Election 2012: FOUR MORE FOR #44! SUCK IT, MITTENS

obamawins

Claire McCaskill–IN (beat Todd Akin)

Tammy Duckworth — IN (beat Joe Walsh)

Joe Kennedy III — IN

Tammy Baldwin — IN

Sherrod Brown — IN (beat Josh Mandel)

Kristin Gillibrand — IN

Elizabeth Warren — IN (beat Scott Brown)

Alan Grayson — IN

Joe Donnelly — IN (beat Richard Mourdock)

Martin Heinrich — IN

Maggie Hassan — IN

Grace Meng — IN

Patrick Murphy — IN (beat Allen West)

Princeton wonks and Nate Silver at 538, vindicated!

Gay marriage in more states! Yay!

Best of all:

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA IS IN.

I am so proud.

The voter suppression didn’t work. The dodgy electronic voter machine shenanigans failed. The constant lies, race-baiting, bigot-encouraging, cynical photo-ops, hatred for women, unions, minorities and the 47% from Romney failed. The Koch brothers failed. FOX News, failed. Rush Limbaugh, failed. Karl Rove, failed, Donald Trump, failed. Sean Hannity, failed. Glenn Beck, failed. Ann Coulter, failed.

THEIR BULLSHIT FAILED.

We the people, we won.

‘…But The Political Parties Are Both The Same So I Am Not Voting!’

‎”I’m not going to vote. What’s the difference between Romney and Obama, anyway?”

Ignoring, for a moment, how unintelligent people sound when they say stupid shit like that, let’s pause for a second and think of some differences between the candidates.

Why vote? Well, I don’t know about YOU, but I’m going to vote for the candidate who isn’t trying to shove a vaginal probe up my private parts, has not vowed to kill Planned Parenthood, is less likely to start a war in Iran, doesn’t want to kill healthcare for the needy, does not hate on the gays, does not oppose equal rights, won’t protect the wealthiest 1% from paying their fair share of taxes, doesn’t support Citizens United, won’t ignore infrastructure problems, won’t sell off our national parks and forests to the highest bidder, who won’t protect polluters, who won’t deny federal aid for communities affected by natural disasters, who won’t deny students a chance at a college education because they are not independently wealthy, who won’t give free reign to religious bigots trying to erode Separation of Church and State, who doesn’t believe that corporations are people, who doesn’t believe that money is the same as free speech, who is not actively trying to disenfranchise voters, who supports the DREAM act, who won’t screw the poorest and most helpless in our society, and who won’t gut social services and education. I’m going to vote for the guy who has released his tax returns. I’m going to go for the guy who does not take quotes from his opponent and edit them out of context to tell lies in his adverts.

I will vote for the guy (Obama, to be clear) who is responsible for:

  • The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009
  • The Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010
  • The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare, or the ACA)
  • The Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act
  • Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010
  • The Budget Control Act of 2011
  • Ending the war in Iraq
  • A new START arms control treaty with Russia
  • Capturing / killing Osama Bin Laden

What about Romney?

  • A member of the same political party that endorses all that crap I already said I was not in favor of
  • Worked at Bain, but tells conflicting stories about when he actually left a position of responsibility. It looks like he was there for three years after he claimed he was.
  • Worked for the Salt Lake City Olympics, but all correspondence related to his tenure there has been destroyed.
  • Was Governor of Massachussetts, but all correspondence related to his tenure there has been destroyed and all the computer hard drives wiped.
  • Panders to ignorant Birthers and the hyper-religious
  • Has not, as far as I can tell, ever taken even one stand on an issue that he has not flip-flopped on later for political expediency
  • Lies his ass off constantly (oh, wait, that’s not an accomplishment; my bad)

Also, I am going to vote for the guy that the Koch brothers are not actively trying to purchase the White House for.

Check out the big brain on Brad!

So, no…I’m not going to use laziness or disinterest in doing my civic duty keep me from getting informed about how the two front runners are NOT the same and then using my self-imposed ignorance of the candidates and issues as an excuse not to vote. Neither should you.

Another take on this, from “Diamond Rain” on Facebook:

“To all the people who insist all the candidates are the same, there is no difference between them — which is clearly not true… the proof is in seeing how they vote, in the case of a legislator or a judge, and the huge differences between the policies they enact in the case of a president — but if you think there is no difference, then what do you suggest we do to preserve and better the Republic? Not vote?

Someone is going to be the next president. Saying there is no difference between [Romney] and Obama is not only wrong, but it is worse than a useless contribution because it suggests that the democracy is ineffective and there is no point participating. As far as I am concerned, those who take the position that there is no difference between the parties and/or the candidates are:

1. Wrong.

2. Doing the country a disservice and

3. Are either:

a: On the losing side and trying to convince others to stay home and not vote because they are desperate to find a way to win or;

b. Too lazy to educate themselves in the vast differences between parties and candidates and would rather get a few cheap applause from others who are also too lazy and want to use that as an excuse to do nothing and take no position.

Ignorance is easy. Learning is not.”

So don’t be an asshole. Educate yourself. Pick a candidate. Do your civic duty. Vote.

Welfare Programs Are Not The Cause Of America’s Financial Problems

The one thing I am learning, both first-hand (as a person receiving SNAP benefits) and second-hand (as someone interested in the subject who is researching it), is that welfare is a complicated topic. It is so complicated that two different people can both be right while apparently supporting diametrically-opposed statements, but still be talking at cross-purposes and misunderstanding each other. They are probably using different statistics (or no statistics at all, just personal anecdotes or assumptions or “friend of a friend” stories). They may have different ideas about what is and is not “welfare.” (Do you think Social Security is welfare? Was the controversial Troubled Asset Relief Program (the “bank bailouts”, or TARP; which, while we’re mentioning it, was passed under the Bush administration) welfare? Are Pell Grants welfare?) The people fighting about “welfare” topics may or may not understand how certain programs are funded (not all “welfare” is paid for with income taxes). And so on.

Just to stave off the inevitable flood of “but I have totally for realz seen people abusing welfare with my own eyes!” anecdotes that welfare-related articles tend to encourage, here is where I urge anyone who has actually seen abuse of welfare programs to report that abuse. There are a few reasons I can think of why you would choose not to report hypothetical abuse:

  1. You have not actually witnessed any “welfare fraud” or assistance program abuse first-hand. You may have seen a stranger out and about in public and made some assumptions about that person, but you have no actual information about his or her finances, what (if any) government assistance he or she is receiving, or how he or she is using it.
  2. You are parroting an anecdote based on hard-to-kill cultural stereotypes about welfare recipients, including the infamous Welfare Queen persona (which has some problematic racist undertones), and assuming that the stereotype is true and that “everyone knows” the stereotype is true.
  3. Since most people who are on some form of welfare are ashamed of it and do not discuss it (much like most of us do not talk openly about our finances in general), you would probably be shocked to know how many of your friends, family members and neighbors are currently receiving some form of assistance. They may not fit your preconceived notion of what a “welfare recipient” is supposed to look like.
  4. Yes, you have witnessed some actual abuse or fraud. You chose not to report it, but — oddly enough — you still complain about abuse and fraud anyway. I have to wonder how complaining about the problem benefits you more than doing something proactive about a problem, since it is clearly an issue about which you have strong feelings and opinions.

So, please, report any actual fraud you see. I have helpfully provided you a link to help you out with that: report that abuse! If you fail to report that abuse, and instead choose to just talk smack about Those People, then you are part of the problem, and other people are pretty sick of hearing your noise.

But I digress, as we’re talking about Welfare and not People Who Are Nasty About People Relying Upon Welfare, and Welfare is a topic that gets nearly everyone upset. It is also (unfortunately) more and more relevant as more and more of our neighbors (and maybe even our own friends and families!) experience financial or un(der)employment-related struggles, fall through the cracks, or experience hard times. It becomes more relevant as the “face” of welfare (in this case, I mean “food assistance” and Medicaid when I say “welfare”) changes and starts to include predominately Caucasian middle-class graduate students and people who have earned Ph.Ds and who are actually working full-time.

Just because your neighbor isn’t talking about it–and most people who experience financial distress are ashamed and do not trumpet that information around–it does not mean that he or she is (or isn’t) relying on a government assistance program (or two) to make ends meet.

What do you mean when you say “welfare”?

What I learned is that I have to be very, very careful to clearly define my terms, and I did not do that as well as I should have. For that lapse, I apologize. To clarify, when I have talked about welfare in the past, I have mostly been referring to SNAP, WIC, TANF and SSI:

  1. Food benefits like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is “financial assistance for food purchasing for low- and no-income people…also known as the Food Stamp Program…[t]o be eligible for food stamps, the recipients must have incomes below 130 percent of the poverty line, and also own few assets” and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), which is “a child nutrition program for healthcare and nutrition of low-income pregnant women, breastfeeding women, and infants and children under the age of five; [t]he eligibility requirement is a family income below 185% of the U.S. Poverty Income Guidelines“.
  2. General welfare programs like the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program which “provides stipends to low-income people who are either aged (65 or older), blind, or disabled” and “Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which “provides cash assistance to indigent American families with dependent children”.

There are some problems with defining the poverty line, as the methodology “was created in 1963 by food and nutrition economist Mollie Orshansky and hasn’t been updated since“, but that is the standard used to determine if a family or individual is “poor enough” to qualify for government assistance. As Salon puts it:

“[Orshansky’s] method [for determining the poverty line], though arguably appropriate at the time, is incredibly crude by modern standards. Her idea was to calculate the cost of a nutritionally adequate diet for a given-size family. Then she used the early-‘60s rule of thumb that food was about one-third the typical family’s budget. So calculate the income needed to prevent malnutrition, triple it, and there’s your poverty line. Needless to say, this has only a hazy relationship with modern living standards. Worse, because at the time there were few government programs designed to help the poor, it refers to income before taxes and cash transfer payments. The formula also neglects to include the value of in-kind public services such as food stamps and Medicaid, and smaller programs like housing vouchers.”

Unfortunately, I have also said “welfare” on occasion when I intended to refer to all goverment-distributed social assistance programs, which do include the aforementioned programs but also can refer to:

  1. Social insurance (Social Security)
  2. Healthcare (Medicare, Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), TRICARE, Veterans Health Administration (VHA), Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Services Block Grant (ADMS Block Grant), Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPaACA or “Obamacare” and more)
  3. Public education (which includes training, employment, and social services function: elementary, secondary, and vocational education; higher education; and research and general educational aids; see also programs like Head Start, PELL grants, school lunches, government subsidies for private charitable and social outreach programs like the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and more)
  4. Housing assistance (specifically Section 8)
  5. Food assistance for groups not covered by SNAP or WIC, such as elderly or mentally- or physically-impaired adults in non-residential day-care settings who benefit from the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP)
  6. Benefits for federal retirees and veterans
  7. Transportation
  8. Scientific and medical research (NASA falls under this category, which includes general science, space, technology, and health research, and more)
  9. Miscellaneous expenditures, which include corporate subsidies and handouts, bailouts like TARP, government grants for education and the arts, infrastructure expenditures we all benefit from, and so on. This category is the most problematic, as some people bundle bailouts under the “welfare” umbrella, and others include education, public properties like parks and museums, infrastructure and/or national security expenses (which doesn’t just include the military, but also law enforcement officers, firefighters, 911 services, and so on…for our purposes, we are going to assume those expenses are not welfare).

As Wikipedia puts it: “Social programs in the United States are welfare subsidies designed to aid the needs of the U.S. population. Proposals for federal programs began with Theodore Roosevelt’s New Nationalism and expanded with Woodrow Wilson’s New Freedom, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier, and Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society. The programs vary in eligibility requirements and are provided by various organizations on a federal, state, local and private level. They help to provide food, shelter, education, healthcare and money to U.S. citizens through primary and secondary education, subsidies of college education, unemployment disability insurance, subsidies for eligible low-wage workers, subsidies for housing, food stamps, pensions for eligible persons and health insurance programs that cover public employees.”

What I may have thought was self-evident (“I am talking about helping hungry, needy people”) turns out to be a lot more confusing, and part of the onus for that misunderstanding is on me for being foolish enough to assume I had a pretty good handle on the topic just because I am living what it is like, daily, as a SNAP beneficiary (but I am not a statistician nor an economist, so what was I thinking?!), and part of that is due to the incredibly confusing way that different statistics are presented, how both partisan and non-partisan groups which focused on taxes and welfare programs and social issues often (deliberately?) cloud the most pertinent and relevant issues, and when even the government itself vomits reams and reams of enormous and dense .PDF and .XLS files full of endless columns of numbers at you, which all makes it very difficult to figure out where all the money is actually going and how much, on average, we are each paying in taxes.

Whatever it is, it is always TOO MUCH, amirite?

 

What do I, personally, pay for with my taxes?

According to John W. Schoen, a Senior Producer at MSNBC, there are no simple answers to that question. In a 2008 article, Schoen explained why it is difficult for the average taxpayer to comprehend where his or her dollars end up.

  1. Citizens pay taxes every calendar year on April 15th, while the government spends based on a fiscal year, which begins October 1st. The two calendars don’t match up. This makes understanding what dollars do where a little trickier, because the calendars do not synch up.
  2. According to Gerald Prante, a senior economist at the Tax Foundation, the “average tax bite” on individuals has remained flat–that means it has not changed dramatically–since 1970. That indicates that money is being allocated and de-allocated and shifted around, because the budget bite for different agencies and programs has not been static. That means that looking at last year’s data may demonstrate a very different picture from looking at the year before’s data, especially when you’re trying to determine if a particular program is using funds responsibly, and if people are actually being helped.
  3. According to the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, about two-thirds of your taxes go to the Feds (roughly speaking, anyway), while the remaining third went to your state, county or local government. This also clouds the picture, because different areas have different needs, and the breakdown shifts accordingly. If you live in a so-called “red state,” your fellow citizens consume more funds for tax-supported social service and social safety net programs than they pay for, and so-called “blue states” pay more of their taxes for the same public benefit programs than their citizens consume. In those same states, however, there may be local governments (say, a large city’s) where more services are consumed than paid for, or vice versa. Paul Krugman calls this paradox (where conservative states rely most on government assistance while also supporting conservative politicians who seek to gut social safety nets) “Moochers Against Welfare.”

It is confusing, and when you say “where did my money go?” you probably mean “how much of my money is going to someone other than me?” and this is a question that is only best answered once we figure out where you live (Red States are Welfare Queens), what “invisible” services and programs you yourself might be benefiting from that you don’t believe are “welfare” (or government-funded, citizen-supported) programs or which are government-provided benefits you don’t think about too often (such as small business loans, tax breaks for your marital status or number of kids or your charitable giving, a well-maintained infrastructure, arts funding, Pell grants for students, police officers and fire fighters and the 911 emergency assistance service, free public television and radio broadcasts, weather forecasts and disaster preparedness and relief, clean and safe air and water and medicine, well-maintained national parks and museums, technological and scientific research and space exploration, and so on), and how much you personally paid in taxes (and how many, if any, of your assets were socked away in tax shelters or otherwise hidden or protected with other tax-avoiding maneuvers).

John Schoen breaks down how your taxes are spent (or to be precise, how they were spent in 2007), but, oddly, he bundles certain things together (such as Social Security (which is funded through our paychecks), Medicare (which is collected through specific contributions and not income tax), and “income security” programs (which are mostly but not entirely funded by tax dollars, and which do include government assistance for the disadvantaged) that are usually separated when “how the government spends our money” is discussed. When one combines Social Security, Medicare / Health and Income Security, these bundled expenses appear to cost more than all the expenses that fall under the general category of National Defense, which is actually the largest governmental expense.

Even more confusingly, when the same guy did another analysis, he broke things down into different categories. He’s not wrong, mind you, but it is difficult to walk away from either article feeling as if you have a truly good handle on the “where’s my money go?” question, and that is not Mr. Schoen’s fault. He does a masterful job putting it into understandable “average person budget” and plain English terms, but the simplicity he achieves still requires that some lines get blurred between several government program categories. (For instance, would school lunches be counted by the average taxpayer as food benefits, which are typically included in “income security” programs, or would the lunches be counted as one of many branches of the bundled “education”-related social programs?)

My Esoteric at HubPages (a cost-benefit analyst) believes that the answer to “How much per tax dollar I spend goes towards welfare programs?” is about six cents (or nine cents, if you don’t consider a refund for the TARP bailouts to be repaid welfare expenditures):

“I took a look at the 2012 Federal Budget actuals for 2010 to calculate what percentage of your taxes go toward what part of the budgets. The table below presents my findings [that] show how many cents [per] tax dollar go [towards which] expenditure area.”

REVENUE SOURCE OREXPENDITURE AREA NUMBER OF CENTS FROMYOUR TAX DOLLARUSED FOR THIS PURPOSE
Income Tax
-$1.00
Interest on the Debt
$ .06
Security Programs
$ .24
non-Welfare Related Social Secuity
$ .20
non-Welfare Related Medicare
$ .13
TARP (returned funds)
-$ .03
non-Security Programs
$ .24
Mandatory Welfare Related Programs      
$ .09
You Should Be Able To See The Obvious… but I have some remarks anyway.
  1. If you consider TARP being considered a form of welfare…then only 6 cents out of every tax dollars goes toward providing welfare services to those who can’t provide for themselves. If you don’t, the figure increases all the way up to 9 cents.
  2. The other $ .91 or 91% of your taxes go support the operations of the government or defense. (You ultimately get the Social Security and Medicare back.)
  3. Individual income taxes only provided 26 cents of the revenue dollar needed to fund the 2010 expenditures. 37 cents came for other revenue sources and the last 37 cents was borrowed.

You remember the old phrase, “Hey, mister, can you spare a dime?” Well, after 100 years of inflation the best that can be mustered today is, “Hey mister, can you spare six cents?” Says something about American society, doesn’t it?”

Well, six cents per dollar isn’t bad. The sales tax in my area is higher than that! Even nine cents per dollar isn’t so bad. Is this really what everyone is fussing about? And, of that (let’s say) nine cents, what welfare programs are included? Looking at his data, he appears to be bundling together all social assistance programs which focus on the financially disadvantaged (while excluding Social Security and Medicare, et cetera, which, as we already discussed above, are not funded directly from “our tax dollars”).
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) says only about 13% of our annual budget goes to fund social safety-net programs (and they also exclude Social Security and health insurance-related programs) and state that they “based [their] estimates of spending in fiscal year 2011 on the most recent historical data released by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)”: “About 13 percent of the federal budget in 2011, or $466 billion, went to support programs that provide aid (other than health insurance or Social Security benefits) to individuals and families facing hardship. […] These programs include: the refundable portion of the earned-income and child tax credits, which assist low- and moderate-income working families through the tax code; programs that provide cash payments to eligible individuals or households, including Supplemental Security Income for the elderly or disabled poor and unemployment insurance; various forms of in-kind assistance for low-income families and individuals, including food stamps, school meals, low-income housing assistance, child-care assistance, and assistance in meeting home energy bills; and various other programs such as those that aid abused and neglected children.  Such programs keep millions of people out of poverty each year.”
So, nine cents per tax dollar — and about 13% of the government’s total annual budget — go toward social safety net programs that benefit the poorest, the most disadvantaged, and the least powerful among us. Should we really begrudge that?

Who, exactly, is receiving the most welfare?

When I noted that “more whites” are on welfare in a previous article, I promptly received confirmation of that statement when many readers commented and hastened to point out that, statistically, there are more white folks overall in the United States. Yes, exactly. The fact that there are more white people on welfare because there are more white people overall makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? My point was that it seems odd that we define the “face” of welfare by imagining a person of color (usually as a “Welfare Queen”) when the higher percentage of people receiving a form of welfare are white. It is also problematic when certain (usually Republican) politicians knowingly perpetuate racial welfare-related stereotypes to score points with a traditionally discriminatory and under-informed block of the electorate.

Pig Newton

 from Huffington Post says, citing census data, “The figures are well known. More whites  are on welfare, use food stamps, and public health services numerically than blacks and Latinos. More whites rely on social security, Medicare, and farm supports statistically and proportionally than blacks or Latinos. In Mississippi and Alabama the poverty and unemployment rate among whites is among the highest in the nation.”

The point of confusion is that–within racially-separated groups–more non-whites are struggling in poverty than are whites. I’m going to make up some numbers for illustration purposes, but don’t let it freak you out. Just bear with me. Let’s imagine that we have a population of 500 whites, 300 people of color who identify as “black” and 100 people of color who identify as being “other,” meaning neither white nor black. Out of those 500 whites, let’s say 200 are on welfare, and there are 225 blacks (out of 300) on welfare and 10 “others”  (out of 100) on welfare. That means (a) that there are more whites numerically, in total, on welfare than blacks or “others,” (b) that there are more blacks and “others” combined than whites and (c) that there are a greater percentage of  blacks on welfare, when compared to the total number of blacks in the population, than there are whites on welfare when compared to the total number of whites in the population. (Now forget those made-up numbers, because there is no correlation to real stats, and they were just used to make the math and comparisons easier.)
The thing is, no one is saying any of this is untrue. The problem is that there has been a confusion between apples and oranges, where ‘apples’ means “the total number of people who happen to identify as white who are using social safety net programs” and where ‘oranges’ means getting into examining how many people (within a certain racial group, i.e., black people) are on assistance overall as compared to the percentage of white people overall.
Some non-made-up numbers:
  • 29 million people are on welfare
    • White: 11,661,000 (39%) ← This number is larger.
    • Black: 11,362,000 (38%)

Wikipedia says:

  • [Total] US population — 313,544,041
    • White: 227,005,885 (72.4%) ← This number is also larger.
    • Black: 39,506,549 (12.6%)
Whites: 11.661,000 / 227,005,885 * 100 = 5.13%
Blacks: 11,362,000 / 39,506,549 * 100 = 28.75% ← Now this number is larger.
“That means the total percentage of all white people in america on welfare is 5.13%, while the total percentage of all black people in America on welfare is: 28.75%.”
And that is correct, too! That’s just it — saying there are “more white people on welfare” was not intended to ignore the fact that a higher percentage of non-white individuals and families are struggling in poverty when compared to white individuals and families. It was just stating a fact.
Unfortunately, I failed to be very, very clear, and, when talking about welfare issues, one must be very, very clear indeed.
We could write–and indeed there have already been written–many articles on why it is problematic to compare racial groups to each other rather than looking strictly at total numbers, but two analogies may help get that conversation rolling:
First analogy: Some people start life on third base, while other people can’t even get selected to swing the bat. Some aren’t even allowed inside the ballpark. If a successful businessman starts off in life on third base due to having the good fortune to be born in good health and with sound mind to financially comfortable WASP parents in a safe neighborhood with access to good schools, is he truly a “self-made” man? Is he really self-made when he can rely on networking with and trading favors with his parents’ successful friends, or his frat brothers, or his fellow Lions or Shriners or Moose or Masons, or his church, or any of a number of “white welfare” programs? Is he really “self-made” when he got business loans and relied on the same social framework all our tax money collectively helped build and maintain? The short answer is “No, not entirely, because no one is entirely self-made and achieving success in a vacuum”, and that is just a hard truth, and not intended to disparage anyone’s good ideas, smarts, initiative, or hard work.
Melissa Harris-Perry recently confronted the (smug) myth that the rich “risk more” than the poor, and made some good points: “What is riskier than living poor in America? Seriously, what in the world is riskier than being a poor person in America? I live in a neighborhood where people are shot on my street corner. I live in a neighborhood where people have to figure out how to get their kid into school because maybe it’ll be a good school and maybe it won’t. I am sick of the idea that being wealthy is risky. No! There is a huge safety net that whenever you fail will catch you and catch you and catch you. Being poor is what is risky. We have to create a safety net for poor people. And when we won’t, because they happen to look different from us, it is the pervasive ugliness! We cannot do that!”
What is more risky than being poor?
Second analogy: “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is”. John Scalzi wrote this article of the same title (later re-posted at Kotaku) that explained this concept beautifully: if you are lucky enough to be born into a privileged group (for example, if you are male, straight, able-bodied, middle-class, and White Anglo-Saxon Protestant), you play the Game of Existence on the “easy” setting. Most people of color, or poor people, or non-male people, or non-straight people, or members of minority faiths, or people with disabilities or chronic illnesses (et cetera) are forced to play on the “expert” setting, they aren’t given the standard rules book, and they do not get to use any cheat codes.
Given that an average group of white people are generally going to be more privileged by default than an average group of non-white people (here’s where investigating socioeconomic status (SES) factors might be very enlightening), I find it significant that more white people in total are now relying on welfare programs. That seems significant to me, and, again, it makes the pernicious “duplicitous Person of Color scamming the system” stereotype all the more offensive. The color of the average “face of welfare” is changing.

It is time for the “Welfare Queen” myth to die.

What is most obnoxious about the Welfare Queen myth is that it can be traced back to Ronald Reagan indulging in hyperbole to outrage his conservative Republican base. Stupid Uncle Bonzo.
What Reagan actually said, according to Wikipedia: “During his 1976 presidential campaign, Reagan would tell the story of a woman from Chicago’s South Side who was arrested for welfare fraud: “She has eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve Social Security cards and is collecting veteran’s benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She’s got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income is over $150,000.”
The closest known real life example, according to Wikipedia: “In 1976, the New York Times reported that a woman from Chicago, Linda Taylor, was charged with using four aliases and of cheating the government out of $8,000. She appeared again in the newspaper while the Illinois Attorney General continued investigating her case. The woman was ultimately found guilty of “welfare fraud and perjury” in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois.”
So one woman scammed the government out of a total of eight thousand dollars and went to jail for it and from that, Reagan invented multiple imaginary dead husbands, a six-figure “salary” and multiple Social Security cards…in short, he created the Welfare Queen stereotype by wildly exaggerating information about a real, if rather minor and swiftly punished, criminal act.
Compare and contrast, my friends. That one fairy tale The Gipper told us has led to a lot of misery, and most of it has been directed at the weakest members of our society: those who are the least capable of defending themselves. Are we a country of unkind assholes who lack compassion for our neighbors, now?
Some studies have shown that the “Welfare Queen” story incites racial animosity.
O.K. Kai (of the 40 Acres And A Cubicle blog) comments: “The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Havard University published a study entitled “The Welfare Queen Experiment” in which Black and White participants watched news clips about a lazy welfare recipient named Rhonda.  Separate test groups watched news stories that showed a photo of either a black Rhonda or white Rhonda for a few seconds. Each group was also given a survey to measure attitudes toward race, gender and welfare.  White participants showed a 10% increase in anti-black sentiments when Rhonda was Black and surprisingly, an increase of 12% when Rhonda was White.  This suggests that the Welfare Queen archetype and the distorted view of Black Americans on welfare is well entrenched in the White American psyche. The majority of welfare recipients are non-urban and White.  The majority of food stamp recipients have jobs or are children, so comparing paychecks to food stamps makes no sense.”

Left: Welfare recipient. Right: A leech on society’s “job-creators”

Let’s get this one thing straight: there are no Welfare Queens out there driving Cadillacs, having five kids specifically to get extra financial benefits from the government (or successfully scamming the government to pay for some non-standard expensive medical treatments or procedures). You’re perhaps thinking of Ann Romney with her multiple Cadillacs, her five tax deductions sons (who have undoubtedly benefited from generous and un(der)-taxed loans and financial gifts from their parents), and her $77,000 tax deduction for her so-called “therapy horse” … and we know we haven’t even seen all the tax shelters and tax havens the Romneys have benefited from.

Do you know what’s true (and what’s not) when it comes to welfare topics?

There are a lot of myths about welfare. Here are four of the most persistent:
MYTH #1: Welfare benefits go to minority women who never leave the dole (the “Welfare Queen”).
  • More whites than blacks or Hispanics receive aid (again, we’ve discussed this; see above if you’re still confused by the word “more” and feel the need to nerd out over stats that wind up helpfully proving the actual point being made).
  • Two out of three welfare recipients are children, not adults.
  • Three out of four women on aid get off welfare within two years.
  • TANF benefits are limited to five years (60 months) total. TANF benefits are not renewed or extended if you have additional children. “You can only get TANF for 5 years. This limit applies to all adults and heads of households. […] Adults who reach the 5 year limit cannot collect TANF for themselves or their children. If you get any benefits from TANF during a month, even if you only receive $1, that month will count as one month against your 5 year limit. Periods of receipt need not be consecutive to count towards the 5 year limit.”
  • Alternet says: “Aside from the fact that [the welfare stereotype is] racist, it’s just not true. According to the U.S. government, the majority of welfare recipients are white, live in the suburbs, have two kids, want to work, and stay on welfare an average of only two years. […] While conservatives talk about welfare recipients being a burden on the public, many don’t realize how little we spend on public assistance. The attack on social spending is based on myth. In 1996, all spending on “welfare” programs, including food stamps, free school lunches, unemployment checks, housing assistance, legal defense and the rest came to somewhere around $130 billion. Only counting direct assistance programs like AFDC, however, it was about $50 billion — approximately 4% of the $1.23 trillion budget. When compared to the whole federal budget, the money spent on welfare is trifling, especially when you look at other, truly wasteful federal budget items. Waste and fraud in military spending cost an estimated of $172 billion, while a host of business subsidies — no-strings federal gifts to profitable corporations — cost another estimated $170 billion in taxes. Then there are capital gains and other tax loopholes benefiting the wealthy that cost over $130 billion a year. It looks like the “burdened taxpayers” have bigger things to worry about besides welfare.”
  • The real “Welfare Queens” are corporations. We spend $59 billion on human welfare programs, “and $93 billion were devoted to corporate welfare. This is about 5 percent of the federal budget. To clarify what is and isn’t corporate welfare, a “no-bid” Iraq contract for the prestigious Halliburton, would not be considered corporate welfare because the government technically directly receives some good or service in exchange for this expenditure. Based on the Pentagon’s Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) findings of $1.4 billion of overcharging and fraud, I suppose the primary service they provide could be considered to be repeatedly violating the American taxpayer. On the other hand, the $15 billion in subsidies contained in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, to the oil, gas, and coal industries, would be considered corporate welfare because no goods or services are directly returned to the government in exchange for these expenditures”.

MYTH #2: Welfare encourages teen pregnancy and large, dependent-upon-the-government families.
  • States with the highest benefits have the lowest rates of additional births, and the states with the lowest benefits have the highest.
  • “In the median state, which adds $57 in monthly Aid for Families with Dependent Children (AFDC)benefits for an additional child, each newborn brings a minimum $88.50 a month in new expenses, according to estimates by Catholic Charities USA [this means that each additional child costs approximately $30 more a month after any benefit increased are factored in; more children mean less money overall to survive on].
  • Contrary to the myth, AFDC families also are slightly smaller than the U.S. average. The typical AFDC family consists of 2.9 people, according to the Children’s Defense Fund, compared to the average 3.16 nationwide. Some 42 percent of AFDC mothers have just one child, and 30 percent have two kids. Just 10 percent of AFDC families include four or more youngsters.”

MYTH #3: People on welfare live pretty well.
  • Here are the guidelines for TANF (and here are the names TANF may go by in your state, if “TANF” is unfamiliar to you): Be poor, have infant(s) or children under 18, be ready to work (there is no “free ride”), benefits are limited to a total of five years. Be prepared to give up most if not all of your current assets (if any). The government may provide a cheap mobile phone with pre-paid minutes if the TANF recipient is too poor to afford a land-line or mobile phone of his or her own. This is done so the poor person can communicate with potential employers and with the government employees handling his or her files. (Judgmental people will actually covet these “free” phones and make many nasty comments about how “unfair” it is that a person on welfare “has an iPhone”…but do not kid yourself. You know that not one of them would trade places with the poor person, even if they did get a real iPhone out of the deal.) You can not receive TANF if you have no children, if you are unwilling to work, and if you are not destitute.
  • Here are the guidelines for SNAP: Be poor and hungry. You can only buy food, and only specific kinds of approved food items. (No toiletries, like toilet paper or shampoo or soap. No pet food items or baby care items like diapers, or feminine hygiene items like tampons or pads. No “hot” or deli foods, no pre-prepared or frozen foods (in some areas). No tobacco or alcohol.) Average cost per person per meal is about $1.60, if  s/he can qualify for the maximum food stamp benefits available. There are no actual paper scrip / coupon-like “food stamps” anymore; SNAP benefits are distributed via plastic Electronic Bank Transfer (EBT) cards that look a lot like standard debit cards.
  • Here are the guidelines for WIC: Be poor and hungry, have infant(s) or very young child(ren). There are nutrition “classes” available, and the focus is on providing lots of dairy products for small children. Otherwise, WIC has very similar guidelines as SNAP.
  • Find your local “Section 8” low-income housing area. What kind of neighborhood is it in? Is it safe? Would you feel comfortable driving through or walking around the neighborhood at night? Is it attractive and conveniently situated near good schools, public transportation, grocery stores and businesses? Would you want to live there, even for free? Do you still begrudge those folks a “free” apartment? (Did you know that people can wait up to a decade or more to be placed in this housing?)
MYTH #4: Welfare is a huge drain on the federal budget.
  • It’s true that with state and federal expenditures, welfare programs cost a total of $24 billion annually. And yet welfare payments affect only 1 percent of the federal budget.
  • Affluent Americans enjoy far greater benefits in the form of tax deductions for mortgage interest and property taxes, capital gains exclusions, and farm subsidies. The higher the household income, under current tax law, the greater the tax advantages. Mortgage interest, which is excluded from taxation on loans up to $1 million, will cost the federal government $53.5 billion in 1995, according to a House Joint Committee on Taxation report—more than twice the payments to poor families.
  • Families earning $50,000 or more enjoyed 88 percent of the total tax benefit, and families earning more than $100,000 annually collected 44 percent, according to the same report. “People with million-dollar mortgages do not need a federal subsidy,” says Henry Rose, director of the Community Law Center at Loyola University Law School in Chicago. “You can own two homes and benefit from mortgage interest deductions on both. The government is subsidizing you to own two homes. Is that really where we want our taxes to go? Contributions to Social Security decline as a percentage of income for persons earning more than $60,000. Thus, a worker who earns $20,000 pays 6 percent of earnings into Social Security while another person who earns $200,000 contributes only 2 percent.
  • Unlike federal assistance to the poor, government payments to Social Security recipients are adjusted annually to ease the bite of inflation.
  • Via ThinkByNumbers.org: “In 1996, Congress passed a bill enacting limited welfare reform, replacing the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program with the new Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) program. One key aspect of this reform required recipients to engage in job searches, on the job training, community service work, or other constructive behaviors as a condition for receiving aid. [T]he success of this reform was pretty dramatic. Caseloads were cut nearly in half. Once individuals were required to work or undertake constructive activities as a condition of receiving aid they left welfare rapidly. Another surprising result was a drop in the child poverty rate. Employment of single mothers increased substantially and the child poverty rate fell sharply from 20.8 percent in 1995 to 16.3 percent in 2000.”
  • The poor unfairly bear the brunt of our political and economic anger and are without powerful defenders. “The typical reaction I hear is, ‘We’re the taxpayers who carry the weight of society. Why are you critical of our meager benefits?'” Rose says. “I can understand that. But when we talk about replacing the welfare state, let’s at least recognize all the forms of benefits and look at who really needs subsidy.”

We don’t think purely logically when it comes to finding solutions to poverty.

One problem we have to deal with is separating what is financially most logical and feasible with what offends the sensibilities when it comes to helping the disadvantaged, be they welfare recipients or the homeless. Whereas I am not taking a side one way or the other on this particular issue, there are hard numbers which demonstrate that actually giving chronically homeless people a cheap apartment is financially less onerous than dealing with keeping the homeless away from tourists and from hassling passers-by, and with paying for their health problems, ER visits and medical bills.
Cracked‘s Chris Zeigler explains it with a humorous twist: “The homeless will always be with us. No one wants to hire them, and there’s no way society can afford to just give them a place to live. When a dude is sleeping in a box he found in the alleyway and eating rats cooked over a cigarette lighter, it’s sad, but he’s not costing us anything — at most, he costs whatever spare change he collects in his hat every day. But has anyone gone ahead and calculated the actual cost of keeping someone alive and homeless? Someone did! And it’s around a million dollars.

Wait, what?

First of all, as a society we’re not cool with just letting poor people die in the streets. So while we don’t provide housing, we do provide emergency room care. It’s counterintuitive, but this begrudging little bit of help actually winds up costing society way more than if we just went the whole way. Why? Well, it should come as a surprise to nobody that living on the street is kind of unhealthy, and that’s before the depression and its accompanying substance abuse come into play. […] In Washington in 2002, 198 [homeless] individuals generated 9,000 emergency room visits, or a little under one a week. At a minimum of $1,000 a visit, that’s a heck of a medical bill that those hospitals are trying to collect from a homeless person. Unless they have a really good day panhandling, that money is coming out of your pocket.
Add in the annual cost of $24,000 if they take advantage of a shelter, plus the cost of the police to arrest and process those who misbehave (plus the round-the-clock housing, feeding and guarding they get once they’re in jail), and it all adds up to a tidy sum for taxpayers to handle. Experts say it really would be cheaper just to house them and treat them. […] The general public, of course, would never go for this idea, on principle alone. But it turns out principle is expensive as hell.”
Power-law solutions focus exclusively on the numbers and ask what would be the most financially feasible solution: What is the bottom-line? It turns out that the solution to many issues that involve the poor which would cost the least amount of money would inevitably be the least popular solution, because certain people would be outraged that the very poor were “getting a free handout” — probably the same people who are outraged about the not-so-free assistance the poor are begrudged now. The fact is, although these people talk a lot about the costs and “I don’t want my tax dollars spent on that!”, if you showed them that it would actually save them money to be more charitable, even to the “undeserving,” those people would not want to try any proposal that appears to “reward” the struggling in any way.
That is because, deep down, a lot of the fighting over welfare is not about what it costs, but who we perceive it to be helping the most. This is why it behooves certain groups (and politicians especially) to perpetuate the Welfare Queen fable: It’s a modern-day Southern Strategy and, unfortunately, it still resonates with resentful white people in particular.
Power-law solutions, even in all their cold, logical glory and demonstrably improved bottom line, do not stand a chance against deep-seated resentment, especially racially-tinged resentment for The Poors that is perpetuated by politicians who know darn well what they are doing. But lefty liberals don’t like power-law solutions either, because they seem too cold and impersonal. Both sides are dead wrong about rejecting power-law solutions if the goal is really to help the poor while also making the smartest financial decisions.
As The New Yorker says: “”Power-law solutions have little appeal to the right, because they involve special treatment for people who do not deserve special treatment; and they have little appeal to the left, because their emphasis on efficiency over fairness suggests the cold number-crunching of Chicago-school cost-benefit analysis. Even the promise of millions of dollars in savings or cleaner air or better police departments cannot entirely compensate for such discomfort.
In Denver, John Hickenlooper, the city’s enormously popular mayor, has worked on the homelessness issue tirelessly during the past couple of years. He spent more time on the subject in his annual State of the City address this past summer than on any other topic. He gave the speech, with deliberate symbolism, in the city’s downtown Civic Center Park, where homeless people gather every day with their shopping carts and garbage bags. He has gone on local talk radio on many occasions to discuss what the city is doing about the issue. He has commissioned studies to show what a drain on the city’s resources the homeless population has become. But, he says, “there are still people who stop me going into the supermarket and say, ‘I can’t believe you’re going to help those homeless people, those bums.'””
A more recent case where power-law solutions should have been applied was the failed welfare recipient drug testing experiment in Florida. Not only did the testing fail to save taxpayers any welfare money (because the few people who took the test and failed were able to assign other adults to apply for benefits for their families, and those adults passed) but there was no thought to what would happen if a family was denied welfare because the adult applying for benefits was tested and popped positive on a drug screen. One thing that would definitely have happened is that dependent children or elderly family members would be punished due to the irresponsibility of their adult caretaker. Few people mentioned that automatically assuming that welfare applicants would also, naturally, be drug users was insulting, had suspiciously racist undertones, and, as it turns out, was grossly inaccurate (only 2% of the welfare applicants tested positive for drugs, which, when compared to self-reported percentages of up to 9% in the general population as a whole, implies that welfare applicants are actually less likely to do drugs). There was, notably, no discussion about getting those people who tested positive into a rehab or addiction counseling program. There was also no discussion educating the general public that TANF benefits are not “freebies” but part of a “workfare” program.
It was also kept pretty quiet that Governor Rick Scott benefited financially from the drug testing, and that taxpayer money went to line his pocket.
As a result, you had a lot of ignorant people posting things such as “If I have to pee in a cup to work, you have to pee in a cup for workfare assistance.” Translation: Because I was humiliated and had to submit to a probably unnecessary and expensive pee test to get my probably grossly-underpaid crappy job, then you, too, should submit to an arguably unconstitutional procedure so you can participate in a Welfare To Work program which actually does not provide anywhere near a living wage.”
Considering strict profit-law solutions would have nipped the “test the welfare recipients” idea in the bud. The whole debacle wasted far more taxpayer money than it saved in welfare payments.

We must remember there are suffering human beings involved when we discuss welfare.

There is no dearth of anecdotal evidence that details how miserable life on welfare can be. Here’s Cynthia’s story:
From Claretian Publications: “Cynthia Barnett bears no resemblance to the Cadillac-driving “Welfare Queen” that President Ronald Reagan made famous as an example of fraud and excess in programs to aid the poor. […]  Her monthly income consists of $128 in AFDC benefits that she receives for her youngest child, the only one still under 17 years old, and $236 in federal food-stamp assistance.
Barnett aspires to an apartment in “a relatively safe neighborhood,” but has no real hope she will ever make it out of Dearborn Homes, a Chicago public-housing development in one of the poorest, most crime-infested pockets of the nation. “People think we live the life of Reilly, with all the luxuries,” Barnett says. “I don’t have a telephone…color TV…CD player. I sure don’t eat sirloin. When we get our grant at the beginning of the month we go shopping for what’s needed, not what’s wanted. I look for the nicest things at the cheapest prices. I buy a roll of bus tokens for myself and a roll for my daughter. If we run out of tokens, we just don’t go anywhere.”
Barnett wants to work. […] Barnett now volunteers at Women for Economic Security, a program of the Chicago Area Project that offers job and leadership training for women attempting to make it off welfare. As president-elect of Women for Economic Security, one of Barnett’s tasks is educating potential donors about what it’s like to be on welfare.

We should ask why corporations like Wal*Mart get to pay their workers a pittance far below a living wage, forcing taxpayers to subsidize their food and other needs, while Wal*Mart gets tax breaks from the government.

What is it like? AFDC grants and food stamps barely cover the necessities and leave families below the federal poverty line in almost every state. The AFDC grant for a mother and two children in the median state was $366 per month—or $4,392 annually—in January 1994, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The same family would qualify for a food stamp allotment of $295 per month, or $3,540 per year. Together, AFDC and SNAP [food stamp] assistance for the family totals $661 per month, and $7,932 per year. That’s just 64 percent of the federal poverty line for a family of three, which stands at a grim $12,320. Just one in five AFDC families receive housing assistance.
Most wearing for families without resources is the fear that disaster is around the corner—sometimes in the form of an unexpected bill that would be insignificant to others.”
There is no “free ride” welfare any more — if there ever really was — and there has not been since the Clinton administration.
“On August 22, 1996 President Bill Clinton signed into law his now infamous Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act thereby “end[ing] welfare as we have come to know it.” The Act replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
TANF establishes a lifetime limit of 60 months (5 years) for federal assistance, mandates that single parents participate in work activities for an average of 30 hours per week, and caps federal block grant contributions to states at $16.6 billion per year. (As a result of inflation the real value of the TANF block grant has already fallen by 28%.)
[D]espite few fluctuations in the poverty rate since TANF supplanted AFCD, the participation rate among eligible families has plummeted by 52%  since 1995. Over the same time period—and despite flat to declining crime rates— the U.S. prison and jail population has increased by 44% . Perhaps a quickly expanding prison population is precisely the unspoken foundation upon which “welfare to workfare” rests. We haven’t “ended welfare;” instead we’ve invisiblized it by shifting its beneficiaries from the public square to the prison yard.”

The bottom line is that social assistance programs actually work!

If you are concerned at all about the very poor (unlike Mitt Romney), government safety net programs work.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says: “A Center analysis shows that government safety net programs kept some 25 million people out of poverty in 2010. Without any government income assistance, either from safety net programs or other income supports like Social Security, the poverty rate would have been nearly double in 2010 (28.6 rather than 15.5 percent).” Despite the acknowledged flaws in our social safety net programs, they do work if your definition of success includes “lifting families out of poverty”.
Salon says: “[P]overty fell substantially over the past several decades before rising a bit during the Great Recession. Neither liberals nor conservatives have been eager to embrace this idea—the former to bolster support for new programs and the latter to dismiss the efficacy of what’s already been done. […] The impact of the recession aside, we’re clearly winning the decades-long war on poverty. We’re doing so in part because the economy is evolving in ways that are favorable to the poor, and in part because our government programs are effective. In particular, the not-very-complicated strategy of giving money to the poor through tax credits and Social Security has steadily pushed the poverty rate down over decades, while safety net programs help shelter people from recessions. It’s understandable that advocates like to underscore the severity of social problems. But at a time when many voters seem skeptical about the efficacy of government programs it’s worth saying that these programs work. Long-term investment in anti-poverty spending has done exactly what it is supposed to do.”
Welfare–here, government assistance programs for the impoverished and needy–has never been a major cost to taxpayers in this country. Less than 1% of the average paycheck goes for this non-medical welfare.
Welfare programs are not at the root of our country’s financial problems, and they never really were.

False Equivalencies: Why Glenn Beck Pretended to Be Upset Obama “Ate a Dog”

Glenn Beck is SIMPLY APPALLED, people. Obama, when he was a small child, living in a country that does not have the same taboo about eating dogs that we do, was given dog to eat by his adult caretaker. Well then, Beck, I guess you have to stop calling President Obama a Muslim then since it is forbidden by their faith.

Man, the conservatives really had to dig deep to counter Romney’s callous treatment of the family dog. Ever hear of “two wrongs don’t make a right”?

Or, more accurately, that the offending passage from one of Obama’s books that they are attempting to color as “just as bad” does not elaborate on whether Obama knew he was eating dog beforehand (I was fed donkey and snake AND rabbit without knowing that was what it was before I ate it), does not mention that it is common in the country where he was raised (even if it is gross to Western sensibilities), and involves, at best, being a passive bystander and consumer of an anonymous and nameless livestock animal raised for meat like a cow or chicken or pig.

Compare that to what Mitt Romney admits he did as an adult: he was an actively responsible party mistreating a living animal with a name (Seamus) who was already elevated to the status of house pet by strapping him for hours atop the family car, and then he did nothing to remedy the situation after the supposedly beloved companion animal / four-legged family member expressed discomfort, fear, and distress by, well, crapping himself.

So now we’re comparing what Obama did as a child to an anonymous animal, when he had no choice but to do eat what his adult guardian told him to do, to what Romney did as an adult to a family pet, when he had several options he could have chosen at any time, such as putting his luggage atop the car and the dog inside it. What, was he more concerned that a suitcase might fall off than the dog carrier? To repeat: Obama was a child who was FED dog by his caregiver (how much choice did YOU have in deciding the dinner menu at your home when you were a kid?), while Romney was an adult who freely chose how to treat the family dog and to ignore the poor animal’s obvious distress.

In short, weaksauce all around. But would you expect anything else?

You know, I remember Matt Drudge spamming the entire USENET with his screeds, not bothering to check if it was wanted or appropriate.

Back in the day, self-promotion and advertising of any sort were LOATHED and resisted. There were newsgroups (sort of like forums) which existed as separate little “islands” of discussion devoted to a narrow-focus subject, and people resented–especially when access was via a slow dial-up modem), and EVEN MORE when they got on USENET via the first paynets–reading something off-topic.

Most people using USENET had access to approximately 5,000 newsgroups of varying degrees of popularity. Drudge would spam his long and 99.8% off-topic and self-indulgent / self-promotional “reports” to every single newsgroup he had access to, and would ignore everyone raising hell about it (SO RUDE). He did not participate in discussions that I EVER saw. He was out to talk about what he wanted to talk about, and to hell with you or if it was an appropriate venue or even if anyone else was interested even tangentially in his posts.

If there was any justice, he would eventually have gotten tired of spamming the world and being hated by nearly everyone with USENET access globally and would have gone away (or, when the Internet finally had a GUI, he would have made a ranty Angelfire or Geocities webpage with spinny skulls, under construction animations, rainbow-hued horizontal dividers and GIFs of Reagan with a halo and Clinton with devil horns…maybe an ASCII cow or Bart Simpson picture). Unfortunately for us all, he was leaked documents about the Lewinsky scandal, probably because he was a self-important global spammer who ignored all criticism in his lust for blathering about how much conservetism rocks and liberals all suck to EVERY DAMN BODY’S NEWSGROUPS, he posted THAT all over the damn place, and, voila, the little asshole has never stopped being self-important, spreading gossip and mostly unsubstantiated dross, and trying to just shout louder than anyone else, without regard for anyone who might find him tedious, wrong, annoying, etc.

So, there you go.

I’m not upset that he busted Clinton and Lewinsky, for what that is worth. Someone else would have. I’m just annoyed that he has ended up being REWARDED for being a giant hateful conservatard asshole with no social skills or courtesy for others.

Seriously, there is no justice in this world.

One of my conservative friends (who was VERY irritated that I reminded him that the Heritage Foundation was responsible for the part of Obamacare he had been ranting about most) treated me to this false equivalency:

  1. Windmills for wind power kill birds.
  2. Birds fly into the windmills and die.
  3. Lots of them.
  4. Ergo, windmill blades killing birds is JUST AS BAD as drilling for oil and having a pipe burst and spill oil everywhere. (“Take that, liberals! How you like us now! You bird-murderers!”)

Yes, indeed. Birds fly into stuff. That is, of course, exactly equivalent to BP getting away pretty much scot-free with dumping tens of thousands of gallons of biohazardous material into the Gulf, killing dozens if not hundreds of species (including birds; heck, if you want to be utilitarian, including fish and shrimp that humans eat) and then trying not to actually pay any of the damages without being arm-twisted.

Man.

I did not even bother to get into a discussion about it. Because birds flying into windmills is EXACTLY THE SAME THING as probably permanent damage to not just birds but also a lot of sea life and HUMAN BEINGS in the area. And wind power is just evil, anyway, because Republicans are wary of it. No big money in wind power. So it has to be EEEEEVIL and bad.

Seriously. As columnist Dave Barry used to say, I am not making this up.

(Birds fly into wind power windmill blades: BAN WIND FARMS.
Birds also fly into jet engines on places. BAN PLANES.
Birds also fly into house and business windows. BAN WINDOWS.)

Both political parties have their flawed cheerleaders, though.

Nick Kerton says, “The bad thing about [Joe] Scarborough isn’t that he’s a harsh conservative, but that he constantly says he’s a “centrist”. His fucking theme song is Stuck In The Middle With You. Scarborough is obvious, though. Chris Matthews is a bit conservative leaning as well, while Al Sharpton tends to paint atheists unfairly when religious issues come up — in one segment he explicitly suggested that social justice could be an EXCLUSIVELY religious value. But CNN…argh. When they’re not saying the Dems just need to give more to the rabid dogs, they’re spending half an hour explaining how an exit poll works.”

I agree with all three criticisms. Joe is mostly an economic conservative. Chris gets very hawkish and sort of, hmm, fratty and he never met a boring sport analogy he didn’t love to rant at length about. Al is still recovering from the Tawana Brawley Hoax and his mild animus towards any atheist or agnostic folks.

While we are at it, I like Keith Olbermann (and his affection for James Thurber is charming), but he’s kind of a douchenugget off-camera.

The false equivalencies are thoroughly annoying, whichever side does it, though. There is something to be said for comparing apples to apples, rather than apples to kumquats, Ford Pintos, or monkeywrenches.

I Won’t Mention the Magic Underpants

Republicans run the worst candidates. I have conservative friends and family members and they are close to donning sackcloth and ashes in despair over Mitt Romney.

Let’s take a look back at the quality candidates that competed to win the nomination crown this election season. To be fair, I am going to strive to say something nice about each of the Republicans who had Formally Declared or formed an Exploratory Committee with an eye on running for President in 2012!

Michele Bachman: Your crazy eyes are a lovely shade of blue.

Herman Cain: Godfather’s Pizza used to be very tasty…when I was a small child with undeveloped taste buds.

Newt Gingrich: For a fat guy, you don’t sweat much. Your chutzpah when condemning Democrats for hypothetical ethical lapses is impressive for a man who left not one but two wives while they were languishing in hospital beds and who was censured when Speaker.

Jon Greenspon: Ex-Marine. OORAH.

Jon Huntsman: Your veneers are very white and shiny. Actually, even though I disagree with Huntsman politically, I still liked the guy and thought he was a decent human being. That was when I knew he was doomed to fail.

Gary Johnson: He does not attend church, is pro-choice, anti-big government, pro-immigration, an outspoken critic of the war on drugs and favors legalizing marijuana. And no one knows who the eff he is.

Fred Karger: Self-hating gay guy, but check out his nice suits!

Andy Martin: Spammed “Is Obama a Kenyan Muslim?” emails all over the globe, so clearly has the wild-eyed enthusiasm Teabaggers admire. Has at least one interesting necktie.

Thad McCotter: Plays a mean lead guitar for his band, the New Flying Squirrels. Or so his fan says.

Jimmy McMillan: Even though HE lives in a rent-controlled apartment, he knows that YOUR rent is probably too damn high.

Tom Miller: Likes our Founding Fathers…even if he does not understand exactly what they said.

Roy Moore: Survived West Point and has never been caught shooting anyone in the face. So he’s already one up on Dick Cheney.

Ron Paul: His legion of neckbeard basement-dwellers are all super passionate on Teh Intarweebz, and willing to overlook his racist newsletters and pro-life stance because he pinky-swears that he might legalize pot.

Buddy Roemer: Has an extremely friendly first name.

Mitt Romney: Best. Hair. It’s nice, innit? Too bad about the crazy Christian cultists he’s strapped to himself like ticking bombs. Has the aplomb to lie over 600 times since January and not turn into a pillar of salt from shame. Such a successful businessman that he wants to shield the American public from jealousy by concealing his tax records. Not capable of feeling shame when caught running political adverts with a fragile or non-existent link to reality and truth.

Rick Santorum: Yields most entertaining (if disgusting) results when searched on Google.

Vern Wuensche: I have to admire the chutzpah it takes to run for office with that jawcracker of a surname when your most fervent supporters can’t spell basic English words.

Believe It Or Not, There Are People Who Do Not Care About Sports / Politics

To be clear, I don’t “hate sports.” I am as close to being utterly indifferent as possible, which is not hate or even distaste. I just don’t care. There’s no “you’re wrong if you like sports” message here. I actually find it hard to pinpoint one thing I hate absolutely, though perhaps “misogynistic gangsta rap that glorifies materialism and violence” might come close, and that is possibly because I have yet to hear more than one or two examples of the genre I didn’t dislike.

(PC LOAD LETTER!)

Even so, I don’t “hate” it. I dislike much of what I have heard, and with some intensity. But, again, that’s an indication I am invested enough in the topic to work up a little grouchiness on the topic. Since I have a mostly negative opinion based on the few samples of the genre I have been exposed to,  I’m not totally indifferent.

I am indifferent about sports. I don’t think people who enjoy sports are bad or wrong, I’m just not into it. A friend and I were discussing politics the other day, a subject about which we (mostly) agree. One of us (perhaps me, perhaps him), had just expressed frustration about the opposing political point of view and what a representative of said POV had said about a particular issue and we both promptly set about making the mistake of getting wound up about it and assuming that the people expressing that point of view — or worse, that the people who weren’t discussing or thinking about it at all — were just plain stupid. Admit it, you have done this. You may have even said it: “All [insert members of the political party you don’t agree with] are stupid!” You’re only human, right? Please note that this is a dangerous assumption, no matter what political views you espouse.

I caught us both starting to just dismiss the opposition as a bunch of idiots, and it shook me up. I took a moment to reflect about that. Normally, I don’t like to assume the worst of people. I don’t like to lump people together and say “all X are Y.” I don’t like to just assume that there is a monolithic group out there that collectively acts more like the Borg, a Hivemind, or Pod People rather than, as is true, that there is a group that is made up of real individuals who don’t all act in lock-step or agree on every single issue, and I might or might not have common interests or beliefs with some of them. Normally, I want to know why people I disagree with happen to think the way they do. So why was I dismissing an entire political party as being irredeemably “stupid”? I knew it wasn’t true! I have friends and family members who say they belong to the political party I do not agree with, and we coexist just fine, and not a single one of those people are actually unintelligent. So. What gives?

One thing that occurred to me is that some people just don’t really care about politics. Let’s get real: politics are complicated. They cover social issues, legal issues, and — though Separation of Church and State would seem to be a contraindication — religious issues. To be well-informed, you have to be willing to read information from a lot of different sources, which takes a commitment of time and energy that some people can’t (or don’t want to) make. I know conservative friends who will dismiss any information that is not endorsed by Fox News. I know liberal friends who would rather eat glass than listen to Glenn Beck. (Interestingly enough, liberals I know are apparently less likely to embrace any and all liberal spokespeople just because they happen to be liberal-leaning: for example, I know a lot of liberals who strongly dislike(d) Al Gore, Hillary Clinton or Michael Moore and criticize MSNBC. I know few — if any — conservatives who don’t claim they supported and agreed with the Presidents Bush or who don’t admire Ronald Reagan and quote Glenn Beck at least once. Or who don’t like Michael Savage. Or Rush Limbaugh. Or who refuse to watch FOX News. Which is a curiosity to me. But I digress.)

The thing is, sometimes you must read the opposing point(s) of view to understand an issue better. That way, when you disagree, you are disagreeing with what they actually said or did, and not what a source that supports your political views claims they said or did. This, my friends, if you are (wo)man enough to grin and bear it, can be very enlightening. At any rate, there are people who just don’t give a damn about politics, and they act a lot like people who just don’t give a damn about sports. “What!?” you say (while reading this article on a website that discusses politics a lot). “How can this be?”

Here’s where I apologize in advance for any egregious errors I make when discussing sports. Feel free to correct me in the comments section if you feel so inclined (and know that you’ll be outing yourself to the rest of us as A Person Who Cares A Lot About Sports, not that there’s anything wrong with that). I’m admitting I don’t know much. It’s not a passion for me.

I have noticed something interesting. People who like sports typically really like sports. My brother is one of these people. If there is an activity which can, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered a competitive sport, then he probably knows a lot of arcane data about it. People who like sports pay attention to which people play for which team. They know the coaches’ names and sometimes they know the referees’ names, too. They make a point to travel to see sports in action. (I would say that more people watch or actually attend sporting events than vote or actually go to (for example) Town Hall meetings or political rallies, but that is just a guess.) People who like sports understand the context when Dennis Rodman gets up, while accepting an award, and apologizes for past bad behavior and vows to be a better person. Non-sports people may not even know who Rodman is, or just know him as “that clown” who likes body art, hair dye and wearing dresses. There’s no context there for them, so the non-sports person shrugs and says, “That’s nice.” Or take the LeBron brouhaha. I’m a non-sports person. To me, it looks, from the outside, like LeBron dumped one team to accept a more lucrative offer from a competing team. This doesn’t bug me one bit. Isn’t that what all people do when they wish to advance in their career? They leave one job, which they may have liked perfectly well, to accept a better-paying job elsewhere and few people raise an eyebrow about it. A sports person, however, is going to have very strong opinions about LeBron’s decision. Here’s another example: not only was I not interested in the most recent Superbowl, I forgot what day it was going to air, and I am still not 100% sure who played. I don’t care if they won or lost. That was the motherloving Superbowl, people, which I am not unaware is a Very Big Effing Deal if you like sports (especially football). Are you having heart palpitations yet, sports-loving people?

I am vaguely aware of various stand-out athletes. Sometimes, such as when I play trivia games, I am shocked that some nugget of sports information has managed to filter its way into my sports-indifferent brain files. I’ve attended a few sports events (and was fairly knowledgeable about the Atlanta Braves during the mid-1990s, if I dare say so myself, though much of that knowledge is long gone…it has atrophied from disuse). I know that if you go to the University of Georgia, you better damn well support The Dawgs, or suffer the consequences. I could go on, but you get the idea.

It suddenly occurred to me that, for some people, politics are as interesting to them as sports are to me.

They know the names of the biggest players, and have a rough idea which “team” they belong to. They pick and choose favourites by relying upon occasionally very arbitrary and limited scraps of information. They hear a soundbite and it sounds good, and they don’t feel the need to go digging for context. (Likewise, I know that there’s a dude named Yao Ming. I know that he is very tall and, I presume, good at his job, but I have no clue what team he is on, or if they are doing well. I just don’t care. I’m satisfied that I can identify that particular tall dude if I have to.) Just as my friends and relatives who care passionately about and enjoy sports are probably disgusted by (or annoyed by) my lack of interest, I find myself equally upset with people who don’t give a shit about politics. (There is only one reason why I might have a “better” excuse to be upset: political issues have a habit of affecting us all, more or less, whether we pay attention to them or not. Conversely, whether a particular sports team wins or loses may be a big deal to fans, but even they have to admit that the outcome — unless they bet on it — is not going to really affect them on a personal or lasting basis. Beyond that, a passion for political information is probably just as unfathomable or boring or uninteresting to people who do not give a crap about politics (beyond the basic highlights and soundbites) as a passion for sports trivia and current events is to people who do not give a crap about sports.

There is a limited amount of free time and attention any one person can give to topics that go beyond the basics of survival. You have to worry about your family, your job (or lack thereof), your home (or lack thereof), your personal aches and pains, your health problems, and so on. The busier you are with family and work and personal concerns, and the more non-basic interests and hobbies you have competing for your attention, the less likely it is that you are going to have the interest — or free time — to really dig into politics. You might not even be bothered enough to go and vote (almost inconceivable to me, but when only about 30-40% of eligible US citizens actually bother to get to the polls, you have to face it that it is not inconceivable to a lot of other people, and, in fact, 60% of Americans are, in essence, saying they don’t give a shit about politics…or not enough of one to back up their political opinions by actually bothering to go and vote).

It is understandable that busy people with a less than passionate interest in politics are going to stick with one source of information even if it makes them misinformed, like Fox News (and please understand the difference between uninformed (which is knowing nothing about a particular subject) and misinformed (which means what you think you know or what you have been told is  incorrect)), and/or pick a party and stick with it and reject the idea that maybe that party is working against their best interests (perhaps this is like being a life-long Red Socks fan before they won in 2004, because they were your team, and your dad’s dad’s dad’s team, or you are from Boston (or not) and, well, just because, and “Go Socks!”, et cetera. To repeat: I do not actually care one way or the other about the Red Socks, so don’t yell at me that I mentioned a team you happen to hate.)

There is a reason why political candidates do their best to cherry-pick the current hot-button topics before each election. A lot of people don’t care to really sit down and examine all the issues, because it is a daunting task. They let politicians set the talking points and then argue about them. I may be cynical, but I don’t see a lot of these so-called talking points being passionately discussed by non-politicians before they become political footballs to fight over. Oddly enough, when a politician is not railing about a particular issue, people find it simple enough to decide on a case-by-case basis what they think about something when it actually involves them personally. Talking points take issues that may or may not involve the majority of the public personally, and try to get people to care passionately about them, and, you have to admit, they often succeed. Who gave a shit about the Debt Ceiling before 2011? Be honest, now. It was always a non-issue that only very politically well-informed people even knew about.

Here’s the tricky part: You can’t force people to give a shit about politics, even though it is in their best interests to care.

Often, you can’t even convince conservatives / liberals to get their information from more than one source. Even more often than that, you can’t get some conservatives / liberals to consider the opposition’s POV. Most difficult of all? Getting someone with strongly-held beliefs to take the time to sit down and challenge them, one by one, and see if the party s/he supports is actually promoting ideas that s/he really (still) agrees with! They are, politically-speaking, Red Socks fans before 2004. They belong to a particular party, and it was their dad’s dad’s dad’s party, and that’s good enough. I don’t have to underscore the fact that many Americans do not really enjoy reading for pleasure, do I? Even fewer enjoy reading scholarly books once they don’t “have to” for school. That’s not fun. It takes concentration and comprehension. It takes time.

For what it is worth, when it comes to making my opinions known with the help of social media, I do read all the articles and links I post on my Facebook Wall or which I “retweet” on Twitter. I do not always agree with them (and usually explain why, if it is not obvious). Often I will sit down, when I have free time, and do a little research and explain why I disagree, or why I think something could be explained better, or why something doesn’t look entirely accurate to me. I realize that not everyone has the time or interest to do more than scan headlines, so I try to indicate when an article is a spoof or comedy piece so my more busy friends don’t get all freaked out by a sarcastic Borowitz Report, Daily Currant, Onion or Christwire joke article. I have the luxury of time because I read things very quickly and in the past couple of years, I have been a full-time student but also, sadly, un(der)employed so I have been blessed with some extra free time which I can choose to use to read about things that interest me; that is free time that other people might not have. I am choosing, right now, to focus a lot of my spare reading time on political topics both because it is an election year and also because there are a lot of social and economic issues that I am (I admit) pretty hot under the collar about right now.

I also want to hold people who agree with me politically to some high standards. A lot of online friends were OUTRAGED over a joke circulating about the Obamas (or Obama and Oprah, or Obama and Biden…I have, unfortunately, seen many if not all of the variations) that went something like this:

“Person 1 & Person 2 are on Air Force One. Person 1 says that throwing a $1000 bill (never mind that none are in circulation or easy to get or likely to be cashable at any normal bank) out the plane window would make one person very happy. Person 2 agrees, but says that throwing ten $100 bills out the window would make ten people happy. At this point, the flight attendant or pilot mutters that if s/he threw both 1 & 2 out the window, a large number of people (I’ve seen it as half the population of the US and as the entire population of the US) would be happy.”

It’s a mean-spirited joke, and it is certainly not exactly smart to tell jokes about causing harm to the President. You have to admit that throwing someone out of an airplane is likely to cause them harm or an irreversible case of, well, death. (The Secret Service does not have a great sense of humor, so you take your chances when exercising your rapier wit, First Amendment or not. You know how Suits are. They react first, and sort out what your rights are later, and that’s how it has been for a very long time. (I could get snarky here about The Patriot Act and other politically-expedient erosions of privacy / rights, but I will restrain myself.)) The problem here is that this exact same joke was told about Bush and Cheney in the 2000s, and a lot of liberals didn’t say boo about it. I’ve called a bunch of my liberal friends out about this, too. You can’t think it’s hilarious when it is directed at the guys you don’t agree with, and then get all butthurt and pouty when the exact same joke is told about “your” guys.

(CAVEAT: Both Bush and Obama have been Photoshopped into or compared to apes and monkeys, and people who supported Bush or support Obama don’t find it funny. It’s not cool in either case, but—and this is very important—I have to point out that it takes an especially nasty twist when the subject is African-American. I don’t care if you don’t think that’s fair, because the fact that using Photoshop to depict Obama as a chimpanzee will get you called, rightly, a racist is one of many unfortunate side-effects that happen after white folks oppress non-white folks for decades, when non-white folks are typically disadvantaged in a lot of areas when compared to white folks, and when there are still non-white people alive today who remember riding in the back of the bus or drinking from a separate fountain. You do not, if you happen to be a white person and if you happen to want to avoid being thought of as a racist or asshole (or asshole racist), compound an already sensitive social issue by turning a non-white person into a monkey when that was a well-known racist thing to do in the past and when it still is a racist thing to do today. So, yeah…that’s a trickier issue; one that is thornier and less clear-cut than a recycled joke. Ugh, politicians edited to resemble apes…how about not doing that to anyone anymore?)

What I am trying to say is that people get really emotionally invested in this politics stuff. (Just like people do with sports, though, aside from a dogpiling, deliberate cleating or kneecapping (Tonja Harding, I’m looking at you) now and then, and aside from rioting mobs of sports fans after games, no one has yet been actually assassinated over a sports game that I know of…though I bet a few umpires and referees kept a very low profile for a while after certain controversial calls (Russian Olympics judges, I am looking at you).) You can’t force people to care more, or educate those who have made up their minds and are satisfied with their choices and are rigid about them. You can post facts all day long, and those who do not care, won’t care…or they will say you are lying…or they will spread around only half of the truth because they were only told half-truths. It’s complicated…it is more “complicated” than a Facebook relationship option could ever be. Now, I don’t know enough about sports to say this is absolutely true, but I don’t think you can study the psychology of two different sets of sports fans (fans of opposing teams, for instance) and come up with drastically different mindsets.

Here’s where politics gets a little trickier than sports, and where we have to try to understand people who are just as passionate about politics as we are–but who support the opposing ideology.

People who tend to lean and vote conservative, and people who tend to lean and vote liberal have been studied and there are actual differences between them, psychologically, temperamentally, and, perhaps most interesting (and slightly frightening) of all, maybe there are even (tiny) little differences in the actual structure of their brains where conservatives may have a more developed amygdala (and “are more sensitive to fear”) and liberals may have a more developed anterior cingulate cortex (and “have a higher capacity to tolerate uncertainty and conflicts”). Of course, we have to be careful not to confuse correlation with causation…or vice versa.

Psychology Today says: “Most people are surprised to learn that there are real, stable differences in personality between conservatives and liberals—not just different views or values, but underlying differences in temperament. Psychologists John Jost of New York University, Dana Carney of Harvard, and Sam Gosling of the University of Texas have demonstrated that conservatives and liberals boast markedly different home and office decor. Liberals are messier than conservatives, their rooms have more clutter and more color, and they tend to have more travel documents, maps of other countries, and flags from around the world. Conservatives are neater, and their rooms are cleaner, better organized, more brightly lit, and more conventional. Liberals have more books, and their books cover a greater variety of topics. And that’s just a start. Multiple studies find that liberals are more optimistic. Conservatives are more likely to be religious. Liberals are more likely to like classical music and jazz, conservatives, country music. Liberals are more likely to enjoy abstract art. Conservative men are more likely than liberal men to prefer conventional forms of entertainment like TV and talk radio. Liberal men like romantic comedies more than conservative men. Liberal women are more likely than conservative women to enjoy books, poetry, writing in a diary, acting, and playing musical instruments.”

The Nature Neuroscience Journal says: “In a study likely to raise the hackles of some conservatives, scientists at New York University and the University of California, Los Angeles, found that a specific region of the brain’s cortex is more sensitive in people who consider themselves liberals than in self-declared conservatives. The brain region in question helps people shift gears when their usual response would be inappropriate, supporting the notion that liberals are more flexible in their thinking. […] A review of that research published in 2003 found that conservatives tend to be more rigid and closed-minded, less tolerant of ambiguity and less open to new experiences. Some of the traits associated with conservatives in that review were decidedly unflattering, including fear, aggression and tolerance of inequality. That evoked outrage from conservative pundits. [… NYU psychologist David] Amodio said it would be a mistake to conclude that one political orientation was better than another. The tendency of conservatives to block distracting information could be a good thing depending on the situation, he said. Positions on specific issues are influenced by many factors, he noted.”

Slightly less fair (and definitely bound to annoy conservatives more) is the assertion that more intelligent people skew liberal politically. The counterpoint opinion (from a liberal, mind you) holds that “[t]he current American culture war, we have found, can be seen as arising from the fact that liberals try to create a morality relying almost exclusively on the Harm/Care and Fairness/Reciprocity foundations; conservatives, especially religious conservatives, use all five foundations, including In-group loyalty, Authority/Respect, and Purity/Sanctity. […] An unapologetic liberal atheist, Haidt has a remarkable ability to describe opposing viewpoints without condescension or distortion. He forcefully expresses his own political opinions but understands how they are informed by his underlying moral orientation. In an era where deadlocked debates so often end with a dismissive “you just don’t get it,” he gets it.”

Haidt identified five foundational moral impulses. Succinctly defined, they are:

• Harm/care. It is wrong to hurt people; it is good to relieve suffering.

• Fairness/reciprocity. Justice and fairness are good; people have certain rights that need to be upheld in social interactions.

• In-group loyalty. People should be true to their group and be wary of threats from the outside. Allegiance, loyalty and patriotism are virtues; betrayal is bad.

• Authority/respect. People should respect social hierarchy; social order is necessary for human life.

• Purity/sanctity. The body and certain aspects of life are sacred. Cleanliness and health, as well as their derivatives of chastity and piety, are all good. Pollution, contamination and the associated character traits of lust and greed are all bad.

Haidt’s research reveals that liberals feel strongly about the first two dimensions — preventing harm and ensuring fairness — but often feel little, or even feel negatively, about the other three. Conservatives, on the other hand, are drawn to loyalty, authority and purity, which liberals tend to think of as backward or outdated. People on the right acknowledge the importance of harm prevention and fairness but not with quite the same energy or passion as those on the left.”

Dan McAdams at Northwestern University noted that “political conservatives operate out of a fear of chaos and absence of order while political liberals operate out of a fear of emptiness” and, when self-described devoutly religious people with either liberal or conservative political views were compared, it was their political views that had more impact on personality and their attitude about the world around them: “Political conservatives envision a world without God in which baser human impulses go unchecked, social institutions (marriage, government, family) fall apart and chaos ensues,” says McAdams. Liberals, on the other hand, envision a world without God as barren, lifeless, devoid of color and reasons to live. “Liberals see their faith as something that fills them up and, without it, they conjure up metaphors of emptiness, depletion and scarcity,” McAdams said. “While conservatives worry about societal collapse, liberals worry about a world without deep feelings and intense experiences.”

In a Seattle Times article on the same subject: “There are two cognitive styles — a liberal style and a conservative style,” said UCLA neurologist Dr. Marco Iacoboni. […] Linda Skitka, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said it’s possible the liberals in the recent study appeared more flexible than the conservatives because the population was skewed. “We’re more likely to find extreme conservatives in the U.S. than extreme liberals,” she said.

The above quotes contain a lot of harsh medicine for both Liberals and Conservatives — and we need to be careful not to get confused when one study focuses on churchgoing religious people, one study focuses on structural differences in brains, and one study focuses on self-reported attitudes and moral beliefs, and so on — but the better we understand not only why the opposing political party “thinks” the way it does and accept that differences of opinion do not make other people automatically “bad” or “wrong” — and the better we understand our own personal gaps in understanding and our interpersonal and psychological strengths and weaknesses —  the more likely it is that we can find common ground with people with whom we have political differences of opinion.

Remember, however, that some people just don’t care about politics. Some people care, but only enough to pick a party and stick with it, and not to examine why. Some people care, but only enough to pick and choose which soundbites and talking points they agree with most at any given time. Some people care, but only care strongly about a particular social issue or policy (such as pro-lifers, or people who want to legalize pot, or people who are angry about Monsanto and GMOs, or people who advocate for minorities or the disadvantaged or disabled), and will therefore vote for whichever politician seems to be most in line with their views about their pet topic, policy, or human rights issue. For those of us who do care about politics, who have the time to read and research extensively, who have the ability to step back — even if just a little — and attempt to be as objective and fair as possible, and who vote, a lack of interest in politics (or a clinging to misinformation or a lack of information, or a lack of intellectual curiosity or passion) is just as crazy and hard to believe as it is for a die-hard baseball fan who suddenly comes to the uncomfortable realization that no one but an equally passionate few care about The Designated Hitter Rule. If you surround yourself with dozens of equally passionate people who care about all the same things that you care about, you are likely to wind up surprised when you are confronted — outside the embrace of like-minded friends — with people who don’t even know what the hell the deal with your pet issue might be, and don’t care. No, they don’t want to watch a video about it. No, they don’t want your brochures. No, they aren’t going to click your website links. Almost inconceivable!

Ask any liberal how shocked they were when Bush 43 won…twice. Within the liberal monkeysphere it was inconceivable that this might happen. (Here is a humorous but informative run-down of what “monkeysphere” means — “Those who exist outside that core group of a few dozen people are not people to us. They’re sort of one-dimensional bit characters.” — from Cracked.) Outside the circle of (approximately 150 or so) like-minded liberal friends, things were a little more complicated. Liberals’ failure to look outside their personal monkeyspheres, then, is just as bad as conservatives who hunker down within the influence of FOX News and naught else and fail to do due diligence (like reading and informing themselves with sources other than Fox).

In short:

1. Not everyone even cares about politics.

2. Those that do care a little bit may pick a side (or a party) and just stop there, never questioning their choice.

3. Those that don’t stop there may not delve far afield from one source of information, which may have serious flaws (such as FOX News, which repeatedly gets criticized in studies for misinforming faithful viewers).

4. Those that draw from more than one source of information may refuse to read information that is known or suspected to have a political slant or bias opposite to that of their pet political party. (How many Liberals do you know who will willingly read a book by James Barton, Ann Coulter or Sean Hannity? How many Conservatives will read an Al Franken, Barbara Ehrenreich or Molly Ivins book?)

5. Those who are willing to read both sides’ points of view may still be filtering information through psychological / moral filters that are radically different from those of the opposing party.

6. It behooves us to expand our “monkeyspheres” to include other outside-of-personal-sphere monkeys, but it is equally difficult to do, given our limitations.

7. There will always be more people who care about, say, Shaquille O’ Neal than Bernie Sanders.

Thoughts?

No One Loves Mittens. :(

I don’t hate the guy personally. He’s like Bubble Boy, but, instead of that bubble shielding him from germs, he has just lived in this hermetically-sealed bubble of privilege and whiteness and wealth all his life. He belongs to a fringe-y religion that did not acknowledge that black people are actually human beings until 1978, his grandparents and great-grandparents were polygamists, and he is, right now, wearing Magic Undergarments.

The Billionaire Bubble Boy thinks that deprivation means living off the interest from your investments, having to downgrade from 4-star to 3-star restaurants, buying the second-best luxury automobile or choosing not to get ALL the extras and options on your first choice model, only being able to visit six countries instead of seven during summer vacation, not buying that eighth mansion, having to make do with a less amusing and less piquant wine and having to let one of the maids go. He can’t have illegals on staff, folks, he is running for office! Straighten up or heads will roll! His wife Ann is going to have to make do with ONLY two shiny new Cadillacs, and hold off on buying three, because the peasants might experience “class envy” or something distasteful like that…I mean, sheesh, you should see all the fuss the little people are making over his car elevator. What’s THEIR problem?

He might as well have a “FOR SALE or LEASE” sign on his forehead. His values are conveniently flexible for the right price.

Sad Mitt Romney is Sad.

I don’t think he is deliberately evil but I do think he really, really doesn’t get it. He has never experienced any deprivation or need in his life that couldn’t be fixed via money or calling up a Good Ol’ Boy to help fix it. He was born a millionaire; he was more rich than 99% of us could ever hope to be in this lifetime, all before he cut his first tooth. He may be a billionaire: we don’t know, because he is hiding most of his assets overseas (to hang out with a lot of outsourced American jobs, I suppose) and dragging his feet about releasing the tax records, even though he released 23 years of records to McCain willingly enough and even though all people running for higher office do this as a matter of course. It is what you do. But Mitt is special, apparently, and doesn’t want to, and he really wishes he could wash the rotting fish stink of Bain off of himself, already, because he “retroactively retired”. What more do YOU PEOPLE need to know?

He is ALWAYS so, so special. He is intellectually incurious (favorite book: “Battlefield Earth,” by fourth-rate sci-fi hack writer and Scientology cult leader L. Ron Hubbard). He has no real sense of humor. “Seamus the dog LOVED the fresh air atop the family car for twelve hours. Ha. Ha. Ha. Don’t let the fact that he crapped himself in terror or ran away five seconds after we reached our destination kid you. He LOVED it. Ha. Ha. Ha.” We’re all exotic Others to Mittens, and he thinks we are quaint and wants to hear the song of our people and learn our native customs, but not if it means getting any cooties. Or eating your shitty 7-11 cookies. Who do you think he is, people? Get those inferior crap biscuits out of here. Gosh!

He’s just so frustratingly out of touch.

It was particularly cute when he claimed to be unemployed…while giving speeches for which he was compensated approximately $400,000.00. “I’m just like you! Unemployed! I feel your pain. Why, Ann and I had to live off of our investments and savings for a while, and man, it sucks when you have to cut down on the size or cut quality of the steaks you are having for dinner. By the way, your trees are the right height.”

I’m not even getting started on his (supposed) values and plans, because those are so mutable that I’m pretty sure he has no idea what his values and plans are until someone throws some money or favors at him in exchange for his support. Pro-Life, Pro-Choice. With the NRA, against the NRA. For Romneycare, against Obamacare. Foreign policy experience? NONE, but he wants to bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran. He’s the Kinder Egg of politicians, but there is no choking hazard toy hidden inside, he’s hollow and you have to provide the prize yourself. It will look an awful lot like what your Republican relatives want, but it will turn out to be smoke and mirrors when they poke at it. Many of his cronies are Bush buddies. No one is really happy with Mittens as the Republican Crown Prince of 2012…except Obama supporters.

But you don’t have to take it from me.

You can read Steve Benen’s ongoing series of articles “Chronicling Mitt’s Mendacity,” which, last I checked, was up to its 31st installment. He just began writing them in January. They each outline, on average, about two dozen different instances where Romney has FLAT OUT LIED about something. Oh, that’s about two dozen lies per article, not two dozen lies total. What. The. Fuck.

If Benen is “too suspect” or “too biased” for you because he is publishing on a “lefty” blog, well…how about a Republican; namely the guy who ran against Obama in 2008. Remember him? You can read John McCain’s complete dossier on Mitt’s flips and flops (all 200 pages of them!) and perhaps come to the same conclusion McCain did: Even Sarah Palin was a better choice for high office than Romney.

Why doesn’t that scare the CRAP out of everyone?!

No one loves Mittens. 😦

Except the Überwealthy.

As Harry Reid said, “Perhaps Republicans want to shield a handful of billionaires willing to contribute nine figures to sway a close presidential election. … If this flood of outside money continues, the day after the election 17 angry old white men will wake up and realize they just bought the country. That’s a sad commentary. About 60 percent, or more, of these outside dollars are coming from these 17 people …

Goodbye, “of the people, for the people, by the people”.

Hello, “of the 17 angry old white men, for the 17 angry old white men, by the 17 angry old white men.” Not exactly what Abe Lincoln had in mind when he wrote the Gettysburg Address, I’d bet.

(But I can’t afford to bet you $10,000. For that, you’ll need to ask Mitt Romney. Please wash and sanitize your hands first, before you shake on it.)

“Dadgummit, the serfs are complaining about me on The Interweebz again! When I am Emperor, THEY WILL BE SORRY.”