Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Dinesh D'Souza is D'elusional!

In the interest of keeping well informed, I recently went to see Dinesh D'Souza's movie, 2016. I would much rather have not given him any of my money and waited for the movie to come out in the bargain bin at my local Walgreen's, or surface in some suburban rummage sale, but by then, it would be too late to comment on it. I hope my readers out there appreciate the financial sacrifices I make for this blog.

SPOILER ALERT! The boat sinks at the end!

The film itself lasts for about an hour and a half. One full hour into the movie, Dinesh still hadn't said anything damning about Barack Obama, and I was wondering what the point was that he was trying to make. Then, he finally came out with it: Barack Obama is espousing an anti-colonial, socialistic mentality, based on a misguided image of his father and the failed communist attitudes of Kenyans and other third-world economies.

We've seen this approach from D'Souza before. In his books 'What's So Great About Christianity?' (total claptrap), 'What's So Great About America?' (flawed premise, but not half bad), and 'The End Of Racism' (the first book of his I read, and is rather good), he gives his characteristic approach, which is to nearly lull his audience to sleep before finally coming forth with a major point. His movie follows that same approach, weaving artfully the interesting but silly notion that he and Obama have similar backgrounds, and that therefore he has an intimate understanding of how Obama thinks. He talks extensively about his own family history, and we learn a lot about Dinesh as a boy, how he grew up, where he went to college, how he made friends... In fact, it's fair to say that I learned more about Dinesh D'Souza watching this movie than I did about Barack Obama!

Some of the background is interesting. Dinesh and Barack were born in the same year, attended and graduated ivy league colleges at the same time, got married the same year, and spent some of their childhoods in impoverished, yet growing, foreign economies. But these facts, while interesting, come nowhere close to being able to give D'Sousa much insight into Obama. Just for an example, the above facts are also true of both myself and Vice Presidential candidate, Paul Ryan, right down to growing up in the same area of Wisconsin. Yet I could no more have any insight into his mentality than he could have of mine! What hubris D'Sousa must have, to presume that because both he and Barack Obama have roughly the same dates on their milestones that he must have taken a similar path!

At the heart of D'Souza's argument is the claim that Obama has an anti-colonial mindset. This comes, oddly, from an image of Obama's father which Barack himself is directly quoted from as saying that he no longer believed! (This betrays how poorly knotted that particular tie-in is.) But D’Souza himself also admits that anti-colonialism is generally a good thing. Didn't Jefferson, Hamilton and Franklin espouse anti-colonial attitudes toward Great Britain? Didn't Gandhi himself advocate the same thing in D'Souza's native India, and against the exact same colonial empire? What on earth could be wrong with wanting other nations to keep more of their indigenous wealth? This is hardly a radical position. So what if Obama holds to it?

The "so what" part comes from Dinesh's insistence that Obama's anti-colonialism is also anti-Americanism. To Obama, says D'Souza, America became great not through hard work and technological innovation, but through exploitation of third world resources. Obama wants to end the exploitation and help foreign nations, but he also wants to help level the playing field by tearing down America.

This last part is completely illogical. Obama tearing down America would no more help the status of foreign nations any more than cutting his own feet off at the ankles would make everyone else in the world two inches taller. Yet Dinesh seems to think so! This baffling brain-fart is woven so casually into his other points that people who hate Obama to begin with are likely to miss it, mostly because they believe such silliness already and are blind to the lack of evidence. But any objective analysis sees this as obvious bullshit. Yes, America has exploited foreign nations for resources in the past, particularly aboriginal land and Middle Eastern crude oil. And yes, Obama wants to build a future for America where it takes the high road, doesn't exploit the wealth of other nations, and allows their impoverished state to improve. But America was also built with hard work and technological innovation, as Obama himself has always said! Besides, if he wants better equity of wealth for poor nations, what on earth is wrong with that? Why shouldn't Africa, for example, keep the wealth of its own resources? Why shouldn't its people reap the benefits of the natural resources in their own back yard? But Obama wants America to prosper as well! Of course he does! Why would he want anything else as a citizen of the United States, much less its President? The very notion that Obama wants to tear down America from within is delusional to the point of embarrassment. The flaccidity of D'Souza's argument is dangling outside of his mental zipper, tiny, pink and shriveled, for all the world to see!

But even this is not even his silliest point. This wholly imagined goal of American detriment will be achieved, D'Souza says, by Obama using debt as a weapon! By spending the United States to death, he helps ensure that other nations will have more while the United States will have less!

This is what is technically referred to as a “switcheroo.” The people who have actually used this tactic are not liberals like Obama, but conservatives like D’Souza! They’ve called it “starving the beast.” It works like this: Cut taxes, explode the deficit, and then watch with gleeful delight as government has no choice but to slash entitlement spending and let welfare mothers starve. This tactic, long condemned even by Ayn Rand disciples like Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan, doesn't work, because the "beast" doesn't starve. It goes so deeply into debt that it destroys the dollar! Nevertheless, this is probably exactly what Bush had in mind when he began spending America to death with not one but two needless wars, and leaving his successor to pick up the pieces. D'Souza deserves a limited amount of credit in admitting bluntly that Bush is somewhat to blame for starting that spending trend.

But did Obama deliberately try to make it worse by spending even more? NO! He fought tooth and toenail to let the tax breaks for the upper 2% of income earners, the wealthy, expire! This would have severely reduced the deficit! Possibly even gotten us started on the road towards paying down the debt!

But Republicans blocked him!

Of all the ridiculous, topsy-turvy bullshit! D'Souza's argument is exactly inside out and backwards! How illogical is it to be a deficit hawk and yet deny the government the means to eliminate that deficit!

D'Souza's most breathtaking naivety comes from his absolute ignorance of economics, especially regarding the differences between a nation like Kenya, which has remained mired in poverty, and other nations which have climbed out of the economic slums into prosperity, such as Indonesia, South Korea, South Africa, and his own native India. He says that these newly prosperous nations have embraced free market economics, and are prosperous as a direct result, as opposed to Kenya, whose communistic anti-colonial ideas keep it impoverished. But he’s not even half right. These nations, especially India and Indonesia, have all become prosperous due to a combination of protectionist tariffs, strong government spending programs, AND a free market economy. State-owned businesses were only privatized after the government had built them, and then they became strong enough to compete in the global marketplace. Strong government-paid programs to provide electricity, roads, and clean water are firmly in place in newly prosperous nations. Indonesia, especially, spends billions every year to spray chemicals to control the mosquito population and keep malaria at bay. Kenya, by contrast, has few such programs, and the ones it has are weak at best. Malaria and other diseases limit its economic growth prospects, and the lack of government-supported programs for electricity and water prevent businesses from being able to build in the area. And if communist anti-colonialism is so terrible for an economy, how does D'Souza explain China? Yes, China has embraced a kind of tolerance toward free-market capitalism, but nearly all of its raw materials industries are government subsidized in order to undercut the natural prices that are set for steel and textiles in the global market.  Meanwhile, China also maintains anti free trade in its use of protectionist tariffs and utter disregard for Western copyright laws. Communism and anti-colonialism is apparently not enough to explain Kenya’s poverty, and D'Souza's argument is a not-so-red herring.

All this would be bad enough. But Dinesh doesn't even stop there. Next he takes a serious leap off the deep end, and cites college professors and colleagues of Obama’s who are known communists and communist sympathizers. He even tosses the famous anti-Israel scholar, Edward W. Said, the author of 'Orientalism,' into the mix. But let’s be fair here. Haven’t we all had college professors who were a little bit wacky? And didn't they help us immensely by challenging our pre-set ideas and forcing us to explore new avenues? But in the end, we formed our own ideas, and left our zany college professor behind. Maybe we admired that teacher. Maybe we even retained a great deal of respect for him/her. But we maintained our independence and formed our own values. So did Barack Obama. So did everyone else – mostly.

Mostly? Oh, yes. You see, Dinesh D’Souza didn’t. We know, because he was kind enough to tell us. In the extensive autobiographical background he gives us in his movie, he tells the story about how he met his conservative professors at Dartmouth College. He was greatly challenged by their ideas, and they took his thinking in new directions, leading him to embrace American exceptionalism, free-market capitalism, and Christianity. Nothing wrong with these, per se, but unlike most of us, he let his radical college professors shape him entirely in these matters! They literally led him by the nose! So it’s understandable why he might assume that Barack Obama’s radical college professors did the same thing to him. It’s unfathomable for a man like D'Souza to think that maybe students might be challenged by a radical professor in college, but then go off to form their own ideas. He didn't, so why should he think Barack Obama did? After all, doesn’t he have such a deep connection with Obama? Doesn't having been born, graduated and married at the same time, and even spending some of their childhoods in third world slums, make them simpatico?

Oh, Dinesh. Do you believe in the zodiac signs too?

In fact, I must go on to conclude that this delusion, this dream-fantasy, that D'Souza has about there being such a close connection between himself and Obama, is the root cause of all his erroneous conclusions about him. He thinks he understands Obama so well, that he is able to rationalize onto Obama all his worst fears, not realizing that those fears actually come from within his own imagination!

This is reflected by what he does next. It’s the same old guilt-by-association game we saw during the 2008 campaign. In under five minutes he tries to re-hash the old arguments about spending time with shady people who ended up in something called the Weather Underground. He points out how his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, went off the deep end in his elder years. But if D'Souza is truly a Christian, then he should remember that a man named Jesus Christ, who was presumably without sin, constantly associated with sinful people, from Roman collaborators to prostitutes. Besides, we all have some shady friends, don’t we? Why should we hold Obama to a higher standard than we hold ourselves, or even Jesus Christ?


Let’s give credit where credit is due: D’Souza is smart enough to not use a land deal where Obama swindled a total skunk named Tony Rezko. He clearly knows that claims about conflict of interest through ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) are false. He even permanently destroys the “birther” debate by highlighting the fact that Barack Obama was definitely born in Hawaii. But he still endorses enough wing-nut conspiracy theories to make these slights forgivable to the insanity which is the Tea Party movement. Perhaps because of this, he will be seen as that much more reliable by seeming to meet the other side half way. But half-extremist is still extremist, and the sugar is only there to hide the bitterness of the poison.


Such poison comes in the form of an even bigger blunder, as he attempts to say how Obama's foreign policy involves the elimination of nuclear weapons at home and abroad, but how nations abroad are not disarming as rapidly as the United States. In particular, Iran and North Korea are cited as places where nuclear armament is being encouraged, or at least not actively opposed, by Obama. This is coupled with a deliberately terrifying-looking map showing the numbers of nuclear warheads in the U.S. vs. other countries. Reductions in these numbers are seen in Europe and Russia, but not nearly as much as America. The number of nukes in the U.S. is shown as 300, and, says Dinesh, this leaves America vulnerable.

Vulnerable to what, exactly?

He doesn't tell us, and that’s hardly a shock. There are simply no immediate threats out there! But he leaves out the fact that our nuclear weapons, while smaller in number, are ten times more powerful than most nuclear arsenals out there, and only a small fraction of the 300 which we have could reduce China to a series of smoldering craters. When one nuke can destroy three major cities at a time, how many nukes do you need? Probably less than 300. Even so, the ominous-looking map shows the number of nukes in the United States dropping all the way down to the frightening number of zero. I am doing a severe kindness to D'Souza in merely calling this a deliberately misleading and unrealistic exaggeration. He deserves far worse!

As for Iran, Obama is wise enough to know that its population looks upon its government unfavorably. Giving Iran’s government a palpable adversary to focus its anger upon, like a meddling United States, for example, would be the surest way to ensure that Iran will develop a nuclear arsenal. After all, the Iranian people would unite behind a nuclear program to oppose their fears regarding the U.S. On the other hand, a hands-off approach helps the Iranian people to feel more secure internationally, and less secure locally. In other words, without a big, bad U.S. to fight, all of Iran’s angst can be focused upon its oppressive government. That’s what we want. But D'Souza, Romney, and all their ilk, would rather upset that delicate balance which is Iran’s only realistic shot at democracy.

As a latent Hindu, perhaps D’Souza also feels some of the same Islamophobia that most Americans born into Christianity do. India, after all, fought a long and bloody war that resulted in the separate states of India and Pakistan. Unsurprisingly, he has fears regarding the uprising known the Arab Spring. As such, he strongly criticizes Obama for letting Islamic dictatorships fall to democracy. He notes that many of these, including Libya and Egypt, have elected pro-Islamic, Sharia-friendly governments. He is critical of Obama staging a military campaign during the genocide in Libya while turning a blind eye to the genocide in Syria. (Nice try, but Libya was a NATO action, not an American one. And Syria was to also have had the U.N. support Obama sought for a multinational effort, but Russia and China vetoed.) The frightening picture he then paints of the future, in the year 2016 (hence the name of the movie), is one which includes a frightening entity which he calls “The United States of Arabia.”

Look, I share the same anti-Islamist views D'Souza does. So I can understand his fears. But Obama has the wisdom to know that the road to democracy is hard, and that democracies cannot be imposed from the outside. This often means that revolutions win freedom, but then collapse into new oppressive regimes, which must then fall until the nation finally gets it right. It’s hard to watch, but interference only makes it worse. D'Souza would like to force America into those areas where Islam, that old enemy of the free Hindus in India, will be held in check. It’s a kind of anti-free-market ideal, which is at complete odds with his na├»ve outlook on economic issues. America has made its mistakes in achieving democracy. We have had our moments of mass genocide against the Indians (aborigines, that is) and had a civil war over slavery. We've also struggled maintaining democratic freedom against religious oppression (and D'Souza unwittingly fails to realize that he’s batting for the pro-religious-oppression team in the form of Christianity!). Now it’s the Arab world's turn. They will pay the price in blood, but they will cherish their freedom that much more afterward. Obama knows this. D'Souza doesn’t.

I had heard stories about people standing up and cheering at the end of the movie. Sure enough, there was applause at the end! But it was subdued, almost embarrassed. That surprised me. (I don’t flatter myself by thinking that this was because I was sitting near the front, and turned around to give these people a dirty look.) I'm sure earlier showings over this past weekend were more crowded, and the applause was therefore much louder. But I also noticed that the number of people in the theater was somewhat less than the number of people I remember seeing when I went to see Michael Moore’s movie, ‘Fahrenheit 9/11.’ (I don’t remember applause at the end of that one, though.) Some people got up and walked out of Moore’s film. This time, I was the one tempted to do so. But I stayed, both out of simple respect, and out of open-mindedness. Refusing to hear the other side is a poor way to stand up for one’s principles!

I also noticed that this was also a much more geriatric audience, with lots of grey hairs, facial wrinkles and canes, as opposed to the 20 and 30 somethings I saw at Moore’s film in 2004. This is both encouraging and bothersome. It’s encouraging because we can rest assured that these silly views will soon die off. But it’s also bothersome because older people should know better than to be hoodwinked like this. It’s also bothersome because these older people are largely a part of the generation that enjoyed the “Summer of love” and were universally behind the anti-Vietnam pro-cannabis hippie movement. What the hell happened? How could these same people now be sitting in Ridge Cinema in New Berlin and actually be applauding the lynching of a black man?

It can only be because yet another of D'Souza's premises is flawed. He insists that the younger Obama, the one which had radical professors and who idolized his absent father, is somehow the same man who is now President. He makes no allowance that the man of 45 might be a different man than the one of 25. He quotes extensively from “Dreams From My Father,” Obama’s earlier autobiographical book, but completely ignores “The Audacity of Hope,” where the older, more mature Obama is more accurately represented.

Just as D'Souza's audience is not the same one that would have rejected his arguments wholesale only 30 years ago, so also is Obama not the same man D'Souza thinks he is based on his youth.

In the meantime, Dinesh D’Souza is not only D'elusional, he is also a D'ipshit, a D’underhead, a D’ingbat, and a D’unce. So are the sheep who will believe the bile he spews. He’s spent millions making an artful and well-traveled movie which ultimately does nothing more than make the viewer 90-minutes older, and no more wiser.

Wait for the bargain DVD.

Eric

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Sunday, August 26, 2012

6 Reasons Mitt Romney Is The Antichrist


Holy shit! Mitt Romney is the Antichrist!

Okay, cheap shot? Yes. Spurious? Absolutely. Based solely on partisan divisiveness? I freely admit it. But is it complete bullshit?

Oddly, no.

Once again, a presidential candidate is being tagged as the fulfillment of Bible Prophecy. This has happened before. The difference this time is that we have much better reasons for thinking that someone is the Antichrist than simply an Islamic-sounding middle name. You'll see in a moment that Mitt is not only Satan's tool, but he is rather obviously so.

Disclaimer: I am, of course an atheist. I no more believe that Mitt Romney is the Antichrist than I believe that there can actually be such a thing. So my reason for outlining this claim isn't based on my own personal creed. Rather, it is done out of a sense of "See? How do YOU like it?" Hey, fair's fair: Fundie Christians got to spew their bullshit about Obama being Satan Incarnate. Now it's our turn! But that being said, let me just add that I really think I may be on to something, here! Just because I'm an evil, atheistic member of the pinko-communist axis of evil doesn't mean I can't have a legitimate point about Bible prophecy!

So, without further ado, here are my 6 reasons Mitt Romney is the Antichrist! (It would have sounded cooler if there were seven, but oh, well!)

1. We know that the Antichrist has one, overriding feature, and that' that his name adds up to the number 666. If one uses a simple alphanumeric cypher for the name Mitt Romney, one ends up with a number of 231. But it makes sense that a modern-day Antichrist would have a modern-day standard for calculating the number of the name. If one takes the ASCII codes for the name Romney, one makes an amazing find!
  - R  -  O  -   M  -   N  -   E  -   Y  -
114 + 111+ 109 + 110 + 101 + 121 = 666!
Holy shit! Somebody quick! Call Hal Lindsey! Call Tim LaHaye! Call Jack Van Impe! Call Creflo Dollar!

2. This has been pointed out before, but the Number of the Beast is also tied to Joseph Smith, the founder of Mitt Romney's religion. If one evaluates his name using the ancient Hebrew alphanumeric system, one also gets 666:
J        O     SE       PH       S         M      I        TH
yodh, vav, samek, phey     samek, mem, yodh, tav
  10  + 6  +  60   +  80   + 60   +  40   + 10  + 400  =  666
(Note: There are some technical problems with this one, but it's still a cool item.)

3. The dragon of the book of Revelation is depicted as having seven heads and ten horns. The seven heads are seven hills upon which the dragon sits, and the ten horns are ten kingdoms which the dragon unites. This has always been understood to be Rome, with its seven hills and ten provinces during New Testament times. But Bible scholars also think this is a prophetic telescoping event, where seven and ten might again re-emerge. When the European Union reached ten members, Bible prophecy experts went ape! Until three more nations joined the EU only a few weeks later, that is. So, is there a seven-hilled, ten-kingdomed monster out there today?
There is! The Mormon church had seven founding prophets during the special dispensation of polygamy within that religion. They were: Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow, Joseph F. Smith, and Heber J. Grant. Seven founders, seven hills. And ten kingdoms refers to the ten districts which the Mormon religion has divided North America into: Salt Lake City, Utah North, Utah South, Idaho, Northeast (roughly everything between Newfoundland, Ohio and Washington, DC), Northwest (basically Oregon up to Alaska), Central (the Midwest and the high plains states), Southeast (the Old Confederate states), Southwest (Texas, Oklahoma  the desert states) and West (California and Hawaii).

4. Bible scholars insist that the Antichrist will blaspheme God and show utter disregard for the Almighty. This, according to Daniel 11:36-37. That may yet happen, but for now, he's playing things rather close to the vest. But two other aspects from that description stand out. He will be 1. prosperous and 2. he will show utter disregard for the desires of women. Bingo!
Okay, the 'disregarding women's desires' thing has always been interpreted as meaning that the Antichrist is either gay or asexual. But the misreading reflects itself in both the Greek and the English of the text. Couldn't disregard for women's desires also mean that the Antichrist will be opposed to women's rights?

5. One of the four horses of the apocalypse is the white horse, whose rider carries a bow and is bent on conquest. Interestingly, one of the symbols of the Mormon church is a white horse! And a special prophecy pertaining to that image is known as the white horse prophecy, where it is predicted that, one day, when the Constitution "hangs by a thread," a Mormon will become President and save America. 

6. The Bible clearly warns us that Satan masquerades as an "angel of light." (2 Corinthians 11:14) I'm not sure what an angel of light might look like, but I'm pretty sure it wouldn't look like a 51 year-old black man! He'd more likely show up as a handsome, white man with a powerful persona and a fat checkbook. (Hint, hint!)

Okay, enough of that. If you're an evangelical Christian, you should be worried. For everybody else, please enjoy a hearty laugh at their expense.

Eric

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Friday, August 24, 2012

Mitt Romney's Tax Returns: EXPOSED!



I know what's in Mitt Romney's missing tax returns!

At least, I think I do. But I've got some damned good evidence to back me up.

Why is this important? I know some of you out there think that Mitt's tax returns don't really matter. But since tax rates of the rich are a central issue in this presidential election, concealing the amount paid in recent years is a pretty brazen disregard of common sense on Romney's part! So yes, his tax returns DO matter, and matter a great deal. Since he's campaigning on the platform of looking under the hood of our taxes in order to fix them, then we get to look under the hood of his. It's only fair.

I show you mine, you show me yours.

Do I actually have the returns? Well, no. Of course not. If I had something that big, I'd have gone straight to Wikileaks with it. (We love you, Julien Assange!) But when I'm done detailing the reasons for my free-wheeling speculation, I think you'll agree with me. I therefore ask that you decide for yourself if I'm on to something, or if I'm as full of shit as Harry Reid.

What I do have, and indeed what we all have, are some excellent clues which have been circulating around in the media, and if reporters would only stop chasing their news stories to catch their breath and reflect a moment about what they were reporting, they might just figure out the same thing about them that I did. But that takes quiet contemplation, something which I'm good at and they're clearly not. So here are the clues themselves. They're quite revealing!

1. Mitt's returns violate no tax laws. How do we know? Because Mitt has openly admitted that he's been "audited several times." During an IRS audit, up to three years prior may be investigated. (Any earlier than that, and taxpayers are protected by statutes of limitations.) Those three years are nearly always looked at.  Now, "several" could mean anything from four to eleven, unless you're a politician, in which case "several" means a dozen or more. (Standard operational bullshit, you see.) This would be an understandable fib, as Romney does not want to commit a gaff by saying, "The IRS has been breathing down my neck for years," or something to that effect, because that would send the message that the feds are suspicious of him (which perhaps they are). But it's safe to say that he's been audited frequently enough for the IRS to have gone through every year of his tax returns with a fine-toothed comb. They've found no malfeasance so far, and that's good enough evidence that he has not broken any laws in terms of what he's owed. Oh, Mitt has lied his ass of to the general public! Make no mistake! But he has not lied overtly to Uncle Sam.

2. Mitt has paid taxes every year. We certainly don't know this just because he said so! We know this because not paying taxes in a given year is simply not very damaging. Take Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, for example. He went most years without paying any taxes. But this didn't hurt him politically, because he gave so much money to charity that it drove his taxes down to zero. All Mitt would have to say is, "Sure, I paid no taxes in 20-whenever, but that's because I gave umpteen million dollars to Charity X that year!" Instead of being demonized for paying no taxes, he would be praised for being generous in privilege. It worked for Abele, and it would work for Mitt. So, if paying zero dollars in taxes isn't politically damaging, that can't be the big scandal lurking in them. Harry Reid's bullshit claim that Mitt paid zero taxes is therefore nothing more than an obvious attempt at forcing Mitt to release his taxes with a wild accusation (which didn't work).

3. Whatever Mitt is hiding, it would cause more political damage than not releasing them. This is the one clue that everybody, no matter how dim, has been able to figure out. Every politician has "the conversation" with his legal advisers, detailing all the dirty, little secrets which might leak out during a political campaign. Whatever is in those tax returns, they decided a long time ago that fallout from keeping them private was far less damaging than the fallout from releasing them. Whatever it is, it's big!

4. Mitt has admitted his baseline tax rate: 13%. After accusations were made that he might have paid less than that in a given recent year, he said he went back and looked, and paid at least 13% every year. We can believe this, not because Mitt is trustworthy, but because that was committing a huge gaff in tacitly admitting that he paid roughly that low amount year after year!

5. Mitt has accidentally indicated the amount he pays to charity: about 10%. In the same speech in which he admitted to paying no less than 13% every year, he made the off-the-cuff remark, "If you include what I pay to charity, it's more than 20%. Well, more than 20%, let's say 21, would mean 8% at least. But 10% is a nice, round figure, and is the standard amount for tithing. (We'll get back to that, later.)

6. Mitt has released his 2010 tax return. His 2011 return is coming in mid-October (which is a HUGE mistake, because it provides President Obama with an October surprise). What's in them is damaging enough, particularly his having a tax-deferred IRA which is worth at least $21 million, and may be worth as much as $100 million. With tax laws which prevent contributions of more than $6,000 per year, how on earth did he get an IRA that big?

Well, with these six clues, we've gone a long way in establishing what sort of things might be in those tax returns. By using the simple logic of elimination, there are only a few other things left which they might be. My contention is that it is all of them. Here they are:

1. Mitt Romney's returns give the appearance that he used his IRA to shield millions in gains from insider trading. Remember that I pointed out that the IRS did not find anything contrary to tax law in Mitt's tax returns and audits. I also don't think that Mitt necessarily broke any laws. But just how did he get an IRA worth at least $21 million? Here's the thing: the IRS and the SEC are different entities. And the SEC has no three-year statute of limitations! What the IRS might have missed might get noticed by the SEC, if the tax returns were made public. You see, Bain Capital used a different kind of IRA, known as an SEP IRA, which allows a maximum contribution of $30,000 instead of the usual $6,000. That would have given Mitt $450,000 over the time he spent at Bain. Invest that money only in big-winning stocks, and you might just get an Individual Retirement Account as high as $21 million or more. Maybe Mitt might have been a smart enough investment guru to pull that off. But boy, it would sure look suspicious! If the SEC saw this in Mitt Romney's tax returns and decided to launch an investigation during his presidential run, it would absolutely guarantee a double-digit defeat. It would not matter if he actually engaged in insider trading or not! The suspicion alone would destroy him. And remember, the SEC put the collar on Martha Stewart for far less! Small wonder that Romney is concealing his tax returns!

2. Mitt's tax returns show that he was paid by Bain Capital as its CEO and Board Chairman between 2001 and 2003. Remember the media hoopla that resulted when it was revealed that Bain Capital's records showed Mitt Romney was still heading Bain Capital while he was busy running the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City? He claimed that he was not running Bain during that time, and so was not responsible for the large number of jobs it shipped overseas in that period. Mitt's retirement from Bain was retroactive to 2001, this is true. But Mitt's tax returns would prove that he was also paid by Bain Capital during '02 and '03. If Mitt took the money, then he took at least some of the responsibility for the lost jobs! Period! He may still claim that he wasn't running things at that time, but that excuse wouldn't hold water. It simply doesn't matter if the plane was on auto-pilot when it crashed. The captain is still responsible!

3. Mitt's tax returns show extensive use of tax havens and loopholes. We already know this. But Mitt is campaigning on the platform of low taxes and a balanced budget. How will he balance the budget without raising taxes? Why, by closing loopholes, of course! Mitt's earlier tax returns will show such extensive use of such loopholes that it will make his wealthy donors balk. "Let's get this straight," they might say. "You get to have used all these tax loopholes yourself, but WE don't get to?!" Mitt might understandably not want to throw a spotlight onto that aspect of his campaign.

4. His tax returns show that all his charitable contributions go to the Mormon Church. On several occasions, Mitt and his wife have proudly declared that they regularly tithe their 10%. That may sound good to an evangelical Christian, until they see, written clearly in those infamous tax returns, that all that money went to Salt Lake City. Mitt doesn't hide his Mormonism, but he certainly doesn't advertise it, either. And it doesn't help him that his Mormon tithes are probably his only charitable donations, either. Remember the gaff from #5 above? That indicates how much charity he gives. And it's ALL Mormon!

Well, that's it. Of the four things listed, I really think all four are hiding in Mitt's returns, but #1 and #2 are most likely. Certainly, if I'm right, there's no way in heaven or hell that Mitt Romney will ever release his tax returns. Not a chance! 

But if I'm wrong, then what the hell is Mitt waiting for? He should release those returns!

Eric

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Top Ten Economic Myths

When it comes right down to it, we Americans don't know jack about economics, even though our very future depends upon understanding it and then voting for the guy with the right economic plan. Part of this has to do with the fact that even expert economists often don't know what they're talking about, being too blinded by partisan politics to do an objective analysis about what works.

Am I unbiased? No, because nobody is. But I daresay I'm as objective as any slightly-left-of-center person can get. So, for the benefit of all, I'm listing here the top ten economic myths which plague our understanding of how to build jobs and move an economy forward. Here they are:

10.) Lower taxes means economic growth. Not necessarily. Lower taxes on the middle class (the poor often pay no tax, so that can't be lowered), means more money for consumers to spend, and this stimulates an economy every time. But what about the rich? As I pointed out in a previous blog post, lower taxes on the rich will work, but only if the rich are being over-taxed to begin with. Cut taxes on the wealthy when they are over-taxed, and they will feel free to spend more on goods and jobs. (This is the "trickle down" hypothesis.) But if the rich are being under-taxed, then a tax cut means that they can keep more, but don't feel a pressing need to spend more. This leaves less money for everything and everyone else. As we saw under Clinton, taxes upon the rich were higher, and economic growth was also higher. That should tell us all we need to know. We need a balance between over-taxing and under-taxing the rich.  Right now, with the rich being under-taxed while our nation simultaneously faces a large deficit and looming debt, holding the line on taxes on the upper 2% of income-earners, or worse, lowering those taxes, would mean certain disaster.

9.) Higher taxes on the upper 2% will hurt small businesses. I also dealt with this one in a previous blog post. The problem here is the definition of "small business." A small business is defined as less than 500 employees, but almost no businesses have between 100 and 5000 employees in them. There are many "small businesses" with fewer than 100 employees who make six figures or more each. So the definition of a "small business" should be defined by dollars earned, not employees retained.
Still, there are some "small businesses," where the proprietor earns more than $250,000 per year with only a handful of employees, which would be hurt slightly.

8.) Obama promised to cut the deficit in half. But our national debt is higher than ever! This common mistake is based on people not knowing the difference between a deficit and a debt. It's amazing to me just how many people are ignorant of this! Every fifth-grader should know this one! But sadly, many high-school graduates can't even find Iraq on a map, much less can name these definitions. So, here's what you need to know:
Let's say you start with $0 dollars. If you make $1000 this year, but spend $2000, you have a $1000 deficit. You also have a $1000 debt. At this point, the deficit and debt are the same. But let's say the following year, you also make $1000 and spend $2000 again. Now, your deficit is still $1000, but your debt is $2000. Do the same thing the next year and your deficit will be $1000, and your debt $3000. The year following, and your deficit will be $1000 and your debt $4000, and so forth.
Of course, your debt will incur interest, and that adds to your debt, but that's beside the point I'm trying to make, which is this: If you cut your deficit in half, your debt will still grow!
Okay, so how is Obama doing? Did he lower the deficit by half? Well, he inherited a deficit of $1413 billion per year in January 2009. By January 2013, the deficit will be down to $901 billion, according to federal budget office projections. Not quite reduced by half, but definitely reduced. But let's remember that Obama wanted to remove the Bush tax cuts on the upper 2% back in 2010, but Republicans blocked him. Had Republicans not done this, the budget deficit would have been reduced much more than half. There may even  have been a surplus drawn by 2013 or 2014!

7.) Government spending doesn't help an economy. Private industry creates jobs, not government. This claim is empirically false. Every time government spending has increased, the economy has grown, whether it be during a war, or during a federal program like FDR's New Deal. There has not been a single instance where federal spending has increased where the economy has not improved. As for private industry creating  jobs, it's true that private industry creates most jobs, but not all. Ask a policeman. Ask a fireman. Ask a teacher or a soldier. There are countless jobs, from park rangers to NASA scientists, who earn a respectable living from a government paycheck. The tricky part for government spending comes in how to pay for government jobs in a way which avoids the job being dependent upon the government's continued support. Government can do this by building a business with new technology and then privatizing it after it has become sustainable.

6.) The welfare state weakens the economy. Also empirically false. An economy thrives only when it has workers which are trained for the jobs of both today and tomorrow. But when there is global competition for employment, some jobs may go overseas if workers are under-trained. A solid welfare state is necessary to sustain workers long enough to allow them to make the transition from yesterday's job skills into tomorrow's job skills. Take this welfare system away, and the economy is guaranteed to go nowhere but down! Workers will be trained only for yesterday's jobs, and will remain unemployed!

5.) Strict environmental legislation hurts business and the economy. Yes, businesses may have to pay more when an environmental protection is required of them, but look how that plays out: These businesses must hire more workers to make the upgrades necessary to comply with the new regulations. They must also retain more employees to maintain compliance. Businesses may complain and grumble about it, but environmental legislation creates jobs, and this helps, not hurts, an economy.

4.) Protectionist tariffs don't work. Not necessarily true. The claim we have often heard in school is that the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act led to the Great Depression because it stifled free trade in the marketplace. This is both true and misleading. Smoot-Hawley ignited a tariff war among all industrialized nations, and it was that tariff war which brought global economies down. Prior to that, protectionism worked for all concerned, and worked fairly well. But too much of anything is always bad. Make other countries feel slighted with your tariffs, and you will hurt trade.
Look at South Korea. It benefited from tariffs for decades before privatizing its government owned company, Samsung, which once did little else but trade in rice and beef cattle. Now, Samsung is one of the best privately-owned electronics manufacturers, and you probably have one of their products in your home right now! Look at India. It benefited from protectionism as well. And, of course, there's China, which refuses to play fair-trade with us while we insist on free-market rules with them -- and they're kicking our ass because of it!
China, India and South Korea had economic ministers who were untrained in economics. In the case of South Korea, its chief government economist was trained as a mathematician. These people engaged in non-lasses-faire economics because they were not trained in the accepted dogma. And it worked!
Maybe, instead of playing fair with a Chinese government which refuses to play fair with us, why don't we enact a few protections of our own? Maybe we could ignore their copyright laws for a change? Certainly, government projects should at least be barred to Chinese interests who are trying to under-bid American contractors with government-subsidized labor!

3.) Inflation is bad for an economy. Not necessarily! Inflation hurts savings accounts and makes retaining money difficult, but it also reduces debt rapidly. Since debt, especially housing and credit card debt, is a huge ball and chain on our economy right now, a little inflation would solve a lot of problems! That having been said, inflation is only likely when unemployment is low. With unemployment at barely over 8%, you are likelier to see an alien landing in your back yard than inflation within the next few years.

2.) Obama's economic stimulus in 2009 failed. No. The economic stimulus stopped a sinking economy cold, and GDP has been steadily growing ever since (albeit too slowly). On the other hand, it didn't significantly reduce unemployment, either, as that figure still remains too high. On balance, it's safe to say that the stimulus stopped the downfall, but wasn't enough to induce an outright recovery. In other words, it didn't fail, but it wasn't a 100% success, either. It should have been bigger -- but a bigger stimulus bill wouldn't have passed, even with a super-majority in the House and Senate.

1.) Deregulation helps grow an economy. This is flatly wrong. Certain areas of the economy, especially banking, need strict regulations for a stable economy.
They tried deregulation of "soft" banking in the 80's under Reagan, freeing up Savings & Loan establishments to invest their money as they saw fit, while keeping FSLIC insurance guarantees. The result was that S&L's took on risky investments on purpose, because if their investments bottomed out, the FSLIC would guarantee them. It was a "heads we win, tails taxpayers lose" arrangement. The Savings & Loan scandals that resulted taught us all a lesson to never deregulate banks too much.
Or so we thought! Under Bush II, deregulation was tried again. Several times Alan Greenspan had to pool the largest banks together to "voluntarily" bail out one of their other banks, while stubbornly maintaining that the market can "police itself." Eventually, it didn't work. When Godman Sachs and Bank of America both met dire straits, it was too late. Even Alan Greenspan himself admitted that he was wrong.
Regulation also has benefits in areas where an economy depends upon the environment. Take fishing or logging, for example. Without strict regulations curtailing the amount harvested, the resulting scarcity will drive the price of the commodity up. Rather than correcting itself, the free market will make the problem even worse as deregulated businesses strive with each other to fight over the remaining precious commodity left! When it's all gone, the market completely collapses, and everyone loses. No, better to have laws which limit the amount taken in, thus preserving the most possible output for everyone!

Well, that's all for now. Hopefully, some of you out there will know a little bit more now.

Neither Obama nor Romney promise to use the perfect approach based on the above, but Obama comes much, much closer. And Romney? Well, that would be a disaster and a half. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Eric

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Campaign Finance Reform is Needed!

Holy underwear! Have you seen Mitt Romney's latest campaign finance numbers? He's leading Obama by more than double. Team Obama has cash on hand of a little less than $88 million. Team Romney has $186 million.

And that's against a sitting incumbent president! Do you recall that little "Do you want $3 to go to the presidential election campaign fund?" check-box on your tax return? Complete with the "this will not decrease the amount of your refund" reminder? Well, Romney has outpaced even that!

Not that Romney needs it. Any more money raised, and he'll have finally matched only ONE of his off-shore bank accounts.

It's not difficult to see what's going on, if you're paying attention to who owns the media outlets. You see, a very few people, who have a whole lot of money and own a lot of media outlets, are very pissed at Our Trophy President, and can afford trying to buy the election. So to protect the mansions they own, they're using the television stations they own, and the radio stations they own, to speak through the talk-show hosts they own, which results in lots of ads being sold on the networks they own, and they make a boatload of even more cash as a result!

Why the hell are they so mad at Obama? He's been the best thing to ever happen to their bottom line!

It's true. Look what Bill Clinton did for the careers of Rush Limbaugh and Rupert Murdoch!

Of course the Mitt Romney campaign finances are just the tip of the iceberg. Imagine all the Superpacs who are getting even more money! We're talking trillions wasted!

This is proof of something I've said for a long time. Democracy has a fundamental incompatibility with capitalism. The two are not synonymous. In democracy, you see, it's one man, one vote. In capitalism, it's one dollar, one vote. This election, more than any other, pits oligarchy vs. democracy, with Team Obama batting for democracy.

Now, here's my main point: Think of all the jobs those trillions of wasted campaign finance dollars could have bought. Think of all the economic growth that's been simply thrown away on Obama-hatred. That's a lot of money for you, me and our children that's been lost! And all for what? Why, to blame Obama for the jobs that they, the ultra-rich, are deliberately not spending their money on. They're wasting that money on "long-shot" Romney.

The fucking hubris!

(Hey! That's a really cool nickname for Holy-Underwear-Mitt! "Long-Shot!" Yeah. Ol' Long-Shot Romney. It has a nice ring to it!)

All this is based on a phony premise. Simple supply and demand economics works like this: If demand rises (as it does during an election season) while supply stays the same (there are only so many TV and radio stations to go around) then price goes up. So what happens in an election season like this one, where more cash is there to buy ad time than any other before? Why the price of the ad time goes up even further! In other words, the notion that more money results in a louder economic voice is an illusion! It's a mirage in a desert, and every politician is running towards it, their parched throats aching with imagined thirst, believing that if only they could just get a few more donors, the election will be theirs.

And it's all a lie.

Every election only needs a certain amount of money to get its message out. After that point, all the extra money does is artificially drive up the price of ad time. Great news if you happen to own a TV or radio station. Bad news for the rest of us.

All that money could have been part of your next paycheck.

Some of this is off-set by the fact that Obama has the ability to buy airtime in advance. Romney cannot buy in advance until he is officially named the Republican candidate, and that won't happen until the end of this month. (That's part of why he has so much more money right now. Obama's spending, and he's not.) So, no matter how much Romney outspends Obama, he cannot keep Our Trophy President from having his voice heard. But to try in vain, he'll end up paying a premium price in comparison to the bargain price for ad time Obama was able to buy. Har, har!

Of course, the Superpacs know how to play this same game. Tip of the iceberg, again.

This is why we need campaign finance reform now! If lower taxes on the rich will result in economic growth (the "trickle down" notion, you see), then just imagine what a windfall there will be for jobs if the rich are barred from throwing their money away on a sure-fire loser like Romney? Curtailing all this ridiculous spending will hurt the TV networks, but so what if it brings this nation's unemployment down to reasonable levels? We need John McCain and Russ Feingold to... no, wait, we were dumb enough to lose Feingold. Never mind. Well, we need somebody to put a lid on all this!

Campaign finance reform is the ultimate economic stimulus bill! A de facto tax-cut for the rich!

And if the NFL can have a spending cap, then so can our political process!

Eric

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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Robbing Medicare? Part II

In a previous recent blog post, I argued why the Health Care Reform law was essential due to its cessation of fraud and abuse. I cited a 60 Minutes report from 2010 showing how $60 billion per year was going straight into the pockets of fraudulent claims set up by organized crime circuits. I did not, however, realize two things: One, there was more than just fraud going on. If one counts waste, abuse and inefficiency of Medicare, the number easily exceeds $70 billion. And two, I also didn't realize that the Romney campaign's claim of $700 billion "robbed" from Medicare "to pay for Obamacare," is a projection over 10 years. Previous projections were made out to several years, which is where the $500 billion claim previously came from. Project it out to ten years, and it comes to $700 billion.

Well, this is now the third time I've had to amend that post. (That'll teach me to go off half-cocked.) So here's what I should have said then:

Take that over-$70-billion that Obamacare saves by putting a stop to the organized criminals stealing from the Medicare system, as well as the wasteful inefficiencies within it, and project that out ten years. There's your $716 billion dollars! That amount, which Romney and his cronies are claiming Obama robbed to pay for Romneycare II, is actually money that Obama stole back from Medicare thieves!

I have no problem with Obama stealing back $700 billion from Medicare crooks to pay for "Obamacare." Do you?

Politifact did issue its evaluation of this particular claim of Mitt Romney's campaign. It rated it mostly false. But it didn't go far enough in realizing just how much criminality was policed by Healthcare Reform, and how the dollar amount saved in this way matches the $700 billion quote almost perfectly. Well, Politifact should have rated this one as 'Pants on Fire!'

But my evaluation of Politifact will have to be a different blog post.

Eric

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Why Voter I.D. Will Backfire

I'll hand it to the conservative strategists at the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, they come up with some clever tactics. The latest one is the enacting of voter I.D. laws. Ostensibly, this is done to combat voter fraud. But they made the mistake of highlighting the demographics this would affect the most - namely poor, elderly, young and minority voters - and the cat was let out of the bag. There is a not-so-subtle attempt at nudging the elections over in their favor.  It is gerrymandering on a grand scale.

Now, I'm not going to take the ridiculous position that some on the left have taken and say that there's almost no fraud. Sure, only a dozen or so confirmed cases of fraud have been documented in the recent decade, but voter fraud is something like seeing a cockroach in your kitchen. Sure, it's only one bug, but if you see one, there's likely an entire population living beneath the floorboards or inside the walls somewhere. So I say, yes, there's some fraud, and more than we like to admit. But is voter I.D. the way to solve it?

As any 19-year-old girl who has brought a fake photo I.D. to a club knows, the answer is... hell, no! Photo I.D. can be fooled just as easily as anything, and the elderly volunteers who work at the polls are not as adept at spotting a fake I.D. as, say, a police officer or even a bartender. Requiring a photo I.D. will not stop fraud so much as it will make it much harder to detect, because in those cases where voter fraud has taken place on any significant scale, the defense will always be, "There's no fraud here. Everybody showed their I.D.!" Well, fine, until you realize that a well-financed fake I.D. ring might have been at work.

Guess which party has more financial muscle to force a large-scale phony ident. scheme under the radar?

It used to be that the poor guy on skid row, who had no clean shirt, no socks, and no money even for coffee, could at least console himself with the paltry knowledge that he had one, measly vote to change it, and that the wealthiest asshole was only as wealthy has him in that regard. Now he can't have even that.

To prevent fraud, one needs a means of trying to prevent duplicate or bogus entries. But that's what voter registration is for. You have a person who provides their personal information, address, some sort of verification, etc., assign it a number, and there you go. We already have that. A photo I.D. just makes the process more expensive for the potential voter, thus amounting to a poll tax. In the 21st Century, no less! You'd think we'd grown beyond that. To prevent this, the government must be required to pay for the I.D. So far, I haven't heard one, single Republican politician ask for that. We want smaller government, after all.

(Special note: In Wisconsin, if you are turning 18 before the November elections, you CAN get a free I.D.! Just check the "Free ID" box when filling out your application!)

I don't think all this is being done to unhorse Obama. I can clearly recall (as I'm sure you also can) about how then-Wisconsin-Governor Jim Doyle stood opposed to voter I.D. laws being enacted prior to the 2008 presidential election. The I.D. anti-fraud angle was probably cooked up to oppose Democrats in general, and Hillary Clinton in particular. It was only after the Obama campaign overwhelmed everyone that Republicans, not fully realizing how much they were truly latent xenophobic racists underneath it all (they probably still aren't consciously aware of it!) began getting really adamant about pushing voter I.D. laws through. Apparently, not only have we not grown past poll taxes, we haven't grown past lynchings, either.

That having been said, I'll admit that we're on the cusp of the era where everyone will have some sort of I.D. to vote anyway. We already need an I.D. to buy alcohol, an I.D. to buy cigarettes, an I.D. to enter a club, an I.D. to collect a welfare check, an I.D. for, well, anything. Are the numbers of poor and minority voters without photo I.D. really as high as projections have stated? I'm not so sure.

Well, be that as it may, it is as certain as death and taxes that the whole thing will backfire. Why? Because the surest way to get people to go do something is to attempt to prevent them from doing it. Want to get young people and minorities to get out and vote? Then try to block them from voting! They'll get pissed, and they'll go vote in droves! Already, minority civic leaders and left-leaning political pundits are blowing the whistle, months in advance, preparing to make certain that as many people have photo I.D.s as possible. You will see concerted efforts at voter identification. Entire armies of volunteers will make certain of it.

Also, young people are often jaded about voting, but voter I.D. assuages their fears about having their voices heard. Take Indiana, for example. Indiana was one state which enacted a strong voter I.D. law between 2004 and 2008. Did it prevent young people from voting? No! According to a Pew Research poll, the percentage of young people as an overall share of the vote went up by 5% between 2004 and 2008! Young people in that state felt better about their vote not being negated by any shenanagans, and voted with more confidence.

This will replay itself in 2012 on a much larger scale. Instead of hurting the Democratic vote, it will favor it. Perhaps it will even hurt the Republican vote as the elderly are often more conservative.

Full disclosure: There is one piece of contrary evidence to this theory. A weak voter I.D. law was passed in Ohio in 2006, and the youth vote in that state went down by 4% as a total of the overall vote between '04 and '08. My hypothesis regarding this is that young people burn out more easily when it comes to politics, and no state has more scorched-earth scarring when it comes to political ads than Ohio. I don't blame young people in that state for being turned off. Still, I could be wrong.

What I'm not wrong about is the backlash. There will be efforts to make sure I.D.s don't block the vote, and here now is my BRILLIANT suggestion for making sure voting takes place fairly: SPONSOR AN I.D.! It's a great idea! If you're reading this, you probably have the means to assist someone with getting their I.D. in time for the November elections. You probably can help financially, you likely have a vehicle to make getting to & from needed places to pick up verifying documents easy, and you have the willingness to help. I'll bet someone out there could set up an Internet-based network to link people who need an I.D. with people who are willing to help them get it. Become an I.D. sponsor! It only costs $30 at the most ($28 in Wisconsin, and remember, it's free for first-time applicants), and that beats giving a useless $30 donation to a political campaign already overwhelmed by billion-dollar donors!

As I stated earlier, one needs a photo I.D. for anything these days. I'm fairly certain that more potentially Democratic-party votes have I.D. cards that we give them credit for. But one doesn't need an I.D. to buy a gun these days, thanks to conservatives siding so strongly with the NRA. That means all those who were blocked from voting at the polls will be able to buy a firearm and vent their frustrations on the republican legislators who put voter I.D. laws in place. If they can't vote with a ballot, they might vote with a bullet. (I'm not condoning that behavior, by the way. I'm not Ted Nugent! But the potential for such action will be there.)

I imagine voter I.D. could eventually help the Republicans. In 2016, the tumult over voter I.D. will have died down, and voters might be discouraged from voting. But by then, I predict, Hillary Clinton will cruise to an easy victory. Perhaps the midterm elections in 2018 would allow voter I.D. to impact the outcome, but by then, we all hope, the tenure of Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court will be an unhappy memory.

And a new form of electronic I.D. will have made the whole thing irrelevant, anyway.

Eric

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Why Romney Chose Ryan

Well, my previous post was all muddled. I jumped the gun, and ended up with a klutzy set of thoughts as I was forced to revise everything three hours after I'd put it out onto the net. Well, this time, I'm being anything but too hasty. Everybody has weighed in on Paul Ryan by now. Now it's my turn.

First, I've noticed a trend between winning and losing presidential candidates. It seems that the candidate who's likely to win always chooses a boring and safe running mate, while the candidate who is likely to lose chooses an exciting, risky running mate. This is no accident. Candidates who are winning have no need to rock the boat, while candidates who are losing have every reason to. Thus, in 1988, George Bush, Sr., riding Reagan's coattails, chose a pretty boy from a swing state, Dan Quayle of Indiana, while in 1984 Walter Mondale, who was trailing Reagan by a wide margin, went with a she-wolf in Geraldine Ferraro. In 1992, Bill Clinton had won most of the swing voters away from the failed campaign of H. Ross Perot, and went with another safe VP pick with Al Gore, an "Atari Democrat" from Tennessee. Eight years later, when it was Gore vs. Bush, Jr., Al went with Joseph Liebermann, a Jew, to shake things up, while Bush chose Dick Cheney, who could put children to sleep with his speeches.

Now we have Mitt Romney, and he's chosen a rock-the-boat vice president.

Guess who's likely to win?

I suppose I can't blame Romney. He wants to make it as exciting as possible. He also wants to energize the base to the fullest extent in order to get out the vote. Choosing Ryan does that. The pick makes sense in a number of other ways, too. Ryan is from a swing state, Wisconsin. He's youthful and handsome. He's the darling of the Tea Party. He will help with the thorny problem of conservative Christians who might balk at a Mormon candidate. In many ways, it's a choice that makes sense.

That having been said, Democrats are already opening the champagne. Ryan makes his VP selection, and he's chosen the biggest "scare grandma" candidate available, a guy who was considered a long shot only two months ago. He's the leader of a Congress with a mere 7% approval rating. He makes his fellow right-wing extremists look tame by comparison. He's the new Joseph McCarthy, only this time with brains, and minted for cable television. What a gift! He's put Wisconsin back into play, but has practically surrendered Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania to do it.

Why would Romney do this?

I think I know, and it's not just throwing a "Hail Mary" pass the way John McCain did in '08. I have two insights. One is solid and is undoubtedly correct. The other is a pet hypothesis. A conspiracy theory, if you will. I'll share them here, and leave you, the reader, free to prefer one, the other, or both as you see fit. Here we go:

My solid insight is that Paul Ryan is a solid pick for a financial strategy. Regarding campaign financing, Obama has been outpaced by Romney. This is not a first for a sitting president, as John Kerry outpaced George W. Bush in '04, but it is a first for this massive a scale. Records are being broken on both sides, and this has led the Obama campaign to deal with it directly. Obama's strategists have been launching attack ads early, trying to cripple Romney's campaign so that later donors will trail off, allowing Our Trophy President to win a second term. So far, the strategy is working, with Obama opening up a more than 5% lead, according to most polls.

How does Romney counter this? Why by picking a VP candidate who energizes the Obama haters like no other, thus guaranteeing that his base will not get discouraged, and guaranteeing that he will not falter in raising money come October/November.

This is what Romney does best: raise money. He knows how to get rich people to invest. This is how he had his success with Bain Capital. This is how he helped the 2002 Winter Olympics. He gets rich folks to back him. Nobody does it better. But to get his money, he's embraced extremism. He dug up his treasure chest, and now he's full of dirt and mud. It's a good financial move, but it's not a good political move.

Mitt's Veep choice makes dollars, not sense.

In fact, I'm convinced that this is just a symptom of what Mitt is, as well as what he does. Mitt Romney is a good investment guy. He wins in the business world. But he's just not a good politician. He lost in Massachusetts to Ted Kennedy, and Obama is twice as powerful as Ted Kennedy ever was. Even Hillary Clinton couldn't beat him. Only the best politician could possibly beat Obama. Mitt Romney just doesn't have the skills.

Not that Republicans should feel bad. They didn't  have a candidate to begin with. All they had were a bunch of stumble-bums scampering around Iowa who were crazy enough to think that "Obamacare" can or should be repealed. Most sensible Republicans, like Jeb Bush and Chris Christie, were smart enough to sense that the economy was slowly recovering and decided to stay out of it.

And now for my second insight, and this one is, admittedly, far-fetched. The one thing that Mitt Romney fears most is Ron Paul. That's right, the old geezer who just wouldn't quit and came one plurality state short of throwing a huge monkey wrench into the Republican National Convention. He still has enough pull to cause a shitload of damage, and were he to run as a third-party candidate, he would have enough electoral college votes to ensure a Mitt Romney loss.

So, here's my pet hypothesis: I could just imagine Romney going to Ron Paul and saying, "Look, you can't win, but I know you intend to make an impact. We have to do what's best for the nation. What can I do to ensure you stay out of this from here on out?"

Ron Paul, who is all about lasses faire economics, hands the torch to the next generation, and to a fellow Ayn Rand disciple, by saying, "Make Paul Ryan your running mate, and I promise you, I won't run on a third-party ticket."

So there it is. Paul Ryan is a financial pick, and a backroom deal with the Devil. It's selling out in the hope that money really can buy you love.

Well, I say fuck the money. Fuck the extremism behind it. I'd rather vote for a Chicago politician than let some fool from Janesville embarrass the Dairy State.

Eric

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Monday, August 13, 2012

Robbing Medicare?

On NBC's "Meet the Press" yesterday, RNC chairman Reince Priebus made a bold claim. In response to David Gregory pointing out that Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney's VP pick, has recently pushed a bill in Congress to destroy Medicare and privatize it, Priebus said that Obama had "robbed $700 billion from Medicare and used it to pay for Obamacare. That's really destroying Medicare."

Oh, really?

I wanted this blog post to be about why Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan in the first place. I'll get to that. But first things first...

I also wanted to see what PolitiFact had to say about this one. But, damn it all, I couldn't wait for a claim this bold to be exposed, so I took to researching it myself. DISCLAIMER: An earlier version of this blog post was wrong, wrong, wrong. I quoted Priebus as saying 700 million rather than 700 billion, and my overall premise was off-base. My apologies. But this time, I got it right.

First, it's true that Obamacare -- Oops! Sorry. I meant Romneycare -- does cut spending on Medicare by $500 million. Due to some dickering with numbers, it could be made as high as $700 million. (I recently heard the Romster saying that it was up to $745 billion, or something. It keeps going up!) We'll pretend that $700 million is accurate, just for brevity. That cut, incidentally, prevents Medicare from going insolvent. Pretty damned important, I should say. But let's repay this in slow motion:

The new health care law takes $700 million from Medicare and uses it to help pay for expanded coverage for seniors. That much is true. In other words, "Obamacare" takes $700M from health care coverage for seniors and uses it -- drum roll, please -- to pay for health care coverage for seniors! Go figure!

So this could be framed as "robbing" only if one thinks that the new health care law is paying for something worthless. It isn't of course. If a pickpocket takes the $20 bill from your pocket, then puts a different $20 bill back, has he robbed you of anything?

Maybe if someone convinces you the other $20 bill was a phony. It isn't, but if you believe it, you'll feel robbed.

Another aspect of Obama's saving of Medicaid through strategic cuts is eliminating fraud and waste. That might sound like political bullshit, but it's absolutely possible to save that much and more by eliminating fraud. In a 60 Minutes expose which aired in September of 2010, Steve Kroft reported that Medicare fraud had surpassed the sale of cocaine as a major criminal enterprise.

Again, DISCLAIMER: I'd gotten this part slightly wrong in that I'd previously said that the removal of fraud would more than make up for the "cuts" in Medicare. Not true. But I straightened it out.
It works like this: Crooks set up a phony medical treatment facility, bill real patients for medical treatments they didn't receive, then take the money and run. The pre-Obama reform Medicare system then pays the claim before they're audited! Money first, policing of the money later. By the time the IRS and FBI find the crooks, they've already disappeared, leaving behind only the abandoned storefront which provided nothing more than an address.

60 Minutes reported that some $60 Billion in taxpayer dollars was getting wasted every year this way! With our national debt, we simply can't afford that much money, much less having it go into the pockets of crooks!

But all that was before Obamacare.

One thing Obamacare did which was absolutely essential was to make it far more difficult for criminal interests to put forth phony claims. In other words, thanks to the new Health Care Law, claims are audited first, before money goes out.

Great. But did it work? Is Obamacare eliminating the fraud?

You bet your ass it is! Back in May, the AP reported the largest bust of Medicare fraudsters so far. $500 million in waste was immediately recovered. And that was just one bust! The Obama administration was, at that time, closing in on one billion in recovered fraud losses, and that was just in the first quarter of 2012! And more to come! As crooks see that their criminal enterprise is way more risky, many drop out. That saves even more money! It's a positive multiplier, resulting in billions more saved!

Way to go, Barry!

But if the health care law is repealed, all that goes away. The criminals, real rather than political, will get their $60 billion per year payoff right back again.

Love it, or hate it, you're stuck with Obamacare. You can't repeal. You can only refine.
So where does Priebus, this needle-dicked, two-timing, thrice evil, quadrupedal and quintessential shithead get off calling Obama a crook, when all Our Trophy President did was to crack down on crooks, cut spending, save money, save Medicare and do one hell of a bang-up job in spite of ass-wipes like him getting in the way?!

What an asshole! If RNC Chairman Reince Priebus were twice as smart, he'd still be a retard!

We are not in the Joseph McCarthy Era anymore. We are in a new era where an entire political party is comprised of nothing but McCarthys.

And the latest of them is, like the original McCarthy, also from Wisconsin. But that's my next blog post.

Eric

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Saturday, August 11, 2012

It's The Brain, Stupid!


In 1962 Gianna Beretta Molla, a pregnant mother of three, discovered she had a potentially lethal uterine tumor. She faced a horrible predicament which no potential mother should have to face:  An abortion would kill the fetus she was carrying, while leaving it there would likely kill her. She weighed the options and made her choice, telling the doctors not to save her life if it meant terminating the pregnancy.

She died a week after giving birth, leaving her husband a widower and her four children motherless.

On May 16, 2004, Pope John Paul II Canonized her as a Saint, prioritizing her ahead of Mother Teresa for the title.

When it comes to abortion, Christians aren’t kidding.

They are also dead wrong.

In this post, I am going to argue why abortion is absolutely ethical, and why those who oppose it, are unwittingly evil. Yeah, I know, it’s a tall order. More people are irredeemably lost to logic over this one issue than any other. But I believe it’s possible for people to see reason, even here. It’s been said before, and it bears repeating here: We are all pro-life and pro-choice. We can therefore find common ground, tricky though that might be. All it takes is a little bit of scientific knowledge.

First, let’s get one thing straight:  “Saint Gianna,” did a courageous thing. She exercised her right to choose, and she chose the life of her unborn child. She risked her life to save her daughter. Any mother might do the same. But she died as a result, an overall negative – especially for her children as a whole. She is quite rightly hailed as a heroic figure.

But had she known what I’m about to say below, she would have changed her mind.

Let’s begin by making a couple of concessions to the pro-life side. First, it is absolutely true that a fetus is alive. Arguments to the contrary are quite ignorant.  It is comprised of living, human cells, and is thus both living, and human.  Any removal of these living cells is therefore the taking of human life, by any definition. It does little use to deny this fact. However, the removal of an appendix or a set of tonsils might also be considered the taking of human life by this same standard. In both such cases, living human cells are deliberately removed and killed. To differentiate between these surgeries and an abortion, we must ask whether, and when, a fetus is an autonomous, individual being. We'll get back to that, shortly.

The other concession to the pro-life side is this: A late-term fetus is tantamount to a newborn baby. The only real difference between a fetus just before birth and a baby just after birth is that the latter breathes air, and the former breathes amniotic fluid. (Oh, and also that thing about drinking milk as opposed to having an umbilical cord.) Thus, the argument that birth is not a reasonable place to draw the line is not only sound, it’s a scientific fact. We must bow to the scientific evidence regardless of our political preferences, and that means near-full-term fetuses do have rights. The failure of certain activists and a few politicians to see this has driven many in the pro-life movement absolutely white-hot with rage, perhaps understandably. So, in an attempt to force the issue, lawsuits for murder have sometimes been filed in certain legal cases where a pregnant woman has been assaulted and her fetus killed. One such case was that of a woman from right here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, named Tracy Marciniak.

In 1992, Marciniak’s estranged husband, Glenndale Black, assaulted her. According to reports, he brutally beat her, hit her twice in the abdomen, then refused to call 911 or let Tracy call 911. As a result, her baby died, and she was very nearly killed herself. She was only five days away from scheduled full term pregnancy. Maddeningly, when she sought to press charges against Black for the manslaughter of her child, she discovered that she couldn’t because Wisconsin law did not consider a fetus a human being until after it was born. Black was instead only charged with assault and wrongful imprisonment. Tracy Marciniak’s plight became a landmark event which led to a change of the legal code of the State of Wisconsin in 1998, and brought about the “unborn victims of violence act” to the United States Senate and House of Representatives. On April 1st, 2004, President George W. Bush finally signed the act into law. The general public overwhelmingly agreed that birth is not the place to draw the line.

I agree. But then, what about the opposite end of the spectrum?  Does life begin at conception?

Upon examining the evidence, the surprising answer is – no!

Both sperm and egg are very much alive before they join together. Both mother and father are very much alive when they produce sperm and egg. The sperm and eggs which made the parents, in turn, were very much alive before they joined together, and so forth. If we are to be honest with ourselves, we must conclude that life does not begin at conception. Life begins at the dawn of all life upon the planet Earth! The question then is not, “When does life begin?” The question is, “When does the life of an individual being begin?”

Okay, now we have the question accurately phrased, but when is that point exactly?  Why not conception?

To answer that, we must replay the fertilization scene between a sperm and ovum. When sperm meets egg to form a zygote, a living thing with all the genetic material of an individual person has come into being. It has a complete DNA chain, 48 chromosomes, and has begun the process which will eventually cause it to grow to adulthood—a process which it will not fully complete until 21.75 years later. (It’s 21.75 instead of simply 21 because we ought to include the additional nine months’ gestation period.) Based upon these facts, many conclude that an individual life does, in fact, begin at this point. And because some birth control methods work by preventing the zygote from attaching to the uterine wall, the conclusion is sometimes drawn that use of these methods are immoral.

Yet something very interesting can happen after a zygote forms. It is at this point that the cells multiply furiously, going from a few to a few hundred thousand in a very short amount of time. And here it is that the zygote, in rare but not uncommon cases, can split to form two growing zygotes to make a pair of twins! In much rarer cases, the zygote could split three ways to form triplets. So the life of a single individual simply cannot begin at the point of conception, because it could be more than one person. Conception is logically ruled out!

So much for conception.

So if an individual human life does not begin at conception, and definitely does begin before birth, then it must happen somewhere in between. Makes sense in theory, but there’s quite a lot of gray area in between those two.  But if conception doesn’t work, what other possible criteria can be used to determine the point at which growing human cells become growing human being? Is there a definite line?

One possibility could be vital signs. In the medical profession, a doctor determines if a patient is alive or dead based on the tell-tale signs of heartbeat and respiration. A fetus’ heart begins beating after only 22 days. Respiration of uterine fluid begins around 12 weeks, although true breathing of air does not begin until after birth. Yet these vital signs are not absolutes. Circulation and oxygenation of blood can be achieved artificially. A person could lack both a beating heart and a set of working lungs and yet still be obviously alive. Certain patients undergoing radical surgery can have their blood chilled, and their heartbeat slowed to the point that they are clinically dead, yet be warmed and revived after the procedure is completed. Thus, advancements in medical technology have highlighted the fact that vital signs such as heartbeat cannot be used as an indicator, and the bumper stickers which say, ‘Abortion stops a beating heart,’ are completely missing the point. Heart, lungs, and indeed every organ in the human body could potentially be replaced with either a donor organ or a mechanical device. All except one, that is. That organ, of course, is the brain.

Of course! The brain!

When one is alive, that means brain alive, and when someone is dead, we mean that person is brain dead.  All other indications of life could be present, but if the brain is dead, they all mean nothing.

In short, ladies and gentlemen, the brain defines the being!

To illustrate, one can do a simple thought experiment. Suppose one takes a living brain, and just for fun, let’s say that it is the brain of Congressman Paul Ryan. We could surgically remove his brain, put his body on life-support, and then put the brain into a very sophisticated robot which could sustain and interact with it, so that the brain can operate the robot’s arms, move about, and speak to people. Now, we can ask the question, ‘Where is Paul?  Is he in his body, which still shows heartbeat and respiration but is otherwise lifeless, or is he in the robot, which others can talk to and interact with?’ The correct answer, of course, is that the Congressman is inside the robot. Where else could he be? For all functional purposes, the robot would now be Paul Ryan!

Now we can make the debate more interesting: Suppose someone unplugs the life-support on Ryan’s body and allows it to die. Has this person committed murder? Recognizing that the brain is the house of the being, the answer must be no! So long as Paul’s brain is alive and safe, Paul himself is still alive. It is certainly a criminal act; it is destruction of property, it is vandalism, it is cold-heartedly mean, but it is not murder!

This standard can now be applied to the abortion debate. When dealing with a fetus whose brain has not formed yet, abortion may be done with an absolutely clear conscience! Without a formed brain, there is no ‘being’ yet present inside it. To put it in spiritual terms, without a functional container for the soul, there can be no soul contained therein. In other words, a fetus must first pass the ‘point of ensoulment’ to be viable.

We now must face the next question: ‘At what stage of development does a fetal brain become viable?’ Here, there are three clear places one can draw the line. I have labeled them, ‘the three stages of quickening.’ They are as follows:

Stage One quickening happens with the earliest brain activity of any kind. Even pro-life publications admit that this point does not take place until six weeks of development. This gives a one-and-a-half month window in which abortion may always be done with a clear conscience, no matter what. Any abortive procedure which takes place prior to Stage One quickening is absolutely ethical.

Stage Two of quickening happens with the sudden onset of fetal movement. Little, if any, movement takes place within the first nine weeks. Then, at the tenth week of development, the fetus begins very radical movement, indeed!  This indicates the formation and activation of the cerebellum, the brain’s center of locomotion. This is not yet thinking, reasoning, or what we might call an awakening to sentience. That comes later. But we recognize that many will see such movement as definitive. Although I’m convinced that this stage does not yet mean the onset of cognition or awareness, and that abortion may still be ethically done after this point, someone else might choose to draw the line at this stage. If so, I would find that position respectable.

Stage Three of quickening happens with the sudden growth and activation of the cerebellum, the center of thinking and reasoning. This takes place around 20 weeks of development – or roughly the half-way mark of the nine-month gestation cycle. A sudden growth spurt of this part of the brain takes place just prior to this time and it is at this point that electroencephalographs (or, EEG’s) first reveal the sudden appearance of the first true alpha, beta, gamma and theta ‘brain waves.’

This final stage marks the point where I officially draw the line. This is where, I argue, the spiritual line has been crossed, and the “soul” (for want of a better word) enters the body. The point at which abortions should not be performed is at Stage Three quickening, or about the 20th week. Abortion ought not be done after this point, except in extreme medical cases where the fetus suffers from a malady which renders the brain unviable, such as anencephaly, severe hydro-encephalitis, or the pregnancy is such that threatens the health of the mother.

Note that I say ‘health’ of the mother, because although a caesarian-section may not normally be life-threatening, any major surgery has the potential to become so. If a D&C, commonly referred to in the media as a ‘partial-birth abortion,’ is rendered illegal, then the only recourse a doctor would have in such extreme cases would be a caesarian section, thus needlessly jeopardizing a second life when a first has already been lost. Such legislations are unscientific and short-sighted. D&C is, on occasion, medically necessary and should remain legal. Also such decisions should be made by a patient and her physician, and not by legislators who tend to lack the sufficient medical training to make such decisions.

So, there it is! My solution to the abortion debate. You can’t counter-argue science forever (although creationists certainly try). There is an adequate window of opportunity where a woman may have an abortion ethically. It is a position which supports both a woman’s right to choose, and also supports the sanctity of human life. There's no excuse for forcing young people who made one, little mistake into permanent poverty. There's really no excuse for forcing rape victims to bear their assailants' children. There's really, really no excuse for blocking contraception. There's holy shit no excuse for blocking morning after pills! And holy fucking shit is there no excuse for blocking morning after pills to rape victims! And if all this is true, then those who oppose stem cell research based on outdated, conception-based criteria, are criminals. Unwitting criminals perhaps, but criminals, nevertheless!

Oh, I don’t think this outline of mine will solve anything right away, but as surely as I’m writing this, it will be the societal position someday. Population pressures and economic forces will eventually leave us with no other choice. Accept it now, or don’t, but we’ll all accept it sooner or later.

Eric

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Friday, August 10, 2012

Yo, Joe! (Soptic.)


Have you seen this political ad from the Obama campaign? (Well, not actually from the campaign, but from an unaffiliated super-pac.)




Apparently, it's been the cause of some concern. Joe Soptic, the factory worker whose wife tragically died after he lost his insurance coverage after being laid off by Bain Capital, tells the world that he doesn't feel that Romney understands what he puts everyday people through in his business decisions. But Joe's wife died several years after his job with Bain ended. Everyone in the media, from ABC to CNN, is calling the ad "misleading."

I disagree.

Think I'm biased from the outset? Think I'm just being an Obama bunny? I think I can convince you otherwise. It's one thing when Fox News distorts the facts. It's quite another when the three major "rabbit-ear" networks and CNN join in on the error. I'm going to make my case that Joe Soptic is absolutely right, and the Obama campaign has nothing to fear from this ad. There are two main criticisms about why the ad is inaccurate. I will deal with them both individually.

Criticism 1: The Soptic ad states that his wife died several years after Joe had left the factory that was shut down by Bain. This much is true, in as far as it goes. But it really isn't about when she died, is it? No, it's about when she got sick.

The ad clearly states that when she went in for a hospital visit years later for pneumonia, they discovered that she had stage 4 cancer. You simply don't need to be a doctor to know that stage 4 comes after many years of having the cancer inside your body.

You see, as Joe told us (were you paying attention during the ad), his wife got sick right after the time he was downsized by Bain. That means, were he to have had insurance in 2001 or 2002 (his factory was shut down in 2001), his wife's cancer would have been detected early, and she might well have survived.

So how is this ad misleading about his wife? It isn't. Let me state again: It's not about when she died, it's about when she got sick.

Criticism 2: Soptic was given the ax after Romney had already left Bain Capital to work for the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Well, maybe. We've heard the debate about whether he was really at Bain Capital  in 2002 and 2003 before. It's true that Romney probably wasn't doing much for Bain actively at that time, but he was still listed as their CEO and Board Chairman. Why? Well, probably because it assuaged stockholder fears about the company. But if Romney got paid for being CEO, then he was responsible, at least partly, for Joe's predicament. If he took the money, then he took at least some of the responsibility. (Part of why he might never release his tax returns; they would reveal whether or not he was paid by Bain during those years, and if he was...)

Is Romney responsible for the death of Joe's wife? No. The cancer is. Romney is merely culpable for the loss of the insurance which allowed the cancer to kill her. But isn't that what ABC, CNN, CBS and NBC should be reporting? The truth about the ad is not hard to figure out. Yet reporters are apparently so used to political ads being misleading that they don't recognize a legitimate one anymore when someone aims a cleverly framed criticism at it. We can all relate. We're all so jaded about political ads that we usually dismiss an ad as false when someone on the other side of the political argument bitches about it. But that's no excuse for professionals in the field getting fooled by this. We, the public, don't normally have the time to read between the lines. But reporters do. It's their job.  So what excuse does Wolf Blitzer or George Stephanopoulos have? After all, we expect bias from Fox News. But because of that, we expect the other news outlets to not be taken in by Fox News so easily. As soon as the criticism came from that outlet, everyone's B.S. detector should have been set off.

Romney might have been responsible for saving Joe's wife, as Andrea Saul, a Romney spokesperson, pointed out. All Joe Soptic would have had to do would be to move to Massachusetts, and he would have been covered. Conservative pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter threw an absolute conniption-fit over this gaff -- one which told the simple truth for a change. Of course what really helped the Obama campaign was not Saul's gaff, but the tremendous boost in exposure it received when every conservative talking head went ballistic over it, thus putting it on a huge, flashing billboard for all to see! Don't you love how Limbaugh and Coulter's incompetence shines so brightly when they try to highlight other people's incompetence?

Meanwhile, you go, Joe! It's a shame you had to be the only one who told the truth at a time when everyone else in the media got it wrong.

Eric

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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

10 Things You Didn't Know About Mormonism

This past Sunday morning, a news program called The Chris Matthews Show (yes, the same Chris Matthews who hosts Hardball on MSNBC) aired on WISN 12. It was broadcast right between "Teen Kids News" and formula one racing at the Indianapolis 200. You can guess how many people, other than myself, were watching. But the topic was perfect. It was about Mitt Romney's religion of Mormonism, something that everyone seems bent on not talking about. Love Romney or hate him, nobody wants to say the "M" word.

Well, that's what I'm here for.

With that in mind, I thought I'd share some of the most amazing things I've learned about Mormonism for those who don't know much about it outside of the South Park episode. It's important to remember, before one casts a vote for a Mormon, just how big a joke that religion is (and so by corollary, are those who practice it). So here, for your informative entertainment pleasure, is my outline, "Ten Things I'll Bet You Didn't Know About Mormonism." Enjoy!

10.) Only two major religions have declared open war upon the United States. Islam, of course, is one. Mormonism is the other. (The Utah War, 1858.)

9.) Mormons today may be heart-sickeningly warm and fuzzy today, but this was not always the case. Mormons were once the bloodiest sect in the American Frontier, leaving a trail of riots, blood and death across a swath of North America, ranging from New York, to Ohio, to Illinois, to Missouri, and finally to Utah. Mormons once had so fierce a reputation that they were the main antagonist in one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's most famous Sherlock Holmes stories. (A Study in Scarlet, 1887.)

8.) Mormons have all but taken over the Boy Scouts of America. This is part of why they do not allow gay boys to join.

7.) The once-fierce reputation of Mormonism was well-earned. Of all the American religions, it is the only one which has ever slaughtered large numbers of U.S. citizens and buried them in mass, unmarked graves. (The Mountain Meadows Massacre, 1859.) In fact, it is fair to say that today's ultra-nice tradition of Mormonism probably came about from a large sense of guilt felt by its past generations (something which today's Mormons have probably forgotten).

6.) Mormonism teaches that darkness of skin was a curse of God brought about by sinfulness. This is the Mormon explanation for blacks, Indians, Asians, or anyone else who has a complexion darker than Snow White.

5.) Largely due to the above, blacks were not allowed into the Mormon priesthood until 1978. (To his credit, Marion Romney, a cousin of George Romney, Mitt Romney's father, was instrumental in the reversal.)

4.) Joseph Smith, the author of the Book of Mormon, wrote scientifically proven forgeries into some of Mormonism's canonical scriptures.  (The Book of Abraham, part of The Pearl of Great Price.) That means that at least part of Mormonism is a confirmed lie, and Smith is a confirmed liar.

3.) Yes, it's true, Mormons do not allow women into the workplace. Women are relegated to the home in Mormonism, period. Mormons get around this by arguing that no job is more important than the raising of children, and that therefore women have the highest ranking job of them all. While there is something to be said for the argument, it is a poor excuse for subjugation.

2.) Mormons are very prominent in the secret service. This is partially due to the influence of former Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, who was on the Senate committee which oversees the FBI. It is also true that the Mormon Church has its own private security force.

1.) Mitt Romney is not the highest ranking Mormon in American politics! That honor goes to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a practicing Mormon, and a Democrat! (Okay, an anti-choice, anti-gay Democrat, but a Democrat nevertheless.)