Thursday, November 20, 2014

More on Our Collective Stupidity

The excrement is still hitting the media-powered fan over Jonathan Gruber’s remark that the American public is “stupid.”

Nobody likes to be called “stupid.”  Remember the playground bully who couldn’t spell his own name or add 2+2? He would bloody the nose of anyone who called him “stupid.”

The stupidity of the American electorate is one more inconvenient truth, one more fact that people don’t want to hear. Yet by virtually every accepted measure of social science, we are the second most stupid nation in the First World.  I won’t mention the only more stupid nation but here’s a hint: two males of this ethnicity are on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Part of the reason for our collective stupidity is educational: we have mismanaged public and higher education for too many years.  The schools don’t teach critical thinking.  Our masses are scientifically illiterate.  Our sanitized version of history  is a pious joke: we don’t know we’re racist because we were never taught the truth about slavery and institutionalized racism in the post-bellum south. 

Part of the reason for our collective stupidity is our mainstream media.  As fewer and fewer  huge corporations control more and more of the information providers, the profession of journalism is vanishing.  If we have an electorate devoid of critical thinking, we also have information providers incapable of asking critical questions.  They are stenographers.  They are manipulated.  They are propagandists.  They do not probe.  They parrot.

Part of the reason for our collective stupidity is our propensity for self-delusion.  We believe what makes us feel good.  We believe in a world of white hats and black hats where American exceptionalism rules.  Other guys, who have been assigned the black-hat role by our government and its media  propagandists, torture people; we do not.  Other guys, who have been assigned black hats by our government and its propagandists, commit war crimes, violate the territorial integrity of other nations, brutalize minorities and worship false gods; we do not.

Combine these factors and, in almost any random sampling of Americans, you would have a majority who believe that Iran is making weapons of mass destruction to use on us, but who can’t find Iran on a map of the world. You would have a large, strident minority who think every weather event is an “act of God” and who vigorously deny that anything humans have done or are doing could possibly produce something called climate change.  You would have a majority who believe that we should not  raise taxes on “job creators,” even as those so-called “job creators” continue to export 200,000 American jobs per month to other countries.

Polls suggest that a majority — 54% to 59% depending on the moment the poll was taken and the pollster to took it — of Americans favor the construction of a pipeline to conduct tar sand petroleum from Alberta, Canada to refineries in Louisiana and Texas.  The poll respondents have been told, and so believe, that the pipeline would create thousands of new jobs in an economy suffering from severe unemployment; would result in cheaper gasoline for their internal combustion machines and would “free us from dependence on foreign oil.”  None of this is true.  The jobs are phantoms: TransCanada, the company that wants to build the pipeline, originally said it would generate 5,000 to 6,500 jobs.  Even that number, according to an independent study by Cornell University, was high.  In exchange for the support of a powerful U.S. union, TransCanada signed a sweetheart deal with the Teamsters, who began propagating that 13,000 new jobs would result from the pipeline.  When other unions raised obvious environmental issues, the Teamsters upped the ante to 20,000 new jobs.  As the Senate prepared to vote on a proposal to mandate approval of the pipeline, its proponents magically divined 43,000 new jobs.  Absolutely nothing has changed since Trans Canada’s original bullshit guess of 5,000 to 6,500 new jobs.  But somehow the media accepted, and a majority of Americans believe, that 43,000 new jobs would be created out of thin air.  That’s stupid. 

Most Americans who believe in these phantom jobs haven’t the foggiest notion what would actually be conducted through the bloody pipeline.  Tar sands petroleum is NOT fluid; it’s a solid sludge loaded with carbon, the stuff that causes climate change when it’s discharged into the atmosphere.  The sludge has to be heated to more than 150 degrees f. and put under extremely high pressure to be forced through the 36-inch diameter pipeline.  The pipes are held together by seams.  Seams fail under high pressure.  And so, mile after mile, from Alberta to Louisiana, water tables and people on either side of the pipe seams are at  high risk of exposure to dangerous and extremely toxic leaks and spills.  A majority of Americans tell the pollsters they are in favor of this thing.

Which is not merely stupid.  It is utterly insane.

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"The doorstep to the temple of wisdom is a knowledge of our own ignorance" --Benjamin Franklin

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Please Don't Bother Us With Facts!

Americans love to be lied to.  This explains United States election results over the last four decades.

The less than perfect individual in the mirror takes on almost heroic dimensions amid unrelenting assurances that it is representative of American exceptionalism.  Wars that bleed our treasury and our youth seem almost noble amid unrelenting assurances that we’re making the world safe for democracy. Climate change is a lie made up by greedy  scientists who want big grants for their work.  Guns don’t kill, people do.  We are a Christian nation and God intended it that way.  Marriage is between a man and a woman; anything else is bestiality, as bad as buggering a donkey.  Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, Iran is making weapons of mass destruction and Syria used chemical weapons on its dissidents.  Cops can and should shoot every young black male who runs away with his hands up, wears a hoodie or menaces the neighborhood with Skittles.  There’s no such thing as too much oregano.

Remember Pearl Harbor, the Alamo and the Cold War:  Russians are bad.  Americans and their European puppets are good.  Thus when Obama and Putin rubbed shoulders the other day in China, even the supposedly left-leaning Huffington Post told us that relations between the two “have turned icy over Moscow’s backing of separatist violence” in Ukraine.  The AP reminded us of Russia's provocations in Ukraine.” 

A few inconvenient truths have been swept under the rug here.  Ukraine had a democratically-elected president who was more inclined to side with Russia than with the European Union and NATO.  The U.S. spent more than $5 billion — including sending a cadre of neo-Nazi thugs to Poland to be trained at a secret base in insurrectionist dirty tricks — to foment violence and effect a coup d’etat. The democratically-elected head of Ukraine sought asylum in Russia while the U.S. saw to the installation of Willie Wonka as its puppet in Kiev.  The people of Crimea, who have historically thought of themselves as Russian, voted — again, in  a fair, democratic process — to reattach themselves to the motherland.  The rest of the world knows this.  But Americans only know that the “problem” in Ukraine is Putin’s fault and, oh Pshaw!, we just might have to nuke the bastards.

Meanwhile, back in the zoo called Washington, Republicans think they have seized control of the legislative part of the government apparatus.  The same media who accept as fact Putin’s “provocations” in Ukraine have been telling us that this is so.  In fact, neither party controls much of anything. The country is run by same pack of filthy rich corporations and oligarchs who put Reagan in office. The government maintains a big, well-oiled machine that spews out for public consumption what the oligarchy wants us to hear.

A small part of that machine, called the  Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS),  told us recently  that the unemployment rate has declined to 5.8% and that 214,000 new jobs were created in October.  That, the media lemmings told us, is good news. What the media do NOT tell us is  us that the BLS statistics do NOT take account of the millions of Americans who have

become so discouraged from looking for jobs that do not exist, that they have quit looking.They are unemployed but not counted as unemployed.

Dr. Paul C. Roberts, a treasury department official in a Republican administration, knows how these things work. He writes:  

The uncounted unemployed can be measured in the sharp 21st century decline in the labor force participation rate. It has declined because there are no jobs to participate in. But Washington (and) the media  lie. They say the participation rate is down because the baby boomers are retiring. However, he participation rate of baby boomers is actually the highest of all and the only one that is rising. The reason is that with the Federal Reserve’s sole concern with the welfare of a small handful of mega-banks —the ones that sit on the board of the New York Federal Reserve Bank — real interest rates are negative. Therefore, retirees have no income from their retirement savings. To supplement their Social Security pensions (a rigged CPI prevents or minimizes cost-of-living increases), retirees take the temporary, lowly paid jobs that are all that the US economy can produce. These jobs do not provide sufficient income with which to form a household.

The US economy no longer creates First World jobs. The US economy creates jobs for waitresses and bartenders, hospital orderlies, and retail clerks. The complexion of the US work force is becoming Third World.
Look at the BLS payroll jobs report for October 2014:  209 thousand private jobs created and five thousand government jobs created. Where are the private jobs? Almost all of them–181,000–are in lowly paid private services. Retail trade with 27,100 jobs, wholesale trade with 8,500 jobs, and transportation and warehousing with 13,300 jobs and 48,900 jobs. With middle class retail stores closing and even dollar stores failing and with consumer income (except for the rich) and credit (except for student loans) shrinking, do you really believe that consumer spending supported almost 50,000 new jobs in October?

Where is the money coming from?

The vast amount of money that the Fed has created has gone into the handful of mega-banks to support the banks. The banks are not buying consumer goods.

The BLS reports that 37,000 new jobs were created in October in professional and business services. Employment services, such as temporary help services, account for 24,000 or 65% of these jobs.
Another old standby is education and health care services, which provided 41,000 new jobs. Health care and social assistance provided 27,200 of these jobs and home health care services provided 7,400 of these jobs. Together lowly paid services provided 84% of the jobs in health care services.

The major jobs sector in America (is) waitresses and bartenders. Waitresses and bartenders are classified under “leisure and hospitality,” which claims 52,000 new jobs in October.

Here are some other hidden, but disturbing, facts: In October job cuts rose 68% from the previous month and 12 percent from the previous year. So far there have been 414,591 job eliminations in 2014 with 51,183 of these coming in October.

Where are the job cuts? Retail store closings have produced 38,948 retail job reductions in 2014 with 6,874 of those coming in October. Yet, the BLS reports consistent job growth in retail jobs.  Hewlett Packard cut 5,000 jobs in October, bringing its year’s total to 21,000 lost jobs. Microsoft eliminated 6,509 jobs in October for a year to date layoff of 55,511, a rise of 92 % from 2013. In October the electronics industry cut 1,648 jobs, bringing the year to date loss to 18,153. The telecommunications industry cut 5,217 jobs, bringing the year to date loss to 20,038, an increase of 81% from 2013.

In other words, good-paying jobs are being replaced by low-paying jobs.

That, alas, is one of the inconvenient truths Americans don’t want to hear.  They want to hear the likes of Joni Ernst talk about her love affair with her 9 mm handgun.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Great American Snapshots

Somewhere in this benighted land a home is for sale — for $195 million and change.  Honest.  It’s owned, of course, by a one-percenter, an oligarch.  But despite its 5,000 square foot master bedroom suite (more than twice the size of my house), the owner never uses it.  He prefers his somewhat smaller ocean-front mansions.  He rents out the big place — for roughly half a million dollars per weekend.  Honest. The place has its own vineyard, but what you can do with a vineyard during a weekend rental I couldn’t say. 

The United States has more than 16 million children — nearly a quarter of all the children in the country — living in poverty.  They don’t get enough to eat. The electorate has just sent to its national legislature a slew of verifiable psychopaths dedicated to cutting off federal assistance to these kids.  

$195 million+ for a single house.  With a vineyard.

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Joni Ernst recently said she believes “there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq." A reporter asked what evidence she had. "My husband served in Saudi Arabia as the Army Central Command sergeant major for a year,” Ernst said.

Ernst was just elected to represent Iowa in the U.S. senate.

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Oklahoma has been represented for a long time in the Senate by James Inhofe.  He has said, “Much of the debate over global warming is predicated on fear, rather than science.” He is about to become chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee.  Be afraid. 

* * *

A fifth death has recently been registered as the result of a school shooting outside of Seattle.  Voters in the State of Washington last Tuesday approved stricter background checks on would-be gun purchasers.  Republican politicians are outraged at this violation of their rights.

* * *

I am not a scientist.  I want to chair the committee that approves the biology curriculum in my state’s high schools. 

* * *

My representative in Congress, who made his fortune in the oil and gas industry, opposes wind power.  Why? “Those windmills are ugly.” He was just re-elected.

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A guy who served in Reagan’s cabinet says Nixon was actually a liberal.  I’m actually a conservative. I say, keep all that oil and gas in the ground, where it's safe from terrorists.

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“I don't think it's government's job to find health care for people. I think it's the individual's job to find health care.”— Sen. Ted Cruz. “Frank” got down-sized out of a decent job just before his wife was diagnosed with an incurable terminal ailment. Now he’s pounding on doors asking for work — any kind of labor — to earn money for her treatments.  “Go out and find health care,” I told him.

* * *

No other country imposes the kind of costs on college and university students that the U.S. does, and nowhere else do loans cover so much of those costs. The $1.2 trillion in outstanding education debt in the U.S. is more than that of the rest of the world combined.

* * *

My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty  . . .”

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

It Is Time, My Grandchildren, to Go

My dear grandchildren:

I know that some of you worked hard to achieve a different result in  this election.  I know that most of you cast your ballots for the most qualified candidates.  I know that despite the overwhelming odds against you, you made some of the contests close.

But we awakened today needing to confront a sad reality.  None of you will ever live in a free, democratic United States.

I hope that those of you who can will become expatriates.  Political exile is not a formula for happiness, but it is arguably better than enslavement in a police state whose principal purpose is war and the engorgement of the richest few at the expense of the impoverished many.

Go, if you can.  Go to Holland, or France, or Germany or Switzerland. Go to one of the struggling Latin socialist democracies, struggling to keep our CIA from  from pulling off one of its dirty, ill-disguised coups de etat. Go to New Zealand. To Scotland. To Moscow, to work beside Edward Snowden. Anywhere that you can find breathing room. A remote Pacific island is no longer an option; soon it will lie beneath warmed, polluted seas. But go.

Here, there is no choice but to submit.  A weak, failed presidency is all that stands between you and enslavement.  The militarized police and octopoid national spy apparatus assure that no revolution can ever succeed. Protest or dissent will be ever more ruthlessly suppressed. The de facto legalization of torture will one day be formalized.  Stay and you will all become Winstons, betraying your Julias. Abstractions like justice, truth and ethical humanism will be banished from the state vocabulary as liberal treason, punishable by death or penal exile in some Guantanamo. There is no escape from this if you stay. It will only get worse, as it has been doing, with the process hastening, bit by bit, until we can realize the magnitude of our loss only by looking  far back in our history.  

The ruling oligarchy spent $3.7 billion or so — the most expensive election in our history, yet a paltry sum, petty cash, given their real wealth — to buy  this election.  The money wasn’t really spent, just recycled.  It was paid to the media to propagate lies, to brainwash a supine electorate.  Six huge companies, owned and run for the profit of oligarchs who are part of the ruling cabal, pocketed the money.  They will use it to perpetuate the mythology that blinds the people to the truth of how this country works, to continue the policies that make the rich richer, the poor poorer and to maintain an economy fed by the filthy lucre of endless war. It is a self-perpetuating machine, this ugly, dehumanizing system that governs us.

Stay and soon you will live in a nation without wildlife or wilderness, breathing increasingly polluted air and paying dearly for access to a privatized, diminishing supply of potable water.  This is a real fear, based in clinical probability, not the manufactured fear of bloody poop while being beheaded, as John Stewart mocked the lies to which we were recently exposed. Ebola?  What about frack-poisoned aquifers.  Radical Muslims?  What about radical, frighteningly ignorant right-wing politicians. 

We are close to life’s finish line, my mate and I.  “Our” government will gradually take away our retirement income, make our health care unaffordable and allow criminal bankers to raid our meager savings.  Odds are that we’ll die before the thugs can finish the job.

But you, beloved grandchildren, have a lot of life ahead of you.  Go while you can.  Go someplace where that life still has a bit of value beyond dollar signs.  There are better places than this.  Go to them.