story: Europeans dithered on deficits, and that led to crisis. Unfortunately, while that's more or less true for Greece, it isn't at all what happened either in Ireland or in Britain, whose experience actually refutes the current Republican narrative.

But then, American conservatives have long had their own private Europe of the imagination ­ a place of economic stagnation and terrible health care, a collapsing society groaning under the weight of Big Government. The fact that Europe isn't actually like that ­ did you know that adults in their prime working years are more likely to be employed in Europe than they are in the United States? ­ hasn't deterred them. So we shouldn't be surprised by similar tall tales about European debt problems.

Let's talk about what really happened in Ireland and Britain.

On the eve of the financial crisis, conservatives had nothing but praise for Ireland, a low-tax, low-spending country by European standards. The Heritage Foundation's Index of Economic Freedom ranked it above every other Western nation. In 2006, George Osborne, now Britain's chancellor of the Exchequer, declared Ireland "a shining example of the art of the possible in long-term economic policy making." And the truth was that in 2006-2007 Ireland was running a budget surplus, and had one of the lowest debt levels in the advanced world.

So what went wrong? The answer is: out-of-control banks; Irish banks ran wild during the good years, creating a huge property bubble. When the bubble burst, revenue collapsed, causing the deficit to surge, while public debt exploded because the government ended up taking over bank debts. And harsh spending cuts, while they have led to huge job losses, have failed to restore confidence.

The lesson of the Irish debacle, then, is very nearly the opposite of what Mr. Ryan would have us believe. It doesn't say "cut spending now, or bad things will happen"; it says that balanced budgets won't protect you from crisis if you don't effectively regulate your banks ­ a point made in the newly released report of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, which concludes that "30 years of deregulation and reliance on self-regulation" helped create our own catastrophe. Have I mentioned that Republicans are doing everything they can to undermine financial reform?

What about Britain? Well, contrary to what Mr. Ryan seemed to imply, Britain has not, in fact, suffered a debt crisis. True, David Cameron, who became prime minister last May, has made a sharp turn toward fiscal austerity. But that was a choice, not a response to market pressure.

And underlying that choice was the new British government's adherence to the same theory offered by Republicans to justify their demand for immediate spending cuts here ­ the claim that slashing government spending in the face of a depressed economy will actually help growth rather than hurt it.

So how's that theory looking? Not good. The British economy, which seemed to be recovering earlier in 2010, turned down again in the fourth quarter. Yes, weather was a factor, and, no, you shouldn't read too much into one quarter's numbers. But there's certainly no sign of the surging private-sector confidence that was supposed to offset the direct effects of eliminating half-a-million government jobs. And, as a result, there's no comfort in the British experience for Republican claims that the United States needs spending cuts in the face of mass unemployment.

Which brings me back to Paul Ryan and his response to President Obama. Again, American conservatives have long used the myth of a failing Europe to argue against progressive policies in America. More recently, they have tried to appropriate Europe's debt problems on behalf of their own agenda, never mind the fact that events in Europe actually point the other way.

But Mr. Ryan is widely portrayed as an intellectual leader within the G.O.P., with special expertise on matters of debt and deficits. So the revelation that he literally doesn't know the first thing about the debt crises currently in progress is, as I said, interesting ­ and not in a good way.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on January 28, 2011, on page A31 of the New York edition.

Friday, January 28, 2011

How to Speak Conservative: Class Warfare ANS

Here is a great article (by Doug Muder, aka Pericles.) on class warfare.  It explains what the right is saying, what The People are hearing, and what's really happening.  It illuminates how brain-washing in America works. 
Find it here:  

Daily Kos

How to Speak Conservative: Class Warfare

Share1   0

by Pericles

Mon Dec 20, 2010 at 12:19:26 PM PST

Tuesday, as Congress debated the (now passed) tax compromise, Politico's chief political correspondent Roger Simon wrote a piece called Class Warfare is not the Ticket in which he claimed:

Congressional Democrats want us to hate the rich for being rich.

Class warfare is one of those phrases in American politics that a dictionary will not help you decipher. Like appeasement, quagmire, political correctness, and a handful of other loaded terms, its meaning comes not from a definition, but from a long history of usage. Such terms evoke not just concepts, but entire stories with settings and plots and characters.

If you don't happen to be part of the subculture that uses the phrases and tells the stories, you can easily get lost: What are these people talking about? How do they get from A to M to Z without mentioning any of the letters in between?
Simon, for example, quotes no congressional Democrats saying anything hateful about the rich. It's just not necessary. (It's also probably not possible. I didn't hear a lot of tycoon-and-debutante-bashing during the tax debate. The main thing Senator Bernie Sanders was saying during his filibuster was that cutting rich people's taxes doesn't help the economy.) It's not necessary because hatred of the rich is a long-standing part of the story of class warfare. Once an issue has been identified as class warfare, it goes without saying that one side hates the rich.

The same process is at work in the current issue of The Weekly Standard, where Peter Wehner writes:

One cannot help but conclude that even if lower tax rates for the wealthy led to strong economic growth, more jobs, and a higher standard of living for everyone, it wouldn't matter. Punishing "the rich" would remain a top priority.

What started Wehner down the road from which "one cannot help but" reach this remarkable conclusion? He quotes Senator Mary Landrieu saying that her opposition to the tax deal "is about justice and doing what's right." Apparently Wehner can imagine no other meaning for these words than that Landrieu wants to punish the rich -- even if it hurts everybody else too.

History and mythology. So what is the class-warfare story and what does it have to do with the Bush tax cuts? Class warfare is one translation of the German klassenkämpfen used by Marx and Engels in The Communist Manifesto of 1848:

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. … [O]ppressor and oppressed stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.

Lenin and Stalin turned Marxism into Soviet Communism, which often did result in "the common ruin of the contending classes." (The killing fields of Cambodia is one outstanding example.) As a result, in American politics the term class warfare is now used only on the Right, as a way of identifying the Left with ruinously destructive policies.

As it is used on the Right, class warfare refers to poor and middle-class people who are so overwhelmed by their envy of the rich that tearing the rich down is an end in itself. Identifying a policy as class warfare implies that envy of the rich is its real motivation, and so invokes a morality tale in which a desire to harm others rebounds against the person who harbors the desire. Rand Paul, for example, said:

You can't punish rich people. You end up punishing the people who work for them, or you punish the people who they buy things from. It makes no sense

Hating the rich doesn't hurt them, the class-warfare story claims, it just hurts the haters and their communities. But the haters are so far gone that they don't care; they'll destroy themselves and everyone around them in their effort to destroy the rich.

(Liberals sometimes try to turn the phrase back on conservatives, arguing that conservative policies that hurt the poor are class warfare. We can see now why this response never hits home: Obviously the rich aren't spiteful about the poor. They'd happily forget about the poor.)

If you want to understand the emotional essence of the class-warfare myth, you need to read some of the classic right-wing novels, like Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged. In Rand's world, we're not even really talking about the rich any more, we're talking about the Best People -- the talented, motivated visionaries. Just by being better than everybody else, they become targets of spite and envy.

The Fountainhead's hero, for example, is Howard Roark, a visionary architect who lives simply and (due to his own uncompromising idealism combined with persecution by people like the wannabee-great-architect Peter Keating) never gets rich. Atlas Shrugged's hero John Galt is an inventor who could have gotten rich, but decides instead to lead a strike of the world's productive geniuses, leaving the envious wannabees to flounder in a failing world economy. (The productive geniuses follow Galt because they don't really care about money either. They just want the freedom to produce ingeniously.)

So the full class-warfare myth goes like this: Some people are better than the rest of us. They are smarter, more insightful, more driven, and more talented in a thousand different ways. Because American society is free, these people rise to the top and achieve the success they so richly deserve. But in doing so they draw the attention of spiteful people who lack the virtues that make the best people successful. These envious wannabees will try to tear the best people down to their level -- even if they have to tear down the rest of society to do it. And they will have to tear down the rest of society, because the success of everybody depends on that small number of productive visionaries.

The unpopularity of class warfare. Naturally, when you lay it out that way, more people identify with the productive geniuses than with the no-talent haters. This is Roger Simon's point:

Some Democrats hate the rich. Most Americans, on the other hand, would like to become the rich. … Which is why class warfare doesn't work in America and why congressional Democrats are being stupid. In America, the class structure is fluid. You don't have to stay in the economic class into which you were born. People don't really hate the rich, and we don't really want to confiscate their wealth.

I imagine he's completely correct. If we had a referendum asking "Should the government confiscate the wealth of anyone with more than X dollars?" I'm sure it would fail, no matter how big X was.

Envy is not a big motive for most Americans, and to the extent it is, we feel guilty about it. We certainly don't want to march in the streets for envy and build a political movement around spite. If we feel like we're getting a fair shake, and that people in general are getting fair shake, then the fact that somewhere there are 400-foot yachts where people drink 200-year-old wine served by supermodels in bikinis -- we don't care. If they're not hurting anybody to do it, we even like the idea that somebody is keeping that fantasy alive.


Needed revenue. That's where the whole class-warfare myth breaks down. What if we don't feel like we're getting a fair shake or that people in general are getting a fair shake? What if people are dying of curable diseases because there is no money to pay for their treatment? What if people who want jobs can't find them? What if teachers are getting laid off, equipment is breaking, and class sizes are growing because there's no money in the school budget? What if houses are burning down while firemen watch, because of money? What if college is out of reach, even for families that have worked and saved? What if libraries are closing? What if we can't afford to train special-needs students to be productive citizens in decades to come? What if our bridges are in danger of collapsing and our stadium roofs are falling in? What if we don't know where our energy is going to come from, and the energy we're using is pushing us closer to disaster?

An essential piece of the class-warfare interpretation of tax increases is that we don't actually need the revenue. Government is just a big black hole into which we pitch our taxes.

So take that, rich people. I'm going to flush your money down the tax hole. Nyah, nyah, nyah.

But if important things are going undone for lack of revenue, or if we can only do them by writing IOUs that future generations will have to make good, then raising taxes on those who can afford to pay is just good sense. What's childish is describing it as "punishment".

Productivity. Another essential piece of the myth is that the rich are uniquely productive. But in fact it's very difficult to find a John Galt type, who invents something miraculous that otherwise wouldn't exist for decades. It's obviously ridiculous to talk about the Walton heirs that way. We could argue about the impact Sam Walton had on the economy (for good and ill alike), but his children add nothing to American productivity.

Some of the rich -- the financiers who brought down our economic system and then profited from the government bailout, for example -- are just parasites. Getting them out of the picture would make America more productive, not less.

Bill Gates is often seen as the exemplar of the productive rich, but does anybody really think there wouldn't be personal computers or office-productivity software without him? He out-maneuvered other would-be moguls and captured $66 billion of the wealth created by the computer industry, but did he produce $66 billion of value personally? Don't be silly.

Similarly, H. L. Hunt didn't put that oil under Texas; he just found a lot of it. Somebody would have, sooner or later.

So Rand's image of the rich as Atlas -- lonely figures holding up the sky for the rest of us -- is just nutty. The vast majority of human wealth comes from some combination of the fecundity of nature, the natural resources of the Earth, the knowledge base handed down from past generations, and the way society is organized -- not the heroic individual struggles of the rich.

Capitalism and taxes. The capitalist system works by encouraging people to compete and then rewarding the winners. That's fine, and history shows that it works better than a Soviet-style command economy. But history also shows that you can levy substantial taxes on those rewards without mucking things up. In the better-dead-than-red 1950s (under that radical Marxist Dwight David Eisenhower) the top tax rate was over 90% (compared to 35% now and 39.6% under Bill Clinton). American capitalism flourished, and the rich, I am told, survived their punishment.

What people like Roger Simon don't get is that the American acceptance of inequality is really an acceptance of the system that produces it. If that system is working well overall, if it gives ordinary people an acceptable chance to achieve an acceptable life, then OK. If it also grants undeserved good fortune to a handful at the top, so what?

But as wealth continues to concentrate and the benefits of progress go to fewer and fewer people, that acceptance is breaking down. More and more Americans are seeing that for lack of money and lack of opportunity, they can't take care of their loved ones or give their children a fighting chance at success.

And once you come to that conclusion, those 400-foot yachts look very different.

cross-posted on The Weekly Sift

Coping With the Future ANS

Here is the current edition of The Weekly Sift.  It's a summary of what's going on, with brilliant commentary by Doug Muder.  (see "in this week's Sift" below for content labels.)
Find it here:   or 

Monday, January 24, 2011

Coping With the Future

The present is already too much for me. I can't cope with the future as well.

-- Salman Rushdie, Shalimar the Clown

In this week's Sift:
  • Social Security. Two kinds of people look ahead 75 years: actuaries and science fiction writers. We need to be a little bit of both to avoid getting stampeded into a "middle way" solution.
  • State Bankruptcy Gains Support. Republicans want to let states opt out of their union contracts the same way bankrupt companies do. This only makes sense after you demonize government workers. Plus, updates on the budget problems in Texas, Nevada, and Arizona.
  • Conservatives Start Eating Their Own.For years conservatives have been encouraging anti-Muslim paranoia. Now that chicken is trying to roost.
  • Short Notes. The Tea Party was all about the culture war after all. John Adams mandated government health care. Palin makes Texas a battleground state. Repealing health care won't save jobs. And more.

Social Security

This week the second supposedly bipartisan or nonpartisan plan for fixing Social Security came out, and it looks a lot like the first one (see slide 45): Dire warnings of what will happen if we do nothing, followed by calls for a higher retirement age, means-testing benefits, lowering cost-of-living increases, and a variety of other measures, including raising benefits for the poorest recipients to avoid looking like Scrooge.

This plan comes from the Third Way organization, which claims to "advance moderate policy and political ideas" that are not "defined by the rigid or outdated orthodoxies of both the left and right."

Because Third Way and the co-chairs of President Obama's bipartisan budget commission are saying the same things, there's a possibility that this plan could cascade. The media could pick it up as the consensus of reasonable people, and nonsupporters would have to explain why they were being unreasonable. The assumptions behind the plan could become part of what "everybody knows" -- the way we all "know" that tax cuts promote growth or government is full of waste or the US has a responsibility to police the world. When you challenge such ideas, you don't get evidence in response; people just chuckle at how uninformed you are.

Does this view of Social Security deserve that kind of status? I don't think so, but to explain why I have to back up and give a primer on how to look at these kinds of things.

Getting Started. Only two kinds of people look 75 years into the future -- actuaries and science fiction writers. When you think about the future of Social Security, you need to keep a handle on both points of view. It's the actuary's responsibility to answer the question: "What if we keep doing what we're doing for a long, long time?" And it's the sci-fi writer's responsibility to remind us that in fact we won't. We never do.

It's like drawing up a 10-year household budget. The best you can do is imagine that your income and expenses will stay steady or continue increasing at the same rate they have been increasing for the last several years. They won't, of course. It's ten years; you're bound to have triplets or inherit Uncle Lester's fortune or change professions a couple of times. Something will make sure that you don't wind up with the net worth the budget predicts.

Which is not to say that long-term projections are useless; you just have to know how to use them. They aren't plans or even predictions, really. They're reference points. The question they really answer is: If we could keep doing what we're doing for a long, long time, what would happen?

You also need to understand one other thing: Any time you assume recent trends will continue into the distant future, you wind up with an exponential graph -- the kind that starts out almost flat and then goes wildly up or down. That's just math; it's got nothing to do with the topic, whatever it is. Exponential graphs make you giddy if they're going the way you want, and scare you silly if they aren't, because they always wind up at some astronomical number, either positive or negative. But that's not how reality works; it's just an artifact of the current-trends-continue assumption.

The $44 Trillion Hole. So, for example, the Third Way folks display this horrifying graph, where the Social Security Trust Fund winds up $44 trillion in the red by 2085. $44 TRILLION!!! Oh my God! We have to do something drastic immediately!

But slow down and think like a science fiction writer for a minute: Even adjusted for inflation, $44 trillion might be pocket change by 2085. 75 years ago was 1936. Imagine telling somebody from 1936 that people of 2011 can be overweight and have color TVs and cell phones and still be considered poor.

Third Way gets its data from the Social Security Trustees report. But it doesn't sound nearly as bad there:
For the combined OASDI Trust Funds to remain solvent throughout the 75 year projection period, the combined payroll tax rate could be increased during the period in a manner equivalent to an immediate and permanent increase of 1.84 percentage points

Retiree/worker ratio. Third Way presents this evidence that the current program is unsustainable:
In 2010, there were 3.5 taxpayers per Social Security recipient. By 2030, the ratio declines to 2.5 per beneficiary, and holds constant for several decades.

That's mainly because people will live longer, so the over-67 segment of the population will grow. But a sci-fi author would consider this analogy: In 1930 about 25% of Americans lived on farms. Today about 2% do. Are we having food riots, or are we struggling to come up with ways to use our corn surplus?

The most relentless thing in the American economy is productivity growth, which continued right through the recent recession. Improved technology keeps giving us more output per hour worked. So as a society, we can either consume more and more all the time, or work less and less. Working less can mean either longer retirements or higher unemployment (as it has recently). So I think a future in which Americans work for 30-40 years and then have the option to retire for 20-30 years sounds pretty reasonable.

Again, the Trustees' Report presents the same data more calmly:
OASDI cost is estimated to rise from the current level of 4.8 percent of GDP to about 6.1 percent in 2035, then to decline to 5.9 percent by 2050, and to remain between 5.9 and 6.0 percent through 2084.

Is that bad? Why? Public pension spending (defined to be broader than Social Security) was 6% of GDP in the US in 2005, but 12.4% in France, 11.4% in Germany, and 8.7% in Japan. None of those countries is collapsing.

The Shell Game. Scary exponential graphs are not the only tricks to watch out for in this discussion. The most common is the entitlement/Social Security switch. Third Way does it like this:
Social Security reform must be achieved in the context of an entitlement system that is dangerously on autopilot.

"Entitlements" include Medicare and Medicaid, which are part of the health-care mess that the Affordable Care Act was only the first step in sorting out. Social Security is doing quite well by comparison. But it's common to bundle them together, declare a crisis, and then insist Social Security needs to be cut. (A better solution would be instituting German or French style socialized medicine, which delivers better care for about 2/3 the cost of our system.) It's like saying, "As a group, you and two terminal cancer patients are in bad shape. So as a first step in dealing with that crisis, you need to stop eating french fries."

Conclusion. I think we're being stampeded into "fixing" something that is working reasonably well, and we're being herded in the direction of spending cuts when tax increases on the well-to-do make more sense. (Third Way acknowledges that "many on the progressive side" believe Social Security can be fixed by eliminating the rule that exempts earnings over $106K from Social Security taxes. It never refutes that point, but instead brushes it away with calls for unspecified "growth-oriented investments" instead.)

Worse, supposedly "progressive" elements of the reform package -- means testing, extra benefits for lower-income people -- undermine the we're-all-in-this-together aspect of Social Security and make it more of a welfare program for old people who didn't save enough. Once that's done, Social Security beneficiaries become a "them" rather than an "us". Then the demonization can start -- listen to what they've been saying about unemployment insurance recipients -- and then benefits can be cut further.

Conservatives have always hated Social Security, because it's a big government program that works and is popular. They'd rather that it not work and be unpopular. Any "middle way" that compromises with them is not good for the program.

State Bankruptcy Gains Support

An idea that I mentioned last week but didn't take very seriously -- establishing a bankruptcy process for states -- is apparently getting serious attention in Republican circles, according to Thursday's NYT. The story's lead attributed the interest to "policymakers", but the only names that come up are Senator Cornyn, Newt Gingrich, and Harry Wilson -- all Republicans. An article in the conservative Weekly Standard is mentioned, and I linked to a column on the conservative site last week. It's a Republican idea.

The point is basically for a state to get out of debt by voiding the contracts it has with state workers, possibly even renegotiating "existing pension benefits" according to the Weekly Standard article. Breaking union contracts is an important reason corporations go bankrupt, and Republicans want states to have the same option.

Let me explain why this idea is loony. In a corporate bankruptcy, the underlying idea is that the corporation can't come up with all the money it is committed to pay. Corporate money ultimately comes from customers, and the customers aren't committed to anything. So if the corporation tried to raise its prices to get enough money to meet its obligations, the customers would just refuse to buy.

In a state, however, the customers and the stockholders are the same people -- the citizen-taxpayers of the state. What stops the state from coming up with more money is that its citizens (through their representatives in the legislature) are refusing to pay higher taxes. So basically, a state bankruptcy allows the citizens to refuse to pay the people who work for them just because they don't want to.

It would be one thing if we were talking about some massive external disaster -- a hurricane, an earthquake, a plague -- that was unimaginable when the contracts were signed. But nothing of the sort has happened, and in states like Texas or Arizona, the fiscal problems follow large tax cuts.

The only reason state bankruptcy makes sense to anyone at all is that the Right has done a such marvelous job of demonizing government workers over the last several decades. But government workers are not fundamentally different from any other kinds of workers, and they have as much right to paid for their work as anybody else. If promises were made to them, those promises should be kept. A comment on the NYT story said it well:
I am a state employee nearing retirement age. All of my life, especially in the 90's, I have heard this: "Well, if you work for government (God love you, you poor dumb little country mouse) you will never get rich, but at least you have good benefits and a steady job." Starting in the 80's, we heard that American workers needed to become more productive - and we did, by every measure.

Texas. The New York Times did a Room For Debate forum -- two conservatives, two liberals -- on Texas' budget problems. It's worth pointing out some of the rhetorical sleight-of-hand the conservatives use.

Chris Edwards of the libertarian Cato Institute :
Total state spending jumped 69 percent from the 2000-01 budget to the 2008-09 budget. So while the budget is flat now, it�s after a large run-up.

Let's assume the 69% is true. But the 2000 census counted 20.85 million Texans while the 2008 estimate was 24.33 million, an increase of 17%. The consumer price index was at 168.8 in January 2000 and 211.08 in January 2008, an increase of 25%. (That's a low estimate, because state spending has a high component of medical costs, which have increased faster.) So to keep per capita state spending flat in inflation-adjusted terms from 2000 to 2008 would require a 46% increase in nominal spending. [1.17 x 1.25 = 1.46] If nominal spending actually increased 69%, that's a 16% increase in inflation-adjusted per capita spending. [1.69/1.46 = 1.16] Over eight years, that's an average increase of 1.8% per year. [1.018 to the eighth power is 1.16]

So in the "large run-up" between 2000 and 2008, the average Texan saw the real value of her portion of state spending "jump" 1.8% per year. It sounds a little less impressive when you put it that way, doesn't it?

What conservatives Heflin and Edwards ignore but liberals Mann and McCown point out is that the current "crisis" was a predictable and predicted consequence of an irresponsible tax cut in 2006. Accounting tricks and federal stimulus money kept the structural deficit hidden until now.

Nevada. Here's new Republican Governor Sandoval's plan to deal with Nevada's deficit :
cut spending by consolidating government programs, allowing the university system to raise its own tuition and fees, and shifting more responsibility for social services onto cities and counties.

But the cities and counties don't get any new revenue either, and the amount of money they can spend on social services is capped by law. So ...
thousands of residents on the brink of homelessness are vying for depleted aid that will diminish further when social services are cut. The programs offer rental assistance and other means for keeping the destitute off the streets and out of jails and emergency rooms, [Clark] county officials say.

But hey, more homeless people is better than rich people paying higher taxes. And since jails and emergency rooms are free (aren't they?) the savings must be enormous.

Arizona. Anderson Cooper interviews a man who can't get a heart transplant because of Arizona's budget cuts: "I'm a good citizen," says Doug Gravagna, "and I should get another chance at life. It shouldn't be taken away from me. She [Gov. Brewer] shouldn't be able to decide whether I live or die."

"For the last three months," says an Arizona Democratic legislator, "the governor has essentially been a one-person death panel."

While the transplant issue has gotten all the press, Arizona has also been cutting services for the mentally ill. The CEO of the Arizona Foundation for Behavioral Health sums up how pound-foolish this is:
The reality is cutting services does not cut demand. Individuals who can no longer get services through the state will wind up getting services through emergency departments . . . or they'll get those services through the Maricopa County jail.

More untreated mentally ill people in a state with lax gun laws. What could possibly go wrong?

Conservatives Start Eating Their Own

From a political operative's point of view, the great thing about crazy people is that they have lots of energy. They're dedicated. They don't give up. If you can get them focused on your opponent -- demanding to see his real birth certificate, say, or making him out to be part of a deep conspiracy that goes back to some James-Bond villain like Woodrow Wilson -- it's gold for your side.

But conservatives are discovering the problem that arises when you court the lunatic fringe: Once you give the crazies legitimacy, there's no telling what they'll do with it.

CPAC and Grover Norquist. Frank Gaffney is the type of loon who sees Muslim terrorists under the bed. Like Communist subversives in the 1950s, Muslim terrorists and Sharia law are everywhere, infiltrating everything. Gaffney has been very useful to conservatives in flogging the bogus "Ground Zero Mosque" issue and making President Obama appear to be supporting terrorism.

Well, now there's a problem. The American Conservative Union (which puts on the popular CPAC conference) has a Muslim board member, Suhail Khan, formerly of the Bush administration. So the conservative movement itself has been infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood. As Gaffney-ally Paul Sperry says:
Suhail is the firstborn son of the late Mahboob Khan, a founding father of the Muslim Brotherhood movement in America. Suhail has been a consultant to CAIR [The Council on American-Islamic Relations] and served on committees at ISNA [the Islamic Society of North America], both of which the government says are fronts for Hamas and its parent the Muslim Brotherhood.

Even Grover Norquist (the guy who wants to drown government in a bathtub) is implicated. "We are in a war," Gaffney told World Net Daily, "and he [Norquist] has been working with the enemy for over a decade."

Anderson Cooper summarizes the story, and then interviews Gaffney and Khan side-by-side. I'm not proud of my vindictiveness here, but I found it delicious to watch a conservative deal with the same kind of conspiracy-theory charges that are routinely unleashed on liberals.

Governor Christie. You know who's also conspiring with the terrorists? New Jersey's Republican Governor Chris Christie, occasionally mentioned as a presidential dark horse.

Christie -- you'll never believe this -- appointed a Muslim judge!! The guy's name is Sohail Mohammed, and he committed the unforgivable sin of defending detained Muslims who were never charged with anything. And he's on the board of the American Muslim Union which " has interlocking leadership with a group that has allegedly raised funds for Hamas and hosted as a guest speaker last year an alleged Hamas member." So the judge knows a guy who knows a guy who might belong to Hamas. And Christie knows him.

I'm reminded of Lewis Black's summary: "It's six degrees of Kevin Bacon, except that there's just one degree, and Kevin Bacon is Hitler." Or, in this case, Bin Laden.

Short Notes

During the campaign, we kept hearing that the Tea Party was focused on economic issues rather than the culture wars. But now it looks like restricting abortion is a top priority after all.

The Jesus-Hates-Obama ad is too much even for Fox.

The first bill to create government-run health centers and mandate health insurance coverage wasn't Obama's. It was John Adams'.

Here's the point that needs to be made about calls for across-the-board budget cuts or return to 2008 or 2006 levels or other sound bytes: Republicans ran on the idea that government waste is everywhere, and yet, now that they have the power to pass a budget in the House, they can't identify that waste.

Eric Cantor isn't a birther himself, but he's not going to criticize people who are.

The Onion News Network is on TV now, and as good as ever: Judge Rules White Girl Will Be Tried as Black Adult.

Sarah Palin fans need to think about this: A PPP poll has her leading Obama by just one point in Texas. In other words, if Palin is the nomineeTexas is a battleground state.

I don't care what they all say, Keith Olbermann going off the air just before Comcast takes control of NBC is too much of a coincidence.

Is Obamacare a "job-killer"? No.

The Weekly Sift appears every Monday afternoon. If you would like to receive it by email, write to WeeklySift at   Or keep track of the Sift by following the Sift's Facebook page.
Posted by Doug Muder at 2:07 PM 2 comments [] []

A Personal Reflection From the Mexican-American Border by UUA President Peter Morales ANS

This is about the human side of the Latino immigration problem.  What has happened to America?  When did we become so cruel and hard?
Find it here: 

A Personal Reflection From the Mexican-American Border by UUA President Peter Morales

January 27, 2011

A thin blanket lies crumpled on the ground in the Arizona desert. I am with fellow Unitarian Universalists walking along on a trail known to be used by migrants from Mexico. Our guide was part of a group that attempts to save lives by leaving water along the migrant trails.

This blanket cannot have given sufficient warmth in the cold desert winter night. Was it used to wrap a small child? Why was it left on the ground? Was the owner apprehended by Border Patrol? Did the migrant with a smuggler (a "coyote") succeed in evading the heavy security? Perhaps his or her lifeless body was somewhere nearby.

Last year 252 migrants died in the Sonoran desert. That is the most ever.

Earlier in the day we had gone to Nogales on the Mexican side of the border and visited with migrants who had not eluded capture. I helped serve a meal at the simple "comedor" (dining room) run by a Jesuit ministry. On a typical day they serve one hundred to three hundred meals to migrants who have been deported in the previous few days.

Their stories reveal the human reality that statistics and abstractions obscure. All of the stories sting; the stories of the children break your heart. Flor, 12, was at the comedor with her mother and younger brother. Flor has lived in the U.S. for eleven years and speaks fluent English. Flor, her parents and her younger brother had returned to Mexico to be with her grandfather in his final days. Her grandmother in Mexico has cancer. On their way "home" back to the U.S., the family was captured in the desert. Her father was separated from them and taken to a different city. They have no idea where he is. This is no accident. It is policy. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) separates families as a matter of course.

Down the street from the comedor is a simple bus station. The owner lets captured migrants gather there and offers half price tickets to any who wish to return to their homes. Some hope to raise the money. The vast majority will try to cross the border again­for some it will be their fourth or fifth try.

A couple of blocks away the Catholics who run the comedor maintain a couple of apartments for women. I cannot imagine a pregnant woman or a woman with a small child trying to cross that desert. One small girl, who had been living in Atlanta, implores us to take her with us back to the U.S. so she can go home.

I must have spoken with a dozen migrants. One thing struck me and haunts me. Not a single one of these people, not one, spoke of coming to America to have a better life for himself or herself. There was simply no personal ambition in this group. They risk death crossing the desert, and each one of them knows that hundreds die each year, for their families. They are risking their lives to feed children or to send money home to wives, children, and parents living in squalid poverty. Some are risking their lives to rejoin their families in the U.S.

We Americans who are so driven by the ideology of personal success have difficulty understanding that personal ambition is utterly absent from these migrants. No sane ambitious person would attempt to cross today. Southern Arizona is like a war zone swarming with thousands of law enforcement officials using high tech equipment. The desert and the ICE can deter people whose motivations are personal greed. There is no stopping a father trying to feed his family or a mother trying to rejoin her children. They would rather die than stop trying. And many of them will die.

I do not pretend to have all the answers on this human crisis. I understand that thoughtful people of good will are going to differ on what our public policy should look like.

But I do know this: what I saw happening to migrants on our southern border made me deeply ashamed of my country. The vast majority of Americans of whatever political persuasion would feel the same shame if they witnessed what is being done in our name. Even those who believe our border should be sealed and that enforcement should be vigorous cannot condone the way we are treating people. We heard story after story of brutality by ICE­of water bottles dumped out, of medicines thrown away, of children taken from their parents. We heard of private, for-profit prisons springing up everywhere. We heard people tell of being thrown into these detention centers for months. We heard of slips of paper with family phone numbers being thrown away so that migrants cannot call anyone.

What has happened to our freedom loving country, a country that has been a leader in advocating human rights, when we allow this to be done in our name? What has happened to us when we look the other way? We Americans are not dying in the desert, but we are being brutalized by the fear, the anger, the violence, and the injustice. It is taking a terrible toll on our souls.

Leaders from every single faith tradition are speaking out against what we are doing: Catholics, evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants, Jews, Muslims. I am proud of what our Unitarian Universalist congregations in Arizona are doing. But their heroic efforts are not nearly enough. This is a moral crisis for America.

I hope the owner of that tattered blanket is safe. I fear the worst. And I fear for us.

The work of the UUA is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and gifts to the Annual Program Fund. Please consider making a donation today to continue this important work.

Last updated on Thursday, January 27, 2011.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Toyota, Tesla give China’s rare earths the electric car snub ANS

Here is an article about what a couple of car makers are thinking about doing in response to China's manipulations.  We should all take a lesson....
Find it here:  (sorry, my computer is malfunctioning and won't let me get the URL)

Toyota, Tesla give China�s rare earths the electric car snub

January 23, 2011 6:52 PM EST

Looks like one company has had enough of the rare earth shortages.

Toyota is in the advanced stages of creating a hybrid car "induction motor" that doesn't use rare earths, Bloomberg reported today. Rare-earth minerals are used in a number of clean technologies and consumer electronics. They can be found in magnets that power electric cars and hybrids like Toyota Prius, Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Volt, as well as cell phones, wind turbines and hard drives.
Toyota, Tesla give China’s rare earths the electric car s  
View Full Image

A Toyota FT-EV electric car is plugged in to charge at the Guangzhou Autoshow November 23, 2009. China's car makers hope Beijing will renew strong economic incentives that propelled China's car sales to record levels this year even in the face of the global downturn.

Toyota's move feels reminiscent of electric car makers saying "booyah" to oil. It also shows that at least one major automaker is bearish on the prospect of the rare earth shortages lessening any time soon. The article also notes that Toyota's electric RAV4 (pictured), which it paid Tesla $60 million to help develop, will use a special Tesla induction motor that is rare earths-free. The motor is similar to the (also rare earths-free) technology in Tesla's all-electric Roadster sports car and 2012 Model S sedan.

It's an interesting tactic. And, if it works, it could put Toyota - and Tesla - ahead of the curve if rare earth prices soar out of control. It also shows that at least one major automaker is actively preparing a contingency plan to keep supply of its green cars stable should things rare earths shortages get worse.

In case you've been living under a rock, there's been a lot of hubbub about rare earths lately. Namely that they've become - well ... really rare.

Rare earths are important materials that are mostly controlled by China, where over 90 percent of the world's rare earths are mined. So the global business community didn't react well to China's announcement that it wants to reduce exports by about 75 percent.

The rare earths shortage, which has been brewing for several months now, has set off a lot of talk and speculation and sent U.S. rare earth mining company Molycorp's stock soaring. It has affected a number of industries, such as the petroleum sector, where the shortage has resulted in increasing costs for oil refineries.

This isn't the only cleantech trade brouhaha brewing between the U.S. and China. The U.S. also has plans to bring forth a case to the World Trade Organization - prompted by a complaint from the United Steelworkers Union - that China's subsidies of its solar panel manufacturers violate free trade agreements. (Those subsidies have allowed Chinese companies to undercut the competition in pricing.)

Perhaps Toyota's move is all for the best. China hasn't been shy about wielding its considerable power over rare earths supply. While it's a small move in the grand scheme of all rare-earths-supplied products, Toyota's move may well pave the way to reinvented products that wean consumers off a highly sought-after material mostly controlled by a burgeoning and sometimes-cantankerous global superpower. It almost reminds you of oil and electric cars.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Why Does Roger Ailes Hate America? ANS

This one just gets a link -- it's long and has several pictures.  But it's an interesting article about Roger Ailes, the head of Fox.  It's from Esquire magazine, and has an amusing cynical tone. 
Find it here:

Why Does Roger Ailes Hate America?

An exclusive and unbiased investigation into the highly paid operative of a foreign-born tycoon, a man who reengineered political and media culture and fomented a revolt that threatens the very stability of our country

By Tom Junod

Read more:

Myth of the Hero Gunslinger ANS

Here's an opinion piece, with facts, about gun-toting.  It's pretty short.  So much for "common sense"....
find it here:

Opinionator - A Gathering of Opinion From Around the Web

January 20, 2011, 9:00 pm

Myth of the Hero Gunslinger


Timothy Egan Timothy Egan on American politics and life, as seen from the West.


Gun Control, Tucson shooting

PHOENIX ­ To many gun owners, the question of whether to arm even more people in a country that already has upwards of 300 million guns is as calcified as a Sonoran Desert petroglyph. It's written in stone, among the fiercest of firearms advocates, that more guns equals fewer deaths.

But before the Tucson tragedy fades into tired talking points, it's worth dissecting the crime scene once more to see how this idea fared in actual battle.

First, one bit of throat-clearing: I'm a third-generation Westerner, and grew up around guns, hunters of all possible fauna, and Second Amendment enthusiasts who wore camouflage nine months out of the year. Generally, I don't have a problem with any of that.

Back to Tucson. On the day of the shooting, a young man named Joseph Zamudio was leaving a drugstore when he saw the chaos at the Safeway parking lot. Zamudio was armed, carrying his 9-millimeter semiautomatic pistol. Heroically, he rushed to the scene, fingering his weapon, ready to fire.
Suppose, in the few seconds of confusion during the shootings, an armed bystander had fired at the wrong man.

Now, in the view of the more-guns proponents, Zamudio might have been able to prevent any carnage, or maybe even gotten off a shot before someone was killed.

"When everyone is carrying a firearm, nobody is going to be a victim," said Arizona state representative Jack Harper, after a gunman had claimed 19 victims.

"I wish there had been one more gun in Tucson," said an Arizona Congressman, Rep. Trent Franks, implying like Harper that if only someone had been armed at the scene, Jared Lee Loughner would not have been able to unload his rapid-fire Glock on innocent people.

In fact, several people were armed. So, what actually happened? As Zamudio said in numerous interviews, he never got a shot off at the gunman, but he nearly harmed the wrong person ­ one of those trying to control Loughner.

He saw people wrestling, including one man with the gun. "I kind of assumed he was the shooter," said Zamudio in an interview with MSNBC. Then, "everyone said, 'no, no ­ it's this guy,'" said Zamudio.

To his credit, he ultimately helped subdue Loughner. But suppose, in those few seconds of confusion, he had fired at the wrong man and killed a hero? "I was very lucky," Zamudio said.

It defies logic, as this case shows once again, that an average citizen with a gun is going to disarm a crazed killer. For one thing, these kinds of shootings happen far too suddenly for even the quickest marksman to get a draw. For another, your typical gun hobbyist lacks training in how to react in a violent scrum.

I don't think these are reasons to disarm the citizenry. That's never going to happen, nor should it. But the Tucson shootings should discredit the canard that we need more guns at school, in the workplace, even in Congress. Yes, Congress. The Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert has proposed a bill to allow fellow members to carry firearms into the Capitol Building.

Gohmert has enough trouble carrying a coherent thought onto the House floor. God forbid he would try to bring a Glock to work. By his reasoning, the Middle East would be better off if every nation in the region had nuclear weapons.

At least two recent studies show that more guns equals more carnage to innocents. One survey by the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found that guns did not protect those who had them from being shot in an assault ­ just the opposite. Epidemiologists at Penn looked at hundreds of muggings and assaults. What they found was that those with guns were four times more likely to be shot when confronted by an armed assailant than those without guns. The unarmed person, in other words, is safer.

Other studies have found that states with the highest rates of gun ownership have much greater gun death rates than those where only a small percentage of the population is armed. So, Hawaii, where only 9.7 percent of residents own guns, has the lowest gun death rate in the country, while Louisiana, where 45 percent of the public is armed, has the highest.

Arizona, where people can carry guns into bars and almost anyone can get a concealed weapons permit, is one of the top 10 states for gun ownership and death rates by firearms. And in the wake of the shootings, some lawmakers want to flood public areas with even more lethal weapons.

Tuesday of this week was the first day of classes at Arizona State University, and William Jenkins, who teaches photography at the school, did not bring his weapon to campus. For the moment, it's still illegal for professors to pack heat while they talk Dante and quantum physics.

But that may soon change. Arizona legislators have been pushing a plan to allow college faculty and students to carry concealed weapons at school.

"That's insane," Jenkins told me. "On Mondays I give a lecture to 120 people. I can't imagine students coming into class with firearms. If something happened, it would be mayhem."

He's right. Jenkins is a lifelong gun owner and he carries a concealed weapon, by permit. He also carries a modicum of common sense. The two don't have to be mutually exclusive.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Fwd: ANS - special Report - Editors Note:

>Editors note:
>As an editor at ANS I rarely offer opinion in an
>attempt to keep the email down but
>Sometimes it becomes necessary to point to important events and comment.
>The health care debate at this point is one of those times.
>The health care bill that was passed last year
>by the US Legislature was the first
>Improvement in health care in over 60 years. No
>other president has made positive changes
>In US health care since Medicare under LBJ. Now
>that the publicity of the Tucson shooting has subsided
>Republicans in Congress will attempt to repeal
>the new law. The reason for this is the presumed loss of jobs.
>This is a totally false claim and the following
>AP article will illuminate this.
>Remember wire stories AP, Reuters, UPI etc. are
>not always carried by newspapers or other media
>that is why we at ANS send these
>Stories out. Enjoy…
>FACT CHECK: Shaky health care job loss estimate
>WASHINGTON (AP) ­ Republicans pushing to repeal
>President Barack Obama's health care overhaul
>warn that 650,000 jobs will be lost if the law is allowed to stand.
>But the widely cited estimate by House GOP
>leaders is shaky. It's the latest creative use
>of statistics in the health care debate, which
>has seen plenty of examples from both sides.
>Republicans are calling their thumbs-down
>legislation the "Repealing the Job-Killing
>Health Care Law Act." Postponed after the mass
>shootings in Tucson, a House vote on the
>divisive issue is now expected Wednesday,
>although Democrats promise they'll block repeal in the Senate.
>A recent report by House GOP leaders says
>"independent analyses have determined that the
>health care law will cause significant job losses for the U.S. economy."
>It cites the 650,000 lost jobs as Exhibit A, and
>the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office as
>the source of the original analysis behind that
>estimate. But the budget office, which referees
>the costs and consequences of legislation, never produced the number.
>What follows is a story of how statistics get used and abused in Washington.
>What CBO actually said is that the impact of the
>health care law on supply and demand for labor
>would be small. Most of it would come from
>people who no longer have to work, or can
>downshift to less demanding employment, because
>insurance will be available outside the job.
>"The legislation, on net, will reduce the amount
>of labor used in the economy by a small amount
>­roughly half a percent­ primarily by reducing
>the amount of labor that workers choose to
>supply," budget office number crunchers said in a report from last year.
>That's not how it got translated in the new
>report from Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and other top Republicans.
>CBO "has determined that the law will reduce the
>'amount of labor used in the economy by.roughly
>half a percent.,' an estimate that adds up to
>roughly 650,000 jobs lost," the GOP version said.
>Gone was the caveat that the impact would be
>small, mainly due to people working less. Added
>was the estimate of 650,000 jobs lost.
>The Republican translation doesn't track, said
>economist Paul Fronstin of the nonpartisan
>Employee Benefit Research Institute. "People
>voluntarily working less isn't the same as
>employers cutting jobs," he explained.
>For example, CBO said some people might decide
>to retire earlier because it would be easier to
>get health care, instead of waiting until they
>become eligible for Medicare at age 65.
>The law "reduces the amount of labor supplied,
>but it's not reducing the ability of people to
>find jobs, which is what the job-killing slogan
>is intended to convey," said economist Paul Van
>de Water of the Center on Budget and Policy
>Priorities. The center advocates for low-income
>people, and supports the health care law.
>In theory, any legislation that increases costs
>for employers can lead to job loss. But with the
>health care law, companies can also decide to
>pass on added costs to their workers, as some have already done this year.
>To put things in perspective, there are
>currently about 131 million jobs in the economy.
>CBO projects that unemployment will be
>significantly lower in 2014, when the law's major coverage expansion starts.
>A spokeswoman for House Ways and Means Committee
>Republicans pointed out that CBO's report did
>flag that some employers would cut hiring. "The
>CBO analysis does not claim that the entire
>response is people exiting the labor market," said Michelle Dimarob.
>The law's penalties on employers who don't
>provide health insurance might cause some
>companies to hire fewer low-wage workers, or to
>hire more part-timers instead of full-time
>employees, the budget office said. But the main
>consequence would still be from more people choosing not to work.
>That still doesn't answer the question of how
>Republicans came up with the estimate of 650,000 lost jobs.
>Dimarob said staffers took the 131 million jobs
>and multiplied that by half a percent, the
>number from the CBO analysis. The result:
>650,000 jobs feared to be in jeopardy.
>"For ordinary Americans who could fall into that
>half a percent, that is a vitally important
>stat, and it is reasonable to suggest they would
>not characterize the effect as small," she said.
>But Fronstin said that approach is also
>questionable, since the budget office and the
>GOP staffers used different yardsticks to
>measure overall jobs and hours worked. The
>differences would have to be adjusted first in
>order to produce an accurate estimate.
>Said Van de Water, "The number doesn't mean what they say it means."
>Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Terror in Arizona: Just another 'isolated incident'? Funny how that list keeps mounting ANS

Here is an article recommended by Brad Hicks, written by Dave Neiwert of Orcinas and Crooks and Liars.  It shows that the violence in Tucson was not an isolated incident.  If you want to see the video or read the comments go to the article (at Crooks and Liars).
Find it here:   

January 10, 2011 02:02 PM

Terror in Arizona: Just another 'isolated incident'? Funny how that list keeps mounting

By David Neiwert

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It's fundamental to their psychology, as Digby often observes, for right-wingers to constantly portray themselves as victims -- indeed, the American Right long ago mastered the art of flipping reality on its head and turning attempts to hold them accountable for their predilection for violence into a vicious and unfair attack on their honor -- of turning the perpetrators into victims and the victims into perpetrators. In 1870, it was the "bloody shirt". Today, in the wake of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting, it's the "blood libel," as Glenn Reynolds puts it.

Indeed, the only thing more predictable than the eventuality of actual violence erupting in a climate of broadly sanctioned violent eliminationist rhetoric is the certainty that the Right will attempt to claim that any discussion of accountability and the need to examine the role our national discourse has in fomenting violence is an attempt to victimize them.

See, for instance, Tea Party Express spokesman Sal Russo this morning on Fox, attempting to claim that Jared Loughner was actually a "far left loon" (sorry, Sal, but that just won't fly). Meanwhile, Michelle Malkin is trying to counter by claiming that it's actually folks on the Left who've been purveying the ugliest rhetoric.

Predictably, there are the usual suspects among the "concerned liberal" segment likewise wringing their hands that we shouldn't jump to conclusions (see especially Jon Chait at "even the liberal" New Republic, and Jack Shafer at Slate).

The bottom line for all of them is that this is just another "isolated incident" because Jared Loughner is just "a lone nut".

Once again, we call that a complete cop-out.

Sure, there are lots of complicating factors, especially Loughner's pretty clearly deranged mental state. But there are also some factors that are simply undeniable, in particular that Giffords was shot in a climate of extraordinarily heated and hateful rhetoric, including the casual associations of guns and targets with Giffords personally.

Moreover, what's equally undeniable is that it comes amid a gradually mounting litany of violence directed against "liberal" and government targets, effectively suggesting a fresh onset of domestic terrorism from the extremist American Right.

Just in the past two and a half years, here's the record of "isolated incidents" amassed so far:

-- July 2008: A gunman named Jim David Adkisson, agitated at how "liberals" are "destroying America," walks into a Unitarian Church and opens fire, killing two churchgoers and wounding four others.

-- October 2008: Two neo-Nazis are arrested in Tennessee in a plot to murder dozens of African-Americans, culminating in the assassination of President Obama.

-- December 2008: A pair of "Patriot" movement radicals -- the father-son team of Bruce and Joshua Turnidge, who wanted "to attack the political infrastructure" -- threaten a bank in Woodburn, Oregon, with a bomb in the hopes of extorting money that would end their financial difficulties, for which they blamed the government. Instead, the bomb goes off and kills two police officers. The men eventually are convicted and sentenced to death for the crime.

-- December 2008: In Belfast, Maine, police discover the makings of a nuclear "dirty bomb" in the basement of a white supremacist shot dead by his wife. The man, who was independently wealthy, reportedly was agitated about the election of President Obama and was crafting a plan to set off the bomb.

-- January 2009: A white supremacist named Keith Luke embarks on a killing rampage in Brockton, Mass., raping and wounding a black woman and killing her sister, then killing a homeless man before being captured by police as he is en route to a Jewish community center.

-- February 2009: A Marine named Kody Brittingham is arrested and charged with plotting to assassinate President Obama. Brittingham also collected white-supremacist material.

-- April 2009: A white supremacist named Richard Poplawski opens fire on three Pittsburgh police officers who come to his house on a domestic-violence call and kills all three, because he believed President Obama intended to take away the guns of white citizens like himself. Poplawski is currently awaiting trial.

-- April 2009: Another gunman in Okaloosa County, Florida, similarly fearful of Obama's purported gun-grabbing plans, kills two deputies when they come to arrest him in a domestic-violence matter, then is killed himself in a shootout with police.

-- May 2009: A "sovereign citizen" named Scott Roeder walks into a church in Wichita, Kansas, and assassinates abortion provider Dr. George Tiller.

-- June 2009: A Holocaust denier and right-wing tax protester named James Von Brunn opens fire at the Holocaust Museum, killing a security guard.

-- February 2010: An angry tax protester named Joseph Ray Stack flies an airplane into the building housing IRS offices in Austin, Texas. (Media are reluctant to label this one "domestic terrorism" too.)

-- March 2010: Seven militiamen from the Hutaree Militia in Michigan and Ohio are arrested and charged with plotting to assassinate local police officers with the intent of sparking a new civil war.

-- March 2010: An anti-government extremist named John Patrick Bedell walks into the Pentagon and opens fire, wounding two officers before he is himself shot dead.

-- May 2010: A "sovereign citizen" from Georgia is arrested in Tennessee and charged with plotting the violent takeover of a local county courthouse.

-- May 2010: A still-unidentified white man walks into a Jacksonville, Fla., mosque and sets it afire, simultaneously setting off a pipe bomb.

-- May 2010: Two "sovereign citizens" named Jerry and Joe Kane gun down two police officers who pull them over for a traffic violation, and then wound two more officers in a shootout in which both of them are eventually killed.

-- July 2010: An agitated right-winger and convict named Byron Williams loads up on weapons and drives to the Bay Area intent on attacking the offices of the Tides Foundation and the ACLU, but is intercepted by state patrolmen and engages them in a shootout and armed standoff in which two officers and Williams are wounded.

-- September 2010: A Concord, N.C., man is arrested and charged with plotting to blow up a North Carolina abortion clinic. The man, 26-year--old Justin Carl Moose, referred to himself as the "Christian counterpart to (Osama) bin Laden� in a taped undercover meeting with a federal informant.

The Giffords shooting brings the tally to 19 total cases of domestic-terrorism inspired by right-wing extremism in the past couple of years. Oh, excuse me: I meant to say "isolated incidents". Because that is how each of these cases was treated -- and how they continue to be reported by the mainstream media, particularly at Fox, which generally does not report on them at all.

We'd like to ask Glenn Reynolds and Michelle Malkin: Exactly how many left-wingers can you find out there who walk into churches, museums and political rallies and shoot people in the head?

When you can name any, then maybe we can talk about how ugly the Left is getting. Until then, all the focus is going to be on the angry people creating a climate in which extremist, unhinging right-wing rhetoric is widely broadcast and officially condoned by supposedly "mainstream" conservatives -- at the very top of the food chain, and through the Right's prominent mass-media organs. That, frankly, is as it should be. Because the toll is mounting.
Tags: domestic terrorism, Gabrielle Giffords, right-wing violence