Monday, February 28, 2011

Gaddaffy Duck

I couldn't resist posting this picture of "Gaddaffy Duck." The first time I ever heard the lame pun was back in 1986 when "duck" was more of a... suggestion... to the safari suit clad dictator, since we were busy bombing his little kingdom all to hell at that time.

Now though, Gaddaffy Duck is more of a commentary on Muammar Gaddafi's mental state. The Libyan uprising began on February 15, followed by a bloody crackdown, and protesters still seem to have control of Tobruk, but somehow Gaddafi insists "all my people love me." And then he blames the uprising on al-Qaeda, which is either pure lunacy or a transparent plea for some American love.

Of course, I can't make any predictions about the ensuing civil war, or Gaddafi, or what will happen when he leaves (one way or another), or what the U.S. role should be in that,or...

Oh, look. Is that Charlie Sheen giving an interview on TV?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Let the Culture Wars Resume

Today President Obama decided that the Justice Department will cease legal defense of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman.

After this announcement, Senator Diane Feinstein stated that she intends to introduce "legislation that will once and for all repeal the Defense of Marriage Act."

If my father has caught news of any of this, he's probably having fifty conniptions... like he nearly did on Christmas eve, when somehow, I guess it was a bad idea now that I think about it, we were watching Miss Congeniality over at my sister's house. Well, somebody (not me) brought up some minor controversy over a beauty pageant. No, it was not the controversy where that ditz defended "opposite marriage," but some other totally different controversy, but the point is my dad reflexively assumed we were discussing that case. So he instantly got himself into one of those loud, boiled, acrimonious speeches that makes sense to him alone.

Somewhere in between hyperventilating and foaming at the mouth he brought up a California case where the judge was known to be gay. In the mind of a septuagenarian straight white male, this is indisputable proof of bigotry. Because in his world, men just like him are the de facto standard for neutrality. Because if there are two sides of a coin, then his side is always somehow neutral.

But then, when my dad took a breather, my niece... she's my sister's stepdaughter through her most recent marriage... said, in a very tiny, polite voice, "Oh, but I think everybody has biases." And that shut my dad up, at least for one night.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Appeasing the Gods of Deficit

So I was going to post the Daily Show clip where Jon Stewart accuses Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker of "appeasing the gods of deficit" by closing the budget gap (created by millions in tax cuts for businesses) by ritualistically killing the unions. It's a pretty good take on the situation so watch the clip anyway, but the end kind of rubs me the wrong way. Ever since the March to Restore Sanity, Jon's been pushing this whole "both sides meme," and either he's not getting it or I'm not getting it.

Yeah, Fox supported the Tea Party protesters and condemns the Wisconsin union protesters, and the flip side is true for MSNBC. But the union protesters are a lot less crazy, didn't bring guns, and actually have their livelihoods at stake. The tea partiers? I've written enough about them, but they want "their country back" and don't want certain people to have health care. I think I'm smart enough to point out which side is loony, and Jon should point it out too.

However, back to the whole budget deficit thing, this is important because way too many Republicans are trying to tell us that things like social safety nets and collective bargaining by unions, all the things Republicans never liked anyway, are just too darn expensive. But the Rachel Maddow show is challenging this whole myth that unions cause budget crises:

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Respect for the Law

Ohio Governor John Kasich thinks that police officers who do their jobs are "idiots," and he says it a few times just in case you missed it.

Unsurprisingly, he wants to push the same union-busting bologna that's going on in Wisconsin.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Nobody Goes to Jail

Over drinks at a bar on a dreary, snowy night in Washington this past month, a former Senate investigator laughed as he polished off his beer.

"Everything's fucked up, and nobody goes to jail," he said. "That's your whole story right there. Hell, you don't even have to write the rest of it. Just write that."

I put down my notebook. "Just that?"

"That's right," he said, signaling to the waitress for the check. "Everything's fucked up, and nobody goes to jail. You can end the piece right there."

— Excerpt from Why Isn't Wall Street in Jail? by Matt Taibbi.
That Rolling Stone article is a must read. Matt Taibbi explains how the entire system that is designed to monitor and regulate Wall Street is so fucked up that it actually serves to protect financial criminals. This is how the system works for the richest:
Criminal justice, as it pertains to the Goldmans and Morgan Stanleys of the world, is not adversarial combat, with cops and crooks duking it out in interrogation rooms and courthouses. Instead, it's a cocktail party between friends and colleagues who from month to month and year to year are constantly switching sides and trading hats. At the Hilton conference, regulators and banker-lawyers rubbed elbows during a series of speeches and panel discussions, away from the rabble. "They were chummier in that environment," says Aguirre, who plunked down $2,200 to attend the conference.
And these super-wealthy elite criminals are amazingly skilled at whipping up a distracting frenzy of populace rage against... unbelievably... health care, socialism, and unions. I don't know what will convince them to re-aim their pitchforks.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Being Hard on the Bieber

I never dreamed the world would give me reason to blog about this kid:
"You guys are evil... Canada's the best country in the world. We go to the doctor and we don't need to worry about paying him, but here, your whole life, you're broke because of medical bills. My bodyguard's baby was premature, and now he has to pay for it. In Canada, if your baby's premature, he stays in the hospital as long as he needs to, and then you go home." — Justin Bieber in his recent Rolling Stone interview.

So my first thought is that our health care system must be pretty awful if a 16 year-old Canadian pop idol is speaking out against it.

No, wait, my first thought is why the hell should we care what Justin Bieber thinks.

My second thought is that our health care system must be pretty awful if a 16 year-old Canadian pop idol is speaking out against it.

My third thought is that Glenn Beck will now have to work Bieber into one of his grand conspiracies. Wait, maybe that was my second thought.

Okay, my fourth thought, and hopefully final thought on this topic, is how mean it is to ask these loaded political questions to a dumb kid. I'm really not sure how I would have answered the same questions at that age, especially that question about abortion. Bieber said, "I really don't believe in abortion. It's like killing a baby?"

When the reporter pointed out that sometimes women are raped, Bieber said, "Um. Well, I think that's really sad, but everything happens for a reason. I don't know how that would be a reason. I guess I haven't been in that position, so I wouldn't be able to judge that."

Well, many people including myself cringe at the idea that rape is somehow predestined and "happens for a reason," but don't overlook the last part of his statement, "I guess I haven't been in that position, so I wouldn't be able to judge that." I think that indicates a lot of empathy that is completely missing in our increasingly angry political atmosphere. And maybe his opinion isn't set in stone or he realizes that there is still a lot he doesn't understand.

Either way, I'm thankful my parents never pushed me out on stage with a microphone and a funny haircut.

Oh wait, I have a fifth thought! If the wingnuts sink to the level of attacking this kid on his pro-Canada health system views, then they better watch out. Just look what Bieber's rabid tween fans did when that obscure jazz singer Esperanza Spalding won the Grammy for best new artist! Don't mess with them!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Repealing the 20th Century

Remember when the Republicans unveiled their so-cool-it-hurts Speak Out America website last year? Remember the hilarious free-for-all that resulted on their open suggestion forum?

Remember the hundreds of "new ideas" that went something like, "The USA don't need socialist measures such as 8-hour work days, weekends off, paid vacations, banning child labor, or the minimum wage if we want to stay competitive against giants like India and China."

Remember I commented that some Republican candidates would actively support these "constructive" proposals?

Well, it kind of makes me sick to say I was right. Missouri State Sen. Jane Cunningham (R) wants to eliminate child labor laws in the state of Missouri. The bill would, among other things, eliminate the prohibition on employment of children under age fourteen.

What the hell is this supposed to accomplish? The party that doesn't want corporation to pay taxes also wants to permit corporations to enslave children?

And just in case you need more evidence that Republicans want to "take our country back... to the 19th century," the Kentucky Senate recently approved legislation to allow the Christian Bible to be taught in public schools. Of course, they claim they want to teach it as literature, but we all know that's bullshit. It will be impossible to hire an unbiased teacher for such a controversial course.

The Republicans are seriously pandering to the nuttiest fringe of their party. Moderates have little to no interest in radically regressive legislation that turns us into a third-world country. And yet, somehow, I don't think we've reached peak insanity yet.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

That's A Wrap

Laugh at the punny headlines, but also read Ethan Zuckerman's blog about Mubarak's resignation. Ousting a dictator is not enough. Egyptians must rebuild their government now, and then comes the question of our era: what role will Facebook play in the transition?

And what role will Facebook play in the next revolution? History is set to repeat itself in Algeria already as their government shuts down the internet and deletes social-networking accounts. It doesn't surprise me that these repressive governments ruled by elderly men can't do anything right when it comes to social networking. Ever try to explain Facebook to your parents?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Don't Let Them Eat Cake

Good news everybody! The U.S. is not the fattest nation. According to a recent world report on obesity, other rich, industrial nations like Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates are fatter. So... the First Lady should scrap her child obesity campaign, right? Not so fast, fatties. More young people are having strokes, and that's not something we want to become the world leader of.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Halfway to Sunset

I didn't expect to be blogging about the USA Patriot Act again this year. I assumed the extensions to the Bush-era anti-terrorist surveillance bill would pass without fuss, and the sun would fail to set yet again. But something happened.

The House didn't pass the USA Patriot Act extension. Apparently they considered it so uncontroversial that they moved it to the floor under a provision that requires a two-thirds majority to pass. One-hundred-twenty-two Democrats voted against it, and they were joined by 26 Republicans, including eight freshman "tea party" candidates. Of course, the headlines will read that it was some kind of "tea party rebellion" that thwarted the extension, ignoring the 122 nays from the Democrats, and ignoring that most of the tea party caucus voted to pass the extension.

Seeing this new Congress in action leads me to a few questions: are the TP candidates posing as libertarians or authoritarians? What happened to the "small government" rhetoric? They certainly have a strange understanding of freedom as Rachel Maddow pointed out last night. Just look at their policies:

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And yet Congress went through all that trouble to read the Constitution on the House floor just to cast votes against the Fourth Amendment a month later.

The bright side is that the issue of civil liberties can be common ground for the right and the left, but Glenn Greenwald has these sobering thoughts:
Last night's unexpected Patriot Act vote illustrates the tantalizing promise of such an alliance. Things would be vastly improved on the civil liberties front if the American Right was even minimally faithful to the political principles they claim to support. But the nature of that movement means that last night's vote is far more of an isolated aberration than anything likely to change the bipartisan dynamic in a positive way. Indeed, the very weak status of civil liberties in the U.S. is compellingly illustrated by the fact that an alliance with this deeply unprincipled and authoritarian movement is one of the few viable means for stemming the tide of the erosion.
Greenwald also believes that the Patriot Act extensions will indeed pass when they are voted on again in a few weeks under standard procedures that require a majority for approval.

But with more attention on the issue now and the votes of some unallied Freshman, maybe they will surprise us again? They do seem kind of fickle.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Don't Trust Me

So here's the mundane question of the week: "Is the Internet making kids dumb?" Seems a marginally scientific study found that seventh graders, after being asked to research the 'tree octopus' and being directed to the Save The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus site, believed that the tree octopus was real.

Then this group of students (25 of them to be exact) were told that the story of the endangered cephalopods was actually a decade's old hoax. Har har. What a way to kid a kid. However, even after being let in on the joke, about half the students continued to believe the species was real.

The researcher, Dr. Donald Leu, concluded that "anyone can publish anything on the Internet and today's students are not prepared to critically evaluate the information they find there." I must agree.

In fact, his statement reminds me of an incident a few months ago with a friend and her nine-year-old niece. The niece said that her teacher told her to never trust Wikipedia because anybody can edit it. Well, I think my response was something like "you should be skeptical of everything on the Internet."

But a better answer would have been more like "the world is a stream of unfiltered data, and you need to be skeptical of everything, even your teachers and your schoolbooks. But at least on Wikipedia you can click the 'discussion' tab and find out the who, what, and why behind edits. Also, every article has a thorough reference section that lists sources independent of Wikipedia. I'm shocked your teacher would blacklist such a useful resource."

Ironically, if any of the kids in the aforementioned study had looked up Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus on Wikipedia, they would have learned it was a hoax.

Wikipedia is one awesome and important piece of the Internet, and kids shouldn't be scared away from it. The trick we need to teach kids is to not passively read it, but to purposefully edit it. By taking part in a project that is both cooperative and complex, I think kids will become better thinkers.

And I believe this was actually the point of Dr. Leu's research: A new type of literacy is required for this generation of students. This isn't about the Internet making them dumb. It's about the presumption that kids are innate Internet experts when in reality they must be taught a whole new set of comprehension skills.

Don't trust my conclusion though. Check out Dr. Leu's PowerPoint presentation yourself.

Monday, February 07, 2011

His Legacy Continues

Former President George W. Bush planned to speak at a big charity event in Switzerland later this week, but apparently his plans have been scrapped due to the threat of "massive protests."

The organizers of the protests are calling for Bush and his administration to be held accountable for war crimes. Good. Somebody has to do it if the U.S. won't.

Bush's recent book is basically a signed confession. And more importantly, two victims of torture in U.S. detention have recently prepared a criminal complaint against Bush.

So it's not just the protests and rioting Bush and his buddies fear -- it's falling into the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. Whether anybody in charge would be brave enough to prosecute a former U.S. president, I don't know. But many free people in democratic and civil nations view Bush as a third-world tyrant -- like Pinochet. And just like a cowardly despot, Bush is safest traveling to authoritarian countries like China and Saudi Arabia.

And that grim reality reflects on our nation. I'm not sure how the world can ever take us seriously on the issues of democracy, human rights, or basic decency with Bush still jaunting about.

And finally, a friendly note to European countries: if Bush gets a little forgetful again and plans a visit to your country, don't announce your plans to arrest him ahead of time!

Friday, February 04, 2011

Gaming The System

The Daily Show and Kristen Schaal get it: we can't let the drugged, under-aged, or mentally disabled game the system by getting all those complimentary abortions.

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Looks like the Republicans have been forced to rewrite their ancient and dangerous definition of rape, but that doesn't matter much. We saw their true colors and we know what they really think of women, we know how cruel and dismissive they are of rape survivors. And despite this new change in language, they're still banning federal aid for the most vulnerable women.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Fool Me Once...

Well here we go again. Remember when the undercover pimp and whore team seemingly got ill-conceived advice from ACORN? Well if that video tape splice job was good enough to bankrupt ACORN, why not try it again with that other imaginary monster, Planned Parenthood?

A Planned Parenthood employee was caught on tape giving advice to a couple posing as a pimp and a prostitute inquiring on how to obtain services for sex workers as young as 14. Let's not be fooled again.

Most of the media will ignore the fact that, just as in the ACORN incident, the organization's staff immediately alerted the local authorities.

I expect the MSM to also ignore the reality that, had the prostitution ring been legitimate, the first step to helping those underage sex workers would be getting them into Planned Parenthood, getting them tested and treated for STDs, and transferring them into the hands of child protective services.

Thank god Planned Parenthood would be there if such a situation arose. Of course, the video tapes could be seen as a wake up call to crack down on prostitution rings, but no... somehow the right-wing doesn't recognize that as the problem! They will, of course, contort this story into a cry to cut subsidies to Planned Parenthood. They don't want their tax dollars going towards abortion. Funny, but I don't want my tax dollars going towards killing civilians in our various wars, but I digress...

It's no secret that the right-wing hates Planned Parenthood, and this hidden video con job is quite predictable. But the Republicans have one more related scheme that is absolutely disgusting. The GOP plans to drastically redefine rape. According to the new house majority it is only really rape if it involves force. Don't you see? They're closing the "loopholes" so fewer women will qualify for federal assistance. No exceptions for statutory rape. No exceptions if the victim was drugged or given excessive amounts of alcohol. No exceptions if the victim has limited mental capacity.

I suppose to the dirty old men of the GOP those victims are all whores anyway.

The idiot GOP is making this bill their top priority. An online opposition is organizing now. Check it out.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Now Is The Time

The president spoke on Egypt today. His speech was short and easy to digest. I think his most substantial point was that the privileged people who serve in positions of political power do so at the will of the people, and therefore, the Egyptian people have every right to change their government. He commended the protesters and the Egyptian military for their professionalism. He said we're committed to a partnership between the United States and Egypt.

Oh, and he said the orderly transition must begin now.

Except Egyptian President Mubarak only said he will not seek another term -- he still refuses to step down or lift the emergency law.

I never really understood people who stick around where they're not welcome.

Anyway, John Bolton (remember him?) was singing McCain's old tune to bomb Iran. It really does sound like a broken record now.

Oh, and somebody at Fox News is having trouble finding Egypt on the map.

I have an idea. Let's not bomb anybody until we all master geography.