Saturday, July 23, 2011


“Tact in audacity is knowing how far you can go without going too far.” –Jean Cocteau, 1889-1963.

Michelle Bachmann can’t pronounce it, but Mitch McConnell’s got it.

Chutzpah is a Yiddish word that means gall, audacity, nerve, impertinence, insolence, hubris, guts, etc. You can probably think of at least one plural spherical synonym that’s very close to its meaning. Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-MN, said the other day that President Obama had chutzpah, annoying Jewish voters because she pronounced it “choots-pah” ( The pronunciation is closer to “khuts-pah,” and is hard to write in English because we don’t use that sound much.

Rep. Bachmann has often demonstrated her own chutzpah in the past, but Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-KY, takes the Chutzpah Award for the week. That’s quite a feat in this Congress.

McConnell realized that the Teabags in the House of Representatives were not going to let a compromise happen in the current debt ceiling negotiation, so he came up with a face-saving proposal that, as I write this, may actually be what ends this ridiculous but gravely dangerous charade. The minority leader suggested giving Obama the authority to raise the debt ceiling, subject to congressional approval. The House would surely vote against any such increase, but the Senate wouldn’t have the 60 votes necessary to bring it to a vote, so it would go into effect.

Is that clear? Right. As mud.

What’s the point? If Obama raises the debt ceiling, as he must do, all the Republicans can vote against it and blame him for doing it. The only problem is that they have to pass the bill that sets it up.

This is about as clear as the procedure whereby a senator asks for unanimous consent to give a bill a second reading, then objects to his own request. No kidding, that happens. It’s procedural. So is McConnell’s concoction. But if it allows us to move forward without defaulting on our debt payments, I’m all for it.

The chutzpah came in when McConnell was interviewed by talk-show host Laura Ingraham and discussed his plan. He said if Republicans were to force default, President Obama would probably win in 2012. (He said earlier this year that his top priority was to make Obama a one-term president, so he wouldn’t want that.) Voters, he said, might think Republicans were making the economy worse.

(And here comes the chutzpah.) “You know,” he said, “it’s an argument he has a good chance of winning, and all of a sudden we have co-ownership of a bad economy.”

I don’t know whether to respond to that statement with extreme umbrage, outraged astonishment, or bottomless sarcasm, so I think I’ll try all three.

During the Bush Jr. administration, two major wars were begun, one of them under false pretenses, and taxes were cut, twice, because every Republican knows that the only way to improve the economy is to cut taxes. Moreover, for years Republicans had been chipping away at the safeguards on banks and stockbrokers that had been put in place after the Great Depression, and finally, just before Mr. Obama was to take the oath of office, the whole damned thing collapsed.

You own that, Mitch! We’re not about to accept joint tenancy of that fiasco.

Under those watered-down restrictions, those who have and play with money managed to reduce the value of our entire country by about forty percent just weeks before Bush returned to cutting brush in Texas. People were mad, and mad they should have been. But a year and a half later, President Obama hadn’t put everyone back to work, so they voted for the Republicans again.

What McConnell is really saying is that the U.S. electorate has the attention span of a mosquito, and his party has done a pretty good job of blaming Obama for all the ills of the past decade, but if the GOP sticks to its hard-line stand now, voters might just remember that in November of next year. He’s betting that voters won’t remember the vote to give Obama the power to raise the debt ceiling if every Republican in Congress votes against it a few days later when he exercises that power.

The man’s got… uh, chutzpah.

Friday, July 15, 2011


(That’s New Mexican for Hot Links)

Hold summer in your hand, pour summer in a glass, a tiny glass of course, the smallest tingling sip for children; change the season in your veins by raising glass to lip and tilting summer in.” Ray Bradbury.

My “Favorites” list has gotten out of hand again, so it’s time to make the sausages. I thought I’d start with some technological advances that are in the works or at least are claimed to be. New technology is how we’re going to have to get out of the fiscal slump we’re in and start moving forward again.

Cyanobacteria: Here’s the concept: build solar panels filled with water and blue-green algae (yes, the stuff they were touting as a nutritional supplement a few years ago), more formally known as cyanobacteria, that have been bio-engineered to excrete something that can be used as diesel fuel. Pump in carbon dioxide – an unwanted byproduct from a nearby factory – as food for the algae, and pump out fuel from the other end. It sounds promising:

Megawindmills: If you’ve seen semi trucks carrying individual blades for windmills that generate electricity, you know these things have gotten huge. Just how big can they get? A 23-million-Euro project in Denmark called “UpWind” aims to find out. The biggest windmills today produce five to six megawatts; UpWind is working to see if a 20 MW monster could be mechanically and economically feasible:

Infrastricture: Sometimes we can’t move forward until we figure out where we’ve gone wrong in the past. Here’s a website that calls into question our post-war reliance on suburbs as the appropriate mechanism of growth. The problem is that single-family houses are built on lots that are too big to allow utilities to be maintained. The roads, sidewalks, and water and sewer lines have too far to travel between connections, and there isn’t critical mass to support transit facilities. Dense developments surrounded by open space may be the solution:

Got fungi? They’ll eat up an oil spill, decontaminate water, kill the termites under your house, even break down nerve gas. If you’re only familiar with fungi in the form of button mushrooms or athlete’s foot, you’ve got a lot to learn. You could find worse ways to spend 18 minutes than by watching Paul Stamets’s video about fungi and how they can save the world:

Got magic? This one is a little bit on the far side, but it still has to do with mushrooms saving the world. Johns Hopkins School of Medicine researchers found that psilocybin, found in “magic mushrooms” or “shrooms,” as some call them, not only improves your life, it has long-lasting positive effects. Seems like someone told me that 40 years ago; they were illegal back then, too:

Floating cannon ball: This one’s really out there, but it’s fun. Canadian scientist John Hutchinson bombarded a 75-pound cannon ball “with high-frequency waves produced by Tesla coils, radio waves, and Van de Graaf waves” and made it float. Is this what allows UFOs to change course instantaneously while traveling at high speeds? See for yourself:

Déjà vu all over again: Well, back to politics. Political scientist Laurence Britt studied fascist regimes, including Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, Franco’s Spain, Suharto’s Indonesia, and Pinochet’s Chile, and came up with fourteen common traits. The list is eerily familiar:

Another Fave Fourteen: Here’s another list of 14 things that is strangely similar to the previous one:

Trickle up: Profits are way up at the Fortune 500 companies. How’s that working out for us?

Meanwhile, back at the board room: CEOs of the Standard & Poor’s 500 companies (probably about the same as the Fortune 500) made more in 2010 than they did in 2007, before the excrement contacted the oscillator:

Perspective: House Republicans have proposed cutting the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) by over $830 million. Pat Garofalo points out that this is roughly equivalent to one week of the revenues we would have collected from millionaires if Congress had not extended the Bush tax cuts last December:

Is our military too big? We have 5% of the world’s population but account for almost half of worldwide military spending. This is one of 13 facts that may surprise you:

Pipelineistan: Why are we in Afghanistan? Is it to crush the “50-75 ‘al-Qaeda types’ in Afghanistan” (supposedly a CIA quote) now that bin Laden is gone? Here’s an interesting perspective, from what Wikipedia describes as the ”independent broadcaster owned by the state of Qatar:

Something completely different: Even I get tired of politics. Here’s a collection of recipes for one of the most astonishing substances on earth: dandelion wine. Enjoy!

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Debt Limit Must Be Raised

Everything Is Compromise

“In war, the strong make slaves of the weak, and in peace the rich make slaves of the poor.” – Oscar Wilde, 1854-1900.

Congress will raise the debt limit. If Congress doesn’t raise the debt limit in the next few days – before August 2nd at the very latest – the world will face economic collapse. Yes, there are Teabags who hope that will happen, but there will be enough “cool heads” to avoid default and its dire consequences. Congress will raise the debt limit.

What is despicable is how long this whole process is taking. It is not something new, something out of the blue.

In June, 2002, Congress raised the debt ceiling to $6.400 trillion; in May, 2003, to $7.384 trillion; in November, 2004, to $8.184 trillion; in March, 2006, to $8.965 trillion; in September, 2007, to $9.815 trillion; in July, 2008, to $10.615 trillion; in October, 2008, to $11.315 trillion; in February, 2009, to $12.104 trillion; in December, 2009, to $12.394 trillion; and in February, 2010, to the current limit of $14.294 trillion. (See

The only question left is how the compromise will look. We are involved in the age-old conflict over what government should do and how it should be paid for.

The Republican Party discovered a few decades ago that the best way to influence the electorate was to select only a few very simple messages and repeat them until people start believing them to be true, ignoring all facts and complications and nuances. The utter and obvious inanity of St. Ronald Reagan’s assertion that government can’t solve our problems because government is our problem didn’t stop him, or his many disciples in the intervening years, from making it.

The current message is equally simple and equally inane: “We don’t have a revenue problem. We have a spending problem.” The only basis for this assertion is repetition, and they all repeat it. It falls apart if you give it the most casual inspection, but they still repeat it.

You can certainly find fraud, waste, abuse, duplication, redundancy, tautology, inefficiency, obsolescence, obstinacy, inequality, cronyism, paternalism, elitism, and all sorts of well-beaten-but-still-well-funded dead horses in the federal budget, and there is a lot of money that can be saved by weeding these things out, but doing so is not going to solve our fiscal problems.

You can cut the throats of those already hurting the most by cutting unemployment compensation, nutrition assistance for pregnant women, Food Stamps, literacy programs, home care, and Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Health Care Act, but doing so is not going to solve our fiscal problems.

You can curtail the space program and let our highways and railroads and water lines and sewer lines and electric lines all go unmended, but doing so is not going to solve our fiscal problems.

You can get the government out of the business of regulating business, but in doing so you will allow a return to the excesses of the banks and stock brokers, and the poisoning of our food, air, and water; you will permit child labor, illegal immigrant labor, and labor under unfair and hazardous conditions – and doing so is not going to solve our fiscal problems.

Yes, we have a spending problem – but we have a much greater revenue problem. In order to put a cap on our federal debt, we’re going to have to stop operating at a deficit, and that means we need to bring in a lot of money.

Unfortunately, you can’t just raise the taxes on the obscenely rich, or the filthy rich, or the extremely rich, or the very rich, or the rich, or even on everybody and everything that moves, and solve our fiscal problems.

What we must do is get our engine running again, running well and leaving everybody else in its dust. This is something we have done many times in our history, and there is absolutely no reason why we can’t do it again.

To do this again we need to support education and research and development. We haven’t been doing those things very well recently. The cumulative knowledge and awareness of the average U.S. citizen is woefully inadequate to the needs of the present era. We have to fix that.

We used to expect our high school graduates to know how to read, write a legible sentence, make change, know the basics of government and geography, and have a measure of common sense. These days we can’t even expect that of our college graduates! Our children won’t be able to invent the new technologies we need with that kind of preparation. Children in other countries will have that ability.

We need to use our technological prowess to guarantee we will keep that prowess. We have the tools to reform our educational system, and we need to use them. Our present school is modeled after Henry Ford’s assembly line, and it doesn’t work.

We need to use our technological prowess to reform our medical system from top to bottom. We used to spend about five percent of our money for medicine, but today we’re getting close to spending a quarter of all our income to stay healthy or tend to our illnesses. We can’t keep doing that.

We need to re-evaluate our military position in the world. After World War II, when Europe was in shambles and the Soviet Union was spending every extra ruble on war toys, it was appropriate for us to take the lead. Things have changed. Other countries need to start spending more to help protect the world, and we need to spend much less. We need to use our technological prowess to create a smaller but more efficient military machine, and use it very sparingly.

We need to re-evaluate how our government and our nation interact with corporations. We need to reward those that provide good jobs at home and penalize those that move their jobs elsewhere. We need to restrict corporate donations to elected officials, even if that means we have to amend the Constitution. We need to restrict financial institutions and watch them carefully.

We need to develop new sources of energy and recognize the influence of the petroleum industry over our elected officials. This industry is as outdated as our schools are.

And those are just the first things that come to mind. We have to start collecting more than we spend so we can start paying down our debt. To do that we must energize the economy and ensure that it will continue to be viable. We can cut spending and we can increase revenue through new taxes or tax reform, but we must rev up our economic engine to get out of the hole we’re in.

But first, we have to raise our debt limit again. If we don’t we’re doomed to experience a depression of huge scope and duration, and we’ll bring the rest of the world down with us.

Congress will raise the debt limit. The sooner the better.