Saturday, December 25, 2010

For Christmas: Pretty Maids All In A Row

Well, it's Christmas, and I'm going to post something that has nothing to do with Christmas. Not because I'm anti-holiday or anything, I'm just maxed out on the Hallmark-ization of it all. So, I'm posting something totally not serious. It's my list of the hottest women.

Okay, we all hate these type of articles in Maxim. Then we all read them. Go figure.

There are more than ten – I refuse to be bottled up by some asinine round-number top-ten kind of limitation. The qualifications for this list were as follows: 1.) Each woman is a celebrity, defined as being someone who you would at least remotely have heard of. 2.) Each woman, in her prime (loosely defined as 20-to-30 something), was/is one who is physically the most attractive to me. And yes, that means brains played an important role. Certain women I’ve met would, could, and do privately make the list, such as my girlfriend, obviously, but you people out there don’t know who my girlfriend is, anyway. (And I’m keeping it that way. She’s mine, you vultures!) Besides, this is pretty much a celebrity-only thing.


1. Christina Hendricks Known better as Saffron on Joss Whedon’s short-lived series, Firefly, and also as Joan Holloway on the AMC series Mad Men, this babe is unbelievable! Perfect, perfect, perfect!





2. Audrey Hepburn Sorry, but perfection is perfection. A beauty both inside and out, she made her fortune being irresistible, then poured her energies into helping those less fortunate. I wouldn’t Wait Until Dark to take this Fair Lady out for a Roman Holiday.





3. Lala Ward She’s Romana from the Dr. Who series during the Tom Bakker era, and she’s amazing! Currently, she’s married to a hero of mine, Richard Dawkins. Lucky guy!






4. Nina Hartley My favorite porn-queen! Brains and beauty! Best ass ever, and her mind is every bit as amazing as her body. I’d do her today in a heartbeat, but she easily makes the list in my Wayback machine.






5. Kirsten Dunst She once played a child vampire, then grew up to become a killer in other ways. Oh, that Irish face!







6. Susan Sarandon And the prize for best ass outside of porn goes to… Yes, her! Is there any doubt? Admit it, you still want her, too!






7. Jennifer Connelly Need I say more?








8. Erin McKean I’ll bet you’ve never heard of her. She’s a lexicographer – someone whose job it is to catalog words in language. She emerged on the public scene at the TED conference in 2008, and I just fell in love with her. She’s so damned cute!





9. Pat Benatar File this one under ‘D’ for “Duh!”








10. Miwa Yoshida She is only the second pop singer to make the list. It’s difficult to impress me with a diva. But Japanese rock-band Dreams Come True is one of the biggest hits of Nippon, largely due to the talents of this young lady. Although barely known in the States, she has an infectiousness which cannot be denied, and a voice that sounds like Ella Fitzgerald!





11. Nicole De Boer She’s Ezri Dax from Deep Space Nine, and the girl who should never have gotten killed in the movie Cube.







12. Anneke Rudegeair Better known as Soccergirl, of the podcast, Soccergirl, Inc. She’s my favorite skeptic-chick. Smart, fun, and a totally uninhibited sexual exhibitionist, she’s exactly my type! She’d score way, way higher on this list except 1.) she’s married, and 2.) she dumped one of my favorite musicians.



13. Rebecca Watson Also an awesome skeptic-chic, and equally hot, though not the proud sex queen that Soggergirl is. She continues to podcast for the Skeptics Guide to the Universe, even though she lives with her (sigh!) husband in England.






14. Kavi Ladnier What, never heard of her? Oh, yes you have! She played Mira, the luckless girlfriend of Mohinder Suresh in the TV hit, Heroes.







15. Scarlett Johansen She is way, way hotter as a brunette! What a lumbar curve on her!







Wayside entries (women who used to be on this list but got bumped):

Natalie Portman – Star Wars I killed the magic.

Sandra Bullock – She’s Miss Congeneality.

Jill Hennessy – I miss her days on Law & Order.

Jeri Ryan – Seven of Nine just doesn’t do it for me at Boston Public.

Halle Berry – She once took me by Storm, but she’s no Bond-woman.

Angelina Jolie – I’m just burned out on all the hype.

Jennifer Lopez – Her nice ass got her on the list. Her ‘bitchy’ got her kicked off.

Kristin Davis – Tied with Cynthia Nixon. In fact, most of the side-women and all the leads from the cast of Sex In The City are women I’d love to be with, but the movies are just plain wrecking the chemistry.

Gillian Anderson – Love Scully. But damn that punk-ass Mulder!

Callista Flockhart – She got taken off the market by Harrison Ford, so she dropped off the chart.

Rachel Weisz - That incident with the Scorpion King was too much.


Eric


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

So, it appears that the policy of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, will be repealed from the military. I have only a couple of brief thoughts about that:

First, let me say something that should be obvious: If someone's wearing the uniform of the United States military, and is thereby willing to potentially die to defend America, freedom, and democracy, then that person has EARNED the right to have consensual sex with whomever he or she wishes! This should be blindingly clear, especially to military veterans! Hell, soldiers could fuck a sheep for all I care, if they so wish, and I would endorse the idea if I weren't convinced that animals can't give consent any more than teenagers can. (To hell with P.E.T.A.)

Second, this now makes it official that Obama has now succeeded everywhere, and in every field, that Clinton failed in. Not perfectly, but he has. This, in spite of having more irrational hatred and intolerant non-cooperation than any other president in history. So to all who walk the razor's edge of racism in opposing him, all I can say is, ya done failed! And you'll go on failing, so long as what drives you is fear and hatred.

This nation may just yet turn out to be the Land of the Free.

Eric

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Frank Talk About Taxes

Let's be blunt about taxes, and the arguments about taxation in politics today.

The argument in favor of cutting taxes when we have a huge budget deficit may seem absurd, but there is a certain logic behind it. The general idea is that lower taxes result in greater economic growth and job creation, which in turn leads to more tax revenue coming into the government, not less. It's akin to the strategy of a store lowering prices in order to generate more revenue in sales. It may seem suicidal to lower prices at first, but the increased sales more than makes up for the loss afterward. In the case of government, lower taxes result in more growth, more jobs, and that translates to greater tax revenues in a healthier economy.

But there needs to be a delicate balance, here. After all, if a store cuts prices too low, it cannot make a profit off sales, no matter how great the sales volume, because the cost of goods and of overhead becomes greater than the amount made upon resale. The store must sell more than it buys for in order to survive. Thus, a store wants to keep prices low, but not too low, in order to maximize profit.

In like manner, a government wants to set its tax rate at an optimal level. It wants to keep tax rates for the working classes low, and high only upon those individuals who are so wealthy that they no longer contribute to job creation. But if it sets this rate too low, particularly on the very wealthiest, it runs the risk of not being able to sustain entitlements (that is, tax-spending that politicians can't cut).

It's an optimization problem: At what tax rate does a government maximize its own revenues?

Now, if by now, you're expecting me to argue that the upper 2% should get smacked down to pre-Bush II era levels, you would be wrong. Surprised? You shouldn't be. The upper 2% basically comprises people who make more than $250,000 per year. There are a large number of small and medium-sized businesses which are sole proprietorships making between $250,000 and $500,000 per year, and which employ anywhere between 30 and 1000 people at a crack, or more. Small firms, law practices, start-ups, top-notch surgeons and contracting companies live here. These are more or less in the lower-half of the upper 2%: the ones who make more than 98% of the people out there, but not more than those who make more than 99% of the people.

In that uppermost 1% lie an entirely different category of wealthy people. Very few small or medium business owners reside here, and if they do own a business, it's a mega-business. Maybe an executive boardmember of a multi-national, but more likely someone who makes the majority of his money via capital gains. In short, someone who, if given a tax cut, will pocket it rather than make new jobs. Here, you might find aquisition sharks, trust-fund babies, CEO's of credit card companies, and so forth. You also find people who are what I refer to as "special salaries," such as actors, major-league sports athletes, authors, certain artists, film and television producers/directors, and others who normally don't make shit, except for a very elite few who are lucky enough to be famous doing it.

Bottom line is this: If one keeps the taxes low on the lower half of the upper 2%, one does create economic growth. Republicans actually have a legitimate gripe, here! But guess how many jobs are created by cutting the taxes for the top 1% of income earners?

The answer is, damned near none!

A much more acceptable compromise for our Trophy President would have been to have agreed to making the Bush tax cuts permanent for 99% rather than 98% of all Americans, but holding the line on taxes for those rich enough to rest on their laurels and/or who create no jobs. I would very much have liked to see that. Unfortunately, we have a tax compromise that does not do this, but at least does not hammer the upper-tier of the small businessman. It's a tough compromise, but liberal activists who are urging me to contact my congressmen and senators to urge them to vote against this deal will get no response from me. The lesser of two evils is to let this compromise stand!

This will be a key issue in 2012, and if Obama wins, this compromise, for all the bitching liberals do about it, will be why. But I suggest the Dems change their focus. Instead of saying no to the richest 2%, how about saying no to the richest 1% instead? Maybe even the richest 0.5%?

Nah, that would make too much sense!

Eric

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Better Leaders, Or Better Aides?

We've had some interesting leaders here in the U.S. recently. And throughout history, some interesting leaders outside of the U.S. have come and gone. Sometimes, we get a brilliant leader who is surrounded by idiots and other times we get a complete idiot surrounded by brilliant aides. I wonder, which is better?

Certainly, it seems that an idiot in the White House can do well with highly competent aides surrounding him. On the other hand, a highly intelligent President really can't do much when surrounded by morons. President Obama, perhaps the brightest president we've had since Eisenhower, is proving that. On the other hand, Bush II showed that one can be a highly effective moron when surrounded by intelligent people. By implication, electing another brilliant person after 2016, such as Hillary Clinton, might not be such a good idea. Or, flip side, voting for Sarah Palin in 2012 might not be such a distaster.

Or would it?

On second thought, nah. Bush was effective, but effective at rising up ten trillion of the 14 trillion in debt we're currently saddled with. Threw out the Constitution with Guantanomo Bay. Started two wars, botched them, then stayed firmly committed to his mistake. By contrast, Obama has, in spite of everything, accomplished everything Clinton failed to do in his first two years, albeit imperfectly. Churchill was a brilliant man who saved Britain while surrounded by dunderheads, while simultaneously Hitler, while surrounded by near geniuses, drove Germany into the ground with silly wartime tactics.

No, I'll stick with voting for brilliant presidents. Presidents who are, oddly, attacked as "elitist" for their brilliance (as if we wanted any other kind of leader).

Eric

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Obama Didn't Cave

Normally, I write my blogs hoping to persuade someone on the opposite side of my views to reconsider things for a bit. Odd, I know, since the very definition of conservative seems to entail rejection of any sort of newfangled idea. Still, I'm not anti-conservative myself, nor am I liberal. I'm an independent who happens to be left of center on certain issues. I want a liberal democracy in a free-market economy (to borrow Michael Shermer's phrase). I want to replace all welfare with work-fare. I want to legalize all activity which harms no one, and I want healthcare given the same essential-of-government status as military protection.

So when I hear that Obama has caved, I feel the need to depart from my usual format and blast the left.

No, Obama didn't cave on anything. He gave the GOP a small victory now in exchange for an even bigger victory for Democrats in 2012. It deeply troubles me that politicians are willing to play chicken with the solvency of the U.S. dollar in this way, but this was what was needed to avoid blowing the entire lame-duck session on trench warfare. No, the REAL cave-in, the real back-down, came from the hoards of Democrats who tucked tail and gave every concession imaginable to a super-minority over the last two years just because they whispered, "Filibuster!" Had the Democrats stood up for themselves on just one, damned issue, if they had triple-dog dared the Republicans to filibuster on having medicare compete with insurance companies instead of crowning Joe Liebermann "Emperor for a Day," if they had taken on a filibuster and broken it, our Trophy President wouldn't have felt any compromise necessary, nor would the GOP feel so mighty -- like the mouse whose gigantic shadow scared the cat. It would have been Republicans doing the compromising. Which is the way it should have been with a super-majority in the first place.

I propose we change political-party symbols. Let's take away the symbol of the stubborn Jack-Ass mule and give it to the Republicans. They've earned it. The new symbol for the Democrats will be the jellyfish. It fits. President Obama's new symbol is the elephant -- not just because he's more Republican than the Republicans are, but because nobody in that party acknowledges he's ever in the room.

Yet it seems a few Democrats are threatening filibuster now. Wonderful! I'm touched that a few of them suddenly put themselves on a high-calcium diet and began growing the backbone they so lacked. But why are they now obtaining vertebrae to oppose their own president? Why are they proving a bigger opponent to Obama than even the GOP? And where THE HELL were these bastards hiding over the last two years when we needed them most?

So quit blaming Obama, my wonderful, fellow left-leaning politicos. Our President was only doing what he had to, given that he has an army of you stumblebums to work with. This was your failure, not his.

Eric

Monday, December 6, 2010

There Goes The Deficit - AGAIN

So, our beloved Trophy President has announced a deal. Republicans get their politically stupid tax break for the wealthy for two years, while democrats get an extension for unemployment benefits at Christmas.

In the midst of the greatest national debt crisis of all time, the wealthy have bought themselves a free pass to be draft-dodgers. And I sincerely mean draft-dodgers, because in time of greatest national need, they abandoned their country -- and campaigned tooth-and-toenail to do it! These, who have bitched and moaned about liberals who dodged the draft over a war which didn't matter have now dodged the ultimate draft -- and it could cost everyone, worldwide.

How dire is the financial jeopardy that the rich have put us in? Let me outline it: We're $14 trillion in debt. If our debt crosses $17 trillion, our interest payments will engulf ALL remaining discretionary spending. You see, only little more than 30% of all government spending is cuttable. The rest are locked up in what are known as "entitlements." Social Security, Medicare, and others. Of that mere 30% left over, half of that is locked into the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That's not going to be cut anytime soon. Think any of the remaining 15% is going to be cut soon with a newer, more Republican congress? Guess again.

In other words, now that we're only $3 trillion away from losing the dollar, we've decided to cut taxes and increase spending -- EXACTLY the shit that got us into this mess in the first place! Apparently, hyper-inflating the deficit is the only thing politicians are any good at.

It's official: Republicans don't dive a damn about the deficit.

If we were at all smart about our finances, we would have compromised the other way around: cutting spending while increasing tax revenues. But that would mean cuts to unemployment benefits at Christmas, and our Trophy President is too smart for that.

So he did what he's always done - play the best card out of a bad hand. More than any president before him, he's been given a series of impossible situations to work with -- and I'm not just talking the economy, two wars, and a near lynch-mob with the Tea Party. He's been given a congress that is stocked with inflexibly polarized Republicans and absolutely spineless Democrats. And with this piss-poor adobe brick, we somehow expect him to build a cathedral!

Yet a glimmer of hope remains. As has been pointed out before, standing inflexibly strong in favor of tax breaks for the rich is one of the dumbest moves possible for any politician. Hell, one might as well stand in defense of pedophiles and the KKK, for all the political good it does. What this compromise deal has done is make this the central issue in 2012. Our president has said, "Okay, you want tax breaks for the rich? Go campaign on it!"

If Republicans are so silly as to fall for this deal, and put the dollar, and by extension all of us, in jeopardy, then they'll be putting their heads right into the guillotine. I haven't always been spot-on with my predictions, but you just watch this one.

Eric

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Wikileaks? I'm Confused!

In response to the recent release of hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables by the infamous website, Wikileaks, some are calling for the head of founder, Julian Assange. Conservative pundits and lawmakers, including Rep. Peter King and Senator Rick Santorum (remember him? the guy who put the intelligent design curriculum into the No Child Left Behind bill?) are calling for Wikileaks to be treated as a terrorist organization. They think that leaking government information to the public is thwarting the war on terror, and such activity should be severely punished.

But hang on, I'm confused. I thought we DIDN'T trust the government! That's, like, the ultimate conservative value these days, right? After all, we didn't trust the government to run our healthcare. We didn't trust the government to bail out the economy. Why should we trust the government to be honest with us about how it does business? Why shouldn't we resent the government keeping secrets from us?

Either we trust the government or we don't. Make up your damned mind.

Here's a thought: If we trust the government enough to keep diplomatic secrets or classified information from us, how can we not equally trust the government with our healthcare, and not be a hypocrite?

How about this: In addition to prosecuting Wikileaks as a terrorist organization, we should also prosecute as terrorists all those who withhold federal healthcare from the sick masses. How's that strike ya?

You know what? I've changed my mind. I'm not confused. THEY are.

Eric


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Airport Security? Yeah, Right!

Seems like the story du jour in the news lately, especially over this Thanksgiving break, is about how airport security has taken to either groping passengers or subjecting them to an x-ray device which renders them more-or-less stark naked. Faced with such humiliation (that is, for those of us who are insecure and/or still childishly uncomfortable with the realities of the human body) many people have taken to asking if all of it is really necessary.

What's really entertaining, as usual is the spin taken by the conservative talk show hosts. Everyone from Beck, Limbaugh, O'Reilly and Hannity to all of their satellites, is screaming for airport security to start "profiling." In other words, instead of groping, stripping, and x-raying white people, start groping and scanning brown people with towels on their heads, or wearing black robes, with names like "Ahmed" or "Haji."

Because, apparently, there are no white Muslims, are there?

What makes me laugh about this (well, almost laugh, as this really isn't funny) is that the T.V. and radio cons are bluntly admitting themselves to be what we've always suspected: A bunch of racists. And they want our airport security to be racist so that suburban Aryans aren't inconvenienced, those poor bastards.

Speaking as a white suburbanite, I'm more than a little pissed off at these hacks making themselves into a bunch of fucking crybabies on my behalf. Shit, go be a crybaby on behalf of someone else! You bastards don't speak for me!

I'm growing tired of using this introductory phrase, but... I shouldn't have to say this: Airport security is not checking everybody out of some politically correct sense of treating everyone equally. They are checking everybody because it's tactically the right thing to do!

Let's say that the conservative racists had their way, and Airport security was only checking people of Arab appearance or with Arab names. This would create a hole in airport security which any terrorist with even two beans in his skull would immediately exploit. Inevitably as the blond-haired and blue-eyed white people get through the security, one of them would turn around and, at 1,300 feet, scream "Allahu akbahr!" as he blows himself, and his fellow travelers, right out of the sky!

Look, I can only assume that conservatives distinguish themselves by being in favor of tough security measures in order to win the war on terror. So creating a very obvious hole in our line of defense, and doing so for purely racist profiling reasons, is a move I simply don't understand.

We grope and scan travelers equally because we aren't racists. We grope them because we don't judge based on appearance alone. We grope them because we can't establish Orwell's 1984 and put spy cameras in everyone's bedroom.

And, frankly, we grope them to remind them of why a few religious assholes ruin things for everybody, which reminds us why none of us should be like them.

But, of course, screaming for "profiling" will continue anyway. And it will remain popular fodder for talk-show hosts because xenophobia runs deep. Nevertheless, even without racial or ethnic profiling of passengers, security lapses can and will occur. For the enlightenment of all, I've included a list of ideas on where such lapses could take place. Please remember, I am doing this for the benefit of airport security, and not for those trying to thwart it.

1. Explosive device in the luggage. This has to be the biggest lapse in security there is. We're scanning the people like there's no tomorrow, but the bags? Eh, who cares, right? Hey, WE care. If we have to take off our shoes then turn our heads and cough, the least we could do is scan the shit out of the bags, which won't, after all, get cancer!

2. Explosive substance in the old man's colostomy bag. Yeah, that's right, the poster-child of airport security run amok becomes the vehicle for the next attack. Brilliant!

3. Explosive substance in a woman's artificial breasts. Seriously, airport security cannot cut the skin of a woman with fake titties to make sure that stuff inside isn't saline! It's the perfect hiding place. She's a bombshell, in more ways than one!

4. Fake wand. Yes, some people still do make themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of God, a la Origen. For such as these who happen to be Muslim, we can go one better than the underwear bomber, and have the C-4 plastic shaped like... well... like a man's normal outward-showing plumbing! If it looks like a dick... Er,I mean, duck... it might not necessarily be a duck... I mean, dick.

5. Wanna check the Huggies? No, that might not necessarily be shit in the baby's diaper! That's right, you're never too young to be a martyr for the cause of Allah.

So what is one to do? There are holes in security to be exploited no matter what. Granted, these holes aren't as gaping as they would be if the Glenn Becks of the world had their way, and only non-white people were screened, but they're still there.

Israeli security provides a good model. In Tel-Aviv, police actually (gasp!) talk to the people who are traveling! Yes, they strike up friendly conversation. Those who give evasive answers or who seem slightly nervous are singled out. This is a kind of profiling, but not racially based, and it's meant to focus in on those who might be nervous for obvious reasons. This, plus improved security among baggage handling, plus our current security measures, would do the trick, as I see it.

And we didn't even need to tap their phones.

Eric

Monday, November 22, 2010

Signs Your Fave TV Show's Jumped The Shark

I've probably written something similar to this in the past, but I have a different conclusion. Here goes:

When a favorite TV show has finally milked its ideas for all they're worth, it's time for that show to retire to make room for new and interesting drama or comedy. When "Happy Days" finally crossed that line, there was a famous episode in which Fonzie ski-jumped over a shark. Even though the show continued for several years after that, everyone knew after that point that it was over. Ever since then, "jumping the shark" has been a term used to describe when a television show has passed its peak. Network executives are often oblivious to the signs that a TV show has outlived its usefulness, and the fact that Happy Days continued for so long despite the ink well running dry just goes to prove that point. Today's television shows aren't nearly so prone to such banalities as the latter Happy Days -- or ARE they? Indeed, they are, and even more so! So, for their benefit, and your entertainment pleasure I present the top ten signs your favorite TV show has "jumped the shark."

1. Major cast member gets pregnant.
2. Major cast member gets married. Double the shark if the marriage is with another major cast member. Triple the shark if the pregnancy precedes the marriage.
3. Primary protagonist turns evil.
4. Major cast member is suddenly replaced by another actor playing a similar role.
5. Guest appearance by a highly recognizable, yet totally washed-up elderly actor is headlined.
6. Major characters transition to new location; the high school soap opera characters go to college, for example.
7. Major cast member is shot as part of a season-ending cliffhanger.
8. Romantic tension between two major cast members gets permanently resolved.
9. Sidekick gets killed.
10. Anniversary episode gets billing on NFL Sunday.

So what's got me ranting about this? Basically, as I go down this self-made list, I notice that just about everything on this list applies to everything on TV! Are the network executives asleep at the wheel? Wait, strike that, of course they are. I meant to say: are the network executives' toadies asleep at the wheel? It was no accident I placed the first two qualifiers at the top regarding marriage and pregnancy. As soon as you throw wedding bells and diapers into the mix, it's all over. Seriously! And the really strange thing about this time-proven axiom is how brutally it's ignored. Hell, we even have entire series which have jumped the shark before the show has even begun. Raising Hope is about a bunch of misfits trying to raise a baby. Two and a half men is about bachelors raising a kid. Is the general idea to start a series at the end, and pretend it already has an established audience? Elder washed up actors are a staple of sweeps, but when one builds an entire series on one, such as William Shatner in "Sh** My Dad Says," then somebody's not even screening the items on the producers desk!

There are exceptions to each. For example, it's pretty clear when a change of venue fails, as in Weeds leaving the burned-out city of Agrestic. But moving Law & Order to L.A. was nothing short of genius!

Still, it would be nice if there were actually something on once in a while.

Eric

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

An Idea for Pres. Obama

I've noticed a pattern in politics lately. You see, it used to be that the definition of socialism was government controlling the means of production. But that's apparently changed. These days, to hear conservative pundits define it, socialism is defined as: "Anything Barack Obama does."

We've seen it pretty consistently over the last two years. Obama made concession after concession to the Republican interests, and then never got one Republican vote. Not even an entirely Republican-structured healthcare reform bill which gave away the entire store to the insurance companies was enough. It was still deemed "Socialist."

All this has nothing to do with socialism. It has to do with denying Obama any victories. The basic idea from the Republican camp is this: "If Obama's for it, we're against it." And now that the content majority decided to not vote, and hand the latest midterm elections over to the malcontented minority, it looks like the strategy is going to be applied even more strongly. Nothing Obama is in favor of will be supported.

Okay, fine. I therefore have a suggestion. I think President Obama should reverse course. He should endorse tax cuts for the wealthy in the midst of a dire national debt crisis. He should openly oppose embryonic stem cell research. He should campaign to privatize Social Security and Medicare. That way, Republicans will have no choice but to oppose the President on all these issues!

Okay, I'm being facetious, naturally. But who knows? Things on Capitol Hill (excuse me, I meant Capital Hill), are so crazy that the strategy just might work!

Then again, maybe Obama should finally stand up to such thuggery. Okay, Obama's embodied the highest ideals of Jesus so far by turning the other cheek. I get that. We should all be proud. (Why we're not, I'll never know.) But how many times must he be stabbed in the back before he finally realizes he's in a knife-fight?

Come on, Barry. Fight 'em back!

Eric

Sunday, November 7, 2010

What Really Happened to Keith Olbermann?

When I heard that liberal-leaning political commentator, Keith Olbermann, had been suspended by MSNBC for doing what that station pays him to normally do, namely, support a more left-leaning agenda, I was disgusted. He'd paid money to political campaigns without notifying his superiors first. I joined the hordes of protesters signing on every internet-based petition to get Keith back on the air, and it has apparently worked, since he'll be back on this Tuesday, which is a day late in my humble assessment. One thing is clear, however, Keith did violate an MSNBC policy of not contributing money to political candidates without prior notification. Now, this rule itself is silly, and is tantamount to having to ask Mommy permission before spending one's own allowance, but it is in place for an important historical reason. The more I explored this reason, the more I found that it has everything to do with the culture wars, and its current fight over the airwaves.

That's right. Freedom of speech is being lost over the airwaves due to the Culture War.

From the beginning of radio and television, there was a decided slant in favor of conservative viewpoint. Early hits on radio were Father Coughlin and Sister Aimee Semple MacPherson. Why, even the word, "broadcasting" references using radio to "sow the seed of God's Word." The FCC was instituted to be the airwaves' puritannical nanny. But then, in 1949, the FCC was persuaded that putting only one side of a controversial viewpoint on the air was detrimental to the public interest. And so the Fairness Doctrine was born. It was generally accepted at the time that news organizations should simply give the news, and leave the editorializing to local papers or other formats. These were the glory years of broadcasters with integrity. People like Walter Cronkite. People like Edward R. Murrow.

The Fairness Doctrine was finally challenged twenty years later in 1969, in a famous court case, Red Lion Broadcasting Co. vs. FCC. At issue was a book by Fred Cook, called 'Goldwater: Extremist of the Right.' Billy Hargis, host of a daily radio broadcast called "Christian Crusade" in WGCB, Red Lion, PA, blasted the book. Cook argued that he had a right, under the Fairness Doctrine, to respond to the personal attacks levied upon him. The Supreme Court agreed, and in an 8-0 vote, upheld the constitutionality of the Fairness Doctrine.

In plain English, the Supreme Court said that WGCB could not do precisely what Fox News and numerous A.M. radio stations are doing today! Both sides had to be presented!

Well, this handcuffed the would-be conservative moguls of the world, and they resented it. But broadcast networks really didn't mind. They felt it was their duty to maintain integrity and balance, regardless of what the rule said. So they did so. But the perception slowly developed among people of a media bias towards liberalism. Edward Murrow dared to speak out against Joseph McCarthy. Walter Cronkite dared to voice opposition to the war in Vietnam. All media outlets seemed anti-Republican during the Watergate scandal. Rightly or wrongly, conservatives grumbled increasingly against the "liberal media."

This came to a head in 1987. Ronald Reagan, facing the end of his presidency, issued an Executive Order to the FCC to abolish the Fairness Doctrine, which it did in August of that year.

Let me translate that: No votes were cast! No public opinion culled! No bill was presented to Congress. We The People were NOT consulted! Instead, an act of sheer Imperialism by one, lone man, ended the legal enforcement of presenting both sides.

You'd think an actor would have appreciated sharing airtime.

Bush Sr. won election in 1988, and so it would be nearly five years before conservatives realized that the shackles had been removed from their wrists. Enraged over Bill Clinton's election, they began buying up greater control over the airwaves, beginning with that media format which had always been maintained by elder conservatives -- radio.

Slowly, a media format which had largely been local and balanced became one-sided and nationalized. Rush Limbaugh caught the apex of this wave, and surfed it well. The rise of the Internet made turning to national media outlets the only way to avoid losing money, and the rout was on.

And here, we must recognize why the Fairness Doctrine was so important: If left to sheer market forces, monopoly will ensue. This is true for media as it is for any other business. Private interests simply cannot buy a radio or television station without a shitload of money, and so whomever wins the consolidation race has the ability to shut out the dissenting view. Anti-trust laws break up monopolies, but the only anti-trust law ever in place for broadcast media, the Fairness Doctrine, was removed without any input from either you or me. Conservatives recognize this, and crave monopoly of their interests over the air. They hunger for it. They yearn for it. Clearchannel is close to achieving it.

This finally brings us around to Keith Olbermann again. We must remember that MSNBC wasn't always so left-leaning. Rather, they were dragged to the left as upper management kicked and screamed against becoming so. When they launched (a few months before Fox News), they attempted a slightly more right-leaning approach to go head to head with a more liberal CNN. Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham were regular contributers! They did live broadcasts of Don Imus in the morning! Fox News, gave a clearly more right-wing bias than MSNBC from the onset, and beat out MSNBC in winning the conservative viewership. At least, at first. During the Monica Lewinsky scandal, MSNBC had higher ratings. Keith Olbermann, who at the time had just recently been brought over from ESPN to provide edgy color, left the network in disgust over the treatment of the news story. Former Carter speech writer Chris Matthews was brought in to MSNBC to replace the failing Phil Donohue, and Laura Ingraham and Ann Coulter went their separate ways leaving MSNBC with a more liberal appearance, and the tug of war with Fox News was on. CNN assumed a new role in the balanced center. Air America Radio attempted to even the balance in the free radio market for liberal opinion, but radio was always a conservative old man's format, and liberal young people simply preferred Jon Stewart. But the career of Rachel Maddow was born of this, and added to MSNBC, drastically improving their ratings. They brought back Keith Olbermann from Fox Sports Net, and from 2007 on, received a boost in ratings with their more leftist approach, even though upper management was clearly less than comfortable with it. They simply couldn't ignore the left-leaning success during the 2008 presidential elections. Today, MSNBC has better internet ratings but lower cable TV ratings than Fox or CNN, and that's the way it appears it will stay.

So what's the deal with Keith Olbermann? Basically, the rule requiring news anchors to notify management before donating to political campaigns is a holdover from MSNBC's early years, when they hadn't been pushed to the left, and news commentators were meant to be impartial reporters rather than partial editorializers. That rule has now been made obsolete due to the evolution of the network's format over the years. Yet it seems that management is still resentful over having been dragged away from the center by the remnants of Air America and an ex-sportscaster. Having caught Keith Olbermann in a technicality, they yanked him from the air.

Here, finally is my ultimate point: Republicans yearned to "take back America" (as if they'd ever lost it). Now, in like manner, we need to take back the airwaves. Over and over again, conservative hacks bellyached over "The Inevitable Return Of The Fairness Doctrine" as a direct result of Obama's victory. They kept saying, over and over again (perhaps to convince themselves that it was true) that the Fairness Doctrine would rob them of free speech. (As opposed to robbing others of it, perhaps?) Two years later, it seems re-instating the Fairness Doctrine is simply not a priority in Barack's administration.

BUT IT SHOULD BE! Requiring both sides is simply NOT stifling of free speech! Not by any stretch of the imagination! We have between now and mid-January to persuade our exiting Democrat majority to do this one, last thing. Make no bones about it, we need the Fairness Doctrine put back before George Orwell's nightmare - that of a monopolized media - comes true!

It was taken away without our consent, and without representation (something our Founding Fathers got really pissed off about!). Let's put it back, WITH representation, and represent all sides of the politically controversial issues. Oh, Our Trophy President my reinstate it via Executive Order, just as Reagan took it away - but I'd rather see this done properly, through Congress, through We The People, who still, despite the recent election results, lean Democratic.

Eric

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Post-Election Thoughts...

Yes, naming this blog post with anything having to do with "post-election" has probably guaranteed that nobody will read this blog. I'm as over-saturated with political commentary about it as all of you are. But hopefully you'll bear with me for just one more tidbit. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

First: The election results were awful! No, not with Republicans winning. We can deal with those clowns. No, I'm talking about Prop-19 being defeated in California. Prop-19, for those who aren't aware, would have decriminalized small amounts of marijuana in the most medical-cannabis-friendly state in the nation. Yet in the state where nearly 100% of the people have smoked pot, 53% somehow found the hypocritical hubris to vote against that which they've done, presumably on the notion that it will prevent their children from doing it, as if that ever works. How is it conceivable that, at a time when the tsunami of LESS government intrusion was overwhelming, people would vote for MORE government intrusion?

I'll tell ya: Those who are raking in the dough from cannabis' illegality suddenly woke up and realized that Prop-19 would cut into their profit margins. I think they suddenly began to grease the opposition palms to keep the status quo, just to avoid having to pull up stakes in Beverly Hills and move back to Oakland. Why else would a referendum with a nearly 2/3rds pre-poll approval suddenly crash to below 50% in the final two months?

But I have another thought: Yes, we've had a big pro-Republican swing. And the Elephant is dancing, dancing, dancing. BUT, beware what you wish for! Historically, when an opposition party takes over, the sitting party has about 2 and 1/2 months to strike one final blow before exiting, stage left. Remember when the Republicans took back congress in 1994 under Newt Gingrich's Contract With America? One month afterward, on December 1, 1994, President Clinton signed the bill that created the World Trade Organization! (Interesting, huh?) Some doubt he would have had adequate support from his own party, but when you're a lame duck, you have the luxury of voting exactly what you think without fear of reprisal.

The G.O.P. picked up 60 house seats and 6 senate seats last time I counted. That's 66 democrats who have absolutely NOTHING to lose -- more than enough to swing some BIG legislation! What that means for happy conservatives, I predict, is this:
1.) You can kiss your precious stem-cell research ban goodbye! It's history!
2.) You can forget the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest 2%. They're gone.
3.) Expect at least one more economic stimulus package to breeze through, unhampered.
4.) President Obama will likely use his Executive Authority at least once after late January.

About that last one, there's again precedent. In January of 1993, blocked by the Republican-led Congress, President Clinton used Executive authority to rescue the national debt of Mexico -- a bad idea, in retrospect, but illustrating that Congress can be sidestepped, if the Pres. really feels he must.

And he will. Why? Because the Republicans under the Contract With America were bright, young, idealistic, and open-minded. They made a great foil for a Democrat president, and we saw the deficit eliminated, and the national debt begin to get paid off. This time, however, the new Republicans are neither bright nor young. They are not open-minded, and rather than idealistic, they are idealogues. Clinton had to deal with intellectual opposition. Obama will have to deal with opponents who are one tick shy of carrying pitchforks, torches, and rope! I fear this, truly.

But mark my words: Backlash swings both ways!

In defense of Ron Johnson and Scott Walker, I'll say this: They're comparable to the Contract With America style of Republican, and so at least there's hope on that front. If people like them can reign in the Tea-Party wing-nuts, we should be able to stop them from pulling the temple down over our very heads.

Eric

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

How Democrats Can Win Today

Well, it's already Election Day, and I know I'd promised to do a little bit more expounding on how Ron Johnson managed to get duped into defending priestly pedophiles, but my how time flies when you're too busy to have fun. I haven't even had time to levy another round of insults at our under-educated ex-IBM toner-cartridge junkie, "Little Boy Blue" (a.k.a. Scott Walker). So, I thought I'd share my brief analysis of today's election-day fracas, and illustrate why I think Democrats actually have a fighting chance today.

As has been reported in quite a few news organizations this fall, among registered voters, the majority still favor the Democratic party. 49% approve of the Democrats, while only about 44% approve of Republicans. Yet among LIKELY voters, the numbers flip: 49% favor Republicans, while 43% favor Democrats. If you run the numbers, and assume that all 43% of the Republicans are voting (which they likely are) the only thing capable of producing a percentage shift that large is if between 12 and 15% of registered democrats stay home.

That's a HUGE number! To suggest that well over 1 in 10 democrats just doesn't give a shit this election cycle is too mind-blowing to believe. Yet polls show it's true. So, while expectations for Republicans are high, and projections show that big gains will be had for the G.O.P. after today, the underlying numbers show that if that extra 12% of Democrats decide to get off their asses and go vote, the Republicans will suffer massive surprise upset losses.

What could possibly make the Democrats decide to go vote today?

Here's my answer: Republicans gloating in advance! Hell, it seems like conservatives have been guffawing all week about how badly the Democrats are going to lose. They're doing it so much, that they'll goad the apathetic Democratic base into getting pissed off and going to the polls, if they're not careful!

So, go ahead, Republicans! Gloat! Celebrate your victory too early! Tempt fate! Count those chickens before they hatch! Be as impolite today as you've been this entire year! Nothing will help get out the Democratic vote better. It might not get Feingold re-elected by itself, but it might make for an interesting photo-finish!

Eric

Friday, October 8, 2010

Lower Case On Traffic Signs

So, the latest outrage is that the Feds are requiring that all municipal street signs have upper-case caps, and lower-case lettering, like all proper nouns in a book would be. Also, that higher reflectivity be applied to street signs. This means that all street signs will have to be replaced over the next several years costing municipalities and states tens of millions each. This, naturally, has tea-partiers all the more outraged against a federal government it sees as too intrusive enough.

What's my take on this? Immediately I began to suspect a rider -- that is, a clause in a bill which was included in another bill dealing with something else entirely. Riders are a common way to get concessions to secure enough votes for passage, and without them, very few bills would ever get passed. One wonders why this is necessarily such a bad thing, but that's how it goes. So I began researching if there was a rider that was pushed through by the Democrats over the last two years.

As it turns out, there wasn't. So what's the driving force behind these new and excessively costly federal regulations? When they say, "The Feds" are requiring this, what do they mean? Why, they mean something called the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, or MUTCD. All street signs must conform to it on penalty of fine, or suspension of federal programs. And who updates or alters the MUTCD? It's something called the FHWA, the Federal Highway Workers Association. Who the hell are they? They are a bureaucratic arm of the Department of Transportaion, or D.O.T., whom we're all familiar with. This, in turn, is controlled by cabinet post appointees, not Congressmen.

In other words, all the outrage that is being directed at the democrats over these new regulations is being misplaced. NOT ONE elected official is behind them!

The man in charge of the D.O.T. is one Mr. Ray La Hood. An Obama appointee, yes. But acting independently of Congress or the Office of the President. When the FHWA updates its rules on signs, it takes input from interested parties or certain jurisdictions, factors in any successful experimentation involved, and then approves or disapproves the change. It is they, the underlings of the cabinet appointees, who have enacted this costly change.

And they will NOT lose their jobs if the Democrats are voted out!

The very most Republicans can do is take the presidency in 2012, then appoint a new head of the DOT. That head, in turn, will likely not undo any of the changes already in place. It's all a tempest in a teacup.

Okay, conservatives have a good point about too much bureaucracy running people's lives. This is, in fact, a prime case example. However, this isn't the Democrats' fault (this time, anyway), and it is wrong to place the blame at their feet. It is therefore illogical to vote them out of office based on this travesty, which was never their doing. We may call for Ray LaHood to step down, and this seems reasonable to me.

But if I may ask, would you rather have government wasting money on street signs, or wasting even more money on a pointless war with Iran? Because that's what you'd be voting for by voting for Tea-Party Republicans.

Both sides waste money. I just happen to dislike the way Republicans waste money more than the other guys on the platform of fiscal responsibility. At least the D.O.T. provided a few extra jobs in all this nonsense.

Eric

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Firefighters Getting Burned?!?!

Well, I was going to blog about the new findings I've had in my research regarding Ron Johnson's ill-advised testimony against an anti-pedophilia bill, but it seems that will have to wait. What everybody's talking about at the water cooler is a bombshell of a news story regarding Firefighters who recently allowed a man's home to burn down because he hadn't paid the $75 fee for fire protection from his municipality. The fire department finally did show up, but only because his neighbor's property began to burn, and that neighbor had paid the fee. When the man begged and pleaded, saying he'd pay any price for the firemen to put out the fire, he was told he was too late.

This has gotten all kinds of press from all kinds of, well, press. People are weighing in on it from all sides, and everybody's got an opinion. So how can I resist?

Seriously, firefighters not putting out fires? What next? Dogs not fighting with cats? Lawyers not chasing ambulances? Politicians not accepting bribes? Sheesh, next thing you know, Lindsey Lohan is going to stay off drugs!

What blows my mind about this story is this: some folks are actually defending this municipal rule, saying that because he didn't pay his meesley $75, he's S.O.L.

Okay, before I rip into this, let's settle a fundamental question: What is the purpose of a fire department? Seriously, why does a municipality even have firefighters? At it's very heart, the purpose of a firefighting unit is to contain the fire so that if, heaven forbid, a fire breaks out, it does not spread.

Here, in this instance, is a case where a municipal rule thwarted the very purpose of why we have firefighters at all: It allowed the fire to spread. And what happened? The man's neighbor paid the price. His property caught fire.

Seriously, this neighbor should sue! He has a legitimate gripe. The only reason his property burned at all is because the firefighters were derelict in their duty. In court, the municipality and the firehouse will both say that this rule barred them from action. In response, I hope the court gives an injunction ordering them to change this rule. Because that's the way it should be. This rule sucks. And, as many have pointed out, this rule is very similar to paying an insurance fee in order to get healthcare.

Now, there's a fundamental difference between doctors providing healthcare and firefighters putting out blazes. Namely, that firefighters don't have anything like a Hypocratic oath requiring them to act. (Why don't they, by the way?) But paying a fee to receive the service is the common thread. Many people have been pointing out that this man, by not paying his $75, was effectively mooching off his neighbors in hoping the fire department wouldn't actually be the pricks that the law required them to be. They therefore conclude that this guy got what he deserved. They also say that those who aren't willing to pay for their insurance coverage shouldn't be asking the government to do so, because that's every bit as unfair.

Hang on, WHAT?! After drawing the analogy between healthcare and this firefighting fiasco, do people really think that both systems are fair? Isn't it far more reasonable to conclude that both systems are patently unfair?

Of course it is. Government-mandated fire insurance is wrong. Dead wrong. Every bit as wrong as government mandated healthcare insurance. But that's the insanity we have. Viruses and bacteria, much like fire, will spread wherever they can, and they don't give a damn who's paid or not. So when you, much like the neighbor in the example above, get sick because the poor incubated the disease you got infected with, you will have every bit as similar a gripe as he does. And if you're unlucky enough to be too poor to buy the insurance your government has forced you to buy into (which is the same thing as a tax, by the way), and you suffer or die as a result (especially if you're unlucky enough to meet a doctor who's unethical enough to be dictated to by an insurance company), then just remember, WE wanted this. We, the silly, stupid people of the world, didn't want government running things because we're afraid of the government. And now we'll all suffer at the hands of the even more evil insurance companies going forward.

Maybe, instead of us being afraid of the government, the government should be afraid of us! Then we'll have few qualms about letting it run healthcare.

Eric

For Profit Colleges

Today's Journal Sentinel reports that the Art Institute, located in the Third Ward, is now beginning classes, providing another option for students who want a career in art or design. Interesting...

This is part of a general trend nationwide, to create colleges that cater to adults looking to improve their careers or reinvent their careers. University of Phoenix or Ottawa University are two excellent examples. It's a good idea: There are literally tons of adults who work from 9 to 5 who would like nothing more than to take their lives in a different direction. But who on earth can make the sacrifice to quit their job in order to go back to school? The for-profit college trend provides these people an option they wouldn't otherwise have, sometimes helping to re-forge happier lives, and other times landing well-intentioned people into heavy loads of debt. (And if you thought the credit card companies were bad, check out the hardball tactics of the financiers behind for-profit colleges!)

The answer to my earlier question on who can afford to make the sacrifice to go back to school is this: People like me, that's who! Yes, only individuals like myself can afford the seeming-luxury of quitting one's job and going back to school during the day. And that's only because I have no wife, no kids, and never advanced high enough in my career to think that dropping accounting as a profession was all that big a sacrifice. Yet even I feel it: The crushing blow of going from $40K per year down to $25K, the grinding course workload that leaves no options for a beer on the weekends, the insane prices one must shell out for parking unless you're willing to throw away an additional 45 minutes for a round-trip on a bus. It's insane. I don't blame people for wanting to go to night school for adults instead.

Yet, until recently, the only options for night school have been business majors. Sure, if you want to be an accountant, an actuary, or get your MBA, there are lots of options for you. Hell, you can't go out your front door without tripping on one. But what's out there for anything else? Well, it seems that now, one has the option for art. Yes, you can become a designer, or a draftsman, or perhaps even a cartoonist, if you're willing to go to school at night.

So my question is this: How goddamned long do we have to wait before we get a serious option for science majors? Sure, if you want the bare-bones basics for nursing school, that's available, but if you want a serious biology or physics degree, you're shit out of luck! But apparently, we value art above science, even though a lack of knowledge about art won't destroy us, and a lack of knowledge about science will.

Yes, I'm lashing out because I so wish I could go back to making $40K per year while continuing with school. Wouldn't anybody? But my point is still a valid one: Isn't there just as much money, if not more, in a night-school for the sciences as there is for a night-school for art?

Shit, I hope so.

Eric

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Ron Johnson Defended Pedophiles?!

A few days ago, I saw Keith Olbermann air a news story on his evening television program, Countdown, which handed Russ Feingold a Senatorial campaign victory on a silver platter. What he aired was live footage of Ron Johnson, Feingold's opponent, testifying before a Green Bay legislative committee against something known as the Victims of Child Abuse Bill, which would have eliminated the statute of limitations of victims of child abuse. At issue at the time was one Father John Feeney, who was being sued by one of his abuse victims in Nevada. Green Bay wanted to make people like Feeney easier to sue by throwing out the statute of limitations which protects such ministers. Ron Johnson testified against such legislation while sitting on the Green Bay Finance council at that time.

Now, I understand fully well why statutes of limitations exist. We don't want people reinterpreting their memories years later and suing for events which never happened. However, in cases of rape or incest, advancements in DNA technology have made such protections less needed, because science has filled the human-memory-error gap. Especially in the cases of rape of children, I'm forced to agree with efforts to eliminate statutes of limitations, since children are often too scared to speak up within the statutory time limits. At the very least, the statute of limitations should be extended when children are involved. Ron Johnson, apparently, disagrees, and argued against making it easier to sue pedophile priests like Feeney.

Are you fucking kidding me?

Strike that, let me rephrase: Are you kiddie fucking me?

This is, without a doubt, the single biggest issue to surface in the Senate campaign in Wisconsin. It might be the biggest Senatorial scandal since Joe McCarthy's witch hunt! The fact that Ron Johnson, in effect, defended pedophile priests using some half-baked, poorly thought out rationales of unintended consequences to small businesses, is unbelievable! (And if you want to know what I'm referencing, see the news clip pasted below.)

But this isn't the biggest shock I've received. The biggest shock is: NOBODY ELSE IS REPORTING THIS!!! The single, biggest, and most devastating scandal to his this, or indeed any, Senatorial election in this state, and it doesn't even get a blurb?!?! Johnson defended pedophile priests! How big a scandal do you need?!?!

Even more baffling, is that the Feingold camp isn't running with this! Seriously, if Russ doesn't attack on this, of all things, then he deserves to lose!

We need to hear six words out of Ron Johnson: "I am sorry, I was wrong." And if we don't hear those six words, then as far as I'm concerned, he's out!

Okay, enough is enough! I'm not only going to write every news organization I can think of about this, but I'm urging everyone else I can to do the same. I refuse to let this story go away. If Johnson, who otherwise would be a pretty decent guy, is blinded enough by his Lutheranism to block legislation which would help victims of pedophiles in the ministry, then he's way too blind for any of us. Hell, why not just elect the pedophile priests themselves to the Senate! It would be equally as smart, and make just about as much sense!

Take up the charge! Write, write, write! Nobody who blocks victims of priestly pedophilia from getting their day in court should ever get the vote in Wisconsin!

Eric


Monday, September 27, 2010

Dumbing Down The Elections

I find it interesting how we as a society seem to be against our politicians being elitist lately. That is, we're against those in politics coming across as ivory-tower academics of the intelligencia. We, the People, it seems, prefer our leaders to be of the people, elected to office by the average Joe and Jane from among the unwashed masses. We prefer the candidate we would rather sit down and have a beer with.

The reason I find this so interesting is that it openly admits that we want our standards for our leaders dumbed down. We don't want the smartest, the most educated, the most studious and the most intellectual to be our leaders. We don't want the smart ones at the helm. We prefer commonality over excellence.

Obviously, what stuns me about this is that those who advocate this are openly stating how they want those running things to be dumber, less educated, and less intellectual. Then, after having said it, they parade this opinion about themselves as if it's somehow some sort of truism we can all agree with. "Elitist, Ivory-tower, out-of-touch," they say.

Seriously? You honestly don't want the brightest bulbs in the chandelier? You prefer the duller knives in your drawer? You'd rather have two bricks short in your load and be satisfied with two fries shy of the Happy Meal?

It's official: The lunatics are running the asylum.

Case in point, take the current race for Wisconsin Governor between Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker. Barrett has a B.A. in Economics from UW-Madison, and a Juris Doctorate from UW Law School. He's a member of Phi Beta Kappa. You know, exactly the qualifications we ought to be looking for in a Governor. Scott Walker, by contrast, graduated from Delavan-Darian High School, and then attended Marquette University, but apparently did not graduate, as his own campaign website fails to brag that he did so. He left college to work for IBM.

The contrast between these two could not be more stark. True, IBM is no mere blue-collar job to have on your resume, but not graduating is not graduating. He was not a supervisor at IBM, but merely an employee. An associates degree would at least be something, but we don't even have a brag of that on Walker's campaign website. And working for IBM, as every Dilbert fan knows, is hardly an exercise in being in touch with reality! And these days, one needs at least a bachelor's degree to qualify for any kind of a supervisory job, wheter it be a mere school teacher, or the foreman for your local garbage men. Being a County Supervisor is exactly the sort of job one could have while returning to school part time, but Walker chose to shun academia during his tenure. And this guy thinks his lack of study qualifies him to be governor? Maybe so in 1910, but not in 2010! No way!

Let's only briefly touch on the fact that Barrett has the courage to stand up to wife-beating thugs armed with tire irons, while Walker doesn't have the courage to even go back to class!

Walker is currently leading Barrett 53% to 42% among likely voters according to a CNN/Time poll.

We're living in the fucking Twilight Zone, I swear!

Russ Feingold vs. Ron Johnson is an entirely different case. Feingold has two B.A.'s and is a Rhodes Scholar who went to Oxford. He received his Juris Doctorate from Harvard Law School. Johnson, by contrast, is also well educated, but achieved this without scholarships by working his way through school. He is one thesis paper short of an MBA, having forestalled that final step to go into business with his brother-in-law. What amazes me in this instance isn't the contrast in education, because even though I think Feingold has a clear edge, these two seem about even. What gets me regarding these two is the phase-shift which takes place. Ron Johnson is a business owner. He's "the boss" of his company.

Hang on, don't we hate the boss?

Of course we hate the boss! We all hate the boss! The boss is a jerk! The boss is a blowhard! The boss is the very essence of the ivory tower elitist individual we all hate while they're giving us orders in the workplace!

Unless, that is, he happens to be a Republican running against Russ Feingold. Then he's "one of us," a "man of the people."

What an unbelievable load of bullshit! Look, if you want to vote for Johnson because he's a hardworking and upstanding guy (and I believe he is), then do so. Hell, if he didn't consistently stand for Christianity-biased violations of freedom, even I wold consider voting for him. But please don't do so because you think he's an average citizen. He hasn't been average for a very long time. He's exactly the "elitist" some of you presumably hate.

Look, I frankly don't want some average Joe running things. I want the elite in government. I want the best, and the smartest, the most well educated and the hardest working people in government. I want the cream of the crop, and damn it, I'm PROUD to say so! Our nation deserves nothing less. And everyone who is currently attacking President Obama for being an elitist, including Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck, had better justify to me why they actually want a lower standard for America's leadership. I want them to explain how they can dare take this stand, and not want to crawl under a rock for shame.

Enough already with, "I want dumb like me" in politics!

Eric

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Mensa, and the Intelligence of the Public

I've recently taken the entrance exam for, and been accepted to, American Mensa. Mensa, for those who don't know, is an organization whose members all test in the upper 2% of registered IQ. And while intelligence is relative (as I often muse that Einstein would say), it's pretty solid that one needs to be a very smart cookie to qualify.

I wasn't even sure it was a good idea to sit for the exam. The original plan was to have come home from work, at my usual 6:30 in the morning (because I'm 3rd shift), and sleep from 7 until about 1:00 in the afternoon, then go for the test appointment feeling well rested. But, no, I ended up being so excited about the exam that I couldn't sleep a wink. I nearly called and cancelled. I showed up for testing feeling quite tired, having not slept in 23 hours, and certain that I would bomb.

I arrived at the Oak Creek Public Library where the test was to be proctored, and found that there were only two other people there: A portly engineer-looking type of man, and an attractive middle-aged brunette wearing physician's scrubs. We were given two exams over the course of three hours, and told that to gain admission, we would need a passing score in one or both of these, but that we would not be told the final score. Instead, we would simply be notified by mail in 7 to 10 business days whether we would be extended a membership offer. I completed my tests, went home, and still couldn't sleep. I wondered if I could possibly re-take the exam later.

Two weeks went by before I got my response in the mail. It was an acceptance letter, telling me that, based on my scores, I was hereby offered membership to American Mensa.

Nobody was more shocked than I.

Seriously, I'm not especially gifted at calculating figures in my head compared to other science majors. I re-took chemistry twice and am about to re-take calculus a second time. I daydream constantly. I sometimes forget what I went into the next room for (which, when your mother has Alzheimer's becomes a rather scary phenomenon!). Sure, I read a lot, and I tend to see things others don't by means of divorcing myself as much as possible from all credulity, but I find it hard to believe that makes my hunk of grey-matter worth all that much.

However, upon reflection, perhaps I really shouldn't be quite so shocked. After all, 45% of the American public think that human beings were created pretty much in their present form, and less than 10,000 years ago. 6 to 8% think that the lunar landings were hoaxed. 25% of registered Republicans think that Obama is the Antichrist, and somewhere around 15% of the general public think he's a Muslim. No, I don't think I'm all that gifted. The ugly truth is that I got into Mensa, because the standards are dumbed down. The stupidity of America has lowered the grade curve. I'm a Mensan, because people are morons.

Okay, that's rather harsh, I admit it. But America needs to hear it, if nothing else so it can be snapped out of its collective sleepwalk. I understand that most are too busy with kids or mortgage to really be well informed, but damn, there's some really stupid shit that people believe! Years after it first went on the market, people still buy Extenz pills. (Now THAT's dumb!) Discovery's most popular shows include Ghost Hunters. Fox News still gets away with calling itself "fair and balanced."

Sure, it sounds conceited of me to take my new membership and use it as a club on people. But seriously, if this is what I'm capable of while groggy and sleep deprived, what other high IQ societies could I possibly join if I tested sharp? Maybe Cerebrals? (Featured in the film, 'A Beautiful Mind, and which only accepts the upper 0.03%.) Or perhaps the Prometheus Society? (Upper 0.003%.) Makes me wonder...

Look, I don't want to insult people, and I certainly don't want to sound like some big-shot. But I've been thought of as dumb all through grade school, and this turnabout feels good. So let me just say: knowledge really is power, ignorance is not bliss, and the cold, prickly truth really is better than the warm and fuzzy belief systems of our grandparents. Now a member of Mensa, I find that my credit score suddenly jumped! I now qualify for financial benefits and loans I couldn't before. Insurance companies like Geico are offering me discounts! In short, people feel safer with their money in the hands of a smart person, despite Enron.

The air isn't so thin up here. Won't more of you come up here and join me? I think you can!

Eric


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Taxing Churches to Pay National Debt

Our country is facing a looming financial crisis in the form of a mountainous load of debt. Only a decade ago, Clinton left us a budget surplus and was trimming our national debt. Then Bush garnered enough hanging chads to get elected, and burned up most of that surplus on tax cuts. Politically popular, but guaranteeing our nation would flirt with debt again. Then, after 9/11, having presided over the start of two wars, he felt that a national crisis was best served by reducing national income yet again at the benefit of the wealthy. Add a sweeping sellout to the drug companies for Medicare and Medicaid and yet more tax breaks for the fattest of felines, and you understand how we could have dug such a deep hole in such a short amount of time. Bush never vetoed a single spending bill. Now, at ten trillion and counting, the Bush Debt is projected to reach 17 trillion by 2017, and it is not entirely implausible that the interest owed will exceed our entire national product! And then, frankly, we're fucked!

Way to go, Dubya.

For brevity, I'll ignore the insanity of Republicans using the Bush Debt as a means of unhorsing Obama, who had nothing to do with it. Instead, I'll simply point out how the Bush Debt was partly predicated on a dangerous philosophy, known as "starve the beast." The idea is, limit the amount of money the nation takes in through taxes, and this motivates the government to cut spending. Sounds good, right? But we've seen time and again that cutting spending is easier said than done, and while Republicans often cut taxes, they seldom cut spending. For that matter, neither do Democrats. It's simply easier for a legislator to eat shards of broken glass than it is for him to vote for a spending cut in his district. So, without a significant number of politicians willing to fall on their swords, the debt goes out of control.

This is something I try desperately to explain to my more conservative friends: The beast doesn't starve. The beast borrows from China, Saudi Arabia, and India. And then the beast destroys the dollar.

So what do we do? Admit defeat when it comes to getting politicians to cut spending? I think not. There are some simple things we can do as citizens to get the debt under control. But we have to be smart enough to make sure it happens. Here's our assignment list:

1. Institute term limits. The only way to get a significant number of politicians to vote for spending cuts is to make sure that a significant number of politicians are not concerned with re-election. Term limits are the only way to accomplish this. We need to insist that this gets done. If we do nothing else, we must do this!

2. Re-institute Pay-As-You-Go. George Bush, Sr. enacted pay-as-you-go during his presidency as a means of curtailing government debt, and it worked well. What it means is, you can't propose some new spending increase unless you either propose a spending cut of equal amount elsewhere, or propose a tax increase which will pay for it entirely. Unfortunately, this measure expired in 2002, just in time for his brat kid to give away the farm! We need this rule in place again, badly. And permanently, this time.

3. Let the Bush, Jr. Tax Cuts Expire. This one's a no-brainer. In time of dire national crisis, we simply must call upon those who are financially strongest to help bear the heaviest of the burden. America's been good to the rich. It's time for them to be good back! Because if we lose the dollar, their fortunes are at risk, too, even if they've moved their investments entirely to the Euro or the Yen.

4. Line Item Veto. We gave a line item veto to President Clinton in 1996, but the Supreme Court struck it down two years later. We need to explore a way to give our president the ability to slash spending at the stroke of a pen in a way which will hold up under judicial review.

5. Legalize and Tax Cannabis. Again, a no-brainer. Our economy needs new industry, and new tax revenue at the same time. During the Great Depression, the repeal of prohibition helped to rebuild the economy. We need to end prohibition against marijuana.

6. Consider Rescinding Tax-Exempt Status On Certain Non-Charity Organizations.

It's that last item I'll consider more in depth. Specifically, should we consider taxing churches at this time?

In a way, it makes sense. Corporations, families, soldiers, stores, property owners, highway travellers, and nearly every other walk of life has to pay taxes. When it comes right down to it, even the dead pay taxes! But not a church. What makes them so damned special?

Certainly, our economy could do without greedy televangelists using their ministries as a means to sequester huge swaths of the public's money supply out of circulation! But most churches out there typically struggle just to keep the lights on. One likely consequence of church taxation might be that little churches would instantly go belly-up, leaving only big-box mega-churches in many urban areas.

Another problem is Constitutional. Congress cannot pass any law favoring any religion or denying it's free practice. Certainly, taxing a particular behavior acts as a strong disincentive. Thus, by taxing churches, Congress effectively denies the free practice of religion. Put another way, there's no tax for not going to church. Hence, people are encouraged to be atheist or agnostic. Or at least, discouraged from starting their own independent ministry.

What about the new Islamic Center near Ground Zero? I'll bet lots of people would like to see that taxed! But then, we'd be playing favorites again. If we can tax a Mosque, we have to be able to tax a chapel.

I suppose some people are resentful that churches sometimes get politically active having paid no taxes. It's anything but fair for those who don't put money into the hat to try and have a say in how it gets spent! But there would be an unintended consequence in forcing the issue. As it is, churches try to walk a fine line between being politically active, and politically neutral. This is because there is a law on the books, known as the Johnson Amendment (1954), which states that any non-profit organization cannot be politically active, or else it loses it's tax-exempt status. So churches try to remain politically neutral in theory, while being subtly active in practice, particularly on issues such as abortion or homosexuality. So long as they don't endorse political candidates, they are reasonably safe. However, if we taxed those churches, they might see this as a green light to become community-based political action groups, and preachers would begin endorsing candidates openly from the pulpit. This would be a consequence I would not want to live with!

So, no, I don't think Churches should be taxed. There are too many negative consequences, including one I missed earlier, which is that if Churches get taxed, so likely do humanist and atheist groups, who barely have a budget as it is. However, I do think that the Johnson Amendment needs to be strengthened. Churches should not even think of being subtle in political activism. In this time of national monetary crisis, we can't have ministries who pay no taxes campaigning, even quietly, for any "faith-based initiative" tax dollars. True, this is only a cosmetic solution to the problem of our national debt, but for important reasons concerning the "culture war," the message needs to be sent that non-profit means non-political. If you want to be in the game, you pay your admission fee just like everybody else. And if you are a tax-exempt church, it needs to be understood that such exemption comes at an all-important price:

You fundies stay the fuck out of politics!

Eric