What about the workers?

For a little variety, this isn’t tied to a Paul Krugman column. Dean Baker is another economist that I really like and he has a blog on the American Prospect web site called Beat the Press (you can find it on my blog roll too). On Christmas Day he highlighted an article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) about the shut down of an airline. This is what he wrote (pretty much the whole blog),

The WSJ reported the bankruptcy and shutdown of MAXjet Airways. The piece discusses the financial situation of the airline and the efforts that are being made to accommodate ticket holding passengers.

All of this is well and good, but what happened to the airline’s employees who got a layoff notice in their Christmas stocking? Did they get severance pay? Will they be picked up by another airline? The WSJ doesn’t tell us. It doesn’t seem too touchy and feely to include two sentences about what happens to the employees of a defunct airline, especially when the collapse occurs in the middle of the holiday season.

While many may think of the WSJ in terms of its ultra right wing editorial board (they make the Kool-Aid that others drink), the paper is a good paper, but suffers from what all MSM journalism suffers from in this country, the focus on the elite/business classes bias. As Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) reported in 1999 on a new study of PBS. I am going to include select topic areas [emphasis added].

CORPORATE VOICE: More than one-third of all on-camera sources (36.3%) during the two weeks studied were representatives of corporate America or Wall Street. This almost doubled the percentage found in the 1992 study. (pp. 10-11)

POLITICS: Coverage of domestic political issues featured the views of government officials (50.2%), professionals (31.2% — overwhelmingly journalists) and corporate/Wall Street representatives (11%), with very few contributions from any other social group. Consumer, environmental or labor advocates, for example, were almost invisible. (pp. 13-14)

ECONOMICS: Public TV coverage of the economy is, more than any other topic, dominated by one social sector: the business class. Fully 75% of the sources in economic stories were from the corporate or investment world. By contrast, labor union representatives (1.5% of sources), consumer advocates (0.4%), non-professional workers (1.1%) and the general public (1.8%) were virtually invisible in economic stories. “Economic coverage,” writes Hoynes, “is so narrow that the views and activities of most citizens become irrelevant.” (pp. 11-12)

BUSINESS PROGRAMS: The bias in favor of corporate voices is partly due to the expansion of business news on public television, with many PBS stations now airing two daily business news programs, plus at least two regular weekly business programs. Hoynes writes: “In answer to the question ‘If PBS doesn’t do it, who will?’ this kind of business programming is readily available on CNNfn, CNBC, Bloomberg and other television channels, along with the business press and the Internet. It behooves public television stations to evaluate the reasons why they broadcast programs that are widely available elsewhere, appeal to such a limited audience, and are so narrow in their definition of sources and subjects.” (p. 25)

CITIZEN ACTIVISTS: Citizen activists (a broad category encompassing anyone of any stripe active in community, religious, health, environmental, ethnic/racial issues, etc.) accounted for only 4.5% of total sources. This was a decrease from 5.9% in 1992. Citizen activists “appear with such relative infrequency — for example, there is no regular labor voice in discussions of the economy and no regular consumer perspective in debates about anti-trust policy — that they cannot help but be marginal, if intriguing, participants in the public discourse.” (pp. 16-17)

THE PUBLIC: Only 5.7% of total sources are members of the general public — a decrease from 1992’s 12%. “Another method of opening up the discourse,” writes Hoynes, “is to allow real people to participate in debate and discussion.” One edition of “Morning Business Report” referred to the views of “average Americans,” but these were later revealed to be “investors,” polled in a survey about investment and economic questions. (pp. 17-18)

MERGERS & LAYOFFS: A case study of public TV coverage of corporate mergers and layoffs — a significant news story during the two-week period — showed that the main focus was on how investors were affected. Stories on mergers/acquisitions and anti-trust policy were dominated by corporate viewpoints, with only one appearance by a citizen activist and none by members of the public. Coverage of corporate layoffs and unemployment was similarly narrow: 86% of the sources were corporate or Wall Street representatives. Not a single representative of organized labor appeared in public TV’s discussion of corporate mergers or of layoffs. (pp. 20-22)

So when we read about trade, mergers, private equity firms making companies more efficient, sub prime mortgages, and so on, the coverage generally is coming from the investor class for the investor class. NOW and Bill Moyer’s Jounral on PBS are two really good exceptions in the broadcast world. I also like To the Contrary on PBS which is a roundtable format (moderator, 2 liberals, 2 conservatives) but all women and many topics that get no coverage in the broadcast world.

I don’t know if this is a result of Ronald Reagan’s voodoo economics (otherwise known as trickle down or supply side) focusing on the investor class.  If it is a result of the right wing outrage machine that starts the echoes about the victimization of corporation because of regulations.  But we need the media to serve the people, at least the media that is given license to the public airwaves, not just the investor class.  We need media to give voice to the needs of working Americans.


Edwards is pushing the economic populist message

As John Nichols of the Nation writes about John Edwards’ chances in the Iowa caucus.

No serious observer of the December 13 debate in Des Moines doubted that the standout performance, and the standout message, was that of Edwards.

Indeed, undecided voters assembled in focus groups that watched the debate for the major television networks rated Edwards off the charts.

As an Edwards supporter, it makes me happy to see that he is connecting with undecided voters.  That means his message, a decidedly populist message, is resonating.  So here is a bit of his message,

Edwards summed up his increasingly aggressive and powerful anti-corporate themes with a declaration: “What makes America America is at stake: jobs, the middle class, health care, preserving the environment in the world for future generations.

“But all those things are at risk. And why are they at risk? Because of corporate power and corporate greed in Washington, D.C. And we have to take them on. You can’t make a deal with them. You can’t hope that they’re going to go away. You have to actually be willing to fight. And I want every caucus-goer to know I’ve been fighting these people and winning my entire life. And if we do this together, rise up together, we can actually make absolutely certain, starting here in Iowa, that we make this country better than we left it.”

As I have stated in a previous post, Edwards seems ready to fight the corporate interests, not make nice like Obama, or is already deeply entangled with them like Hilary Clinton, but fight for us, the average American.  Trade policy is a good example, and here is what he said at that same debate on the topic.

Turning a broad question about human rights toward the specific issue of trade policy, the former senator said that human rights, human needs and human values “should be central to our trade policy.”

“But,” he added, “if you look at what’s happened with American trade policy, look at what America got: Big corporations made a lot of money, are continuing to make a lot of money in China. But what did America get in return? We got millions of dangerous Chinese toys. We lost millions of jobs.

“And right here in Iowa, the Maytag plant in Newton closed. A guy named Doug Bishop, who I got to know very well, had worked in that plant, and his family had worked in that plant literally for generations. And his job is now gone. The same thing, by the way, happened in the plant that my father worked in when I was growing up. It is so important that we stop allowing these corporate powers and corporate profits to run America’s policy, whether it’s trade policy, how we engage with China. This is not good for America. It’s not good for American jobs. And it’s not good for working people in this country.”

Even Paul Krugman’s column today highlights how trade can have a downward pressure on American worker’s wages.

 But for American workers the story is much less positive. In fact, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that growing U.S. trade with third world countries reduces the real wages of many and perhaps most workers in this country. And that reality makes the politics of trade very difficult.

No before you go thinking this has been Krugman’s thinking all along, he explains in his column that he used to have less reservations about the negative impacts on domestic wages due to trade [emphasis added].

All this is textbook international economics: contrary to what people sometimes assert, economic theory says that free trade normally makes a country richer, but it doesn’t say that it’s normally good for everyone. Still, when the effects of third-world exports on U.S. wages first became an issue in the 1990s, a number of economists — myself included — looked at the data and concluded that any negative effects on U.S. wages were modest.

The trouble now is that these effects may no longer be as modest as they were, because imports of manufactured goods from the third world have grown dramatically — from just 2.5 percent of G.D.P. in 1990 to 6 percent in 2006.

And the biggest growth in imports has come from countries with very low wages. The original “newly industrializing economies” exporting manufactured goods — South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore — paid wages that were about 25 percent of U.S. levels in 1990. Since then, however, the sources of our imports have shifted to Mexico, where wages are only 11 percent of the U.S. level, and China, where they’re only about 3 percent or 4 percent.

Now Krugman isn’t seeking protectionism, but just wants us to think more clearly about trade and for editorial boards to stop their knee jerk reaction to politicians that question the benefits of free trade [emphasis added].

So am I arguing for protectionism? No. Those who think that globalization is always and everywhere a bad thing are wrong. On the contrary, keeping world markets relatively open is crucial to the hopes of billions of people.

But I am arguing for an end to the finger-wagging, the accusation either of not understanding economics or of kowtowing to special interests that tends to be the editorial response to politicians who express skepticism about the benefits of free-trade agreements.

It’s often claimed that limits on trade benefit only a small number of Americans, while hurting the vast majority. That’s still true of things like the import quota on sugar. But when it comes to manufactured goods, it’s at least arguable that the reverse is true. The highly educated workers who clearly benefit from growing trade with third-world economies are a minority, greatly outnumbered by those who probably lose.

I don’t know how many caucus goers read Krugman, but it is clear that Edwards’ message of fighting tooth and nail to get American workers needs in the forefront of policy decision is connecting with them.


Magic Johnson on Clinton

Apparently Magic Johnson has come out in support of Hilary Clinton because of her decades of political experience as reported in the International Herald Tribune.

“You don’t want somebody in there that is young or a rookie at politics,” Johnson said Tuesday at a raucous rally in support of presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton. “We want somebody in there that knows what they’re doing because this job is so huge.”

This is a bit ironic as he had a pretty good rookie year.  Not only did he win a NBA championship with his teammates, he won the MVP of the championship series, the only rookie to ever do that.  This is what is written about that series on NBA.com [emphasis added].

By the time the playoffs came, Abdul-Jabbar and the rest of the Lakers had caught Johnson’s enthusiasm, and they rode it to a Finals date against Julius Erving and the Philadelphia 76ers. The teams split the first four games before Abdul-Jabbar suffered a sprained ankle in Game 5, which the Lakers somehow managed to win anyway 108-103. Abdul-Jabbar limped his way to 14 points down the stretch.

Game 6 looked like it would be a different story. When the team gathered at the airport for the flight to Philadelphia, Abdul-Jabbar stayed home. Not to worry, said Johnson, who boarded the plane and planted himself into Abdul-Jabbar’s customary front-row seat. He winked to coach Paul Westhead and then playfully announced to his teammates, : “Never fear, E.J. is here!”

Johnson’s confidence lifted his team’s spirits, and then he backed it up with one of the most remarkable games in NBA Playoff history. He began by jumping the opening tap in Abdul-Jabbar’s place, then went on to play every position on the floor at one time or another, from his customary point guard role to Abdul-Jabbar’s pivot spot. Johnson scored 42 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and handed out 7 assists as the Lakers stunned the 76ers 123-107 to clinch the first of his five NBA championships.

After the game, he looked into the TV cameras and sent a message to Abdul-Jabbar back in his Bel-Air home: “This one’s for you, Big Fella!”

So a Laker’s fan might think that rookies aren’t that bad when looking at what Magic did in his rookie season.


Foxes guarding the henhouse

This is about media consolidation, but not about Fox News.

The FCC voted today on 3-2 party line vote to ease ownership restrictions on media companies, as reported in Reuters.

The FCC voted 3-2, along party lines, to ease the 32-year-old ban on ownership of a newspaper and broadcast outlet in a single market.

Now I am proponent of regulations, but when a party orthodoxy carries on with the anti-regulation legacy that gained momentum under Reagan, with appointees to regulatory bodies, we need to watch the foxes.  I think Senator Rockfeller nailed it as reported in a different Reuters article.

Another member of the committee, Democrat John Rockefeller of West Virginia, complained that the FCC “appears to be more concerned about making sure the policies they advocate serve the needs of the companies they regulate and their bottom lines rather than the public interest.”

Rockefeller said the committee should write legislation next year that “addresses the structure of the agency, its mission, the terms of the commissioners, and how to make the agency a better regulator, advocate for consumers and a better resource for Congress.”

To me this feels like the attempts by professional sports team owners to get public funding for their stadiums.  They will just keep working at it until they wear you down, or they sneak it through.  Back in 2003, the FCC had a similar vote.  The next month the House voted 400-22 to block the rule change.   Read the timeline at NOW (only goes through 2004).


More Krugman on Obama

Paul Krugman had a another column yesterday on Barack Obama and his big table approach to governance. Like his other recent columns on Obama, this one is critical.

Krugman starts by comparing the rhetoric from Obama and Edwards,

At one extreme, Barack Obama insists that the problem with America is that our politics are so “bitter and partisan,” and insists that he can get things done by ushering in a “different kind of politics.”

At the opposite extreme, John Edwards blames the power of the wealthy and corporate interests for our problems, and says, in effect, that America needs another F.D.R. — a polarizing figure, the object of much hatred from the right, who nonetheless succeeded in making big changes.

I haven’t finished Krugman’s new book The Conscience of a Liberal yet, but his central premise is that political partisanship (from the right) precedes growing income inequalities, which is different from what his belief was before he started researching his book. It is from this premise, that he believes a more equitable America requires increased partisanship from liberals and progressives. Knowing this, it will help to explain his concerns with Obama’s style.

Over the last few days Mr. Obama and Mr. Edwards have been conducting a long-range argument over health care that gets right to this issue. And I have to say that Mr. Obama comes off looking, well, naïve.


The argument began during the Democratic debate, when the moderator — Carolyn Washburn, the editor of The Des Moines Register — suggested that Mr. Edwards shouldn’t be so harsh on the wealthy and special interests, because “the same groups are often responsible for getting things done in Washington.”

Mr. Edwards replied, “Some people argue that we’re going to sit at a table with these people and they’re going to voluntarily give their power away. I think it is a complete fantasy; it will never happen.”

Not only are they not going to voluntarily give up their power, they are going to continue to fight to increase their power. Or maybe fight is the wrong description, more like bribe and influence congress and the president.

This was pretty clearly a swipe at Mr. Obama, who has repeatedly said that health reform should be negotiated at a “big table” that would include insurance companies and drug companies.

On Saturday Mr. Obama responded, this time criticizing Mr. Edwards by name. He declared that “We want to reduce the power of drug companies and insurance companies and so forth, but the notion that they will have no say-so at all in anything is just not realistic.”

Hmm. Do Obama supporters who celebrate his hoped-for ability to bring us together realize that “us” includes the insurance and drug lobbies?

O.K., more seriously, it’s actually Mr. Obama who’s being unrealistic here, believing that the insurance and drug industries — which are, in large part, the cause of our health care problems — will be willing to play a constructive role in health reform. The fact is that there’s no way to reduce the gross wastefulness of our health system without also reducing the profits of the industries that generate the waste.

As I wrote in another post highlighting Krugman’s criticism of Obama on Social Security and Health Care, I favor Edwards as the Democratic nominee. Apparently I am not alone in this, according to an article by Joshua Holland (writes great stuff) at Alternet, Edwards would do better than Obama or Clinton in any match up against the top potential Republican nominees.

According to the New York Times/CBS News poll taken Dec. 5-9 (PDF), 63 percent of likely voters believe Hillary Clinton “has the best chance of winning in November” — the dreaded “electability” question that haunts candidates like Dennis Kucinich. Following Clinton, 14 percent thought Barack Obama was the best equipped to take on the GOP, and just one in ten gave the nod to John Edwards. Of the rest of the field, only New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson got even a single percentage point.

Despite having the highest “unfavorable” numbers of all the top candidates in both parties, Americans think Clinton is the most electable. Go figure.

But according to the CNN poll (PDF) taken Dec. 6-9, a starkly different picture emerges when voters are asked about head-to-head match-ups in November; when the leading Dems are pitted against the top Republicans, it’s John Edwards — not Clinton and not Obama — who simply wipes the floor with the whole GOP field. “Edwards is the only Democrat who beats all four Republicans,” said Keating Holland, CNN’s polling director, “and McCain is the only Republican who beats any of the three Democrats.”

If you like graphics, much prettier than columns of numbers, then this one from the article credited to creator Atlantic’s Matt Yglesias shows how Edwards is polling better in head to head match ups than Obama or Clinton


So it looks like I might have good instincts in liking Edwards.


Great deal on receiver

Tonight I was cruising the internet and I discovered a steal of a deal on an Onkyo A/V, 5.1 receiver, 5×65 watts, the TX-SR304. I have the big version of this, the TX-SR601 which I really like.

In my post the other day on speakers, I talked about Don Lindich’s blog Sound Advice and his advice on the Best Buy Insignia NS-B2111 speakers. Well this is what Don wrote about the TX-SR304 when he highlighted it at $119 this past September.

I’ve long loved Onkyo’s line of surround sound receivers, especially their inexpensive models, which I find to be the best in their class. Their digital sections offer sweet, natural sound from sources such as DVDs and CDs and have clean, strong amplifiers that match well with most any speaker. At shoponkyo.com you can now buy the TX-SR304 receiver refurbished with warranty for only $119!

Here is where it gets better, the club price at shoponkyo.com is currently $99 for a refurbished model. But wait, there’s more! Until December 26, 2007, all refurbished models are an additional 10% off, and shipping is free, so only $89.10.

I have shopped from shoponkyo.com before, the product arrives fast, 2 days via Fedex ground to Minneapolis from Elk Grove IL. Plus with shoponkyo.com you get credit for future purchases at 5% of the value of your purchase.

TX SR-505 A/V, 7.1 channel, 7×75 watt receiver is also a really good deal, $149 refurbished, which would be $ 134.10 with the additional 10%.

Remember you need to join to see these low prices.

I do not get any money from Onkyo or Sound Advice, I am just trying to help extend the good advice that I get from that blog.


Whoopi against the death tax

Whoopi Goldberg came out against the estate tax, more commonly known as the death tax, December 4th on the View, see her video clip here.

Where to start with this, how about a little education on the estate tax. Unlike what Goldberg stated, it is not taxing death, it is taxing the estate of someone who has died. The IRS is not reaching into the grave to pull tax dollars out of your cold dead hands. The estate is your assets that are being passed on to your inheritors. Based on the size of your estate, it may be taxed by the IRS, and more importantly for many states, by the state department of revenue also.

Calling it a death tax is about making a connection with the average person, because most of us won’t have a taxable estate. As Republican pollster Frank Luntz told Frontline,

Look, for years, political people and lawyers — who, by the way, are the worst communicators — used the phrase “estate tax.” And for years they couldn’t eliminate it. The public wouldn’t support it because the word “estate” sounds wealthy. Someone like me comes around and realizes that it’s not an estate tax, it’s a death tax, because you’re taxed at death. And suddenly something that isn’t viable achieves the support of 75 percent of the American people. It’s the same tax, but nobody really knows what an estate is. But they certainly know what it means to be taxed when you die. I argue that is a clarification; that’s not an obfuscation.

As the Wall Street Journal op-ed pages (ultra right wing) point out in their lead article in support of Goldberg

Back in 2001, before President Bush signed estate tax reform into law, the death duty topped off at 55% on estates worth more than $3 million. Today the top federal rate is 45% with an exemption of $2 million, and under current law the rate falls to zero in 2010. In 2011, however, the death tax is resurrected, with the top rate restored to 55% and the exemption set at $1 million.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (a liberal think tank) reported in 2006 on who is affected by the estate tax.

Already, the number of taxable estates has dropped from more than 50,000 in 2000 to fewer than 13,000 in 2006, and it will fall to about 7,000 when the exemption level rises to $3.5 million ($7 million per couple) in 2009. Put another way, a little over 2 percent of all estates were subject to tax in 2000. Today, only one-half of one percent of people who die — that is, 5 in 1,000 — pay any estate tax, and that number will fall to 3 in 1,000 in 2009 (see Figure 1).


So when Joy Behar says that this will fall on the rich, I have to agree.

The other point that Goldberg makes is that you shouldn’t be taxed twice. That sounds really good, and we heard that line of argument in reducing the tax burden on dividend income. Yet average Americans, not those of us in the investor and estate class, pay double taxation all the time. I don’t hear them calling for a repeal of sales and use taxes, which are the clearest form of double taxation (taxing income and then purchases).

If it wasn’t too unwieldy to say, I think the proper term for the estate tax would be the wealth transference tax, but I am under no illusions that language would pass Frank Luntz’s test on clarity. So when the estate is taxed, it is the inheritors who are taxed, they hadn’t previously been taxed for this wealth that they are getting.

Before the end of the clip, I was pretty pissed off at Whoopi, but at least she ends it with a joke, although probably not intentionally.

For some reason she says

No taxation without representation.

Either she lives in Washington DC which truly has taxation without representation, or she has drank the anti-tax punch and it has truly addled her brain. Based on the information that she has a daily radioshow broadcast out of New York, I am guessing she isn’t a resident of the District.

Religion and Atheists

There has been a lot of talk recently about religion especially in 2008 presidential race.  Mitt Romney, a Mormon, gave a speech last week on religion, that I will look at in a separate post.  Mike Huckabee has been a Southern Baptist Minister.  Barack Obama has been the recipient of a smear viral e-mail characterizing him as militant Muslim (not that being a Muslim is necessarily bad).

Now as an atheist, I find religion, and the religious litmus test, to be very fascinating.  I suspect a majority of Americans would be more willing to elect a Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, Muslim, or Jew than an atheist.  The Minnesota Daily reported an interesting survey done by University of Minnesota sociology professors in 2006 that supports that.

Based on a telephone survey of more than 2,000 households and in-depth interviews with more than 140 people, researchers found that Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants, homosexuals and other groups as “sharing their vision of American society.” Americans are also least willing to let their children marry atheists.

“It tells us about how Americans view religion,” said Penny Edgell, an associate sociology professor and the study’s lead researcher. “Many Americans seem to believe some kind of religious faith is central to being a good American and a good person.”

Why do I have to believe in some higher power to be consider a good man?  I just don’t get.  I realize having faith is the world view that many people are coming from, and that they may find the lack of belief to be so different they project that difference in belief on to me having different morals and ethics.  Or their moral and ethical compass my be sort tied to their belief structure, that they would feel lost without the belief to give the guidance, that they project that feeling on to me.  But we need as a society, believers and non-believers, need to bridge that gap

A really good place to start is with Bill Moyers’ 14 interviews from his Faith and Reason series.  I will confess I haven’t seen them all, but I have seen a few of them and they were really well done.  So check them out here.  Naturally as an atheist, I made sure to see the interview with Colin McGinn an atheist.  I found this part of the interview to be interesting, and I think it is doing a good job of defining the difference between persecution and criticism of religion [emphasis added].

BILL MOYERS: What brought this festival of writers together on faith and reason is the growing chorus of voices that are calling for the protection of religious sensibilities and sensitivities against offense, against the insult. There’s something going on here. How do you see it?

COLIN MCGINN: Well, the notion of insult is a slippery one, isn’t it? And does it include criticism? I mean, are you insulting somebody’s religious beliefs if you criticize them?

BILL MOYERS: Well, the people think that you are.

COLIN MCGINN: They do think that you are.

BILL MOYERS: And they want protection for their beliefs.

COLIN MCGINN: Yeah, that, I think, is wrong. Nobody can have their beliefs protected from rational criticism. If insulting people includes shouting at them and calling them names, that’s very bad behavior. But should it be prohibited by law? Maybe, if it’s very extreme. But if people just want to have their belief system protected from every form of rational scrutiny, I don’t have any sympathy for that. I think there’s got to be a very firm distinction between criticism and persecution. And I think people misunderstand the idea of tolerance often. They think that tolerance is the same thing as lack of criticism. But to me, tolerating somebody else’s beliefs is not failing to criticize them. It’s not persecuting them for having those beliefs. That is absolutely important. You should not persecute people for their beliefs. It doesn’t mean you can’t criticize their beliefs. Those are not the same thing. I think people have tended to sort of run these two things together, and they perceive criticism as if it was persecution. But it isn’t.

So when I describe something as militant atheism, then I am referring to the atheist as persecuting a believer for having those beliefs.  But I will still maintain my right to criticize a belief structure.

Now back to the MN Daily article,

Those surveyed tended to view people who don’t believe in a god as the “ultimate self-interested actor who doesn’t care about anyone but themselves,” Edgell said.

Yet, Colin McGinn takes it from a very different angle [emphasis added]

BILL MOYERS: You said a moment ago that when you let slip the bonds or the tether of religion, you anticipated that you might find a big hole in your heart.


BILL MOYERS: Or, in your soul.

COLIN MCGINN: Yeah, yeah.

BILL MOYERS: But you didn’t.

COLIN MCGINN: I didn’t, yeah.

BILL MOYERS: What filled it?

COLIN MCGINN: In fact, I felt the contrary. It felt to me a better world I was living in without God. I mean one of the things about God is everything you as a moral being do is under the scrutiny of this being who’s gonna reward you or not as the case may be. I think it compromises people’s moral sense, because they feel as if everything they do which is good, they’re doing it because God will approve of them and reward them for it. And once you jettison that idea, you do what you should, because you should, because it’s the right thing to do and that you don’t feel that there’s always some sense of self-interest involved in any moral action that you perform.

I think it’s an oppressive idea that God is always looking into your soul at every moment of the day and weighing you up. It makes people too introspective. So, I found it was sort of liberating to not have that oppressive, Big Brother surveillance from God all the time. And I found the universe more interesting and more stimulating without gods. I thought, you know, investigating the universe without a religious impulse or religious perspective on it was to me a more interesting and stimulating thing to do.

McGinn’s position, which I like, is supported by a quote in the MN Daily article,

Cole Ries, the president of the Maranatha Christian Fellowship said he does not agree with that perception.

“Atheists seem to be concerned with the human good,” he said. “Where I differ as a Christian is that I’m more concerned with God’s will than man’s will.”

Still, Ries said, “I don’t believe that anybody is really an atheist. I believe that deep down everyone knows there is a god.”

So Ries gives a nice comment about atheists, then supports McGinn’s argument, and then doesn’t believe in non-believers.

I will also direct you to McGinn’s statement about what is the greatest predictor of your religious belief, or non-belief.

COLIN MCGINN: I think the story of Jesus is a powerful story. It’s got many important ingredients about justice, suffering, bravery. The content of Jesus’ teachings still have a lot of relevance. The Sermon on the Mount still seems to me to have a lot of good things in it. So, there’s a lot to be said for it in terms of just the religion itself.

But also I would say there’s a huge institutional structure behind religion. There has been for a long time. That’s why the best predictor of what people believe in matters of religion is where they were born and their families. I mean, why is it that most people in America believe in Christianity, not in Islam? The answer’s not because of the intrinsic content of the two views. It’s because they were born in a country where Christianity is what they’re taught. If you were born in a country where Islam is taught, you believe Islam. It’s to do with what people are taught and that’s why it hangs on. It’s just a huge, powerful, institutional structure.

That is oversimplifying things, but there is much truth in it.  I was baptized Catholic, and I remember going when I was really little, but we stopped going regularly as a family when I was 3 or 4.  I did go occasionally with my grandmother when she had me overnight to Sunday mornings.  But I didn’t do confirmation and I have never taken communion.

Just some thoughts on atheism and religion.


Indiana’s Voter ID law. Is it a voter fraud condom or voter suppresion?

I was reading an article on Alternet this evening, Republicans Urge Supreme Court to Allow Preemptive Strikes in Elections.  And discovered this unusual phrasing in the US Department of Justice amicus brief (pdf) [emphasis added].

 A State need not wait to suffer a harm; it can adopt prophylactic measures to prevent it from occurring in the first place. That is particularly true in a situation, like voter fraud, where the temptation is obvious and the consequences of undeterred and undetected violations are enormous. Thus, legislatures may “respond to potential deficiencies in the electoral process with foresight rather than reactively, provided that response is reasonable and does not significantly impinge on constitutionally protected rights.”

Now, I know it has other meanings, but when I see prophylactic I think of one thing, and that is condoms.  So thanks Bush White House for adding sexual imagery to the this vital issue of democracy.

On to the serious issue, is there wide scale voter fraud, or is legislation like this an example voter suppression efforts by the Republican party.

Lets start with some other legal news today to start us on our journey.  Alberto Gonzalez was named lawyer of the year by the American Bar Association.  This is place where I suspect voter sheningans more than I do in Indiana.

I decide to start with Gonzalez, because he came under heat for some US attorney firings.  One of these firings was David Iglesias of New Mexico.  This is what Iglesias had to say on NOW this past July.

NOW: As the U.S. Attorney of New Mexico you were asked to investigate and prosecute instances of voter fraud. What was the nature of this alleged voter fraud?

DAVID IGLESIAS (DI): I was aware that the Justice Department was interested in having U.S. attorneys investigate and prosecute voter fraud going back to 2002. In New Mexico, I wasn’t really aware of that being a potential large scale issue until the summer of 2004. So I set up a taskforce in September 2004 to investigate. I made it state, local and federal law enforcement, and I had made sure that the FBI was involved, and that the Justice Department, public integrity section in Washington was involved. I made sure that there were both Democrat and Republican officials as part of this voter fraud effort because I wanted to allay the fears of New Mexicans that this was some kind of partisan witch hunt.

NOW: And did you find prosecutable cases?

DI: No. We looked at well over 100 cases … Upon reviewing the evidence and looking at the FBI reports, and actually talking to the FBI agent in charge of this, I concluded, as did the public integrity section at main Justice [Department] and at the local FBI office, that we didn’t have any prosecutable cases.

Over 100 cases and none were prosecutable, so where is the fraud??  Like that awful catch phrase in the infomercials, “but wait, there’s more!”  Like this from the Washington Post.

White House officials also criticized John McKay, then the U.S. attorney in Seattle, for not pursuing an investigation after the disputed 2004 gubernatorial election in Washington state. McKay, who was fired, has said that claim was baseless.

But wait, there’s more!  The Boston Globe reports on what happened at the US District Attorney office in Missouri in 2006.

Todd Graves brought just four misdemeanor voter fraud indictments during his five years as the US attorney for western Missouri — even though some of his fellow Republicans in the closely divided state wanted stricter oversight of Democratic efforts to sign up new voters.

Then, in March 2006, Graves was replaced by a new US attorney — one who had no prosecutorial experience and bypassed Senate confirmation. Bradley Schlozman moved aggressively where Graves had not, announcing felony indictments of four workers for a liberal activist group on voter registration fraud charges less than a week before the 2006 election.

In Missouri, Schlozman violated standard policy.

Republicans, who had been pushing for restrictive new voting laws, applauded. But critics said Schlozman violated a department policy to wait until after an election to bring voter fraud indictments if the case could affect the outcome, either by becoming a campaign issue or by scaring legitimate voters into staying home.

So it seems Schlozman was trying to influence the election with bringing the indictments just before a very close election.

So a number of Republican district attorneys got the boot for not pushing hard on voter fraud cases.

What about voter suppression, is that what Republicans, other than the purged attorneys, are actively doing?

Lets start with the exhaustive report (pdf) by the People for the American Way which quotes a Republican Michigan State Representative as being very candid.

This summer, Michigan state Rep. John Pappageorge (R-Troy) was quoted in the Detroit Free Press as saying, “If we do not suppress the Detroit vote, we’re going to have tough time in this election.” African Americans comprise 83% of Detroit’s population.

Or a repeat of the 2000 felon purge in Florida in 2004, but with a twist, Hispanics will not be purged.

This year [2004] in Florida, the state ordered the implementation of a “potential felon” purge list to remove voters from the rolls, in a disturbing echo of the infamous 2000 purge, which removed thousands of eligible voters, primarily African-Americans, from the rolls. The state abandoned the plan after news media investigations revealed that the 2004 list also included thousands of people who were eligible to vote, and heavily targeted African-Americans while virtually ignoring Hispanic voters.

Well back to attorneygate for another allegation of voter suppression that Monica Goodling discussed in her testimony before the House Judiciary Committee from the transcript provided by the Washington Post [emphasis added].

As explained in more detail in my written remarks, I believe the deputy was not fully candid about his knowledge of White House involvement in the replacement decision, failed to disclose that he had some knowledge of the White House’s interest in selecting Tim Griffin as the interim U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Arkansas, inaccurately described the department’s internal assessment of the Parsky commission, and failed to disclose that he had some knowledge of allegations that Tim Griffin had been involved in vote- cadging during his work on the president’s 2004 campaign.

Now, many people have no clue what voter caging is, at least up till Monica Goodling’s testimony at which point people wanted to know what was alleged.  So Salon has a good summary of it here,

Vote caging is an illegal trick to suppress minority voters (who tend to vote Democrat) by getting them knocked off the voter rolls if they fail to answer registered mail sent to homes they aren’t living at (because they are, say, at college or at war). The Republican National Committee reportedly stopped the practice following a consent decree in a 1986 case. Google the term and you’ll quickly arrive at the Wizard of Oz of caging, Greg Palast, investigative reporter and author of the wickedly funny Armed Madhouse: From Baghdad to New Orleans—Sordid Secrets and Strange Tales of a White House Gone Wild. Palast started reporting allegations of Republican vote caging for the BBC’s Newsnight in 2004. He’s been almost alone on the story since then. Palast contends, both in Armed Madhouse and widely through the liberal blogosphere, that vote caging, an illegal voter-suppression scheme, happened in Florida in 2004 this way:

The Bush-Cheney operatives sent hundreds of thousands of letters marked “Do not forward” to voters’ homes. Letters returned (“caged”) were used as evidence to block these voters’ right to cast a ballot on grounds they were registered at phony addresses. Who were the evil fakers? Homeless men, students on vacation and—you got to love this—American soldiers. Oh yeah: most of them are Black voters.

Why weren’t these African-American voters home when the Republican letters arrived? The homeless men were on park benches, the students were on vacation—and the soldiers were overseas.

Are there laws related to voter registration efforts that haven’t been pursed by the Department of Justice (DoJ)?  Well according to an Alternet article from July, there is:

Von Spakovsky’s 18-page letter is a detailed defense of some of the department’s most controversial recent rulings, such as approving a Texas congressional redistricting plan and a Georgia voter I.D. law that later was blocked in court as a violation of the Constitutional amendment barring poll taxes. Nowhere in the often-technical letter is any mention in section 7 of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which is intended to help poor people vote by requiring state welfare agencies to offer the chance to register.

Instead, Von Spakovsky defended an aggressive stance with enforcing the NVRA’s voter purge provisions, which fall under section 8 of the law. “The division could not willfully ignore the list maintenance requirements of the NVRA,” he wrote. “It is the responsibility of DOJ to enforce these laws.”

the article goes on to report what the date shows.

 A just-released federal voter registration report reveals the stakes. In late June, the Election Assistance Commission issued a biennial voter registration report to Congress for 2005 and 2006. The report found that 16.6 million new registration applications were received by state motor vehicles agencies while only 527,752 applications came from state public assistance offices — a 50 percent drop from 2003-2004. The report also found 13.0 million voters were purged nationwide and 9.9 million were put on “inactive” status, meaning these people have to provide identification before receiving a 2008 ballot.

The potential number of public assistance recipients who could register runs into the millions. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration’s FY 2008 budget, federally subsidized “health centers” will serve an estimated 16.3 million patients, a population where “91 percent are at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, 64 percent are from racial/ethnic minority groups and 40 percent are uninsured.” This is the same population who typically seek a variety of federally subsidized public assistance, from food stamps to fuel assistance to welfare.

Another indication of how many poor people could register is Tennessee, whose elections are federally supervised. From 2005-2006, Tennessee registered 120,992 people at public assistance offices — nearly a quarter of the national total, the EAC reported. Tennessee registered more voters than the combined totals of welfare office registrations from California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Washington.

So Tennessee whose elections are federally supervised, must be meeting the Section 7 requirements.  After all they have 25% of the public assistance registrants in the whole US (while having about 2% of the total population) and more than the combined total of some of the states with the largest population totals.

So when the DoJ comes out in support of the State of Indiana and their Voter ID law and you look at their record, you have to think that is law should be struck down.  Remember this is the DoJ that has:

  1. Purged attorneys that did not pursue voter fraud investigation when the evidence of fraud was insufficient to prosecute
  2. Replaced at least one attorney with another that brought voter fraud indictments just prior to a close Senatorial election in Missouri, against DoJ policy
  3.  Replaced another attorney with someone that was alleged to be part of a voter caging effort to suppress votes
  4. That has not pursued the reduce voter registration efforts from public assistance offices, which the data clearly shows has decreased, which are required by law

I am sticking with voter suppression.


Great deal on speakers

I have been reading Don Lindich’s columns in the Star and Tribune for years.  This week he highlights a great deal on speakers from Best Buy.  These are the Insignia NS-B2111, which normally cost $87.98, but this week are on sale for $49.98.

Now you may be wondering speakers from Insignia, the store brand for Best Buy, what are these guys smoking?  I bought a pair when they were on sale this fall, but not at this low a price, and I am really liking them.  Can I get better, sure, but for the price they are of very good quality.  Read Don’s review here.

It is good news, indeed. When I cued my first LP and heard the music begin playing, I immediately knew my friend was not exaggerating. These speakers sound great! Running through my favorite LPs, CDs, and DVDs continued to tell the tale. Tthe NS-B2111s have the archetypical “good sound” that satisfies. Specifically, there are crisp and clean with a touch of midrange warmth, and solid, satisfying bass response… the kind of bass response typically found in $400+ bookshelf speakers.

Like I said earlier, I bought a pair on the basis of his review and I have enjoyed them.  I recommend checking out Don’s blog.  He clearly knows his stuff without being some high end snob.  I mean if someone is going to recommend store band speakers from Best Buy at $50, as well as the other speakers you have never heard of, like Ohm, Axiom, and Magnepan, clearly he is about helping you get the best sound to fit your budget.  One thing I respect him for is that he lists affiliates and non-affiliates on his recommend retailer’s page.  So unlike some other sites that will recommend sites, but only those they can make money off of traffic from the links, Don is looking out for you the consumer.

I like his take on the exotic cables (Monster anyone?), Bose, and Blu Ray.  I think it is important that he challenges the importance of Monster (monoprice is the best alternative, I have used them 3 times and learned of them from Sound Advice columns) cables and Bose’s refusal to release the specs on their speakers.

I have e-mailed Don a couple of times with questions, and he is usually pretty responsive and down right nice.  So Don, thanks for the work you do to help us average folks get great sound, video and cameras!


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