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Wed Nov 05, 2014 at 08:00 AM PST

Shocking? Hardly.

by SamuraiArtGuy

Most of you got up this morning to a unhappy truth, and were dismayed at the breathless media coverage of the republican wave.
"Looks like the Republicans will now run Congress, but their entire campaign was focused on repudiating Barack Obama, who wasn't on the ballot and won't be on one again. They didn't offer a single new idea, no constructive proposal, no suggestion for moving the country forward. Can they possibly govern? Are they even interested in governing?" - Robert Reich, on Facebook
People have been tossing about the word "shocking" rather freely this morning.

It's HARDLY shocking.

The Democrats fielded largely unappealing candidates who ran s**tty campaigns, on nothing more than "they suck," utterly devoid of policy, versus lavishly funded (a problem, I know), disciplined GOP campaigns laser focused on American dissatisfaction with the Administration – dissatisfaction shared to a point by the Left, albeit for somewhat different reasons. Despite horrific GOP approval ratings, with nothing to vote FOR, disappointed, disillusioned and frustrated Democrats and Left-leaning Independents stayed home in droves while the GOP base was highly motivated to vote, smelling blood in the water.

As an example, I had followed Allison Lundgren Grimes' campaign with some interest, and weeks ago decided that she was hardly deserving to win. She was unappealing, weasely, and came across as unprofessional and untrustworthy. Take a chance? Most Kentuckyians were content to stick with Mitch McConnel, a known political quality. The Left? Not interested. A lot of the Democratic candidates were deeply unappealing and ran terrible campaigns. And we've been dying for some actually inspiring policy here. If the democratic party has some policy, we'd LOVE to gorram HEAR about it. Have a PRESS CONFERENCE for once, GOP critters seem have a Press Conference every time they frakkin' pass wind.

I recently shot down a caller from the Democratic National Committee - I told her, " 'Vote for us. We're lame, but they're crazy,' ISN'T a platform, it's a cheer, and it's a crappy one. If you want to motivate the Democratic base or influence Independents from staying home in droves, give us something to vote FOR instead of just opposing the GOP and whining for money. Send THAT upstairs to whoever keeps track of this stuff." She hung up on me, didn't want to hear it.

And that's part of the gorram PROBLEM. They say, "when Democrats vote, we win." It cuts both ways. Take us for granted that we'll turn up just to oppose them, and you'll keep losing.

If you want to energize your base, you've got to bring something to the table other than, "they suck." We already know that, and guess what?, we kinda think so do YOU. Based on their voting habits, whining and silence, other than Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, who've become almost the de facto entire Progressive Wing of Congress by themselves (oh... wait... Bernie's an Independent, sorry), the majority Democrats, seem to be as OWNED as their GOP counterparts by the wealthy elites and the Corporations. They have exhibited startling cluelessness, stunning political cowardice, and an utter lack of leadership or anything remotely resembling statesmanship. The current crop of Democrats for the most part are no more deserving of the reins of this Nation than the reactionary obstructionists across the aisle. Not the most appealing opposition to the destructiveness of the Right. The varsity bench is nearly empty, folks.

Going into this cycle, there was a perverse voice at the back of my head whispering, "let the wookie win."

Hey, why the frak not? Give them a chance to really screw things up, or not, and perhaps then the citizenry might catch a clue-by-four upside the head and take our damn country back.  

There's a reason why when I relocated from NY State to West Virginia this summer in a measure of economic survival, I re-registered as an Independent. If Democratic elected officials actually stood up for and fought for Democratic principles, I might still be one. The past couple of decades, Progressives have gone to the polls and held our noses and voted for what we've prayed might be "less worse."

"Do you want to run the country, or do you want to run your mouth?" - Joe Scarborough, Morning Joe, MSNBC, 11/4/14
So it's Christmas morning for the Republicans. Good luck with that. Let's see if they can actually govern. No excuses now, show you can run a government, or shut up and sit down. It either won't be boring... or painfully tedious. Will the GOP show enough adult behavior to pursue governance, or two more years of even less accomplished? If they are not effective in 2015, 2016 will be very interesting.

We'll see what happens, but don't blame me, I voted. I've earned the right to bitch.

Discuss

Sun Mar 03, 2013 at 05:14 PM PST

Is The City Worth it?

by SamuraiArtGuy

New York Magazine captures blacked out Lower Manhattan post-magastorm Sandy. ©New York Magazine
This past week I found myself sitting in a relatively cheap - for New York City - Japanese restaurant on the upper west side of Manhattan after attending an InDesign User Group meeting. I am slightly grumped but feeling a bit improved as I get a hit of warm and savory mishoshiro in me. But I am just over half way back to my car, and I am increasingly feeling that New York City has become a place fit only for the very comfortably affluent. Before you hit me with the “oh DUH,” and “what rock have you been living under?” I do have a thread here.

Of course this is hardly news. New York City is legendarily one of the most expensive cities in the world. Where rents for one bedroom apartments are higher than most American’s mortgages. Where Hudson river crossings are the cost of a decent meal. People who would be comfortably upper middle class in the rest of the nation struggle to squeak by. And milk costs more than a gallon of gas... oh wait, that’s everywhere now. But tonight’s journey painted a fresh coat of grumpiness over my already well weathered cynicism.

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I just got an email appeal from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. These incessant appeals, usually whining for money are possibly the most tone-deaf of anything coming from the Blue side.

This one, over the sign off of Senator Michael Bennet, wanted my sig on a statement of support for the President's agenda BEFORE the State of the Union Address. IN ADVANCE.

I had something to say about that...  Dive in under the fold..

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Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 10:10 AM PST

Social Spending! Huzzah!

by SamuraiArtGuy

I am a graphic and web designer in the Hudson Valley. That used to be a profession. In our challenged times, it’s has now become quite working class. I am neither a politician or a economist. But I am a husband, father and  a home owner. Well I own a mortgage at least... But that means I have made some choices about my life and take responsibility for them. I am also a martial artist, an occupation that promotes health,  responsibility and high personal standards, and if done right, ethics and empathy. Hence my handle, “SamiraiArtGuy.” [ Which some on the Right have been critical over. Meh. ]

Bear with me, I'll get to the point but it takes a little setup.

One of my dojo buddies pointed out to me that the three BIG slices of our National Budget are Military Spending, Social Services and service on the National Debt.

Social Services are defended by Liberals and the Democratic Party. While Military Spending is sacred on the Conservative Right and the GOP. So both tend to be untouchable in the partisan political tension over Federal spending.

While there’s little to do about the debt service, since that’s on money we’ve already spent, there would seem to be a valid logical case for revisiting both our Military and Social spending. Our military spending dwarfs the next several countries combined, and most of the planet resents it. That, along with our “do as we say, or we might bomb ya.” foreign policy of the last few decades. But whatever policies we pursue, its BIG money and BIG politics.


Social Services are a growing portion of our national spending, and has become the lion’s share driver of State and Local deficits. These programs are popular, even more so as more and more Americans find themselves increasingly challenged by a damaged economy.

"The other reason everybody thought the inaugural address was so capital L liberal, liberal, liberal was because of the president’s shout out by name of Medicare and Social Security, which in the beltway are horrible, embarrassing profligacies that are mostly good for divining who counts as a serious person in Washington because you cannot be a serious person in Washington -- according to the Beltway -- unless you want to get rid of those programs, or at least you see those programs as a problem that
needs to be addressed.

"President Obama in his inaugural not only name-checked Medicare and Social Security in a positive way, he defended them. He said he will support them and that they are good for the country.

"The only people other than a liberal like Barack Obama who likes Social Security and Medicare is everybody. Really, it’s only in Washington where these are controversial programs. If you ask the country, the country’s kind of in love with Social Security and Medicare and thinks that they work and thinks that we should not cut them.

"Broadly speaking, most Americans do not call themselves liberals if you ask. But broadly speaking, most Americans are in favor of liberal ideas. The marquee signifiers of liberal policy are broadly accepted as good ideas by most of the country."

—Rachel Maddow, The Rachel Maddow Show, 24 January 2013
(Video link above, text transcript here.)

The prospect of revisiting social spending continually re-emerges in each round of budget debates again and again. Social Spending is widely viewed as a liberal cause, but the majority of Americans, including conservatives, generally poll massively in favor of social programs. But the continuous rise in social spending is patently unsustainable as the tax base condenses, and more and more Americans are forced to rely on the social safety net to stay afloat.

Corporate economic and labor policies do not help much. Take Wal-Mart for example, praised as an American Success story and a Job creator. But their labor policies have them paying their typical worker so low that a large percentage of them go on public assistance, to survive and necessarily have to use medicaid to access Health Care. All of this of course in the public tab, making Wal-Mart a benefactor of corporate welfare, a fair chunk of their profit margin is supported on the taxpayers shoulders.



TANSTAAFL. There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.  

– Robert Heinlein, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, 1966

"TANSTAAFL, on the other hand, indicates an acknowledgment that in reality a person or a society cannot get "something for nothing". Even if something appears to be free, there is always a cost to the person or to society as a whole even though that cost may be hidden or distributed. For example, as Heinlein has one of his characters point out, a bar offering a free lunch will likely charge more for its drinks." - Wikipedia

"Any person with even a modicum of intelligence can see how obvious that thought is.  Unfortunately our political leadership (from both parties) has made providing everyone a "Free Lunch" a standard campaign promise."  — Jim Yardley, TANSTAAFL, American Thinker.

To try to make the system more viable, efforts could be made to make the systems fairer, go after fraud, tie benefits more closely to need, and more closely scrutinize the eligibility and fitness of recipients. Furthermore, is it reasonable to suggest that recipients of benefits be more responsible in their lives? If not, perhaps people might be steered to the appropriate programs to help them pull their lives together. Like most people I do not want my fellow Americans, or anybody else to suffer, but I would prefer that people take more responsibility for their lives.

Of course weeding out bureaucratic waste, and pursuing organizational and technical efficiencies could net considerable savings as it has in the private sector.

 All of these things do seem perfectly possible. Of course, unlike quick legislation wrapped around partisan slogans, they are HARD, requiring hard work and in-the-trenches digging into the actual operational issues.

Oh yes, that point I mentioned... In Washington, the debate always seems to center on binary, zero-sum, winner-take-all terms expressed in sound bites and nasty campaign commercials. Only cutting benefits and slashing programs is mentioned, instead of discussing thoughtful and informed reform. But the current flavor of Congress seems incapable of cooperative discussion on just about anything at all. 


Discuss

Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 10:48 AM PST

Climate Change is so HARD

by SamuraiArtGuy

NASA Satellite image of Hurricane Sandy
NASA Satellite image of Hurricane Sandy
[ This is an extended version of an essay written for Four Quarters InterFaith Sanctuary’s 2013 Wheel of the Year Calendar Age of Limits Supplement. ]

Understanding Climate Change

As the Buddhists would say, we’re living in “interesting times.” It certainly hasn’t been boring. If you’re in the Northeast, or been watching, during the period where I was started working on this Four Quarters InterFaith Santcutary’s 2013 Wheel of the Year calendar, the big news of the past year of course has been Megastorm Sandy, the biggest and most costly weather event we’ve seen in a long time. The storm hammered coastlines from North Carolina to Massachusetts, and felt as far inland as Buffalo. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut shores were hardest hit, with widespread and dramatic damage on the Jersey Shore, Staten Island, the South Shore of Long Island, Red Hook, the Battery, Breezy Point and the Rockaways, Sheepshead Bay, and my old neighborhoods, Coney Island and Sea Gate. In Coney Island, essentially a sandbar, “high ground” is about eight feet. The storm surge was fourteen. I am not a climate scientist, but I can do that much math.

For a few days after the storm, we hosted some old friends who’s high-rise became uninhabitable after the storm, without power, heat or water. State and municipal governments and agencies, FEMA, the Red Cross, the Occupy Movement still struggle  at relief, repair and recovery, but it’s still going to be a while digging out of this one. There’s been plenty of criticism of storm response, mostly of power utilities in the region, Responding to disasters of this sheer overwhelming magnitude, we’re still learning how to DO this. As for us in the ‘burbs, the house is sound and on high ground, with no trees crashing through the roof or walls. We had power back relatively quickly and we keep flashlights at hand and a fair stash of supplies in the cupboard. Cleanup for us was fairly straightforward, but for hundreds of thousands, it will be months of effort and struggle.

What’s coming out of this is, of course, after two hundred-year storms in less than two years, the “Halloween Surprise” Storm, 5 drought summers, a winter of incessant snow, then a winter without snow, monsoon months, extended heat waves, semi-regular tornados in Brooklyn... Climate change is now a topic people are starting to take seriously again, at least in the Northeast. Insurance companies certainly are. They are getting the claims, and feeling the financial impact of more volatile and extreme weather events very directly. People are also starting to think more realistically about disaster preparedness, toughening up and becoming more self-reliant.

I get into the fundamentals and the implications under the fold. Carry on...

Continue Reading

There's been a lot of noise and thunder, significant of nothing, expended on gun issues the past several weeks since Newtown. But without expressing much of an opinion, I have observed four themes emerging. How they might play out is anyone's guess, but they only scratch at the interconnected issues and underlying complexities wrapped up in these issues.

1 - We are going to see continued calls and pushes for more armed security in schools and institutions. Problematical, but may very well happen. But it's symptomatic of America's historical leaning towards solving violence problems with escalation.

2 - We are going to revisit the complex questions surrounding gun control legislation at the federal and state level. Going to be loud an contentious. Anyone's guess how this plays out. NY State just pasted some pretty stiff restrictions bound to trigger our state's rural gun-advocate sort's "oh HELL no" response.

3 - We REALLY ought to revisit how mental health is addressed in this nation, now mental health treatment is provided and accessed. It's been commented on that it's MUCH easier and cheaper to buy assault weapons in America than get mental health treatment. But this will be a slow moving issue, as anything impacting the healthcare system will be resisted due to perceived costs and pathological hatred of Obamacare on the Right.

4 - We may, and absolutely should, over time be able to evolve our American Gun Culture into something safer and saner. Ideally we should grow to a place where responsible gun owners can own and use firearms ethically and responsibly, but those who choose not to be gun owners should not be fearful of gun violence. We grew as a nation out of a frontier mindset, and carry that culture and mythology. Now we're incessantly pressurized by a news, media and marketing culture that capitalizes on fear to manipulate the populace for marketing and political purpose. Combined with ever tightening economic opportunities for the 99% - that leaves us with a pressurized, fearful, and stressed-out population with ever decreasing access to assistance. This will take literally GENERATIONS to work through.

That last is a truly tall order in a rapidly changing world with National and Global challenges undreamed of when my generation were kids in the 60s. Global economic meltdown. Resource Depletion. Peak Oil- or rather peak everything. Environmental degradation. Sustainability. Climate Change... but that's for another diary.

I've tried to keep my own personal politics (mostly, anyway, I am posting here...) out of this and keep my opinions to mostly observation, but these are the areas where I think the debate will play out, no matter our personal stances on any of it.

"...an authentic version of that discussion — not the ersatz one we have after every mass shooting — would include an honest examination of why so many Americans feel the need to own guns." - Arianna Huffington, Huffington Post, 17 Dec 2012.

Good question. For my own money I don't have an entirely satisfying answer at hand.

Today we've seen the President's responses to the issue with his recommendations to Congress and 23 Executive Actions. Bits of it address all of the above themes.

Of the Presidents recommendations, it's the mental health stuff that stands to do the most good. It's also actually the toughest nut. Mental health initiatives would be the most expensive, and the most politically difficult to fund, with the current opposition to anything even remotely connected to the Affordable Care Act. But it's still potentially the most helpful avenue of pursuit, considering that shooting up Theaters, Schools and Shopping Malls is not usually considered sane behavior. But the Health Care – most specifically the health Insurance Industry – is even more corrupt, chaotic and oppositional than the NRA on a bad day. Good luck with that.

All but the Executive Order stuff is also likely just plain dead on arrival in the House at it's current oppositional temperament, especially the Assault Weapons ban revival. Many of the Executive Order items may still face GOP challenges and possible court actions.

Still Possible - some of the record-keeping and the expansion of background check provisions. Tightening up the loopholes on weapons sales. Also, yes, let's DO get a proper head of the ATF; and while we're at it, let's FUND that cash and resource starved agency so they CAN do their job.

Doug Muder in the Weekly Sift takes on some of the sticky core issues on his blog.

"But gun-advocate rhetoric takes place in a binary frame where (1) no restrictions and (2) total confiscation are the only real options. So when Vice President Biden said that some action might happen through executive order, gun-nuts went nuttier: Obama was threatening confiscation by executive order!...

"The most extreme part of the gun debate isn’t about hunting or home-defense at all. It’s about the right of the People to overthrow the government by force — even if it’s the government the People just elected."

- Doug Muder, "Too Simple", The Weekly Sift

I rather wonder if this is truly the case.

We come back to the sticky point of how do we make the public, particularly the innocent, safer while respecting the 2nd Amendment or making the USA a massively armed camp? If the ownership of military style weapons is to be completely unimpeded, how do we keep them from the hands of some seriously wrong people?

That's STILL unanswered to my satisfaction, from either side of the debate.

Discuss

I have been wondering wether anyone in Government outside of NASA, NOAA and the Scientific community have been taking Climate Change Seriously. Then I saw this announcement from the White House

Expanding the Climate Change Conversation

"Today, a committee of independent advisors to the U.S. Government released its first draft of a new National Climate Assessment (NCA)—a 400-page synthesis of scientists’ current understanding of climate change and its impacts in the United States. The Global Change Research Act of 1990 calls for an NCA to be produced at least every four years—the last came out in 2009. The draft NCA is a scientific document—not a policy document—and does not make recommendations regarding actions that might be taken in response to climate change. Today is the first time the Government has been presented with this draft and the administration will be one of a number of entities that will begin the process of reviewing it. When completed about a year from now, however—after considerable inputs from the public and expert reviewers—it will represent the most thorough, rigorous, and transparent assessment ever of climate change and its U.S. impacts..."

POTUS - Office of Science and Technology Policy

We are then directed to the relevant agency release. FASCINATING. At least it's a topic that SOME folk have been taking seriously. Of course, it'll be attacked by the Right. And as likely as not, they all get a pat on the head and sent home and NOTHING will be done. But at least there is a conversation going on out there.
Federal Advisory Committee Draft Climate Assessment Report Released for Public Review

"A 60-person Federal Advisory Committee (The "National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee" or NCADAC) has overseen the development of this draft climate report....

"Following extensive review by the National Academies of Sciences and by the public, this report will be revised by the NCADAC and, after additional review, will then be submitted to the Federal Government for consideration in the Third National Climate Assessment (NCA) Report."

The full document (147Mb PDF file) and individual chapters are available online for Download.

The Committee is now soliciting public comment.

You can read the Introduction: Letter to the American People past the fold.

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iPhoneJune2007_4107
Yes, it’s you. It’s me. It’s each and every one of us. In fact, it’s seven billion of us, spread out over an increasingly crowded and stressed planet. Writing last year in an article for Four Quarters Interfaith Sanctuary, I noted that during the course 2011, the human population of the Earth would reach a staggering seven billion souls. The January 2011 issue of the National Geographic was devoted to the theme of Population Growth, leading with a cover story titled Seven Billion. What struck me was this was the first even remotely mainstream publication to make the connection between human population growth, consumption, and resource depletion.

Rather than rehash NG’s or my own article, I’ll just go with the short version. Seven Billion people eat a lot of food, drink a lot of water and burn a lot of–mostly fossil–fuel. Well, duh. I’ll revisit that on the cosmic scale. The planet Earth is essentially a petri dish, a closed system with only sunlight and meteorites coming in. So not only is an infinite growth model patently unsustainable on the face of it, we are also in no small danger of filling up the dish, with projected dire consequences.

Lately part of the topic of global consumption and our voracious appetite for resources has been in the news, focusing on Apple computer and their manufacturing pipeline, specifically on the labor practices of their outsourced manufacturing partner Foxconn in China. The story made headlines with major piece in the New York Times and Mike Daisey’s one-man show, The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, whose most sensational claims ultimately proved later to be utterly fabricated. As a matter of perspective, while dismal by American standards, Foxconn actually pays better and has somewhat better conditions than most of it’s counterparts, and certainly beats being a rural farmer in China. But be that as it may, this is the tip of the iceberg of a complex global chain of manufacturing, labor and commerce that affects our entire civilization; the flow of resources and products mostly flowing from the developing world to the consumers of Europe and North America. Own a smartphone? Computer? Laptop? iPad? You’re in it. In fact of you are much of a consumer at all, you’re in it.

“Unless you are wearing homespun, grow and ranch every bit of your food and have a home-built wind turbine or solar array, you’re like the vast press of us, firmly embedded in a vast global economy.”

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Thu Mar 22, 2012 at 09:02 PM PDT

Mr President. Oh, DUDE...

by SamuraiArtGuy

Oh, DUDE. Bro.

"Earlier today, Barack Obama wrapped up his first trip to Oklahoma as President. He arrived just after a week of floods, capping off a winter that never came, which followed the hottest and driest summer Oklahoma had seen in thousands of years, perhaps ever.

"But he wasn’t in Oklahoma to talk about these climate disasters. He was there to laud his administration’s fast-tracking of the southern leg of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

"in his speech today, President Obama didn't connect the dots between fossil fuel extraction, climate change, and the extreme weather that has reshaped so much of the American landscape this past year. " - Appeal, 350.org

I suspect, that unless our technological civilization's insatiable hunger for energy eases, we shall drill every drop of oil, suck every wisp of natural gas, scrape every crumb of coal, at ever escalating environmental and financial cost. This is not an American issue, it's a Global issue.
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Tue Feb 14, 2012 at 07:39 AM PST

About Religious "Freedom"...

by SamuraiArtGuy

There's been a lot of noise and thunder - mostly significant of nothing - about "religious freedom" in the mediasphere lately.

This diary got started on Facebook. I don't want to go off on a rant here, but ya'll made me do it. So I'm going there.

Here's a principle about how religious freedom is supposed to work. You create a framework of high personal religious liberty, with a progressive social structure, allowing each individual to choose for themselves whatever personal spiritual pathway that suits their convictions. You do NOT legislate specific restrictive religious doctrine and restrictions into the laws of the land for ALL citizens regardless of what faith they are, or whether or not they are religious persons.

But of course if your tradition is missionary or evangelical, apparently you do exactly that.

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It seems that in the face of utter unified opposition from the Republicans, caving has become a way of life for Congressional Democrats, and the White House. But apparently there very well may be limits...

"In effect, as they recognize, Democrats on Capitol Hill may be facing a double vise. Their own president is asking that they be willing to cut back entitlement programs. And there is a very real possibility that if Republicans hold tough on significant tax increases, the White House may be so hungry for a deal that Hill Democrats will be asked to accept that, too. That's two caves too many for a lot of Democrats....
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It's becoming increasingly clear we are moving into a period where anyone with centrist or moderate political leanings is now being placed in a position to have to take sides in the face of Republican Extremism, and Democratic spinelessness... we are in for... interesting times.

As a Designer by trade I tend to respond to insanity out of my immediate reach with ART. I cobbled together an image of a determined Miyamoto Musashi with his two swords and the caption "GET ANGRY! or GET EATEN! RESIST!" For whatever Gods' or principles you hold dear, GET THE POINT, and pay attention to what's happening out there.

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