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The Trouble with Freedom

There’s “Freedom and Liberty” the abstract big idea that all Americans bow to and exalt as God granted rights, or at the very least the minimum aspirations of man. And then there’s the complex reality of freedom and liberty which immediately and mercilessly sets us in the Thunderdome of ideas to do battle with the eternal struggle to balance individual liberties against the greater good of society. (Two ideas enter, one idea leaves?) Thinking Americans of all political persuasions have always understood that the former was a great, lofty and motivating goal, but the latter was the thorny business of self-governing. Where the idealistic individualist rubber meets the collectively paid for and publicly accessible road.

Only those simple minded “Freedom and Liberty” loving people have neglected the road, allowing it to become so pitted with potholes that the only answer they can imagine is to break up the road previous generations had built and let it go back to gravel.

The modern American right wing, in the simplicity of their constitutional conservative fetishism, has taken the big abstract idea of “Freedom and Liberty” and made it concrete by festooning it with Bald Eagles, tri-corner hats and tea bags. They use this idea along with the imagery of the Revolutionary War as the Rosetta Stone of all life’s problems, even completely re-imagining the Constitution itself in the narrowest possible terms. It is to them a dead document, born complete, mature and musty from the minds of the Founding Fathers whose sole concern was such “Freedom and Liberty” (for white, landowning males, anyway). It’s as avuncular, yet cranky as your grandfather. Giving you life, grounding, rules and wisdom, but never flexible enough to let you wear a hat at the dinner table or listen to rock and roll (devil’s music). It’s tough but fair, so long as you don’t mind when it’s not fair, and completely inapplicable to modern life. 

The intellectual phonies of this movement, like Antonin Scalia, call themselves “Originalists”. The rank and file call themselves “Tea Partiers.” What they are in a few words are dupes, dopes, racists, greedheads and assholes. At best, they use their purposefully limited understanding of the Constitution to justify their prejudices and self interest. At worst, they are being used by the malefactors of wealth like the Koch Brothers (who are just the latest exemplars of American industrialist greed) to derange the one man, one vote democratic system into an anti-democratic one dollar, one vote scheme that effectively gives the entire game to the wealthiest minority against the far greater populace. 

May I firstly note that the revered Founding Fathers were not as concerned with “Freedom and Liberty” as these modern Founding Father fetishists believe. Their great motivating concern was self-governing. Sure, that meant freedom from England’s colonial rule, but not for the absolute freedom of the 13 Colonies going their own separate ways, no less the complete anarchy of all Americans becoming free agents to create their own local fiefdoms. No. The entire effort to formalize and ratify the Declaration of Independence was a series of compromises in order to bind the 13 Colonies together in a loose but focused confederation, respecting their individuality but all pulling together towards the goal of winning independence from Britain and securing self-determination for this coalition – the greater good.

Secondly, the “Freedom and Liberty” trope has been used, along with their limited interpretation of the Constitution, by the right wing to stop certain ideas that might serve the greater good (but not their greater good) over and over again practically since the moment the ink on the Declaration dried.

Our history has been the often violent struggle of the People to actually enjoy the benefits of the ideals codified in the Federal Constitution and various state constitutions. Ideally, it should never have been violent, or a struggle, but it was and is because there have always been more powerful interests able to take a greater slice of the pie for themselves. Often they’ve left so little pie for everyone else, that the ignorant were pitted against each other for their meager share (what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is negotiable). The more enlightened took to fighting the powerful interests to expand the slice, only to be accused of class warfare, socialism, bolshevism and communism. The dupes, kowtowing to the wealthy, always hoping that they themselves (or their children) will join that elite someday, look to ever expand the pie (for the benefit of the wealthy) and gratefully accept as little as is given to them exclaiming that it’s the owners right to give as little as they want. I never got pie from a poor man, so we’d better give tax cuts to the rich and not regulate their businesses. 

Even today, after having lived through the Great Depression, the implementation of the New Deal and the post WWII period, the greatest period of wealth and equality in human history where we grew the pie enormously and also divvied it up more fairly than ever, the dupes, dopes, racists, greedheads and assholes are back and better than ever ready to deny their brothers and sisters Freedom and Liberty, so that the wealthy may have more Freedom and Liberty. The Constitution demands it. 

The Constitution demands complete freedom of speech for the wealthy because money is speech and cannot be infringed. And if anyone says they have too much stuff, that’s Nazism.

The Constitution says corporations are people and have as many rights as individuals (and money, so even more rights).

The Constitution says guns are an absolute right (never mind that pesky “well-regulated militia thing” or the health and welfare issues inherent in bullets flying around willy-nilly).

The Constitution demands that property is sacrosanct and minimum wage laws, the EPA, air quality standards, equal rights legislation, etc. any attempt to tell businesses what to do is wrong, evil and anti-American. 

The fact that we had 40 years where we almost completely ignored such nonsense and it worked out really, really well for everybody, even the wealthy made out better, is irrelevant because what we did to achieve such success was wrong, evil and anti-American. The New Deal was unconstitutional. The Founding Fathers would have hated Roosevelt and the post-war years. They would have loved Hoover and Reagan. Let’s get back to that level of economic incompetence. The Constitution demands it.

The Constitution is a suicide pact. If you don’t like it you can leave. More pie for us.

Shenna Bellows for Senate in Maine

Because there’s no good goddamn reason for a Republican senator to come from Maine in 2014. Susan Collins is a Republican who votes with Republicans, like a Republican, which means she’s no moderate – not in this modern GOP, no sirree. Collins has gotten away with this moderate act for too long.

The DSCC has caught up with giving Collins the challenge she, and Maine deserves.

“Shenna Bellows has spent her career fighting for the people of Maine and is the type of leader we need in the U.S. Senate,” Bennet said. “Shenna is an energetic leader who has fought for women’s rights, civil rights, individual freedoms, environmental protections, and an economy that works for everyone. She has the values and vision to always do what’s best for Mainers.”

Collins is lauded as one of the Republican Party’s more moderate senators and has high favorability ratings in the state. But Bellows has highlighted her ownbackground in civil liberties as one aspect of her candidacy that voters may find appealing. She led Maine’s ACLU chapter for more than eight years, working on voting rights and marriage equality campaigns.

Bellows beat Collins in fundraising in the final quarter of 2013, attributing her haul to grassroots support.

Bellows spent Tuesday in D.C. rallying at the Supreme Court with reproductive rights groups.

Collins does separate herself from the rest of her party at times, when it’s not important. She voted for ENDA when it wasn’t that close and the House was going to deny it anyway. Same with last year’s common sense gun laws, she was all for them with her rhetoric, but voted against some of them when the votes were close. The typical “moderate” vote for Collins is on Chuck Hagel’s completely non-controversial nomination to Sec Def. She voted for cloture (against her party, when it was safe to do so), but against his nomination (with her party).

Collins voted with her party against extending unemployment insurance.

Collins voted with her party to keep Guantanamo Bay detention camp open.

Collins voted with her party against the Student Loan Affordability Act.

She’s just a disaster for a blue state like Maine to have punished America with for so long. In 2014 there should be no GOP in Maine, no GOP in New England. Full stop!

Bellows is pro-choice, pro-marijuana, pro-union, pro-minimum wage increase and against the NSA’s domestic data gathering. So throw some cash at Shenna Bellows for Senate

Why We Get Fat (and by the way it’s not fat)

Not long ago my sister in law was complaining because she had indulged in a big bacon, eggs, toast breakfast and didn’t feel great. This is besides her first complaint that such breakfast was a bad idea because it was going straight to her thighs. My wife, who has read extensively on nutrition over the years said to her, “it was probably the toast.” Her sister laughed uproariously believing my wife to have made a funny. In her mind, of course any discomfort or unhealthy product of the breakfast was going to be from the bacon, or the eggs. The saturated fats, the cholesterol.  Yuck!! The toast? Surely you must be joking! 

Well sister-in-law, don’t call me Shirley and suck on this study published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

“My take on this would be that it’s not saturated fat that we should worry about” in our diets, said Dr. Rajiv Chowdhury, the lead author of the new study and a cardiovascular epidemiologist in the department of public health and primary care at Cambridge University.

Dr. Chowdhury said. “It’s the high carbohydrate or sugary diet that should be the focus of dietary guidelines,” he said. “If anything is driving your low-density lipoproteins in a more adverse way, it’s carbohydrates.”

Eggs have been exonerated recently after decades of demonizing. Now here comes the word that those saturated fats we were told was the boogey man weren’t really so horrible. But you know those grains and complex carbohydrates we put at the bottom of the food pyramid and said we should be eating several times a day?  Yeah, stop that. Whole grains too. I know we said they were fabulous. We were overly exuberant, so kill us.

Doctors and nutritionists are slowly coming around to what some have always known: fat doesn’t make you fat, cholesterol is complex, eat less, primarily plant based, but few sugars, grains and starches. There, was that so tough? Lay off the fuckin’ toast. Eat the egg.

To back this up we have this nice article from Salon that is a compendium of what the people who haven’t been bought off by the food industry and the Dept. of Agriculture have figured out: 5 Shocking Reasons Why Americans are Getting fatter

1. Antibiotics in food and as medicine (which this blog has written about in regards to the creation of superbugs by the overuse of antibiotics)

2. Other livestock fatteners (we are what we eat)

3. Pesticides and other endocrine disrupters (we are what’s sprayed on what we eat)

4. Sugar substitutes (sugar is bad, sugar substitutes are not any better, maybe worse)

5. Industry and government marketing (the people profiting off your food addictions and the government agencies that the profiters have captured)

Republicans are Conservative Everywhere All the Time

Primary Colors has done yeoman’s work tracking the representatives and their votes and graphed it all and it shows something we’ve suspected.

Image

Republicans vote conservative even if they come from swing districts, whether it’s New Jersey or Alabama, they vote the same. Which just shows 1. that Repubs from bluer/purpler areas are awesome bullshitters come election time, 2. illustrates the failure of media to pierce the bullshit bubble, and 3. indicts voters (and especially non-voters) for rewarding such ideological rigidity that they do not agree with by either voting while ignorant or not voting at all.

You can expect nearly identical voting patterns from almost all Republicans whether you live in a swing district or an uber-conservative district.

Democrats moderate in response to district demographics; Republicans don’t. Commentators have been noting the lock-step Republican Party discipline for years, especially since the Tea Party came on the scene. The graph above is the proof.

If Anything is Gonna Cause the 1% to be Put in Death Camps It’s These Stupid Comments

Another billionaire concurs that America is becoming Nazi Germany for the uber-wealthy

“I hope it’s not working,” Ken Langone, the billionaire co-founder of Home Depot and major GOP donor, said of populist political appeals. “Because if you go back to 1933, with different words, this is what Hitler was saying in Germany. You don’t survive as a society if you encourage and thrive on envy or jealousy.”

Besides wondering how these people got so rich being so ignorant, a common refrain I find when meeting really wealthy people, how do they think this is going to make them sound? Apparently these people are used to giving voice to whatever electrical impulses flow across their lobes. If only more people had told them to think a bit more over the years, maybe we’d be spared this crap.

Did the Germans envy the Jews, is that why they killed them? Like when your parents told you the bullies making fun of you were just jealous of you.

The only question I have for the guy who got rich encouraging schnooks to renovate their own bathrooms is whether he’s ever changed the wax seal on a toilet himself. I bet not.

Minimum Wage Zombie Lies Now Even Deader

Bloomberg reports that Washington State, with the highest minimum wage in the nation, beats U.S. job growth averages.  Washington linked their minimum wage to the cost of living back in 1998. So according to conservatives Washington should be an empty lot by now. But that hasn’t happened. In fact, they’ve grown faster, even in their bars and restaurants sector – and that covers ALL the bars and restaurants in the state, not just the ones within driving distance of Microsoft headquarters.

Their poverty level also trails the national average, which is what you’d expect. And makes the greatest no-brainer argument for raising the minimum wage.

Raising the U.S. minimum wage to $10.10 in three steps, as Obama proposes, would reduce employment nationally by about 500,000 workers, or about 0.3 percent, according to a Congressional Budget Office report published Feb. 18. At the same time, the increase would lift 900,000 people out of poverty and add $31 billion to the earnings of low-wage Americans, the report found.

The report overstates the job losses. Real time experiments in states like Washington have not borne that result out. The report also probably understates the effect the raised minimum wage would have on raising people out of poverty and Hello! lowering government spending.

Conservatives should be embracing this because it would lower government expenditures on food stamps, medicaid, welfare, etc. Food stamps alone would be decreased by $46 Billion. And that decrease is because people have other means of purchasing nutrition, not just cutting the budget and leaving people hungry which is the usual republican plan, bless their tiny hearts.

Echoing a common liberal argument, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley found that by putting more income in low-wage workers’ pockets, the higher minimum wage would cut back their reliance on public assistance, to the tune of $4.6 billion annually. That amounts to roughly 6 percent of current food stamp spending, or about a tenth of 1 percent of the federal budget.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) nails their hypocrisy:

“Detractors of SNAP and the minimum wage increase can’t have it both ways,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said on a call with reporters hosted by CAP. While they decry a “culture of dependency,” Brown went on, “these same elected officials oppose efforts to make sure hard work is rewarded with fair pay.”

Bury that zombie already.

Sometimes Bullies Win

It might be hard to come to terms with, but there are times when muscle heads assert themselves and there’s no real way to back them down because 1. it’s not worth the loss of blood and treasure, and 2. descending to their moral level is not worth it. It’s not a satisfying reality, but there it is.

It’s possible that Putin may well come out of this with Crimea annexed to Russia. It’s one of those places that harken back to pre-WWI Europe where skirmishes and land grabs made map making a very lucrative 19th century profession because borders were fluid little suckers. Sometimes the bully grabs the territory and because they really REALLY want it, nobody can make them give it back. In this instance the population is already fairly split in their loyalties between ethnic Ukrainians and ethnic Russians so there’s already a constituency for what Putin did. In short order Putin just needs to move a bunch more Russian settlers in there to make incontrovertible facts on the ground of Crimea being a Russian settlement much as Israel has done in the their captured territories in the West Bank, Golan, etc.

The arguments are flying about “moral equivalency” in regard to citing the U.S.’s inherent pot calling the kettle black problem. Our moral outrage about Putin’s dickishness is blunted by our own long and very robust history of pushing in where we had no legal or moral right to be. Iraq comes to mind. Putin himself cited our Iraq fiasco in his condemnation of our condemnation. It didn’t occur to him, single minded dictator that he is, that saying that the U.S. has no standing to complain about Ukraine because of Iraq, you yourself have equated the two and condemned your own actions.

But you will have conservatives and people who call themselves centrists like Jon Avlon (who epitomizes the reality that centrists are just conservatives that don’t adhere to the extremism of right-wing cultural conservatism) fall back on the old patriotic trope that you can’t compare our actions in Iraq to Putin’s in Ukraine. To which the left says, right, you can’t, what we did is FAR WORSE. And the centrist/conservative shakes his head disbelievingly and asserts that you can’t compare us to Putin’s Russia. See what he did there? Started off comparing the action, fell into comparing the actors.  If you just compare the actions themselves, Putin can make arguments to justify his violation of sovereign borders – citing his protection of the Russian ethnic population and their desire to be closer to Russia and the chaos/anarchy of the Ukraine government. These are not great arguments if you respect the right of law and all that moral stuff. But they are arguments. Our oh so flimsy argument for the moral right to invade Iraq crumbled with the lack of weapons of mass destruction. And then we stayed for 10 years under the Pottery Barn Doctrine (you broke it you bought it). But yeah, if your silly argument is going to be that it’s false moral equivalency to cite Iraq to shut up the U.S. because the U.S. is a real democracy and Russia is not, then yes, you can’t compare the U.S. to Russia. But that is a great way of justifying all of America’s misbehavior because hell, we’re America dammit!

What is missed in that argument is that the misbehavior that is pretty much universally decried now – all the incursions into the Middle East, Central America, the use of our military, CIA or State Dept. to change governments – was done in the name of the American people, but did not serve the American people. These actions only served the interests of multi-national businesses that co-opted our American institutions to work for them through the legal corruption of our democratic system.  Every adult who has grown out of believing fairy tales knows that we invaded Iraq because of oil and all else was false pretext. You did not have a large segment of the Iraqi population identifying as American and rooting for America to invade.  

Of course, Putin may be no better motivated than us and really want Crimea for its warm weather port. That would be a shock (no it wouldn’t). 

Even my Russian ancestors would admit that Russians is crazy – that’s why they escaped. They didn’t “emigrate,”  they “escaped”. They didn’t think of it as moving, making an economic choice of where to live. They thought of it as escaping a crazy prison country! This whole rigamarole started because of the debate of Ukraine seemingly having to choose to align closer economically to the EU or Russia. You can clearly trade with both – it’s a false choice. But for the ethnic Russians there’s more to it than that. There’s a subcurrent of old Soviet pride that Putin has unequivocally stoked in recent years. His efforts to bring former Soviet aligned nations back into the satellite, by military, if not economic force has been a very poorly disguised effort to get the band back together. That the ethnic Russian Ukrainians think that the Russian oligarchic mafia economy offers more for their future than the EU and the West is the evidence of something truly bent in the crazy Russian soul.

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