05 July 2015

Link round-up for 5 July 2015

I am no man.

Reddittards contemplate the conquest of New Zealand.

Wow, flamingos are tough.

Speaking of New Zealand, this is actually a good idea.

Yikes!  Well, they did warn us.

Not all Arab women are demure, devout, and submissive (but that's a generic flag bearing the Muslim creed, not an ISIS flag).

Language is in decline, and always has been.

Listen to your betters.

Get the real facts about the Greek crisis.

An Australian woman remembers her favorite job.

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the Canadian flag.

The Pope denounces weapons-makers and then says that the Allies in World War II should have bombed the railways leading to Auschwitz.  Bombs are weapons, dumbass.

Most Americans support the ACA and gay-marriage rulings, though the Catholic Church is in a snit.

These people exist.

Republic of Gilead reports on an "ex-gay" conference.

I endorse this idea about mass killers (found via Earth-bound Misfit) -- and please note that the ancient Greeks did too.

Rising university costs are a big problem, but some students have figured out a solution.

If it weren't for the South, we'd be a (more) normal country.  But Republicans are largely the party of the South, and that's not going to change soon (found via Progressive Eruptions), though there are small signs of progress (found via Fair and Unbalanced).  But to win, our side still needs to fight intelligently.

The latest stupid anti-gay video ad already has a parody version.

Try this quiz to find out how closely you align with various Presidential candidates (my results are below).

Donald Trump is finding his natural constituency.  Hint:  it's not Mexicans.

Here are a few basic questions on gay marriage (found via Republic of Gilead).

This person will vote next year -- will you?

Green Eagle has another round-up of conservative lunacy.

The Catholic Church is floundering in Australia, for the same reasons as elsewhere.

Iceland has abolished its laws against blasphemy.  Here are some places to try out your Icelandic blaspheming skills, provided you can pronounce names like Eyjafjallajokull and Grundarfjoerdur.

TYWKIWDBI reports from a Sanders rally in Wisconsin. Here's how Hillary and Bernie stack up with Democrats nationally.

Fox News is not getting its money's worth here.

The US gay-marriage ruling has triggered a debate on gay rights -- in Iran.

Green Eagle looks at the latest insanity concerning Gaza.

Here's more on what the Confederacy was really about.

Bitcoin isn't the future of money.  It isn't even money.


[A note:  This round-up is my 3,000th post.]

04 July 2015

America -- becoming who we are

Independence Day can be a less-than-edifying time for the genuine patriot.  As with most holidays, it's been gradually transformed into a pretext for mall sales and parties, with hardly a word ever spoken about its true meaning.  The American flag is much in evidence, vulgarized in the form of pennants and balloons calling attention to the fireworks tents that have sprung up in seemingly every supermarket parking lot.  Some people don't even know the reason for the holiday.

But the fact is, there's a lot to celebrate on this 239th anniversary.  Consider the extension of equal marriage rights to gay people coast-to-coast, the upholding of ACA subsidies that allowed millions to keep health insurance they would otherwise have lost, and the long-overdue turn against the Confederate flag which has flown as an insulting symbol of racism and willful twisting of history for decades.

A few other less-noted rulings also deserve mention.  Arizona's independent commission to draw Congressional districts was upheld against Republican efforts to bring redistricting back under political control -- a rebuff to the gerrymandering which has given them a House majority despite their candidates receiving fewer votes than ours overall.  New Texas rules which would have closed more than half the abortion clinics in that state have been blocked, at least temporarily.  And Oklahoma's state supreme court ordered the removal of a Ten Commandments monument which has long stood at the state capitol in flagrant defiance of the First Amendment.

In the space of about a week, our country took half-a-dozen steps of varying kinds in the direction of delivering on its promise -- life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for everyone.  We're not there yet, and the march ahead will continue to face determined opposition -- but we are much further along now than we were in the middle of June.  All Americans, especially those who have contributed to the fight in their own varied ways, should take pride in this.

Image at top:  Artist Bree Newsome climbing the flagpole at the South Carolina capitol to tear that Confederate flag down has emerged as the iconic image of a week like no other.  Her act and subsequent arrest perfectly exemplify the vital young future asserting itself against the dead hand of a fading and uncomprehending past.

02 July 2015

A little light viewing

A few just-for-fun videos I've run across in the last few days.

First up, Donald Trump's recent insulting comments about Mexicans have raised eyebrows not only among American Latinos, but in Mexico itself.  One piñata maker took inspiration (found via Progressive Eruptions):


A Confederate-flag parade illustrates that driving and dumbth don't mix (found via Green Eagle):


George Carlin is in fine form here as always (found via Bruce Gerencser, who has a lot more like this):


Syrian women rescued from ISIS celebrate by casting off their mandated black cloaks as they reach Kurdish-held territory:


Finally, this is a parody of AC/DC's song "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap", but it could serve as a good national anthem for the Taliban (except that they probably ban music):

30 June 2015

Persecution?

The Christian Right has reacted to Friday's gay-marriage ruling with all the calm, sober deliberation of a rabid pit bull with its nuts caught in a mousetrap.  This is hardly surprising.  They have been insisting for some time, and still insist, that gay marriage equality means persecution of Christianity and Christians.

Rick Scarborough declares gay marriage a Satanic plot for "the complete destruction of the church of the Lord Jesus".  RedState announces "the roadmap to drive Christianity from the public square".  Sandy Rios has called on Christians to "prepare for martyrdom".  An Iowa state rep declares that Bible preaching "just became a hate crime" and "can now be prosecuted".  CWA says the ruling "opened the door to the criminalization of Christianity" and other Godhatesfagsian religions.  Mike Huckabee has used similar language.  An abundance of such examples can easily be found.

All this talk of persecution has a certain masturbative quality.  There's no self-image the religious fanatic loves to adopt more than that of the persecuted martyr, suffering for his loyalty to God at the hands of a sinful and fallen world, simply oozing righteousness and virtue despite the worst the depraved can throw at him.  In any religion, martyrs who suffered and died for the faith are among the most revered figures, and the seemingly inexorable advance of the Rainbow Legions of Hell gives today's Bible-thumping pests a not-to-be-missed opportunity to strut and preen on the national stage in the glorious plumage of that exalted status.

But behind it all, I think, is a certain fear.  No, not fear of real persecution -- there are places where that happens, but not here.  Churches, for example, will not be forced to perform gay weddings even though they're now legal.  A church can still refuse to marry an interfaith couple, a couple where one person is divorced, an interracial couple, or anything else they object to, even though such marriages have been legal for decades.  Civil law defines which marriages are recognized by the government -- churches are free to operate by whatever taboos they embrace.

No, what the fundies really fear is something much worse.  We're not going to persecute them.  We're going to ignore them.

At least where the issue of gay marriage is concerned, the debate is now settled.  There's no longer much point in even debunking these nuts any more.  Oh, they'll keep trying.  They'll still stand there on the sidelines, waving their Bibles and jumping up and down and screeching about sin and Leviticus and abominations and God's plan and God's wrath and what have you, and we'll just go about our business and not bother to pay them any attention.  Why should we?  This particular battle is over and they lost.  At most, we may laugh at them.

That's what they truly dread -- not persecution, but irrelevance.

28 June 2015

Link round-up for 28 June 2015

Here's how the marriage map looks now (the second map is correct).  I guess these guys haven't been keeping up.

These Confederate flag fans must be pretty unhappy right now.

Like, what is "like" like?

God hates Tylenol.

At last, a broadly accepting religious group (found via Mendip).

Which country is smarter?

Civic-minded people take out the garbage. But a few dinosaurs don't yet realize they're extinct.  And these people existYou can help.

Bet you never thought there are this many colors (porpoise?).

Teh Donald is really starting to scare the Republican establishment.

The FRC is caught blatantly lying about statistics.

Friday's victory is celebrated by Andrew Sullivan, various companies, and national landmarks.  But the spirit of Wallace in the schoolhouse door is alive and well in the South, as the Christian Right rages, Presidential candidates divide along party lines, and the troglodyte "base" vents its semiliterate wrath (found via a comment at Progressive Eruptions).  Republic of Gilead has more from around the Godhatesfagsosphere.  Let's see if any of these predictions come true.

The US marriage ruling heartens activists worldwide, including at London's biggest pride parade ever.

Should polygamy be next?  Fredrik deBoer makes the case, with some uncomfortable truths about progressive discomfiture with the issue.

Here's Donald Trump's son -- pretty much what you'd expect.

Jindal starts paying the price for a bigoted executive order.  Here are some more great Jindal moments.

Hillary bluntly confronts the racism behind the Charleston attack and the Confederate flag, while Republican candidates still shy away (found via Fair and Unbalanced).

It's not just California -- drought is striking everywhere.

Sorry, but no amount of "gun control" can prevent events like the Charleston attack.

The TPP vote was bought, of course, but it seems Democrats come cheap.

Ireland's former top Catholic official admits the Church intimidated victims to cover up sex abuse.

Some Nigerian states have religious courts which can sentence people to death for blasphemy.  I'm sure some states in the US would do the same, if it weren't for the First Amendment.

It was a mass murder of 32 people, but nobody much cared.

Since the Charleston attack, three black churches in the South have been burned.

A New Jersey court rules "conversion therapy" fraudulent (link from Ahab).

There's plenty more right-wing bullshit out there.

26 June 2015

It's been a good week

A long-overdue awakening of decency.....

.....a farcical embarrassment for the bad guys.....

.....a win for basic justice.....

.....and today -- yes! -- marriage equality nationwide!

OK, we got bad news on TPA, but not even that can spoil a week like this.

[Sorry for light posting lately -- tendonitis again.]

Update:  ZOMGLOL RedState is going bonkers -- see here and here -- it's as if aliens had invaded.  More agitation, and a bit of real debate, here.

22 June 2015

Take it down

The Civil War ended 150 years ago.  It's time to finish it once and for all.

The image above is from Saturday's rally in South Carolina calling for the flag of treason to be removed from the state capitol (more images here).  This person's sign speaks for me.  Whatever "heritage" that flag represents is a shameful one.  The Confederacy was all about preserving slavery -- its founders proudly and unambiguously proclaimed that fact at the time.  Any claim to the contrary is a flagrant lie, and yet we've tolerated and indulged that lie for decades.

Enough is enough.  For a century and a half that lie has bloodied our country with too many murders to count.  Last week it fueled nine more.  The lie must be smashed.

Not by censorship, but by response.  From now on, every display of the Confederate flag, every defense of the Confederate cause, every invocation of "heritage" or "states' rights" or any other garbage calculated to legitimize that flag and what it stood for, must be beaten back with the flamethrower of unrelenting condemnation and truth.  Hit back with facts and history and righteous outrage, until that flag and that "heritage" are so despised and embarrassing that not even the vilest Republican dares defend them.

Green Eagle has expressed the imperative eloquently in this post, which I urge everyone to read.  Please also read this essay and this one, both of which I endorse.

We cannot bring back the nine who were murdered.  But we can honor their memory by finally  purging our national consciousness of the lie that helped egg the murderer on.

21 June 2015

Link round-up for 21 June 2015

Looking for LGBTQ-positive young-adult novels?  There are plenty.

The fifth Alien movie will -- yes! -- pick up where the second left off.

Here's a conservative neighborhood.

Putin is the ultimate macho man.

Mock Paper Scissors looks at that Texas gold depository.

Here's a handy tip for smokers.

The British prepare to fight back against the Conservative government's ongoing devastation of their society.  Yesterday up to 150,000 people marched in London.

Europe's Philae comet lander has woken up and phoned home.

Wales is about to get a little healthier.

Booman's in a fine fury about Republicans and women voters.

Sign here to oppose US obstruction of abortions for women and girls raped by terrorists.

Smarmy ankle-biting fundies swarmed to exploit the death of the great Christopher Hitchens.  Here's how Hitchens actually spent his last days.

Tim McGaha, who has been blogging about the Civil War for five years, looks at the lessons of the conflict.

Must-read:  No, fundies' claims of being persecuted are not morally equivalent to the actual persecution they inflict on their victims.

Conservatives are such whiny, pouty brats.

Rosa Rubicondior looks at an evil Pope and his impact on England's history.

Kasich probably can't make it in Republican Presidential politics -- he's too human.  The party has rejected reform and embraced teh crayzee.

Rick Perry isn't sounding any smarter this time around.

Some Louisiana schools teach mythology as science.

It's time for atheists to organize for political power (found via Republic of Gilead).

The US has far less influence in the Middle East than we think we have.

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard exposes the brutal truth behind the EU's struggle to crush Greece and its radical populist government.

Ryan at Fair and Unbalanced debunks some of the dishonest language used by gay-marriage opponents.

Four charts and a map illustrate the problem of hate crimes in the US (found via GoodShit).

Denise Oliver Velez looks back at the Tulsa massacre of 1921.

It's time for abortion to be accepted as normal, not just legally tolerated.

Even most religious people in the US oppose using "religious freedom" as a pretext for discrimination.

Richard Bartholomew looks back at one of the worst religious slander campaigns of the twentieth century.

Religious taboos shouldn't be respected when they cause concrete harm to other people (found via Republic of Gilead).

There are some great ironies in the Republicans' Supreme Court attack on Obamacare.

Christian blogger Micah J. Murray explains why he hates the Bible (read the comments too).

Conservatives vow to defy any Supreme Court decision favoring gay marriage, but what exactly are they going to do?  Baptists will struggle to preserve discrimination (found via Republic of Gilead), and NOM is putting politicians in an impossible position, but that's about it.

Women in these Evangelical churches are treated like servants or worse.

A pamphlet distributed by Australia's Catholic bishops illustrates the Church's sickening condescension toward gays (found via Republic of Gilead).

Hate the sin but love the sinner?  That's not what the Bible says.

If you have any lingering doubt that the Charleston murderer was a fanatical racist, read his online manifesto (found via Progressive Eruptions), while conservatives desperately try to change the subject.  The attack has focused attention on the Confederate flag -- Booman Tribune, No More Mister Nice Blog, and Progressive Eruptions weigh in.  One Australian city has made a much better choice.

It happened gradually and without fanfare, but gay marriage is now legal throughout Mexico.

Reihan Salam thinks Jeb will win the Republican nomination by destroying his rivals -- and the party's electoral hopes along with them.  The latest polls still show we have a clear front-runner and they don't.

Drug decriminalization in Portugal has been a huge success -- but Germany is lagging behind.

2015 is shaping up to be the hottest year on record by far.  Even some major fossil-fuel companies are starting to abandon global-warming denialism, but we still can't trust the Republican party on the issue.

[Image at top:  Yesterday's anti-austerity protest in London]

19 June 2015

Some early observations on the Charleston terrorist attack

I generally prefer not to write about events like this so soon after they happen, because the early reports usually turn out later to have contained significant errors or omissions, but in this case the picture is clear enough to make a couple of observations.

One is well represented by this tweet (found via Daily Kos):

The evidence is overwhelming that the murderer, Dylann Roof, was an unapologetic racist and that his murders were motivated by racism.  Apparently the authorities, who have had him in custody since yesterday, now say the attack "was motivated by racial hatred" (though that report gives little detail).  He posted a photo of himself online wearing a jacket displaying the flags of apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesia.  People who know him say he had white-supremacist leanings and made racist jokes, that he ranted about black people "taking over the world" and the need to defend "the white race".  His declaration to his victims, "You rape our women and you're taking over our country -- and you have to go" encapsulates standard racist paranoid obsessions.  Come on, how much more obvious could it be what was going on in this guy's head?

Yet there's a curious reticence to say so explicitly, not just in the media but among political leaders.  See these comments by Presidential candidates.  Perhaps it's not surprising that Republicans shy away from mentioning racism -- perhaps it hits a little too close to home -- but even Hillary Clinton, in a four-minute statement, only once mentioned "race", not racism, and as something that we "need to face hard truths about", not specifically as the motive for the murders.  Only Bernie Sanders bluntly put the real issue front and center:

Well, that's not quite true.  Actual racists seem pretty blunt about the real issue as well, as seen in Fox News comments and the racist internet.

Some right-wingers are already trying to change the subject to their own fixations.  Some religious nut on Fox has already linked the murders to abortion.  Rick Santorum framed the murders as an attack on religion because they happened in a church, observing that "we’re now seeing assaults on our religious liberty we’ve never seen before", a formulation that merits some analysis.  For some time now the Christian Right has been using the term "religious liberty" as code for their right to denounce and discriminate against gays, and defining any advance of gay rights as an "assault on" said "religious liberty".  Santorum's statement seems like a clumsy attempt to tie the murders to the recent social progress of gays, ignoring Roof's clear racist motives.  Even his choice of a black church as a target was likely motivated by the fact that it would be an obvious place to find a large number of unarmed black people to attack, not by the fact that it was a religious site.

On the left, too, I'm already seeing a few of the usual efforts to shift the discussion toward guns -- because obviously stricter gun laws would have prevented Roof from getting the guns and ammunition to commit these murders, just like Prohibition meant nobody in the US could get alcohol, and today's drug laws prevent anyone from getting hold of marijuana.

I'm not one of those people who tries to make everything about race even when it obviously isn't.  But this obviously is.  This was not about guns, gays, religion, abortion, or violence in the abstract.  This was a racially-motivated terrorist attack, and Roof was a racist acting very much in the tradition of our country's biggest and deadliest home-grown terrorist organization, the Ku Klux Klan.  It's absurd to pretend otherwise.

17 June 2015

Free for all

A couple of weeks ago, a person who (I assume) had just discovered this blog e-mailed me to ask about my use of the term "American patriot" in my profile -- given the rest of my self-description, he apparently found it hard to believe I would consider myself such.  I replied:

I'm not sure why it would be incongruous. Patriotism isn't the exclusive preserve of the right wing or the religious. I'm not the "rah-rah" type, but it's natural that I have an attachment to my own country -- most people do. And there are some specific positives, such as the First Amendment, which means I don't have to walk on eggshells worrying about political correctness -- in Canada or some European countries, some of what I write about Islam might result in legal hassles.

He responded, in part:

All countries and nations have to find the middle ground between "Free Speech" and "Social Responsibility", it can never be a free for all. Again, it is always about striking the right balance. I would think that places like Canada and Europe all have a pretty good balance right now, but of course the specific laws related to this issue are always up for negotiations and fine tuning.

I'm sure any reader who understands the importance of free expression can imagine the effect of those words.  We always need to remember that this mentality is out there, willing and even determined to curtail our freedom of expression on the grounds of "social responsibility" or some other nebulous excuse for shutting up the dissemination of viewpoints that they or some group they sympathize with find offensive.  The dangers of this are very real and immediate.  In Europe and Canada, people have actually been prosecuted and fined for expressing opinions.  Not for making threats, not for outing private personal information, but for expressing opinions that some pearl-clutcher in a position of power decided were not "socially responsible".

People like this (and not all of them are conservatives) invariably assume that it's they and people like them who would get to decide which opinions, and which ways of expressing them, would be classified as "not socially responsible" (or "hate speech" or whatever).  But once the principle of censorship on these grounds is accepted, then who gets to exercise that power, and "strike the right balance" on where the "middle ground" is, becomes a mere detail.  If you accept it, then you really can't complain if you discover that it's someone like Mike Huckabee, or David Lane, or a bunch of giant corporations, who gets to define when your expression is no longer "socially responsible".  You've already thrown away the only basis for a principled objection.

Freedom of expression is based on the idea that the proper response to bad speech is more speech.  If every viewpoint can be expressed and people can hear all sides, the truth will eventually work its way to the top.  No one -- not some judge in Europe, not the Pope, not you, not me, no one -- has the wisdom or the right to decide in advance that certain viewpoints simply shouldn't be expressed at all.  It seems to be working.  Opponents of gay marriage, for example, have been completely free to present their case in whatever way they choose, and have thus managed to demonstrate that they don't have one.  It would have done no good to ban them from speaking -- quite the contrary.  If I hear that someone has been prohibited from speaking out, my instinctive reaction is not "wow, that person's viewpoint must be really evil, good thing nobody's allowed to hear it," but "hmm, I wonder what he was going to say that made somebody so nervous that they decided no one should be allowed to hear it and make up their own minds."  I suspect most people react the same.

Let the bad guys say what they will say, and then say your own piece explaining why they're wrong.  If all viewpoints contend, the truth will emerge.  It's the only way.

Remember, expression that offends no one doesn't need any special protection in the first place because no one will try to ban it.  The First Amendment exists purely for cases where someone believes a point of view shouldn't be allowed.  Those are the only cases where it is needed at all.

I don't claim the American system is perfect.  Threats, "doxxing" and similar have emerged as weapons with which malignant individuals (as opposed to the government) intimidate and censor views they don't like.  From time to time I've noted cases of bloggers being silenced by such tactics.  The First Amendment offers no protection there -- we are still working on developing other defenses.  But by ruling out government censorship of expression, the First Amendment is a huge bulwark of freedom that people in most other countries, even most democracies, do not have.

And these protections have to apply to all views, to everyone.  Andres Serrano, Pamela Geller, Charlie Hebdo, Michael Savage, Erick Erickson, Tony Perkins, Anjem Choudary, David Duke, the person who sent the e-mail above -- in defending the right of all of them to express their views as they see fit, I'm defending my own, and yours.

14 June 2015

Videos of the day -- the majesty of reality


"Shudder before the Beautiful" -- found via Republic of Gilead.


"Endless Forms Most Beautiful" (the title is of course a quote from the last sentence of Darwin's Origin of Species).

Music by the Finnish band Nightwish, videos by Pantherapardus2012.

Link round-up for 14 June 2015

Here's a video editor having some fun with the fundies.

If any of my readers are immortal lesbian vampires, this lady would like to meet you (found via Mendip).

Wonkette reviews the worst children's book ever.

Does Scott Walker think it's 2112?

Yes, these lady scientists are distractingly sexy, but it's in a good cause (found via Mendip).

ISIS is now executing pigeons for spying and has banned the breeding of them.  Well, they do seem to employ morons.

For the very worst in interior decoration, it's hard to beat porn movies of the 1970s (found via GoodShit).

Fundies have a real issue with feathers, apparently.

Why is internet access in the US so overpriced?

Must-see:  Vyckie Garrison talks about the suffocating lifestyle of the Quiverfull movement and the authentic and honest life she's led since escaping from it.

Despite fossil-fuel industry efforts to confuse the issue, Americans are waking up to the global-warming threat.  There's yet more evidence that the Earth is warming faster than we thought, and no, it won't stimulate plant growth as some claim.

Regulations make a difference.

Supporters and opponents of a British exit from the EU prepare for the coming campaign.

Check out these color photos of D-Day (found via Earth-Bound Misfit).

The decline of Christianity in the US and rising acceptance of gays are reinforcing each other.  More here, with detailed discussion of particular sects (found via Republic of Gilead).

Fareed Zakariya explains why Saudi Arabia won't  develop nuclear weapons (it's consistent with my own impressions of the country).

Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi has received a barbaric sentence of 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for "insulting Islam" by advocating secularism.  Here are five ways to help human-rights activists who live under theocratic regimes, from one who knows that situation.

Kalief Browder was a victim of barbaric "justice" -- in the United States.

The Swedish model for prostitution law is dead wrong and shouldn't be imitated.

Dim Job Buggar stumbles out with a disturbing bombshell about fundie families.  But everything is the liberal media's fault (found via Republic of Gilead).

The Catholic Church's belief in miracles leads to neglect of serious psychological problems.

The Republican party has fallen prey to "a vortex of stupid that is devouring everything in its path".

Take a look 47 years back at the wrong-est future prediction ever -- whose author is still defending it.

Surprisingly, something like the "sovereign citizen" movement exists among a small group of black Americans (found via Green Eagle, who has an entertaining video up).

The scars of religious abuse in childhood can last a lifetime (found via Margin of Error).

I've long found it significant that very few women are libertarians.

Booman Tribune has an interesting take on the defeat of the TPP.

Jeb Bush's Berlin debut wasn't exactly a smash hit.

Trust the government?  Remember the downwinders (found via Earth-Bound Misfit).

The swarm of new Scottish nationalists in Britain's Parliament are already shaking up etiquette.

Next year will see the launch of the longest floating structure in history -- and it's a good thing (found via Politics Plus).

New genetic analysis sheds light on the origin of European people and the Indo-European language family now spoken by almost half the world's population.

According to this school of thought, most of human psychology is shaped by fear of death.

The view from outside the galaxy would be.....dim.

13 June 2015

A brief note on the TPP

Yesterday's vote against Trade Promotion Authority was a solid blow against the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, though it's hard to say it's a mortal one -- these things have a way of being harder to kill than Dracula, and Republicans are already plotting to hold another vote in hopes of getting a different result.  But it's still positive news.

I haven't followed the argument over the TPP closely, and I'm certainly no expert on such matters, but where economics and workers' interests are concerned, I have to give a lot of weight to the views of Elizabeth Warren and Paul Krugman.  Yes, I know that "fast track" is how such deals have always been done in the past -- and maybe that's part of the problem.  If business-as-usual is how we get things like NAFTA, then it's about time that business-as-usual was changed.  Let's hope this is the beginning of the end of the relentless advance of economic globalization which always ends up benefiting only the bosses and investors, at the expense of the workers and the real economy.

11 June 2015

The coming upheaval in Britain

Last year's referendum result rejecting Scottish independence, and last month's national election which re-elected Prime Minister David Cameron and gave his Conservative party an absolute majority in Parliament, might easily be taken as having disposed of controversies and stabilized the country.  In fact, it's more likely that they were just the prelude to a new period of turmoil unprecedented in recent British history.

There are three issues likely to move onto the front burner in the next couple of years, and they're all interrelated:

1) The voting system

Britain is divided into many small constituencies each of which elects one member of Parliament (MP), similar to our Congressional districts.  In the US, the democratic character of the system has been undermined by Republican state governments gerrymandering district boundaries so that, even though more overall votes are cast for Democrats, Republicans win a majority of House seats.  Britain has a different problem.  With several parties now winning significant numbers of votes -- the two traditional major parties (Conservative and Labour), the Greens, the Liberal Democrats, the UK Independence Party (UKIP, opposing Britain's membership in the European Union), and the Scottish nationalists (SNP) -- votes within a single constituency can be divided in so many ways that the top vote-getter still falls far short of an absolute majority, and many voters feel disenfranchised.  A party can win many votes in absolute terms but still get few MPs if it failed to come first in many constituencies.

This is what happened last month.  The Conservative party actually won only 37% of the total popular vote, but now holds an absolute majority in Parliament because its candidates came first among a hodgepodge of candidates in more than half the constituencies.  The UKIP won 12% nationally, but ended up with only one MP out of the total of 650, because there was only one constituency where it came first.  The Conservatives now claim a mandate to push forward with their destructive austerity policies even though 63% of voters rejected them.  It's hard to see how this can fail to provoke a crisis of legitimacy.  Whether or not it does, with the vagaries of this electoral system now having doomed Britain to five more weary years of those policies before it has its next chance to get rid of them, I'd expect to see increasing emigration of the young and the most capable, as has already been happening in southern Europe where similar policies have been imposed by the EU.

2) Scotland

The SNP swept Scotland, winning 56 of the 59 constituencies there (though, again, its share of the actual popular vote was not as overwhelming as this suggests).  So soon after Scottish voters' resounding rejection of independence last year, the SNP was careful to stress that a vote for it was not a vote for another independence referendum.  Instead, it emphasized its opposition to austerity, which is even more unpopular in Scotland than in the UK as a whole.  On that platform, the party won a huge, stunning victory.  And that victory is now meaningless.  The Scots, like almost everyone, assumed that Labour and the Conservatives would each come somewhat short of 50% of Parliament seats and that the SNP could hold the balance of power.  With the Conservatives holding an absolute majority, they can govern alone, no matter what any other party wants.

With the prospect of another five years of Conservative rule (something most Scots who voted against independence last year probably didn't think was likely), SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has now been hinting that another independence referendum might be merited after all, especially if there is a "material change in circumstances".  In addition, at the time of the referendum the British government made various promises to the Scots to entice them to stay in, and some now claim those promises were not kept.  The SNP will probably wait for the elections to Scotland's own local Parliament a year from now -- if its landslide is repeated there, its mandate will be strengthened.

In an amusing side story, a petition has been circulating in the Labour-leaning northern part of England (in US terms, a heavily blue-collar, "rust belt" region) in support of also leaving the UK and joining Scotland if it separates.  This isn't a serious proposal, but it suggests the depth of discontent with the Conservatives' win.

3) The European Union

Cameron has a plan for addressing widespread discontent with Britain's membership in the bureaucratic and domineering EU.  He promised that, if re-elected, he would conduct tough negotiations with the EU leadership to get a better deal for Britain, then hold a referendum on Britain's continued membership.  If the British people thought the new deal he got for them wasn't good enough, they could vote to leave.

In fact, like pretty much all establishment politicians in Europe (left or right), Cameron is a committed EU supporter and is unlikely to do anything that would create a serious chance of Britain leaving.  The real purpose of the referendum part of the plan is to serve as a threat to hold over the EU leadership -- agree to my terms or my people will vote to leave.  His assumption is that he'll get a good enough deal that the voters will choose to stay in (recent polling shows the "stay in" side comfortably ahead, though it's unguessable what the respondents are assuming Cameron will be able to get in the negotiations).  But the EU has been sounding unreceptive to Cameron's proposals, and if he can't get much out of them, he'll face a dilemma.  Although he'll probably try to weasel out of holding the referendum if it looks like the people will vote to leave, much of his own party is "Euroskeptic" and pressure to go ahead with the vote may prove irresistible.  While the anti-EU UKIP has been plagued with far-right pandering and extremist candidates that threaten to brand it a fringe party, there is a serious case for leaving the EU, and sober people will make that case during a campaign.  The "leave" side could well win.

And if the UK votes to leave the EU, then the UK will cease to exist.  Sturgeon has made it clear that a vote to leave the EU would be just the kind of "material change in circumstances" that would justify another referendum on Scottish independence.  And since the EU is much more popular in Scotland than in England, the result would practically be a foregone conclusion.  In fact, in this scenario I wouldn't be too surprised to see a wave of pro-independence activity in Wales as well, even though there's been little sign of this in the recent past.

These things matter.  The UK is our closest ally.  It's the world's seventh-largest economy.  It has nuclear weapons and a major navy.  Handling all the problems raised by splitting up the country would create years of distraction and introversion.  The success of Scottish separatism would encourage other such movements all over Europe, creating a wave of pointless distractions from the real and pressing problems of austerity, economic stagnation, Russian expansionism, etc.  I worry a little that it might even encourage secessionist lunacy in places like Texas, especially if (as seems likely) our own 2016 election produces a Democratic tsunami.

All this could have been avoided if the British electoral system had been set up in a fairer way, so that one party did not win the ability to govern alone with just 37% of the actual vote.  However, it's too late to do anything about that now.  Even if the system is reformed, the results of last month's election will stand.  The next national election is scheduled for 2020.  I'd give it at best a 50-50 chance that the land of my ancestors will still exist as a unified state by then.

07 June 2015

Link round-up for 7 June 2015

Most of Isaac Asimov's 1964 predictions about 2014 didn't come true (found via Mendip) -- and like pretty much everyone, he failed to predict the internet.

I'm thinking this is a schematic illustration of how Fox News works.

The impending victory of gay marriage has the enemy fantasizing about rape and meteors. Glenn Beck is muttering weird threats.

We're winning the demographic battle in the swing states.

Pearls ready to clutch, fainting couches on standby -- EL James is writing a new version of Fifty Shades of Grey.

Arch-baggot Matt Staver warns the Republican party not to abandon Godhatesfagsism.

Pope Francis has fooled a lot of people, but not everyone (link from Dervish Sanders).

Britain is slipping faster and faster out of the enemy's grip.

Even under its wretched theocracy, Iran is alive with internet entrepreneurs.

Anti-gay violence remains a major problem (I notice that every country mentioned is one where either Christianity or Islam is in a powerful position).

Here's a good down-to-Earth response to Millennial-bashing.

This is a disgusting habit.

Scott Walker comes out with another Akinism.

Hillary calls for universal voter registration, the latest in a string of surprisingly leftist positions.

Not everyone's happy for Caitlyn Jenner.

Gosh, sex in Quiverfull marriages sounds so romantic.

Behind high-profile cases like Duggargate is a world of pain most of us rarely glimpse.

Today's Christian Right paranoia is rooted in an alternate reality where even the Bible is twisted to fit.

In the wake of the Evan Young case, another Colorado valedictorian comes out during her speech -- and gets a standing ovation.

Liberalism has a duty which it is neglecting.

The story of Sparta, Tennessee illustrates how international capitalism is destroying the middle class (found via Zandar).

National Review is caught making blatantly dishonest use of a photo.

The Koch-backed war against renewable energy is running into trouble even in states like North Carolina and Kansas.

The Christian Right is getting mad at big business for aligning with gays.

This woman was robbed of everything she owns -- and it's technically legal.

Wikileaks is offering $100,000 for the secret text of the TPP.

The Guardian newspaper has set up an interactive website for tracking police killings in the US (found via Politics Plus).

Here's more evidence that TSA theatrics aren't keeping us any safer, and apparently our anti-missile defenses aren't what we've been led to believe either.  Oh, and you can't escape the invasion of privacy by taking the train.  Meanwhile, lasers and drones present a new threat to airliners.

The campaign against Laura Kipnis is backfiring, apparently.

There's a way around high US college costs -- if you speak German.

Why would God give dinosaurs better teeth than we have?

Subatomic physics goes full steam ahead in Europe.

Putin's authoritarian, conformist, and corrupt Russia has a lot of Russians looking to leave. Russia's leadership has the lowest global approval rating of any major country (found via Progressive Eruptions).