Friday, September 28, 2012

Thank Gods It's FreyaDay!

Good day, Humans.

Today is the first Friday of fall.  The air should be crisp, clear and bracing.

I am pleased that it is autumn at last. Now for some frisky activity...

What do you mean it is nearly 80 degrees outside? It is autumn!

I am pleased that it is autumn at last. Now, weather: I expect you to cooperate!

Today is the first Friday of fall and I am pleased.

Thank gods it's FreyaDay!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Thorsday Tonic - Subway Serenade

A little slice of American life.  Enjoy!

The artist is Jessica Latshaw, and this was an impromptu jam session on a New York subway.

This video illustrates what is one of the best things about the USA. Every day, millions of people move through the streets of American cities and towns; people from diverse backgrounds and cultures. Our "melting pot" is more of a beautiful colorful swirl of amazing human potential.

When we look into each other's faces every day: on a bus or subway, at the corner gyro shop, over the counter at the neighborhood deli, across the aisle in a public school classroom, we begin to move out of our own little worlds and into the larger world of shared human experience. And we see that it can be awesome, that people are people even if they look or sound different from us. We can be citizens of this great country and we can enrich one another's lives.

Get to know your neighbors. Go out of your way to meet people of other cultures who have joined your community. That is the American spirit. It is what built this country and what still makes it great.

e pluribus unum

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

It's National Voter Registration Day!

You know what you need to do. Remind a friend - and your mom, dad, brothers and sisters and everyone else you know - but most of all, don't just sit there, DO IT!

( Links to more voter registration information at bottom of post.)

"In the United States, voter registration is the responsibility of the people, and only 70 percent of Americans who are eligible to vote have registered." (

Let's do the math: There are more than 300 million citizens of the United States. 30% of 300,000,000 is 90 million people.  Even if only half of those people are over 18 years old and eligible to vote, there would be 45 million eligible voters who have not yet registered to vote.

Among the 70% of eligible citizens who have registered to vote, the number who actually do vote is shockingly low. The per centage of actual voters by age cohort ranges from less than 30% for registered 18-29 year olds, to a high of just over 60% for 60-69 year olds.  There is not a single age cohort from age 18-49 years old which has a voting record of more than 40%.

Why is it that in a nation that fought a historic battle for independence - not to mention the right to representative self-government - so few of the people today actually exercise that right by voting?  In a world where self-government and constitutionally-guaranteed individual freedoms are a rare and precious commodity, it beggars belief that people who have it do not appear to cherish it and fail to guard it vigilantly. The assumption seems to be that gains once made can never be lost. But history teaches another, grimmer, lesson.

"...that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth." Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address.

There is a lot of talk right now about a tiny cabal of extremely wealthy and influential people pouring billions into the upcoming election in order to ensure an outcome which will suit their own interests and not those of the people of the United States. In a democratic Republic, the idea that wealthy or religious elites could rise to such power and influence that they could establish a de facto feudal economic system and authoritarian theocracy - almost exactly the conditions over which this country fought the War of Independence - could only be possible if a majority of the people allow it to happen, through ignorance, through apathy, through intimidation.

But the American people are made of sterner stuff than that.

Don't just stand it!
When all eligible voters in the country performed their civic duty at every election, and when all eligible voters made it their business to stay informed about the issues that face the nation, then it becomes far more difficult for any one group, no matter how well-organized and determined, to seize control of the government.

Make sure you are registered to vote. Don't assume that you are registered. During the primaries, thousands of people were shocked to discover that their names had been stricken from the voter lists without their knowledge. Florida has purged nearly 200,000 names from its voter list, including seniors and veterans. Pennsylvania is preparing to deny voting rights to nearly 10% of its eligible citizens.

Voter suppression threatens our Republic, but there are still enough voters to put a stop to it, if only every citizen who can vote, does so. There are as many eligible voters who do not vote as there are who do -more, in fact. Voter turnout could potentially be double what it has historically been. The current voter suppression tactics - ambitious though they undeniably are - would not disenfranchise enough people to overcome the will of the people if only the majority would take a stand, register now and vote in November.

Your vote counts. It really is that important.

Remind your friends and family to be sure to register and be sure to vote.

Resources for Eligible Voters:

Can I vote?  Need help with voting? You've come to the right place. This nonpartisan web site was created by state election officials to help eligible voters figure out how and where to go vote. Choose a category below to get started.

Rock the Vote   Rock the Vote is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization in the United States whose mission is to engage and build the political power of young people.

Our   Declare Yourself is a national nonpartisan, nonprofit campaign to empower and encourage every eligible 18-29 year-old in America to register and vote in local and national elections.

League of Women Voters  The League is proud to be nonpartisan, neither supporting nor opposing candidates or political parties at any level of government, but always working on vital issues of concern to members and the public.

Register To Vote. org  In the United States, voter registration is the responsibility of the people, and only 70 percent of Americans who are eligible to vote have registered. is a nonpartisan organization committed to reaching the remaining 30 percent. We simplify the voter registration process, making it faster and easier for you to get involved and become an active voice in our democracy.

24 Hours In An ER

via USAToday

This video was created in 2009, but many of the issues are still current, especially with Romney/Ryan talk of stripping away even more of the safety net that we, as a civil society, currently have in place.

Take An Ambulance to ER....Really?

Livin' the dream in the Romney/Ryan America! 

On CBS 60 Minutes Sunday night, Mitt Romney surprised viewers with the suggestion that the uninsured would not go unserved under the Romney/Ryan new world order. Of course there would still be access* to medical care for the uninsured and the under-insured! Instead of dying alone in a cold-water flat, a 70 year-old in cardiac arrest can always call an ambulance and be treated in an ER!

Never mind the pesky problem of the heart-attack or stroke victim possibly being unable to reach a telephone or to dial for help. That could happen to an insured person, too (although a person with insurance who is able to visit a doctor regularly is much more likely to have had not only preventative healthcare but also safety measures in place for just such an emergency). Concerns like that do not figure into the Romney/Ryan calculus for smaller government.

What do you mean gutting
Medicare could leave seniors
high and dry?
Let them take ambulances!
Never mind that an ER is, by its very definition, a triage area where waits can be several hours and any treatment given is only intended to stabilize patients until they can be seen by their regular physicians. Oops! Uninsured patients rarely have regular physicians! That heart attack patient will only be stabilized and then sent home with an expensive prescription for stopgap heart meds and/or blood thinners and a stern recommendation to see his (non-existent) regular physician ASAP for follow-up care regarding actual treatment, surgical options and more personally-tailored drug therapy to treat the underlying condition - all prohibitively expensive for the uninsured. In other words, the patient will go home in almost the same condition in which he arrived and he probably will not receive any actual medical care for his underlying cardio-pulmonary disease.

Never mind that not only is the ER not the place for regular, preventative and wellness "health care", but when the patient receives the bills for that ambulance and ER visit (often thousands of dollars for ambulance transport and ER visit, not counting prescription medications), it could very well bring on the fatal heart attack that will finish him off. Of course, in the Romney/Ryan calculus, this may very well be a positive collateral effect.

Never mind all that. We ought to focus on the economic implications of candidate Romney's blithe assurance that no one need ever go without medical care under a Romny/Ryan regime because "we pick them up in an ambulance, and take them to the hospital".

ER treatment is among the most expensive of medical services and unpaid ER bills are one of the drivers of rising medical costs which make the USA the leader in the world in inefficient spending on healthcare. The vexing problem of the poor and the uninsured using the ER as a healthcare facility was one of the things Governor Romney cited as a good reason for passing his universal healthcare law in Massachusetts. Yet, now he describes it as an option for the proposed Romney/Ryan federal revamp of medicare and medicaid? How exactly does Mr. Romney think such an expensive form of medical attention will save taxpayers money?

Pimp my ride - ambulance edition!
Of course, he probably knows very well that such a backup "plan" for the uninsured makes no sense at all from a fiscal perspective, which makes it even more ridiculous coming from the candidate who claims he will run America like a successful business.  One is tempted to believe that Mr. Romney will say almost anything to avoid giving the President any credit at all for the improvements to healthcare made possible by the Affordable Care Act.

Perhaps Mr. Romney's stunning announcement was a secret message to the bottom 47% - those whom he is "not going to worry about" - that he plans to look the other way while all you freeloaders out there cash in on taxpayer largesse. After all, Mitt has already told us that millions of Americans - nearly half of the entire population, in fact! - are inveterate moochers, impervious to the efforts of productive citizens like Mitt and Bain Capital to get them to be responsible for their own lives. What can anyone expect, Mitt seems to imply, of the feckless rabble of incorrigibly lazy takers?

The Romney/Ryan plan for the future of America is one which not only repeals the Affordable Healthcare Act, but one which goes much further, ending current Medicare and Medicaid programs, too. But, Lord Romney does not see that as something the 47% ought to be complaining about. After all, if he and Paul Ryan succeed in getting elected, the soon-to-be uninsured seniors, veterans and poor children - like Reagan's "welfare queens" - still can (and probably will, damn them!)  ride in style to the ER since they probably won't have the decency to just expire in their slovenly digs and get off the taxpayer dime.  It's pimp my ride - ambulance edition!

No Health Insurance? No Problem. Romney Says That Freeloading In the ER Is Now All Good, Rick Ungar, Forbes Magazine, September 24, 2012.

Hey, maybe Gramps can mooch a
free scooter from the taxpayers, too.
What d'you say, Mitt?
Apparently, when 2002 Mitt Romney decided to divorce himself and split into two, distinct entities, the ‘other’ Mitt Romney gained possession of the Governor’s cognitive skills —including the ability to recall why Romney supported the Massachusetts universal care effort in the first place. It was, after all, 2002 Mitt Romney who often highlighted the inefficiency of emergency room care as the sole option for uninsured Massachusetts residents, allowing them to get free care while those who are insured are left to pay the bill.

It would also appear that it was the ‘other’ Mitt Romney who gained custody of the understanding that while our laws require emergency rooms to treat patients in an effort to stabilize their health condition, the law does not require the treatment that can ultimately restore all of these patients to health.

Mitt Romney, On 60 Minutes, Cites Emergency Room As Healthcare Option For The Uninsured, Huffington Post, September 24, 2012.

"Well, we do provide care for people who don't have insurance," he said in an interview with Scott Pelley of CBS's "60 Minutes" that aired Sunday night. "If someone has a heart attack, they don't sit in their apartment and die. We pick them up in an ambulance, and take them to the hospital, and give them care. And different states have different ways of providing for that care."

This constitutes a dramatic reversal in position for Romney, who passed a universal health care law in Massachusetts, in part, to eliminate the costs incurred when the uninsured show up in emergency rooms for care. Indeed, in both his book and in high-profile interviews during the campaign, Romney has touted his achievement in stamping out these inefficiencies while arguing that the same thing should be done at the national level.

Romney's New Health Plan: Go to the ER, Jonathan Cohn, The New Republic, September 24, 2012.

Not kidding, America.
It’s possible to believe simultaneously that ERs provide care to everybody who needs it and that they are an inefficient, expensive way to do that. But the Romney who made that statement in 2010 was making the case for having government do more to cover the uninsured, while the Romney who made that statement yesterday was making the case for having government do less.

And that’s really the most important point of all. Remember, Romney doesn’t simply want to repeal the Affordable Care Act, effectively taking health insurance away from 30 million people who, starting in 2014, are likely to get it from the law. He also wants to end Medicaid, making cuts that would leave between 14 and 27 million additional people without insurance. And he wants to change the tax treatment of employer health benefits, in ways that could make coverage more expensive or harder to get.

Medicare, Just Elderly Welfare Queens: And What IS Insurance Anyway? Heartland Liberal, Daily Kos, September 24, 2012.

What we are talking about here is the attempt by the Republicans to demote and denigrate the elderly on Medicare to the status of welfare queens. After all, they have been so successful with their past campaigns of demonization of target segments of the electorate, recently upping the ante and telling us that unions, teachers, firemen and policeman are the great drain on the economy, why stop now?

But it occurs to me what is totally missing from the Republican definition of the problem is the very simple and straightforward issue of just what is medical health insurance, anyway?

The Republicans seem to think that everyone, even those Americans at the poverty level, if they just set aside enough savings, will have plenty of money to cover all their medical expenses. After all, isn't personal responsibility the watchword of the Republicans?

But that is not how medical insurance works. That is never how it has worked, since it's current incarnation started really less than 100 years ago, nor is it how any insurance works.

*Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, U.S. Act of Congress, 1986 (wikipedia)

The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) is a U.S. Act of Congress passed in 1986 as part of the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). It requires hospitals to provide care to anyone needing emergency healthcare treatment regardless of citizenship, legal status or ability to pay. There are no reimbursement provisions. Participating hospitals may only transfer or discharge patients needing emergency treatment under their own informed consent, after stabilization, or when their condition requires transfer to a hospital better equipped to administer the treatment.

Move over, Welfare Queens! Granny the ER Queen is on a roll! (photo via daughternumberthree)

Monday, September 24, 2012

Voter Suppression Tactics Intensify

Update of news on voter suppression tactics:

Voter Harassment, Circa 2012, editorial, New York Times, September 21,2012.

In an ostensible hunt for voter fraud, a Tea Party group, True the Vote, descends on a largely minority precinct and combs the registration records for the slightest misspelling or address error. It uses this information to challenge voters at the polls, and though almost every challenge is baseless, the arguments and delays frustrate those in line and reduce turnout.
The thing that’s different from the days of overt discrimination is the phony pretext of combating voter fraud. Voter identity fraud is all but nonexistent, but the assertion that it might exist is used as an excuse to reduce the political rights of minorities, the poor, students, older Americans and other groups that tend to vote Democratic.

Voter fraud and its discontents: Restricting the franchise, J.F. (Atlanta), The Economist, September 11, 2012.

The national elections coordinator of True the Vote, for instance, a Texas-based group that wants to train 1m observers to fan out around the country as a guard against voter fraud (an exceedingly rare phenomenon) has said that he wants to make voters feel that they are "driving and seeing the police follow" them. Its parent group, the King Street Patriots, was accused of intimidating voters in predominantly minority districts in Houston. The president of Judicial Watch, another conservative group raising alarms about voter fraud, says Barack Obama wants "to register the food-stamp army to vote for him" (if an army, as is often said, marches on its stomach, the food-stamp army should inspire little fear).

Bullies at the Ballot Box: Protecting the Freedom to Vote Against Wrongful Challenges and Intimidation, Liz Kennedy, et al, Démos: Common Cause report, September 10, 2012.

Protecting the freedom to vote for all eligible Americans is of fundamental importance in a democracy founded upon the consent of the governed. One of the most serious threats to the protection of that essential right is the increase in organized efforts, led by groups such as the Tea Party affiliated True the Vote and others, to challenge voters’ eligibility at the polls and through pre-election challenges. Eligible Americans have a civic duty to vote, and government at the federal, state, and local level has a responsibility to protect voters from illegal interference and intimidation. 

As we approach the 2012 elections, every indication is that we will see an unprecedented use of voter challenges. Organizers of True the Vote claim their goal is to train one million poll watchers to challenge and confront other Americans as they go to the polls in November. They say they want to make the experience of voting “like driving and seeing the police following you.”1 There is a real danger that voters will face overzealous volunteers who take the law into their own hands to target voters they deem suspect. But there is no place for bullies at the ballot box. (Full report here)

Looking, Very Closely, For Voter Fraud, Stephanie Saul, New York Times, September 16, 2012.

Earlier this year, (Jay DeLancy, Voter Integrity Project of North Carolina) challenged more than 500 registered voters who he said were not American citizens. After reviewing the challenges, election officials refuted most of them, but confirmed that three were noncitizens who had registered improperly. One had voted.
Mr. DeLancy said he was convinced that the elections agency overlooked many noncitizen voters.
“They want me to look stupid and to look like I’m wasting taxpayer money,” Mr. DeLancy said.
He said he split from True the Vote partly because the group raised concerns about focusing on immigrants. “They’re not wanting to be branded some kind of anti-immigrant activist group,” Mr. DeLancy said.
Mr. DeLancy said he made challenges after comparing voting rolls with citizenship information in jury duty records.

Wait!  Don't skip this post because you've been registered to vote forever and are pretty sure it doesn't apply to you. Even if you think you are registered to vote. Even if you have been voting for decades, please take a moment to ensure that you are, in fact, still registered to vote, and that you are sure of where your polling place will be. Many polling places have been changed this year, and the communication with the public has been spotty at best and deliberately bad at worst.

Recent news about Republican attempts to suppress the vote highlights just how important it is for citizens to pay attention to what those in power are doing.  Voter suppression has become the most egregious of the tactics in a campaign pockmarked with slimy pits of lies, disinformation and outright intimidation.

It is not just imperative that Americans "get out the vote" this year, but it is now necessary to ensure that citizens' legal right to vote is protected from a campaign to disenfranchise even longtime voters who have no reason to think their voter registration would be problematic. Seniors, disabled citizens who do not and cannot have a driver's license, and millions of poor working Americans - for whom acquiring the notarized documentation, filling out the legal paperwork, paying fees and taking time away from their jobs to file for government IDs present insurmountable hurdles - all face potential disenfranchisement in the upcoming election.

Republicans continue to argue disingenuously that they are protecting voter rights by placing more and more roadblocks in the way of the poor, the elderly and the disabled because, they claim, they are protecting us all from potential voter fraud. Repeated studies and investigations into voter fraud have proven that it is exceedingly rare, and that the threat that potential voter fraud poses to the electoral process is minimal. Conversely, the potential for harm to the democratic process resulting from voter suppression practices is very high. In third world countries, American observers stand by to ensure that evidence of voter intimidation and suppression can be recorded and publicized. Who is watching out for the same thing in the USA?

This is a democratic Republic and it is the right and the duty of citizens to protect our own rights and freedoms. Knowledge is power, but action is even more powerful. Let's start paying attention, spreading the word, and mobilizing our fellow citizens to hold our government representatives accountable when they overstep the bounds and try to impede our right to vote.

First stop: knowledge.  To wit:

ACLU on voter suppression:

"During the 2011 legislative sessions, states across the country passed measures to make it harder for Americans – particularly African-Americans, the elderly, students and people with disabilities – to exercise their fundamental right to cast a ballot. Over thirty states considered laws that would require voters to present government-issued photo ID in order to vote. Studies suggest that up to 11 percent of American citizens lack such ID, and would be required to navigate the administrative burdens to obtain it or forego the right to vote entirely."

Rolling Stone   Ari Berman's excellent article on Florida's purge of voter rolls to suppress Democratic vote:

"Imagine this: a Republican governor in a crucial battleground state instructs his secretary of state to purge the voting rolls of hundreds of thousands of allegedly ineligible voters. The move disenfranchises thousands of legally registered voters, who happen to be overwhelmingly black and Hispanic Democrats. The number of voters prevented from casting a ballot exceeds the margin of victory in the razor-thin election, which ends up determining the next President of the United States.

If this scenario sounds familiar, that’s because it happened in Florida in 2000. And twelve years later, just months before another presidential election, history is repeating itself."

CBS  Lucy Madison reports of mass mailings and robo-calls falsely telling voters that they should not or could not vote in the June 5 Wisconsin recall election.

"(CBS News) As voters head to the polls Tuesday to decide the fate of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, reports out of the state suggest that robocalls are being placed informing voters, falsely, they don't have to vote if they signed the recall petition.

There have also been reports of mailings going out to voters telling them they can't vote unless they did so in 2010, and of people going door-to-door telling voters they don't have to go to the polls if they signed the recall petition, both of which are also untrue."

Raw Story offers a disturbing national roundup of stories from numerous states whose Republican governments are pulling out all the stops to disenfranchise voters. One excerpt (from LAWeekly):

"In a brazen attempt to steal this fall's election, Florida's Republican lawmakers have outlawed voting on Sunday, an African-American tradition. Indeed, across the United States, from Montana to Maine and Texas to Tennessee, 41 states have recently passed or introduced laws to restrict voter registration and early voting, and generally limit suffrage.

It's the greatest show of racially fueled political chicanery since turn-of-the-century laws banned scores of African-Americans from casting ballots. More than 5 million voters — largely nonwhite — could be kept from the polls, according to New York University's Brennan Center for Justice:

'State governments across the country enacted an array of new laws that could make it significantly harder for as many as 5 million eligible Americans to vote. Some states require voters to show government-issued photo identification, often of a type that as many as one in ten voters do not have. Other states have cut back on early voting, a hugely popular innovation used by millions of Americans. Still others made it much more difficult for citizens to register to vote, a prerequisite for voting'. "

Don't be caught off guard by voter suppression tactics. Go online and be sure that your voter registration is secure and that you will not be disenfranchised this November.  Here are some handy links to information and resources:

FAQs About Voting, Smart Voter (League of Women Voters).

USA Gov. page on voting information, including a link to voter registration deadlines by state and easy-to-navigate information links to answers for frequently asked questions about voting, registration, voting from overseas, working on elections and trouble-shooting.

USA Gov Resources for voters

Brennan Center of Justice Election 2012, information for voters and resources for assistance with barriers to your right to vote.

Resources for Eligible Voters:

Can I vote?  Need help with voting? You've come to the right place. This nonpartisan web site was created by state election officials to help eligible voters figure out how and where to go vote. Choose a category below to get started.

Rock the Vote   Rock the Vote is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization in the United States whose mission is to engage and build the political power of young people.

Our   Declare Yourself is a national nonpartisan, nonprofit campaign to empower and encourage every eligible 18-29 year-old in America to register and vote in local and national elections.

League of Women Voters  The League is proud to be nonpartisan, neither supporting nor opposing candidates or political parties at any level of government, but always working on vital issues of concern to members and the public.

Register To Vote. org  In the United States, voter registration is the responsibility of the people, and only 70 percent of Americans who are eligible to vote have registered. is a nonpartisan organization committed to reaching the remaining 30 percent. We simplify the voter registration process, making it faster and easier for you to get involved and become an active voice in our democracy.

Common  Common Cause is a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization founded in 1970 by John Gardner as a vehicle for citizens to make their voices heard in the political process and to hold their elected leaders accountable to the public interest...Now with nearly 400,000 members and supporters and 35 state organizations, Common Cause remains committed to honest, open and accountable government, as well as encouraging citizen participation in democracy.    

Here is a 2008 video about voter suppression tactics which is depressingly prescient - it is a brief but thorough overview of the methods and traps used to suppress the legitimate right of American citizens to vote. Please watch and share:

Isn't That Just Ducky!

Hello! Excuse me, I need to just...

What? What is that? Something scurried behind this pot!

It was a chipmunk, I bet! I think a chipmunk ran back here.

What? What's this I am sniffing? Is it a turkey feather?

I still think it was a chipmunk. Come out of there, chipmunk!

Excuse me, I am very busy today.

Isn't that just Ducky!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Emancipation Proclamation - 150th Anniversary

Yesterday, September 22, was the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.

A turning point for freedom in America, 150 years later, Donna Brazile, CNN, September 22, 2012.

This fall, the descendants of slaves, millions of ethnic and religious minorities from other lands, African-Americans and immigrants -- Latinos, Asians, Europeans -- and women, as well as working- and middle-class Americans, will decide whether to claim their future. We are all in this together.
All Americans will have a chance to move Lincoln's vision forward to help close the opportunity gap, to end the economic inequality resulting from government policies that favor a handful over the many who work equally hard. Abraham Lincoln would be proud to see the progress we have made. But he also would understand that there is still more work to do. Together.
Claim it.

President Obama's Emancipation Proclamation,  Ray Errol Fox and Jacopo della Quercia, Huffington Post, September 22, 2012.

Not for the first time in our nation's fractious history of presidential elections, we are debating what it means to be free in The United States of America. Not for the first time, a U.S. President is arguably staking his mandate to lead the country on the body politic interpretation of the freedom of the individual. And, not for the first time, but presumably for the last time, "We the People" are coming to grips with Thomas Jefferson's seemingly unassailable dictum that "all men are created equal."

By becoming the first U.S. President to come out in support of same-sex marriage, President Obama has boldly illuminated bone-deep and often ugly differences of opinion dividing Americans, and exposed them to open civil discussion. Comparisons to Abraham Lincoln and his stand on slavery a century and a half ago are ample and inescapable.

Lincoln's Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation of 1862, and the course of US History, Stanley Harrold, The Times and Democrat, September 22, 2012.
Critics at the time and since have pointed out that the Final Proclamation did not affect slavery in the border slave states, or in portions of the Confederacy occupied by Union troops. Yet, with the Final Proclamation, slavery could not survive in the Border South. More important, from Jan. 1, 1863, onward, Northern troops fought for black freedom as well as preservation of the Union. Slaves became free immediately as Union armies advanced into Confederate territory. The war to restore the Union as it had been before December 1860 ended on Jan. 1, 1863. An old U.S. Constitution that recognized slavery died; a new Constitution that recognized black freedom stirred to life. The Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments formalized this change. Black freedom suffered a terrible setback as Reconstruction ended in failure. It took the mid-20th-century’s civil rights movement to revive that freedom and extend it.

Still, without the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, the path to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 may have been much different and more difficult.

Lincoln's Great Gamble, Richard Striner, New York Times Opinionator, September 21, 2012.

Lincoln’s gamble was dangerous indeed. But he did what he believed he had to do. It was not, in the end, a political calculation. According to the diary of Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, Lincoln told his cabinet on Sept. 22 he had made a promise to God. “He had made a vow, a covenant,” Welles recounted, “that if God gave us the victory in the approaching battle, he would . . . move forward in the cause of emancipation.”

And so the stakes of the war would be raised to a level commensurate with all of the carnage and all of the sacrifice. The meaning of the war would be changed — forever changed — by Lincoln’s proclamation.

Freedom and Restraint, John Fabian Witt, The Opinion Pages, New York Times, September 21, 2012.

The pocket-size pamphlet quickly became the blueprint for a new generation of treaties, up to the Geneva Conventions of 1949. Strong nations like Prussia and France had long suspected that law-of-war initiatives were little more than maneuvering by weaker countries and closet pacifists hoping to make war more difficult. Lincoln’s code broke that diplomatic logjam: It contained no hidden European agenda, and no one could accuse the Lincoln administration of trying to hold back strong armies.

Sunday Inspiration - Tim Minchin's Storm

                             Tim Minchin's musical and philosophical genius via stormmovie.

"Science adjusts it’s views based on what’s observed.
Faith is the denial of observation so that Belief can be preserved."
Tim Minchin, Storm.

It is actually a beautiful, calm, sunny Sunday morning here in the midwest. I was hoping for a nice dark and stormy night to post this, but this video and the Sunday inspiration contained within is impossible to pass up in spite of the inconveniently pleasant weather.

This is an account of the kind of thing experienced by many scientifically-literate humanists. Tim Minchin describes the unexpected confrontation, the attempt to simply keep one's head down and not make waves, and the ultimate inability to stay quiet in the face of egregious and even harmful lies.

Many of us have had this uncomfortable experience, and few of us can manage to stay quiet right to the end of the evening. Tim couldn't either, but his magnificent rant is worth the outburst.

And he does it all with that pitch perfect, amazingly talented Tim Minchin humour!

Sit back, read, listen and enjoy.


Inner North London, top floor flat
All white walls, white carpet, white cat,
Rice Paper partitions, modern art and ambition
The host’s a physician,
Bright bloke, has his own practice
His girlfriend’s an actress, an old mate of ours from home
And they’re always great fun, so to dinner we’ve come.

The 5th guest is an unknown,
The hosts have just thrown us together for a favour 'cause this girl’s just arrived from Australia
And she's moved to North London and she’s the sister of someone or has some connection.

As we make introductions I’m struck by her beauty
She’s irrefutably fair with dark eyes and dark hair
But as she sits, I admit I’m a little bit wary 'cause I notice the tip of the wing of a fairy tattooed on that popular area just above the derrière
And when she says “I’m Sagittarian”, I confess a pigeonhole starts to form
And is immediately filled with pigeon when she says her name is Storm.

Conversation is initially bright and light hearted but it’s not long before Storm gets started:
“You can’t know anything, knowledge is merely opinion!”
She opines, over her Cabernet Sauvignon, vis-à-vis some unhippily empirical comment by me.

“Not a good start” I think
We’re only on pre-dinner drinks
And across the room, my wife widens her eyes, silently begs me: “Be Nice”
A matrimonial warning not worth ignoring
So I resist the urge to ask Storm whether knowledge is so loose-weave of a morning when deciding whether to leave her apartment by the front door
Or the window on her second floor.

The food is delicious and Storm, whilst avoiding all meat happily sits and eats
As the good doctor, slightly pissedly holds court on some anachronistic aspect of medical history
When Storm suddenly insists:
“But the human body is a mystery! Science just falls in a hole when it tries to explain the the nature of the soul.”

My hostess throws me a glance
She, like my wife, knows there’s a chance I’ll be off on one of my rare but fun rants but I shan't
My lips are sealed, I just wanna enjoy the meal
And although Storm is starting to get my goat I have no intention of rocking the boat
Although it’s becoming a bit of a wrestle because - like her meteorological namesake - Storm has no such concerns for our vessel:

“Pharmaceutical companies are the enemy
They promote drug dependency at the cost of the natural remedies that are all our bodies need
They are immoral and driven by greed.
Why take drugs when herbs can solve it?
Why use chemicals when homeopathic solvents can resolve it?
I think it’s time we all return-to-live with natural medical alternatives.”

And try as I like, a small crack appears in my diplomacy-dike.
“By definition”, I begin,
“Alternative Medicine”, I continue,
“Has either not been proved to work, or been proved not to work.
Do you know what they call 'alternative medicine' that’s been proved to work?

“So you don’t believe in any natural remedies?”

“On the contrary Storm, actually
Before I came to tea, I took a remedy derived from the bark of a willow tree
A painkiller that’s virtually side-effect free
It’s got a weird name, Darling, what was it again?
M-masprin? Basprin? Oh yeah! Asprin!
Which I paid about a buck for down at the local drugstore.

The debate briefly abates as our hosts collects plates
But as they return with desserts Storm pertly asserts:
“Shakespeare said it first:
There are more things in heaven and earth than exist in your philosophy…
Science is just how we’re trained to look at reality,
It doesn't explain love or spirituality.
How does science explain psychics? Auras? The afterlife? The power of prayer?”

I’m becoming aware that I’m staring, I’m like a rabbit suddenly trapped in the blinding headlights of vacuous crap.
Maybe it’s the Hamlet she just misquothed or the 5th glass of wine I just quaffed
But my diplomacy dike groans and the arsehole held back by its stones can be held back no more:

“Look , Storm, sorry I don’t mean to bore you but there’s no such thing as an aura!
Reading Auras is like reading minds or tea-leaves or star-signs or meridian lines
These people aren’t applying a skill, they're either lying or mentally ill.
Same goes for people who claim they hear God’s demands or Spiritual healers who think they've magic hands.

By the way, why do we think it is it OK for people to pretend they can talk to the dead?
Isn't that totally fucked in the head?
Lying to some crying woman whose child has died and telling her you’re in touch with the other side?
I think that’s fundamentally sick
Do we need to clarify here that there’s no such thing as a psychic?

What are we, fucking 2?
Do we actually think that Horton Heard a Who?
Do we still believe that Santa brings us gifts?
That Michael Jackson didn’t had facelifts?
Are we still so stunned by circus tricks that we think that the dead would wanna talk to pricks like John Edwards?

Storm to her credit despite my derision keeps firing off clichés with startling precision like a sniper using bollocks for ammunition

“You’re so sure of your position but you’re just closed-minded
I think you’ll find that your faith in Science and Tests is just as blind as the faith of any fundamentalist”

“Wow that’s a good point, let me think for a bit.
Oh wait, my mistake, that's absolute bullshit.
Science adjusts it’s views based on what’s observed.
Faith is the denial of observation so that Belief can be preserved.
If you show me that, say, homeopathy works, then I will change my mind
I’ll spin on a fucking dime
I’ll be embarrassed as hell, but I will run through the streets yelling
'It’s a miracle! Take physics and bin it!
Water has memory! And while it’s memory of a long lost drop of onion juice seems Infinite
It somehow forgets all the poo it’s had in it!'

You show me that it works and how it works
And when I’ve recovered from the shock
I will take a compass and carve 'Fancy That' on the side of my cock.”

Everyone's just staring now,
But I’m pretty pissed and I’ve dug this far down,
So I figure, in for penny, in for a pound:

“Life is full of mysteries, yeah
But there are answers out there
And they won’t be found by people sitting around looking serious and saying 'Isn’t life mysterious?'
'Let’s sit here and hope.
Let’s call up the fucking Pope.
Let’s go watch Oprah interview Deepak Chopra.'

If you wanna watch tele, you should watch Scooby Doo.
That show was so cool because every time there was a church with a ghoul or a ghost in a school
They looked beneath the mask and what was inside?
The fucking janitor or the dude who ran the waterslide.
Because throughout history every mystery ever solved has turned out to be
Not Magic.

Does the idea that there might be knowledge frighten you?
Does the idea that one afternoon on Wiki-fucking-pedia might enlighten you frighten you?
Does the notion that there may not be a supernatural so blow your hippy noodle that you'd rather just stand in the fog of your inability to Google?

Isn’t this enough?

Just this world?

Just this beautiful, complex, wonderfully unfathomable, natural world?
How does it so fail to hold our attention that we have to diminish it with the invention of cheap, man-made myths and monsters?
If you’re so into your Shakespeare, lend me your ear:
“To gild refined gold, to paint the lily, to throw perfume on the violet… is just fucking silly”
Or something like that.
Or what about Satchmo?!
“I see trees of Green,
Red roses too,”
And fine, if you wish to glorify Krishna and Vishnu in a post-colonial, condescending bottled-up and labeled kind of way then whatever, that’s ok.
But here’s what gives me a hard-on:
I am a tiny, insignificant, ignorant bit of carbon.
I have one life, and it is short and unimportant…
But thanks to recent scientific advances I get to live twice as long as my great great great great uncleses and auntses.
Twice as long to live this life of mine
Twice as long to love this wife of mine
Twice as many years of friends and wine
Of sharing curries and getting shitty at good-looking hippies with fairies on their spines and butterflies on their titties.

And if perchance I have offended
Think but this and all is mended:
We’d as well be 10 minutes back in time, for all the chance you’ll change your mind.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Edge of the Earth

via Newfoundland Labrador

"The people of the Flat Earth Society believe that this place is one of the four corners of the world...

... the very edge of the earth.

Ah now, that's just foolishness.

Isn't it?"

This beautiful brief video is balm to the weary spirit on the first day of autumn.  I wonder if, when the late-20th century murmurings of revisionist history and anti-science began, did people similarly think it was not something to be taken seriously?

The lure of myth, legend and what the heart wants to believe when overwhelmed - with beauty or with fear or with awe - is a very powerful thing. What is true often hasn't a chance when it is held up against what people prefer to believe.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Tough Week For Mitt (That's "Lord Romney" To You)

Confused, perplexed and coldly furious: Mitt feels entitled to win, dammit!

The infamous $50,000 a plate dinner video (47% video turning point?) has been discussed a lot this week - and I hope people will continue to discuss it. The usual tendency for the media to move on after important revelations have been discussed for a day or two must be resisted because this is a story of ongoing relevance. The video and Republican reactions to it (44% of Republicans polled by Gallup said the "47%" remarks made them more likely to vote for Romney) was a glimpse into the raw, unvarnished truth about the attitude and motivations of not only Mitt Romney but also of his supporters.

"And to think I spent 30 years building that before
I got laid off four years ago." (Jeff Parker)
There really is a class war going on in the United States. It is a war being waged by the wealthiest 1% - individual citizens and "corporate citizens" - on the middle class and the poor. In this war, the most privileged and powerful class has mobilized every weapon in its impressive arsenal against the millions of Americans whose labour produced the very wealth the elite now crows they "built" the old-fashioned way.  Millions of middle class and poor working Americans are beginning to wake up to the fact that the system is rigged against them: that Reaganomics ushered in thirty years of so-called "business-friendly" government which has been nothing short of catastrophic for the American working class. The awakening giant that is the American workforce is the nightmare that haunts the 1%.

A mobilized majority of working Americans who understand that they have been had, and who can still vote (hopefully) for real change which will benefit them and millions of their fellow Americans poses a real threat to the corporate elite's control over the wealth of the nation. Romney understands this and his powerful backers expect him to reverse the tide and subjugate the masses to the service of the wealthy once and for all.

But perhaps the most sickening revelation from Romney's remarks was what it revealed about who the candidate really is, and what kind of people his candidacy is meant to represent. One of the most pernicious effects of the widening gulf between rich and poor in the United States is the revival of the old European aristocratic notion that those who are poor and struggling are in that position because of their own inherent moral failings (laziness, stupidity, weak character, perhaps even genetic inferiority) - the corollary to which is that those who are rich and successful are in that position because of their inherent moral superiority (industriousness, intelligence, integrity and perhaps even genetic superiority). Those people are where they are because they are simply lesser people; they choose to be in that position (welfare queens, freeloaders, moochers). The contemporary buzzword for this self-serving attitude is "meritocracy" - and it allows no room for consideration of the fact that few people start out on a level playing field.

Cartoon by John Branch
The barely leashed disdain for those less fortunate than himself is at the core of all of Mitt Romney's actions. He will not discuss his various "plans" to restore America to prosperity because he does not think he ought to have to explain himself to anyone, least of all to those people. He is outraged that he has been asked to show his tax returns because he believes that he is above other people and should not be subjected to the same scrutiny that other candidates willingly undergo. How dare those people try to treat him like just any ordinary American. He is not an ordinary American, by god, he is an American aristocrat! He literally believes that he should be given the trust, the admiration and the votes of the people because in his own mind, he is entitled to these things.

The lesson we should take away from every contemptible revelation about the true character of Mitt Romney this week is this:  here is a man who really believes that the Presidency of the United States is his own personal entitlement.

A roundup of the week's best coverage:

SECRET VIDEO: Romney Tells Millionaire Donors What he REALLY Thinks About Obama Voters, Mother Jones, September 17, 2012.

Here was Romney raw and unplugged—sort of unscripted. With this crowd of fellow millionaires, he apparently felt free to utter what he really believes and would never dare say out in the open. He displayed a high degree of disgust for nearly half of his fellow citizens, lumping all Obama voters into a mass of shiftless moochers who don't contribute much, if anything, to society, and he indicated that he viewed the election as a battle between strivers (such as himself and the donors before him) and parasitic free-riders who lack character, fortitude, and initiative. 

Yet Romney explained to his patrons that he could not speak such harsh words about Obama in public, lest he insult those independent voters who sided with Obama in 2008 and whom he desperately needs in this election. These were sentiments not to be shared with the voters; it was inside information, available only to the select few who had paid for the privilege of experiencing the real Romney.
(David Corn)

Mitt Romney and Taxes: Two Kinds of Two-Step, M.S., The Economist, September 18, 2012.

So, back off, Moochers.
Here's the thing: the effects of income tax in discouraging work are far stronger at the low end of the income spectrum than at the high end. The logic behind the flat personal exemptions in the tax code, and behind the earned-income tax credit, is that you end up with huge numbers of otherwise-dependent poor people entering the labour force and working productively if you tip the scales in their benefit. That's why the Clinton administration expanded the EITC, and it's been very successful. 

But the genius of the "they-don't-pay-income-taxes" complaint is that it takes the tax cuts that were implemented in order to get poor people off of welfare and encourage them to work, and uses them to accuse poor people of being shiftless and dependent on government. This creates a sort of permanent resentment machine, a renewable fuel source for class warfare of the rich against the poor.

And so we switch smoothly from one tax two-step to another. Do-si-do your partner and sashay down. (M.S.)

Does Romney Dislike America?  E.J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post, September 19, 2012.

Oh, EJ! Romney only dislikes the America where
all citizens expect a fair shot at success in life;
Mitt Romney loves the America that provided
the tax breaks, resources and cheap labour
that made him and his elite class rich and powerful.
You know, America the Republicans intend to
take back.
The most incisive reaction to Mitt Romney’s disparaging comments about 47 percent of us came from a conservative friend who e-mailed: “If I were you, I’d wonder why Romney hates America so much.”

A bit strong, perhaps. But the more you think about what Romney said, the more you wonder how he really feels about the country he wants to lead. 

What kind of nation are we if nearly half of us are lazy, self-indulgent moochers who will never be persuaded to mend our ways? “I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives,” Romney said, thus writing off a huge share of our citizenry. (E.J.Dionne Jr.)

Mitt's Snake-Bit Season, Gail Collins, New York Times, September 20, 2012.

You may be wondering whatever became of Ryan, who was such a big sensation when Romney first picked him as a running mate. Since Tampa, he seems to have fallen off the face of the earth, resurfacing every now and then to put up another ad for re-election to his House seat in Wisconsin.

It’s not all that unusual for a vice-presidential candidate to go low-profile. And it is totally not true that Mitt Romney strapped Paul Ryan to the top of a car and drove him to Canada. Stop spreading rumors! (Gail Collins)

 Mitt earned everything he has the old-fashioned way:
by being born into wealth and privilege just like
 princes and nobles did before the American notions
of equality, liberty and the idea of 
a social contract
 changed the world. 
It Takes One To Know One, Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times, September 20, 2012.

Another illustration of radicalizing self-delusion comes when the son of a governor and corporate chief executive says that “everything that Ann and I have, we earned the old-fashioned way, and that’s by hard work.”

Romney has proved himself right: We manifestly do have a problem with people who see themselves as victims even as they benefit from loopholes in the tax code.

One is running for president. (Nicholas Kristof)

I Know Why The Caged Bird Shrieks, Charles M. Blow, New York Times, September 20, 2012.

“When people show you who they are believe them; the first time.”

That comes from the inimitable Maya Angelou (via the equally inimitable Oprah). And I agree.

So I’m inclined to take Mitt Romney at his word when he disparages nearly half the country to a roomful of wealthy donors on a secretly recorded tape.
(Charles Blow)

Disdain For Workers, Paul Krugman, New York Times, September 21, 2012.

What about those who came here not to found businesses,
but simply to make an honest living?
Not worth mentioning. (Paul Krugman)
But here’s the question: Should we imagine that Mr. Romney and his party would think better of the 47 percent on learning that the great majority of them actually are or were hard workers, who very much have taken personal responsibility for their lives? And the answer is no. 

For the fact is that the modern Republican Party just doesn’t have much respect for people who work for other people, no matter how faithfully and well they do their jobs. All the party’s affection is reserved for “job creators,” a k a employers and investors. Leading figures in the party find it hard even to pretend to have any regard for ordinary working families — who, it goes without saying, make up the vast majority of Americans... 

...In the past, however, even Republican politicians who privately shared the elite’s contempt for the masses knew enough to keep it to themselves and managed to fake some appreciation for ordinary workers. At this point, however, the party’s contempt for the working class is apparently too complete, too pervasive to hide. (Paul Krugman)

Obama's Battleground Edge Grows, Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Brooke Brower, NBC, September 21, 2012.

In NBC's first battleground map since the conventions and a slew of new state polling, President Obama has expanded his electoral-vote lead over Mitt Romney -- but only slightly. There are now 243 electoral votes in Obama’s column and 191 in Romney’s, with 104 in the Toss-up category; 270 are needed to win the presidency. 

Obama's Convention Bounce May Not Be Receding, NYT FiveThirtyEight blog, Nate Silver, September 21, 2012.
Highly recommended blog!

Note: FiveThirtyEight blog is highly recommended for ongoing and thorough poll analysis. 

In the 10 states that have generally been ranked the highest on our tipping-point list — Ohio, Virginia, Florida, Wisconsin, Colorado, Nevada, Iowa, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Michigan — there have been 21 such polls since the Democratic convention ended. Mr. Obama has led in all 21 of these surveys — and usually by clear margins. On average, he has held a six-point lead in these surveys, and he has had close to 50 percent of the vote in them. (Nate Silver)

Greed and Debt: The True Story of Mitt Romney and Bain Capital, Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone, August  29, 2012.

(Excellent investigative article providing more background into the mind of Mitt Romney and the wealthy elites who are backing him)

The incredible untold story of the 2012 election so far is that Romney's run has been a shimmering pearl of perfect political hypocrisy, which he's somehow managed to keep hidden, even with thousands of cameras following his every move. And the drama of this rhetorical high-wire act was ratcheted up even further when Romney chose his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin – like himself, a self-righteously anal, thin-lipped, Whitest Kids U Know penny pincher who'd be honored to tell Oliver Twist there's no more soup left. By selecting Ryan, Romney, the hard-charging, chameleonic champion of a disgraced-yet-defiant Wall Street, officially succeeded in moving the battle lines in the 2012 presidential race. (Matt Taibbi)

Got that, America?