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, Monday, March 24th, 2014: Mixed Emotions

This past weekend’s reading brought an odd range of emotions:

HUMILITY: Geography is not my strong suit. When I was growing up, the continent of Africa was nearly always referred to as “the dark continent”, or “darkest Africa.” However, the amazing maps in “8 Maps That Will Change The Way You Look at Africa” help to shed light on “the dark continent” and its place in the modern world. Some of the maps are truly mind-boggling.

INCREDULITY: Why is David Vitter still a Senator? How was he not so shamed in his constituents’ eyes that not only did they not demand his immediate resignation when his diapered-DC Madam sexual habits were made public, they reelected him? And why is Vitter showing his face in public claiming that “…the Koch brothers are two of the most patriotic Americans in the history of the Earth…God bless the Koch brothers. They’re fighting for our freedoms.”? Steve Benen on The Maddow Blog can at least answer the the last question.

BETRAYAL: This one’s personal. My love-hate relationship with my beloved/cursed New York Jets is finally tipping over toward the ‘hate’ side. This weekend, the Jets announced their acquisition of former Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, and their release of hapless quarterback Matt Sanchez. My sense of betrayal has nothing to do with Sanchez–he sucked most of the time, but I wish him well. On the other hand, I wish that Michael Vick, of dog-fighting-ring/dog killer fame, would have his throwing arm mangled by a pit bull. Just enough to keep that scum out of football forever. In the meantime (well, when football season starts), I will boycott the Jets until that inhumane piece of shit is gone.

Damn, it's just a toy

Damn, it’s just a toy

Finally, to take that nasty taste out of your mouth:

CONTENTMENT: Although the story is five years old, it’s still heartwarming, and reinforces my opinion that animals are far better than humans. Mankind should really try to emulate Mother Nature.

In 2009, a fire in the Santa Barbara area had firefighters rescuing wildlife, including young animals separated from their mothers. The unlikely pair shown ended up together after their rescuers ran out of crates.
Rescued Fawn and Bobcat kittenfawn and bobcat kitten

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

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 22nd, 2014: We Have Our Own Local Scandal

Okay, it’s not on a par with Governor Chris Christie’s ever-spiraling George Washington Bridge scandal, nor is it anywhere close to Governor Pat McCrory’s Duke Energy woes, but it’s our scandal, so…

This one involves State Senator Greg Ball (R-NY40), who is no stranger to embarrassing controversies, whether it’s his stance on torture, or his “girlfriend” issues. This time, though, Senator Ball (who is, BTW, a “friend” of Sean Hannity and Fox News) may have committed Joe Biden’s nemesis: PLAGIARISM.

It seems that Senator Ball’s recently proposed legislation, which would prohibit any of New York’s “aquariums or sea parks” from exhibiting killer whales, contained language that appears to be lifted from at least one other source (and possibly a second.) What’s funny/silly/crazy about this is that one source was a teenaged student whose post on this subject originally appeared on The Huffington Post. Naturally, HuffPost has the goods on Ball’s latest pecadillo. Here’s an excerpt regarding the pertinent wording in the proposed bill:

From Senator Ball’s bill:

“In the United States, dolphin and marine animal parks, like SeaWorld, have become a part of an $8.4 billion industry. Accustomed to living in the ocean, and having an infinite amount of space to swim in, dolphins and whales are actually faced with several health problems that shorten their life span and cause insanity when they are place [sic] in captivity.”

From 17-year-old Donald Rapier’s original guest post on HuffPost:

“In the United States, dolphin and marine animal parks, like SeaWorld, have become a part of an $8.4 billion industry. Accustomed to living in the ocean, and having an infinite amount of space to swim in, dolphins and whales are actually faced with several health problems that shorten their life span and cause insanity when they are placed in captivity.”

Senator Ball is blaming a staffer, who has since been fired. This did not prevent City & State, a website devoted to NY politics, from naming Senator Ball to the “Losers” half of their “Winners and Losers” list/poll for this past week. And while this is certainly not the most serious scandal in the world, I trust that the “plagiarist” label will stick to Senator Ball for decades to come, just like it did to Vice-President Joe Biden.

Yeah, right, who am I kidding? This scandal will never plague State Senator Ball in the future, because IOKIYAR.

As an aside: Along Route 22 near the Pawling/Patterson town line, there’s been a billboard up for (what seems like) a couple of years, picturing head-shots of Senator Ball with his beloved Weimaraner. At some point in time, someone ripped off Ball’s entire face, leaving a big blank with some hair. The dog’s picture remains intact. I wish I knew who did it – it had to be deliberate – so that I could thank them for the laugh I get every time I notice it.

This is our daily open thread–discuss whatever you want!

Guest Blog: Occupy Ukraine?

Today’s guest blogging post (and open thread) is by our friend, TerrytheTurtle.

What is happening in Ukraine is awful, bloody, murderously awful. Depending on where you come from in your world view, there are at least three ways of looking at what is happening:

1. If you follow the Western media, it is about Ukraine wishing to “join the EU” (quotes because there are many sources of this over-simplification) and the coverage is dumbed down to this one point time and again. But the EU trade agreement Yanukovych refused to sign after promising to in his manifesto, is only the catalyst, the problems lie much deeper than that.

2. This is part of the Neo-Cold War, pitting American power against the Czar of All the Russias and his part-dictatorship, part-kleptocracy. If you read the full transcript of the intercepted Nuland phone call two weeks ago, there is no question the US is picking sides, and picking which opposition horse to back, the whole point of which seems to be, to use the violence in Ukraine to win ground in a wider struggle. And for his part, Putin, by blaming ‘entirely, the terrorists and radicals’ for the violence, is shamelessly backing his client, Yanukovych, just like he has backed Syria’s Assad. It seems the US and Putin are both ‘playing cards’ and the people of Kiev are doing the dying.

3. The third thesis is that what we are watching is the Occupy movement of Ukraine. Ukraine’s government is controlled by a very small number of hyper-rich Ukrainians who owe their riches to a perpetuation of the same style of oligarchy and kleptocracy that Vladimir Putin sits atop in neighbouring Russia. They want the massive income inequality and lack of social justice to continue – its good for business. But you won’t hear this in the Western media. That kind of discussion is too close to home and would remind people of what Occupy Wall Street was all about. When Yanukovych returned to power, in 2010, as president (in an election the EU certified as fair), mainly because the Orange Revolution had stalled in the world depression after the financial crisis, he changed the constitution away from the 2004 constitution: more power to him and his cronies. Corruption blossomed again. You know the formula: billionaires, owning politicians for favours, closing and selling off factories, looting the old industries where ordinary people made a living and punishing dissent. The Kochs and Waltons would love these people.

What do Ukrainians think about some of this? The most recent poll I could find (Feb 5th) said:

Showing divisions between Ukrainians on foreign policy, 48% said Ukraine should reconsider its rejection of an EU partnership, but 40.3% said it should not.

Asked if the protests should continue, 48% said yes and 45.1% said no.

These divisions have an ethnic and geographic element to them – west is more likely to be ethnic Ukrainian and east and south more Russian. But like the American south, the Russian-leaning part is voting for more income inequality, more Russian-style “democracy”. But Ukrainians seem to distrust the EU only a little less than Russia, especially when it comes to helping them now. It seems to me they feel like they are on their own.

OK, so all this geopolitics aside, you just have to look at the faces of the people in the streets and in the makeshift hospitals to get an idea of which of these theses is closest to the truth and it is complicated, even if I am getting some coaching.  :)  That ordinary Ukrainians just want the freedom to have their government represent them and protect their freedoms from foreign powers (all of them!) and from their own “entitled” citizens and corporations.  Just spend some time on the blogs (helpfully translated on request and forwarded to people like me by friends). You will see what I am seeing and hearing directly.

Yes, there are protesters with guns now and policemen have died, but today’s toll of death was far unbalanced to the 10s of thousands of mostly unarmed protesters, shot in the square, or beaten by police or paid thugs, the “tituski”, in the side streets as they try to leave to take care of families or escape the bloodshed. Or as volunteers try to treat them in makeshift hospitals while the police try to arrest them from the bloody floor where they lie.

Take a look at two of Putin's "radicals and terrorists."

Take a look at two of Putin’s “radicals and terrorists.”

Finally, and I wish it was finally, this article I was sent today goes roughly like this: A former policeman has come to Kiev to find his 19-year-old son, a student in Kiev. Like all fathers he wished his son did not go to the protests, but as a Ukrainian he was proud of his son to go. He holds in his hand the helmet he wore, covered in blood, a single sniper bullet hole in the helmet where his forehead was. Facebook posts are full of pictures of young people like this….

And yes, like Zooey said Thursday, this could be us too, someday soon.

The Watering Hole, Monday, February 17th, 2014: Pick an Issue?

I’m sure that I’m not the only one among us Critters and Zoosters who received this email survey from Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) asking, “What should Congress focus on in 2014?”

Which issue matters most to you in 2014?

__Keeping Our Promise to Seniors by Protecting Social Security & Medicare

__Strengthening Our Manufacturing Economy

__Raising the Minimum Wage

__Protecting Women’s Health and Freedom

__Tax Reform That Rewards Hard Work

__Working to Lower Healthcare Costs

__Supporting Small Business Startups

__Investing in Innovation, Science, Research and Technology

Other:

I went with “Other”, more or less:

While most of the above are important issues in my view (“Protecting Women’s Health and Freedom” and “Investing in Innovation, Science, Research and Technology” in particular), I believe that the single most important issue that impacts the future of this country is EDUCATION. We need children who are taught critical thinking, in order to have the ‘Innovation, Science, Research and Technology’ in which to invest. Stressing the basics in: reading (especially reading comprehension); spelling (because words are spelt the way they are for good reason); vocabulary (because words mean what they mean due to their evolution through history); math skills; and the basics in the sciences and technologies, are all paramount. Investing in the future means investing in schools, teachers, and (most importantly) young citizens’ minds.

Really, with all of the problems that our country faces, there are so many important issues to be addressed that it’s impossible to say which is MOST important. And some issues which I would have thought were important are not even on the list, i.e, gun control, environmental issues (climate change, fossil fuel pollution of several sorts, etc.), our failing infrastructure…(sigh) I could go on, but you get the idea.

How would you respond to Senator Baldwin’s survey?

This is our daily open thread–you can answer the survey if you wish, or talk about whatever you want!

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.

Watering Hole: Tuesday February 4, 2014 – Tidbits (bite-size morsels on food and environmental politics)

Is Monsanto giving up on GMO Foods? Well maybe not cash cows like corn and soy, but veggies don’t seem to want to respond in ways that make them better through genetic manipulation. Mother Jones has the whole story… No GMO Monsanto!

House votes to de-fund food stamps in Blue States. After de-funding the left, the Right’s next goal is to make the poorest among us grovel for food on the street. I guess getting free food when so many Americans are working for theirs is just too much for them to bear.They would much rather have the poor begging in the streets (again)

Monarch butterflies drop, migration may disappear. The famed annual migration of monarch butterflies to Mexico is at an all time low and may be history. Who to thank? Start with the big M. Urban sprawl is a boogeyman here as well. Read on…
Flight canceled.

And now for some good news…
Slow Cities: The Growing Movement Putting Sustainability and Community Back in the Forefront. It all starts in Europe, of course. First it was the Slow Food movement, and now out of Italy again Cittaslow, an expansive vision of how smaller places can remain viable. Here are the variables in play:

Contain fewer than 50,000 people
Commit deeply to preserve and sustain the environment.
Encourage thoughtful development and use of new technologies for sustainability.
Foster local culture and preserve heritage traditions.
Promote healthy eating and lifestyle.
Support local artisans and businesses.
Welcome visitors.
Encourage active participation in community life.
Read on…
Create a slow city (or neighborhood) near you.

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

Sunday Roast: Giving the unemployed the finger

In the face of empirical evidence that unemployment benefits help boost the economy, Congress went ahead and let the benefit expire for 1.3 million people — with another round of cuts coming right up.

Yes, I said “people.”  Not slackers, takers, losers, or lazy fucks, as Republicans and Tea Party morons like call the long term unemployed.

Officially, there are three people applying for every job in this country, but with so many people off the official unemployment roles (like me) — because their benefits ran out long ago, they’re so discouraged and depressed they don’t even look for work anymore, or they’re elderly or disabled — the actual number of people applying for each job is probably eight to ten.  Far too many of those jobs have absolutely no benefits, and don’t pay enough to keep a roof over your head AND keep the lights and heat on AND eat halfway decently.  Pick one!

But listen to the GOP/Tea Party, and you’ll hear patronizing statements that unemployment benefits make people lazy, shiftless slobs, who will feed off the government teat forever — this from career politicians who feed off the government teat.  Apparently, the best way to get people off unemployment is to just let the funds run dry, and accuse hard-working Americans of being lazy, blood-sucking shits, rather than actually passing a jobs bill (hey, the President has one!) or a sufficient stimulus bill.  Oh yes, they’ll extend unemployment benefits, but children, veterans, the elderly, and the hungry are damn well going to pay for it — unlike in the Bush years, where nothing was paid for EVER, and the GOP were happy as clams.

And gee whiz, where did all this unemployment come from anyway?  Let’s all ignore the FACT that George W. Bush crashed the economy in 2008, and had been hemorrhaging jobs out of this country long before the crash.  No no no, all this unemployment is because of President Obama’s socialist, fascist, Marxist, commie, pinko, nazi policies — again, flying in the face of actual evidence to the contrary — not because of constant Republican obstruction and blatant refusal to do the work they were sent to Washington DC to do.

Do you know how long they’ll keep doing this to the people of this country?  Yes, the people — do you actually think YOU are immune to GOP policies?  They’ll keep doing it as long as the people stay silent; as long as the people stay out of the voting booth; and as long as they can keep the people fighting among ourselves over things like the “War on Christmas,” so-called religious persecution, taxes (except the taxes of the top 1% aka the “job creators”), and other social issues that are only the business of those actually involved.

Pay no attention to the 97 days the millionaires in the House of Representatives will work this year — naming post offices, repealing Obamacare again, and railing against dirty, dirty women who want unfettered access to birth control, because they just don’t want to push out an unwanted baby every year — or their rapist’s baby EVER.  No, of course, lazy blood-sucking GOP/Tea Partiers aren’t the problem — it’s the unemployed.

Right.

This is our daily open thread — Discuss whatever.

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, 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, Monday, November 4th, 2013: Bellies Up!

After mulling over possible topics for today’s thread, I decided to dispense with the craziness out there (Rand Paul’s chickenshit non-challenge to a duel with Rachel Maddow was tempting, but…) and just start the week off with:

CUTENESS!

Baby Panda (not my photo)

Baby Panda (not my photo)

surrender to cuddles

Fluff's big belly (photo by Jane E. Schneider)

Fluff’s big belly (photo by Jane E. Schneider)

Spotted-bellied Fern (photo by Jane E. Schneider)

Troi's belly before...

Troi’s big belly before…(photo by Jane E. Schneider)

Troi's belly now (photo by Jane E. Schneider)

…Troi’s big belly now (photo by Jane E. Schneider)

This is our daily open thread — I hope that so much cuteness will help to start Monday off in a cheerful way.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, October 26, 2013: Pick a Topic, Any Topic

As I sit here writing this, it’s Saturday morning, and this post is way overdue. It’s always difficult for me to pick a topic on which to write. I suppose I need to learn to discipline myself more, but that’s the problem with trying to learn to be disciplined – it takes discipline, and since I clearly lack it, I’m probably going to have a tough time learning it. Sure I was in the Air Force when I was young and wanted to put off paying back my college loans (Note: I’m one of the fourteen Americans who actually did pay back his student loans), Continue reading

The Watering Hole, Monday, October 21st, 2013: Mixed Nuts

First, Foreign Policy Magazine got a little ‘spacy’ towards the end of the shutdown, with author Michael Peck penning a pair of fantasy articles titled “The Empire Shuts Down” and “One Starship to Rule Them All”

Next, this piece from moneynews.com, features the always-wild-looking “economist” Jim Cramer prognosticating – and perhaps precipitating, if anyone pays attention to him – the shakiness of the dollar. An excerpt:

As the world laughs at Washington’s antics, CNBC’s Jim Cramer says smart money should look for any possible means to flee the dollar.

The United States is “a laughing stock around the world, maybe worse than Italy in some ways when I look at benchmarks,” he said on Squawk Box. “We have obviously lost the faith of a lot of countries.”

If there is a way to take your money out of this country, Cramer suggests putting it in Germany. If he were in the shoes of China, Kuwait, Brazil or Japan, “I would do it immediately,” he claimed.

Third, from Newsmax.com, Amy Woods has a piece on another peanut gallery member: “Sen. Coburn: ‘We’re Drunk’ on Government Spending.” Here’s a bit:

“Special-interest groups, and not the tea party, caused the 17-day government shutdown, Sen. Tom Coburn said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“We didn’t do anything except create a big mess in Washington, and I’m not so inclined to think it was the tea party as much as it was outside interest groups and a few individuals within our party that took advantage of that situation,” Coburn said. All the bickering about the Affordable Care Act distracted Americans from the fact the government spends too much, he added.

Next, an October 19th article from Alternet brings us “Right-Wing Lunacy Never Sleeps: 10 Nutty, Vile and Absurd Utterances From the Fringe This Week.” In this round-up, Justice Antonin Scalia reaffirms his racism, Tony Perkins babbles some nonsense about Democrats wanting a theocracy, Glenn Beck and Pat Buchanan continue to howl in the wilderness, and more.

Finally, also courtesy of Newsmax, the other gum-flapping self-important Limbaugh, David, proves that he is just as delusional as his louder brother in “GOP Poised for Post-Shutdown Comeback”:

“Obamacare represented not only one of many policy setbacks under Obama but also the ever-acquisitive government’s consumption of another one-sixth of the formerly capitalist and robust American economy.”

[That's a load of horseshit, David, enough with the fake "government takeover of healthcare" bogeyman. Last I looked, the U.S. is still a capitalist nation, and the last time we had a "robust American economy" was under a Democrat, President Bill Clinton.]

“Then Sens. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee ratcheted it up a notch, going to the Senate to call Obama out on his destructive agenda and promising to do everything they can to defund and derail Obamacare. Cruz’s 20-plus-hour floor speech was a seminar in the eloquent communication of conservative principles.”

["...eloquent communication of conservative principles"? 'Green Eggs and Ham'? I don't think that David Limbaugh (or his louder brother, for that matter) watched the entirety of Cruz's rambling and sometimes incoherent "seminar."]

“Just as my brother, Rush, gave millions of conservatives hope through his radio show by validating the legitimacy of their beliefs, Cruz, Paul, and Lee let us know that we have people in office fighting for us, as well.

“I reject the conventional wisdom that Cruz and his warriors hurt our cause by increasing the likelihood of our defeat in 2014. To the contrary, they enhanced our cause by energizing the base and fighting. And they laid serious gloves on Obama; his approval rating has never been lower. They also gave him an opportunity, which he fully embraced, to demonstrate his mean-spiritedness, his pettiness, and his dishonesty for all to see.

“The shutdown was not the disaster he promised any more than sequestration has been; he was hyper-partisan and gratuitously punitive during the ordeal; and his egregious misrepresentations about Obamacare were manifesting themselves throughout.”

[Sorry, but to Rush Limbaugh, the word "hope" is part of a punchline, certainly not something that Rush ever gave to his Rushbots. You can "reject conventional wisdom" all you want, but that doesn't mean that conventional wisdom, in this case, is wrong. Obama's approval rating is currently around 50%, according to a recent Rasmussen poll; on the other hand, according to the Gainesville Times, a new poll puts Congress's approval rating at an all-time low at 5%. I'm not sure exactly what planet David Limbaugh, along with the other mixed nuts listed above, inhabits, but it must be a particularly miserable place to dwell.]

This is our Open Thread. Go ahead, get cracking!

The Watering Hole, Saturday, October 19, 2013: And Single Payer is Bad Because…?

It all started, at least this most recent episode of right wing nuttery did, at the so-called “Values Voter Summit” convened earlier this month in Washington, DC. For those unfamiliar with the Values Voter Summit (and if you’re reading this, you’ve probably heard of it), it’s a gathering, put together by several right-wing organizations who feel they know how best to raise your children and hosted by Family Research Council head Tony Perkins (who can understandably be confused with the knife-wielding maniac in Hitchcock’s “Psycho”), of a bunch of very frightened people listening to a collection of very ill-informed speakers fabricating the dangers of a world where conservative values are given the treatment they deserve and crumpled up, set on fire, and dumped into the deepest part of the ocean, never to be heard from again. I wish! Sadly, because stupid people outnumber intelligent people in this country, Continue reading