Saturday, June 29, 2013

Somebody's trying to sound butch!

You have to feel sorry for David Dewhurst. It has to be rough to be the lieutenant governor under Rick Perry - I mean, Dewhurst is no Rhodes scholar himself, but when you're second fiddle to a brain-damaged chimp, you must spend a lot of nights curled around a bottle of cheap whiskey, rocking yourself and sobbing uncontrollably.

I mean, he was in charge of the Texas Senate as they tried to ban abortion, and he failed. Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, filibustered for over 12 hours, until they were able to take her off the stage with three challenges: two of them, that she didn't stay on topic, involved her talking about Planned Parenthood and invasive sonograms - both of which are directly involved with abortion. So, bullshit right there.

Then, forgetting that the world was watching, they held a vote after the Senate was required to close down, and tried to fake the record. But the public wouldn't let them get away with that, either, and the vote was declared null and void.

So Dewhurst, being a good'ol'boy from Texas, felt he had to talk tough to hide the fact that he was beaten up by a girl wearing pink sneakers. The sad part is, he isn't very good at it.

Apparently, having witnesses when you try to cheat and break the rules is now called "Obama-style, mob-rule politics" - which I suppose you can understand, considering the back-room nature of traditional Texas politics.

But I think the best part of Dewhurst's sad little rant is what he chose as a battle cry.
Come and Take It!
Why does that sound like a bottom, kneeling in bed and calling to his top? Somebody needs to give Dewhurst some lessons in looking macho before he embarrasses himself further.

Maybe Wendy Davis is available.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Zimmerman Defense

So, in the upcoming weeks, we'll hopefully learn the facts about the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case. I know where I stand on it, based on what I've read, but it's always possible that there are details yet to come out.

But, for the moment, let's ignore the whole "Wild, Wild West," shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later attitude that the "Stand Your Ground" law engenders. Just for now, let's concentrate on the trial.

Let's also ignore the fact that the defense attorney opened with a knock-knock joke. A knock-knock joke that bombed.
"Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying," he explained. "So, let me — at considerable risk — let me say, I would like to tell you a little joke. I know how that may sound a bit weird in this context under these circumstances. But I think you're the perfect audience for it as long as you — if you don't like it or find it funny or appropriate, that you don't hold it against Mr. Zimmerman, you can hold it against me. I have your assurance you won't?"

"Knock, knock. Who’s there? George Zimmerman. George Zimmerman who?" West said. "Alright, good, you’re on the jury."

"Nothing?" he added when the jury apparently failed to laugh. "That’s funny. After what you folks have been through the last two or three weeks."
No, really, dude. If you're begging them to laugh, it was a bad joke. Trust me. I should know.

Instead, let's highlight another part of the defense attorney's opening statement. He tried to claim that Trayvon Martin was not unarmed.
"Trayvon Martin armed himself with the concrete sidewalk and used it to smash George Zimmerman's head; it's no different than if he picked up a brick or bashed it against a wall," Mr. West said, "and the law is very specific as to when you can defend yourself if the other person has a deadly weapon."
Really, that is an awe-inspiring defense. In order for it to work, you have to completely redefine the legal definition of the word "unarmed."

Because if Trayvon Martin was "armed," by the prosecutor's definition, then nobody who exists in a three-dimensional environment can ever be defined as "unarmed."

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Godwin's Law Redux

There is a constant drumbeat from the right comparing Obama to Hitler. I mean, let's ignore the fact that Obama's signature legislation is a method to ensure that everybody can go to a hospital when they're sick without ending up living out of their car. Because that's exactly the same as slaughtering six million Jews and attempting to take over Europe in a bloody campaign of destruction.

Yeah, let's ignore that. Instead, let's ask ourselves why every single time that somebody disagrees with a politician, it's become de rigueur to compare them to Hitler? Why is the litmus test for political arguments the ability to reduce your enemy to the level of the worst dictator in history? Last week, I pointed out an unintentional violation of Godwin's Law, but let's consider the issue a little, shall we?

Following World War One, Germany signed the Treaty of Versailles. This treaty included Article 231, which is commonly called "the guilt clause":
The Allied and Associated Governments affirm and Germany accepts the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies.
Using this as a legal basis, Germany was forced to pay reparations to the rest of Europe. Unfortunately, Germany didn't think they'd lost the war - the German High Command told their citizens that the Army had never been beaten in the field, and the defeat was actually due to actions by civilians, particularly Jews, Socialists and Communists (the Dolchstosslegende, or "Stabbed-in-the-Back Legend").

That's right - Hitler didn't start the rumor that Jews were destroying the economy. Antisemitism was well-established in the German culture long before he was born.

So the Weimar Republic resisted the reparations, and defaulted on payments quite frequently. The French and Belgians, realizing that the Germans were able to pay and simply weren't, eventually invaded and occupied the Ruhr valley, which was the center of coal, iron and steel production in Germany.

Take this reduction in raw materials for the Germans and the resulting reduction in cash-flow, and add to it the fact that the German government funded a passive resistance movement among the citizens of the Ruhr by simply printing more money. This led to the famed hyper-inflation of post-WWI Germany.

Technically, the inflation started when the Kaiser decided to fund WWI by borrowing money instead of taxing his people and using his own fortune: the value of the German mark fell from 4 to 9 per US dollar. But the war ended in 1919; by November 1923, the American dollar was worth 4,210,500,000,000 German marks. Or in more concrete terms, in 1919 a loaf of bread cost 1 mark; by 1923, a loaf of bread cost 100 billion marks.

This was the situation when Adolph Hitler rose into power. During the course of his leadership, he brought his people back from the brink of ruin and ensured they could eat.

People want for life to be simple. They want their enemies to wholly evil, so that there's no question that "destroying them" is a bad thing. The reductive power of the human mind wants those we disagree with to have no redeeming features. Homophobes want gays to practice pedophilia and beastiality. Radical conservatives want liberals to be fascists and totalitarian dictators. Radical liberals want conservatives to be inhuman monsters who laugh as children starve in the streets.

The reality is that people are more complex than that. But to see that, to understand the forces that drive someone, is to understand that perhaps evil is not something simple. Perhaps evil and good are in all of us. That bad things are done by good people, and good things are done by bad people, and the world isn't the simple place we want it to be.

Would you like to see the most frightening picture of Adolph Hitler ever taken?

Hitler, holding hands with a little girl and walking in a park. Hitler loved children. He loved animals: he was a confirmed vegetarian and was opposed to vivisection.

Were you aware that Eva Braun took home movies?

Hitler was a human being. It challenges your worldview: he should be a monster, pounding on desks and ordering people to their deaths. But he lived, he loved, he laughed, he played with children.

He also destroyed much of Europe, threw the world into war, and established concentration camps where 11 million people were killed.

Perhaps "good" and "evil" aren't the simple concepts that some people want them to be.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Can Godwin come down and rule on this?

You know, the GOP keeps trying to claim that they don't have a "War on Women." They claim that they respect women (even though the womenfolk can't be trusted to make decisions regarding their own bodies). But then they'll stumble, and somebody like GOP candidate Todd Akin will try to claim that rape is not a reason that abortion should be kept legal, because, after all, nobody gets pregnant that way.
"First of all, from what I understand from doctors, (pregnancy from rape) is really rare," Akin told KTVI-TV in a clip posted to YouTube by the Democratic super PAC American Bridge. "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."
Or you get somebody like, say, Trent Franks (R-AZ), who, after ten years in the House of Representatives, should know better.
Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), whose measure banning abortions after 20 weeks was being considered in the House Judiciary Committee, argued against a Democratic amendment to make exceptions for rape and incest by suggesting that pregnancy from rape is rare.

"Before, when my friends on the left side of the aisle here tried to make rape and incest the subject — because, you know, the incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low," Franks said.

Franks continued: "But when you make that exception, there’s usually a requirement to report the rape within 48 hours. And in this case that's impossible because this is in the sixth month of gestation. And that's what completely negates and vitiates the purpose for such an amendment."
Now, let's ignore the fact that The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, who make it their business to know such things, report that ten to fifteen thousand abortions due to rape occur each year, which makes statements like that "medically inaccurate, offensive, and dangerous." And we can ignore that particular piece of data because, after all, facts don't matter to this crowd.

Instead, let's all try and remember a wonderful little bit of information dug up by Tim Townsend and Blythe Bernhard for the St Louis Post-Dispatch following Akin's comments.
While U.S. Rep. Todd Akin cited only "doctors" as his source of information about the rarity of pregnancy resulting from rape, it is two pages, from Mecklenburg's 1972 article, "The Indications for Induced Abortion: A Physician's Perspective," that have influenced two generations of anti-abortion activists hoping to build a medical case to ban all abortions without exception...

In supporting his claim about trauma and ovulation, Mecklenburg cited experiments conducted in Nazi death camps.

The Nazis tested this hypothesis "by selecting women who were about to ovulate and sending them to the gas chambers, only to bring them back after their realistic mock-killing, to see what the effect this had on their ovulatory patterns. An extremely high percentage of these women did not ovulate."

Finally, Mecklenburg said it was likely that the rapists — because of "frequent masturbation" — were unlikely to be fertile themselves.
(I just threw in that last line as a bonus.)

So, are we clear on this? The GOP is trying to claim that there is no such thing as rape-babies, because the Nazis said there weren't. They are now basing their arguments on unscientific and inhumane experiments performed by Nazi doctors in death camps

Do you know how happy that one little fact makes me? I don't have to call the GOP racist, fascist, or Nazis! They're doing it to themselves!

Republikanische Partei ├╝ber alles!

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Aren't we tired of this yet?

Much like Benghazi, the Congressional Republicans, desperate for any scandal they can find, are trying to flog the IRS story into some impeachment-worthy conspiracy, when it's actually just a simple case of a group of bureaucrats trying to do their jobs.

The current version of the "conspiracy" here is: Obama ordered the IRS to investigate right-wing political organizations because he is a power-hungry tyrant!!

I think that pretty much covers it, but by the time you read this, it might have morphed into something that sounds even scarier.

The Republicans know that power-hungry tyrants do this kind of thing, because this is something that Republican presidents have done for decades: Nixon tried to use the IRS against his political enemies (it was one of his articles of impeachment), but wasn't allowed to; and the IRS under George W Bush was infamous for targeting liberal groups, like Greenpeace, the NAACP, and churches that spoke out against the war.

Congress has convened five hearings, and have turned up nothing but lies and half-truths in their efforts to smear the president. IRS officials have resigned or been fired, because people further down in the organization were trying to do their job as best they could.

The entire administrative structure of the IRS has been lambasted by the Republicans for their "lack of leadership" (completely ignoring the fact that there is no leadership because the Republicans in Congress have blocked every appointment Obama has made - including his appointment of an IRS director - for the last five years).

The IRS is an easy target, because nobody likes paying taxes. The fact that they already have a negative image in most people's eyes makes smearing them much easier. But, for once, they aren't the bad guys.

Let's start from the beginning. The tax code gives us a number of different classifications based on what we do. One of them, a tax-exempt status, is designated 501(c)(4), and it's defined as "Civic leagues or organizations not organized for profit but operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare, ...the net earnings of which are devoted exclusively to charitable, educational, or recreational purposes."

This allows groups to be formed to construct basketball courts for inner-city kids, build a gym for a high school, set up after-school reading programs, operate food banks, or any other activity that can be defined as "social welfare." And it goes further: to prevent people from arguing that defeating a politician would qualify as "social welfare," the IRS specifically excludes political organizations from this particular tax-exempt status.
(ii) Political or social activities. The promotion of social welfare does not include direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.
And that inconvenient fact is what the Teabaggers want everybody to forget.

So, after the Citizen's United ruling in 2010, the number of groups applying for 501(c)(4) status doubled, and an already overworked IRS tried to keep up. A couple of workers in the Cincinnati office realized that they could pull up a large number of the "bad" applications by searching for political terms in the applications. (Remember - politics are't allowed for these guys.) Unfortunately, all of the terms they came up with happened to be conservative - probably because conservative groups, and particularly Tea Party groups - had a long history of financial discrepancies.
But when the Cincinnati group explained their test to IRS exempt organizations division chief Lois G. Lerner, she objected to it and it was changed. A few months later, the IRS would release new guidance that suggested scrutinizing “political action type organizations involved in limiting/expanding Government, educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights, social economic reform movement,” and after that, “organizations with indicators of significant amounts of political campaign intervention (raising questions as to exempt purpose and/or excess private benefit.)”
Which showed that the GOP was just playing political games when they called for the resignation of the acting IRS Commissioner, since the language had already been corrected by the time he sat down in the big chair. The Commissioner in place when the "bad" language was there? Bush-appointee Douglas Shulman.

Were more conservative groups reviewed than liberal groups? Absolutely. And you know why? Because there were more conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Conservative groups accounted for about 84 percent of the spending reported to the FEC — mainly through Crossroads GPS, Americans for Prosperity and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Liberal groups spent 12 percent of the dark money. Nonpartisan groups made up the rest.
In actual fact, the congressional investigation has not only found nothing, they now have evidence clearing the White House. But Darrell Issa (R-CA) is the chairman of the House Oversight Committee investigating this lack of a scandal, and he's been running one witch hunt after another since Obama came into office. And now, it turns out, he's sitting on the evidence.
House Oversight Committee ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings on Sunday said that the so-called scandal involving the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) targeting of tea party groups was "solved," but Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) has refused to release the testimony of a "conservative Republican" IRS manager because it indicated that the White House was not involved.

Last week, Issa had told CNN host Candy Crowley that IRS agents "were directly being ordered from Washington," but he declined to produce complete transcripts of the testimony of IRS employees to back up his claims.

On Sunday, Cummings explained to Crowley that he had "begged" Issa to release the full transcripts. "He's the chairman of the committee, we're not in power," the Maryland Democrat pointed out. "If he does not release them, I will. Period."

"I’m willing to come on your show next week with the chairman, with the transcripts, if he agrees to do that," he added. "But if he doesn't, I'll release them by the end of the week."
These are some of the little facts you need to remember if the subject of the IRS "scandal" comes up.

Friday, June 07, 2013

In Memoriam - Just a damned cat

In 1997, we came back to the States from Germany, and somehow, somebody in the Pentagon figured that my operatically-trained wife and I needed to be in Wyoming. (See, "opera" and "opry" are really similar...) On our arrival, the Housing Office informed us that nothing was available on base for about a year. (This was not the last time they'd lie to us.)

Needing a place to live, we rented a crappy little house (that turned out to have been built by the Salvation Army, with the plans reduced 10% in size), and, in the first week or so, I left the Trophy Wife, my seven-year-old and two twelve-year-olds, alone long enough to get some groceries. The nearest grocery store was roughly a mile away, and as I walked out, I was accosted by a couple of kids with a plastic hamper containing a cluster of kittens.

Weirdly, the Trophy Wife (despite my best efforts to instill some sanity in her life) has always appreciated cats more than other animals. And here I am, with an armful of bread, milk and cereal, looking into a basket of black-and-white cats, and one tiny little runt kittn, apparently made of orange-and-white plaid. All "free to good home."

I walked to the car, put the groceries in the trunk, walked back and said "I'll take that one."

No cat carrier, so I walked back to the car with an calico kitten cradled in my arms, purring. Until I reached for the door and the little bastard leaped out of my arms and ran under the car, where she found the exact middle. Just out of reach from any angle, where she sat and shivered.

I'm pretty sure that was when I realized her name was, by necessity, "Bucket-head." Which shortened easily to Bucky.

Being intelligent (if underage) human beings, the kids agreed right away. The Trophy Wife did not. But she eventually caved under pressure, and "Bucky" it was.

We moved several times in the intervening years, and pets have come and gone. The most intelligent dog I ever had the pleasure of knowing came into (and out of) our lives. At least one cat (an idiot long-hair) escaped through a badly-fitted screen and never found her way back. But Bucky was always a constant.

She grew into a beautiful cat, but not a charmer. She had a voice like badly-tuned foghorn with a "nasal" setting, and she wasn't afraid to honk her anger when she didn't get her way. She never loved me, but learned to tolerate me (as so many people do). But as time went on, she became the favorite of the Trophy Wife. If only because she was always around, and always insistent that you love her (even if only from a distance).

At sixteen years old, she had a long run for a cat. In the last several months, she developed a number of health problems; two nights ago, she had what seemed to be a stroke, and a very dignified cat (she may not have started out that way, but that's what she turned into) lost all control of her body.

Neither my wife or I has ever had a cat who lived this long. Last night, we said goodbye to a beautiful girl.

She was just a damned cat. Why am I crying? What the hell is wrong with me?