About Wayne A. Schneider

I'm a Liberal, Libertarian, Atheist Humanist. I believe that though the world is a dangerous place, it can be made better if we stop dividing ourselves by how we're different from each other, and reach out to each other through what we have in common. And that is that we are all human beings on this planet. Please remember that.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, April 19, 2014: The Myth of the Never-Changing Parties

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Recently I got into a Twitter argument with a Conservative who actually called the observation that the Republicans have not always been Conservative and the Democrats have not always been Liberal a “bullshit liberal lie.” Then he called the Democrats “the party of the KKK.” Then he said I was the one who was historically ignorant. Okay, so he’s hurling around “KKK” like it’s an epithet (which it is), but apparently he doesn’t know that neo-confederates in the South consider Nathan Bedford Forrest a hero and the work of the Ku Klux Klan to be “social justice.” (Not everyone agrees. I side with the SPLC on this one.) So is being a member and early leader of the KKK a bad thing to Conservatives or not? If the KKK was a good thing, then why throw out the connection between Democrats and the Klan as a bad thing? If you’re proud of the work of the Klan, then you should be proud of Democrats, not contemptuous of everything any Democrat has ever done. Cognitive dissonance has never been seen as a bad thing by Conservatives. They don’t know the meaning of the word “hypocrisy.” (Seriously, they can’t possibly know given how steeped in hypocrisy they are.)

How do you debate political issues with someone who is obviously so historically ignorant about Politics in America? How do you discuss where America ought to go as a nation with people who think that because they were Republicans, that Lincoln (used Big Government to put down a rebellion) and Eisenhower (used Big Government to build the Interstate Highway System) were staunch Conservatives, or that Nixon (started the Environmental Protection Agency) or Reagan (raised taxes seven times; granted amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants) could ever get the Republican nomination today? To today’s Republican party, the word “Liberal” is the worst thing you cold call someone. Yet accuse a Republican from today of being against every social advancement and you hear them defend their party by pointing out all the things Liberal Republicans did for the country, back in the time when Liberals were welcome in the Republican Party.

Marsh Blackburn is one of the latest examples. From the article:

As we mentioned above, she wants to be clear that the GOP has led the charge for women’s equality. Let’s hear the whole quote:
“I find this war on women rhetoric almost silly,” Blackburn said Sunday, when asked on CBS’ “Face the Nation” if Republicans were against equal pay for women. “It is Republicans that have led the fight for women’s equality. Go back through history — and look at who was the first woman to vote, to get elected to office, to go to Congress, four out of five governors.”

Okay, let’s do that. because when you’re trying to make a point, one would think (if one did think) that facts would matter. And remember, she’s touting the achievements of Republicans in the past as evidence that Republicans of today are not waging a war on women.

Go back through history — and look at who was the first woman to vote,
Woman were allowed to vote in some parts of this country long before the 19th Amendment was ratified. Women in New Jersey had the right to vote from 1776-1807. But while they did record that women voted, they never recorded the time of day each person voted, so it is impossible to know with what political party the first woman to vote was registered. But since the Republican Party was founded in 1854, it wasn’t them. The first woman to vote under the 19th Amendment was from a family of Democrats.

to get elected to office,
The first woman elected to any political office in the United States was Susanna M. Salter. She was elected Mayor of Argonia, Kansas, from 1887-1888, and she was a member of the Prohibition Party. And while the remnants of today’s Prohibition Party are very conservative, back in Salter’s time it was more progressive. (Prohibition was a movement by progressives. Ironically, if it weren’t for Conservatives, I could probably get by without needing a drink.) So, again, not a Republican.

to go to Congress,
Yes on this one. Jeannette Rankin was, indeed, the first woman elected to Congress and a Republican. Her first term was in 1917, before passage of the 19th Amendment. And regardless of her political views then, when she was re-elected to Congress in 1940, she was more liberal in her views, and very pacifist. She voted against US entry into both World Wars. So Blackburn is 1 out of 3 so far on Republicanism, but not as good on Conservatism.

four out of five governors.
Okay, this one is hilariously wrong. The first Republican woman elected Governor of a US State was Kay Orr, who served from 1987-1991. She was also the ninth woman to serve as governor. And she was a Conservative, which is not surprising considering the year. (Specifically, that it was after passage of the Civil Rights Act, a significant point in the ideological history of the Republican Party.)

So to prove the point that Republicans are not waging a war on women, Rep Blackburn cites a list of non-related non-facts. Which is what Republicans do when you try to point out how Republicans of Today are out of touch with Americans of Today. You get to hear all about how Republicans passed the 13th Amendment ending Slavery, without hearing how opposition to it came from Conservatives. And that’s what really matters – Ideology, not party affiliation. The Republican achievements of which today’s Republicans are most proud, are the achievements of Republicans who would not be welcome in today’s Republican Party. Lincoln was not a Conservative, and the Democrats who fought against him at that time were not Liberals.

When the Democratic Party was founded, it “favored republicanism, a weak federal government, states’ rights, agrarian interests (especially Southern planters) and strict adherence to the Constitution; it opposed a national bank, close ties to Great Britain, and business and banking interests.” Sounds more like today’s Republican Party than it does today’s Democratic Party. And when LBJ got the Civil Rights Act passed, he knew that Conservative Democrats would leave the party and join the Republicans, and many of them did. The Democratic Party became more Liberal (how could it not when the Conservatives were jumping ship?) and the Republican Party be came less Liberal (on account of all those ship-jumping Conservatives) until, eventually, there were no more Liberals in the Republican Party. When Republicans proudly boast about their party’s achievements on social issues, they almost ALWAYS point to the things Liberal Republicans of the past did, not Conservative Republicans of today. In fact, the only Conservative Republican achievement of which I ever hear them brag is the Hyde Amendment, named after Mr. Edward Hyde Sen. Henry Hyde, which banned federal spending for abortion. Ironically, the same person I mentioned in the beginning of this, who thought the idea that the two major political parties had switched ideologies over time was bullshit, also refused to believe the Hyde Amendment existed, or understand what it did. And that’s who we’re dealing with. People who refuse to debate the issues based on actual verifiable facts, which proved that things did or did not happen.

In Classical Logic, a false premise can imply anything because a statement of the form If p, then q is False only when p is True and q is False. Otherwise it is True. Today is Saturday, so the statement “If today is Thursday, then I am the King of Norway” is True because it is false that it is Thursday. So it doesn’t matter what the rest says. Until Thursday rolls around and I am revealed not to be the duly recognized King of Norway, it is a True statement. So when Conservatives trot out their False premises for their “logic,” they’re often, technically, making True statements. And you can’t prove they’re making False statements until the premises upon which their arguments are made are True, and the conclusions they drew were False. Yet even when they’re proved quite wrong, it doesn’t seem to stop them from making the same claims. For example, Conservatives like to claim that tax cuts for the rich stimulate the economy and create jobs. And this was their justification for cutting taxes in the first few years of the Bush Administration, despite the fact that we had just gone to war before the second round of cuts. No country in the History of Civilization had ever cut taxes in a time of war, until the United States did in 2003. And despite all the money the folks at the top were keeping for themselves, they didn’t use it to create jobs, and the unemployment rate was on its way up by the time they left office. Doesn’t stop them from arguing that tax cuts for the rich create jobs. Sadly, people like the Conservative I debated on the Twitter believe them.

This is our daily open thread. Have fun with it.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, April 12, 2014: Religion Gone Mad

I do honestly believe it is your right, in both the Constitutional and Moral sense, to hold whatever religious beliefs you want inside your own head. You can even exercise those beliefs provided your actions cause no harm to others. I’ll even go so far as to say that, as a private citizen, you have a right to try peacefully to persuade others that your religious beliefs hold a shred of validity. But what you do not have a right to do, in neither the Constitutional nor Moral sense, is force others to accept, or even worse follow, your religious beliefs. And as long as I draw breath in my body, it will always be that way in this country. It ought to be that way around the world.

Now I won’t sit here and say that Religion has never done any Good anywhere in the world. It’s clearly not true. [NOTE: Before continuing, however, I want to make clear that unless otherwise explicitly stated, when I speak of Religion in this post, I am speaking of those Religions which involve the worship of one or more Deities, of varying strengths, abilities, and fetishes.] Throughout history, many people have been motivated by their religious beliefs to treat their fellow human beings with compassion, or to seek an explanation for how things work. Sadly, and undeniably, Religion has motivated people to perform horribly unspeakable acts of inhumanity against their fellow human beings, all in the name of pleasing their particular Deity of Choice. And that’s the dark side of Religion that we Americans don’t like to discuss – the Evil that Men do in the name of Religion. People have been killed because someone else thought they worshiped the wrong gods. Which is really kind of stupid when you think about it, something those religiously-inspired murderers rarely did. These religions often require one to forsake any other gods and worship only a specific one, and not to worship the other gods which they acknowledge exist. They then teach that this one specific god was the one who created everything (including, apparently, all those other powerful gods you aren’t supposed to worship), or that while other gods existed, this one was the only one capable of creating the planet on which we all live. (Some religions – okay maybe just the one – claim that their God proudly claims to be a “jealous God,” but that Jealously is still a mortal sin for human beings because, I don’t know, it’s bad? But okay for a God to have. It’s not just hypocritical, it’s illogical. God is telling you there’s something really bad about Him. But he loves you, and he won’t ever, ever hurt you again. By Flood, anyway.)

Our Constitution prohibits our Congress from passing any law respecting an establishment of Religion. It also extends that protection for the People to each of the States so that no state can pass a law respecting an establishment of Religion. (After all, what would be the point of being an American Citizen with the religious liberty to worship as one pleases if the state within which one lives can force one to practice a different religion?) That same Constitution requires any person holding any office of public trust in the United States, before entering office, to take an oath to support and defend that same Constitution. (I took such an oath. To my knowledge, belief and practice, it had no expiration date.) So it’s reasonable to expect that a person taking such an oath would familiarize him or herself with that same Constitution. So as to not do something stupid like this.

The Great State of South Carolina (which holds the record for most Civil Wars started in our country), has advanced a bill (Pregnant Women’s Protection Act) in a Senate committee that would expand their state’s ill-conceived Stand Your Ground Law to protect unborn children, defined as having started from conception. Opponents argue that the bill is unnecessary, as pregnant women already have the right to use deadly force in self-defense, but proponents claim that this bill is intended to extend that right to the fetus, on the theory that there are things you could do to a pregnant woman that might not be deadly to her, but might be for the unborn fetus. Here’s where I have a problem with the bill (besides its existence).

The bill the panel approved also includes a definition of “unborn child” as “the offspring of human beings from conception until birth.”

Regardless of what its advocates claim, this is nothing but a backdoor attempt to deny women their right to an abortion. And the people that want to do that, almost to a person, want to do so because of their religious beliefs. They are the ones who claim that Life begins at conception, and that the unborn should have the same Constitutional rights as the born. This is absurd. They would be granting rights outside the authorization of the Constitution. It clearly states that all persons born in the United States are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein the reside. The key word there, the only one that matters in any discussion of rights, is “born.” You have to be born to have any rights as an American citizen. I recently caught a repeat of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit involving the theft of frozen embryos by activists who felt Life begins at conception. The Assistant District Attorney pointed out that in New York State, Life begins at a baby’s first breath, which is why you couldn’t prosecute a woman for murder who had a stillborn baby (a lesson, BTW, some other states need to learn.) This bill undeniably is an attempt to impose a religious view on the citizens of a state, whether or not they practice that religion. And it is morally reprehensible.

Speaking of morally reprehensible, the Great State of Louisiana is moving forward with making “the Bible” the official book of the state of Louisiana. The bill doesn’t say which version of the Bible would be the official one, because a previous version of the bill that did so met objections from some lawmakers.

Rep. Thomas Carmody, R-Shreveport, said he sponsored the proposal after a constituent made the request. But Carmody insisted the bill wasn’t designed to be a state-endorsement of Christianity or a specific religion.

“It’s not to the exclusion of anyone else’s sacred literature,” he told the House committee. Again, later he said, “This is not about establishing an official religion of the state of Louisiana.”

Except that it is. What Conservative Christians often forget is that not everybody thinks or believes as they do. And they forget that other religions do not refer to their holy books as “the Bible.” In fact, that’s pretty much limited to Christianity (in most of its myriad forms.) Jews do not follow a Bible, nor do Muslims. So saying your state’s “official book” is a sacred text specific to one form of religion is endorsing that religion. How could it not be? When you make something your “official book,” you are, by definition, choosing it to the exclusion of all other books, religious or not. That’s the whole point of making it “official.” It’s like saying your state’s official bird is “the web-footed bird,” but not any specific web-footed bird, then trying to say you’re not endorsing aquatic fowl over all other forms of bird. Of course you are. And if the Constitution read “Congress shall pass no law respecting an establishment of bird,” your official state bird would be unconstitutional. And you couldn’t say it’s not to the exclusion of all other birds (because it is), and you couldn’t say it’s not an endorsement of any particular kind of bird, because it is.

Your religious freedom ends at my body. You have no right, neither Constitutional nor Moral, to force me to accept your religious beliefs as valid or irrefutable. And you have no right to force me to live by those religious beliefs. So stop trying to do so.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss religious freedom, Stand Your Ground, bibles, or anything else you wish to discuss.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, April 5, 2014: Tea Party Nonsense – Again

Two and a quarter centuries later and some people still do not understand the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment means that we have a Separation of Church and State in this country. And it’s important enough to capitalize it that way: Separation of Church and State. I don’t know how many people realize this but unlike many other countries (including some of our closest allies), the United States by design does not have an official religion. And that’s precisely why no one, not even the government, can force you to worship his God. That doesn’t make us Godless Communists; it means we have a diversity of religious thought in this country. (Which begs the question, “How could any of them be right?” But that’s a topic for another post, as my grandmother used to say. She was very forward-thinking for someone who died twenty years before Al Gore invented the internet.) So I get a little nervous when people start claiming that God is on their side. Because some of the worst atrocities in human history were committed by people who thought that God was on their side.

Howard Kooligan of the Tea Party Express is someone who makes me nervous. Not only does he claim that God is on his side (well, on the side of the Tea Party People), he also opposes the efforts of some of us on the Left to reduce income inequality. The thing is, not only is his rationale completely Biblical, it’s completely wrong.

I think it’s very important that churches get involved and that Christians follow the dictates of biblical principles in casting their vote. I think it’s clear that God has a position on many of the things we deem political today, from life to theft to the doctrine of covetousness, which by the way seems to be the promotion of the left. You know, they talk about ‘income inequality,’ well what is that but covetousness? So how could somebody support that cause if they’re biblical believing Christians?

He’s totally wrong. We don’t covet the wealth of the 1%-ers, some of whom pay a lower effective tax rate on their millions in unearned income than I pay on the money I busted my ass to make. We recognize that too much wealth accumulated in the hands of a few people is not only bad for the economy, it’s bad for Society. We feel that they should be taxed much higher on any new income they make, especially unearned income such as money from investments and stock trading. But we don’t want the money for ourselves, as Kooligan wrongly presumes. We want it used to help people less fortunate than ourselves. We want it used to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. We want it used to bolster our public education system, because why should knowledge only be for the privileged? Sure, we could all use the extra money (since we’re not the billionaires who don’t need the money), but we on the Left know that there are plenty of people out there who need it more than we do. But unlike many on the Right, we’re not greedy. Liberals believe in Cooperation over Competition. And many of us Liberals, including those who believe in God, believe that we must solve Humanity’s problems ourselves, and not wish for divine intervention. Did God ever stop a war started in His name?

That’s why Rick Scarborough of Tea Party Unity scares me. He has no interest in Humanity working out its problems. He wants help straight from the top.

If we do our part then I’m confident that the God of Heaven will intervene. This country has been on the brink of complete disaster and collapse in several occasions in our national history. During the Roaring Twenties, socially this country was on the brink and deserved judgment; go back during the pre-Civil War era when we were buying and selling human beings, we deserved God’s judgment. But there was always a thread of Christians active in politics who didn’t lose sight of the prize and did what they could and God intervened, and that’s what I pray for and work for in this latter period of our national history. No matter what we do, if God doesn’t intervene the country is lost. But I know this, all the prayers in the world won’t change this country and God’s not going to act if those of us who I call the remnant don’t get involved, pay the price, like you’re doing, so I encourage you to continue doing that.

First of all, isn’t “the God of Heaven” a redundant thing for a good Christian to say? After all, the First Commandment pretty much settles the issue of which God they worship. Do Christians believe in any other gods, that are located in places other than Heaven? They’re not supposed to, so why say it like that? Second of all, the Great Depression which followed the Roaring Twenties was not the judgment of God but the result of Conservative fiscal policies. And, third, how could anyone who supposedly read his Bible believe that God opposed the buying and selling of human beings? There’s all kinds of advice about slaves in the Bible including how to get them, how much you can beat them (if they survive a day or two, you’re okay), and how much sex you can have with your female slaves. Do we really want the Supreme Being who came up with that to be the one who “saves” us? No thanks. I’ll take my chances with the secular human crowd. They’re free on weekends.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss the idiots of the tea party, or any other topic you wish.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, March 29, 2014: Ah, No

A new movie has Christian Conservatives up in arms because of its alleged inaccuracies. It’s called “Noah” and it’s the story of a young boy whose obsession with words leads him to write a novel that redefines the meanings of words commonly in use at the time and — and I am being told that this is not what the movie is about after all. Then it must be the one about the man who works for a shadowy company that tracks people with special abilities — and I’m being told this isn’t the story, either. Ah, I know. It’s got all these right-wingers upset, so it must be the story of a shadowy government agency that tracks weather patterns and tries to warn people that the average overall planet’s surface temperature is rising — and I’m being told that’s the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Then what’s this one about? The what? Are you sure? Okay, if you say so. Apparently it’s the story of a man who signed up for AARP and — what? Not AARP? Ark? He signed up for an Ark? That makes no sense. Oh, he built an Ark after getting a DM from God. Why would he do that? Read my what? Oh, alright, if you insist.

According to Le Bib (or, as the Gangsters call it, the Bible), Noah was a 600-year-old righteous man chosen by God to build an Ark of a specific size, for the purpose of rescuing a sample of all living land and air animals from a flood He was about to bring upon the Earth, wiping out all living things (except, I presume, the fish.) A version of the original story (certainly not the original version itself) can be found in the Authorized King James Version (AKJV) of the Bible, in Genesis. Chapter 5 gives Noah’s genealogy from Adam (God’s alleged Creation), which tells us that this story takes place about 4,400 years ago, if you believe the earth is about 6,000 years old. It also means it takes place about 2,400 years before the birth of Jesus. Why this movie should bother Christians so much baffles me. It’s not their story. And if you want other non-believers to think the God you worship is an all-loving God, you don’t want to draw attention to this story. God is so fed up with Humanity that he’s going to kill them all and start over with Noah’s family. Why would you believe He wouldn’t kill everyone again? You say it’s because God promised he wouldn’t do that again? That’s not the way I read it, but more on that later.

This two-and-a-half hour movie (which I have not seen, but whose contents I base on the reviews I cite) is based on Genesis Chapters 6, 7, 8, and 9. The main complaint of the Right Wing Christian Reviewers (they’re so much alike they might as well belong to a formal organization with that name) is that the Darren Aronofsky film Noah is not true to the story in the Bible. Well, at least the Bible we presume they mean. They never seem to say which one. And as much as I hate to admit it, they’re right. Debbie Schlussel says a better title would be Not Noah. Erick Erickson is not kidding when he says it was “one of the funniest comedies I have seen in a very long time,” and that he’s “Not sure it is worth it for anyone who takes the Bible seriously.” And Ben Shapiro calls it a “perversely Pagan mess.” And they are correct that the short story of Noah that I read in the Bible (Yes, we Atheists do have access to Bibles, as evidenced above) said nothing about warriors battling Noah for a place on his Ark, or of giant stone creatures, or of Methuselah having magical powers. It doesn’t really say much of anything, really. The gist of the story is summarized in Chapter 6. Flood coming, start building. Animals gathering, start loading. Rains pouring, start praying. Storms passing, start looking. Waters receding, start living. Throw in some really awesome special effects (which, when you get right down to it, is the entire point of the movie) and you’ve got a Hollywood movie. Of about twenty minutes. Of course they had to pad it with things not strictly found in the Bible. They could have been a little more in line with the original story. I’m pretty sure Noah’s sons were not named Ham, Eggs, and Bacon. (BTW, why would a vegetarian – Noah is depicted in the film as a vegetarian – name his son ‘Ham’? For that matter, why would anyone who practiced a religion that proscribed pork name one of their children ‘Ham’? But I digress.) And the Biblical Noah did not have a Ford F-150 to help him haul lumber around. And Home Depot did not donate an apron for Noah to wear with pockets for nails. But these are minor things. Okay, I made those last few things up.

What also bothers the RWCR is that the word “God” is not mentioned once in the movie. Oh, does that irk them. Noah makes reference to the Creator, but never calls him God or any other particular name. And this seems to bother them a lot. But if you;re going to make a claim that a movie is not faithful enough to the original book, you should be absolutely certain you have your facts right. Assuming we’re talking about facts. Perhaps “details” would be a better choice of word. Schlussel says that Noah was 500 years old when he began the Ark. Not correct. Noah was 500 when he started having children. He was 600 when he started building the Ark. And Shapiro says that God promised never to destroy Humanity again. That’s not how I read it. There are the thoughts God had to himself, and there’s the words of the Covenant he spoke to Noah. And what he told Noah was that He would never flood the Earth again. That doesn’t mean he won’t do something else, like let the temperature rise so much that the planet became uninhabitable for humans.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss anything you wish.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, March 22, 2014: Will Creationists Never Get It?

In case you didn’t already know, I’m an Atheist, and happy and proud to be one. I believe that our portion of the Space-Time Continuum came into being as the result of a Big bang, an explosion of matter and energy that rapidly expanded, and eventually formed the many, many galaxies of which our own is just one. I said “Space-Time Continuum” instead of “Universe” because I believe there are many, many Universes, spread far apart from one another. The Space-Time Continuum is just the framework within which everything happened, happens, and will happen. It is infinite in size, and infinite in time. It has always existed and it will always exist, but the matter and energy within it will constantly change. It was not brought into existence by anything, it was already there. Matter and energy may be turned into each other, but the infinite framework will still be there. Many religions that believe in a God have a Creation Myth. The one in the Christian Bible is not the only one, but that’s the one that religious conservatives want to see imposed on everyone. Their Creation Myth begins with three simple words, “In the beginning…” And that’s where the Bible and I part company. Because as far as I’m concerned, there was no beginning. People erroneously believe there MUST have been a First Cause, some kind of Force that brought everything into existence. I disagree. You want to tell me that the Space-Time Continuum Framework was entirely empty before some kind of Deity decided to start making stuff in it? For how long must that Deity, that all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing Deity, have sat around in a whole bunch of Nothingness? That makes absolutely no sense at all. None. What makes much more sense is that there was no beginning, that it was always there in some form or another. And it will still be there long after we all turn to star dust. Wouldn’t that imply that Life has no purpose? Yeah, but so what? In the wise words of Peter Falk in The Princess Bride, “Who said Life is fair?”

Which brings us to the Creationists of Answers In Genesis. They still don’t understand the concept of Science. They’re upset because Neil deGrasse Tyson, host of the revival of “Cosmos,” won’t allow “balance” and present the view of the anti-Evolutionists. They seem to think that any effort to educate the public about things like the Truth, using such controversial tactics as citing Facts, must be balanced by teaching things what could only be described as “Falsehoods” and “Lies.” They seem to think that young people should be taught all points of view, no matter how absurd or demonstrably false, and then let them “decide” what they want to believe. This is how you raise a generation of stupid people. And stupid people tend to be conservative in their thinking (a well-documented fact), and stupid, I mean, conservative, in their voting. This has always been part of the long term strategy of the Right. People who don’t understand how Science works, who think that every point of view is valid, tend to be easily manipulated emotionally into being afraid. And people who are afraid make bad decisions, like voting for Conservatives to govern them. Which is why the Conservatives let the Religious Right have their way, no matter how wrong, no matter how intellectually void of merit their ideas, no matter how unconstitutional their proposed legislation.

Creationists continue to insist that their views be given equal weight with Scientific viewpoints and Theories. But there is absolutely nothing scientific about Creationism or Intelligent Design. They start with the premise that God exists, and assume that anything that isn’t understood is the Will of God and Not For Mere Mortals to Understand. That is not Science. How can you test any hypothesis when you hope the result is that you can’t discern the answer, so it must be God’s work? Even more, Creationism isn’t even a true Theory in the scientific sense. It’s nothing more than a belief that things happened a certain way, on the whim and time scale of a Power we can’t hope to understand, with no allowance for any belief otherwise. Why should that be given equal weight with the culmination of hundreds of years of scientific discipline and pursuit of the Truth? Especially when it’s been long proven that the Religious views on the nature of the Universe have been proven wrong time and again? The Sun does not revolve around the Earth. The Earth is not the center of the galaxy, let alone the Universe. We are no more important in the Grand Scheme of Things than the people living on a planet circling Alpha Centauri. And they probably think the same thing about us. And you know what? We’re both right.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss Creationism, real Science, Cosmos, Neil deGrasse Tyson, or anything else about Neil deGrasse Tyson that you like.

The Watering Hole, Monday, March 17, 2014: Why All The Hate?

If you’re like me, not only are you incredibly smart and good-looking, you wonder why so many people on the Right hate, just viscerally hate, the President of the United States. The knee-jerk reaction is to say it’s because the Haters are (Insert Randomly Insignificant Criterion Here) and the President is Not, and that for most of the haters, the randomly inserted insignificant criterion would be race. Not necessarily. There’s a lot of people who hate the president, and there’s certainly a chunk of them with an IQ well below the three-digit range who think the color of his skin is reason enough to hate him. Thankfully, despite this group’s inability to grasp the concept of birth control, Natural Selection will prevent them from becoming a majority in this country. But they don’t account for all the Haters. Some of the Haters claim to be Christians who think the President is Not One of Them. They think he’s a Muslim. What’s really funny about that one is that these are the same people who said Obama shouldn’t be President because he sat in the pews of a Christian church for 20 years listening to the hate speech of Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Well, Uptighty Righties, which is it? Is Obama a Muslim, or a Christian who listened to a kind of hate speech that differs from your own? None of your other reasons to hate him make sense, either. At least, none of the reasons coming from the Right. Some of us on the Left certainly have our problems with a number of areas of his Governance, but we don’t hate him for it. We’re disappointed as all get-out, but we don’t hate him. But you do. Why?

I hear many of you claim he’s a “Communist,” a “Marxist,” and even a “Fascist,” all at once. And I laugh, because if I don’t, I’ll start shaking my head in sadness until I’m overcome by sobbing fits, despondent over the intense stupidity of my fellow human beings. You can’t be a Marxist and a Fascist at the same time, and if you don’t know enough about them to understand why, you should really stay out of the political arena. I would also not only recommend, I would beg you to stay home on Election Day, or least don’t go near the polls to cast a vote. Your political awareness is on par with that of sea urchins, who are at least smart enough not to advertise their ignorance. I just can’t see how America’s best interests are served by letting you have a say in who governs it. But you’ll notice (or, more likely, I’ll have to point out to you) that I’m not calling for you to not be allowed to vote. That’s how many on your side of the political aisle solve an issue like that. If they don’t like the way they think someone is likely to vote, they make up some bullshit reason to deny him the right to vote at all. Our side doesn’t do that, nor do we put out fliers telling you the election is being held on another day. We just ask you to do what’s best for your country, and don’t vote until you learn what you’re talking about.

You can’t govern a country based on denying rights to the people who aren’t like you, especially when about 75% of the country is not like you! This is a Republic, and you are a small percentage of its citizens. We don’t need to put anybody in Congress who thinks like you because there’s something wrong with the way you think. You need mental health treatment. And we hope you’ll be happy to learn it’s covered thanks to Obamacare.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss what you think we should do about all the Haters, or anything else you want.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, March 8, 2014: Forward March

We used to say, “Spring Forward, Fall Back” to help us remember which way to change our clocks during our semi-annual, Unnecessary Activity of the Year. But we no longer change clocks in the Spring, we do it a couple of weeks earlier. So now we might as well say, “Forward March, Fall Down.” But why do we even bother to do it? Whose brilliant idea was it? Does it even do what it’s supposed to do? Is there a better way?

The answers are: Supposedly, to save energy. Ben Franklin, sort of. That depends on where you live and what you wanted it to do. Yes, yes there is.

Save Your Energy
According to a great article in National Geographic, it’s supposed to save on energy, but the results are mixed on that. In some states Continue reading

The Watering Hole, Saturday, March 1, 2014: Time Check

With a week to go until the unnecessary onset of Daylight Savings Time (we’ll talk about that next Saturday), it may have crossed your mind to wonder just how your smart phone knows what time it is. After all, it probably came out of the package knowing the time and date, and you didn’t do that. (I don’t know how they look when you get them, because I don’t own a smart phone, or anything like it, and likely never will.) Dr. Demetrios Matsakis, Chief Scientist for United States Naval Observatory’s Time Services, explains how in this fascinating video.

None of this would be possible, of course, if not for Science, the vigorously-tested, well-documented study of how things work, and how they can theoretically be made to work better. Without a strong foundation in Science, Humanity cannot face the problems our planet, and our species, will endure. The overall average temperature of the planet is slowly rising. Most of the ten hottest years on record have been within the last ten years. This is undeniable. It is also undeniable that human activity (specifically, but not limited to, the excessive burning of fossil fuels) is a contributing factor to this very real warming trend. Those of you out there who’ve been paying attention understand the ripple effect a warming atmosphere has on the climate, and how it changes the weather to certain parts of the globe. It’s a problem all of Humanity must face, not just Americans. But the United States must be a leader in confronting these facts. The climate is changing, and denying that this is so is not being a part of the solution, it’s being an asshole.

So it doesn’t help that the Republicans have make a mockery of Science by appointing to the Science Committees in both Houses people who do not believe in Science. One of them, Dr. Paul Broun, an alleged doctor, and a potential future Senator, once called Evolution (among other things), “…lies straight from the pit of Hell.” Senator James Inhofe thankfully doesn’t sit on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, but he does sit on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, from which he published his own argument that while the climate is indeed changing, as it often has, he says

Today, even saying there is scientific disagreement over global warming is itself controversial. But anyone who pays even cursory attention to the issue understands that scientists vigorously disagree over whether human activities are responsible for global warming, or whether those activities will precipitate apocalyptic natural
disasters.

In all fairness, it should be noted that he receives a lot of campaign financing from the oil and gas industry, just in case you thought his opinion was arrived at intellectually. He’s also one of those folks who think that humans couldn’t possibly be destroying the planet because God promised us after the Great Flood that he wouldn’t destroy the planet again. He doesn’t seem to understand that humans can destroy the planet without the help of any gods.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss anything you want.

The Watering Hole, Monday, February 24, 2014: Tom DeLay’s Bug Spray-Induced Delusion

It seems former Representative Tom DeLay (R-Greed), who ran for Congress because he felt the banning of DDT would unfairly hurt his pest control business, has been sniffing his bug-spraying chemicals again. In a recent interview with Pastor Matthew Hagee, (we all know Major) Tom claimed that God wrote our Constitution, and that it was based on Biblical principles. You know, that part of the Bible that said that if you wanted to amend the Bible, you needed the consent of two-thirds of the Congress, and three-fourths of the states. And gay men can be stoned. He also bragged about sealing off the Capitol Rotunda so that Members of Congress could pray together. I don’t think Tommy understands the concept of Separation of Church and State. Among other concepts.

Please believe me when I tell you that there is absolutely no truth to the David-Barton-fueled rumor that the United States, under its current Constitution, was founded as a Christian nation. None whatsoever. The United States is, and was since the day the U.S. Constitution was ratified (a document written by, and for, men; okay, white men; okay, white land-owning men; but not by any god), a secular nation. Let no one tell you differently. Especially if they’ve made a career of inhaling bug-spraying chemicals, and liked it.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss Tom DeLay, bug sprays you’ve inhaled, or any other topic you wish.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, February 15, 2014, The Myth of the One Percent

If you’re like me, you probably never heard of Tom Perkins before this week. And you’re sitting at your computer naked. Tom Perkins, it turns out, who I’m sure has never heard of you or me, is what they call a “venture capitalist.” They invest in other companies, sometimes saving them and turning them into profitable companies, sometimes stripping them of their assets and taking the money for themselves, and sometimes they provide seed money for companies that eventually become hugely successful behemoths like Amazon and Google, which is what Tommy’s little venture capital firm did. And he got rich…er. We know this is true by virtue of the fact that Tommy is still, to this day, a venture capitalist. Otherwise he’d be what we call “broke.” And because he made so much money doing whatever the hell it is that he does, he thinks he’s better than you or me. So much better that he actually wrote to the Wall Street Journal to tell them that the “attacks” on the top 1%-ers were just like Kristallnacht, except for the bloodshed and the part where the top 1%-ers were gunned down in the homes into which they were forced to move. But otherwise just like that. Which is absolutely ridiculous as evidenced by the fact that he’s alive to bitch and moan about how he’s treated.

I missed it at the time (not being a consumer of the Rupert Murdoch Propaganda Dissemination Machine), but he apparently took a lot of flak for those comments. The flak must not have bothered him because in a recent interview with Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky, he told the audience that “I think the parallel holds.” (He neglected to add “minus the bloodshed and gunfire.”) This happened at a Q&A session titled “The War on the 1%.”

Asked to offer one idea that could change the world, Perkins proposed a change to Americans’ voting rights: “You don’t get to vote unless you pay $1 in taxes…If you pay $1 million in taxes, you should get a million votes. How’s that?” (In an interview after the forum, Perkins said he was simply “trying to be outrageous.”)

In all fairness when you watch him say that, he does kind of sort of look like he’s trying to be a little over the top, but he also reminds me of “Victor/Victoria,” the story of a woman, pretending to be man, pretending to be a woman. He meant it, but he was only joking, but he really did mean it. And he would be surprised to learn just how wrong he is, too.

You see, he’s wrong because he thinks such a proposal (as given) would take away the right to vote for the 47%-ers, the ones the RW capitalists think pay no taxes at all because they pay no federal income taxes. And they pay no federal income taxes because they earn too little to have to pay federal income tax. But that doesn’t mean they pay no taxes at all. If they drive they buy gas, and so they pay gasoline taxes. They also pay sales taxes on at least some of their purchases throughout the year. So it’s quite plain that they pay at least “$1 in taxes,” so they would still get to vote under the Perkins Plan. But that’s not the only thing he was wrong about.

He also said that “if Germany had American gun laws, there would have never been a Hitler.” Now, if by that he meant that had Germany had a Constitution which guaranteed some kind of right to own and carry (i.e., “keep and bear”) guns, then maybe he would be right. Maybe. But like many gun rights advocates, Perkins probably falsely believed that Hitler took away gun rights. Actually, the opposite is true. Hitler expanded gun rights and only took them away from a few. And considering that the German army had more than just guns (they had tanks, planes, and, for a while at least, submarines), it’s hard to believe the Jews could have fought their way out of Germany to find a home elsewhere. This is just lazy, NRA-style thinking.

He was also wrong when he defended Capitalism by saying, “Look, free-market capitalism, it’s what has created most of the wealth in the world, and it’s the only way to proceed. Free. Market. Capitalism.” That’s really a stupid thing to say when you apply some thought to it. You’re using a measuring rod (wealth) that only applies to one system (Capitalism) to measure how well that system (Capitalism) does at this one measure (creating wealth.) That’s like saying “American-style football is the best way to score touchdowns.” Other economic systems do not have excessive wealth as one of their goals, so naturally you won’t find many people excessively wealthy in those systems. And that’s actually a good thing and a goal we should have here in the United States. You see, Capitalism only works when money circulates throughout the system. When I sell you something, I use part of the money you give me to pay the vendor from whom I purchased what I sold you. I also use part of it to buy something for myself from another vendor. That vendor, in turn, pays his vendor for what I bought from him, and uses the leftover money to buy something else for himself. And so on and so on. (I’m not an Economics professor, so we’re not going to go into all the complicated things rich people exploit to increase their cut of these transactions.) Somewhere along the way, sometimes at many places along the way, people in the top 1% get their cut of these transactions. Except they’re not spending their cut, because they already have so much money they don’t need to spend it. As Nick Hanauer explained in his TED talk, those who make a thousand times as much money each year as you do not buy a thousand times as many things as you.

Perky also tried to gain sympathy for people in his wealth stratosphere saying, ”I don’t think people have any idea what the 1 percent is actually contributing to America.” To that I need only say two words, “Koch Brothers.”

To which Perky would answer that they’re suffering from “persecution,” and that our nation’s progressive tax code is “persecution” of the wealthy. Not at all. When this country had a real progressive tax code (back when we had the last fiscally conservative Republican President, a man known as Dwight David “Ike the Spike” Eisenhower), high tax rates kept income inequality in check. When we hear the rich paid 91% in taxes back in 1960, it wasn’t 91% on every dollar they earned. It was 91% on every dollar they earned above $300,000. It was 83% on income between $100,000 and $150,000. [For proper perspective, a head of household paid 20% tax on income up to $2,000, and it went up about 1-4% for every $2,000 for a while. Then the cutoff levels increased between tax brackets until you reached 91% on all income above $300,000. On a total income of $2,000, you would pay $400 in income tax, leaving you $1,600 for your other expenses in life. People actually lived on that kind of income back then. On total income of $400,000 (and there were people making that kind of money, and even more), you would pay $326,480 in income taxes, leaving you a mere $73,520 on which to support your family. And remember, you could get by on only $1,600, so there was really no reason to bitch and complain because an additional $100,000 of income brought you only $9,000 after taxes. At that point, you could already have anything you wanted - short of what the super-duper-uber-rich had - and you probably didn't even notice that extra money.] It may sound like punishment if you were the type who felt you should have every dollar of income you “earned,” but in reality it helped keep our country back then from turning into what our country has become now – a land where having billions of dollars puts you in control of practically everyone else’s lives. Back in 1960, we decided that you, as an individual not elected to govern, should not have that much power over people’s lives. We weren’t going to take everything, but we were also going to make sure you didn’t end up with everything. Because then the money wouldn’t flow and the economy would collapse.

And speaking of income inequality, Perky wouldn’t go there. After calling the government “a giant beast which has to be fed,” he claimed taxes would have to go “up and up and up.” (Really? Did his accountant tell him how much less in taxes he started paying when Bush cut taxes in 2001?) But when he was reminded that government financing helped create the Internets (“It’s a series of tubes.”) that helped make him wealthy, he shot back, “Adam, you’re barking up the wrong tree. I’m not going to go there.” You see, there are incredibly wealthy people, like Tom Perkins, who think that they owe nobody for the vast amount of wealth they’ve managed to accumulate in life, one way or another. They think of themselves as “self-made millionaires.” The reality is that there is no such thing in this country as a self-made millionaire. Whether you did it legally or illegally, every dollar you earned was done within the framework of a Liberal Society that provided both the foundation and some of the building blocks that make it possible for you to make that money. You didn’t build the roads you used to move your goods around. You didn’t hire, train, and headquarter the police forces you relied on to protect you and your business. You didn’t create the education system and hire the teachers it uses to train the people you would hire to do the things you can’t do yourself. You didn’t get rich by yourself; you did it with our help. So you are not entitled to “every dollar you earned.” In fact, when your other business ventures failed before this one took off, you didn’t end up on your own. We were there to help you out, even to help you get started on the business that did make you rich.

And you rich people are not the true job creators, a myth the Republican party you bought and own has been spreading for decades. You don’t create jobs, you create businesses that supply consumers (most of them middle class) with goods or services they want. (And sometimes people who have nothing start those businesses.) If consumers don’t want what you have to offer, you’re not going to keep employing people to do nothing, so you’re going to fire them. That doesn’t make you a job creator at all. So stop acting like the country owes you a favor.

So to all you Tom Perkins in the world, get over yourselves. You’re not more important than the rest of us, and you don’t deserve to have more of a say in who governs this country than we do. You get one vote. We all get one vote. And whether or not you choose to believe it, the world can get along just fine without you, Tom Perkins. Do you really think you can get along without us?

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss any topic you wish.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, February 8, 2014: Why Republican Religiosity is Wrong

According to my dictionary, the definition of “fact” is

n. 1. the quality of existing or of being real; actuality; truth.
2. something known to exist or have happened.
3. a truth known by actual experience or observation.

Facts are important. When Reality offers a challenge, you must deal with facts if you’re going to solve the problem. You can’t solve a real problem if you ignore the facts, or worse, try to act as if the opposite were true. Now look at the definition of “belief”:

n. 1. something believed; an opinion or conviction.
2. confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediately susceptible to vigorous proof.
3. confidence, faith, or trust.
4. a religious tenet or tenets

Notice the difference between these two words. Facts have the quality of being real and actual, where beliefs do not require any reality or actuality. You can believe something with all your heart but it won’t make it a fact if it’s not actually true. Beliefs can be wrong (and often are), but facts, by their very definition, cannot be wrong, because they are what is true, what actually happened. When it comes to education, you cannot treat belief as equal to fact. You cannot give an opinion or conviction equal weight with something real, actual or true. It may, in the long run, turn out that what someone believes is true, but that doesn’t justify teaching it as an actual fact, reliable as anything based on scientific evidence or experiment. Just because you believe something to be true, it doesn’t mean everyone else should be taught your belief as it were an actual fact. Especially, and I cannot emphasize this enough, if your belief is a religious one.

There are many Americans (far, far too many, IMHO) who believe that The Bible is factually true, that it is literally the Word of God, and that it should be taught in public schools. I have yet to hear any of these proponents specify which version of the Bible should be considered “The” Bible, and this, in itself, is problematic for me. Not so much that people can’t decide which version of the Bible they want taught in public schools, but that there are so many versions of the “literal Word of God” in the first place from which a choice must be made. They’re all different in some way or else there wouldn’t be different versions. But how can any one of them claim to be the literal Word of God if they differ? And just because King James I commissioned a new version of The Bible which he hoped would replace the one then currently in widespread use, why should that version be given any more credibility than any other version? It’s not because the King said so, as James did not make any order or proclamation that this version of The Bible be used in place of any other. It might interest you to know that the Geneva Bible, the one eventually supplanted by the KJV, was even more popular among the Pilgrims than the KJV. So when enthusiastic Conservative Christians claim America was founded on the principles of “The Bible,” it’s important to know which version they mean. But I digress.

In Missouri, Republicans want belief to be given equal authority to fact. A second-term State Representative, Rick Brattin (R-Harrisonville), has introduced a bill that would allow parents to pull their children out of classes where evolution is being taught. “What my bill would do is it would allow parents to opt out of natural selection teaching,” Brattin explained. “It would not prohibit the child from going through biology from learning about cell structure, DNA and the building blocks of life.” Mr. Brattin has been trying for several years to get Intelligent Design taught in high school science classes as an alternative theory to Darwin’s theories about Natural Selection. This despite the fact (there’s that important word) that courts have consistently ruled against public schools teaching Intelligent Design as Science because it’s nothing more than Creationism dressed up in a sexier framework. [A quick word about Natural Selection. Its advocacy of "survival of the fittest" does not, as its opponents often say, mean "survival of the strongest." Rather it means survival of the species most suited - i.e., "fit" - for a given environment. If the edible leaves on the plants are higher up on the tree, the species that can reach them are more likely to survive and pass on their physical characteristics to their offspring than the ones who can't reach them as easily. It has nothing to do with strength, but with suitability to one's environment. The species that thrive, survive, and the ones that don't, won't.]

No matter how they try to disguise it, Intelligent Design is nothing more than Creationism, and Creationism is nothing but Religion, and Christianity in particular. And it’s a violation of the First Amendment to require publicly financed schools to adhere to any particular religion, even Christianity. It doesn’t matter that it’s the most popular religion in the United States, it’s still a religion and it still violates the Separation of Church and State to endorse any one over the other. You might believe it’s true, but you can’t prove it through any scientific methods, and that’s the primary reason it has no place in a Science class room. Evolution, on the other hand, has testable hypotheses and is constantly being confirmed by new findings and evidence. If you have to infect the minds of the young with something as ridiculous as Intelligent Design (its main argument seems to be that you can’t prove it’s wrong, and the fact that you can’t explain every aspect of Evolution somehow proves that Intelligent Design is right, as if the only two choices were a 100% understanding of everything that ever happened or blind acceptance that a God designed and made everything and that this is the reason you can’t understand it), then a Philosophy or Religion or Study Hall class might be the more appropriate place. But you do not teach Creationism as Science when it is anything but. People should be free to believe it if they wish (though they’re wasting their time and lives doing so), but it shouldn’t be public policy that every child in school be taught that this particular Religion is as true as Science.

But if you think that the Science class is the only place where Republican Christians want their religious beliefs to decide all aspects of our lives, think again. Not only does Mary Helen Sears of Houghton Count, Michigan, claim that Darwin’s evolutionary theory “gave rise to Hitler’s Third Reich, Mussolini’s Italy and Stalin’s Russia,” but she also believes homosexuals prey on children, that “Satan uses homosexuality to attack the living space of the Holy Spirit” and that Republicans “as a party should be purging this perversion and send them to a party with a much bigger tent.” Why does it matter what she thinks? Because she’s a candidate for a Michigan seat in the Republican National Committee. And she would join a man the party chairman asked to resign “for the good of the party” for his anti-gay comments. He would not do so, and due to specific party rules about representation on the national committee, a seat for only a woman was opened when a woman on the committee stepped down to concentrate on her Senate campaign. The funny thing about this anti-homosexual strain in today’s GOP is that there is no universal agreement on whether not the Bible bans homosexuality. Listening to the anti-gay crowd, you’d think the Bible was filled cover-to-cover with anti-homosexual pronouncements, but in truth there are only seven passages in the Bible that mention the subject, and not one of them is associated with Jesus! (Nor Satan, for that matter.) Why these folks think the Bible is more concerned with male homosexuality (lesbianism is not actually condemned outright anywhere in the Bible) than it is with income inequality or helping the poor is beyond me, and it is dangerous for America if they are given any kind of political power. Having your opinion influenced by Biblical teachings (whatever they may be) is one thing, but having those beliefs carved in stone by them is something altogether different. And it’s dangerous for Americans to put people who think this way in positions of political power in the secular United States of America.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss anything you want.

The Watering Hole, February 1, 2014: Christie is Not Yet Buttered

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is toast, he’s just not buttered yet. In a letter to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey requesting they reconsider their decision not to pay the legal fees of former Christie Administration official David Wildstein, who resigned after reports surfaced that he was the one who ordered lanes going to the George Washington Bridge be closed the first week of school last year, it was asserted that “evidence exists” which contradicts the governor’s claim that he knew nothing about the lane closings until he read about them in the paper after they had re-opened. The nature of that evidence is not revealed in the letter, which reads in part:

It has also come to light that a person within the Christie Administration communicated the Christie Administration’s order that certain lanes on the George Washington Bridge were to be closed, and evidence exists as well tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures, during the period when the lanes were closed, contrary to what the Governor stated publicly in a two-hour press conference he gave immediately before Mr. Wildstein was scheduled to appear before the Transportation Committee. Mr. Wildstein contests the accuracy of various statements the Governor made about him and he can prove the inaccuracy of some.

Precisely which statements of Governor Christie’s can be proven false is not made clear.

Should Mr. Wildstein’s allegations prove true, that he has evidence which contradicts the Governor’s pleas of ignorance, there is no way that Christie can survive as Governor of New Jersey, let alone run for President in 2016. He has publicly stated many times that his administration was a reflection of him, and of the way he wanted to run New Jersey. And with information being reported that many of his top administration officials were involved in this bridge lane closing, people he consulted with on a daily basis, it’s becoming harder and harder to believe that the Governor himself knew nothing about the bridge lane closings while they were happening. Which was the central theme of his now-famous two-hour presser. And it would be bad enough if this whole using-federal-property-for-political-retaliation (which is why the bridge lane closings are now the subject of a federal investigation) was the only scandal facing the administration. It’s not.

Enter Hoboken, New Jersey, Mayor Dawn Zimmer. A couple of weeks back Mayor Zimmer made the public allegation that New Jersey Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno told her that if she would move on approving a land development deal tied to another Christie Administration official, her town might receive federal Hurricane Sandy relief money faster. “In an interview with MSNBC early today, Zimmer said Guadagno — the state’s first-ever lieutenant governor — pulled her aside during an event in Hoboken in May and made the connection explicit.”

“She pulls me aside and says that I need to move forward with the Rockefeller project. It’s very important to the governor,” Zimmer said, referencing a journal she kept during the interaction. “The word is that you are against it and you need to move forward or we are not going to be able to help you. I know it’s not right. These things should not be connected. But they are,” she says. “‘If you tell anyone I said it, I will deny it,’” Zimmer said, quoting from her personal journal.

Mayor Zimmer told several people about the conversation after it happened, and some of them have publicly confirmed that they were told this. But at the request of the U.S. Attorney investigating this alleged bribery of federal funds, none of those people are talking to the media anymore. Lt. Gov. Guadagno has denied the allegations as “illogical.” On a personal note, I did not find her denials credible, and the contention that Mayor Zimmer’s claims were “illogical” seems rooted in the idea that it would have been wrong of the Lt. Gov. to make the kinds of threats she did, so that’s all the proof one needs that she didn’t do it. That doesn’t work for me. If Mayor Zimmer is telling the truth (and I personally believe she is), then a denial is exactly what we would expect to hear. In fact, I would have been shocked if Lt. Gov. Guadagno confirmed the story, especially since she would go to jail if she did. The primary problem for the Christie Administration is that the evidence seems to support the allegations made against it, and its own claims of innocence do not strike people who know them as true. Even worse, as more stories come out, it appears that incidents surrounding the GWB lane closings and the Sandy Relief money (which also include charges that the Christie administration gave a contract to a firm who had a higher bid but who wanted to use the governor in the commercials, right before his re-election bid) are not isolated, and that more is yet to come.

And that’s why New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is toast. He’s just not buttered yet. But he will be. It’s just a matter of time.

This is our daily open thread. feel free to discuss Chris Christie, his administration, his denials of the charges against him, or anything else that strikes your fancy.

The Watering Hole, Monday, January 27, 2014: The Lies of Mike Huckabee

As you’ve no doubt heard by now, last Thursday former Governor Mike Huckabee made some pretty ignorant comments regarding Democrats, women, contraception, and reality. Among the many lies he told was this:

And if the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control, because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it.”

Okay, where to begin? There are so many things wrong with just this one sentence. First of all, and this is an important point to make because it will come up again later Continue reading

The Watering Hole: Monday, January 20, 2014, Martin Luther King, Jr., Day

Today is a day dedicated to the memory of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of this nation’s most important civil rights activists. Although the first federal holiday was observed in 1986, it hasn’t been a holiday in every state since then. It wasn’t until 2000 that South Carolina became the last state to sign a bill recognizing Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a paid holiday. [And not everybody has a paid day off. Jane and I have to work, but since we're lucky enough to have jobs, we won't complain.]

But in addition to being a federal holiday to honor a great man, it is also a Day of Service.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’”

Each year, Americans across the country answer that question by coming together on the King Holiday to serve their neighbors and communities.

The link can also lead you to projects in your local communities to help you find ways to serve.

mlk day

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to talk about Martin Luther King, Jr., your plans for serving in your local community, or anything else you wish to discuss. I wish I could say I was serving my community, but I’ll be working and checking in on my mother twice.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, January 11, 2014: Things Really Did Go Well In Fort Lee Toll Plaza, Didn’t It?

Let me start by saying nobody’s perfect. I’m not perfect. (As, I write this, I’ve made two typos in the first two sentences.) You’re not perfect. Conservatives aren’t perfect. (They’re not reading this.) So I’m not going to examine New Jersey politics through the prism of perfection. But I do believe I’m a basically good person. And I’m sure you’re a good person. Conservatives aren’t reading this. But what is it about the Great State of New Jersey (my neighbor to the southwest-ish), birthplace of such brilliant talent as The Boss (Bruce Springsteen to you non-rock fans), and Jon Stewart, the host of the coincidentally-named The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and Bill Maher, the man Conservatives hate to the point of orgasm, that produces some of the most vicious, incompetent, and, yes, corrupt state government in the entire United States?

A poll taken thirteen months ago, after the mayor of Trenton, Tony Mack, was indicted on federal corruption charges, asked readers of nj.com, “Is New Jersey corrupt?” Their results:

No. A few lunatic leaders will never spoil our state. 7.11%
Yes. The evidence speaks for itself. 80.96%
Maybe. How much would you give me to say “no”? 11.93%

As that same news site observed, “Richard Nixon slept here; now it will be history.

So the whole Fort Lee Toll Plaza scandal (I refuse to call it that “b”-word ending in that “-ate”-word. For crying out loud, people, try to be original, for once! What happened to “Tammany Hall” or “Teapot Dome”? Why must every scandal end in that “g”-word?) is now known to be a conspiracy. And since it involved a federal bridge (it’s an interstate bridge, which makes it fall under Federal, New York, and New Jersey law), the FBI will be investigating. We know that Patrick Foye, the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (which oversees the operations of the bridge) started asking questions about why the bridge was closed, and that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie called New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to ask that Mr. Foye back off his investigation. The initial public speculation about why this happened centered on the mayor of Fort Lee, who thought he was being punished for not endorsing the Governor in his re-election bid. But that didn’t sit well with some people, among them Rachel Maddow. According to her reporting, there was another, more plausible target: The Leader of the Democratic-controlled State Senate, Sen. Loretta Weinberg.

Fort Lee is in her district. And traffic problems are a well-known retaliation tactic in New Jersey politics. It’s a state with a very heavy car population, and elected officials’ careers hang on how well they resolve their constituents’ traffic problems. We also have reports that Gov Christie was highly pissed about her blocking one of his nominees to a judgeship. Shortly after that, Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly e-mailed Christie-appointee David Wildstein to suggest “traffic problems in Fort Lee,” to which Mr. Wildstein replied, “Got it.”

“Got it”? Got what? Exactly what was it that he “got”? That some kind of retribution was in order? The response clearly implies that two people made a plan to do something that quite likely violated several state and federal laws, and that this later involved others who communicated ways to carry out the plan. This is literally a conspiracy, so, naturally, everybody’s theory about what happened will accurately be called a “conspiracy theory.” But there are some questions I’d like to have answered.

How many other times did members of the Christie Administration deliberately manipulate things to retaliate against a political opponent, where the public safety was endangered? How much did Governor Andrew Cuomo know about why what happened in Fort Lee happened, and did he ask Patrick Foye to back off in his investigation? And will anybody go to jail for what happened?

This is our open thread. Feel free to discuss anything you want.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, January 4, 2014: Yes, Virginia, There Have Been More Mass Shootings

Yahoo! News has obtained an FBI study scheduled for release next week that shows what many of us have suspected has been happening: mass shootings are on the rise. The Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) Center at Texas State University, for purposes of this report, define mass shootings “as incidents where a gunman opens fire in a public place with the motivation of killing many, at least one of whom is ‘unrelated’ to the gunman.” They did not include bank robberies, drug deals, gang violence, or any crimes where shooting is a byproduct. The information will be used to shape police response to reports of an active shooting. Of course, if guns weren’t so easily available, there would be fewer mass shootings to which to respond.

Since 2008, mass shootings have tripled from about five per year to about sixteen. If that doesn’t scare you, it should. It means that about every three weeks, someone, somewhere in the US, for some reason, is going to take a gun and open fire on a bunch of strangers who did nothing but be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Have you ever known a mass shooter? Probably not, which means the next one is also likely to be a stranger to you, and you to him. So if we don’t do something about the prevalence of mass shootings, you could be one of the next victims.

“According to the new study, patrol officers, who are usually the first on the scene, had to use force to stop the gunman in nearly a third of the attacks.” This may seem wrong, at first blush, if you are familiar with the Mother Jones report that showed that no “good guy with a gun stopped the bad guy with a gun.” But there is no inconsistency. The standards for which shootings got chosen for the two studies were different.

There is no reason we have to put up with this. Every time one of these events occurs, the NRA is quick to say that it would be disrespectful to the victims to “politicize” their deaths to discuss the subject, and so we don’t. This is hypocrisy, of course, because politicizing the shootings is exactly what they’re doing when they say we shouldn’t discuss it. And since the next shooting is usually less than a month away, and the calls for silencing the debate once again being spewed from pro-gun media, the discussion ends up never taking place. And more people die needlessly. The Second Amendment needs to be repealed or completely re-written to be clearer. Nobody would deny that you have no constitutional right to own a thermonuclear weapon, so we must all agree that the 2nd Amendment, like all other constitutional rights, has limits. The discussion on what those limits are can wait no longer. Don’t you agree? Or do you enjoy watching small children die?

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss mass shootings, brain dead NRA officials, or anything else you wish to discuss.

The Watering Hole, Monday, December 30, 2013: Shark Tweets

Western Australia is the world’s deadliest region for shark attacks. In an effort to make it safer for surfers and swimmers to go into the water, officials have set up a Twitter feed (Surf Life Saving WA) that notifies followers when a tagged shark enters the area. Scientists outfitted some 400 sharks with transmitters that send warnings to the Twitter feed. Here is an example of the kind of tweet the system might send. A tweet like this about a tiger shark had been sent every four or five minutes for about an hour and forty-five minutes before this one.

I think this is a brilliant idea and a fantastic way to do something useful with social media. Now you can take your cell phone to the beach and see if it’s safe to go in the water. Of course, most of us don’t live in Western Australia, so unless scientists working near our shores can tag us a bunch of sharks this innovative way to use Twitter won’t directly benefit us in North America.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to talk about sharks, Western Australia, or anything else you wish to discuss.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, December 28, 2013: It Was Never About Free Speech

As you may know by now, A&E Networks (a joint venture between the Hearst Corporation and Disney–ABC Television Group) has lifted its suspension of Duck Dynasty family patriarch Phil Robertson over comments he made in an interview with GQ magazine. The suspension was originally announced as “indefinite,” but it appears that by “indefinite” they meant “nine days.” And since this is in the middle of duck hunting season, and since by contractual agreement there would be no filming of the series during this-two-month period, the effect of the suspension was nil, nada, zip, nothing.

13duck-articleLarge-v2

Ten episodes already filmed will begin airing in mid-January with all the family members included, and when filming resumes all family members will again participate. So, despite the dustup and media frenzy over this, in the end nothing will change as far as the show itself is concerned. As Duck Dynasty is one of the most popular shows on cable television (they supposedly get over 13 million viewers each week, but those are industry estimates based on their own finagling of numbers), A&E just couldn’t bring itself to accept a possible drop in revenue should the family pull out of production altogether, which they threatened to do. Many famous conservatives flocked to their defense (couldn’t resist) and in doing so, they seemed to show a complete misunderstanding of what free speech is about.

Phil Robertson’s right to free speech was Continue reading

The Watering Hole, Saturday, December 21, 2012: What’s Your Comfort Level?

After an interview in GQ magazine with Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson was published, in which Mr. Robertson had some harsh and completely inaccurate things to say about both gay people and what life was like for black people in the pre-civil rights days, a lot of conservative mouthpieces took to their various publications to support him. Stepping up to present his own hyperbolic testimonial was Red State founder and former CNN contributor, Erick Erickson.

Really, Erick? This idea gives you comfort? Continue reading

The Watering Hole, Saturday, December 14, 2013: A Year Wasted

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past 53 weeks, you know that today marks the one-year anniversary since one of the most horrific mass shootings in our nation’s gun-crazed history. When twenty six- and seven-year-olds are shot to death by a lunatic with a gun, you would think a nation would jump up and down and demand that steps be taken to ensure this never happens again. Maybe some other nation, but not his one. Oh, it’s not as though nothing has changed. More than 200,000 people have joined anti-gun violence groups, but 194 children under the age of 12 have been killed by gun violence. There were 109 laws passed by state legislatures regarding guns, but 70 of those laws expanded gun rights while only 39 restricted them. (I would have preferred that it was 0-109, respectively.) And on the federal level, only one gun violence law passed, and that was a reauthorization of the Undetectable Firearms Act. (Why do laws like this have to be reauthorized? Do we envision a point where we’ll want undetectable firearms to be legal? Why isn’t this law permanent?) Of course, in all the debates about gun safety, the one thing that had almost universal support failed to become law – mandatory background checks on ALL gun sales. This was inexcusable. Again, why would anybody think it a good idea to let some gun sales go without a background check being performed, to make sure the person buying the gun is legally allowed to own one? I don’t care if you’re passing granddad’s old Winchester down to your 16-year-old son, you need to run that background check. And a background check needs to be a real background check, not a self-check where you just tell the dealer you’ve done nothing that would bar you from owning a gun. I mean, seriously, filling out a questionnaire whose answers will never be verified actually counts as a “background check” in some states? This is why I oppose the Conservative idea of “states’ rights.” It basically takes the “United” out of “The United States of America.” Obviously there are some things that should be determined by local government, but “some things” doesn’t mean “everything.”

We have a serious problem with guns in this country, and if it isn’t addressed soon more innocent children will die. Is your so-called non-militia-related gun ownership “right” really more important than the life of a child? Do we really believe the problems of the world can be solved with a gun? Why do we even listen to people who say the solution to the scourge of gun violence is more guns? Is the solution to the problem of nuclear proliferation more nuclear weapons? Is the solution to the problem of HIV spreading to have more unprotected sex? Is the solution to the problem of rampant stupidity in our country more stupidity?

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to talk about guns, gun violence, small penises or anything else you wish to discuss.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, December 7, 2013: Piglet In A Blanket

It’s Saturday. Sure, it’s an historic anniversary in American warfare history. And I’m sure I could go on and on about all the various conspiracy theories surrounding the attack seventy-two years ago, but why bother? We’ve heard all the stories. So, instead, why not just enjoy this cute picture (grabbed off a Twitter account that enjoys posting pictures like this) of a cute…little…piglet…in…a…blanket!

piglet in a blanket

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss cute animal pictures, horrific war scenes, or anything else you wish to discuss.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, November 30, 2013: Small Business Saturday®

Today, Saturday, November 30, is what is now known as Small Business Saturday®. From the website Snagajob, “The annual event was established by American Express in 2010 in an effort to recognize the small businesses that create jobs, boost the economy and preserve neighborhoods around the country.” Since then it has grown in popularity gaining Congressional and even Presidential recognition. More than a marketing campaign to get people to go out and charge things on their American Express cards, Small Business Saturday® has become a way of making a statement against the big box stores, whose names shall remain nameless, but whose worker mistreatment, trade deficit contribution, and shamelessly profit-driven operation, have helped contribute to the loss of the small business, owned by your neighbors.

Government assistance to employees of the big box stores, the ones in which you were implored to go spend your money on “Black Friday”, is much higher than the national average. You are, whether you want to or not, subsidizing the workforce of some highly profitable corporations. So instead of helping the already profitable corporations, why not help out the small businesses in your local communities? They’re your neighbors and, sometimes, your friends, too. And if you’re like me and don’t have a car that gets the greatest of gas mileage, you can save money, too. My local book store, The Book Cove, is within walking distance (if I was that ambitious), but only about a mile into the village. By comparison, the nearest Barnes & Noble, would cost me at least two gallons of gas to get there and back. Around here, gas goes for more than $3.50 per gallon, so if I have to pay even $6.50 more for a book from my local book store, it’s worth it. And it helps keep them in business. Whenever I want to order a book I don’t go online to do it, I go to The Book Cove. They’ve never failed to get me a book I wanted. I’m sure your local book store can be just as helpful.

Small Business Saturday® is a great idea, and one I encourage everyone to support. Your friends and neighbors will be glad you did.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss Small Business Saturday®, the big box stores who want to ruin this nation, or anything else you wish to discuss.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, November 23, 2013: Does Freedom of Religion Equal Freedom to Discriminate?

An interesting vote is going to take place next year in Oregon. A group called “Oregon United For Marriage” is close to collecting enough signatures for a ballot initiative making marriage equality the law of the land there. This past week they announced they were about 1,200 signatures short of the number needed, and Nike announced they were donating $280,000 to help them collect more, in case any of the signatures are ruled invalid. They aren’t the only ones collecting signatures. The group Oregon Family Council, conservative Christians (an oxymoron, as there is nothing conservative about Christ’s teachings), filed a ballot initiative to “guarantee the right of people and businesses to refrain from participating in or supporting ceremonies for same-sex civil unions, domestic partnerships or marriages, if those violate their religious beliefs.” Actually, the proposal specifically says “deeply held religious beliefs.” And that leads to an important question. Does the freedom of religion equal the freedom to discriminate?

The First Amendment (the one that comes before the one about guns) begins, Continue reading

The Watering Hole, Saturday, November 16, 2013: Taylor Swift and The Gettysburg Address

From the website “Learn the Address“:

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, documentarian Ken Burns, along with numerous partners, has launched a national effort to encourage everyone in America to video record themselves reading or reciting the speech.The collection of recordings housed on this site will continue to grow as more and more people are inspired by the power of history and take the challenge to LEARN THE ADDRESS.

The site features this mashup of all five living presidents and a slew of politicians and celebrities, including Taylor Swift, who ABC considered the most important of the celebs to be featured in the video. (Each recorded his or her own.)

At the site you are invited and encouraged to share your own Gettysburg Address reading. You can upload a YouTube video of yourself, then give them a link to it. If accepted, they’ll post it at their site along with the presidents, politicians, and celebrities already featured there. Here is the complete Gettysburg Address, which takes about two minutes to read Continue reading

The Watering Hole, Saturday, November 9, 2013: Nothing To Worry About

Sometime over this weekend, or early next week, a one-ton satellite will come crashing to Earth. Where it will land is unknown right now. It could be in the middle of Central Park in New York City, or maybe it will come down onto an elementary school in Los Angeles, or maybe it will come down on your house. Despite how frightening any of those scenarios may sound, I wouldn’t worry about it if I were you. It’s only a ton. And it’s not like the whole thing is going to come down on any one spot. It’s going to come down on 35 spots, give or take ten. Still, a whole ton and there’s nothing to worry about? Yes.

You see, in the grand scheme of things, a ton of something crashing down towards Earth really is nothing. According to Cornell University’s Ask an Astronomer webpage, a total of anywhere from 37,000 to 78,000 tons of materials fall from thje sky every year in the form of meteorites. That’s roughly 100-200 tons per day! One more ton on top of that would just be adding about 0.5-1% more. Like I said, nothing to worry about.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss satellites, meteorites, the Tea Party, or anything else that might come crashing down to Earth. This is your open thread.