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Tue Jan 24, 2012 at 12:18 PM PST

Exuberant Liars

by tbucklin

In the Sunday (1/22) NY Times, a column called “Room for Debate” takes up the question of why politicians get away with lying. The basic assumption embedded in the question and promoted by the several experts called upon to opine for this column is that lying is bad. It is a given that there should be negative consequences for lying. I believe that in the new political paradigm, this assumption is wrong. Among conservative politicians lying is a badge of courage, it is a clarion call to the base.

They would never call it lying (lying is a sin, after all) - playing fast and loose with the truth and facts, discounting science (climate change, evolution) and lambasting the media as biased (that bias tends to be toward truth and fact, as lame as the media have been in upholding that principle) and government - but the behavior exhibited most consistently by conservative politicians in which claims are based on blatant falsehoods and distortions of fact serve a very distinct purpose. Their lies give comfort to citizens who are frightened by science, whose beliefs are challenged by the institutions of truth - science, education, government, the media. Lying is a sub-sonic language with which conservative politicians communicate to their base. They are saying "We're like you."

And as George Lakoff in his piece in the column suggests, it is their self-proclaimed commitment to a greater moral objective that gives them cover, that absolves them from the lesser sin of lying. Their lies are promoting a greater (though unspecified) moral principle. I would go farther. The lies in fact proclaim their moralistic stance, like a gang-member's secret hand signal. The irony is that the morals themselves no longer matter - see Newt Gingrich. All that's required is a claim of a morals-based stance, which the lying paradoxically reinforces. The moral principles themselves remain unexamined, unimportant, really.

This lying is an outgrowth of the single-issue conservative political model that has motivated American conservatives since the Red Scare of the fifties. Anti-communism, anti-welfare, anti-abortion, anti-gay rights, and now anti-truth - all have served the same function, to identify who is a member of the clan.

This is not to say that liberal politicians don’t also lie and bend the truth. They do indeed. But their lies serve a different purpose, and liberals do it much more guardedly, still trying to keep their exaggerations or distortions tethered to some notion of defensible logic, still operating under the antique notion that lying is wrong. Conservatives lie with gusto and exuberance, they flaunt their inaccuracies, they refuse all entreaties to consider alternate views or countervailing evidence. They refuse to participate in discourse, which is of course the most fundamental unit of governance. They have thus essentially shut down the government, severely restricting the government’s ability to make effective policy and thus achieving one of their most cherished goals, drowning government, through the simple act of lying.

Clearly it is a mistake to argue whether politicians lie. We all do it to one degree or another. But it is also a mistake to assume that there are negative consequences for lying, at least among conservative politicians. In fact, lying seems to be a winning strategy for conservatives, if Newt Gingrich, John Boener, Paul Ryan, or any other high-(f)lying conservative politician of the day is to be considered. And this does not bode well for the future of our republic.


Thu Oct 13, 2011 at 06:54 PM PDT

Occupy America is Rewriting History

by tbucklin

All the complaining by pundits and the media about the Occupy Wall Street (and the rest of America while we're at it) movement’s failure to articulate a list of demands has had me in a bit of a quandary, too. It does seem that a nascent political movement needs to have a focal point to rally around, you can’t marshal a popular movement toward a thousand points of light.

But the list of grievances that OWS is in the process of collating, and the list seems long and diffuse if you read the protesters' signage, can perhaps be best seen as a list of all the stories the media has failed to report adequately for a decade or more now. So while Wall Street provides a plenty big target and rallying point, to a certain extent the task of the protests in this phase is to challenge the media version of events, not just in the case of the Great Wall Street Swindle, but all major events of the past decades, 9/11, tax policy and government, politics, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as we’ve seen the media coalesce into larger and more profit-driven entities, with the focus of reporting drifting away from human interest and the public need to know toward the corporate interest.

To be fair, it must be said that the media are not entirely at fault in the demise of journalism as an arbiter of truth and recorder of history. Certainly much of what people have been decrying at OWS rallies has been reported on, in some cases extensively and fairly, by various media outlets and individual reporters. But the media as a whole have succumbed to a number of conveniences that have made journalism more about what people say about events and less about the events themselves. It's so much simpler to report what "important" people are saying about events than to explain what has actually happened. And the public is complicit in allowing this drift away from fact. We have come to prefer fungible facts and glamorous gossip, which the stripped down profit-minded media are only too happy to provide. A diligent public would demand a lot more of its media, and would respond with outrage to a story as potent and so blatantly offensive as the story of Wall Street megalomaniacs plundering the world economy.

These protests can be seen as an effort to wrest our recent history from the grasp of corporate journalism, an effort to establish a clear fact-oriented, human-based version of what has happened and to give the public a chance to respond to the real story. With outrage. Not just for the financial delinquencies of the Wall Street banksters, as if that weren’t enough, but for a long list of misdemeanors that have weakened this country and corrupted the institutions, including the media, that once helped keep us focused on what is true and what is important.

This first phase of the Occupy Wall Street protest movement can be seen as an attempt to rewrite history, to demonstrate by a show of hands (and feet in the street) that the corporate media version of recent American history is wrong. Once a new history, which includes the human costs of the corporate takeover of the American (and global) soul, has been written, then a list of demands and an action plan can be expected.


Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 08:07 AM PDT

Over the Cliff

by tbucklin

As we approach the cliff on the impending climate disaster, Republicans remain steadfast in their contempt for government, torpedoing any proposal that would show that government has a constructive, or even more inimical to their views, a crucial role in averting the disaster. Republicans are threatening the welfare of millions of people around the world to make a point about their views on government.

The climate disaster I’m talking about is the economic climate disaster that will soon engulf the world when Republicans fail to reach an agreement that will raise the debt ceiling.  They may not even realize it yet, but Republican lawmakers are like that boy playing chicken with James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause,“ as he guns his car toward the cliff, he tries to open the door to bail out at the last minute only to realize that he's stuck and he sails over the cliff in his car to a fiery death. Republicans are steering us straight over the government default cliff, and they still think they can bail out, but it’s too late, they’re stuck in the mire of their ideology and their intransigence and they are about to take us all over the cliff.

If it were just a movie, as the car went sailing through the air, there would be a quick shot of us in the back seat just before impact looking at each other in shock, mouthing the words, “I never imagined they’d go through with it.”

But this is not a movie and it’s becoming increasingly hard to imagine how Republicans will be able to extricate themselves from the shackles of their strict orthodoxies as they accelerate us toward the brink. One by one the opportunities to bail out on their game of chicken click by like white dashes on the pavement and the cliff looms ahead. In legislative time, only a few seconds remain before we reach the edge.

And without getting into the merits (or lack thereof) of conservative ideology, what’s truly striking about this whole affair is how little concern our audacious chicken-playing legislators show for the potential disaster their little game is likely to bring down upon us all. While they quibble over a few hundred billion dollars worth of government revenue, their threatened default would cause trillions in economic damage and misery for millions of people.

Republican lawmakers are prepared to drive our country's economy over a cliff. Do we really want people like this making decisions about our climate, economic or otherwise?


Republican lawmakers have been remarkably blasé about the damage they are threatening to do, as they get ready to push the button that will blast the American and world economies into massive and destructive turmoil. By refusing to raise the debt ceiling, perhaps in an effort to deprive President Obama of any and every political gain, or to prove an ideological point, Republicans are showing once again how divorced they are from the real harm their policies will engender. Hundreds of millions of people around the world will be hurt by the federal government defaulting on its debt payments, and yet somehow the Republicans can see no further than the confines of their petty political fortunes.

Having backed themselves into a narrow government-hating ideological corner, now cemented into dogma by the ravings of their tea-party enablers, conservative lawmakers no longer have a choice in the matter. They either stand together as one we’re-not-going-to-take-it-any-more, tax-cutting, government-strangling bunch of refuseniks, or they’ll be branded liberals and voted off the island.

Meanwhile, these lawmakers have lost touch with the fact that their actions impact the fortunes of so many people, not just the three-hundred million or so Americans whose net worths would diminish by billions should the government go into default. Republicans seem utterly unconcerned with the seriousness and gravity that comes with their power to wreak economic havoc on the world.

And what they’re doing verges on madness. How would you feel if the captain of your ship announced over the public address that he has a bomb in the hold and he’s mulling over whether to press the button? Even if he didn’t “really” mean it, he’d be instantly relieved of duty. Yet somehow Republican leaders who blithely threaten to do no less damage, whether they mean it or not, remain unchallenged.

Is it because we are so confused about economics that we allow these blackmailers to get away with threatening to sink the ship of state? There’s no need to be confused about the economic impact of a government default – it’s bad for just about everyone. In fact, the net loss to the U.S. economy from the effects of the Republicans’ threatened default could easily equal a major fraction of a year’s worth of federal tax revenues. How dumb is that?

Do we tolerate this because we’ve all come to agree with conservatives that government is irredeemably corrupt? Republican lawmakers seem hell-bent on corrupting the government to prove themselves right. Is this any way to run a country? Do we really want people like this handling the delicate affairs of governance with the welfare of so many people hanging in the balance?

One thing seems certain. If the Republicans follow through on their threats to force the government into default and government services begin to shut down, stocks and bonds become unstable and values plummet, inflation ticks up, the dollar drops, and we slide back into recession or worse, we will at least have an opportunity (and probably more time on our hands than we’d like) to consider whether the conservative indictment of government is valid.

I suspect we will look with nostalgia on the bygone days of “the Nanny State.” It is said you never know how much you love someone until they’re gone, and we will realize too late that our so-called nanny, in spite of her flaws, was actually pretty good at keeping our fractious house in order.


Mon Apr 11, 2011 at 07:37 AM PDT

Obama is the Problem

by tbucklin

April 11, 2011

Dear President Obama,

I’m writing to let you know that your performance as president has left me confused and disappointed. Whereas I expected leadership and a strong call to our humanitarian democratic principles to thwart the unquenchable greed and misanthropy of conservatives, what I find in your words and deeds is an enabler who is loathe to confront what I see as a grave threat to our republic.

When conservatives claim to be serious about reducing government and deficit spending, yet every argument they offer is laden with lies, distortions, and cruel effects for children and the poor and elderly, you not only don’t counter their lies and criticize their cruelty, you make deals with them. In doing so you reinforce the entire specious load of baloney upon which conservative initiatives are based.

A serious discussion about reducing government would include the value of what government is now doing and a cost comparison of leaving current government activities undone. Like effective bank regulations (the lack of which just cost us a few trillion), or food and health inspections, like Medicare and Health Reform, there may be a good reason to drop all those, but let’s talk about what they actually deliver before we agree to the conservative claims of “wasteful government spending.”

When conservatives say they are serious about debt reduction, and yet their proposals actually increase debt, where are you? When Paul Ryan proposes that we dismantle Medicare and Medicaid, an idea that would bring suffering to millions of American elderly and financial ruin to millions more of their family members, where are you? When conservatives fail to make employment and economic recovery central to their policy considerations as millions suffer in the downturn, when their economic policies are entirely based on “tinkle-down economics,” an idea that has been discredited for 25 years, where are you to point out the foolishness of these ideas? Policies that accommodate these irrational fantasies are destructive and destined to make our problems worse in the near future.

And as crisp as the dividing lines should be between nonsense and reality, I still don’t know where you stand. Conservatives are serious about one thing only, gaining the power to force us to adopt their deluded notions about the world. They will say and do anything to accomplish that. They are spoiled children who have learned to hold (the government hostage) their breath to get what they want, who have never been told that the fairy tales they cling to are in fact not worthy of consideration in an adult conversation. I thought we we supposed to refuse to negotiate with hostage-takers.

That’s what I’m looking for in my president, an adult who can tell the difference between a meaningful discussion and a bully’s petulant demands, who counters lies and distortions, who insists on civility and reason, and who becomes willing to compromise only when the discussion reaches an adult level.

I worked hard for your election in 2008. As it stands now, I will not work for your reelection. I may not even vote for you. I have come to see you as not just part of the problem, I think you ARE the problem.

Ted Bucklin
Santa Fe, NM


It's not hard to feel ambivalent about unions and their power. For sure, unions are a net negative when viewed from a raw capitalist viewpoint. Organized labor is like a regulatory agency, limiting the power of  the investor class  to effect their designs in funneling the munificence of the marketplace into their bank accounts. And the drive for efficiency, a compelling value in the marketplace, gives organized labor a bad name. Always looking for an edge to force the powerful monied interest to give a little more, organized labor tends to hold onto any advantage, no matter the impediment to efficient management.  And it's easy to pull a handful of "Welfare Queen" examples from the files to exaggerate the excesses of union power, making it look bloated, corrupt and maddeningly insensitive to practical concerns.

But like most human enterprises, including business and government, organizing and utilizing the power of workers is messy too, and it's easy to forget the most important benefits to all workers, union or not, and most Americans, that organized labor provides.

First, organized workers provide a counterweight in the marketplace to the interests of capital, a counterweight that has sadly lightened considerably in recent decades, leaving the business class a free hand to manipulate both markets (see Internet/Tech Bubble, 1990s; Great Recession, 2008 on) and ideology (see media consolidation, education decline and Republican/Tea Party fantasies about how the world works) to the point where we seem to have lost any shred of the humanitarian impulses that were once the bedrock of our country's identity. An organized voice for workers is a hedge against losing contact with our shared humanity.

Second, the success of organized workers in getting a bigger share of the overall economic pie in the form of higher wages and benefits provides a benchmark for the entire wage/benefit position of all workers. In other words, most non-union workers wouldn't earn as much today if it weren't for the bargaining power of organized labor fighting for their own union workers' pay, ratcheting up the pay scale of all.

And third, labor's early successes in getting such historic protections as a 40-hour work week and age limits for legal employment are often seen as anachronisms of a now long-gone era of once valorous organized labor, now corrupt and past its expiration date. But the mere presence of organized labor with all its faults has the effect of keeping the marketplace attentive to the risks of mistreating workers. God forbid, they might unionize!

Clearly, if Americans are looking for a narrative that explains the long decline of workers and middle class families in maintaining a strong presence in bargaining for their slice of the American pie, they could do a lot worse than tie it to the general decline of the power of union workers, who have chosen to organize and negotiate with the capital classes for better wages (for all of us).

Now on a personal level, in my career as a carpenter I've always resisted joining a union as I am not good at "playing the game" as is required in any hierarchy, labor or corporate or government. And I've never liked the inefficiencies and unpleasant compromises that tend to be built into union jobs as I've heard from my unionized acquaintances. But I can see through the blood and guts ugliness of union operations in real life, and I'm thankful for those who can tolerate the compromises and go out and struggle for their own welfare and wages, and in the process bring me and my fellow workers up too.

As the rhetoric and actions of a certain class of Americans becomes more and more hostile to the welfare of American workers and their struggling families, I'd say we need unions to be more powerful and more active in the marketplace to counteract the rapacious inclinations of those monied few who are grabbing for ever more of the pie.


Thu Jun 03, 2010 at 02:16 PM PDT

The Gulf Died for Your (Our) Sins

by tbucklin

Today is day "n" of the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, where "n" equals the number of sins committed in service of our bottomless appetite for fossil-based energy; "n" equals the number of organisms killed by the careless spewing of petroleum toxins across the globe and through every biome on the planet, "n" equals the number of organisms killed by the heedless construction of entire civilizations based on and powered by petroleum, "n" equals the number of acres of living earth ripped asunder and covered with asphalt for roads, parking lots, megalopoli; "n" equals the number of mountaintops blasted out across the landscape in the search for fuel, of tailings piled up in toxic mounds, and rainbow lakes of waste left to leech into our lives, into all life.

Today we look with horror at the ever-growing plume of rust-brown poison covering square miles of ocean, a floating, migrating promise of death for an unimaginably large area, with consequences so grave, we will never fully appreciate the toll, the horror, the abject sin of this event.

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Dear Congressperson,

I’m writing because I am concerned about the state of affairs in our country. The situation in Iraq captures the headlines, and it is indeed a horrendous situation that needs our attention, but it is not simply the crisis in Iraq but rather the crisis in the United States that we must address. Call me Chicken Little, but I think our democracy is in extreme peril. There is no time to lose in checking the erosion that has already significantly damaged the principles and institutions of our once proud nation.

President Bush and his administration have demonstrated time and again their utter disdain for democratic principles in making policy, they show repeatedly their contempt for the rule of law, and they reject out of hand the reasoned counsel of anyone, be it intelligence agencies, scientists, policy experts, bipartisan panels hired to make recommendations, and perhaps most significantly, the will of the American voters.

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Tue Dec 05, 2006 at 08:35 AM PST

Kick Bolton's Policies in the Ass

by tbucklin

Steve Clemons of  The Washington Note is all about tipping his hat to outgoing UN ambassador John Bolton, who resigned yesterday as it was apparent his re-nomination by the president would fail.

How many hat tips can you give a man who has made it a point to stick it in your eye every chance he got? John Bolton, representing our nation in the principle forum of nations, took every opportunity to hinder and defile not just the actors within the UN but the very enterprise of international cooperation and power. As an ideologue utterly convinced of his own ideology, Mr. Bolton was, as has been the case for so many Bush appointees, completely wrong for the job. The destruction he has wreaked will impede American interests for some time to come.

Bolton fits the Bush model of employing people who are constitutionally opposed to the very institutions they are employed to oversee, leading to failure and destruction on most fronts. Brownie, Rummy, Ashcroft and Gonzales, EPA, all either incompetent or competent in their disdain for the institutions they have been employed to manage.

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Sat Dec 02, 2006 at 09:32 AM PST

The Myth of Hyperpower

by tbucklin

Just because America has the most sophisticated, well-stocked arsenal of killing devices ever assembled on God's sorry-assed earth does not mean America is powerful, unless we look at power as simply the ability to kill adversaries.

Real power is the ability to get one's adversaries to negotiate mutually beneficial agreeements, something that will never happen through the blunt use of military force. Bush and the neocons use military force as a substitute for the tough gritty work of actually negotiating with disagreeable, fractious nations that nonetheless have some measure of power to affect us. The ultimate weakness of the neocon ideal (now foolishly adopted by much of the American public) is the playground bully approach to international affairs. If you don't agree to our terms, we'll beat you up.

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November 6, 2006
At last we know why smirking Republicans like Ken Mehlman can go on national TV and say they're fully confident they're going to win this election. It's because they have a plan to win using tactics that are probably illegal, or if not, should be (ahh, the beauty of the criminal mind). The key to their diabolical scheme is that any negative repercussions for the Republicans occur after the election is already decided. They're perfectly willing to take a little heat after the election as long as they get maximum effect for their little tricks.

It appears that this election cycle they are trying to frustrate non-Republican voters, principally independents and waffling Democrats, by making multiple annoying pre-recorded calls to voters' houses, as many as 18 times in some precincts and typically at dinnertime, calls in which the caller appears to be a supporter of the Democratic candidate asking for their vote. Eighteen times in an afternoon. Nationwide these calls are being made and paid for by the National Republican Campaign Committee.

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Sat Aug 26, 2006 at 07:51 AM PDT

Abu Ghraib-lite

by tbucklin

Friday (8/26) I heard a report on "Democrazy Now" of the plight of two Iraqi-American women flying back to the US from vacation in Jordan who were subjected to abuse by "insecurity officials" in customs. Amy Goodman interviewed a mother and daughter who were detained for 6 hours, asked ridiculous questions having nothing to do with security such as, "Do you support the war in Iraq?" they were treated without care or respect throughout their ordeal, being denied requests for food or water or even a place to sit, and then when they were released without explanation, nor were they offered anything resembling an apology or a single word of comfort. If only this were an isolated incident, but there were apparently two hundred or so south-Asian-looking people there with them, being treated to American yahoo hospitality. And this is one aiport.

What is this, Abu Ghraib-lite? Next thing you know customs officials will be handing out panty-hats and open a (vicious) dog petting zoo for selected travelers.

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