Friday, February 19, 2010

What to make of it?

I'm just now catching up on the news, and finished reading about the guy who flew a small airplane into a building in Austin. Really I'm not sure how much to read into his final act or his apparent suicide note. Anyone tempted to read the action as either heroic or as the last act of a lunatic really should think very, very carefully before jumping to their respective conclusions. Instead, I tend to see his last actions as those of someone in financially desperate straits, whose faith in rugged hyperindividualism and American exceptionalism had been shattered by too many years of hard knocks, and who perceived he had nothing left to lose. He had to have been very stressed out. Other than some vague statements about the government and IRS in particular, it's hard to quite gauge the dude's politics, nor is it entirely clear that what he did was politically motivated; it seemed more like someone settling a score via a dramatic murder-suicide attempt. Of course that does lead me to wonder (as have others) how many Joe Stacks are out there, and who will succeed in capitalizing on their misery.

What a twist

I read somewhere that Sarah Palin had her knickers in a bunch over a recent Family Guy episode that references Trig Palin (the child with Down Syndrome). The actress who played the character in question actually has Down Syndrome, and basically had a few words of her own:
I guess former Governor Palin does not have a sense of humor. I thought the line "I am the daughter of the former governor of Alaska" was very funny. I think the word is "sarcasm."

In my family we think laughing is good. My parents raised me to have a sense of humor and to live a normal life. My mother did not carry me around under her arm like a loaf of French bread the way former Governor Palin carries her son Trig around looking for sympathy and votes.
I saw the episode in question, as did my wife who is a person with a disability (cerebral palsy).The episode really wasn't particularly funny, but neither of us found it especially offensive. Palin, as usual, overreacted, with her latest mock outrage (I'm sure if Rush or Glenn Beck had made the same joke, it would have been okay - ya betcha!). But then again, Palin's mock outrage was about as predictable as the FG line in question. In the meantime, kudos to actress Andrea Fay Friedman for standing by her work - not that she really needed to do so.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Meet your tea partiers

Although the sample is a bit small for my comfort, this CNN poll gives a first snapshot at the demographic makeup of the active members of the Tea Party movement: mostly white males, who are relatively privileged, and who wish to keep it that way. I'm gathering they tend to be predominantly Gen-X-ers and Boomers - as I've said before if it's to be a sustainable movement, it really needs a lot of youth active, and that doesn't really seem to be the case thus far. The demographic makeup would also cast more doubt on the extent to which Tea Partiers are truly "grass roots" or, as I suspect, are right-wing operatives and somewhat well-connected would-be elites. Given the anti-tax rhetoric these folks chant like some sort of mantra, I'm more prone to look at the "grass roots" label as little more than spin. Rather than being working-class folks who feel alienated, this movement is looking more like a bunch of aging 1990s Dittoheads who long for the "good old days" when they were listening to Rush Limbaugh in their dorm rooms.

Of course, I would love to see more hard data before I read too much into the results. The impression I have of this poll is that it only coincidentally examined self-identified Tea Party activists. What I would like to see is a survey that actually focuses exclusively on them, using a larger random sample than what was available for the CNN poll. I'd also want to see more data on what these folks actually purport to believe. How many are affiliated with organizations such as the John Birch Society, how many are affiliated with militias, how many are truthers, birthers, or otherwise harbor some sort of "New World Order" conspiracy theory?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Putting things in perspective

I found the graphic at FDL, which follows up on this NYT article. Although I'm still convinced that the stimulus was too little of a good thing, it has (as I've tried to point out before) kept a number of people employed (such as school teachers) who would have been unemployed otherwise. The other thing that I usually like to mention is that the economic debacle that we've been living through was a long time coming, and it would be delusional to expect the problems to just go away overnight. So I give Obama and the Dems some credit for making an effort to clean up the mess left behind from the last decade, even if the efforts were very tepid for my tastes. I can guarantee that the other corporatist party - the one largely responsible for the catastrophe during the 00s - would do worse if left to its own devices.

The good news, to the extent that one can find it, is that the bleeding seems to have stopped. I don't expect any miracles. Unfortunately, I don't expect to see either of our two corporatist parties do much to really address the plight of those most affected by the recent economic melt-down: low-income laborers and young people just entering the job market (the Dems do somewhat better, perhaps). Nor do I view the so-called "Tea Party" crowd, which is largely a collection of corporate interests, militia and conspiracy groups as offering any alternatives worth considering.

These were the eliminationists you were warned about

See NYT's coverage of the Tea Partiers. A few clips:
Online, they discovered radical critiques of Washington on Web sites like (“Home of the Patriotic Resistance”) and (“Because there is a war on for your mind.”).


Tea Party gatherings are full of people who say they would do away with the Federal Reserve, the federal income tax and countless agencies, not to mention bailouts and stimulus packages. Nor is it unusual to hear calls to eliminate Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. A remarkable number say this despite having recently lost jobs or health coverage. Some of the prescriptions they are debating — secession, tax boycotts, states “nullifying” federal laws, forming citizen militias — are outside the mainstream, too.


In the inland Northwest, the Tea Party movement has been shaped by the growing popularity in eastern Washington of Ron Paul, the libertarian congressman from Texas, and by a legacy of anti-government activism in northern Idaho. Outside Sandpoint, federal agents laid siege to Randy Weaver’s compound on Ruby Ridge in 1992, resulting in the deaths of a marshal and Mr. Weaver’s wife and son. To the south, Richard Butler, leader of the Aryan Nations, preached white separatism from a compound near Coeur d’Alene until he was shut down.

Local Tea Party groups are often loosely affiliated with one of several competing national Tea Party organizations. In the background, offering advice and organizational muscle, are an array of conservative lobbying groups, most notably FreedomWorks. Further complicating matters, Tea Party events have become a magnet for other groups and causes — including gun rights activists, anti-tax crusaders, libertarians, militia organizers, the “birthers” who doubt President Obama’s citizenship, Lyndon LaRouche supporters and proponents of the sovereign states movement.


Mr. Paul led Mrs. Southwell to Patriot ideology, which holds that governments and economies are controlled by networks of elites who wield power through exclusive entities like the Bilderberg Group, the Trilateral Commission and the Council on Foreign Relations.

This idea has a long history, with variations found at both ends of the political spectrum. But to Mrs. Southwell, the government’s culpability for the recession — the serial failures of regulation, the Federal Reserve’s epic blunders, the cozy bailouts for big banks — made it resonate all the more, especially as she witnessed the impact on family and friends.

“The more you know, the madder you are,” she said. “I mean when you finally learn what the Federal Reserve is!”


One local group represented at Liberty Lake was Arm in Arm, which aims to organize neighborhoods for possible civil strife by stockpiling food and survival gear, and forming armed neighborhood groups.


A popular T-shirt at Tea Party rallies reads, “Proud Right-Wing Extremist.”

It is a defiant and mocking rejoinder to last April’s intelligence assessment from the Department of Homeland Security warning that recession and the election of the nation’s first black president “present unique drivers for right wing radicalization.”

“Historically,” the assessment said, “domestic right wing extremists have feared, predicted and anticipated a cataclysmic economic collapse in the United States.” Those predictions, it noted, are typically rooted in “antigovernment conspiracy theories” featuring impending martial law. The assessment said extremist groups were already preparing for this scenario by stockpiling weapons and food and by resuming paramilitary exercises.


But Tony Stewart, a leading civil rights activist in the inland Northwest, took careful note of the report. Almost 30 years ago, Mr. Stewart cofounded the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations in Coeur d’Alene. The task force has campaigned relentlessly to rid north Idaho of its reputation as a haven for anti-government extremists. The task force tactics brought many successes, including a $6.3 million civil judgment that effectively bankrupted Richard Butler’s Aryan Nations.

When the Tea Party uprising gathered force last spring, Mr. Stewart saw painfully familiar cultural and rhetorical overtones. Mr. Stewart viewed the questions about Mr. Obama’s birthplace as a proxy for racism, and he was bothered by the “common message of intolerance for the opposition.”
“It’s either you’re with us or you’re the enemy,” he said.

Mr. Stewart heard similar concerns from other civil rights activists around the country. They could not help but wonder why the explosion of conservative anger coincided with a series of violent acts by right wing extremists. In the Inland Northwest there had been a puzzling return of racist rhetoric and violence.
Mr. Stewart said it would be unfair to attribute any of these incidents to the Tea Party movement. “We don’t have any evidence they are connected,” he said.

Still, he sees troubling parallels. Branding Mr. Obama a tyrant, Mr. Stewart said, constructs a logic that could be used to rationalize violence. “When people start wearing guns to rallies, what’s the next thing that happens?” Mr. Stewart asked.

Rachel Dolezal, curator of the Human Rights Education Institute in Coeur d’Alene, has also watched the Tea Party movement with trepidation. Though raised in a conservative family, Ms. Dolezal, who is multiracial, said she could not imagine showing her face at a Tea Party event. To her, what stands out are the all-white crowds, the crude depictions of Mr. Obama as an African witch doctor and the signs labeling him a terrorist. “It would make me nervous to be there unless I went with a big group,” she said.
And yes, you can find some relatively sensible conservatives who not only find the elements comprising the Tea Partiers as extremist, but who truly get just how far off the rails these folks are:
It’s become obvious to everyone that the tea party movement is a mix of Paulian paleolibertarianism, religious fanaticism, and plain old whacked out insanity.

This kind of toxic mix is fertile ground for recruitment by extremist groups, and they’re exploiting the opportunity relentlessly.
 Food for thought. See also David Neiwert's take - he knows a thing or two about right-wing extremist movements from his work on the Patriot movement of the 1990s.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Stop being afraid

That's what those in power want us to be - in a constant state of fear. We're easier to manipulate that way.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Every picture tells a story

Found at EconomPic (h/t). The blue line represents those with less than high school education, the red line represents those holding a high school diploma or equivalent, the yellow line represents those who have some college education, and the green line represents those who hold a 4-year degree or higher. There are probably numerous interpretations for the data. Yglesias concludes that while the labor market for those with college degrees is bad historical standards, it's not catastrophically so. On the other hand, dropping out of high school is probably a bad idea regardless of the state of the economy. Right now, the market for unskilled manual labor is about nil.

Of course those holding college degrees may simply be taking jobs that under better circumstances they never would have taken in order to get by, hence making the relatively low unemployment rate less impressive than would appear at first glance.

Note: Calculated Risk also has a graph that breaks down employment data by income level. Basically, the economic mess we've lived with has deeply affected those of us in households making less than $40k per year (unemployment and underemployment for those households below $20k are actually at depression levels), but having next to no effect on households pulling in six-figure incomes.

RIP Doug Fieger

A bit young at 57, but since he'd been battling cancer for several years, this was not especially surprising news. He seemed to have as good an outlook on life as any, and appreciative of the sort of success that, however fleeting, most of us will never realize. "My Sharona" was the tune everyone would probably know of theirs. I'm sure at one point I probably had the single, and I know I had their first two albums as a kid. "My Sharona" was a great song, on a great album. The second album felt a bit forced, lacking a bit of the spirit that the first one had. By the time the band would issue a third album, the moment had passed for this fan.

You know you've made it big when you get parodied - I believe Weird Al took a shot at the song, and of course the Dead Kennedys parodied the famous guitar solo and the "my Sharona" line ("my payola") on a song called "Pull My Strings" which they played at the Bay Area Music Awards (drawing the ire of some of the audience members).