Dec 24, 2013

Happy Holidays 2013

Merry Xmas! There, I said it. And, happy holidays to all. This is a nice time of the year to be spent with friends and family, as there are several common days off. I hope you had a nice winter solstice (Dec. 21st). Festivus, Humanlight, New Year, Kwanza, and whatever else you desire to celebrate may all come with good times and health! Let's eat, drink, hang out with the good people around us, and enjoy.


Humans have tried to make sense of the natural world but in the absence of knowledge they made up stories about spirits, gods, and thought they knew the order of the universe through revelation. Slowly, we grew up--well, some people who asked questions, sought evidence, applied reason, and were able to revise in the face of conformity and tradition.

Why so many humans are still in the dark ages after dawn of the Enlightenment is amazing. We have a modern state, with relative stability, affluence, education & access to information, plus a good amount of scientific knowledge, and yet, so many choose to live by edicts and observations of small-minded ancestors of the bronze age!  Why isn't obvious that the god in the Bible, Koran, and any other "holy text" is so outdated.  It's so clear that what's in those books came from the mind of people who were ignorant, superstitious, homophobic, genocidal, misogynistic, slave holders, and fearful of nature.



It bothers me to high heaven when modern people have their opinions informed by those ancient texts. And, they draw some perverse morality from those. The vile rant of the clan leader of Duck Dynasty, the reactions of conservatives against same-sex marriage (the same cons who applaud Uganda's capital punishment for homosexuals), are all informed by passages in the Bible.  Ridiculous, simply ridiculous.

But, I love the federal judge's ruling that Utah's banning of same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. This is a strike at the heart of a very religious state and against the efforts of the Mormon church that has spend lots of money, even out of state, to defeat equal treatment under the law. It is about equality. Progressives aren't threatened by this change of tradition, only the conservatives are. 

Back in 2004, I wrote in this blog that there would be a clash between the progressive forces and the reactionary conservative/religious forces. I hoped that the former would prevail, and I'm happy to see that it's happening. Not at the pace I'd like, but we've come a long way in the last quarter of a century, indeed in some 10 years since I wrote that post.


So, let's celebrate our progress and look forward to a new year ahead when we can do much more; we do have to keep fighting for a system that delivers for the 99%, and for a society that promotes the good life, access to opportunity and conditions that allow for an individual to fulfill their own potential.

Best,

George

Dec 14, 2013

Ricky Gervais: Beliefs Don't Change the Facts, Facts Should Change Beliefs. Happy Festivus!

I've been caught up with lots of work as this year is coming to an end, or as some of us are looking for a new light on December 21st when the winter solstice takes place and the days begin to get longer.

New York is bracing for a big snow storm over the weekend, so we will, most likely, have white xmas. Over at Faux News they're obsessed with white Jesus and white Santa, because, hey, you've got to respect the facts and history as we like it. Megyn Kelly is another conservative ignorant puppet. When she took Hannity's slot some said she was not as rabid. Yes, amid the nonsense, the willful distortions, and cranking of the propaganda megaphone, she had acknowledged a few facts here and there. Like when she called Ohio for Obama in 2012 after everyone else had done except Karl Rove. Wow. Maybe she should be given some kind of award for this!

The documentary, The Unbelievers, opens in NYC on Friday, on a very limited schedule in a few cities. I've seen bits of the Dawkins-Krauss tour around the world promoting the scientific view and pounding ignorance & prejudice. "Beliefs don't change the facts, facts should change beliefs," as Ricky Gervais is quoted.





Of course you've heard of the newest fake holiday, Festivus, but like xmas, Santa and his elves, Kwanza, Saturnalia, etc, people should be free to celebrate, create meaningful events and ceremonies without the state (government) discriminating or favoring one over the other. In the rotunda of the Florida state capitol--where the legislature designated it as a public space--now stands a Festivus pole made out of pvc plastic and empty beer cans!  I love it. [Here's the NPR story] Oh, and there's a pending application from a Satanic cult to put up something next to the nativity scene!  The Wicka should also be represented. I think the Greeks in Florida should set up shop there too. Zeus has been so maligned and ignored. It's a shame that the god of gods who presided over the birth of western civilization not be part of every public worship display.


Nov 27, 2013

A Liberal Citizen to President Obama: Push for Immigration Reform Now!

President Obama latest staged speech on immigration was interrupted by an attendee who yelled, "our families are separated," referring to the record deportations under the current president. Obama gave a b.s. answer that he has to follow the law, and that he still needs the immigrant communities behind him to change the status quo. He's obviously playing a political card in order to keep up the support these people have overwhelmingly given him and the Democrats.  But, it's his timid and ineffectual approach that hasn't changed the status quo.

Mr. president, he law is broken, the whole immigration legal framework is broken, plus any law that is applied without discretion is probably an unjust law. You have applied other laws with prudence and restraint, like when you decided that the feds wouldn't harass the citizens of states who have legalized marijuana--against federal law.

If there's no criminal conviction, the deportation of parents of US citizens (children born here to undocumented immigrants) is unconscionable, as the deportation of many others who have roots and are productive in their communities. It's a shame that we--most of the blame goes to the irascible Republicans in the House--haven't passed the DREAM act and legalize those children who were brought in the US without a visa but this is the only country they know. On this, the president issued an executive order to stop the deportation of these children or those who were brought into the country as children. So, why did he do that?...  [The Immigration Policy Center is definitely worth a look as it has a comprehensive, issue-by-issue, approach to immigration in the US]


So, Mr. President show some leadership and get comprehensive immigration reform passed. Stop repeating the same mistakes. In 2008, you ran on a universal/public option for health care. Once elected by a landslide you wasted over a year by delegating to Congress. Seriously? Not only you lost the momentum and wasted your political capital, but in the end we got a flawed system. Yes, it's better than the current one, but it could (yes, we could!) have been much better by extending Medicare to all. 

It's mind boggling that his signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act, was so clumsy implemented. He knew the opposition has been shredding the ACA from the moment it was proposed; there was no luxury for having this kind of problems today. He made it so  much harder for many Dems and progressives to support this flawed program. This doesn't help building momentum against the regressive Republicans, who had been battered from causing the government shutdown this Fall.

Last year, Mr. Obama won reelection handily. He had made immigration reform an important policy goal in his second term. What did he do then? He, again, delegated to Congress. Oh, yes, he threatened them that if they didn't do it, he would! Sure. Immigration reform, flawed and all, was passed in the Senate but died in the Republican House. 

At least there's good news for those who prefer to lead from the rear. A majority of Americans now not only favor immigration reform but also a path to citizenship for the undocumented. 

Nov 10, 2013

Goodbye to a Great Autumnal Season 2013. We Were Fortunate to See Nature in Its All Splendor in the Northeast this Year.

All seasons are so beautiful, even if the weather goes into extreme mode at times. The northeast is a nice place to live, because of the distinct seasons. The big cities have their advantages of culture, entertainment, people, experiences. NYC and it's suburbs offer a great combination of city life and a quick access to the great outdoors. 

I've gone almost everywhere within a radius of 200 miles of NYC. OK, I'm sure I haven't seen it all, and that's great! There's seems to be an inexhaustible number  of nooks and crannies still to be explored; plus the changing nature of the ones already experienced. 



The Hudson river north of Bear Mt bridge.
Covered bridge in CT

Clean air, public parks, safety, leisure, individual choice & responsibility are all hallmarks of a good society.

Most likely my last ride for the season, 1 week ago. It's gotten too cold for me now.

Castle by Garison, NY
This was a good Fall season for us in the northeast. The weather was very good, lots of moderate temperatures and crisp nights. The leaf colors and their duration scored high, maybe an 8 out of 10. Not every year we're so fortunate to have a great leaf peeping experience. The last 2 years, at the end of October we had very bad storms. Last year, Sandy caused so much damage. I lost power for 5 days. 

Maybe in the next few days I'll upload some pictures from the NYC Village Halloween parade, which came back strong after it was cancelled last year. 

Spectacular autumnal colors in Rockland Co., NY
Have a great winter!

Why Did Typhoon Hayian Kill So Many People? Did They Deserve to Die?

Philosopher of the Enlightenment, I. Kant
After a big natural disaster that hits home, it's hard for most people--especially the ones directly affected--to ask critical questions, but while feeling sympathy for our fellow humans in the Philippines, some questions are indeed in order. It's time, as I. Kant noticed upon the dawn of the Enlightenment, that we shed our immaturity. Faith is wishful thinking, in the faithful's favor; it's believing in something so fantastical without evidence and reason. I wouldn't mind except that this kind of attitude has been an obstacle to progress for humanity.

It's this kind of mentality--or, most appropriately, a virus of the mind--that makes reasonable, educated, and well-adjusted people have a huge blind spot. And, when someone tries to shed some light into this dark spot, there are objections of all sorts.

We're told that God is benevolent, all-knowing, and all-powerful. But, it wouldn't take more than a few pages of reading from "His book" to realize that his ideas are exactly of those primitive folk--uneducated, highly superstitious, homophobic,patriarchal,  genocidal, ethnocentric, fearful, and scientifically illiterate. We're told that God is good & just no matter what he does or allows to happen. We have free choice to be moral or immoral and we don't really know how God assess us at any given moment. 

 Free will?
The free will notion is essential in Xtian doctrine. Even though God knows in advance, somehow it's necessary for people to demonstrate whether they're good or bad. But, why is this necessary? Should babies be charged with the same responsibility?


So, all right then, it was God's will that 15,000 people died in the typhoon Haiyan, undoubtedly many were little children. Their parents, undoubtedly, were religious. If they happened to be non-Xtians, they were already condemned to spend an eternity in hell. How about their children? 

Natural disasters aren't man-made. Diseases aren't either. The creator of the universe has to be credited with all, the good and the bad, including the harmful bacteria, bad diseases like cancer, and the water-borne worm that eats the eyeball from inside out and blinds thousands in Africa. Some of these poor people never been taught about the Bible--the word of the one true God--so they suffer and will go to hell due to no fault of their own.

I hear the objections to this. Oh, God is merciful and loving, and wouldn't condemn anyone simply because they're not Xtian. Really? Think again! It absolutely matters whether you worship another God, have certain types of sex, fast on certain days, and generally sins are very religion-specific! No way around it. Muslims would agree with this concept. Eat pork, charge interest, question the prophet Mohammed and you're condemned for eternity!




Image from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, US.

Every year, 9 million children under the age of 5 die in the world. That's 27,000 a day, 17 every minute. They die from diseases, accidents, or natural disasters. Yet, God watches unwilling, or unable to intervene. I fail to see the moral lesson here. If anyone among us behaved likewise, we'd think this person would be impotent or evil for not caring enough to save the children.

When children are drowned by the thousands, as in this case, we see people praying to the same God that didn't do anything. Survivors thank the deity for saving them, forgetting the others who, I guess, deserved to die in a horrible, agonizing death! This is the dark blind spot that need to be illuminated. We have to break the chains of the mind and it's about time skeptics, humanists, and rationalists speak up and challenge the prevailing immaturity of the Dark Ages.

This is the kind of mentality that allows religious people to tell us that God punished New Yorkers and New Orelaneans for being atheists, homosexuals, feminists, hedonists, ACLU supporters, and whatever! The same "reverend" crowd that has an opinion on morality matters, and worse, on scientific matters. Have you noticed that one side of the debating points on abortion, stem cell research, evolution, general science, etc, are made by people whose views are ..informed by their religion!

I say, enough of that already.


 

Oct 21, 2013

Life, Death, Wishful Thinking, And The Devil Incarnate. All in this Week's Post. Come Right In!

I've listened to NPR's series "What Comes Next? Conversations on Afterlife" and I found it entertaining but nothing surprised me though. The philosopher argued the most interesting points, but the rest--from all sorts of religious points--made incoherent arguments for an afterlife. No proof offered, not even good reasoning. Of course, there were divergent opinions, because, guess what, they can't agree as they don't agree on what's in the mind of God. 

Basically what they proposed was some kind of a theme based on their pre-conceived notion that select ancients had captured God's dictation--which is quite preposterous. What comes out of these arguments is wishful thinking. People need to have hope to deal with their pending total annihilation, which, I admit, is not a pleasant thing to look forward to. But, I guess it's a matter of choice whether to believe in something that makes you feel good (better) than the unpleasant reality.

Like many true skeptics, I can't be sure of what happens after we die, other than our bodies, including our brains--the seat of conscience and individualism--decompose and wither away. Survival, for the person would mean the preservation of memory and personality as a minimum. Yes, our atoms will be recycled and combine with other atoms from and into other stuff. Every atom in our body has come from an exploding star! It's novel to think that way: We're star stuff. Of course, a negative person might call us ..nuclear waste.

But, a skeptic wouldn't make up stories of a nice outcome simply it feels better than any other alternative. That's what a scared person would do. It's the job of the religious leaders to get followers by delivering enticing but empty promises. And, they do this by appealing not to reason and evidence but to credulity, fear, and ignorance.

Did you know that in the past, Xtians didn't believe that their bodies will go with then during Rapture. Actually it made more sense that way, if you wanted a better experience without an old, wrinkled, sick body that had needs, some of which were "unclean urges." In the modern age, this changed. Many Xtians today believe they'll be raptured along with their bodies and that they'll go to heaven where they'll even see their pets there!

Speaking of beliefs, most Americans (US) believe in an afterlife. Actually many believe that it's probable Jesus will return in their lifetime--in the next 30 years. That would mean the end of times, or life as we know it.  Whatever. Reality doesn't depend on majority rule, and science didn't progress by polling public opinion. 

We're far behind when it comes to scientific literacy, thanks to strong religious beliefs--which are the strongest in the western world. That's why scientific facts are controversial in the US! The age of the earth, evolution, global climate changes, or even basic human reproduction fact. Public policy and much debate in our country is "informed" by faith. 


New Jersey Allows Same-Sex Couples to Marry


The NJ Supreme Court unanimously rejected the governor's (yes, that's Republican Christie) request for a stay, not to allow these marriages to happen because he argued "irreparable damage." The high court ruled the opposite, that no one would be hurt if it happened.

The governor wanted to put this into a referendum too. Which would be fine if we had settled on the question whether it's a right or a privilege for adults to associate & marry anyone they want. If it's a right, then a simple majority (or even an occasional  supermajority) should be able to deny rights. Slavery was quite popular back when.

What's the harm by allowing same-sex marriage? I'm not gay nor black. Should I care about them? Yes, because I want a tolerant, happy, free-from-prejudice society to live in. Have you noticed that a conservative (yes, Republican too) attitude is that they care when it affects them directly! They are not for a social safety net, funding for science, etc, unless they need those services. 

Some of the loudest voices complaining about government came from Republicans after superstorm Sandy. The same people who applauded Romney's statement that FEMA (and most other public emergency response agencies) be privatized! Much like that idiot governor from Louisiana who went on national TV (responding to one of Obama's speeches) to tells it's a waste of money for government to monitor volcanoes!

Dick Cheney is in favor of same-sex marriage because he has a lesbian daughter. Sarah Palin is in favor of funding research into finding treatment for childhood diseases. You guessed it, she has a child with Down's syndrome.  By the way, why is Palin still relevant? Why did Fox News hired her as a talking head? OK. I have the answer, no need to reply. I dare you though, if you can handle it, to watch her latest interview with Megyn Kelly on Fox about the government shutdown. In true-Palin fashion, she puts some nonsensical statements together, mixing irrelevant points, confusing terms, and it's pure nonsense. 

 Conservatives Accept Judge Scalia's Views as Intellectual Fortitude


Supreme Court Justice A. Scalia proves what we progressive have been saying all along: his an intellectual midget whose moral code and "informed opinions" come from the whackiest sources.



For those who might want to read the interview Scalia gave to the New York magazine, hit the link. Some of the highlights (lowlights):
  • the devil is real; actually a real person who walks among us
  • the Bible is a document that talks about real history, people, and events
  • the Old Testament and the Gospels reveal truths about reality, the universe, morality, and why our legal system is based on such [it's not really, but that's what we get in Scalia, who's 1 of the 9 on the highest court of the land that interprets the US constitution!]
  • "we're fools for Christ" [whatever this means]
  • sources of information include conservative talk radio, the Washington Times (this scientology-owned, arch-conservative rag)

Oct 15, 2013

Ah, at Least Nature is Putting a Great Display of Colors in the Northeast this Year!

While the political world in our nation's capital is very dysfunctional these days, we're having a wonderful season here in the northeast. The weather has been great, with warm days and cool nights, but the most important aspect is the beautiful autumnal colors. It's shaping to be a great Fall this year.





I've been taking day trips in the surrounding areas, but I'm hoping this coming weekend I can drive up to the Berkshires in Massachusetts if the weather holds.  These pictures are from last weekend as I rode my motorcycle in Harriman Park, NY. The Seven Lakes Drive goes through some of the most gorgeous landscapes.



The Foliage Network has frequent reports on the leaf/color situation. As of Oct. 11th, we're in "high color" which is a tad below "peak color".  Depending on the weather, dramatic changes can take place within a couple days. So get out and enjoy, especially if you live in an area that offer such a spectacular natural display. The northeast US is great for this. We're so lucky, for the most part, because there have been several years that the display isn't as magnificent due to weather conditions. Sometimes the leaves fall before they go through much of color change, or that the colors aren't as bright and diverse.




Oct 10, 2013

Shutting Down Our Government Matters to All of US, but the Republicans Wanted to Negotiate the Ransom.... (after they threw the brick through the window anyway)

What is the role of government? Why should we have government? Can we be better off without government? What is the "mission statement" of the US?  What is a good, just, society? These are some of the questions I ask my Political Science students, to begin the discussion beyond the simplistic labels we often hear and see in politics and media.


 

Senator Warren (D-MA), in the above video, makes a succinct explanation of the government shutdown by the extortionist Republicans. The funny thing is that there's enough support for a resolution in the House but Speaker Boehner doesn't want to pass a bill without the majority of the majority, and if he did bring such a bill to the floor, the teapartiers would revolt. The GOP is paying the price for the Sarah Palins, M. Bachmanns, Rand/Ron Pauls, etc.

Elections have consequences. In 2010 the GOP managed to capture governorships and state legislatures in a midterm election. The result of the "gerrymandering" has meant that even though Dems got over a million votes for House races, they ended up in the minority. As it is now, the Dems need to score close to 7% more (average in the country) in order to get a slim majority in the House next year. If they manage to blame the GOP for the shutdown and if Dems actually show up at the polls next year, it could very well happen.

There's a very interesting NPR piece [click on the link] on why there's less incentive on the wingnuts to compromise. They come from safe districts. Politicians first think of themselves and their re-election; the party and the country are secondary-tertiary concerns. Another phenomenon is that parts of our country not only are moving at different paces but actually in different directions. Especially the 6 southern states who are becoming more conservative, while the blue states are becoming more liberal. 

To close this post, here's a quote from a favorite of mine, Robert Reich.


"They call themselves conservatives but that’s not it, either. They don’t want to conserve what we now have. They’d rather take the country backwards – before the 1960s and 1970s, and the Environmental Protection Act, Medicare, and Medicaid; before the New Deal, and its provision for Social Security, unemployment insurance, the forty-hour workweek, and official recognition of trade unions; even before the Progressive Era, and the first national income tax, antitrust laws, and Federal Reserve.

They’re not conservatives. They’re regressives. And the America they seek is the one we had in the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth century."
Robert Reich

Sep 26, 2013

Rising Inequality in the US. We're the Worst in Income Inequality in the Developed World.

Robert Reich's Inequality For All movie is coming out and I think it's a must-see for those who are interested to know the economic reality in the US. Here's the trailer:






As I teach political science courses, we discuss questions like, what is justice, what's the mission statement of the US, what are the priorities and public policy we should have in order to make our country a better place to live for all, or at least to maximize the good life for as many people as possible.

I'm not surprised that so many students have bought the narrative that we, Americans [not all, of course; there are other "Americans" such as Canadians, Mexicans, etc.] are so much better off than everyone else in the world that inequality is acceptable. [The public doesn't really know the obscenity of the gap] That the "free market" is best when it's left alone. That government gets in the way so smaller, impotent government is best. That the best way to create jobs is to give tax breaks and special treatment to the wealthy--the "job creators".

Quoting from Reich's blog:
In reality, the “free market” is a bunch of rules about (1) what can be owned and traded (the genome? slaves? nuclear materials? babies? votes?); (2) on what terms (equal access to the internet? the right to organize unions? corporate monopolies? the length of patent protections? ); (3) under what conditions (poisonous drugs? unsafe foods? deceptive Ponzi schemes? uninsured derivatives? dangerous workplaces?) (4) what’s private and what’s public (police? roads? clean air and clean water? healthcare? good schools? parks and playgrounds?); (5) how to pay for what (taxes, user fees, individual pricing?). And so on. 

Back in the Middle Ages, when a new class, the merchants, began to elbow their way into the old regime. It was a good thing though, because it demonstrated the fallacy of ascribed status  and political absolutism. Competition brought new ideas and the rediscovery of the "roots of western civilization" in ancient Greece & Rome.

But, the rich, regardless of their origin and ways to the top, have understood that the biggest returns/profits come by investing in the politics. With technology, the media is another realm where influencing the public narrative also pays in spades. Oh, and in the US, making elections very expensive is also a good way to wielding power.

It's Class War!

I have to lough, though it's not funny, when Joe Lotta, the GOP's NYC mayoral candidate is accusing the Democrat Bill de Blasio of engaging in class warfare! Have you noticed that it's the conservatives and the rich who are flinging this charge? If there were a war, it's been won by the rich. 



View From the top: Contempt 

Paul Krugman in today's (9/27/13) op-ed writes about the ridiculous views people at the very top of the economic pyramid have about the rest of us, while they're exhibiting a wealth of arrogance. How else would you describe their greed and their expectation that when the going is good, the profits remain private, but when they make stupid decisions and fail, they demand that the cost is socialized!

It defies common sense to have CEOs making tons of money plus bonuses while their companies failed and the public's money is used for a bailout! They say that it's like Hitler invading Poland or like the lynchings in the South!  I say, maybe it's time to really show them how a true invasion looks like. As for the lynchings, I'm not advocating violence, but when I hear such arrogant pronouncements I see (and secretly wish) elements of the French Revolution fittingly applied here.


Sep 15, 2013

We Are So Much Better than the Syrians and the Zimbabwans. Shut Up then, and Wave the Flag!

As the new academic year begins, one has to think about the benefits of education and whether a country is better off with educated citizens. Of course, getting a job is important and a formal education makes is easier to get better paying jobs. Most countries realize that a basic education--to read and write--is necessary so they've instituted mandatory and free public education. 

But, it's getting harder, due to the rising tuition, to get into a higher education, either a 2 or 4 year college. Recently, student debt became larger than mortgage debt! In other words, graduates begin their professional life in a deep hole and now owe more that more established homeowners, who presumably have a job (or had one when they got their mortgage) and perhaps are more financially better off than a young, unemployed graduate.

We may be heading back to the old days when the children of the elite could go to college, and, perhaps, a few other token students from the lower classes. Since the 1970s, real wages have remained stagnant over all. The consumers' buying power increased however since those days, because most of the goods have become cheaper. Food, clothing, appliances, cars, etc, are now cheaper. A sense of prosperity also fueled by personal debt, plus a constant barrage of a mythic narrative about the American dream made many people content if not happy. Yet, reality eventually sinks in.


Rising Inequality


Aristotle argued that extremes aren't good for a good society, or for a society to be good for the majority of the people. Extremes of power of wealth work in the interest who have wealth, and who in turn acquire political power, at the very least to protect (and enhance, 'cause you can never have enough) their interests. The elites try to control (and they go a great job) the narrative--the story about who we are, what the country is, our greatness, the land of opportunity, freedom, etc. It seems that a system that allows some people to rise demands (and gets) that they adopt the narrative. After all, once you climb a few rungs of the ladder it may be natural to belief that anyone can make it. Those who don't have personal faults. Look at individuals like Gates, Jobs, Jordan who made it. It must be true what they say about the American dream.

Yes, we have been more mobile, successful, free in comparison to other countries over the last two centuries. But, we had slavery, oppression of women & minorities, limited free speech, authoritarian government, the Great Depression and the Gilded Age whose attributes we're began to emulate in the last 20-30 years. This is not good. We're going back to extremes.

There's been lots of reports over those years about the rising inequality. [Here's a collection from NPR/WNYC] Let me give you some food for thought. Sasha Abramsky's book, "The American Way of Poverty" is one source. This is from WNYC's interview [link]
 "Poverty in America is made up of both the long-term chronically poor and the new working poor—the tens of millions seriously affected by the economic downturn and cutbacks in social welfare programs. Sasha Abramsky argues that for the majority of Americans, financial insecurity has become the new norm. He looks at economic inequality and poverty, and suggests ways for devising a fairer and more equitable social contract. In The American Way of Poverty, he looks at topics from housing policy to wage protections to affordable higher education, and calls political changes and a new, more effective War on Poverty."


Paul Krugman [blog, The Conscience of a Liberal] wrote a recent article about "Rich Man's Recovery" showing that since 2009, 95% of the economic gains have been captured by the top 1%. It's even worse, as 60% of the same gains have gone to even a smaller number of Americans, the 1/10th of 1%! Those are the ones with incomes over $1.9 million a year! I'm sure that the same people have been racking it in for many years before this period.

The Roosevelt Institute (yes, it's about FDR's progressiveness) shows a study that last year, the top 1% took home the largest share of income since 1928. But, the rich pay a bigger share of the taxes, we often hear! Well, this is indeed outrageous! The system that allows them to have so much more money while the middle class and the poor can't pay more is unconscionable! 

Romney pays 12.9% in income taxes while I'm paying 30% of my meager income, while I feel this pain a lot more.  How ridiculous is to say that a billionaire who pays 5% in taxes, writes a check of $50 million, while a teacher with a $50K/yr, pays only $15K?!! I know, how dare those laggards, the teachers, complain about tax policies? The super rich pay more in taxes that all the teachers in America. It's a scandal. Tsk.









Pro-capitalist publications, like the Economist and the Wall Street Journal, aside from their editorials, have published numerous articles about the widening of the gap in the US, that we're falling behind class-conscious and glass-ceiling old Europe. 

Which brings us back to the value of education which has a way to open people's minds just by exposing them to possibilities, knowledge, and hopefully how to evaluate, reason, and enhance the ability to ask questions and to amend. A better affluent, secure, less stressful life also enhances citizenship. You're more likely to be engaged, interested, voting, mobilizing citizen if you have the resources and the time to do so.

But, maybe that's what the elites don't want. Instead they invest heavily in the narrative of "feel good and proud American" while cutting the social safety net. This while higher education is getting more expensive. Oh, and you know what else follows the same track? Politics! 

But, don't you worry, the rich have lots of spare change to finance multi-billion dollar campaigns. We just sit back and relax and enjoy the show. They love tired and passive viewers for the show they've designed for us. Popcorn anyone? You poor with your refrigerators, microwaves, and flat-screen tvs... what more do you want? Have you noticed how deplorable the conditions are in Syria and Zimbabwe? Shut up then.

Aug 31, 2013

The Syrian Civil War Draws the World's Attention and Some Soldiers of Fortune. But Is There Any Fortune?

The users of WMDs should be held accountable and the world community should condemn human rights abuses and should support conditions that promote good life, the right of self-determination, and the democratic process. Well, should is one thing and what is are not identical. There's lots of blame to go around, including toward the United States that wants to punish Syria's use of chemical weapons.

In the 1980s during the Iraq-Iran war, the US was giving lots of weapons and most importantly military intel to Saddam. When Iran was gaining the advantage and was ready to exploit weaknesses in the Iraqi defenses, the US alerted Baghdad. Saddam's response was to use sarin and mustard gas against the Iranians indiscriminately. He had used such chemical weapons before against Iraqi citizens opposed to his regime. The US bears lots of responsibility for aiding Saddam then.

Now president Obama has painted himself into a corner after saying the US will punish Syria if WMDs were used. He has to act in order to appear resolute. Or, does he? The world, including those bodies responsible for international law, the American people, and most of our allies are against US military intervention in Syria right now.

Human suffering abounds
There are also constitutional questions. The US president can act without Congressional approval if the country's under threat. But we aren't. We're not sure--yes, we must be given the evidence--as to who's done what in Syria since the civil war erupted. Everybody has a right to be cautious, indeed suspicious, about claims on national security, WMDs, etc, by the US administration. 

Sorry, Mr. President, you have not changed many of the "national security" policies of your predecessor--policies you were against as a Senator and as a presidential candidate.  Of course you've done a few good things, but the spying, the drones, GITMO, and now this looming war make us to stand back, disapprove and ask lots of questions. 

The so-called Middle East region is very complicated. Ethnic, religious, political, and cultural conflicts have been shaking the region for thousands of years. Religion is a major factor of how people behave there. We shouldn't forget that Europeans fought many bloody wars and massacres were fueled by religious zeal. The M.E. is no different. Currently, there's a big fight between the Sunni and and Shia sects. The Saudis have been supplying weapons to the Syrian opposition. Jihadists have also been participating the that civil war.  


Syria has the support of Iran because of the Shia link. Most of the Muslims in the region (and the world) are Sunnis who fear the Shia Ayatollahs. The Iraqi civil war--yes, it's been going on since the US invaded in 2003--also has these two groups against each other. Same with conflicts in Lebanon, and the Palestine greater region.

Obama said he wants to "fire a shot across the bow" to tell the Syrians, "you can't do this". But these shots often don't work. What's the next move then? The only way to stop Assad is to seriously damage his power structure--the military, his top generals, and his ability to maintain his government. But, then we're talking about regime change! This isn't very appealing either, because we don't know who comes next. It could be worse as there are lots of extremist religious fanatics on the other side. 

This is a problem with countries that turn into very messy situations. Boots on the ground is an option, generally speaking, but not very likely now or in the near future. Certainly the US public has no appetite for such, nor the rest of the big powers.

Aug 1, 2013

A Summer Break of Sorts....

The widest point of the Hudson river. There are many places around where the night sky is visible as light pollution isn't bad.


***
This summer is fleeting as far as I'm concerned. If I were a lifeguard, I'd be having the winter blues about now. OK, I promised myself to take any opportunity available this August, which just started, to do something interesting and create memories. Yes, we are who we are to a great extend by the experiences we have and our memories. Even if all else remained the same--disposition, character, intelligence, etc--without the particular memories I have, I wouldn't be the same person, for better or worse.

Anyway, I've been engaging in all sorts of projects and thus haven't taken many pictures, which is one of my favorite hobbies.  But, I do keep my eye on the surroundings and I make frames in my mind. Much of photography is about framing. The focus, the emphasis, the point of view. 

From a recent gallery exhibit in Beacon, NY, titled "the XXX show" or something like that.
Photography has changed humanity, because this technology has enabled us to capture moments that many can't be replicated. A camera can be seen as a time machine. Recording, documenting, and ultimately reinforcing our memories.

The visual often has a greater impact on people's minds. Human rights abuses, civil rights movements, natural phenomena & catastrophes, for example, sensitize a greater number of people.

It's the generations after the late 1980s or more likely the 1990s that have their lives documented so much in pictures and videos, oh, and emails, and other social media. The older among us know that it wasn't always like this. We don't have many pictures from our earlier life. I grew up with film photography. I learned the art working with a totally manual camera--all the settings had to be adjusted depending on the conditions--which meant I had to understand what aperture, speed, ISO, clouds, sun, flash, etc, all did. The film had 24-36 frames and it had to be developed; no instant feedback nor gratification. 

It got to be very expensive and my Olympus SLR was getting old. Needed new expensive lenses. I dropped this hobby for many years until the new digital technology arrived.

I got my first digital camera in the early 2000s, and a good one (for its time) in 2004 while working for a US presidential candidate in Cleveland, Ohio, as part of the media team. Once I made the transition I was elated I could take up my old hobby and enjoy it even more. So many more options and possibilities. Easier to share too.
***

We've heard how the TV played a major role in the election of 1960. By that time almost every household in the US had a TV set. That period marked the transition from party politics to media politics. The candidates increasingly relied on TV images to get their message out and attract votes. The party power decreased as a result. Nowadays, it's the candidates themselves that raise most of the money, decide when to run and on what issues. 

Under the George Washington bridge on the Jersey side
By the way, one of the problems in our system is gridlock, divided government is often the norm, that is, different party blocks control power; one the Executive and another the Congress (or one of its Houses) so there's gridlock. 

What's stranger is that the members who can cause dysfunction come from areas of the country that are far from the mainstream. For example, the Senate Minority leader--whose stated priority has been to make Obama a failure under any cost--comes from very conservative Kentucky. His political fortunes depend on representing this brand of backward conservatism, because the votes for his (re)election come from there. As conservative as he is, he'll have an even more conservative [I say, a wingnut tea partier] challenger in the Republican primary!

I shouldn't have started on politics, but maybe there's no free will as Sam Harris (among others) contends, so I steered into the political sphere inadvertently.

The Bear Mountain Bridge I cross often

Looking south from Bear Mountain, NY. The Hudson river is very interesting!

Jul 24, 2013

Climate Change, Obama-Care, and Do We Want to Know the Truth? [Yes, there are ascertainable facts! Surprised?!]

Why do some countries fare better (in any way you want to measure) than others? One reason is the prevailing conditions, like war, poverty, political instability, natural disasters. Another is the choices the citizens make as to their leadership, their priorities, treating of each other, personal views and public sentiment. Of course, leadership matters a lot, but in a democracy isn't the people the ultimate deciders? [this is a topic requiring lots of discussion]

In order to have a reasonable discussion, logic and facts (as much as we can ascertain them) should feature prominently. Of course, we know, this is not always the case--and I may even argue, it's more rare than the reverse.

In the US, politics often is like a sport. People pick teams and consume only one source of information, disregarding anything (even valid) that falls outside their frame of mind--the preconceived f.o.m. That's why we see people still clinging to ideas that have been discredited, or are considered obnoxious, highly prejudicial, ignorant, and outdated. 

Climate change/global warming is happening and has accelerated. The problem is the alerts mostly came from the progressives first. Oh, yeah, and the scientists, who have a liberal bias--the bias the majority of educated people sport. Then we have special interests in certain industries who have been buying politicians and a campaign to doubt/deny global warming.

Here's Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) who addresses this topic succinctly. 


 -------

Fake Questions to Raise Concern

There's a rumor (who cares who started it) that Mr. Lincoln is beating his wife regularly. That's terrible even by 19th century standards. So, it's good question to ask of Mr. Lincoln whether he's thought about stopping beating his wife, whether he feels remorse, and whether he treat all women in his life similarly.

In similar fashion, I hear that the EPA wants to stop our 4th of July fireworks; it wants to regulate our freedom! Libertarians complain about the government that wastes money on studying the weather on Mars, the sex lives of fruit flies, and monitors volcanoes. Humbhag. 

I also hear that we'll experience something similar to Hitler's invasion when Obama-care goes into effect.  Here's a video--actually it includes segments of the original video that raises some fake questions to alarm people, and a doctor responding to those concerns:


Jul 3, 2013

Here's to You, America (USA): A Couple Anthems to Mark the 4th of July

It may be that the meaning of the 4th of July varies, but it's got to be more than bbqs, or the lifeguards' sad moment that the summer's winding down.


So, as we proudly wave those American flags made in China, we should affirm our blind devotion to the Constitution, the Founding Fathers, USA #1 slogan, and the American dream.  OK, but, in addition a good order of skepticism is necessary.

The founders weren't perfect nor did they know everything. The US Constitution has 27 Amendments in efforts to improve it. The Declaration of Independence is an interesting document, whose couple beginning paragraphs are lofty, brilliant, and lay down the principles of a good polity--constitutional, democracy, republic, human rights for all, and individual liberty/choice. The rest of it is a laundry list of the crown's abuses against British citizens.

Since the early 1770s, [July 4th is the signing of the Declaration; the war of independence had already started], there's been a struggle for a better society of free people, for responsible and responsive government. Establishing a new country perhaps was the easiest task. Shaping it proved to be much harder. The process is going on. Hopefully we'll continue on a progressive path. 

Even in my life time, there have been tremendous changes. What I thought was appropriate it was considered radical 30 years ago. Today it's mainstream. Progressives have better imagination I reckon. It's worth-while for all of us to be alert and engaged in the political process--that's how things get done. 

Enjoy the 4th, the summer, indeed the whole life. And, isn't this the whole point? To make life better for as many people as possible so they can have access to opportunity to fulfill the own potential?

Here's to you America: (my favorite anthem)

 

Jun 27, 2013

Pssst, Justice Scalia: Even Jesus Was From an Unconvetional Family--He Had Two Dads. SCOTUS Delivers Groundbreaking Decision on Same-Sex Marriage

Elections, leadership, legislatures, courts, all make a big difference in our lives--the recent events alone prove this. Just think how much more progress had we not been electing Republicans and conservatives in general. What we have been advocating for decades is slowly becoming the reality. We've been on the right side of history if you like, from civil rights to the role of government. 

Justice Scalia reflects the attitude of conservatives who are hung up on sodomy--they have issues about sex, racial relations, gender roles, etc. Conservatives don't have good imagination; can't project into the future, which they think is scary, because it involves change and they are not able to adapt. But, like all species who can't adapt, they'll perish.

I remember in 1990 tearing up when I watched Nelson Mandela's release on live TV. I experienced the same feelings when another injustice was overturned yesterday with the Supreme Court's decision on same-sex marriage. I'm white and straight, and these issues don't directly apply to me, but when decency is restored, or when people are denied rights, abused, persecuted, I/we have to care. The world is a better place to be, where happier people lead their own lives, trying to achieve their own potential. This is a progressive society that benefits all.

I'm fed up with those who talk about the founding fathers & the principles of this country--they don't understand what it means to be treated equally under the law. As for traditional marriage, please, we have redefined it throughout the centuries. Traditional used to mean owning women as chattel; that a man could marry several women, some way underage! It used to be that Jews could marry only their own, and races couldn't mix. 

I've seen same-sex couples having a more stable, long-term union than many of other heteros. As society also treats those unions are contractual relationships, and as beneficiaries of state privileges, then equality is imperative regardless of color, sex, race, religion, etc. 

By the way, annoy a religious conservative today by reminding them that even Jesus had two dads!  

Jun 25, 2013

Of Course We Need to Know How Our Government is Exercising Power in Our Name and on Our Behalf.

It's fascinating that many liberally-minded people I know aren't bothered by our government's snooping and are more upset at Snowden for revealing the "state's secrets."  I fully understand that in order for us to enjoy our lives and freedoms we have to be safe, but at which point Big Brother-like government actions are not appropriate?

What did Edward Snowden reveal? Something that should not be secret anyway! We should know what and how our government invades our privacy. Do they follow proper constitutional procedure? When somebody collects information about me, I have to know about it, how they do it, and how they'll use this information. As consumers (never mind as citizens), we have to know. And, if we don't think it's appropriate, then we should be able to change that. This is what an advanced, liberal-social-democratic country should be.

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Therefore, our government has to, "by oath or affirmation," obtain permission, and thus create a record that can be reviewed for abuses or even whether the act was necessary. We now know the snooping into many people's private affairs in the past was improper, wasteful, and not what an accountable government should be doing to its free citizens.

Not all leakers of government secrets are the same. When the government breaks the law, or lies to its people, or is corrupt, or wasteful, etc, the public's interest is at stake. We need to know! The Pentagon Papers, Watergate, Abu Graib, torture and rendition program, and so many other cases--revealed by conscientious people--served our country. 

This is not a banana republic where Big Brother knows best. Are we mature adults who care to know?

 

Jun 16, 2013

Does a College Education Matter Besides Getting a Better Job?

The graduation speeches are probably done by now and college graduates are seeking their jobs where they can utilize the education they're certified to have. Well, we should ask, what is education and what is necessary?

Of course, it includes vocational training--the kind of knowledge a person needs to enter a specific profession. This is especially true in the non-liberal arts majors. The specific, the procedural steps necessary for a particular job have been acquired by the graduate in some degree of competency. A liberal arts student, in theory, can have a wider range of jobs that require a general competency, though such jobs pay less in general.



Many students aren't interested in a general education outside their major (vocational training in mind), because they don't see the need for ..extraneous knowledge. But, why is this general but higher knowledge necessary? Because, we live in a society where citizens are called to make judgments on important issues, including electing leaders. Leadership matters. Elections matter. But, it's also the general sentiment of the population that affects the direction and the priorities of the country.

Higher intelligence is developed through training of the mind. Judgment skills, confidence, and, yes, the interest in knowledge (outside the gossip type) is something that a person should have. Attitude and mindset are something a person has for ever so it's important to be the well-adjusted. Life is about making judgments all the time. Personal attitudes matter too. The ability to meet deadlines, to be motivated to complete a task and do it well; to be exposed to the unfamiliar and make sense of it.

Take a look at some of the major issues of concern today:
  • Wealth allocation, income distribution, who should pay taxes and how much, etc.
  • Immigration
  • Religion in the public square
  • Reproductive choice/abortion
  • Science, what it is and isn't; what to teach as science in school
  • Gun control
  • Role of the US in the international affairs
  • Constitutional issues, including right to privacy/government surveillance, and security
How people form opinions on such issues has something to do with their education, level of  exposure to the rational process, knowledge of history, and own confidence. 

College education may not be necessary for everyone but we still need to make it available to the poor and middle class and not return to the older days whereas only the socio-economic elites got a higher education. Student debt is larger than credit card debt in the US. It's a bubble about to burst, and it's unsustainable. 

Of course having a good-paying job is a liberating experience--when some of the basic needs are met because there's a decent income. Yet, in my opinion, life should be more than having a job--even a job you really like. It's should be like a journey with lots of worthwhile experiences. It should be about being aware of choices and even creating new ones; blazing new paths to personal fulfillment. I think having some good fundamentals, many of which can be acquired and honed though formal education, is a advantage. The effort is worth the outcome, because the benefits are ever-lasting. 

Enjoy this summer.



 


 

May 26, 2013

Thoughts on Memorial Day

FROM 4 YEARS AGO ON THIS BLOG (re-post below). Not much has changed since then. President Obama "ended the Iraq war" and is drawing the Afghanistan war to a close. GITMO is still open and the drone-strike program are going on. Attacks on civil liberties occur in our country by our government and advocated by several groups who believe conformity, no dissent, and the Dark Ages are seem appropriate for an advanced 21st century liberal democracy.

The ancient city-state of Athens invented democracy (a different form than ours) and a system whose foundations were based on certain conditions (legal, political, cultural) that produced a great wealth of what we called today the cradle of western civilization. But, Athens fell because of its citizens who became arrogant, lazy, and believed the demagogues. Wrong choices & decisions led to catastrophes and crises; and the more crises the worse the decisions people made. The conditions that made Athens successful were replaced and, of course, the outcome changed too.

*****




Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of the summer and perhaps makes Americans observe a day of remembrance. But, what is it we're supposed to observe, specifically? Everyone has a sense of patriotism, though, there are many expressions of such. Sensible patriotism means to make sure that we don't waste our blood, sweat and tears. To make sure that we don't commit our troops to an ill-conceived war of choice. To make sure that the citizens are informed about the important issues and that they participate in the civic affairs of their country! We have to look beyond the smoke screen employed by leaders who want to lead a flock of sheep, and the bumper-sticker mentality must be rejected.When our country must sacrifice, our leaders should do their best to see that this burden is widely shared not based on the shoulders of the least privileged, nor should war be one of choice and an opportunity for a transfer of wealth. Patriotism shouldn't be defined by long & hyperbolic speeches but rather by doing what's best for the commonwealth.

Patriotism is standing up for the truth, and questioning our government. Patriotism is to defend those conditions and civil liberties that have made our country great--not by becoming more like our enemies! Patriotism is to go to war on a necessity (not on a choice based on deception & lies) and when doing so to give our soldiers what they need to accomplish their mission!


Please visit the following links for a better perspective on the war

Iraq Memorial on line (iraqmemorial.org) Family testimonies on the human costs of the war.
The architects of the War--Where are they now? Good question..


Faces of the Fallen. See our dead soldiers' faces, names and brief bios.



We have to face the realities even if they're unpleasant. Even if some of our leaders want this, we shouldn't be "baptized" in Lethe--one of the rivers in Hades that induced complete forgetfulness. This wouldn't be appropriate to the memories of those who were sent to war on false pretenses. It wouldn't be appropriate for the rest of us who want to make sure that the US does not become an international bully, conducting unjust wars.


One of the richest counties in the history but our middle class has fallen behind. About 1/3 (if not more) of us have no health insurance or are dangerously under-insured. Obtaining a higher education is becoming more difficult. Regretfully, the US is a militaristic society; military expenditures are the biggest item on the federal budget by far. We're spending more that all the countries in the world combined! This must change.
And, speaking of memorials and memories... Part of life is creating memories; they are part of our unique individual and collective identities. A progressive culture of life means creating the conditions whereas people can better achieve their own potential. It's about having a happy, long and healthy life. Enjoy this life in the here and now, and don't ever buy into the view that reward or punishment may come after death.

Remember, fewer memorials might be a good thing; more pleasant memories are definitely a great thing to have. Let's work on this...

Apr 17, 2013

Professional Cowards: US Senate Blocks Sensible Gun Control Legislation. At Least They're Protecting Us from the Gay Apocalypse... (tsk)

 Ah, Freedom!Which one makes more sense?
In case you didn't figure it out, it's a wedding picture!
Which is more important item for freedom in the US? A gun or a vehicle? It's the latter for it allows freedom of mobility, access to jobs and opportunities, etc. Yet, we have to be tested as operators, we have to obey lots of laws and regulations, need to register, inspect, and insure our vehicle. But, do you want a gun, sure go ahead. Wait, are you crazy? Are you a criminal? No? OK, then, we'll trust your word, here's a semi-automatic weapon that fires 30 big caliber rounds in few seconds. Enjoy hunting or whatever you intend to do with this and the rest of the arsenal you're amassing. 

How Some Prostitutes Give a Bad Name to the Profession

Today the US Senate showed how our elected officials can go against the wishes of a big majority of the American people. Reasonable gun control, including background checks amendments didn't pass. Cornyn's (R-Dumbfuckistan) amendment was the highest vote-getter, 57. This amendment would weaken gun control by requiring states with stricter laws to accept the licenses from states where anyone could get a gun.  Oh, wanna bet that these @holes take the opposite position when it comes to same-sex marriage?  Yeah, gays/lesbians are a bigger threat to society and their marriage would be like ..Hitler invading Poland if the Fed forced the states to recognize such marriages.

Systemic Problem

 The US political system was an experiment in government at a time when they weren't any liberal democracies. So the founders improvised, compromised, got a few things right, and some things very wrong.

One of the problems was to disperse power into three branches, but even within the legislative branch they created 2 chambers. These plus the president must pass identical bills before we have law. Unlike in other advanced democracies, our executive (the prez) doesn't control the legislature. So every president who runs on an agenda on the national level must get Congress to agree; and the members of Congress are elected from localities. Furthermore, Senate rules give a small minority the ability to kill legislation through the filibuster. 

I think it's time to use the so-called "nuclear option" and declare this rule unconstitutional so we can get things done more efficiently. The constitution provides for super majorities in the Senate for various decisions, like impeaching the president. Regular legislation should get the chance for an up or down vote. It was OK when only 3% of the bills were filibustered in the past. The minority could reject a few really objectionable bills. But, when nothing moves because of this obstruction tactic in the last decade, then there's something seriously wrong with this system.

The best way to fix some of our problems would be a couple constitutional amendments, but this is not very likely. The other way would be citizen engagement and mobilization. Let's see why a people's majority is so arrogantly ignored by some elected representatives. 

Change often comes because the people demand it. Let's prove that we do have a representative democracy, a system that works for the benefit of the people. Otherwise let's call it what it is and stay home. It's not enough to have myths, and slogans. We have to talk the talk and walk the walk!