Friday, November 30, 2012

They Fired the First Shot 2012: An Observation

It appears that extremist, fundamentalist Tea Party-types have discovered a new book that absolutely fascinates them. 

It's title:  They Fired the First Shot 2012

It's author: "A Friend of Medjugorje."

What are Tea Partiers saying about this book?  

Red River Tea Party spokesperson, Laura Bilderback, wrote the following:  

If you have not read They Fired The First Shot 2012, you need to read it. There are several themes. A review from Amazon: I got a pre-release copy of this book and after reading the back cover first - which asks not to thumb through the book but start from the first page on - I lived an emotional roller coaster. I kept thinking there is no way the author found an answer - BUT HE DID. AND not just one answer but several. I have never ever been so excited about a book because it gave me a game plan. Something "I" could do. So many other books talk about their answer but it's too overwhelming. This author has made some astounding discoveries and when pieced all together in a time line, your jaw will drop. You have got to read what 'the powers to be' are planning for our youth - it will make you sick! Don't just buy one copy, buy several and get everyone reading them at the same time so you can gather later and start making plans. Things are in place NOW for these solutions to work - you need to get this book in everyone's hands."

This vivid description prompted me to further investigate the book. offers the following synopsis of They Fired the First Shot 2012:

August 25, 2012 - Chinese warrior, Sun-tzu, taught that in order to win every battle, you must know yourself and you must know your enemy. We know that the United States of America is facing an attack unlike anything it has ever experienced in its history. Why are we losing battle after battle in the face of an all-advancing evil? It s because we don t know ourselves and we don t know our enemy. After reading They Fired the First Shot 2012, you will learn how to know yourself, you will learn how to know your enemy, and you will know what to do. But will you do what this book shows you to do? After reading They Fired the First Shot 2012, you will not be able to keep yourself from following the directives contained within. You will read and learn many new thoughts and truths that will have an atomic bomb effect on your thinking. What you abided by before is not what you will continue to abide by. They Fired the First Shot 2012 is not just another book telling you what is going on. It is the only book that is a complete book, showing you the first step to the last step of what to do to protect yourself, your family and save our nation. As you set out upon the path this book will lead you on prepare to be stunned, then shocked; prepare to feel helpless, then hopeless, moved to the edge of despair, then seeing a turn-around that maybe there s a way out, growing hopeful, to full confidence, to feeling the impulse to begin formulating your own personal plan and finally, taking action that grows into a full-scale reaction of having your future placed back into your own hands again. This book will become your cause to act, to spread, to promote, with all your effort, with all your being to save our nation. It is the solution that no one else has. Most importantly, do not look through this book. It must unfold for you starting at page one, reading page by page. If there ever was a read not to peek through, this is it. You will ruin the impact of the book in how you will graduate from page to page in understanding the next page. Do not even look at the chapter titles in the beginning. Just start reading...from page one (after reading the foreword)."

This description did not strike me as a standard book synopsis. 

These facts became evident as I was reading the online book description:
  • The summary, as written, contains many, many basic grammar errors
  • Rather than summarizing the content of the book, the author of this synopsis dictates to the reader what he/she will think and feel while reading the book, implying a schizophrenic-like change in mood during the physical reading process
  • The author of this synopsis claims that this is "the only book" that can "protect" and "save" the reader, the reader's family, and the United States of America
  • The author appears to have made important decisions for the reader regarding "all-advancing evil" and the reader's "enemies" 
  • The author insists that the reader does not know him/herself
  • The author gives specific warnings to the reader regarding the exact, literal manner in which the book is to be read, and provides specific "directives" to be followed by the reader
I thought I had misread the synopsis, so I read it again.  And again.  Shocked, I finally had to admit that it reads like the incoherent ramblings of a cult leader. 
I thought about the number of Congresspeople, state legislators, governors and local leaders who subscribe to the Tea Party's ideology regarding our American and world governments...

Thankfully, there are a few sane comments/warnings on the website for potential buyers of this unsettling book.  They are designated as "one-star" reviews.  I'll leave you with the lucid, succinct, well-researched book reviews here.
As one commenter stated: "It's disturbing, misleading, and a source of great misinformation. If you have it, I would dispose of it."

Thursday, November 29, 2012

10 Ways to Avoid the Fiscal Cliff

By | Wed Nov. 28, 2012 3:03 AM PST

Obama and Boehner
Although you might never know it from listening to the pundits, America isn't broke. We have plenty of money to pay for government programs—we've just gradually lost our ability to collect it.

Here are 10 ways, most of them long favored by liberal economists, that politicians could avoid the fiscal cliff's $1.2 trillion in trigger cuts. While these ideas alone won't immediately eliminate the budget deficit, they will, combined with expected growth, point the nation towards a sustainable fiscal path.

Stop giving investors a sweetheart deal
Additional revenue: $533 billion over 10 years
Low tax rates on capital gains are the main reason that billionaire investment guru Warren Buffett pays a smaller percentage of his income in taxes than his secretary does. In 2003, Congress capped the rate on capital gains (investment income) at 15 percent—far less than the 35 percent that people pay on their salaries. Tax hawks like to argue that raising the capital gains tax will stifle investment, but that argument isn't supported by the evidence. (Just ask Buffett.) Taxing capital gains as ordinary income—just like the IRS treats the investment gains from your 401(k)—would have the added benefit of undermining "carried interest." That, you may recall, is the ludicrous accounting trick that allows big fund managers (think Mitt Romney) to pass off their management fees as investment income, thereby avoiding the higher tax rates paid by their receptionists and janitors.

Quit subsidizing mansions and vacation homes
Additional revenue: $214.6 billion over 10 years
The popular mortgage interest deduction subsidizes home ownership but it also distorts the real estate market and favors the wealthy. That's because people are allowed to deduct interest paid on mortgage debt up to $1.1 million—which in effect means that taxpayers are helping rich Americans pay for mansions and vacation properties. Eliminating the deduction entirely would likely yield the revenue gains listed above, but also make things tougher on middle-class homeowners. For a more palatable alternative, Congress could lower that $1.1 million cap to, say, half a million bucks and limit the deduction to loans on primary residences.

End the "step up" giveaway on inherited stocks
Additional revenue: $764 billion over 10 years
Suppose your Aunt Mildred bought stock in Acme Widgets back in 1940 for $10 a share and has watched it appreciate to $100 a share. If she sells it now, she'll pay capital gains taxes on her $90-per-share profit. But if Mildred wills you the stock, you'll miraculously forego taxes on her gains. To put it in accounting terms, Mildred's $10-per-share "cost basis" will instantly "step up" to the stock price on the day you inherit it. So if she dies today, and you later sell your inherited Acme stock at $105, you only pay taxes on $5 per share. But eliminating this massive loophole would throw a wrench in the estate planning of lots of rich and powerful families, so don't get your hopes up.

Revitalize the "death tax"
Additional revenue: $432 billion over 10 years
If you're old and rich and had the choice, this would be a pretty good year to die. That's because, unless Congress extends its Bush-era cuts to the federal estate tax (foes call it the "death tax"), the levy on inheritances will to revert to its old top rate of 55 percent and the exempt, nontaxable portion will go back to $1 million per individual beneficiary, down from about $5.1 million now. Even so, thanks to special breaks for family farms, businesses, and all but the largest holdings, the estate tax has never affected many households. In 2003, before cuts to the tax began taking effect, only 1.3 percent of deaths resulted in any federal estate-tax liability.

Heed America's favorite investment guru
Additional revenue: $171 billion over 10 years
Asking people with taxable earnings of more than $1 million to pay an income tax rate of at least 30 percent, as Buffett proposes, would act as a bulwark against the armies of well-paid accountants and lawyers that aim to punch holes in the tax code. The so-called Buffett Rule wouldn't raise as much money as repealing specific tax breaks that skew toward the top earners, but it would help ensure that their minions can't just concoct a bunch of clever new ways to stiff Uncle Sam—not easily, anyway.

Reset back to Clinton-era tax rates for upper incomes
Additional revenue: $442 billion over 10 years
Despite a sharp increase in income inequality in recent decades (see our awesome charts), America's top earners now pay nearly the lowest average tax rate in 50 years. So it doesn't seem like too much to ask them to pay what they did during the Clinton years—remember budget surpluses and a healthy economy? Back then, people paid a top marginal tax rate of 39.6 percent on incomes exceeding $380,000. It's worth emphasizing that marginal rates only apply to what you make in excess of a given income threshold; everything up to that point is taxed at a lower rate.

Take agribusiness giants off the federal teat
Additional revenue: $112 billion over 10 years
Contrary to the nonsensical rhetoric we hear from politicians every time Congress reconsiders the farm bill, agricultural subsidies do little to help struggling family farmers. If helping the little guy was the goal, the government could guarantee every full-time farmer a solidly middle-class income for about $4 billion—about half of what farm subsidies now cost us. Instead, the majority of subsidies go to farms with average earnings of $200,000; the biggest welfare recipients tend to be enormous corporate conglomerates that produce huge amounts of nutritionally vapid corn. Eliminating these corporate subsidies has proved politically impossible, however, given that agribusiness has a lock on farm state legislators from both major parties. And we've all witnessed Iowa's outsized role in culling our presidential choices.

End oil and gas drilling in Washington, DC
Additional revenue: $158 billion over 10 years
Technological advances in hydraulic fracturing have set off the largest domestic oil boom in decades and minted plenty of new petro-billionaires. And the oil giants were pulling in mind-boggling profits well before the current boom began. In any case, their windfall makes it hard to justify the sweetheart subsidies enjoyed by the oil and gas industry. Among the breaks is the ability to write off almost all expenses nearly immediately, to deduct from their taxable income a flat percentage of revenue on all oil sales (known as "percentage depletion"), and to essentially take foreign tax credits even when they aren't paying taxes abroad. Oil and gas companies also receive federal loan guarantees and qualify for a tax deduction for "domestic manufacturing." The list goes on.

Forget cap and trade: Impose a carbon tax instead
Additional revenue: $1.25 trillion over 10 years
Climate change is already a sort of tax on carbon, one we all pay for with extinctions, plagues, wars, droughts, superstorms (hello, Sandy), and rising seas. Taxing carbon emissions, however politically fraught, is more efficient than cap and trade (which California just launched, by the way) as a way to force polluters to cover a portion of the massive environmental and health costs they impose on the public, and give the worst ones a big incentive to clean up their act.

Stop giving corporations an excuse to hide profits and send jobs abroad
Additional revenue: $583 billion over 10 years
Americans corporations are allowed to defer paying taxes on the profits of their offshore subsidiaries until that money is transferred back to the parent company. This rule gives companies an incentive to outsource jobs to low-tax jurisdictions abroad and to disguise domestic profits as foreign ones by, for example, transferring intellectual property such as software code to a subsidiary in a foreign tax haven and then paying the subsidiary royalties for the right to use it. Repealing "deferral," as this loophole is called, wouldn't cripple American competitiveness: US companies could still deduct taxes paid abroad from their federal taxable income.

Revenue as a Percent of 2012 Budget Deficit

Also read "Fiscal Therapy," wherein Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston fleshes out similar ideas that could not only repair the budget, but heal American democracy in the process.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Twilight of the Old White Guys

Credit:  Mark Morford's Notes & Errata
This doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. This doesn’t mean it’s going to be smooth or fun or make any sort of cohesive sense. Not by a long shot. And not for a long, long time.

But across the board and down the line, the take on Obama’s astonishing, historic re-election is the same: America is more wildly, unexpectedly diverse than ever, and those diverse voices – Latino, gay, black, immigrant, female, et al – somehow coalesced into a potent, vociferous, albeit hotly unstable coalition to vote more powerfully and more passionately than any time in our short history, mostly because they never really existed as a functioning coalition in our short history, until now.

This is what the Republican punditry and even many old-timer Dems are coming to terms with: America is no longer a nifty, sepia-toned melting pot kept anodyne and marginal by the rich, starchy bleach of the white ruling class.

Is it not the most astonishing thing? The country is not getting any whiter, older white bigoted people are helpfully dying off, and we now have a messy and nearly incomprehensible Catherine wheel of assorted nonwhite minorities (and women) all spinning, dancing and surging into the limelight – not to mention the cross-breeds, the already mixed, the racially unidentifiable who are, say, a quarter black, a quarter Chinese, a quarter Indian, a third polyamorous and a tenth Cuban kinky hipster lesbian schoolteacher, with a no-religious-affiliation kicker. Sweet.

This is your new American majority, each and every one of whom terrifies the old guard, the rich white guys, Ted Nugent, Bill O’Reilly, and the way it used to be. And this is why the Republican party threw every repulsive weapon it had at Obama to try and avert the inevitable; deep down, they sensed their own imminent obsolescence, even if they didn’t quite believe it was possible.

And oh, they tried everything. Racism. Birtherism. Sexism. Abortion, birth control, “legitimate rape” and irresponsible “sluts.” Religious intolerance, homophobia, xenophobia, Socialism, Communism, Nazis, Kenya, monkeys, Big Bird, gun rights, tax laws, welfare, elitism, oil shortages, health care reform that would secretly herd up and kill the elderly. Just for starters.

Nothing worked. Check that: It all worked. Just not as well as it used to. As one distraught fundamentalist Christian activist said, “It wasn’t that our message didn’t get out. We got the message out. But our message was rejected.”

The face of imminent obsolescence?

Is this a good thing?

This is, of course, a very good thing. On the other hand, it’s also all flavors of potential bedlam, with every group and region now demanding its own representation, its own voice, its own right to stir things up and be heard. Or maybe they just want what the white menfolk have had all along: a more honest chance, and a game that’s not rigged against them from the start. I know! The nerve!

So here we have Obama’s 2012 America, a riot of color and noise, melodrama and fierce clamoring for attention. Can it all possibly hold together? Not a chance. Does it have to hold together lest we implode and melt down even further? Without a doubt.

This is why the reaction to Rainbow Bright America has been, to say the least, exhilarating, and strange, and all over the map. Say what you will about unhappy white males running the joint for the last 200 (or 2,000) years. At least they were consistent. Consistently intolerant, patriarchal, oppressive, ruthlessly capitalistic and just a little bit sad? Of course. What the hell do you want from paranoid, monochromatic Christians, enlightenment?

One point everyone agrees on: The channels must open. We must broaden the social lens, appeal to the wider spectrum, understand there is no longer a single religion, voice, sex, color, attitude, or even standardized marriage format that rules the land. Sure, we’ve always been diverse. But we’ve never been completely guided by it.

Is part of the answer to become more multicultural, multilingual, open-ended? It would seem to go without saying. It would seem we should begin, quite directly, with education, and immediately require Spanish, Latin, passing fluency in German, maybe a little Chinese, just in case. Don’t you think?

Praise Jesus, we no longer have a single dominant religion. Even Christmas, which used to be relatively charming and quaint and even a tiny bit sacred, was sold to Wal-Mart for scrap something like 30 years ago; everyone knows we have no major holidays left that aren’t owned by corporations that openly hate you.

Hence, would it kill us to learn a little about, say, Diwali, India’s breathtaking festival of lights? How about Dia de Los Muertos, and Samhain, and Buddha’s birthday? How about teaching kids a little about Christian mysticism, goddess lore, a hint of Wicca, toss in a few of the 3 million Hindu gods? Why not?

You disagree? Oh right, like hammering them with uptight Christian doctrine for all these years has worked so well. Do you want to see the election results again? Shall we talk teen pregnancy rates, divorce rates, just who it was who sent out the most racist, hateful, intolerant Tweets after the election? Didn’t think so.

I know a little of what I speak. As a not wildly young, indo-European white guy myself, I can testify that it is both scary and oddly refreshing to slide so dramatically into the cultural minority. And we’re certainly not all bad – far from it. Of course, I’m nowhere near as endangered and obsolete as, say, the Catholic church, who is right now trying – quite miserably – to wrap its crusty, blood-caked talons around the throat of giddy gay marriage and choke it to death.  (Oh, by the way? This is how you know. This is how you understand you are on the right side of history, culture, love. When the pope and his armies of flying monkeys shake and fume so violently over a new definition of love that their eyeballs curdle, you know you’re doing something very right indeed).

Let us not get too carried away. White ruling classes aren’t quite gone yet. Obama still won a huge and relatively normal percentage of white voters, and Romney got quite a bit more (although, interestingly, the four states with the highest percentage of them – ME, VT, IA, NH – all went for BO).

It’s just that they didn’t matter as much this time around. Not nearly as much as they mattered to Mitt Romney and the GOP, for whom scared white males in particular were the foundation, lifeblood, the meaning of all goddamn existence. And when that meaning is removed? When that long-standing, ironclad political underpinning is uprooted and proven no longer reliable, and never will be again?

You get shock. Awe. Bewilderment. And roughly 4,000 political pundits from every media outlet spinning in the grave of their stunned analysis. Awesome.

But most of all, you get to experience something we in America just don’t get to enjoy all that often. We get to experience the wonderful, terrible, completely disorienting thrill of remaking ourselves anew, changing the conversation, exploding the stagnant American experiment and assembling it into something we just haven’t had the parts to attempt before.

Isn’t that fantastic? Isn’t that destabilizing? Isn’t that what the warped American idea is supposed to be about, after all?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Five Ways the Religious Right Imploded In 2012

By Jack Jenkins, a Writer and Researcher with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative.

1) Evangelicals failed to produce a viable candidate.

2) Conservative efforts to shift the Catholic vote flopped.

3) Evangelical voter turnout efforts fell short.

4) Traditionally evangelical candidates lost en masse because of radical views and bad theology.

5) The efforts of anti-gay religious leaders didn’t stop voters from supporting marriage equality.

Read entire article here.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Sotomayor tells Sesame Street: ‘Pretending to be a princess is fun, but it is definitely not a career’

By Kay Steiger
Friday, November 9, 2012 13:39 EST

Stotomayor on Sesame Street
Supreme Court Justice Justice Sonia Sotomayor offered some real talk to to Sesame Street character Abby about princesses and careers. 

Sotomayor explained that a “career is something that you train for and prepare for and plan on doing for a long time,” but when Abby says she wants to be a princess, Sotomayor shut that down pretty quickly.

“Abby, pretending to be a princess is fun, but it is definitely not a career,” Sotomayor said.
Abby replies, “You’re right. I guess a princess isn’t really a job.”

Instead, Sotomayor suggested, Abby could be “a teacher, a lawyer, a doctor, an engineer and even a scientist.” She explained how she got to be a Supreme Court justice, to which Abby replied, “Wow, that sounds important.”

“It is,” Sotomayor confirmed.

Take that, Disney.

Watch the video, uploaded to YouTube by Sesame Street on Nov. 9.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Which Professions Have The Most Psychopaths?

First, psychopath doesn't just mean someone who cuts you up with a chainsaw -- though the majority of people who do things like that are psychopaths. What's the definition?
"Psychopathy is a personality disorder that has been variously described as characterized by shallow emotions (in particular reduced fear), stress tolerance, lacking empathy, coldheartedness, lacking guilt, egocentricity, superficial char, manipulativeness, irresponsibility, impulsivity and antisocial behaviors such as parasitic lifestyle and criminality."
So which professions (other than axe murderer) do they disproportionately gravitate towards -- or away from?

Via The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success:

And the next thing that comes to mind is: Why?

Most of the professions on the right require human connection, dealing with feelings and most of them don't offer much power. Psychopaths, by their very nature, would not be drawn to or very good at these things.

On the other hand, most of the roles on the left do offer power and many require an ability to make objective, clinical decisions divorced from feelings. Psychopaths would be drawn to these roles and thrive there.

That said...

Chef? Really? I guess it pays to tread lightly around anyone who has a set of knives bearing their initials.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Why Don't Their Heads Explode?

(c) by Mary Griggs - 11/3/2012

I’m baffled by the number of contradictory thoughts that many anti-abortionists can hold without their heads exploding.

The first one is the relative value of life.

These men know women – in most cases were born of and raised by women, are married to women, have women coworkers and advisors. Yet for all their interactions, they don’t give as much weight to living, breathing women as they do to the potential life in these women’s wombs.

Leonard Pitts wrote a powerful column the other day in which he asks if women’s lives are not as sacred as the fetus they carry:
"It doesn’t seem to be, at least, not in the formulation embraced by the Grand Old Party. In that formulation, women are bystanders to their own existence, their individual situations subordinate to a one-size-fits-all morality, their very selves unimportant, except as vessels bearing children…
Mourdock and other conservatives frequently tout the sacredness of life, but they seem to have a rather narrow definition thereof. They seem to consider life sacred only until the umbilical cord is cut."
Exactly – these folks are not pro-life. They are only pro-birth.

Perhaps the most insidious contradiction about these pro-birthers is that they are trying to stop abortions. If they were really trying to reduce what they call a holocaust, they would immediately join Planned Parenthood in reducing the need for abortions.

In 2008 alone, nearly 10 percent of unmarried women ages 20 to 29 experienced an unintended pregnancy. About half of unintended pregnancies in this age group end in abortion, according to a study released April 24, 2012 by the non-profit Guttmacher Institute.

When researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine offered 9,256 mostly low-income women and teens free birth control, the number of unplanned pregnancies in the group fell to between 60 and 80 percent below the national average.

Receiving free birth control made teens – a group at particularly high risk for unintended pregnancies – 1/6th as likely to get pregnant. The teen birth rate among study participants was 6.3 per 1,000 women, a huge difference from the national teen birth rate of 34.3 per 1,000 women.

Likewise, the abortion rate among women in the program was 4.4 to 7.5 per 1,000 between 2008 and 2010. In the United States as a whole, there were 19.6 abortions per every thousand women. That’s a 62% to 78%  difference.

The World Health Organization reports on this connection: The most dramatic decline in abortion incidence occurred in Eastern Europe, where abortion is legal and safe. Since the fall of Communism, the rate fell from 90 per 1,000 women to 44. The decrease coincided with substantial increases in contraceptive use in the region.

These statistics are repeated across the planet – in Uganda, where abortion is illegal and sex education programs focus only on abstinence, the estimated abortion rate was 54 per 1,000 women in 2003, more than twice the rate in the United States (21 per 1,000 in 2003). The lowest rate, 12 per 1,000, was in Western Europe, with legal abortion and widely available contraception.

In defiance of these facts, these extremists fight against health care reform and that includes decrying any sort of contraception mandate. As part of the federal health care legislation, insurers now have to cover eight kinds of women’s services – everything from contraception to domestic violence counseling – without charging co-payments, deductibles or any other cost to the patient and it is driving the bishops and tea-baggers batty.

It is remarkably simple – many women seek abortions because of an unintended or unplanned pregnancy. The best way to reduce unintended or unplanned pregnancies is to improve access to affordable and effective birth control.

Save the heads. Support the fundamental right of each individual, throughout the world, to manage his or her fertility and watch the abortion rate drop.