More Obama Privacy Creepiness

Hooliganism moves online at The Cave in Chicago, sucking up your private information and harassing your friends

There’s nothing surprising (at least to Clintonistas) that the Obama campaign has been using peer pressure and psychological manipulation to herd Democrats.  But in light of Snowden’s revelations about the extent to the NSA’s reach into our private lives, the Obama campaign’s tactics are deeply disturbing.  If you got an email from a suspicious sender asking you to surrender your address book and a lot of private information so he can harass your friends, you’d quickly change all your passwords and turn on two-step verification.  But when it’s some 20 something Obama fan boy in a cave in Chicago doing it, we’re supposed to trust them?

I don’t think so.  

Anyway, listen to the Terry Gross  interview with Jonathan Alter and think to yourself how different this sounds now than it would have a month ago.  Who believes that the information gathering, retention and mining stopped after the election?  I have bridge in Brooklyn…

Bullying beyond the classroom

Emily Bazelon, a senior editor at Slate, has written a book on cyberbullying, Sticks and Stones, and gave an interview to Terry Gross yesterday on Fresh Air.  One of the schools she talks about in her book that is a notorious bullying school is located in Connecticut.  She describes the school as being extremely competitive and that a culture of meanness thrives as a way of getting ahead.  In this school, you can get bullied simply for being not as economically well off as your peers.

The mother of one of the students who was targeted was less interested in curtailing online social media access than changing the culture of the school.  Bazelon says of the girls who bullied the other student:

“We want to think that empathy is this natural quality we all have, and in fact, almost everyone is capable of empathy. But there are these moments in adolescence where kids freeze out these feelings. I spent a lot of time with some of the girls who were bullying Monique [who is profiled in the book], and in moments it chilled me to listen to how dismissive they were in talking about her. But in other reflective moments they would say things like, ‘You know, I see that she’s walking down the hall with her head hanging down and really doesn’t have as many friends as she used to have.’ So it wasn’t that they were incapable of empathy, it was much more that they were in a culture in which they were being encouraged to be cruel to another kid to enhance their own status instead of really letting their feelings of empathy for her have an outlet.”

When I heard this part, I immediately thought of bankers and wondered just how many of them are living in Connecticut.

Melange:A World of Woo, tribal belief, willful self-delusion and Jane Mayer

There are a lot of interesting nuggets in the intertoobz these days.  Some of these things go together and show the lengths we will go to delude ourselves or cling to tribal beliefs.

Let’s start with a podcast.  So, you’ve given up the Judeo-Christian belief system for God 2.0 or no god at all.  Some of us would call this progress.  Giving up bronze age superstition and tradition for something more modern and relevant is quite a bold step.  So, why are so many of you turning to woo?  Woo is defined as “ideas considered irrational or based on extremely flimsy evidence or that appeal to mysterious occult forces or powers”. Woo includes the belief in astrology, auras, energy fields, homeopathy, accupuncture, chiropracty and vaccination phobia.  Seth Andrews of the Thinking Atheist interviews various professionals who debunk these woos and tries to explain why otherwise rational people are attracted to them. Let’s put it this way, if you’re into woo, it’s hard to take anything you say seriously. You’d might as well be a nutcase fundy eschatologist.   Check out Seth’s recent podcast here.

Jay Ackroyd tries to lead Digby to the light when it comes to Obama’s commitment to a Grand Bargain on Social Security and Medicare.  First, go read the piece from Digby where she actually sounds like she’s blown right on past where Conflucians are sitting straight into the arms of the former Democrats who are so angry they’ve started to identify with the Tea Party.  Wow.  That’s quite a leap.  I know the party will reel her back in and, to be honest, we don’t really need more Tea Partiers in Congress, thank you very much.  But, yeah, Digby.  Jay’s right.  The Obama contingent are not liberals.  However, Jay is not right that they’re centrists.  The Obama contingent is definitely on the right side of center.  Nooooo doubt about it.  The only way that they are centrists is if you consider moderate republicanism centrist.  That would make Bill Clinton a flaming commie.  No, no, don’t go there, Jay.  We have seen the studies.  There’s no way in hell that Bill Clinton is a centrist in the same way that Obama is a “centrist”.  The center moved in the past 12 years.  You guys have got to accept this because your irrational belief that Clinton is an evil Republican dude compared to Obama, is what got Obama elected in the first place.  You’ve been done in by your tribe’s woo.  I mean, think about it: your group is asking us to believe that Bill Clinton is, was and always will be more conservative than Barack Obama.  Step back and think about that and ask yourselves if that’s rational given everything you now know.  If YOU can’t swallow it, why are you asking US to believe it?

As for Digby, I really like her and I’ve found her recent evolution to be promising, if only temporary in the lead up to the election.  I expect her to chicken out even though her “Hey! We’re eating grass!” moments are fun to read.  There is a place for left of center Democrats who don’t have our minds so wide open that our brains have fallen out.  We just need to create it.  It probably won’t happen this election cycle unless the Obama half of the party is defeated by the Clinton half of the party.  That’s where we are now.  You may not think the Clinton half is sufficiently liberal but the American people do.  In any case, they’ll drag the party back leftwards like an earthquake in Japan.  It could be a true realignment on the way back to sanity.  And remember, Wall Street rejected the Clinton half last time.  So, you know, how much more proof do you need??  Besides, there is no hope for Howard Dean.  Most people don’t know who he is and wouldn’t like him if they did.  We need to be realistic and work with what we’ve got.  And as far as I can tell, Americans would be ecstatic to return to the Clinton years, even if they were supervised by his wife. A woman in charge would be very good for women in general, wouldn’t you agree?  Especially when that woman is a passionate defender of women’s reproductive rights?  I mean, can women really trust Obama after they way he dragged his feet on the conscience rule, betrayed us in the healthcare law and kept Plan B behind a counter?

As far as everyone having “skin in the game”, Obama’s term for sacrificing in the upcoming Grand Bargain, um, I’ve seen my industry devastated by Wall Street grasshoppers and I’ve lost a very good living, permanently.  So, you know, I’ve already been flayed.  Not only that but I’m in the age cohort who has to wait until I’m 67 before I get the Social Security I prepaid for decades.  I’m not sacrificing anymore skin.  No, do not even ask.  Don’t make us come down there to Washington to make your lives miserable.  You do not want crowds from the size of my graduating class on the mall.  No, you do not.  I suggest that Congress go hunt people with an excess of skin, ie wealthy people.  Give them a good reason to whine.

The last bit is an interview of Jane Mayer on Fresh Air with Terry Gross entitled “Obama in Impossible Bind Over Donors”.  The Impossible Bind is that he wants and needs money from the wealthy and Wall Street but he doesn’t want average voters to know how indebted he is to his big donors so he has to blow the donors off in public.  It’s a sad, sad situation.  Terry, to her credit, seems to have come around after being such an insufferable Obama fangirl in 2008.  Jane Mayer valiantly tries to make Obama look good when it comes to fundraising.  You can almost hear Jane pleading with the audience to understand what Obama is up against but I found her extreme earnestness irritating.  It’s a cruel world out there.  Poor Obama, forced to accept SuperPAC money and trying to make it look like he doesn’t like it.  It’s all the fault of the mean Republicans that he’s sucking up all the money he said he didn’t want.  And while Romney is appearing at the SuperPAC soirees, Mitt has a deputy actually ask for the money, while Obama goes to the soirees and the money just mysteriously appears for him but he doesn’t suck up to anyone to get it.  I find the distinction indistinct.

Oh, but Obama isn’t giving away the Lincoln Bedroom!  So, you know, there’s that.  And that’s presumably why the donors are complaining.  They get nothing from Obama.  Not even a tote bag.  He won’t even take pictures with his donors so they can use that to name drop. It sounds like Obama got too much of a reputation as a schmoozer in 2008 and he’s desperate to squash that meme this year but that doesn’t mean he’ll be turning the filthy lucre down.  He just doesn’t want to have to thank anyone publicly for it.

But the funniest part of the interview is when Mayer is forced to debunk the idea that Obama made the bulk of his campaign money from millions of teensy contributions.  I know, you’re probably thinking that small contributions mean less than $100 because that’s what the Obama campaign lead us to believe in 2008.  We were all under the impression that millions and millions of working class Joes were mailing $20 to him in gratitude with a little note saying, “Bless you, Barack!  Save the Republic.  We’ve been waiting all our lives for you!”  Right?  Intellectually, you know it’s not true because the sheer size of the amount of money he collected, plus all of the contributions from wealthy Wall Street contributors, is public information. But the meme kinda slipped into the chinks of the gray matter and created it’s own woo.  It just *had* to be true because so many people repeated it.  It’s sort of like that woo we debunked about Obama running a fabulous campaign.  Um, no he didn’t, unless you consider gaming the caucuses and paying off the superdelegates and DNC fabulous, and we can prove it but myths die hard.

Anyway, it turns out that the definition of small depends on who is using it.  Small donations to you and me would be less than $100.  Small donations to the Obama campaign means maxing out at $5000.  See the difference?  One is $4900 more than the other. What working class stiff has $5000 to stuff into an envelope for a guy who had less than two years of national political experience before he decided to run for president?  And inadvertently, Mayer exposes what the Obama campaign thinks of the people who gave less than $5K.  They’re not even on the campaign’s radar.

But the final bit of silliness from Mayer is when she contrasts Bill Clinton’s extroversion against Obama’s intellectualism.  That’s got to be a first.  Whatever you might think of Bill Clinton,  making the guy who went to Georgetown, Yale Law School and was a Rhodes Scholar sound like a high school dropout car salesman next to Obama doesn’t really work too well.  What she’s really trying to say is that Clinton is a gregarious politician who likes politics and can carry on an intelligent conversation with anyone, even his enemies, but that the Obama contingent doesn’t like politics and getting hands dirty and actually doing the stuff that gets things done.  I know that she didn’t mean to say that but that’s essentially what she said.  If you were a big money donor, whose campaign would you rather give $5 million to?  (George Soros, call me!)

Once the bloom is off of Obama’s rose, you can’t listen to this stuff without laughing at all of the holes in the arguments.  The woo is gone.

Catholic Bishop Responds to The Nuns’ Story

Terry Gross followed up her interview with Sister Pat Farrell of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious with the view of the church as presented by Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, Ohio.  Bishop Blair lead the commission that investigated the nuns and wrote a report criticizing the sisters for not sticking to church teachings.  The Bishops are planning to take over the LCWR and impose conformity on it.  You can listen to Bishop Blair’s interview with Gross here.

I’m at a loss for words.  Wait, that’s not quite right.  What I mean to say is that the bishops seem to be undergoing a process of self-immolation on a public stage because if what I’m hearing is the “logic” of the church, it is incomprehensible.  I find the bishop’s response to Sister Pat’s interpretation of obedience to be particularly confounding.  Sister Pat says she interprets her vow of obedience as obedience to God and her conscience.  You would think that God’s word would be the ultimate authority.  Not so, says the bishop.  The sister isn’t allowed to get around the obedience to the church even if it is in contradiction to what the sister interprets as God’s will.  The church is a hierarchy and the sister is not in it.  She doesn’t have the right to discuss or question anything.  She only has the duty to do what she’s told, even if she thinks it’s wrong.

And you know, that’s probably ok.  I mean, if you’re going to be a believer of a certain religion and that religion says you must follow us unquestioningly and not rely on your own understanding, then you’d better do what they say or find another church.  The Catholic church is particular flavor of Christianity.  You need to accept that it’s always going to be lime and never fruit punch.

The bishop has more to say on the church sexual abuse scandal.  To me, he is saying that the church doesn’t have a problem with homosexuality and pedophilia (which don’t have to go together but these priests are not mature in their sexuality. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature of their teachings and training).  Bishop Blair attributes the sexual abuse cases to an evil that has gotten into the church.  And in some weird way he justifies the crackdown on the sisters as a response to that evil.  The priests and bishops need to refocus on church doctrine to keep themselves in line and so the first thing they do is make sure the sisters are conforming.

There’s more on human sexuality in marriage and contraception but with every issue, I feel like I’m hearing 2000 years of rationalizations layered into some bizarre accretion.  Somewhere back in the 4th century, the Roman empire co-opted early Christianity and Catholic dogma took a hard right turn forcing everything around it to twist itself into knots trying to keep up.  It’s like one of those old models of the solar system where the earth is the center and everything around it takes more and more complicated paths to explain observations of astronomical patterns, like retrograde orbits.  But hey, this is the Catholic church we’re talking about.  It only took them 400 years to forgive Galileo for being right.

This is what Sister Pat is up against.  And I have to say that if she stays in the church and complies with this assessment, she will need to lose her own conscience.  It will be substituted by some other entity’s conscience.  The loss is not just to herself though.  All of the people who depend on the assistance of her organization will be harmed by her compliance.  She’s going to have to make a choice.  She won’t be the first person to have to defy the church.  Martin Luther did it and that turned out alright, sort of.  But what Martin Luther did to church dogma, Sister Pat would be doing for women in general.

At some point, Catholic women are going to have to ask themselves what’s in it for them that can’t be provided by some other faith.  Is it true that God only speaks to one man in Rome and this holy representative made it to the top through piety and not politics?  And if there is a political element to his election to pope, doesn’t that undercut his authority in some respects?  He’s not the most holy or wise.  He’s just the most popular of the cardinals.  And if that’s true, then how do we know that they’re operating in the best interests of God?  And if they’re using their own judgement and not hearing from God directly, how is their conscience more reliable than Sister Pat’s?

I only ask but *she’s* not allowed to.  The Catholic hierarchy is telling her that this is what she signed up for, no matter how self-serving it is for the guys in charge.  If she wants to do things her own way, well, she’s not being a good Catholic.  It’s sort of like being a woman in the Democratic party.

It’s up to her.  Get in line and be silent and subservient forever or listen to God and her conscience, leave and  start her own order.  This might be the most courageous thing a Catholic woman has ever done.  It would be so significant that it would shake the hierarchy to the core.  Who knows, the Church might need to start asking some questions of itself.  Don’t wimp out, Sister Pat.

Bryan Fischer: Who is this manipulator?

There’s a new guy in town for the fundamentalist evangelicals.  His name is Bryan Fischer and he has a gig with American Family Radio.  If the fundagelicals you know have become rabidly homophobic lately and shrieking about fisting (in other words, they know more about gay sex than you do and think you want to hear about it for hours while you’re trapped in a car together), you might be able to trace their current mental state back to Bryan Fischer.

Jane Meyer wrote a profile on Fischer for the New Yorker for its July-August edition.  Unfortunately, the New Yorker wants money to read past the abstract, which is a shame because it’s not in my budget.  But you can get the abridged version from an interview that Meyer did with Fresh Air with Terry Gross.

Fischer is pretty awful from what I’ve been able to find on him.  To make matters worse, he’s a Stanford graduate.  Given his views on evolution and AIDS, it’s a little disconcerting to say the least.  It sounds to me like he’s manipulating his audience to make money or it could be Stanford wasn’t that picky back when Fischer applied.  But the fact that he’s a graduate of a prestigious school is problematic because it gives Fischer a kind of authority.  He’s seen what the elitists have to offer, he’s even been considered one of them, and he’s rejected it.  This is part of his schtick.

See his argument against evolution if you want to know how he works.  He knows his audience and knows they like absolute certainty.  All he has to do to knock evolution down is skillfully use language to imply that there is nothing certain about a theory.  And he’s right.  A theory is just a theory until something better comes along.  But science doesn’t stick with theories that have no evidence to back them up.  A theory is an interpretation of evidence.  The evidence is real.  The theory is just a working model.  Fischer knows this because he is very precise with his words in this argument.  But he appears to think his audience is as dumb as a box of rocks.

My own personal view on this is that you can believe in creationism if you want but you’re better off not trying to argue with those of us who understand and accept evolution.  There’s nothing you can possibly say that would make us change our minds because your arguments don’t make any damn sense. The person you are trying to convince is yourself. The rest of us are perfectly content and have peace of mind with evolution. We are not tormented by uncertainty. (And here’s some handy advice for religious people who are trying to convert non-believers.)

Homophobia is not his only fault.  His views on women are so extreme that his ultra fundamentalist church kicked him out.  Anyway, keep an ear out for this blowhard because he knows what he’s doing and he makes Glenn Beck look like an amateur.

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Speaking of the gullible, the AARP has a post about why people fall for those incredible Nigerian scam emails.  Wouldn’t it be better for the scam artist to use a more believable story?  Nope.  It turns out the beauty of the scam is that it is so outlandish:

Far-fetched tales of West African riches strike most as comical,” writes study author Cormac Herley. “Our analysis suggests that is an advantage to the attacker, not a disadvantage…By sending an email that repels all but the most gullible, the scammer gets the most promising marks to self-select.”

[...]

“The scam involves an initial email campaign which has almost zero cost per recipient,” notes Herley’s study. “Only when potential victims respond does the labor-intensive and costly effort of following up by email (and sometimes phone) begin.” So the scammers want only the unshakeably clueless to respond; they don’t want to waste time on people who are going to get wise after the gang’s invested hours of one-on-one contact. It’s not exactly what they may teach at business school, but it makes dollars and sense: For the best chance of closing a deal, focus on customers most likely to buy (into a lie, in this case).

But why specifically mention Nigeria? “A less outlandish wording that did not mention Nigeria would almost certainly gather more total responses…but would yield lower overall profit,” notes Herley. That’s because respondents would include more people who would ultimately yield not a single dollar.

Bryan Fischer operates along these lines as well.

A Taste of the Invisible Made Visible.

Brooke and I went to the Brooklyn Academy of Music to see the This American Life production of the Invisible Made Visible.  It was a two hour extravaganza of humor, stories, interactive music, dancing and, well, I’m not sure how you would characterize this:

Ya’know, I can totally see this, for some reason.

After the program, there was about an hour of Q&A.  Part of this program is already available in podcast form here.  But if you want to see what we saw, you’re going to have to wait for the DVD.  Definitely worth it.  Expect it around pledge time.  ;-)

The kid was a starry eyed fangirl around Ira Glass, who generously gave us tickets to the performance.  Afterwards, she got to talk with him and he recommended a site for teenaged girls that his wife had recently discovered and was promoting called rookiemag.com.  Then they posed for pictures.  My camera was acting really strangely whenever I tried to get a shot of Glass.  For some reason, my hand got in the way or his aura gave off too much glare.  I’m telling you, it was unnatural, if you get my meaning.  But I did manage to get a of good one when he said to Brooke, “Ok, let’s pose for a serious one.”  Here it is:

One other thing:

David Rakoff, We Love You.

The New Apostolic Reformation’s bat$#!^ crazies, Gender Glasses and CNN tells the (partial) truth about the 2008 primaries

Terry Gross did an interview with Peter Wagner, a leader of the New Apostolic Reformation or NAR.  NAR was one of the organizers of the prayer rally that Rick Perry attended.  This interview is jaw dropping.  I have to hand it to Gross for handling this well.  What she does is ask Wagner to talk about the emperor of Japan’s “marriage” to the Sun Goddess and he takes it from there.  It’s in the first part of the interview.  Go listen.

There’s a picture of Wagner of his wife.  They look so sweet.  He’s a rounder, more cherubic version of Colonel Sanders, she looks like one of those nice ladies you meet at a church bake sale who always makes those killer combo bars.  You would never know that they are a few nuggets short of a Happy Meal.  Their earnestness disguises a disrespectful hardness towards your personal belief system.  What *they* believe is inviolable.  What YOU believe is up for negotiations.  And they will never, never stop trying to convert you or pull the country over to their way of thinking.  It never occurs to them that they sound unhinged or that their belief system concentrates everything on an afterlife and nothing on ameliorating the suffering in the current life.  It’s narrow minded, conformist and judgmental.  They determine what is moral and if you don’t get with the program, you’re a target for evangelism or social shunning.

Sure, these people are making a living but don’t think for a second that they don’t believe it.  The sun goddess of Japan is a demon and the emperor had sex with her.

Uh-huh.

It sort of reminds me of this guy:

If you’re one of them, yes, you really do sound this crazy.  No, I cannot take you seriously.  I don’t care if I’m not going to paradise with you.

By the way, there is evidence that more  Americans identify themselves as atheists, freethinkers and naturalists.  Peter Wagner has his work cut out for him.

Note:  I see that @apostolicnews is now following me on Twitter.  Please note that I am not your typical elitist snob.  I know people like you personally, know what you believe, know what programs you watch and understand the way you think.  I reject your form of christianity not because I’m a snob but because I find it arrogant and disrespectful of other people’s belief systems and incompatible with goodwill to all people.  Save your breath.  You are not going to make any converts here.

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On another note, The American Prospect has finally gotten around to posting something about the hidden discrimination that women face in the workplace in the post Sexism’s Low Grade Fever.  Here’s a money quote:

The unwelcoming workplace isn’t a deadly cancer; rather, it’s a steady low-grade fever that wears you down by degrees (if you’ll forgive my pun). You can diagnosis this illness through one critical measure: Women rarely stay long enough to rise up through the ranks. Or because they rarely rise, they leave. That’s a loss of momentum for women’s careers and energies—and a loss of energy and talent for the organization that derides, diminishes, and disparages their work.

For instance, I’m reminded of a major nonprofit that produced an impressive, in-depth project related to violence against women. When I congratulated the women who’d produced it, they told me that their bosses had been openly hostile to the project—and had ignored, undermined, and belittled their efforts at every turn. They’d never have been permitted to do it, but they’d wrangled a grant for it on their own. The project made an enormous splash and got critical White House attention. But within months after they’d finished the project, all but one of the women who produced it were gone; they were either pushed out or departed on their own. The women had to work on creating successful careers within different organizations—a real loss of momentum for them and talent for the organization. The men who’d rolled their eyes at the project were left to collect the awards.

Yes.  It’s always a stupid idea until the woman is out of the way and then it’s suddenly brilliant for the guy who stands to benefit when she leaves.

It’s about a week too late and sounds very familiar.  Here’s a recent Confluence post on this.  And here’s another.   Actually, I can probably go back through the last couple of years to find similar posts that I wrote.  This is a big problem that has been simmering for quite a while.  I don’t know whether guys have gotten more blatant about it lately or whether it was always there.  Or maybe the problem is that enough women have developed enough expertise in their fields that the discrimination is severely hurting their careers and they’re just discovering that the behavior they’re coached to deploy doesn’t cut it.  The problem is that men aren’t cooperating and women have had enough.

E.J. Graff, the author, says we should quantify it?  (I think I suggested that first) Ok, but quantifying it goes beyond simply measuring salaries and promotions that Graff suggested.  In fact, if you only do that, you will miss all the memorable self-esteem and career crushing “features” that working in male centric environments have to offer.  By the way, did you know that Finland (yes, them again) has a program run by the government called Gender Glasses?  It conducts investigations of workplaces where gender discrimination is alleged.  One of the tools they use to ferret out the truth is statistics.  EVERYTHING can be measured, including how much men ignore their female colleagues.  Just mine the digital data that is already archived on the company servers.

If I were an enterprising politician, I’d run with this.

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One more thing: Peep pointed me to this post at CNN this morning that shows what a disaster the 2008 Democratic primary has been for the Democrats.  Most of this analysis is correct, although I disagree on a few elements.  For example, Obama’s “superior” organization in the caucus states was helped by the fact that no one who complained about being screamed at, jostled, locked out and overwritten at the caucus sites who was a Hillary supporter was actually taken seriously.  If superior organization means hiring operatives and thugs and bussing people in from an adjoining state to go to caucuses to make sure you win no matter what, then, yeah, Obama did a much better job at that than Clinton.  The other thing is that the way the DNC at first withheld and then awarded the delegates in Michigan and Florida at the May 31, 2008 RBC hearing completely invalidated the votes of every other Hillary voter in all the other primary states.  And the fact that this is what the DNC was planning all along was crystal clear shortly (like within a day) of SuperTuesday in early February 2008.  The fix was in that early.  Buying the superdelegates was just icing on the cake.

So, now it looks like buyer’s remorse has set in and Obama doesn’t have coattails.  No s#@%, Sherlock.  As Harold Ickes said at the RBC meeting, it was not a good way to start down the path of party unity.  Obama didn’t have the consent of half of his own party and those of us who witnessed what the party did to its stronger candidate will never forget how we were disenfranchised so it could anoint a banker financed, shmoozing political neophyte to the presidency during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.  And don’t say, “Nobody could have predicted”.  We did.

(I love this comment from the CNN article:  THOUGHT OF THE DAY:  If you voted for Obama in 2008 to prove you weren’t a racist, please do our great country a huge favor and vote for someone else in 2012 to prove you’re not an IDIOT.)

There is still time to replace him at the top of the ticket.  To do otherwise would be extremely irresponsible.

Oh, By the way, whatever happened to this guy who gave away the entire NJ 121 vote delegation  to the candidate who lost the state in the primary in 2008?

Malignant Christianity

Yesterday, Fresh Air with Terry Gross featured an interview with Rachel Tabachnik who recently wrote a post at Alternet about a new religious movement called the New Apostolic Reformation. Paul Rosenberg wrote a followup post titled “The Biggest Religious Movement You Never Heard of: Nine Things You Need to Know About Rick Perry’s Prayer Event“.  I highly recommend these pieces to those of you who are not familiar with this new cult of evangelicals who are planning to conduct spiritual warfare on an institution or religious affiliation near you.

I don’t know what effect they will have on the political system if they ever get a politician in the White House but if we give them some rope, they just might hang themselves.  I call them malignant because they really don’t care what sect of Christianity *you* believe.  There is only one truth according to them and it is the one they define.  They have absolutely no respect for your religious beliefs.  They don’t believe in tolerance.  They’re cultlike in that they have cultivated a mindset and thought stopping ideas and it is impossible to argue with them.  You can’t reason with people whose minds exist in a parallel universe.  They are end timers who put their faith only in God.  They are waiting for a critical mass of Jews to accept Christ before the end.  Unlike some evangelicals, they don’t necessarily believe in the Rapture.  They expect that they will have to go through the tribulations on earth before Jesus comes.

In many respects, they are indistinguishable from Jehovah’s Witnesses.  This is pretty surprising.  When I was a kid, Jehovah’s Witnesses were thought of as eyes-glazed-over zealots with no sense of humor and a stubborn streak of anti-intellectualism.  Now, a whole new generation of evangelicals has adopted their theology lock, stock and barrel and probably don’t even know it.

These new apostles claim they don’t belong to any church.  They belong to a movement.  Their movement is obsessed with the idea of demons everywhere, another feature of Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Yep, if you are a freemason in the Midwest, you just might find a bunch of these people standing on the lawn to your temple, driving a stake in the grass and praying fervently to drive the demons out.  In most other respects, they are like the religious right.  Adamantly anti-abortion, they also think that homosexuality is perverted.  It’s not just that they think it’s immoral, the very thought of gay sex is mentally and emotionally revolting to them.  I find this aspect really weird but it does tell you something about the age of some of these participants.  Bedroom practices for gay and straight couples don’t really differ a lot these days but you don’t hear the religious right spazzing out about married heterosexuals performing oral or anal sex.  If it’s immoral to use the wrong orifice, it’s wrong for anyone who does it.  Consistency, people.  It would make you a whole lot more credible.

They also seem to think that the government has too much of a safety net and that the responsibility for helping people in need belongs to the church.  This is really strange because these people don’t belong to physical churches and they detest the mainstream religious institutions so who’s supposed to be doing this stuff for the poor?  And what do the poor have to give up in exchange?  It’s funny how these people think the unemployed are parasites after people such as myself paid more in taxes in a year than some of them made in salary.  We’re out of work but we still pay taxes on severance benefits (if we’re lucky enough to get them) and our unemployment checks.  But when the severance is gone, so are the taxes.  You’d think that the New Apostolic Reformation would be banging down the doors of Congress to get politicians to focus on unemployment but you would be wrong.  Because these new apostles don’t believe in the government of man.  They’re waiting for the end time to come.  Any effort towards solving the economic crisis would be a waste of time and besides, that would deprive them of their ability to look down on anyone not like them.

I call it malignant.  It spreads and it causes great harm to the body without providing any positive benefits.  Tabachnik says it’s gaining in popularity but I would hazard a guess that it will become a lot less popular after 2012 when the obsession with Mayan numerology takes its course and we’re all still here in January 2013. Or when Glenn Beck exhausts his good will among the survivalists.  Or when Rupert Murdoch finally has to explain himself before a Congressional committee.

But keep the malignancy aspect in the forefront of your mind.  The New Apostolic Reformation has nothing to offer this country or the world or you personally.  The politicians who pander to it probably don’t either.

Tuesday: Yeah, why *are* we giving bailout money to foreign banks?

Gretchen Morgenson, finance reporter for the NYTimes, gave an interview to Terry Gross yesterday.  Terry must be on the road to Kool-Ade sobriety.  She didn’t sound nearly as hopeful about Obama’s Change-tastic administration.  Come to think of it, even I didn’t expect Obama to be this bad.  It simply boggles the mind how  strongly the finance giants have him in their grip.

There weren’t any standout quotes from the interview.  Morgenson is calm and direct, unlike Adam Davidson on Planet Money who was boiling mad over the bonuses on yesterday’s podcast. ( Anger is good, Adam.)  But Morgenson asks some great questions like why is US taxpayer money bailing out foreign banks like HSBC?  She gives a little bit of the background of the credit default swap industry and says that the whole ingenius concept of this nifty little “instrument” that brought the world economy to its knees started in London.  Well, that’s something we didn’t know before.  Was this some kind of British revenge for that Independence thing?  Were they just waiting for the right moment to unleash havoc?

Terry seemed to be pretty bummed about the bonuses that AIG employees are getting.  The retention bonuses are a way of keeping the bastards from fleeing the company in pursuit of greener pastures, like that’s going to happen.  Morgenson thinks that AIG’s insistence that they must be paid because of some unbreakable contract is a form of blackmail.  Plus the instruments are so confounding that only the geniuses that put them together can resolve them.  She’s also pretty skeptical about the legalities of the contract.  Bankruptcy judges are in the habit of breaking contracts to satisfy creditors so why not in this case?  If I were an auto worker, I’d be ready to march on Washington over this bull$#@% argument.  The UAW has been forced to renegotiate labor contracts to keep the auto industry from going under.  Hmmm, do you think Obama will get their endorsement next election season?

But let’s think about this bonus-retention idea for a second.  Are the AIG guys saying behind closed doors, “Give us the money with no strings attached and we’ll get you out of this mess.  If you don’t, we pull the plug on the world’s markets.”?  Because if they are, I’d call their bluff.  No, seriously.  Call me crazy but that sounds like terrorism and we don’t negotiate with terrorists.  What we do with terrorists is declare them enemies, put them in jail while they’re awaiting trial and seize their property.  Then we can force the shareholders to “take a haircut” as Morgenson says, provided pension funds are covered with the bailout money first.  I mean, why are Geithner and Summers playing patty-cake with these people?  It’s not rocket science anymore.  These are bad guys.  They are holding a financial gun to our heads.  Throw their asses in jail already, impose some huge bail so they don’t flee and make them sit in a cold and lonely cell until they come to their senses.  I give these cushy bastards a weekend before they crack.

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Tuesday: “We gave them free money to make themselves richer”

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren gave an interview on Fresh Air yesterday.  Warren is the Harvard professor specializing in bankruptcy and consumer debt who has been tapped by Congress to follow the bailout money and find out what happened to it.  It’s a pretty bleak interview although there are moments of humor when Terry Gross, our typical Obot, tries desperately to find a silver lining in the presidency of Barack Obama.

In short, Warren is terse and angry with the way the bailout was handled.  She finally gets to the nugget of the problem at the end of the interview: the American middle class has been callously exploited by the finance giants because there are no rules in place that forbid it.  There were no rules regarding the fine print in mortgage contracts, an “anything goes” attitude for credit card companies and no requirements as to how to spend the bailout money or even that a report should be written detailing how it was spent.  The finance giants held us hostage and robbed us blind and NO one in Congress stopped them from doing it, especially the Senator from Illinois who  is now our president. (Remember how Hillary did the morning show circuit trying to get our attention to the mortgage provisions, or lack thereof, in the Paulsen bailout bill?  Do you Obots out there ever wonder about why Obama didn’t do that?  There are at least two reasons I can think of, neither of them pretty.)

The bankers got everything they wanted with Paulsen.  Going forward, it is impossible to say whether they are getting everything they want from Geithner.  Not only that but taxpayers got a lousy 66% return on investment from the bailout per dollar while investors like Warren Buffet got 125% for every dollar.  I think that refers to the tunneling thing we were talking about the other day.  All of the good assets are being scooped up by insiders while the taxpayers are being left with the worthless stuff.  Geithner exaccerbated it when he traded $45 billion in preferred stock in Citibank for $4 billion of common shares but no controlling interest.  This is the kind of deal we have been making with the robbers.

Warren also says that many of the financial institutions are not lending the money they have been given because they are stashing it way against future anticipated losses.  And at the heart of it all are the home mortgages.  One in five of us own a house whose value is now less than the mortgage on it.   The hapless homeowner may never recoup the value of the home.  Obama’s mortgage assistance program does nothing to help these people and the bankruptcy laws, written for the average person, not a banker, does not allow for a primary residence to be written down.  Even if it were allowed, many people prefer to avoid bankrupcy because the law that was passed a few years ago is so draconian.

The bottom line seems to be that no one is accountable and responsible for anything except middle class Americans.  We are also the people with the fewest protections.  It’s almost as if the New Deal never happened.  The Bushies have been successful beyond their wildest dreams.  We are unprotected prey.  They had control of Congress for eight solid years and with the flick of their wrist, just one Republican can filibuster any damn thing they want in the Senate.  They even managed to help elect a Democrat who is the weakest possible president we could have ever imagined in a time of crisis.  Terry Gross got audibly annoyed that Warren wasn’t singing his praises but this is the situation we are in. The afterglow is wearing off.   Obama is completely at the mercy of the wolves.  He got plopped right into the middle of a maelstrom and has no political compass to get him and us out of it.  This is what we, the Clintonistas, were afraid would happen.  It is not a time for “on the job training” and waiting for him to do something.  A responsible and ready president would have come into office with an armload of policies, cabinet already in place and a plan.  He has none of those things.

It really is that serious.  There are few avenues open to us to make it better.  The only slightly bright spot is the possibility that we can help filibuster proof the Senate.  We still have one senator outstanding, Al Franken of Minnesota.  Norm Coleman is fighting tooth and nail to keep him out of the Senate.  Franken still needs our help to pay his legal bills.  The campaign hit me up last night although I don’t have the amount they were asking for.  But every little bit helps.  If you want to seat another liberal Democrat in the senate, consider making a donation to his recount campaign.

In other news:

The drugmakers ensure that no new drugs will be forthcoming from either Merck or Schering for the forseeable future.  They announced plans for a merger yesterday, joining Pfizer and Wyeth in the merger market.  There was plenty of heart racing in the halls where I work.  Many of my colleagues have spouses who work at one of the four companies currently merging.  In a soft economy, these scientists, who have spent most of their lives getting their degrees, have few options.  Now, with the northeast corridor in danger of getting the boot, panic is starting to feel very real.  Meanwhile, the bean counters carefully negotiate how much money the shareholders will get from buying each other out while the projects for oncology, cardiovascular and other diseases languish as, the hiring freezes go into effect,  the managers rearrange the desk chairs and clueless consultants apply the latest trendy bizspeak to the future of research and development.  And cutting research is suddenly the new trend.  One can almost hear the corporate guys saying, “Those guys never get anything done anymore.  It’s just so hard to find good help these days.”

Damn, I should have gone for an MBA.  I could have been sitting on a big old wad of taxpayer cash right about now.

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