The Watering Hole, Monday, April 18, 2016: Why Democracy Doesn’t Really Work For Americans

America is supposed to be a Democracy. It’s supposed to be a country with a government of the People (according to the dictionary), and by the People and for the People (according to President Lincoln.) Let’s face some cold hard Truths. It isn’t. Any of those things. The few rich and powerful in this country (and Donald J. Trump is one of those rich and powerful people) really do control things beyond what the People want to have happen. I’m not so naive as to think that isn’t a cold hard Truth. I know. It sounds conspiratorial. Bitter. Even a tiny bit ignorant. Oh, sure. They hold these annual or semi-annual events they call “elections,” but it’s not like we have the greatest of choices for which to cast our ballots. We get the choices the folks running the show want us to have. They decide who the parties will put up, and we get to pick from the choices we’re given. But are we really fit to be doing that?

Bill Moyers sat down with Rick Shenkman, the author of Political Animals: How Our Stone-Age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics (and Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of History News Network), to talk about how and why someone as clearly unqualified to be President of these United States (as opposed to the United States of Mexico, I suppose) could be so apparently close to achieving that office as is Trump. It all comes down to this: as a species, humans have not sufficiently evolved to the point where we are able to make rational decisions based on facts no matter how unpleasant, and not on gut instincts that tell us to make quick decisions about how to respond to the danger we perceive. Humans are still easily manipulated into feeling we’re in danger, and when people are afraid, they do not take the time to make well-thought out decisions on how to proceed. Instead, they go with what experience (even experience without proper training) tells them to do. When they feel safe enough to stop and assess their situation, they may find the danger was not as great as they were led to believe. They may also come to realize that had they known then, when they were being told of the danger, what they know now, they might not have done the same things they did when they thought they were in greater danger (like knock that old lady down who was taking too long at the pharmacy counter.)

The cold hard truth is that though we humans have evolved over the hundreds of thousands of years, we still have brains hard wired to look for dangers in our environment that are no longer there. In many places, we have built civilized societies, free of the dangerous roaming predators that once hunted our ancestors. You may look around and see buildings made of wood, steel and concrete, but your brain is still going to look for the hidden tiger waiting to pounce from…well, from somewhere. The amygdala in our brains looks for things that have caused us harm before and sends warning signals to our prefrontal cortexes. It’s the prefrontal cortex that does the actual analysis on what you’re encountering and decides what, if any, action you should take. Is that a snake? No, it’s a garden hose, so I don’t have to do anything to protect myself. Later, when you walk past it again, your amygdala is still going to send that danger signal to your prefrontal cortex, but this time your prefrontal cortex will tell you you’ve already determined it’s nothing dangerous and will ignore the danger warnings. The key to not panicking every time we think we’re confronted by danger is in how much thought we put into analyzing what w’re being told is dangerous. The less time your brain spends thinking about something, the more likely it will produce a conservative outcome. And Conservative politicians (mostly Republican, but some Democrats, too) have learned this, and so they constantly try to tell you that you’re in great danger, and that you should do what they tell you if you want to survive. (Yes, some even say your survival is at stake.) And what they want you to do is, of course, one of the worst things you could do if you really want to look out for what’s in your own best interests. And they tell you this because they know if you’re too scared, you won’t think and realize you’re being lied to. And you’ll do something thoughtless, like voting for a Conservative Republican.

Thanks to the destruction of our public education system by conservative ideologues, Americans lack the critical thinking skills needed to address the growing dangers we actually face – like the fact that our planet’s temperature has been steadily rising (do not believe anyone who tells you differently) and the ripple effects of that temperature rise will be dramatic changes to our overall climate. Landlocked ice will start to melt in larger amounts, causing the sea levels to rise. (The ice already in the water will not do anything to make the water level go up when it melts, just the added water from the snow and ice that melts off land surfaces into the oceans.) Nearly two out of every five Americans lives in counties directly on a shoreline. But rising sea levels won’t affect just Americans, a study found, “As of 1998, over half the population of the planet — about 3.2 billion people — lives and works in a coastal strip just 200 kilometers wide (120 miles), while a full two-thirds, 4 billion, are found within 400 kilometers of a coast.” It’s an extremely serious problem, but judging from what Americans seem to find important, it’s not one we’re prepared to address anytime soon. On account of how ill-educated and fearful we are. And because we don’t seem to want to be put people in charge who are capable of doing what needs to be done to fix it. Not when there are so many votes to be had by making people afraid of it.

Daily open thread. Don’t be afraid of it.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, June 6th, 2015: Penny For Your Thoughts?

Just a few of my thoughts (they’re free of charge, which is about what they’re worth), then a good read from Bill Moyers.

On Caitlyn Jenner: If she’s happy and can stand the heat, good for her. It’s just a shame that most other transgender persons probably do not have the kind of money needed for such an extensive makeover.

On the Duggars: I think there’s a lot more there there, and I really hope that this sick, twisted version of a “Christian family” gets investigated thoroughly. I did not watch, or see a whole transcript of, the family’s interviews on Fox, but I did catch some snippets here and there. I’ve heard that the “mother” was terribly creepy, and some argue that it was a good thing that Megyn Kelly sort of sat back and let the Duggars talk without too many challeges, as it exposed to all just how sickly disturbed and disturbing these perverted “people” are. So, does anyone think that fans of their show will finally start to feel uncomfortable, at the least, about holding the Duggars up as a shining example of the American Christian family?

On the 2016 election in general: I don’t know if I can stand the next year-and-a-half of the media forcing the conversation in the wrong direction and, in many respects, helping to choose the nominees simply by their self-indulgent coverage. Not to mention that the idea of another 26 or so Republican debates to be covered makes me want to crawl back into bed, pull the covers over my head, and sleep ’til 2017.

On the 2016 Democratic nominee: The likely inevitability of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic candidate for the 2016 Presidential election does NOT sit well with me. This country needs more – and better – than a continuation of the status quo, which, in my opinion, is what Hillary represents.

Which leads me to Bill Moyers, and his essay on Bernie Sanders titled “Turn Left on Main Street.” Mr. Moyers voices many of the same opinions that we all hold dear. A couple of excerpts:

“The progressive agenda isn’t “left wing.” (Can anyone using the term even define what “left wing” means anymore?) The progressive agenda is America’s story — from ending slavery to ending segregation to establishing a woman’s right to vote to Social Security, the right to organize, and the fight for fair pay and against income inequality. Strip those from our history and you might as well contract America out to the US Chamber of Commerce the National Association of Manufacturers, and Karl Rove, Inc.

 

At their core, the New Deal, Fair Deal, and Great Society programs were aimed at assuring every child of a decent education, every worker a decent wage, and every senior a decent retirement; if that’s extreme, so are the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the Constitution.”

That’s exactly right, Mr. Moyers. So why should we Americans settle for anything less?

This is our daily Open Thread–what’s on your mind today?

The Watering Hole, Monday, October 13th, 2014: More Money than God

At billmoyers.com, I spotted an article by Sam Pizzigati, regarding the recent publication of the Forbes 2014 Billionaires list. An excerpt:

“…the richest of these 400 hold far more than that average. Take Larry Ellison, the third-ranking deep pocket on this year’s Forbes list. Ellison just stepped down as the CEO of the Oracle business software colossus. His net worth: $50 billion.

What does Ellison do with all those billions? He collects homes and estates, for starters, with 15 or so scattered all around the world. Ellison likes yachts, too. He currently has two extremely big ones, each over half as long as a football field.

Ellison also likes to play basketball, even on his yachts. If a ball bounces over the railing, no problem. Ellison has a powerboat following his yacht, the Wall Street Journal noted this past spring, “to retrieve balls that go overboard.”

Hiring that ball-retriever qualifies Ellison as a “job creator,” right? Maybe not. Ellison has regularly destroyed jobs on his way to grand fortune. He has become, over the years, a master of the merge-and-purge two-step: First you snatch your rival’s customers, then you fire its workers. In 2005, for instance, Ellison shelled out $10.6 billion to buy out PeopleSoft, an 11,000-employee competitor. He then proceeded to put the ax to 5,000 jobs.

Here’s the Forbes 2014 list. Note that the Koch Brothers are tied for 6th place – aww, they didn’t make #1? They must be spending too much money on Republican/Teabagger political candidates. And, of course, several members of the Walton family took 8th through 11th place. I have not perused much of the list, but I see that one of the other sugar daddies of the right, Sheldon Adelson is at #15, while evil left-winger George Soros is at #24. (In between is Wayne’s former ‘boss’ at Xerox, Carl Icahn, at #22.)

One of the “highlights” listed towards the bottom of one of the Forbes articles is this factoid that gave me pause:

“The oldest billionaire is David Rockefeller Sr. (# 190), age 99, with a net worth of $3 billion.”

Gardens at Rockefeller Estate - Hudson River in the background.  (photo by Jeff Goodell)

Gardens at Rockefeller Estate – Hudson River in the background. (photo by Jeff Goodell)

Now, we grew up in an area where the Rockefeller estate is about half-an-hour away, near the legendary “Sleepy Hollow” area. I have cousins on my father’s side who lived near the estate, and when we used to visit them when I was young, the drive took us along, and through, parts of the estate (one could tell by the tall fencing that seemed to hold the estate’s huge old trees back from the road, often on both sides.) So we always considered the Rockefeller family as sort of ‘neighbors.’ Despite his obvious personal flaws, i.e., not making Happy Rockefeller happy, at least Nelson D. Rockefeller was a fairly moderate Republican in the days when there really were moderate Republicans, several of whom could be respected regardless of one’s political affiliation. Of course, these days, Republicans like Nelson Rockefeller would be considered RINOs.

Another excerpt from Pizzigati’s article:

“This year, for the first time ever, Forbes has assigned a “self-made score” to every one of America’s richest 400. More than two-thirds of this year’s 400, Forbes claims, rate as “self-made,” Ellison among them.
[emphasis mine]Forbes doesn’t bother asking how those rich went about self-making their fortunes. We should. Our top 400, after all, haven’t just made monstrously large fortunes. They’ve made a monstrously large mess. To unmake it, we need to unmake them.”.

Amen to THAT, folks.

Oh, yeah, one more thing about the Forbes list: if you’re worth a mere billion dollars, you’re still not rich enough to make the list, as the minimum to qualify this year was $1.55 billion.

This is our daily open thread – feel free to discuss whatever you want.

The Watering Hole, Monday, May 19th, 2014: Deniers vs Debunkers

In a recent thread on ThinkProgress, State Representative Mark McCollough of Oklahoma, one of eleven members of the Oklahoma House Administrative Rules and Government Oversight Committee, used the typical climate-change denialist’s talking points to support his vote against new standards for Oklahoma’s science education. From TP [bold emphasis mine]:

On Monday, the Oklahoma House Administrative Rules and Government Oversight Committee voted 10-1 to reject the Oklahoma Academic Skills for Science, a set of academic standards that had been developed by a committee of teachers, community members, as well as business and industry representatives over the last year and a half.

“One of the things brought up in the House Committee meeting was concern over teaching climate and weather subjects in early grades.

Oklahoma Rep. Mark McCullough expressed his concern over the sections in the standards that deal with climate science, sections he said make references to “human impacts on the climate” in third, fourth, and fifth grades. He also said he thought references to human activity related to the environment focused on negative aspects of human involvement, such as the over-spraying of pesticides, and said “positive” examples of humans intervening in the environment to produce a change, such as flood control, weren’t as common, a focus that could end up leading to an “agenda-driven curriculum” that teaches students that “people are the problem.”

“There’s been a lot of criticisms, in some sectors, as to maybe some of the hyperbole — what some consider hyperbole relative to climate change. I know it’s a very very difficult, very controversial subject,” he said, going on to ask, “do you believe that those sections specifically relating to weather and climate particularly at the earlier ages…could potentially be utilized to implicate into some pretty young impressionable minds, a fairly-one sided view as to that controversial subject, a subject that’s very much in dispute among even the academics?”

The Oklahoma Science Teachers Association (along with just about anyone with half a brain) disagree. The OSTA’s blog reports that, “[A]ccording to teachers who were present at the hearing”, one of the two “dominant concerns expressed by members” was:

“Weather and Climate being placed in early grade levels – It appeared to observers that committee members believe standards that reference climate at all might be utilized to direct students to being forced to subscribe to climate change theory. ([Blog Archivist]: Isn’t it ironic that a state so dependent on weather and climate might be lead by elected officials who are afraid that science teachers might broach the topic in 3rd or 4th grade?)”

Okay, climate-change deniers, enough is enough. Let’s start the debunking.

May 16th’s Bill Moyers show featured Canadian scientist and environmental activist David Suzuki discussing the topic of “The War on Climate Change Scientists.” It’s a fascinating – and frightening – interview, which can be seen (here. (The transcript of the interview is available via the link just below the video.) The Moyers & Company website then provided Eight Pseudoscientific Climate Claims Debunked by Real Scientists,” by Joshua Holland. Here’s just a couple of excerpts:

Under “No, the Earth Hasn’t Stopped Warming Since 1998 (or 1996 or 1997)”:

“But the idea that the climate stopped warming at some point goes back even further. In the 1990s, two climatologists, Roy Spencer and Richard Lindzen, published a series of papers hypothesizing that global warming had stopped. Spencer and Lindzen are among the few climate contrarians with real scientific credentials, and have been widely cited by climate skeptics; Spencer has testified at a number of Republican congressional hearings on climate science.

Spencer also dismisses the theory of evolution, and has written: “I view my job a little like a legislator, supported by the taxpayer, to protect the interests of the taxpayer and to minimize the role of government.”

“But according to John Abraham, a professor of thermal and fluid sciences at the University of St. Thomas School of Engineering, “It turns out that they made three serious errors in their data…It took years, and it took a lot of time from other scientists to find these errors in their calculations. In fact, they switched a positive sign for a negative sign in one of their equations.”

Under “Yes, There Is a Scientific Consensus”:

“There have been three studies, using different methodologies, that have shown that almost all working climate scientists — 97 percent — accept the consensus view.

“But what if those three percent who reportedly reject the consensus are like Galileo, who challenged the 16th century view that the sun revolved around the Earth? John Abraham and five of his colleagues published a study earlier this year which found that studies authored by climate contrarians “were often found to be unsubstantiated by the data,” resulting in “criticisms, corrections, and in some cases, resignation of editors.” They add: “the same fate has not befallen the prominent consensus studies.”

Under “Yes, It’s Been Warm Before”:

“Katharine Hayhoe, director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech, says…“Just because something happened before for one reason, doesn’t mean that when it happens again it’s for the same reason.”

““Our planet is running a fever,” says Hayhoe, “and I can think of six or seven reasons why it could be running hot. As a scientist, you don’t just jump to conclusions. You do the tests. You say, ‘OK, could it be a natural cycle this time? Could it be the sun? Could it be volcanoes? Could it be orbital cycles and ice ages?’ We run those tests and we see if it could be any of those things that caused the climate to change naturally in the past. And in this case, we’ve run those tests and the answer to all those questions is, ‘no.’ In fact, if our temperature were controlled by natural causes right now, we’d be getting cooler, not warmer.”

Let me finish with one of the most influential people in environmentalism’s history, the ‘mother’ of environmentalism, Rachel Carson. The Moyers & Company site has an article honoring “The Bravery of Rachel Carson”, which reminded me of Carson’s influence on my mindset. In high school (early ’70s), we were treated – if that is the right word – to a viewing of the documentary “Silent Spring”, an account of Rachel Carson’s research and writing of the book.

“The most alarming of all man’s assaults upon the environment is the contamination of air, earth, rivers, and sea with dangerous and even lethal materials. This pollution is for the most part irrecoverable; the chain of evil it initiates not only in the world that must support life but in living tissues is for the most part irreversible. In this now universal contamination of the environment, chemicals are the sinister and little-recognized partners of radiation in changing the very nature of the world — the very nature of its life. — Rachel Carson

I remember the tears in my eyes watching the documentary, tears of sympathy for the land, the animals, the environment being spoiled by pesticides. And here I am, 40+ years later, seeing a similar disaster-in-the-making, with Monsanto running/ruining crops, with GMOs with who-knows-what effects yet on humans, and with climate-change deniers trying to blind people to the fact that our planet is already suffering the consequences of man-made global climate change. And I still weep.

This is our daily open thread–what’s on YOUR mind today?

Sunday Roast: The ghost of teabaggery past

This video is from earlier this year, when Allen West made his stunningly idiotic remark, “I believe there’s about 78 to 81 members of the Democrat Party who are members of the Communist Party. It’s called the Congressional Progressive Caucus.”

Aside from the hair-raising bad grammar, having publicly made such a statement is rather incredible — and just goes to show how out of hand our public discourse has become.  The new normal?  West’s remarks were generally reported in the media as just another crazy remark made by a crazy guy — if they were reported at all, outside the liberal blogosphere.

While Allen West’s grotesque remarks reminded Bill Moyers of the horrible Joe McCarthy, when his ghost “slithered into the room,” this video made me think of the more recent, and equally contemptible, behavior of Darrell Issa and his completely bogus witch hunt against Attorney General Eric Holder.

Who is today’s Joseph N. Welch?  Is there anyone on Capital Hill with the courage and integrity to say words to the effect of…

You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?

I know we’ve been screaming it all along, but we’re just bloggers, you know.  The media doesn’t like to admit or acknowledge that bloggers now do their jobs, while they rake in the big bucks to say, “We’ll just have to leave it there.”

Bill Moyers ends his comments with this:

So beware, Congressman West, beware: In the flammable pool of toxic paranoia that passes these days as patriotism in America, a single careless match can light an inferno. You would serve your country well to withdraw your remarks and apologize for them. But if not, perhaps there are members of your own party, as possessed of conscience and as courageous as that handful of Republicans who took on Joseph McCarthy, who will now abandon fear and throw cold water on your incendiary remarks.

No, I don’t think there are any members of the Republican party who will stop the likes of Allen West, Steve King, Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, etc.  As terrible as those times were in the McCarthy era, I believe they are worse now.  The Republicans have shown time after time that they are perfectly happy with the birtherism, tentherism, and racism of its more vocal extremists.  They will not shut the extremists down, nor will they ever disavow them in any convincing manner.  John Boehner and Mitch McConnell can barely conceal their glee and their “wink and a nod” toward the teabagger crowd.

And today’s media?  The band played on…

This is our daily open thread — Speak up!

Sunday Roast: How do conservatives and liberals see the world?

Bill Moyers has a fascinating conversation with social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, in which they talk about the different ways liberals and conservatives see the world.

We’re right, and they’re wrong.  Right?

Bill and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt talk about the psychological underpinnings of our contentious culture, why we can’t trust our own opinions, and the demonizing of our adversaries.

“When it gets so that your opponents are not just people you disagree with, but… the mental state in which I am fighting for good, and you are fighting for evil, it’s very difficult to compromise,” Haidt tells Moyers. “Compromise becomes a dirty word.”

Personally, I think the cons have made “compromise” into a dirty word, but that might qualify as “demonizing.”

You can test your moral foundations here, and take a comprehensive criminal justice survey here.

Watch the whole program, it’s well worth an hour of your time.  In the last ten minutes, Bill delivers a Moyers-style royal smackdown to Newt Gingrich, on his vicious demonization of Saul Alinsky.

This is our daily open thread — Discuss!

In case you missed it..

On Bill Moyers Journal [PBS] of Friday Oct. 9, 2009, Bill Moyers discussed health-industry lobbying and its ties to political legislators, particularly Baucus, who are shaping the current health-care reform bills with guests Simon Johnson and Representative Marcy Kaptur (D-OH).

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