January 2010 Archives

Rich Takes a Good Bite of It

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The overall tenor here is that Rich wants Obama to get more active and mean. I agree at least in the sense that he has to get out there and mix it up with the common folk...to bring some clarity and sensibility to the polarized insanity that is passing for political dialogue these days.

The State of the Union Is Comatose

by Frank Rich

Hands down, the State of the Union's big moment was Barack Obama's direct hit on the delicate sensibilities of the Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. The president was right to blast the 5-to-4 decision giving corporate interests an even greater stranglehold over a government they already regard as a partially owned onshore subsidiary. How satisfying it was to watch him provoke Alito into a "You lie!" snit. Here was a fight we could believe in.

There was more to admire in Obama's performance as well. He did not retreat into the bite-size initiatives -- V-chips, school uniforms -- embraced by an emasculated Bill Clinton after his midterm pummeling of 1994. The president's big original goals -- health care, economic recovery, financial reform -- remained nominally intact, as did his sense of humor. In a rhetorical touch William Safire would have relished, Obama had the wit to rush the ritualistic "our union is strong" so it would not prompt the usual jingoistic ovation.

Good thing, too, since our union is not strong. It is paralyzed. Many Americans were more eagerly anticipating Steve Jobs's address in San Francisco on Wednesday morning than the president's that night because they have far more confidence in Apple than Washington to produce concrete change. One year into Obama's term we still don't know whether he has what it takes to get American governance functioning again. But we do know that no speech can do the job. The president must act. Only body blows to the legislative branch can move the country forward.

The historian Alan Brinkley has observed that we will soon enter the fourth decade in which Congress -- and therefore government as a whole -- has failed to deal with any major national problem, from infrastructure to education. The gridlock isn't only a function of polarized politics and special interests. There's also been a gaping leadership deficit.

In Obama's speech, he kept circling back to a Senate where both parties are dysfunctional. The obstructionist Republicans, he observed, will say no to every single bill "just because they can." But no less culpable are the Democrats, who maintain "the largest majority in decades" even after losing Teddy Kennedy's seat -- and yet would rather "run for the hills" than accomplish anything.

What does strong Senate leadership look like? That would be L.B.J. in the pre-Kennedy era. Operating with the narrowest of majorities and under an opposition president, he was able to transform a sleepy, seniority-hobbled, regionally polarized debating society into an often-progressive legislative factory. As Robert Caro tells the story in his book "Master of the Senate," this Senate leader had determination, "a gift for grand strategy," and a sixth sense for grabbing opportunities for action before they vanished for good. He could recognize "the key that might suddenly unlock votes that had seemed locked forever away" and turn it quickly. The horse trading with recalcitrant senators was often crude and cynical, but the job got done. L.B.J. knew how to reward -- and how to punish.

I enjoyed watching this rare upfront interaction between a president and his opponents, Obama was invited by the Republican conference to attend the meeting.
i thought it was an even better representation of where Obama is at, than the State of the Union address a couple of days earlier.

The Long and Winding Road

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Superbowl ad rejected: Gay dating service

Gay dating site's Super Bowl ad rejected by CBS

CBS (CBS, Fortune 500) said it turned down the ad partly for financial reasons, but ManCrunch believes that there's more to it than that.

"It's straight-up discrimination," said Elissa Buchter, spokeswoman for the Toronto-based dating site.

Jacobs of CBS declined to comment on the charge of discrimination.

Buchter provided a copy of the CBS rejection letter to CNNMoney, which states that the ad "is not within the Network's broadcast standards for Super Bowl Sunday."

The letter also states that the CBS sales department "has had difficulty verifying [ManCrunch's] credit status."

Buchter said that basing the rejection on credit status doesn't make sense because "we offered to pay cash." But Jacobs said CBS has no record of any such offer.

CBS is charging up to $3 million for 30-second spots. Buchter said ManCrunch would have been charged $2.5 million for its ad and would have had no trouble paying it, since the newly formed company recently raised $40 million from investors.

The Mancrunch ad in question


Superbowl ad accepted: Christian right anti-abortion group

Focus on the Family buys Super Bowl ad

The Tebows decided to participate in the ad "because the issue of life is one they feel very strongly about," the Colorado-based organization said in a press release.

Focus on the Family is opposed to abortion "under all circumstances, except in the rare instance when the mother's life is threatened by continuing the pregnancy," according to the organization's web site.

The Web site for the Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association, which is run by Tim Tebow's father, said that Pam has "a national platform to encourage the pro-life message," noting that she refused to abort Tim more than 20 years ago when she was advised to do so

Focus on the Family spokeswoman Lisa Anderson would not reveal how much her organization paid for the ad or provide further details about it. But she told CNNMoney.com that the funds were donated specifically for this purpose by unnamed individuals. She said the money did not come from the group's general fund.

CBS, broadcaster of the 2010 Super Bowl game, is charging about $3 million for 30-second spots, according to spokesman Dana McClintock. But CBS would not reveal how much it charged Focus on the Family for their ad.

Attempts to contact the Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association in Jacksonville, Fla. were unsuccessful.

Greed kills Abraham Shakespeare

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This a local story and strikes home because I had met the guy briefly about two years ago. He seemed kind and gentle. Very sad.

Body Is that of Missing Lottery Winner

AbrahamShakespeare.jpg

By Merissa Green

LAKELAND | A body found Thursday in Plant City is that of missing Florida Lottery winner Abraham Shakespeare of Lakeland, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office confirmed this afternoon.

The body was identified through fingerprints, said Debbie Carter, Hillsborough County Sheriff spokeswoman.

"The cause of death has not been determined at this time, and we do not anticipate having a cause of death until Monday," she said. "The detectives have completed the search at 5802 S.R. 60 E. and crews are working to fill the excavated area but will remain on scene throughout the weekend."

Investigators found his body under a concrete slab behind a house at 5802 State Road 60 E. Detectives dug the body up after receiving information that Shakespeare was buried there, according to Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.

Gee said the remains were found more than five feet beneath the ground in a 30-foot-by-30-foot area where homicide investigators had been told to look for Shakespeare's body. The Hillsborough Medical Examiner's Office arrived Thursday night and will finish its work today, Gee said. Gee gave no timetable when the body would be positively identified.

"We believed all along the body would be here," he said. "Somebody put that body in that hole, and we're going to get to the bottom of it."


UPDATE: DeeDee Moore Arrested in Shakespeare Slaying


Howard Zinn Exits

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One of my favorite authors and historians. He introduced me to the concept of "framing".
A great man and a big loss.

Howard Zinn, Historian, Dies at 87

Howard Zinn, historian and shipyard worker, civil rights activist and World War II bombardier, and author of "A People's History of the United States," a best seller that inspired a generation of high school and college students to rethink American history, died Wednesday in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 87 and lived in Auburndale, Mass.
The cause was a heart attack, which he had while swimming, his family said.

howardzinn.jpgProudly, unabashedly radical, with a mop of white hair and bushy eyebrows and an impish smile, Mr. Zinn, who retired from the history faculty at Boston University two decades ago, delighted in debating ideological foes, not the least his own college president, and in lancing what he considered platitudes, not the least that American history was a heroic march toward democracy.

Almost an oddity at first, with a printing of just 4,000 in 1980, "A People's History of the United States" has sold nearly two million copies. To describe it as a revisionist account is to risk understatement. A conventional historical account held no allure; he concentrated on what he saw as the genocidal depredations of Christopher Columbus, the blood lust of Theodore Roosevelt and the racial failings of Abraham Lincoln. He also shined an insistent light on the revolutionary struggles of impoverished farmers, feminists, laborers and resisters of slavery and war.

Such stories are more often recounted in textbooks today; they were not at the time.

"Our nation had gone through an awful lot -- the Vietnam War, civil rights, Watergate -- yet the textbooks offered the same fundamental nationalist glorification of country," Mr. Zinn recalled in a recent interview with The New York Times. "I got the sense that people were hungry for a different, more honest take."

In a book review in The Times, the historian Eric Foner wrote of the book that "historians may well view it as a step toward a coherent new version of American history." But many historians, even those of liberal bent, took a more skeptical view.

"What Zinn did was bring history writing out of the academy, and he undid much of the frankly biased and prejudiced views that came before it," said Sean Wilentz, a professor of history at Princeton University. "But he's a popularizer, and his view of history is topsy-turvy, turning old villains into heroes, and after a while the glow gets unreal."

That criticism barely raised a hair on Mr. Zinn's neck. "It's not an unbiased account; so what?" he said in the Times interview. "If you look at history from the perspective of the slaughtered and mutilated, it's a different story."

Few historians succeeded in passing so completely through the academic membrane into popular culture. He gained admiring mention in the movie "Good Will Hunting"; Matt Damon appeared in a History Channel documentary about him; and Bruce Springsteen said the starkest of his many albums, "Nebraska," drew inspiration in part from Mr. Zinn's writings.


Comment of the Day

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From a local paper forum comes dead on words from poster Curmudgeon:

Originally posted by Rec:
The problem as I see it, is the disadvantages of being faaar right or faaaar left, it leaves one on the outside boundaries, while being in the center, puts one right in the heartland, and the true beat of the nation!!!JMO


Curmudgeon:

You broke the code!

Also (speaking to some previous comments) We have two out-of-touch problems. 1) Both political parties are out-of-touch with grass roots America, and,
2) Way too many vocal angry Americans are out-of-touch with reality.

The truth of the matter is that this economic problem we're in goes at least 30 years back in my memory and both parties (as well as a population with unrealistic expectations and demands) contributed to it.

George W just happened to be the wrong guy at the wrong time and precipitated a crisis that was almost certainly going to happen if we didn't grow up and start acting adults (both gov't and the people). Instead, we continued, decade after decade, to spend like drunken sailors when we didn't have any money -- because everybody is entitled to the American Dream -- a chicken in every pot, a home of their, own, a Cadillac in the driveway, HD TV, etc. No credit - no problem -- "$24 down moves you in;" "Sign and drive."

Obama has inherited a mess that Jesus Christ himself couldn't fix in a decade -- let alone in a year. But we're (collectively) too damned dumb or blind to understand that.

So, by all means, let's lynch the guy who happens to be in charge because he can't meet our unreasonable and unrealistic demands. No matter that he's making more progress than any president in a long time! Democracy is a very fragile system --

Some really good words from slacktivist

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slacktivist:


I think maybe part of the reason you're so angry is you keep demanding that you get screwed and then, not surprisingly, you keep getting screwed

Hey you. You there in the Glenn Beck T-shirt headed off to the Tea Party Patriot rally.

Stop shouting for a moment, please, I want to explain to you why you're so very angry.

You should be angry. You're getting screwed.

I think you know that. But you don't seem to know that it doesn't have to be that way. You can stop it. You can stop it easily because the system that's screwing you over can only keep screwing you over if you keep demanding that it do so.

So stop demanding that. Stop helping the system screw you over.

Look, you can go back to yelling at me in a minute, but just read this first.

Feral Moscow Dogs Evolving

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This both cool and creepy at the same time.


Moscow's Stray Dogs Evolving Greater Intelligence, Including a Mastery of the Subway

By Stuart Fox

subway_wolves.jpg

For every 300 Muscovites, there's a stray dog wandering the streets of Russia's capital. And according to Andrei Poyarkov, a researcher at the A.N. Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution, the fierce pressure of urban living has driven the dogs to evolve wolf-like traits, increased intelligence, and even the ability to navigate the subway.

Poyarkov has studied the dogs, which number about 35,000, for the last 30 years. Over that time, he observed the stray dog population lose the spotted coats, wagging tails, and friendliness that separate dogs from wolves, while at the same time evolving social structures and behaviors optimized to four ecological niches occupied by what Poyarkov calls guard dogs, scavengers, wild dogs, and beggars.

The guard dogs follow around, and receive food from, the security personnel at Moscow's many fenced in sites. They think the guards are their masters, and serve as semi-feral assistants. The scavengers roam the city eating garbage. The wild dogs are the most wolf-like, hunting mice, rats, and cats under the cover of night.

But beggar dogs have evolved the most specialized behavior. Relying on scraps of food from commuters, the beggar dogs can not only recognize which humans are most likely to give them something to eat, but have evolved to ride the subway. Using scents, and the ability to recognize the train conductor's names for different stops, they incorporate many stations into their territories.

Additionally, Poyarkov says the pack structure of the beggars reflects a reliance on brain over brawn for survival. In the beggar packs, the smartest dog, not the most physically dominant, occupies the alpha male position.

The evolution of Moscow's stray dogs has been going on since at least the mid-1800s, when Russian writers first mentioned the stray dog problem in the city. And that evolution has been propelled by deadly selective pressure. Most of the strays arrive on the streets as rejected house pets. Of those dogs kicked out of their homes, Poyarkov estimates fewer than 3 percent live long enough to breed. To survive those odds, a dog really does have to be the fittest.


hat tip to Ouroboros

The 2011- 2012 Senate

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senate_advertising.jpg
courtesy crooks and liars

Sermonette #742

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On the idea that corporations should be given carte blanche free speech rights as entities:

singledad: Freedom of speech for everyone, not for THINGS created by man.

Corporations are a power tool for the rich.


Rec: Man does not create, he makes things, like corporations man-made with man's ingenuity and mans cooperation, fueled by man (people) and upheld by the function of men, and extended to other men(humans) for employment, companies, stocks all manmade and manpowered! And held together by information, or language of man!

Me: Mozart or Beethoven would beg to differ. You think Ode to Joy was just sitting around in the void waiting to be discovered by a deaf man or its words blindly stumbled upon by a poet?

Oh friends, not these tones!
Rather, let us raise our voices in more pleasing
And more joyful sounds!
Joy! Joy!

Joy, beautiful spark of divinity
Daughter of Elysium,
We enter, drunk with fire,
Into your heavenly sanctuary!
Your magic reunites
What custom strictly divided.
All men will become brothers,
Where your gentle wing rests.

Whoever has had the great fortune
To be a friend's friend,
Whoever has won a devoted wife,
Join in our jubilation!
Indeed, whoever can call even one soul,
His own on this earth!
And whoever was never able to, must creep
Tearfully away from this band!

Joy all creatures drink
At the breasts of nature;
All good, all bad
Follow her trail of roses.
Kisses she gave us, and wine,
A friend, proven in death;
Pleasure was to the worm given,
And the cherub stands before God.

Glad, as His suns fly
Through the Heaven's glorious design,
Run, brothers, your race,
Joyful, as a hero to victory.

Be embraced, millions!
This kiss for the whole world!
Brothers, above the starry canopy
Must a loving Father dwell.
Do you bow down, millions?
Do you sense the Creator, world?
Seek Him beyond the starry canopy!
Beyond the stars must He dwell.

Be embraced, you millions!
This kiss for the whole world!
Brothers, beyond the star-canopy
Must a loving Father dwell.
Be embraced,
This kiss for the whole world!
Joy, beautiful spark of divinity,
Daughter of Elysium,
Joy, beautiful spark of divinity

God didn't create that. Nor did a corporation or any other man made legal abstract entity without consciousness or memory any investment in the sentient spirit which alone rightly deserves constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech because it is a vehicle for that "beautiful spark of divinity" of which the other things are not capable.

Corporations are not people and they are not sentient beings...they are a legal constructs, nothing more. They have no fealty to the welfare of individuals, community, nation, or to any human concern beyond economic profit. To allow them disproportionate sway by virtue of their superior economic strengths in human political affairs which are already incredibly dysfunctional and distorted because of the influence of money, is tantamount to a suicide note for what democracy we have left.


Rec: What a wonderful example of the consciousness of sentient spirit expressing its gifts of worship and acknowledgement in odes of praise to God. The sentient spirit which is our whole being given the gifts of making and working with our world around us, inspires us to make many things, such as notes of praise on the paper that realizes its function in beautiful music, and corporations that serve us as in the functions of business and commerce....oh yes, the very sentient spirit that allows and permits our intelligence and understanding of our world around us, above all other creatures and the the ability to make and build those extensions of ourselves that make the systems of the world work with us and for us...... of course, C, of course.

Me: True enough, but to me it is more than that. I see it as we are the Creative Impetus (God, if you like) expressing itself through us. I do not separate the Created (or Creation) from the Creator. Nor do I suppose that Creation happened back in some particular point in time. I see it as an on-going process which is still occurring and we are active players in that ever changing moment.

But we should not lose sight of our position within that Creation, we are a limited expression of it and even more limited are the legal mechanisms we generate as tools. We should not identify these abstract tools as having personhood in a literal sense. They are not something we have breathed actual life into. To grant them literal personhood, which was never the original legal intent, with the same constitutional rights as actual people is a confusion of elemental reality.

Rec: Ahhhh but the expression of the abstract thought is the conception of intelligence, limited as it may be, within the human sentient being who expressions or functions of those abstract thoughts are maintained by the human factor. Take the human abilities out of and behind the corporation and it ceases to be, or cannot function. The life that is within the structure are the human abilities couched in abstract thought period. Abstract thought enables the tools of existence to function, move and better itself or no. The corporation becomes the entity voicing order and the desires of the human activity,,,,without the human activity it is nothing. ergo, through the humanity the extension of the corporation moves, thinks, succeeds or fails. It is the vehicle of human expression of order and organization.

Me: Somewhat true again, but corporations are an abstract extension of human activity, and as you noted, not a separate entity unto themselves. To grant them equivocal entity status to human individuals is a dangerous confusion because some mechanisms can continue to operate long after the hand that set them in motion has been withdrawn or has even by purpose of the mechanism been intentionally barred from further influence...for example, the machine that would kill to prevent being shut off or having its programed original goals altered.
What happens when the abstract mechanisms given free speech and other constitutional guarantees start uttering "Don't tread on me!" - and possibly with a foreign accent?


An old post revisited

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This an early post from the old ratboy's anvil that I forgot about but is still interesting:

1902 -2002

The year is 1902, one hundred years ago ... what a difference a mere 100 orbits
around the sun makes.

The average life expectancy in the U.S. was forty-seven.

Only 14 Percent of the homes in the U.S. had a bathtub.

Only 8 percent of the homes had a telephone. A three-minute call from Denver to New York City cost eleven dollars.

There were only 8,000 cars in the US and only 144 miles of paved roads.

The maximum speed limit in most cities was 10 mph.

Alabama, Mississippi, Iowa, and Tennessee were each more heavily populated than California. With a mere 1.4 million residents,

California was only the 21st most populous state in the Union.

The tallest structure in the world was the Eiffel Tower.

The average wage in the U.S. was 22 cents an hour.

The average U.S. worker made between $200 and $400 per year.

A competent accountant could expect to earn $2000 per year, dentist $2,500 per year, a veterinarian between $1,500 and $4,000 per year, and a mechanical engineer about $5,000 per year.

More than 95 percent of all births in the U.S. took place at home.

Ninety percent of all U.S. physicians had no college education. Instead, they attended medical schools, many of which were condemned in the press and by
the government as "substandard."

Sugar cost four cents a pound. Eggs were fourteen cents a dozen.

Coffee cost fifteen cents a pound.

Most women only washed their hair once a month and used borax or egg yolks for shampoo.

Canada passed a law prohibiting poor people from entering the country for any reason.

The five leading causes of death in the U.S. were:

1. Pneumonia and influenza
2. Tuberculosis
3. Diarrhea
4. Heart disease
5. Stroke

The American flag had 45 stars. Arizona, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Hawaii and Alaska had yet to be admitted to the Union.

The population of Las Vegas, Nevada was 30.

Crossword puzzles, canned beer, and iced tea hadn't been invented.

There were no Mother's Day or Father's Day.

One in ten U.S. adults couldn't read or write.

Only 6 percent of all Americans had graduated from high school.

Marijuana, heroin, and morphine were all available over the counter at corner drugstores. According to one pharmacist, "Heroin clears the complexion, gives buoyancy to the mind, regulates the stomach and the bowels, and is, in fact, a perfect guardian of health."

Eighteen percent of households in the U.S. had at least one full-time servant or domestic.

There were only about 230 reported murders in the entire U.S.

.: cul :. April 30, 2002 04:34 AM

Blackwater not off hook yet, BUT...

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Funny how the constitution can wind up serving to obstruct justice sometimes.

Biden Says U.S. Will Appeal Blackwater Case Dismissal

by Anthony Sahdid

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. promised Iraqi leaders on Saturday that the United States would appeal the dismissal of manslaughter charges against five Blackwater Worldwide security contractors involved in a deadly shooting here that has inflamed anti-American tensions.

Mr. Biden, tasked by the Obama administration to oversee policy in Iraq, made the statement after a day of meetings with Iraqi leaders that dealt, in part, with a political crisis that has erupted over the March 7 parliamentary elections. American officials view the vote, a barometer of the durability of Iraq's political system, as a crucial date in American plans to withdraw tens of thousands of combat troops from Iraq by the end of August.

The vice president expressed his "personal regret" for the Blackwater shooting in 2007, in which contractors guarding American diplomats opened fire in a crowded Baghdad traffic circle, killing 17 people, including women and children.

"A dismissal is not an acquittal," he said after meeting President Jalal Talabani.

Investigators had concluded that the guards fired indiscriminately on unarmed civilians in an unprovoked and unjustified attack. The guards contended that they had been ambushed by insurgents and fired in self-defense.

In December, in a decision that was a blow to the Justice Department and unleashed anger and disbelief in Iraq, a federal judge threw out the five guards' indictment on manslaughter charges, citing misuse of their statements that violated their constitutional rights. The judge's scathing and detailed ruling was expected to make any appeal difficult.

"This is great news," Abdel-Amir Jihan, who was wounded in the shooting, said after hearing of Mr. Biden's announcement. "The court was not fair to us. We felt great injustice when we heard the verdict. It was not right to drop the charges against them."

Lincoln's Look Forward

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Corporations Being "Enthroned" After the Civil War
and Re-Writing the Laws Defining Their Existence

"I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. . . . corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed."

-- U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, Nov. 21, 1864 (letter to Col. William F. Elkins)

Ref: The Lincoln Encyclopedia, Archer H. Shaw (Macmillan, 1950, NY)

Here's how the end looks from over the top

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Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

...

Jon Stewart's take on Olbermann:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Special Comment - Keith Olbermann's Name-Calling
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

...

My take on the SCOTUS decision to allow carte blanche free speech for corporations:

Why should an abstract legal entity (corporation) be guaranteed constitutional free speech rights?
At the time the constitution was written there was no such legal entity considerations and the founders never intended that businesses should be considered to have personhood. This concept was not even created until 1886, some 100 years after the constitution went onto effect:

In the United States, corporations were recognized as having rights to contract, and to have those contracts honored the same as contracts entered into by natural persons, in Dartmouth College v. Woodward Corporations were recognized as persons for purposes of the 14th Amendment in an 1886 Supreme Court Case, Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, 118 U.S. 394 .

In fact, Jefferson and others argued against what he termed the 'monopolies in commerce' being given such rights since they could, by virtue of their scale of economy and privileged access to lawmakers, use them to trample the rights and access of smaller businesses and individuals - which is precisely what we are seeing occur in the national healthcare debate through their corporate lobbyists.

And there is another problem.
If a corporation (or union) is allowed to underwrite a given political position or candidate, what becomes of the individual rights of its employees or share holders who disagree with that collective decision?
Who in the corporate structure has the authority to make such a decision in the first place? Is it mandated by a vote of the employees or members or simply produced by fiat from the management or owners?

What benefit does a democracy enjoy by way of a corporation being considered to have the same constitutional rights as an individual?
The individuals who comprise the collective the corporation already have their constitutional free speech rights, why should those be "doubled up" by any collective rights to weigh against the rights of other individuals outside of that or any other collective?

Also, corporations have no citizenship or social responsibilities , their sole purpose for existing is economic; to make money for their owners and shareholders. The welfare of the community at large in which they operate is not a necessary consideration in their political views, only that which serves their economic interests matters. So why then should this insentient collective mechanism which harbors no patriotism nor concern for the common good be allowed to enjoy the benefits of constitutional guarantees?

Libertarians especially must, by virtue of their declared dogmas, grant that freedoms require personal responsibilities in order to function properly and that without those responsibilities, corporate freedom is simply reduced to corporate license.

Some After-Mass.

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from elsewhere:

seestraight:

Really? Virginia just booted a Democrat governor to the curb and so did New Jersey. And obama showed up to "help" him too.

Chortling? Maybe. But to take a seat that removes the leftists super majority in the Senate, to take a seat that has been held by extreme left wingers for almost a half century, to take a seat from the dems in the state of Massachusetts, to take a seat that only one month ago, all the geniuses in the media claimed was sewn up, is sending a message that I hope the remaining politicians hear. We the people by a large margin, do not want obama's socialism.


me:

Do you seriously think that 60 to 59 is removing the super majority? And have you checked the scorecard lately for how many Reps and Dems are retiring? Dems win in that regard. Its a long way to November my friend. This election wasn't a rout of socialist ideas ( or Obama's supposed socialism, especially since he is the furthest thing from being a socialist), it was rout borne of dissatisfaction and frustration with ineffective government regarding the economy and jobs, plain and simple. The only thing 90% of the voting public cares about is their wallets and personal security and that's how they vote.

You and I tend to view events and the political condition as ideologues. You hate everything socialism stands for because you think it stifles personal freedom, incentive, innovation and responsibility. Whereas I embrace it as a means of rebuking what I see in the capitalist model as the false promise of free markets, a stress on personal greed, oligarchic corporate control and a dismissal of the common good. We can, and likely will, argue for our respective viewpoints until the end of time, but most people don't give a damn about political theory, they just want to be comfortable and safe and raise children. Whether capitalists or socialists provide that is irrelevant to them.

Its obvious to even the casual observer that unfettered capitalism and the quasi-religion of Ayn Rand free markets is in its own death throes and has much wreckage of late to account for. You can hardly blame socialism for the greed and casino gambling of the financial markets that has destroyed so many lives recently - nor can you honestly label the Obama administrations dealings with the financial industry as even remotely socialist....though I'm sure you will try.

So celebrate your victory but I wouldn't read too much into last night's election results in terms of it being a death knell for the advancement of socialism in the US.

Taxing the banksters

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Best idea in a long time.

Taxing Wall Street Down to Size

by David Stockman

While supply-side catechism insists that lower taxes are a growth tonic, the theory also argues that if you want less of something, tax it more. The economy desperately needs less of our bloated, unproductive and increasingly parasitic banking system. In this respect, the White House appears to have gone over to the supply side with its proposed tax on big banks, as it scores populist points against the banksters, too.

Not surprisingly, the bankers are already whining, even though the tax would amount to a financial pinprick -- a levy of only 0.15 percent on the debts (other than deposits) of the big financial conglomerates. Their objections are evidence that the administration is on the right track.

Make no mistake. The banking system has become an agent of destruction for the gross domestic product and of impoverishment for the middle class. To be sure, it was lured into these unsavory missions by a truly insane monetary policy under which, most recently, the Federal Reserve purchased $1.5 trillion of longer-dated Treasury bonds and housing agency securities in less than a year. It was an unprecedented exercise in market-rigging with printing-press money, and it gave a sharp boost to the price of bonds and other securities held by banks, permitting them to book huge revenues from trading and bookkeeping gains.

Meanwhile, by fixing short-term interest rates at near zero, the Fed planted its heavy boot squarely in the face of depositors, as it shrank the banks' cost of production -- their interest expense on depositor funds -- to the vanishing point.

The resulting ultrasteep yield curve for banks is heralded, by a certain breed of Wall Street tout, as a financial miracle cure. Soon, it is claimed, a prodigious upwelling of profitability will repair bank balance sheets and bury toxic waste from the last bubble's collapse. But will it?

In supplying the banks with free deposit money (effectively, zero-interest loans), the savers of America are taking a $250 billion annual haircut in lost interest income. And the banks, after reaping this ill-deserved windfall, are pleased to pronounce themselves solvent, ignoring the bad loans still on their books. This kind of Robin Hood redistribution in reverse is not sustainable. It requires permanently flooding world markets with cheap dollars -- a recipe for the next bubble and financial crisis.

Moreover, rescuing the banks yet again, this time with a steeply sloped yield curve (that is, cheap short-term money and more expensive long-term rates), is not even a proper monetary policy action. It is a vast and capricious reallocation of national income, which would be hooted down in the halls of Congress, were it properly brought to a vote.

National economic policy has come to this absurd pass because for decades the Fed has juiced the banking system with excessive reserves. With this monetary fuel, the banks manufactured, aggressively at first and then recklessly, a tide of new loans and deposits. When Wall Street's "heart attack" struck in September 2008, bank liabilities had reached 100 percent of gross domestic product -- double the ratio of a few decades earlier.


Colorism with us still

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Shades of Prejudice

By Shankar Vedantam

Last week, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, found himself in trouble for once suggesting that Barack Obama had a political edge over other African-American candidates because he was "light-skinned" and had "no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one." Mr. Reid was not expressing sadness but a gleeful opportunism that Americans were still judging one another by the color of their skin, rather than -- as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose legacy we commemorated on Monday, dreamed -- by the content of their character.

The Senate leader's choice of words was flawed, but positing that black candidates who look "less black" have a leg up is hardly more controversial than saying wealthy people have an advantage in elections. Dozens of research studies have shown that skin tone and other racial features play powerful roles in who gets ahead and who does not. These factors regularly determine who gets hired, who gets convicted and who gets elected.

Consider: Lighter-skinned Latinos in the United States make $5,000 more on average than darker-skinned Latinos. The education test-score gap between light-skinned and dark-skinned African-Americans is nearly as large as the gap between whites and blacks.

The Harvard neuroscientist Allen Counter has found that in Arizona, California and Texas, hundreds of Mexican-American women have suffered mercury poisoning as a result of the use of skin-whitening creams. In India, where I was born, a best-selling line of women's cosmetics called Fair and Lovely has recently been supplemented by a product aimed at men called Fair and Handsome.

This isn't racism, per se: it's colorism, an unconscious prejudice that isn't focused on a single group like blacks so much as on blackness itself. Our brains, shaped by culture and history, create intricate caste hierarchies that privilege those who are physically and culturally whiter and punish those who are darker.

Colorism is an intraracial problem as well as an interracial problem. Racial minorities who are alert to white-black or white-brown issues often remain silent about a colorism that asks "how black" or "how brown" someone is within their own communities.

If colorism lives underground, its effects are very real. Darker-skinned African-American defendants are more than twice as likely to receive the death penalty as lighter-skinned African-American defendants for crimes of equivalent seriousness involving white victims. This was proven in rigorous, peer-reviewed research into hundreds of capital punishment-worthy cases by the Stanford psychologist Jennifer Eberhardt.

Mixing It Up

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Its when we were best.

Take it from Paul playing South Africa

Remembering MLK

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"Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective."

- Martin Luther King Jr

The Discovery of Heaven

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A strange and wonderful film about God wanting the stone tablets back

Blue Light Special on Space Shuttles

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Deep Discount on Space Shuttles

shuttle_engine.jpgCAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) -- Here is a recession bargain: the space shuttle. NASA has slashed the price of the 1970s-era spaceships to $28.8 million apiece from $42 million.

The shuttles are for sale once their flying days are over, which is scheduled to be this fall.

When the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in December 2008 put out the call seeking buyers at museums, schools and elsewhere, the agency received about 20 inquiries. An agency spokesman, Mike Curie, said he expected more interest, especially with the discount.

"We're confident that we'll get other takers," Mr. Curie said Friday.

The Discovery is already promised to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. The Atlantis and the Endeavour are up for grabs. It is possible that the Enterprise, a shuttle prototype that never made it to space, will also be available. The Enterprise is currently at the Smithsonian.

Mr. Curie said no decisions would be made before summer.

The lower price is based on NASA's estimate of the cost for transporting a shuttle from Kennedy Space Center to a major airport, and for displaying it indoors in a climate-controlled building. The travel cost may vary based on location. NASA has moved up the delivery date to the latter half of 2011, instead of 2012.

Potential customers have until Feb. 19 to put in a request.

As for the space shuttle main engines, those are now free. NASA advertised them in December 2008 for $400,000 to $800,000 each, but no one expressed interest. So now the engines are available, along with other shuttle artifacts, for the cost of transportation and handling.

Assembly will be required, however.

Last Black Standing

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As Rich humorously portrays below, Michael Steele is a clever rip off artist like Palin. Who's he ripping off? Mostly the Republicans.

Steele is widely regarded as a clown by observers of all political persuasions, but he is clownish like a fox.
The Great Tea Party Rip-Off

by Frank Rich

Even given the low bar set by America's bogus conversations about race, the short-lived Harry Reid fracas was a most peculiar nonevent. For all the hyperventilation in cable news land, this supposed racial brawl didn't seem to generate any controversy whatsoever in what is known as the real world.

Eugene Robinson, the liberal black columnist at The Washington Post, wrote that he was "neither shocked nor outraged" at Reid's less-than-articulate observation that Barack Obama benefited politically from being "light-skinned" and for lacking a "Negro dialect unless he wanted to have one." Besides, Robinson said, Reid's point was "surely true." The black conservative Ward Connerly agreed, writing in The Wall Street Journal that he was "having a difficult time determining what it was that Mr. Reid said that was so offensive."

President Obama immediately granted Reid absolution. A black columnist at The Daily News in New York, Stanley Crouch, even stood up for the archaic usage of "Negro." George Will defended Reid from charges of racism as vociferously as Democrats did. Al Sharpton may have accepted Reid's apology, but for once there's no evidence that he ever cared enough to ask for one. So who, actually, was the aggrieved party here? What -- or who -- was really behind this manufactured race war with no victims?

It would be easy to dismiss the entire event as a credulous news media's collaboration with a publisher's hype for a new tell-all-gossip 2008 campaign book, "Game Change," which breathlessly broke the Reid "bombshell." But this is a more interesting tale than that. The true prime mover in this story was not a book publicist but Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican Party and by far the loudest and most prominent Beltway figure demanding that Reid resign as Senate majority leader as punishment for his "racism."

Steele is widely regarded as a clown by observers of all political persuasions, but he is clownish like a fox. His actions in this incident offer some hilarious and instructive insights into what's going on in the Republican hierarchy right now as it tries to cope not just with our first African-American president but with a restive base embracing right-wing tea-party populism that loathes the establishment in both parties. And though Steele is black, and perhaps the most enthusiastic player of the race card in American politics today, race was a red herring in his Reid vendetta. It threw most everyone off the scent of his real motivation, which had nothing to do with black versus white but everything to do with green, as in money.

Insane UN Security Concerns

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I find this move by the UN to just up and leave patients they are already treating an incredibly cowardly act. Someone needs to lose their position at the UN.

Security concerns cause doctors to leave hospital, quake victims

Port-au-Prince, Haiti (CNN) -- Earthquake victims, writhing in pain and grasping at life, watched doctors and nurses walk away from a field hospital Friday night after United Nations officials ordered a medical team to evacuate the area out of security concerns.

The only doctor left was CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta. He assessed the needs of the 25 patients, but with no supplies there was little he could do.

And more people, some in critical condition, were trickling in late Friday.

"I've never been in a situation like this. This is quite ridiculous," Gupta said.

With a dearth of medical facilities in Haiti's capital, ambulances had nowhere else to take patients, some who had suffered severe trauma -- amputations and head injuries. Others had suffered a great deal of blood loss, but there were no blood supplies left at the clinic.

Gupta said some might not survive the night.

He said the Belgian doctors did not want to leave their patients behind but were ordered out by the United Nations, which sent buses to transport them.

"There is concern about riots not far from here -- and this is part of the problem," Gupta said.

There have been scattered reports of violence throughout the capital.

"What is striking to me as a physician is that patients who just had surgery, patients who are critically ill are essentially being left here, nobody to care for them," Gupta said.

Sandra Pierre, a Haitian who has been helping at the makeshift hospital, said the medical staff took most of the supplies with them.

"All the doctors, all the nurses are gone," she said. "They are expected to be back tomorrow. They had no plan on leaving tonight. It was an order that came suddenly."

She told Gupta, "It's just you."

It was not known whether the medical team would return in daylight.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Russell Honoré, who led relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina in 2005, said the evacuation of the clinic's medical staff was unforgivable.

"Search and rescue must trump security," Honoré said. "I've never seen anything like this before in my life. They need to man up and get back in there."

Honoré drew parallels between the tragedy in New Orleans and in Port-au-Prince. But even in the chaos of Katrina, he said, he had never seen medical staff walk away.

"I find this astonishing these doctors left," he said. "People are scared of the poor."

God's Control Panel

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The Great Digital Wall

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Yes China...and yes the internet. The lesson to be learned from the Chinese attempts to censor the internet is that the internet is basically in the final analysis uncensorable because of its basic architecture of open and interconnected redundant networks. You try to close down one area and the same information pops up in another area. There is no lock that cannot be picked.

Scaling the Digital Wall in China

By Brad Stone and David Barboza

The Great Firewall of China is hardly impregnable.

Just as Mongol invaders could not be stopped by the Great Wall, Chinese citizens have found ways to circumvent the sophisticated Internet censorship systems designed to restrict them.

They are using a variety of tools to evade government filters and to reach the wide-open Web that the Chinese government deems dangerous -- sites like YouTube, Facebook and, if Google makes good on its threat to withdraw from China, Google.cn.

It's difficult to say precisely how many people in China engage in acts of digital disobedience. But college students in China and activists around the world say the number has been growing ever since the government stepped up efforts to "cleanse" the Web during the Beijing Olympics and the Communist regime's 60th anniversary last year.

As part of that purge, the Chinese government shut down access to pornography sites, blogs, online video sites, Facebook, Twitter and more.

While only a small percentage of Chinese use these tools to sidestep government filters, the ease with which they can do it illustrates the difficulty any government faces in enforcing the type of strict censorship that was possible only a few years ago.

Gay China

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Quite the cultural leap.
Gay communities may prove beneficial for China since the preference for male babies has created an imbalance in the ratio of males to females in the Chinese population.

Beijing to host first Mr. Gay China pageant

Show intends to help citizens acknowledge China's thriving gay community

gaychina.JPGAP -The Mr. Gay China pageant is coming up and contestant David Wu is a bit worried.

It's not the underwear competition that's making him jittery -- he's been working out harder than usual to get ready. And he's looking forward to the opportunity to meet other "comrades," as gay men in China are called.

Just one thing troubles the handsome 30-year-old: His parents don't know he's gay.

"Most Chinese media won't cover it (the pageant), so I think it's unlikely that my parents will find out about me because of this event," said Wu, from the southwestern city of Chengdu. "On the other hand, if they did... maybe it's a good opportunity to tell them."

Featuring a fashion show and a host in drag, Mr. Gay China, set for Friday night in the capital city of Beijing, is the country's first gay pageant, marking another step toward greater awareness of homosexuals in a country where gays are frequently discriminated against and ostracized. Eight men compete for the title and a spot in the Worldwide Mr. Gay pageant, to be held next month in Oslo, Norway.

Organizer Ben Zhang said the main purpose of the pageant was to help people realize that there is a thriving gay community in China.

"We are trying to make the Chinese public understand that we are not just sissies, we're not psychos, we're not HIV-infected diseased patients," Zhang said at a recent media event. "We are sunny and sexy and trendy and intelligent people, and we're living among you."

UPDATE: Police shut down Mr. Gay China pageant

Teddy Pendergrass Takes His Exit

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Haiti Help

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Watch this pathetic example of his inhumanity and religious psychosis at play:


Pat Robertson calls quake 'blessing in disguise'


TV Evangelist Pat Robertson made some unusual observations about the Haiti earthquake on his CBN newscast Wednesday, calling the quake a possible blessing and saying the Haitian people are cursed....

Something about Palin

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I don't like her precisely because she plays the "chick" and demeans the intelligence and integrity of women. I think its fine if she takes her vapid ignorances and douses herself with Fox's rancid mink oils and runs away to join their circus...at least the potential disaster she represents for the country will be locked away in a recognizable boob box freak show and removed from the actual machinery of state.

That sound you hear is China booming

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I don't usually take much stock in Friedman's articles, but this one struck me as more than plausible and a good take on the future implications of the scale of the Chinese economic booming.

"In China, when you're one-in-a-million, there are 1,300 other people just like you." - Bill Gates
Is China the Next Enron?

By Thomas L. Friedman

Reading The Herald Tribune over breakfast in Hong Kong harbor last week, my eye went to the front-page story about how James Chanos -- reportedly one of America's most successful short-sellers, the man who bet that Enron was a fraud and made a fortune when that proved true and its stock collapsed -- is now warning that China is "Dubai times 1,000 -- or worse" and looking for ways to short that country's economy before its bubbles burst.

China's markets may be full of bubbles ripe for a short-seller, and if Mr. Chanos can find a way to make money shorting them, God bless him. But after visiting Hong Kong and Taiwan this past week and talking to many people who work and invest their own money in China, I'd offer Mr. Chanos two notes of caution.

First, a simple rule of investing that has always served me well: Never short a country with $2 trillion in foreign currency reserves.

Second, it is easy to look at China today and see its enormous problems and things that it is not getting right. For instance, low interest rates, easy credit, an undervalued currency and hot money flowing in from abroad have led to what the Chinese government Sunday called "excessively rising house prices" in major cities, or what some might call a speculative bubble ripe for the shorting. In the last few days, though, China's central bank has started edging up interest rates and raising the proportion of deposits that banks must set aside as reserves -- precisely to head off inflation and take some air out of any asset bubbles.

And that's the point. I am reluctant to sell China short, not because I think it has no problems or corruption or bubbles, but because I think it has all those problems in spades -- and some will blow up along the way (the most dangerous being pollution). But it also has a political class focused on addressing its real problems, as well as a mountain of savings with which to do so (unlike us).

And here is the other thing to keep in mind. Think about all the hype, all the words, that have been written about China's economic development since 1979. It's a lot, right? What if I told you this: "It may be that we haven't seen anything yet."

Why do I say that? All the long-term investments that China has made over the last two decades are just blossoming and could really propel the Chinese economy into the 21st-century knowledge age, starting with its massive investment in infrastructure. Ten years ago, China had a lot bridges and roads to nowhere. Well, many of them are now connected. It is also on a crash program of building subways in major cities and high-speed trains to interconnect them. China also now has 400 million Internet users, and 200 million of them have broadband. Check into a motel in any major city and you'll have broadband access. America has about 80 million broadband users.

Now take all this infrastructure and mix it together with 27 million students in technical colleges and universities -- the most in the world. With just the normal distribution of brains, that's going to bring a lot of brainpower to the market, or, as Bill Gates once said to me: "In China, when you're one-in-a-million, there are 1,300 other people just like you."


A Tale of Two Taxes

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I couldn't agree more with this concept of taxing both the banks and bonuses.The tax rate on the bonuses should be around 90%.

Tax Them Both

NYT Op-Ed

The White House is talking about levying a tax or fee on large banks to recover the $120 billion it spent to bail out the financial system. That is a good place to start, but it shouldn't stop there. President Obama and Congress should also impose a windfall tax on the huge bonuses that bailed-out bankers plan to pay themselves over the next few weeks.

This is an issue of fairness and sound public policy. The Treasury needs the money. A fee may also get banks and bankers to rethink the way they do business -- something the much-promised, far-too-delayed and increasingly watered-down financial regulatory reform effort is unlikely to do. A permanent tax or fee imposed on the nation's largest banks could reduce future risks by discouraging big banks from getting even bigger.

Let's be clear, the crisis spawned by banks' recklessness has cost the country a lot more than $120 billion. Any calculation must also include the deepest recession since the 1930s and the loss of more than seven million jobs. What profits banks have made since then have not come from lending to credit-strapped businesses. They are trading profits made possible by trillions of dollars in cheap financing from the Federal Reserve.

Google gets some backbone after attacks

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More businesses need to take similar stands in regards to China's human rights offenses. There's no diplomacy like wallet diplomacy...even radical Republicans are subject to it.

"Don't be evil." Google Motto

Google reports China-based attack, says pullout possible

By Jeanne Meserve and Mike M. Ahlers, CNN

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Google said Tuesday the company and at least 20 others were victims of a "highly sophisticated and targeted attack" originating in China in mid-December, evidently to gain access to the e-mail accounts of Chinese human rights activists.

"Based on our investigation to date we believe their attack did not achieve that objective," according to a statement by David Drummond, senior vice president of corporate development and chief legal officer for Google, operator of the most popular Internet search engine.

Drummond said that as a result of the attacks, Google has decided it is no longer willing to consider censorship of its Google site in China and may have to shut down its site and its offices in that nation.

"These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered -- combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the Web -- have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China," Drummond wrote.

"We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all.

"We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China," Drummond's statement reads.

A Google spokesman said the targeted human rights activists were in the United States, Europe and China.

Fundy Rights

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hat tip flickr

Gay Teen Worried He Might Be Christian


LOUISVILLE, KY--At first glance, high school senior Lucas Faber, 18, seems like any ordinary gay teen. He's a member of his school's swing choir, enjoys shopping at the mall, and has sex with other males his age. But lately, a growing worry has begun to plague this young gay man. A gnawing feeling that, deep down, he may be a fundamentalist, right-wing Christian.

"I don't know what's happening to me," Faber admitted to reporters Monday. "It's like I get these weird urges sometimes, and suddenly I'm tempted to go behind my friends' backs and attend a megachurch service, or censor books in the school library in some way. Even just the thought of organizing a CD-burning turns me on."
Added Faber, "I feel so confused."

The openly gay teen, who came out to his parents at age 14 and has had a steady boyfriend for the past seven months, said he first began to suspect he might be different last year, when he started feeling an odd stirring within himself every time he passed a church. The more conservative the church, Faber claimed, the stronger his desire was to enter it.

"It's like I don't even know who I am anymore," the frightened teenager said. "Keeping this secret obsession with radical right-wing dogma hidden away from my parents, teachers, and schoolmates is tearing me apart."
According to Faber, his first experience with evangelical Christianity was not all that different from other gays his age.

"Sure, I looked at the Book of Leviticus once or twice--everybody has," Faber said. "We all experiment a little bit with that stuff when we're growing up. But I was just a kid. I didn't think it meant anything."

Faber's instinct was to deny these early emotions. But recently, the Louisville teen admitted, the feelings have grown stronger, making him wonder more and more what life as a born-again right-wing fundamentalist would be like.

"The other week, I was this close to picketing in front of an abortion clinic," the mortified teenager said, his eyes welling up with tears. "I know it's wrong, but I wanted so badly to do it anyway. I even made one of those signs with photos of dead fetuses and hid it in my closet. I felt so ashamed, yet, at the same time, it was all strangely titillating."
Faber's parents, although concerned, said they're convinced their otherwise typical gay son is merely going through a conservative Christian phase.

"I caught him watching The 700 Club once when he thought he was alone in the house, and last week, I found some paperbacks from the Left Behind series hidden in his sock drawer," his mother, Eileen Faber, said. "I'm sure he'll grow out of it, but even if he doesn't, I will love and accept my son no matter what."

Faber's father was far less tolerant in his comments.
"No son of mine is going to try to get intelligent design into school textbooks," Geoffrey Faber said. "And I absolutely refuse to pay his tuition if he decides to go to one of those colleges like Oral Roberts University where they're just going to fill his head with a lot of crazy conservative ideas."

Tryanny of Systems

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Kafka wrote about it...being caught in the gears of a machine no one is really in control of. The legal system is probably the worst form of it, but it's everywhere around, dehumanizing us.


The True Answer and the Right Answer

By Stanley Fish

At the beginning of the new year I resolved to leave off writing "old grouch" columns, columns that chronicle my inability to negotiate modern life. But resolutions rarely stand in the face of provocation, and so here I go again.

My bank has been bought for the third time and once again I wasn't consulted, which was all right the first two times, but this time everything went wrong in what was euphemistically called "the transition."

First, all the numbers on my accounts were changed and in the new order the people at my bank (the same people who were there before) have no means of retrieving the old numbers, which have been erased from their institutional memory banks.

Second, the old credit cards were canceled, which meant that some automatic payments weren't made on time and I received a notice of cancellation from my insurance company. The worst of it was that while the new credit cards were sent, they were returned by the postal authorities to the bank for reasons that remain a mystery.

When I called the bank in the hope of having the credit cards re-sent, the person on the other end of the phone wouldn't talk to me because I gave the wrong answer to a question. The question was, "Where did you open this account?" I thought back through the years and the various names "my" bank had gone by and confidently said, "Chicago, Illinois, the Broadway branch." "Wrong," I was told, and so I offered the name of the branch I've been using since moving to Florida. "Wrong again."

Well, I said, maybe what you want is the branch I've been talking to in New York, where I've been spending a month. No, not that one either. But those are the only possibilities, I protested; one of them has to be right.

What happens when you pump out the water

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You get sinkholes. This one appeared locally around 10am today. Two more showed up later on in different areas.

Frostproof Sinkhole Swallows Shed, Threatens Neighborhood

sinkhole.jpg


Frostproof, FL - A 90-foot-wide sinkhole has swallowed a shed and is threatening to take a nearby house and neighborhood in Frostproof.

The Polk County Sheriff's Office has blocked the roadway of CR 630 in Frostproof because of the sinkhole.

Deputies evacuated residents from three mobile homes in the Southern Pines Mobile Home Park, a 40-acre neighborhood located off of CR 630, but they were allowed back into their homes about 3 p.m.

James Keene, director of public works for Frostproof, said the sinkhole was reported in the area of Murray Lane and County Road 630 at 10:19 a.m. Monday. Within 90 minutes, it created a 40-foot cavern in the ground.

"It's done that much damage just that fast," he said Monday morning. "Now the foundation on the house is cracking."

Authorities said the sinkhole may have formed after citrus growers in the area pumped water from the ground to protect their crops from days of bitter cold. Temperatures in East Polk hovered in the 20s this morning, the latest in a series of frigid mornings across Central Florida.

Growers in East Polk, with rolling acres of citrus groves, have been watering their trees to insulate the fruit.

Polk County Sheriff's deputies and city officials are watching the hole now to see how much more it will spread. The house has been evacuated, Keene said. He didn't know the owner's name.

The entire Winter Haven area is a gallery of sinkholes large and small:

winterhaven.jpg


A New Car

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Can you imagine the cost of even a small fender bender in this one?


hyundai_blue_wii_concept.jpgHyundai touts the Blue-Will as "the first-ever plug-in hybrid from Hyundai," but it's still only a concept vehicle. This model isn't drivable and Hyundai has announced no plans to actually produce the car.

The Blue-Will can go 40 miles on electricity alone, according to Hyundai. Gasoline power comes from a 152-horsepower engine connected to a continuously variable transmission.

To further reduce the car's environmental impact, recycled plastics are used around the headlamps and "bioplastics" are used elsewhere.Glass in the Blue-Will's panoramic sunroof has translucent solar cells that provide a slight electric charge help auxiliary systems like the air conditioning, according to Hyundai.

Classically Astute

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The Enchilada Explained

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Bill Moyers: David Corn and Kevin Drum


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Transcript:

BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the Journal.

The ancient Romans had a proverb: "Money is like sea water. The more you drink, the thirstier you become." That adage finds particular meaning today on Wall Street, which began this New Year riding a tidal wave of bonuses in a surging ocean of greed.

Thanks to taxpayers like you who generously bailed banking from the financial shipwreck it created for itself and for us, by the end of 2009 the industry's compensation pool reached nearly $200 billion. And despite windfall profits, the banks will claim almost $80 billion in tax deductions. And nearly $20 billion of those deductions will go to just three institutions -- Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan Chase, and Goldman Sachs.

Ah, yes -- Goldman Sachs, that paragon of profit and probity -- which bet big on the housing bubble and when it popped -- presto! -- converted itself from an investment firm into a bank so it could get your bailout money. Now consider this: in 2008, Goldman Sachs paid an effective tax rate of just one percent. I'm not making that up -- one percent! -- while their CEO Lloyd Blankfein pulled down over $40 million. That's God's work, if you can get it. And, believe me, Wall Street bankers know how to get it.

What's their secret? How do the bankers pick our pockets so thoroughly with barely a pang of guilt or punishment? You will find some answers in this current edition of "Mother Jones" magazine, one of the best sources of investigative journalism around today. Most of this issue is devoted to what the editors call "Wall Street's accountability deficit."

In it, the Nobel Prize economist Joseph Stiglitz writes of the "moral bankruptcy" by which bankers knowingly trashed our economy and tore up the social contract.

The magazine's David Corn examines why there's no mass movement demanding fundamental change.

And blogger Kevin Drum tours Washington's heart of darkness from down Pennsylvania Avenue, over to K Street where the lobbyists cluster like vultures, then past the local branch of Goldman Sachs -- also known as the U.S. Treasury -- and up to Capitol Hill, where key members kneel in supplication to receive their morning tithes from the holy church of the almighty dollar. As Kevin Drum writes, a year after the biggest bailouts in U.S. History, Wall Street owns Washington lock, stock and debit card.

Kevin Drum, formerly with "Washington Monthly," is now the political blogger at "Mother Jones." He's here to talk about his report, along with David Corn, who's been covering Washington for 23 years and is now "Mother Jones'" Washington Bureau Chief. Welcome to you both.

BILL MOYERS: Welcome to both of you.

DAVID CORN: Good to be with you, Bill.

KEVIN DRUM: Good to be with you, Bill.

BILL MOYERS: Let me read you a letter that was posted on our website a few days ago from a faithful viewer. His name is Mike Demmer. I don't know him personally, but I like to hear from him. He says, dear Bill, I watch your program all the time. What I don't understand is how a bunch of greedy bankers could bring the world to the edge of catastrophe and then in less than a year, already move back to their old ways. How do they do it?

KEVIN DRUM: Well, that's the $64 million question. Or maybe it's the $64 billion question these days. Yeah, how they do it?

Bankers Will Hate This

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Though if enough people do it, banks may be finally forced to act sensibly and renegotiate people's mortgages in a reasonable way.

Walk Away From Your Mortgage!

By ROGER LOWENSTEIN

John Courson, president and C.E.O. of the Mortgage Bankers Association, recently told The Wall Street Journal that homeowners who default on their mortgages should think about the "message" they will send to "their family and their kids and their friends." Courson was implying that homeowners -- record numbers of whom continue to default -- have a responsibility to make good. He wasn't referring to the people who have no choice, who can't afford their payments. He was speaking about the rising number of folks who are voluntarily choosing not to pay.

Such voluntary defaults are a new phenomenon. Time was, Americans would do anything to pay their mortgage -- forgo a new car or a vacation, even put a younger family member to work. But the housing collapse left 10.7 million families owing more than their homes are worth. So some of them are making a calculated decision to hang onto their money and let their homes go. Is this irresponsible?


Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Businesses -- in particular Wall Street banks -- make such calculations routinely. Morgan Stanley recently decided to stop making payments on five San Francisco office buildings. A Morgan Stanley fund purchased the buildings at the height of the boom, and their value has plunged. Nobody has said Morgan Stanley is immoral -- perhaps because no one assumed it was moral to begin with. But the average American, as if sprung from some Franklinesque mythology, is supposed to honor his debts, or so says the mortgage industry as well as government officials. Former Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. declared that "any homeowner who can afford his mortgage payment but chooses to walk away from an underwater property is simply a speculator -- and one who is not honoring his obligation." (Paulson presumably was not so censorious of speculation during his 32-year career at Goldman Sachs.)

The moral suasion has continued under President Obama, who has urged that homeowners follow the "responsible" course. Indeed, HUD-approved housing counselors are supposed to counsel people against foreclosure. In many cases, this means counseling people to throw away money. Brent White, a University of Arizona law professor, notes that a family who bought a three-bedroom home in Salinas, Calif., at the market top in 2006, with no down payment (then a common-enough occurrence), could theoretically have to wait 60 years to recover their equity. On the other hand, if they walked, they could rent a similar house for a pittance of their monthly mortgage.

Misconstrued Instruction Sets

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For pal CB in the 'peg


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hat tip patt

The big step

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Colbert said something telling tonight during his The Word segment. He said that once we get rid of the ideal that we are a country that lives up to its ideals, losing the rest of the ideals will be easy.

Top Ten Worst Things about the Bush Decade

by Juan Cole

By spring of 2000, Texas governor George W. Bush was wrapping up the Republican nomination for president, and he went on to dominate the rest of the decade. If Dickens proclaimed of the 1790s revolutionary era in France that it was the best of times and the worst of times, the reactionary Bush era was just the worst of times. I declare it the decade of the American oligarchs. Just as the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union allowed the emergence of a class of lawless 'Oligarchs' in Russia, so Neoliberal tax policies and deregulation produced American equivalents. (For more on the analogy, see Michael Hudson.) We have always had robber barons in American politics, but the Neoliberal moment created a new social class. At about 1.3 million adults, it is not too large to have some cohesive interests, and its corporations, lobbyists, and other institutions allow it to intervene systematically in politics. It owns 45 percent of the privately held wealth and is heading toward 50, i.e. toward a Banana Republic. Thus, we have a gutted fairness doctrine and the end of anti-trust concerns in ownership of mass media, allowing a multi-billionaire like Rupert Murdoch to buy up major media properties and to establish a cable television channel which is nothing but oligarch propaganda. They established 'think tanks' like the American Enterprise Institute, which hires only staff that are useful agents of the interests of the very wealthy, and which produce studies denying global climate change or lying about the situation in Iraq. Bush-Cheney were not simply purveyors of wrong-headed ideas. They were the agents of the one percent, and their policies make perfect sense if seen as attempts to advance the interests of this narrow class of persons. It is the class that owns our mass media, that pays for the political campaigns of 'our' (their) representatives, that gives us the Bushes and Cheneys and Palins because they are useful to them, and that blocks progressive reform and legislation with the vast war chest funneled to them by deep tax cuts that allow them to use essential public resources, infrastructure and facilities gratis while making the middle class pay for them.

Here are my picks for the top ten worst things about the wretched period, which, however, will continue to follow us until the economy is re-regulated, anti-trust concerns again pursued, a new, tweaked fairness doctrine is implemented, and we return to a more normal distribution of wealth (surely a quarter of the privately held wealth is enough for the one percent?) It isn't about which party is in power; parties can always be bought. It is about how broadly shared resources are in a society. Egalitarianism is unworkable, but over-concentration of wealth is also impractical. The latter produced a lot of our problems in the past decade, and as long as such massive inequality persists, our politics will be lopsided.


Avatar keeps on ticking

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I've seen it 3 times ...so far.

'Avatar' No. 1 again, surpasses $1 billion

avatar03.jpgThanks to astronomic word-of-mouth, inflated 3-D ticket prices, and consecutive holiday weekends that began on a Friday, "Avatar" continued its seemingly unstoppable climb to the Hallelujah Mountains of U.S. and global box office.

According to estimates from Hollywood.com Box Office, James Cameron's sci-fi opus grossed $68.3 million over New Years weekend, a tiny 10 percent drop from Christmas weekend for a $352.1 million domestic total -- easily the biggest third weekend in the U.S. ever (2002's "Spider-Man" had held the record with $45 million).

Much more impressively, in just 17 days, "Avatar" has surpassed $1 billion in the global box office. To put that in perspective, it took "The Dark Knight" pretty much its entire theatrical run just to make it to that milestone. (Another landmark: $66.4 million of "Avatar's" worldwide total is from IMAX theaters, a record for the mega-screen format.)

The Journal: Bill T. Jones

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An amazing video conversation with an artist from whom I am gaining more and more self-respect:

Fondly Do We Hope

Fervently Do We Pray

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Happy New Orbit

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hat tip to Boll Weevil

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