Lying Media Bastards

December 22, 2011

Approaching Modernity

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I have been using the the same blog software to run this site for a very long time, and its age is starting to show. In the near future, I’m going to have to upgrade it or the site will no longer function. Sadly, I don’t know how much of the current layout will be compatible with the new software, so the site may also get a new look to go with its software upgrade. I’ll try to get the changes made in the next week.

Posted by Jake on December 22, 2011 8:08 am

December 13, 2011

Billionaires Are Not Job Creators

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One of the biggest and most destructive economic myths of today is that the Wealthy Are Job Creators. We can’t tax them, inconvenience them, or demand the slightest shred of human decency from them, because then they might not save us with their precious, precious jobs. This myth (not the reality) is the mighty justification for politicians to keep cutting taxes on the rich and on big corporations, cutting regulations on business, cutting environmental protections, and cutting workers’ rights. We must all bow before our all-seeing, all-knowing, all-job-creating masters.

Which is why this trio of related articles that blow that myth to hell are all so welcome.

The first is an editorial in Bloomberg Businessweek by entrepreneur/venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, called “Raise Taxes on Rich to Reward True Job Creators”. The second is a commentary on that editorial by Henry Blodget, editor of the website Business Insider, called “Finally, A Rich American Destroys The Fiction That Rich People Create The Jobs”, and the third is another article by Blodget that defends one of his key arguments in the previous article, “No, Entrepreneurs Like Steve Jobs Do Not ‘Create Jobs’ By Inventing Products Like The iPhone”.

This trio of articles makes two key points: 1) raising taxes does not, as we are so often told, discourage business people from creating new companies or hiring more employees, and 2) the real job creator in America is the average consumer, not any businessman or entrepreneur.

The first part makes plenty of sense. If you’re a millionaire, and you can start a new business that will make you millions more dollars a year, would a small increase in your tax rate make you say, “nah, I don’t need those extra millions”? Probably not. This trio of articles makes that argument, as does this earlier one by a businessman who says that the tax rates have NEVER entered his head when starting new business.

The second argument is a little less obvious, but still rings very true. If you invent a brilliant new product like the iPhone, and get enough financial backing to bring it to market, you have created some jobs, BUT:

those jobs are all TEMPORARY if people don’t buy your product.

So Hanauer and Blodget are arguing very compellingly that entrepreneurs get the ball rolling, but that they only create a relatively small number of jobs for the country. It is the purchasing dollars of average Americans which make those jobs permanent, and allow the companies to sustain, grow, and become much larger job creators.

They then make the argument that our current economic inequality is itself a barrier to job creation. As an example, they talk about Hanauer’s post-tax income of $9 million a year:

With the more than $9 million a year Hanauer keeps, he buys lots of stuff. But, importantly, he doesn’t buy as much stuff as would be bought if that $9 million were instead earned by 9,000 Americans each taking home an extra $1,000 a year…

Despite Hanauer’s impressive lifestyle — his family owns a plane — most of the $9+ million just goes straight into the bank (where it either sits and earns interest or gets invested in companies that ultimately need strong demand to sell products and create jobs). For a specific example, Hanauer points out that his family owns 3 cars, not the 3,000 that might be bought if his $9+ million were taken home by a few thousand families…

If that $9+ million had gone to 9,000 families instead of Hanauer, it would almost certainly have been pumped right back into the economy via consumption (i.e., demand). And, in so doing, it would have created more jobs.

That’s the reality for you. YOU are the job creators, not THEM.

(Or you would be, if you had any money)

Posted by Jake on December 13, 2011 9:18 am

December 5, 2011

Free $50/hr Speech

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When we last left Gov. Scott Walker, he had dressed up like Santa Claus, and was preparing to descend upon the Whos of Whosconsin, to take all their presents and take their roast beast…

Wait, no, wrong guy.

Scott Walker, as you’ll recall (please!), ran for governor of Wisconsin as a Jeewhiz Folksy Downhome Republican. But after taking office, he ripped off his human outer covering to reveal the authoritarian Godzilla underneath, slashing taxes for the rich, cutting services for the poor, firing government workers en masse, and trying to end all public sector unions in the state. Understandably, the folks of Wisconsin were furious and scared, held massive protests for weeks, and are now attempting to get him ousted early (see earlier minor “recall” pun).

Walker is now unleashing his new Shut Up Hippies policy: if you want to protest against him, you have to pay money.

It’s bullshit on its face, with a few tiny fig leafs of logic, which also turn out to be bullshit after thinking about them for 40 seconds.

1) If a group of four or more people want to protest outside of any state building, they need to get a permit. And need to apply at least 72 hours in advance.
2) If more than 100 people want to protest outside the state capitol, they will have to pay for any extra police officers that are “required”, at a cost of $50 per cop, per hour. In advance.
3) Protesters could be billed for the costs to clean up any mess that government officials claim was left behind after the protest.

That’s an embarassingly self-serving rule. Who proposed it? Scott Walker. Who benefits from it? Scott Walker.

In conclusion, I am announcing that anyone who has every criticized me now owes me $10. I’ll be around shortly to collect.

Posted by Jake on December 5, 2011 11:06 am

November 26, 2011

So Naive and Reasonable

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It doesn’t seem that long ago when there was no such thing as an “Occupy Insert Thing Here” movement. Just months ago, “Occupy Wall Street” was a call to action from an obscure Canadian activism/graphic design magazine, which gained steam when it was endorsed by the nebulous hacker collective known as Anonymous. Adbusters magazine said “here’s a date, let’s all do this thing” and Anonymous said “we’ll hack up some stuff on that day”, and that was about it. When I started researching the plans of the folks who were actually planning to show up, they were essentially “we’re gonna have a big People’s Assembly, find out what everyone wants our goal to be, and we’ll make that our goal.” To me, it sounded amateur and incredibly naive.

But if you take that last part, it seems like a pretty rational concept. In everyday life, if you have a problem in your household, workplace, classroom, neighborhood, relationship, it seems like the most pragmatic way of solving it.

1) “Everybody, I think we have a problem.”
2) “Do you agree that we have a problem?”
3) “I think the problem is X. What do you think the problem is?”
4) “We agree that X, Y and Z are problems.”
5) “What can we do to fix problems X, Y and Z?”
6) “Let us take actions A, B and C to solve problems X, Y and Z.”

That makes sense, right? There’s a problem, let’s talk about it and then try to fix it.

So that was the beginnings of Occupy Wall Street. “There’s a problem. The economy is broke, and millions of Americans are being crushed by the falling pieces. And we, the OWS organizers think that the both the problem and the solution have to do with Wall Street in some way. Get down here and let’s talk about this.”

I think we all agree that there’s a problem, right? Record unemployment, rising poverty, millions losing their homes, increasing cuts to social services at times when they’re most needed? And that’s just the stuff since the economy detonated in 2008. But I think that the OWS crowd identifies two enormous elephants in the room: 1) an economy that rewards the rich and increasingly punishes everyone else, and 2) a system of government in which the average citizen has little to no say. Essentially, unless you’re a multimillionaire, you’re probably screwed, and there’s nothing you can do about it. I call that a serious problem.

Of course, the Wall Street “1%” (actually, research tells me that these super-rich are really the 0.1%), don’t agree that there is a problem. Their primary motive is to make money via rapid-fire gambling and incredible fraud, working as hard and as unethically as necessary to not be holding the hot potato when it ignites. Paying more taxes, accepting legal reforms and limitations, and thinking about the consequences of their actions are all direct barriers to making money in the way they’ve become accustomed.

So: conflict. One group of people is the victim of an oppressive problem and is starting to demand solutions. And the other, bloated with trillions in ill-gotten profits, is willing to fight gold-plated tooth and diamond-encrusted nail to prevent those solutions from taking place. In fact, these 0.1% want changes too, ones that will accelerate the suffering of the average American. Despite proving that they cannot be trusted with the world’s economy, they want even fewer restrictions on how they can manipulate the markets. They also want even more cuts to their already light taxes, meaning cuts to government services that people need more desperately during this crisis era, or increases in taxes for the 99% just to hold on to these already insufficient government services.

In a staggering display of chutzpah, the 0.1%, their media pals, politician lackeys, and easily-annoyed average folks sneer and demand that the OWS folks explain what they are upset about and what policy changes they want to get there (”explain to me in one sentence what they want” railed one messageboard commenter). A economic and political clusterfuck decades and decades in the making, by the manipulations of an assortment of evil geniuses and complex institutions, and a group of angry, overworked victims should have figured out a reasonable fix for it all in their spare time, over the past two months. Seriously, fuck you guys.

There’s lots of problems. All of these problems are big and complicated. The solutions are difficult, because both economic and institutional political power are denied us. And it doesn’t help that while the protesters are trying to come up with answers, the police are treating them like hippie-shaped pepper-spray sponges.

My favorite sign from any OWS protest I’ve seen was this one in San Diego:

Positive political and social change in this country has rarely come from a reasoned debate, a political ad, a ribbon-wearing campaign, or even the ballot box. It most often comes when people disrupt the day-to-day functioning of society: sit-ins, strikes, civil disobedience, mass movements, riots, and yes, occupations. These types of actions can force people in power to make changes to get things “back to normal”, or frighten them into taking action because the consequences of escalating dissent might be worse. Sometimes this leads to reform. Sometimes it invalidates the entire regime. Sometimes it leads to outright revolution.

Taking part in these sorts of actions can interfere with life as you now live it. And a lot of those outcomes are potentially scary. But it seems clear to me that if people do not stand up and try to change the direction of this country, things will get worse: less freedom, less security, less democracy. Time to think long and hard about what you want for your world, and how to get there. Or jump right in and start making change right now.

Posted by Jake on November 26, 2011 11:59 pm

October 17, 2011

I blame them because it’s their fault, that’s why

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I’m working on an article that tries to simply explain the economic collapse of 2008. With all of the Occupy Wall Street-type protests, I’m seeing reactions by some folks wearing blinders, saying things like “why are you protesting Wall Street?” and “yeah, unemployment is high, but you’re not going to find a job by marching in the street”.

So I want to write an article to say “we’re protesting Wall Street because they did this to us.” True, the politicians are also to blame. Frankly, the whole Occupy Wall Street protest is basically saying “the whole system is set up to keep rich people rich, and powerful people powerful, even if it means hurting everyone else. And that is fucking unfair!” Economic systems and political systems should serve the people who live in those societies, not the other way around.

So there’s your message. “Shit’s wrong, and we’re angry!”

So that article is coming. I’m re-reading all of the info I’ve got about why the economy imploded so I can try to understand it, and then condense it down to something comprehensible (that’s always been one of my talents). But man, as much as I’ve understood how all this happened, it is so much worse than I ever thought. True, Wall Street’s astounding recklessness caused the collapse. And their greed is a heavy weight stopping the economy from rising out of the muck. But the extent to which they’ve scammed and re-scammed and re-re-scammed and re-re-rescammed the government for avalanches of money–your money and my money– leaves me reeling.

Oh, it’s also a very confusing and boring story. Wish me luck as I try to make it clear and readable.

For a few years now, I’ve been reluctant to write much about politics. It felt useless. The economic wasteland, the increasingly moronic and vicious politicians, the collusion of Democrats, the flailing of the Left. I didn’t see much point in trying to describe the hellscape around us, or try to rally people to take action against it.

I then got an email from an acquaintance who’d created, run, and then dismantled a radical activist magazine. He seemed sad that I wasn’t continuing to write, and I explained my despair to him. He agreed, recognizing territory he also knew well. But he carried a few flames of hope and passed them along. “Independent media alone changes little or nothing,” he said. “Indie media connected to organizing and movements does.”

And now that there are flying sparks that might become a movement, you’ll pardon me if I have to go put my fingers back on the keys.

Posted by Jake on October 17, 2011 7:49 pm

July 31, 2011

Backing Into the Ditch. Again. Intentionally.

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Pretty much every economist who’s not a shill for the financial sector or corporate America agrees that the only way that the United States economy can improve is if the government spends a lot of extra money. Average Americans are afraid to spend money or don’t have money to spend to get the economy going. Small businesses don’t see enough consumer demand to justify creating the new jobs that would get the economy going. Big businesses are sitting on their massive piles of cash, or are using it to buy up their struggling competitors, or are using it to bribe legislators, and are just waiting for the economy to get better on its own. Therefore, about the only player with the capacity to spend money and create jobs would be the government. Theoretically, new government projects would create jobs, these newly employed people would spend their money and pay taxes, simultaneously stimulating the economy and re-filling government coffers.

But not only is the US government refusing to take on this role to jump-start the economy, but it is on course to cut trillions in existing spending. Even worse, many of these cuts are being made to the moth-devoured safety net needed by a country so desperately unemployed and increasingly foreclosed upon.

If this was such a dire situation, if the deficit was really such an important issue, you’d think that some of the politicians now wailing about it would have noticed when the Bush tax cuts were draining the governments bank account, or that we were fighting several wars with no plan to pay for them. They would also now see the need to cut our ludicrous military budgets and raise taxes. The fact that they didn’t and won’t show that their every spoken syllable on the issue is a lie. It’s not a crisis so much as a rhetorical sword to slash at their opponents and defend their ultra-wealthy masters.

Wall Street lost their money, the government fixed them up with our tax money, and now the government tells us that we need to make some sacrifices.

I think it’s safe to say that the ramifications of the budget deficit and the issue of US debt are not really of top importance to the 23 million un-/underemployed Americans, the 50 million who don’t have health insurance, and the 15 million Americans in danger of losing their homes. They are in trouble now and need help now, not in two years or ten years or whenever the debts become due. When was the last time you heard Obama say anything about jobs?

So the recession will continue, if it doesn’t actually get worse. I repeatedly hear that we are entering an “age of austerity”, where politicians only talk of cutting back instead of helping or investing. This current debt ceiling charade is an example of the most ruthless “shock doctrine” calamaties, a manufactured crisis for the purpose of forcing change down the throats of those who would normally rally against it.

I’m no fan of government, but the majority of us are not doing too well right now, and I don’t know any grassroots/DIY way of getting us past this.

Posted by Jake on July 31, 2011 9:49 pm

The Bloody Sound of Silence

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Despite America’s professed love of democracy, we’re still seeing relatively little coverage of or support for the Middle Eastern nations who are rising up against their dictatorial regimes. Sad as it is to say, the people of Tunisia, Egypt and Lybia got off relatively light compared to the ruthless crackdowns in Yemen and Syria. In Syria, for example, the police and military will fire on unarmed protesters, and kill them. And when the family and friends attend the funeral for their murdered loved ones, the police and military open fire on the funeral and kill the mothers, fathers and children of the innocent protesters they already killed. And despite these risks, many in Syria still take to the streets to try to oust ruthless Bashar government.

But another Syrian brutality that is shocking to me is the murder of Syrian songwriter Ibrahim Qashoush. Qashoush wrote a number of songs and chants that were popular at protests, usually with angry but humorous lyrics. Quashoush went missing on July 3, and was found dead in a river in his hometown, with his throat cut out. Not cut, removed. As horrifying and bloody a political message as I’ve seen in recent times.

So let’s fight silence and murder with noise. Here’s a video of a street protest in Syria where the people are singing one of Quashoush’s songs (with subtitles).

Posted by Jake on July 31, 2011 11:22 am

June 21, 2011


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Nice piece here by Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson, about Fox News chief Roger Ailes, Grade-A propagandist and ratfucker. It’s illuminating, describing the history of the man before explaining his methods, and the way that he has used his media reach to change America’s mental, political, and journalistic landscape.

First off, it seems that maybe some of us owe Rupert Murdoch a small apology. Lefty media wonks nearly always curse Murdoch’s name for the blight that is his Fox media empire, and Fox News specifically. But apparently Roger Ailes contract with Fox News prohibits Murdoch from interfereing in Ailes’ operations or political messaging at the network. So while Murdoch gets the finger for starting this muckball rolling, Ailes is the one who deserves all the demonic credit for its current state.

Secondly, I’ve probably been too soft on Fox News all these years. I’d thought it was a mediocre news network with a blatant and evil political agenda. After reading this article, I think that Fox News is really an evil political operation that also runs a TV network (that happens to have “news” in the title). It is the culmination of a technique that Ailes first concocted in 1968 as a campaign manager for Richard Nixon:

The real problem, as Ailes saw it, was a media establishment that he viewed as hostile to Republicans. The “only hope,” he recalled, “was to go around the press and go directly to the people” – letting the campaign itself shape the candidate’s image for the average voter, “without it being interpreted for him by a middleman.”

To bypass journalists, Ailes made Nixon the star of his own traveling roadshow – a series of contrived, newslike events that the campaign paid to broadcast in local markets across the country. Nixon would appear on camera in theaters packed with GOP partisans – “an applause machine,” Ailes said, “that’s all that they are.” Then he would field questions from six voters, hand-­selected by the campaign, who could be counted on to lob softball queries that played to Nixon’s talking points…

Ailes had essentially replaced professional journalists with every­day voters he could manipulate at will. “The events were not staged, they were fixed,” says Rick Perlstein, the author of Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America. “People were supposed to ask tough questions. But asking a tough question – let alone knowing how to follow up – is a skill. Taking that task out of the hands of reporters and putting it into the hands of inexperienced amateurs was brilliant in itself.

Fox News is exactly this, inflated from one-time programs in local media markets, into numerous programs, 24/7, and coast to coast. It’s a series of “newslike” shows rigged to push a worldview favorable to a particular conservative ideology (Dickinson’s article also has a sidebar that breaks down a single day of Fox News down into its component talking points and repetition by anchors and guests, also worth a read). By pretending to be unbiased news, they convince millions that this self-serving worldview is reality, and the political beliefs and actions of these audience members follows naturally. That’s its purpose. That’s why Fox News exists. It’s not a biased news network, it’s a televised stage show, created to get propaganda directly to audiences, without any pesky, skeptical journalists getting in the way.

Dickinson and I (well, mostly Dickinson) aren’t saying anything new here, just laying bare the skeleton of this monster, in the bright lights, with its different bones neatly labelled for view. But this point, for me, made the entire piece:

“Ailes isn’t interested in providing people with information, or even a balanced range of perspectives. Like his political mentor, Richard Nixon, Ailes traffics in the emotions of victimization.

“What Nixon did – and what Ailes does today in the age of Obama – is unravel and rewire one of the most powerful of human emotions: shame,” says [Rick] Perlstein, the author of Nixonland. “He takes the shame of people who feel that they are being looked down on, and he mobilizes it for political purposes. Roger Ailes is a direct link between the Nixonian politics of resentment and Sarah Palin’s politics of resentment. He’s the golden thread.’”

This is a core component of today’s conservative movement*. All kinds of Americans, feeling like they’re being judged and looked down upon for their views and tastes, feel humiliated. Maybe they’re poor, or uneducated, or prejudiced, or get mocked for their traditional religious views. Right-wing media like Fox News and faux-populist politicians like Sarah Palin start telling these shamed folks that no, they are the real Americans, they are what’s right with this nation, that in fact, anyone who is not like them is actually destroying America. Literally destroying it. Shame is a powerful emotion, and anyone who can turn that shame into pride and a feeling of belonging has done that agonized person a great favor. And the newly proud person is not likely to look too closely at the lies and destruction that come with this new, exciting outlook.

In the end, this leads us to an old and depressing debate. Clearly, political persuasion based on emotion is easier and much more powerful than appeals to reason and pragmatism, even when the emotion is based on absolute bullshit. The right wing media, and some of their politicians, are very good at this. And well-intentioned liberal/progressive types (mostly individuals and some media, there are barely any politicians that count as left-wing) seem to think that simply stating the facts will win people over. Not only do facts lack the power of emotion, but trying to “educate” someone who already feels like liberals think that conservatives are stupid might actually activate their existing outrage and resentment at you dirty liberal elites.

So what now? Lie and spin for people’s “own good”, to try to beat back right-wing policies that will hurt all but the billionaires? Enjoy fiddling on the moral high ground while Rome burns? Concede defeat while preparing for neo-feudalism or Civil War 2.0? Find another way?

It took decades of ruthless, explicit dictatorship before long-suffering citizens of the Middle East finally demanded an end. I hope Americans can catch on a little sooner than that.

* I wanted to say that it was the core component, but it is one giant among many. Thomas Frank would tell us the core of new conservatism is the liberal abandonment of economic policies that help working class Americans that leave many voters with nothing to choose from except “moral” issues. The late Joe Bageant would say that it’s the middle class’ choice to leave working and poor Americans with minimal educational opportunities and then looking down on those same people for being uneducated. Bob Altemeyer would argue that it’s due to a persistent authoritarian personality type in American society, that either craves powers or craves to bask in the glow of a powerful leader.

Posted by Jake on June 21, 2011 2:04 pm

June 20, 2011

Finger on the Pulse

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At this moment, the Huffington Post’s top story is about the premiere of Keith Olberman’s new TV show. The headline: “HE’S BAA-AACK”.

Now, that line is a commonly used pop culture reference, adapting a line from the movie “Poltergeist 2″. The line was “they’re baa-aack,” which was itself a reference to the original Poltergeist’s memorable line “they’re hee-eere.” Because the scary ghosts from #1 have now returned in movie #2.

IMDB tells me that Poltergeist 2 came out in 1986, and Poltergeist 1 came out in 1982.

And today, it is 2011. So the Huffington Post’s cleverest headline is a non-funny reference to a nearly 30-year old movie quote.

Yes, part of this post is just me bagging on the HP for lack of creativity. And part of this is me wondering how media must seem to people in their teens and twenties, when it’s based on knowledge, jokes and references from before their time.

But I have to stop due to my own experience growing up.

Me, and many of my generation that grew up in the 70s and 80s, were raised on cartoons like Bugs Bunny and Tom & Jerry. The vast majority of these cartoons that were originally created for the big screen, as filler between double-features, for adults, in the 1940s. I was raised on in-jokes, movie references, and celebrity caricatures that were often 40 or more years old. I was not sure why I was supposed to laugh at lines like “I wish my brother George was here”, “Play it again Sam” or “He don’t know me vewy well, do he?”. Eventually, they became repurposed catch phrases of their own, with me only knowing that these were things that Daffy Duck or Porky Pig said. I’m told that much of the racist humor that was acceptable in the 1940s and ignored during broadcast during my own youth, has been since scrubbed from those shows. But I can’t remember the number of times I saw stereotypical Black housekeepers, exploding bombs turning protagonists into blackface Al Jolson imitators, or falling cymbals turned characters into bucktoothed, strawhat-wearing Chinese stereotypes.

I can only imagine how the referenced and re-referenced Simpsons might have an impact on kids recently growing up, or how a highly topical show like South Park might come across in another decade or so.

No real conclusions here, just noting something kind of bizarre. I work with a number of teen volunteers at my job, maybe I’ll ask some of them about mainstream jokes and humor based on pop culture from before they were born.

Posted by Jake on June 20, 2011 5:58 pm

May 25, 2011

The Fattening

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In April, the New York Times Magazine published a powerful, misleadingly-titled article called Is Sugar Toxic?. I have since heard several interviews with the article’s author, Gary Taubes, and watched a lecture by one of the key scientists that Taubes highlights in his article, Robert Lustig. I find their argument pretty compelling (their real argument, not the simplified article title’s “argument”). I was going to write a summary of their argument (which, if true, could be very important to healthy living), but the more I’ve tried to bone up on the topic, the more complicated it’s gotten. It’s even worse as this topic covers all manner of physiology, biochemistry, and several other subjects I only have basic understandings of. So my opinion on this subject shouldn’t really sway anybody very much.

Anyhow, the Argument as I understand it.

Taubes isn’t really saying that sugar itself is toxic (Lustig is, but in the same way that the alcohol is technically toxic). But putting it into common language, they are saying that sugar and corn syrup (also known as sucrose and fructose), when eaten in large enough quantities (a threshhold that most Americans meet, cross and double) causes the body to react in incredibly unhealthy ways that cause obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and possibly even cancer. Eating lots of calories causes many health problems as well, but they argue that digesting sucrose and fructose create special problems above and beyond the disorders caused by overeating. So I guess you could revamp that article title to “Are Certain Types of Sugar So Harmful to Humans That They May as Well Be Toxic?”

Lustig’s lecture makes it very clear: the body digests different substances in many different ways. They get processed by different organs, using different enzymes, creating different byproducts, which in turn effect other biological processes not related to just digesting your candy bar. In his lecture, Lustig shows that the digestion of normal carbohydrates (bread, vegetables, etc.) gets energy to your cells, stores some of that energy in the liver, contributes slightly to weight gain, and not much else. He then shows how the process of digesting fructose and sucrose is more similar to those of digesting alcohol and pure fat. The process likewise gets energy to your cells, but perhaps half of these sugars are then stored as fat. These digestive processes then also create chemical byproducts which make you stay hungry longer, increase blood pressure, increase chances of diabetes, and contribute much more to the creation of fat. Taubes adds on to this, claiming that it also increases the body’s secretion of hormones that can help cancers to grow.

Lustig is on a crusade about this. That’s why he keeps referring to sugar as poison. We know that a high-fat diet is unhealthy, and Lustig argues persuasively that, in effect, a high-sugar diet is a high-fat diet because of how the body metabolises sugar. It also follows from this that all calories are not created equal, at least as far as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes are concerned. Eating 500 calories of candy and 500 calories of spaghetti effect your body differently. In a way, this is common sense; eating 10 carrots is better for you than drinking a can of soda. But the majority of public nutrition info in the past few decades has focused on calories in general, exercise, and fat consumption. If sugar (which is added to almost any food you can buy) is as big a factor as any of those other three, then that’s big news.

It would be one thing if this was an issue of individual diet and individual choices, but multiply the surprising impact of sugar times the number of Americans who eat food, and the number of residents of other nations who have largely adopted the American way of eating. Taubes mentions that some medical researchers see diabetes and obesity together in so many patients that they have coined a new term: “diabesity”. Lustig says that the United States has an epidemic of obese six-month olds. Some studies show that 17% of all American health care spending is on obesity-related treatments. This is horrifying.

Anyhow, biology was never my strongest subject, but I would recommend listening to those Taubes interviews if you’re interested, and reading his NYT Mag article. And then, if you want the hard stuff, or if biochemistry equations make you warm and tingly inside, watch the Lustig lecture. I could be wrong, they could be wrong/lying, I just don’t know. Worth a look, though.

Posted by Jake on May 25, 2011 9:24 pm

May 13, 2011

Ron Paul Announces/Dooms Presidential Run

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Most people don’t know who Ron Paul is. Most people who do, think he’s crazy. The small number who don’t think he’s crazy are libertarian college students, and peaceniks who haven’t dug down much into Paul’s record.

If you’re in that first category, Ron Paul is a senator from Texas. His one dominant trait is his strict and sincere belief in small government conservatism. On the plus side, this means that he is against American imperialism, handouts to corrupt corporations, and wasteful government spending. On the downside, Paul is against almost everything else government can do as well. Also, there’s the racism.

Yes, that’s Ron Paul, announcing his intent to run for president of the United States, while simultaneously stating his opposition to laws ending racial segregation. Specifically, he said that if he had been in Congress at the time, he would have opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Which is funny, because most American like civil rights*. Even if Americans knew who Ron Paul was, he’d be pretty fucked at the ballot box.

I only recently have grasped the true nature of libertarianism. We’ve been hearing a lot lately about the Ayn Rand branch of libertarianism, an empty-headed fiction where greed, arrogance, and whining about how no one recognizes your greatness, leads inevitably to a utopian society. I think some Randians actually believe their own bullshit, and others just spread the lie. The latter want money, power, and no accountability. They could give a fuck about whether or not that leads to utopia.

But I think that Paul is a different kind of libertarian. This other branch believes that the world is a horrible, horrible place, but that it is immoral for government to do anything to stop the horror. It’s a fucking jungle out there, deal with it. If you want an end to racism, sexism, poverty, disease, or [other], you have to do it on your own, Jack. These libertarians believe that the only acceptable role of government is to protect them, their assault rifles, their pot and their hookers from the legions of desparate poor.

So for the most part, libertarianism can be summed up as “I got mine!”

*well, for themselves. Not so much for other people.

Posted by Jake on May 13, 2011 10:15 pm

May 10, 2011

She Blinded, Cloned, and Mind Controlled Me… with Science!

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Frankly, I’d like to see a lot more videos like these:

Well, I would and I wouldn’t. It’s an excellent summary of recent developments in a field of science (bio-engineering), aimed at non-scientists, describing many of the cutting edge advances that you wouldn’t hear about unless you were looking for them.

But many of them are horrifying. For example, scientists can apparently insert chips into the brains of insects and rats and control them with joysticks. Literally. And there are implications that they are making progress on the mental patterns of monkeys. Which, y’know, are fairly close to the mental patterns of humans.

So while I wish there were more videos that let us “outsiders” know what’s going on in the world of advanced science technology of all fields, I do wish it wasn’t looking so much like mad science. This is shit we need to know, so that when our monkey cyborg masters make our electrified skeletons dance for their amusement, we can at least say “I told you so”.


Wow, I appear to have, uh, posted this link already. I’m gonna delete that article now and go camp out on Mount Sheepish.


Posted by Jake on May 10, 2011 9:16 pm

May 1, 2011

The End of an Era. Maybe.

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I was actually in the process of writing two new posts for the site, after a long time away, when I saw this news about the death of Osama bin Laden. And for now, I won’t suck the wind out of anyone’s sails by pointing out all of the terribleness done in the name of stopping bin Laden. He was a mass murderer, he’s dead (so we’re told), no tears here. I’m sure to many, this news is justice finally served, peace of mind finally come. I can accept that.

But I have to make two points.

First, one of bin Laden’s goals had been to drive the US out of the Middle East by drawing it into foreign wars and bleeding it dry. Tragically, he had a lot of success there.

But bin Laden’s primary goal was for the people of the Muslim world to rise up, overthrow their dictatorial regimes, and replace them with fundamentalist theocracies. And irony of ironies, he dies during a time when these people are indeed rising to overthrow their dictatorship, but are replacing them instead with moderate democracies. I like the idea that he lived to see “his people” publicly reject his life’s work.

Plenty of depressing “war on terror” commentary to come!

Posted by Jake on May 1, 2011 11:19 pm

January 3, 2011

An Honest Witch Trial

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Republican Congressman Peter King has announced that he is going to hold hearings about “radicalization of the American Muslim community”. It will, of course, be an exercise in good ol’ American fearmongering. Your average American, who knows NOTHING about Islam, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Somalia, American foreign policy, terrorism, or a single American Muslim, will have soundbites lobbed their way that sound very sinister to the uneducated ear. Pure political theater. You may not have a job, and you may be about to lose your home, but at least those Republicans in Congress are trying to protect you from Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood or something.

The emphasis on Islam is ironic. The fear leapt into being after 9/11, but those attacks were only tangentially related to Islam. Osama bin Laden said time and time again that he wanted to strike out at the US not because of religion, but because the US was “occupying” Saudi Arabia and supporting Israel’s oppression of Palestinians. So it would be more accurate to say that 9/11 was an attack on US policies that affected Muslims more than it was about Islam itself.

Anyhow, I imagine that King’s hearings will be an embarassing sham. But y’know, if he was actually going to do it in an honest way, it could almost be a good thing. Why? Because evidence shows that the most radical Muslims in the US, the ones who attempt to carry out terrorist attacks, became radical for two main reasons: US military actions in the Middle East, and FBI entrapment of angry Muslim men.

First off, there does not seem to be much of a “radical Muslim” problem inside the United States. No one seems to have a proper estimate, but the guess is that there are 5-7 million Muslims out of 300+ million Americans. If a significant number of those Muslims were “radical”, they could be causing all sorts of havok on a daily basis. They don’t. Over the past several years, there seem to have been 1-2 attempted terrorist attacks a year, most of which are kind of iffy (more below) and are unsuccessful. When they have been successful, perhaps a dozen people have died in the attacks. This is horrible, but it makes up a tiny fraction of the 18,000+ murders that take place in the US every year.

If we actually listen to what these terrorists say, they claim it was because of their anger at the US wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. The failed “Times Square Bomber”, after his arrest, tried to justify his violence by talking about US drone strikes on Pakistan. The man who shot up his workplace in Fort Hood said that it was a duty to fight back against the Americans who were killing Muslims. Of course, you can always question if a person’s stated motives are their true reasons for their actions. Fair enough. But if we take them at their word, it does seem that if there is an increase in radical Islam in the United States, US foreign policy is one of the driving forces.

Of the other, foiled, terrorist attacks inside the US in the past several years, they almost always seem shady. After the initial sensationlist storm of coverage, the fine print usually tells the tale of an angry, or possibly crazy person who publicly proclaims their desire to attack America. The person is then approached by an undercover agent or other informant, who commiserates with the angry/crazy person, encourages them to take action, provides them with plans and weapons, and then busts them when they begin their “attack.” I don’t know if this fits the legal definition of entrapment or not. But from what I’ve read, it seems that many of these men didn’t have the drive, resources, or sometimes competence to pull off any sort of terrorist attack without these government agents holding their hand and walking them to the target.

So if Rep. King was having an honest hearing, it would be interesting to see a fearful nation taking stock, and seeing that their military actions may be making them unsafe, and their would-be protectors are drumming up plots where there weren’t really any to start with. But instead of shedding light on real problems, he’s probably going to drum up a lot of anger that’s going to get a lot of American Muslims harassed and intimidated for no good reason.

Posted by Jake on January 3, 2011 9:37 pm

September 29, 2010

Previously, on LMB…

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Oh, right. I should’ve linked to this article maybe a month ago:

The Politics of Fear and Hate 2010

Wrote that last month for my other job. It was a look at how the disgusting right-wing outrage of the month (the “Ground Zero Mosque”) was tied into a much larger campaign aimed at frightening conservative white Americans into thinking that everyone was out to get them. It’s not my best work (I usually have to flatten my tone for that audience), but I thought I brought up a lot of important points for the time. I was also a little proud that a few days after I wrote it, I started seeing other political writers I respect start saying the same thing, describing all of these smaller events as verses of the same song.

There’s also a line in a new Matt Taibbi article about the so-called Tea Party movement (which is largely a rebranding of the far-right of the Republican party) that also sums up a lot of the current American right: “At root, the Tea Party is nothing more than a them-versus-us thing. They know who they are, and they know who we are (’radical leftists’ is the term they prefer), and they’re coming for us on Election Day, no matter what we do.” Mainstream American politics right now is tribal warfare. Democracy and debate are currently tools for seeking victory for their group, not for better policies or societal progress.

I’ve now tried several times, and anything I write after this is just going to turn into a meandering rant. So I’m stopping now. Good day to you.

Posted by Jake on September 29, 2010 9:49 pm

Front Page News

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As some of you know, my day job is working at a public library. This morning, as I was checking in the daily newspapers, I was surprised that the LA Times’ huge front page story–something about an attack on a local TV network– hadn’t gotten any mention on the front page of any of the other papers. Until I looked more closely.

The entire front page of the paper was an advertisement. Actually, the entire front and back pages, inside and out, were an ad for yet another spin-off of the popular “Law & Order” TV series. So if you had that day’s paper delivered to you, or saw it in a newspaper box on the street, you’d see the top half of the front page, and think that there had been some sort of major incident outside a TV studio. Granted, the word “advertisement” appears in small letters above the masthead (a place nobody looks), and the bottom half of the front page (below the fold) is a very clear ad for the TV show. BUT STILL, the LA Times, one of the so-called “papers of record” in the United States, put fake headline news on the front page of their paper because someone paid them to. The NY Times had an almost identical advertising section, but they placed it inside the paper, under the name of a fake paper, the “LA Post”.

Now, this isn’t a new trend. Again, working at the library, I’ve seen more than a dozen issues of magazines with covers that use the logo and format of the magazine’s regular cover to promote some product. But most of these have been sports or fitness magazines, not news magazines. In addition, many newspapers have had partial ads on the front pages in a variety of formats (thin vertical strips that cover up the far-left side of the paper, stickers with ads attached to the front page, etc.). The LA Times has also done a few similar stunts in recent times. Last year, they covered up the entire front and back of the paper with an ad for the TV series “Tru Blood”. In March, they put a fake front page with the picture of the Mad Hatter to promote the new “Alice in Wonderland” movie. That was a little embarrassing, but at least no one would mistake that for the news. In July, they used a fake front page wrapper with fake articles about Universal Studios being destroyed, in order to promote that theme park. While designed to look like an interior section of the paper instead of the front page, it appears that it did cover up the paper’s front. That stunt resulted in the LA County Board of Supervisors writing a letter asking the Times to cut that out.

“So what’s the big deal?” you may ask. “You’ve been writing about how major news outlets promote bullshit, lies, and propaganda as news for years!” And you’d have a point, you cynical bastard.

I guess it’s just a gut reaction, thinking about what we’d all like journalism to be. As kids, most of us were taught that the news is The News, true facts about what’s happening in our world. While skepticism about news is a good thing, it is shocking how journalists (for the most part) do a worse and worse job, while insisting that they are as good as they’ve ever been, that they espouse no particular viewpoint, that their ethics remain unchanged. But this right here was literally “put some fake news on the front page of your newspaper and we’ll give you money”. It could have been worse, of course. “New Study: Everyone Enjoys the Great Tastes of Sprite” or “New Will Ferrell Movie Cures Cancer”. Or even outside of the advertising spectrum: if they took money from NBC to say that a fictional thing happened, why wouldn’t they take money from the RNC to say something never happened? “John McCain Vows to Give Every American $1000″ or “Obama Health Care Plan to Kill All American Kittens”. Or that we’ve always been at war with Eastasia.

It feels that much worse because we all know that good journalism is still possible. We see it all the time in various forms of media. The Times itself recently did a wonderful job exposing the massive corruption in the outlying city of Bell, where city officials had scammed the citizenry of millions in excessive salaries, perks, and embezzlement. Without the Times’ reporting, this might never have been exposed, and the city government would still be bilking the residents.

But I guess what bothers me most is the disingenuousness of the LA Times here. Defending the paper against criticism for the Universal stunt, the paper’s publisher wrote:

The Universal Studios Hollywood ad wrapping Thursday’s LATExtra section met our advertising guidelines, including a large, red ‘advertisement’ notification on top of the page. Our readers understand the ad-supported economic model of our business, which allows us to provide the outstanding journalism they rely upon 24/7.

Tons and tons of people, if not most, read headlines and that’s it. Even if they do read the articles, they often only read the very beginning and then stop. Journalists know this, and are trained to put the most important info first, because people might never make it to the end. So acting like your readers are savvy consumers who are going to look for indicators that what looks like a news story in what looks like a trusted newspaper is actually an ad that looks just like a news story in a trusted newspaper, is utter crap. People are often paying only half attention, and sadly, many of them aren’t that bright to begin with. These ads are selling the trust of readers to advertisers in exchange for cash.

I don’t have a good conclusion here, but this is part of what I’ve always been all about: anti-deceit, and pro-telling-people-to-watch-out-for-deceit.

Posted by Jake on September 29, 2010 9:28 pm

August 24, 2010

Look at Me! Look at Me!

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I’ve never understood the latest social networking trend, the “check-in” apps, like Foursquare. You can let all of your online buddies know where you are right now! Woo! True, it appears that you can get discounts at some shops if you follow Foursquare’s instructions like a good little robot. And I guess it gives the possibility that if you and all your pals have iPhone-y devices, and use these programs, maybe you’ll discover that your friends are partying in a bar just down the street, making impromptu social gathering easier. Or make it easier to brag about all the cool, hipster places you frequent. Honestly, the more I investigate this shit, the more nauseating it seems.

Anyway, the only reason I’m writing about this at all is a quote I ran across in an article about the state of check-in. The focus is a super-predictable bashing of Facebook’s check-in features, by Dennis Crowley, the head of Facebook rival and check-in originators Foursquare. But the true meat of the story is this bit where Crowley describes his vision for check-in:

“In the future, I want Foursquare to be able to tell people where to go wherever they are in the world, based on their previous visiting habits, likes and dislikes and the time of day…We want to be able to push venue suggestions to you. That’s what I am pushing towards as we develop Foursquare’s tools and how we use our data.”

So that’s it. “Check-in”, the fun new social networking tool that combines gadgets, games, and bragging, is a tool for creating marketing profiles of its suckers, and then shoving targeted ads in their faces. In other words, selling audiences/consumers to advertisers. Just like TV.

Posted by Jake on August 24, 2010 10:09 pm

June 28, 2010

I Guess Racism is Kryptonite?

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Nice photo set from Foreign Policy magazine that I ran across thanks to Cuéntame. It’s a little goofy and shmaltzy, but I like the message. The photographer started comparing immigrants to superheroes, in the way that they have “secret identities”, where they are invisible to the vast majority of Americans, but that the difficulties they face to earn a living for their family makes them heroic.

So, the photo set is of immigrant workers in New York, working at their job while dressed as superheroes*. Each photo includes the name, occupation, and amount of money that these people regularly send home to their families. Cuéntame’s comments on the photos are very positive and filled with the stories of thankful people who’s parents sacrificed and worked themselves to exhaustion for the sake of their children. This is the core of the “illegal immigrant” story that is neglected by all our politicians and media: “illegals” (I really dislike the term) are human beings who are trying to make money for their families. They’re not “aliens”, or invaders or demons or whatever. And hell, even though they’re “workers”, that’s not as important as the fact that they’re people.

But to the media and politicians, they will always be a “them”. Immigration, laws, borders, and economics create all sorts of problems and complications, and it’s certainly true that some aspects of illegal immigration hurt legal immigrants and citizens of the adopted country. But all we’re getting is ignorant scapegoating that doesn’t really look at these problems, what causes them, or how we could try to improve things for everyone, to turn a we vs. them into an us vs. the problems.

Most of the anti-immigrant folks I come across (and many of the commenters at Foreign Policy) jump quickly to the “law” part. But breaking the law isn’t inherently bad, and many of us do it daily: breaking the speed limit, jaywalking, taking drugs, pirating music, cheating on our taxes, etc. So the “but they’re breaking the law!” argument is weak. Many of the anti-immigrant folks are outraged, truly indignant that someone would break our laws and enter this country. But it does seem like most of this outrage is reserved for latino illegal immigrants, and not for people of other backgrounds. Frankly, underneath it all, I think the outrage is largely racism, an anger that a different racial group doesn’t “know their place”. The outraged anti-immigrant American is angry that a latino would think that they have the right to be here, in “my” country. That these latinos don’t acknowledge American rules and superiority.*

As always, I have to recommend Aviva Chomsky’s book “They Take Our Jobs!”: and 20 Other Myths about Immigration on this subject, because the entire US-Latin American legal, cultural and economic connection is very complex, deep, historical, and largely misreported in the United States.

* The nerd in me can’t help but point out that Catwoman is not exactly a “hero” in the comics. Well, depends on which comics you’re reading, I guess.
** I know, I know, it’s not all racism. Jobs, cultural change, and generalized fears about the future play a large role as well. Like I said, it’s complicated. Read that book I linked to.

Posted by Jake on June 28, 2010 2:48 pm

June 23, 2010

Class Warriors

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I don’t really give a shit about General McChrystal’s rude words about the president, nor his subsequent sacking. But I am intrigued by this article by Frank Schaeffer that attempts to explain the divide between soldiers and civilians in the United States.

Although it’s not his focus, Schaeffer more or less argues that both the American military and American civilians both believe themselves to be morally superior to each other. Although he doesn’t explain it sufficiently, he seems to argue that soldiers (and we might add soldiers’ families to this as well) see the civilian class as making demands of the soldiers, while not risking their own lives or making any sacrifices themselves. This makes them distrustful and resentful of civilians, who seem naive or hypocritical. On the other hand, civilians can easily claim their own moral high ground because they are not involved in controversial military actions, nor are they out there shooting guns at other human beings.

You’ve also got your class differences, in that many members of our “volunteer military” join up because they don’t see themselves having any other job prospects whatsoever, meaning that American soldiers generally come from poorer backgrounds. Then you’ve got the cultural and educational differences that come from these economic differences. In addition, as Schaeffer discusses at length, you’ve got political differences owing to history and political maneuvering in the past several decades. Part of these maneuvers have been efforts by the religious far-right to recruit and court the military, so you also get some religious differences between the military and civilians as well.

No conclusions on my part here, just trying to figure out this crazy, fucked up world we live in.

Posted by Jake on June 23, 2010 10:41 pm

March 27, 2010

Health Care Reform: Dollar Signs in Their Eyes

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I think that in the future, the Obama administration may be most remembered for making moderate liberal reforms while massively entrenching corporate power.

We’ve seen it with health care reform, the bank bailout, the recent Citizens United Supreme Court decision, and expect to continue seeing it happen.

It seems to me that the recently passed “health care reform” legislation is mildly positive for some people. It is massively lucrative for pharmaceutical companies, and mostly positive for insurance companies as well. People who can afford insurance but can’t get it should theoretically be able to buy it now, and people who have insurance should not have their coverage abruptly canceled when they need to, y’know, use it.

The “individual mandate” is the most fucked-up part of all this. The bill calls for all Americans who don’t have health insurance to buy it. The “public option” would have made this tolerable; a non-profit, government agency selling you insurance would have been a good fall back for people who can’t afford corporate health insurance. But despite the massive popularity of this idea among American citizens, neither the industry, nor their friends in DC wanted it to become law. So it didn’t.

When this mandate is phased in (2016), people go without insurance will be charged $695 a year, or 2.5% of their income, whichever is higher. However, if health care pundit Ezra Klein is right, the bill actually makes no allowances for enforcement of the mandate. So the reality there is possibly less harmful than I’d thought.

I have been really confused about what the health care bill actually says about abortion. It does sound as though it allows insurance companies to stop covering abortions, which they likely will. So if you’re insured, poor, and need an abortion, this bill shits all over you.

And “confused” doesn’t even begin to describe my take on the “health care exchanges”. We shall see.

Thanks to this bill, pharmaceutical companies can continue to charge ungodly prices for their medicines, more than they charge in any other country on Earth. And while some of these regulations should cut into insurance company profits, the mandate hands them 32 million new customers. Sounds like a bargain to me. Of course, what really happens remains to be seen: devil, details, you know how it goes.

So when your right-wing friends call this “the government takeover of health care”, you really should laugh at them. Almost this whole mess is private. Your employer is writing checks to a big insurance corporation, or you are writing checks to a big insurance corporation. Or you’re too poor, or you’re on Medicare.

(And if they’re really worried about “government-run health care,” they need to start speaking out against the VA. Veterans’ health care is 100% government owned and run: government doctors, government hospitals, government pays the bills. And strangely, public health researchers are finding that the VA gets the highest satisfaction ratings from patients of any type of health care program in the country.)

So this may end up being beneficial to some people. I have, however, heard just the opposite from some informed folks. Jane Hamsher of the progressive FireDogLake blog actually expects the bill to do almost exactly the opposite of what’s been promised, in almost every way.

An insightful book I read recently on the topic of health care (mentioned below) made a very important point. An intelligent public health official (who has helped several national governments set up their health care systems) said that a country needs to decide your health care philosophy first. Everything follows from that. Should everyone have full coverage? Is the free market important? Should everyone have access to every possible treatment? Amazing as it is, I don’t know that I’ve hear any politician in this health care reform debacle even mention a philosophy. About all we’ve heard is that the system needs to be “better”. That’s the only philosophy I can divine, given that the statistics say that this legislation will only cover 32 of the estimated 50 million people with no health insurance.

What is very clear, is that this bill is a massive failure of democracy. Polling data for years has shown Americans favoring a national health care system (“single payer”, Medicare for all, something like that), and a vast majority preferred the “public option” to this bill that eventually got passed. This policies have been popular in this country for many, many years. But, as Noam Chomsky is fond of pointing out, these policies are portrayed as “not politically feasible”. In other words, it was supported by the majority of the population, but opposed by a tiny fraction of Americans who happen to be insanely wealthy and politically connected. We all know that, we all see signs of it regularly, and here is another big ol’ slab of proof. A very popular president with a majority of the seats in both houses of the Congress did not even really attempt to pass a bill that was incredibly popular with the American people. The two obvious reasons are disheartening. Either they are too afraid to take on these powerful interests, or they are on the same side as these powerful interests.

My concluding thoughts: if you actually care about health care and what America should do about it, you really have to read “The Healing of America” by T.R. Reid. It’s a pretty easy read. The author visits about a dozen countries, interviews doctors and patients about their health care system, studies the history and how that system came to be, and then has his own chronic medical condition treated by local doctors there. There are many more options than we’ve been lead to believe, every system has its pros and cons, and every system has its own challenges to face in the near future.

And finally, it’s crazy that this debate about “health care” has so little to do with actual American health. What we’ve been saying all this time is “people should be able to see a doctor and get treatment when they’re sick or injured.” This talk rarely include preventative medicine, where you could see a doctor, who’d give you tips or treatments to avoid future illness or injury. Also not included: our broken industrial food system; pollution of our air and water; stressful work/commute cycles; lack of time for exercise; or conditions caused by drug, tobacco and alcohol use/abuse.

I’ve got plenty to say on the right-wing/Tea Party freak outs regarding health care, but we’ll see when I have time to write about that. Ironically, the only reason I had time to write this is because I took time off of work, because I’ve been sick.

Posted by Jake on March 27, 2010 10:07 pm

January 19, 2010

Poverty Ain’t Punishment Enough

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This is some appalling shit right here.

Long story short: cops and prosecutors in New Orleans are using an 1805 law about “unnatural copulation” to have convicted prostitutes labeled as sex offenders. Not only does this allow prosecutors to give longer jail sentences, but when they get out of jail, the prostitutes have an even harder time of things.

First of all, this is perverse. The ancient law criminalizes oral and anal sex, meaning that everyone reading this article, and probably everyone within 100 feet of everyone reading this article, could therefore be convicted as a sex offender in New Orleans. But New Orleans seems to be selecting only the prostitutes (and mostly black female ones at that) to slap with this. The article doesn’t mention if the prostitutes’ customers are getting convicted of this charge or not. I’d guess “not”.

Second, it abuses public fears about sexual assaults. “Sex offender” means, to most folks, “child molesters and serial rapists.” Period. It doesn’t mean hookers, strippers, or people who like kinky sex. But the people who the cops choose to charge as unnatural copulaters will have “SEX OFFENDER” printed on their driver’s licenses, end up in the sex offender registry, and notify all their neighbors that they are sex offenders. For fifteen years. Making a living by having consensual sex with people is really not the same thing as someone who gets their sexual thrills by forcing themselves on people weaker than themselves.

Third, prostitutes generally aren’t in the position they’re because they chose to. Most are extremely poor, can’t find any other work, have drug problems, or all three. Do we really have to go out of our way to punish people who are barely surviving in the first place? Some people apparently so.

It’s a good article, give it a read, and take a little heart that some people are fighting against the unjust law and prosecutions.

Posted by Jake on January 19, 2010 11:08 pm

January 15, 2010

Retort Reform

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I read a rather appalling/heart-warming post yesterday that was essentially about a particular type of ad hominem attack: calling someone “fat”. Apparently there are a number of smart people out there, with smart opinions, who area also arguably overweight. And rather than fighting back against the ideas and opinions of these people, some of their opponents just scream that the smart people are fatty fatty fat fats, and therefore their opinions don’t matter.

Now this debate “tactic” is used all the time, attack the messenger, not the message. Women seem to get the worst of it, presumably because of actual American attitudes about who is good enough, who is “one of us”, and who doesn’t deserve to be heard. The “shut up, you’re fat” attacks, seem to be based on deep held stereotypes that overweight people are lazy, gluttonous, weak-willed, and a host of negative traits that go with that. People also seem to enjoy sitting in judgment on heavy people, acting as though there’s some sort of moral high ground to be had.

I think I found a very good rebuttal to these sorts of attacks in the political realm. You make your argument, someone yells “oh yeah? Well you’re a fat pig.” Then you say:

You know who wasn’t fat?


(In fact, I think that most dictators, mass murderers and serial killers were of a healthy weight…)

The websites where I’ve seen this issue discussed then often turn into a debate over two accurate yet contradictory things:

1) being overweight is often a product of an unhealthy Western diet, and can lead to serious health problems
2) our culture has extremely skewed ideas of what constitutes “fat” and “thin”, and often shames people who don’t fit these unrealistic body types

This can end up turning into an unproductive fight of “it’s okay to be fat” vs. “no it’s not!”, and a variety of similar themes. But these really are two different things. Western lifestyles– including diet, work patterns, transportation, marketing, medicine, industry, science, and culture– have devolved to the point where our practices often cause our health great harm, even when we don’t intend to. Aside from that, our society also places great importance on physical appearance, and our criteria for judging attractiveness is largely shaped by mass media, who have their own goals and agendas. Obviously, the societal traits that cause weight-related disease should be fixed, and fast. And the ignorance we endure psychological damage we do to each other based on bizarre beliefs and stereotypes based on a person’s outward appearance also needs some serious work.

But really, I wrote most of this so I could tell that Hitler joke.

Posted by Jake on January 15, 2010 10:42 pm

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