Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Oh Shenandoah, I long to see you

I leave tomorrow for a 10 day vacation (definition of vacation for a retired guy is that I leave home). I'll drive to the Charlotte area to visit a cousin and his family during a long Easter weekend. On the way back I plan to see parts of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Jefferson's Monticello (Charlotte and Charlottesville in the same trip), and the Skyline Drive of Shenandoah National Park.

At rehearsal last night the director said he really likes the piece I wrote that the group is playing. However, they are still struggling with it. Could I perhaps make it shorter? And have the changes ready in two weeks with a 10 day vacation in the middle. So I'll take the piece with me and see what kind of composing I can do in my head with no piano around.

Monday, March 29, 2010

A gay couple in the White House?

Would you support or oppose having an openly gay person serve in the military? That question gets a strong response for support (I've heard between 60% and 75%). How about other public roles? Super Bowl quarterback gets 62% support, Supreme Court Justice gets 55% support, and President gets 50% support! Perhaps Hillary and Barack paved the way for us too.

A greased tightrope

Sarah Palin, at a rally in Harry Reid's hometown, said there is a difference between inciting violence and standing up for freedom. That's one GOP reaction to the Tea Party protests that have included acts of violence. The full spectrum of reactions include:
* Dismissing the violence
* Justifying it
* Encouraging it
* Praising the perpetrators
* Blaming the victims (Democrats are fanning the flames?)
* Suggesting Democrats were "asking for it"
* Suggesting stories of violence are a "Liberal hoax"

Essayist Terence Heath describes each one in more detail. He goes on to say that it will be difficult to find a causal relationship between GOP words and Tea Party actions (though some screeds left behind by gunmen on shooting sprees come pretty close). It will be easier to show positive correlation between heated rhetoric and increase of violent acts (which I understand has been done).

Since Tea Party activists identify as GOP members or GOP-leaning independents the party has to walk a tightrope that looks to have been greased. Anger the Tea Party and they'll form a third party. This is a possibility since the Tea Party complains about the size of the deficit and the GOP had a hand in increasing it. But being nice to the Tea Party means some degree of ignoring or excusing (or encouraging) their heated words or their violence. Do that and the GOP turns off everyone else. The Tea Party crowd is now carrying signs emphasizing "We the People!" and claiming they speak for the majority of Americans. The actual majority is now saying, "What you mean 'we,' kemosabe?" So, who can the GOP afford to alienate?

A battle between the GOP and Tea Party? Democrats will be delighted to watch.

Why do the Tea Party people want smaller government? It couldn't be because they don't want government to help them with their own issues, could it? Perhaps the underlying issue is racism, yet again. It seems these people are willing to go without government services if it also mean that it prevents government money from going to those people, the ones who aren't white. It seems when they want their country back, they want it taken away from the blacks and the Hispanics. It also seems they have an unbelievably high tolerance for cognitive dissonance.

Intrigued by "kemosabe" and want to waste some time? Check out this list of catchphrases (and even more time delving into their sources). And this list doesn't include political phrases. I was surprised at how many came from Star Trek.

Friday, March 26, 2010

What are you sacrificing?

Dan Choi was interviewed by Newsweek (and I do have a link for that). He discusses his recent protest at the White House, which landed him in jail for the night. The point that caught my attention:

He's giving up his military rank, his unit (who are like family), his veterans' benefits, and his health care. Many of the gay lobbyists have access to fancy meals and lots of prestige and aren't willing to sacrifice that. What are you willing to sacrifice? Jesus didn't need major donors. Gandhi didn't need 3-course banquets. Harvey Milk (and Jesus and Gandhi) lost their lives for their message and the message endures.

Power v. pleasing backers

If the medical industry -- Pharma, insurance, doctors -- are for the new health care plan, why are their lackeys in Congress (the GOP) against it? I heard about the medical industry's support late last week on NPR, but I can't readily find it now. That support was enough that when the whole thing passed most of these stocks went up.

So back to the question. It must be that their desire to be in power is stronger than their desire to please their backers. And they see the way to do that is to humiliate Obama. The GOP's own lackeys -- the Tea Party crowd -- seems to have slipped its leash, threatening and causing all sorts of mayhem. It's getting nasty out there. With the Tea Party crowd out there compromise is simply not possible. Predictions now that the mayhem won't end until there is an assassination, if then. The GOP is losing its grip on the fire it fanned with its overheated rhetoric. Either that is what they intended, or they believe that power and ideology is so important they are willing to risk it.

Here is the entire health care debate of the last 12 year boiled down to one page.

Experts are idiots

Why, in the last 4 years, have 18% more Americans decided that the climate crisis is exaggerated? Why is America rated 33rd out of 34 developed countries in the percentage of adults who believe evolution is true? Sharon Begley of Newsweek shares some thoughts:

* Scientists are horrible at Public Relations and lousy communicators. They don't appeal to the heart (which Creationists excel at). This is the truth we're talking about so if you don't understand it, it's your fault. Nah, not condescending at all.

* We Americans don't bow to authority. If you tell us we have to think a certain way there will be a backlash. We're populated with European emigrants fed up with hierarchy.

* Americans have latched strongly onto the Protestant Reformation idea that there need to be no intermediaries between us and God. Translation: we (and our handy Internet) can know just as much about the climate as the scientists.

* We've come to rely on the wisdom of crowds (which is what Wikipedia is) and no expertise is needed to pick apart scientific arguments.

* The Great Recession was caused by the smartest guys in the room (trust us on these credit default swaps).

No wonder experts are seen as idiots.

Yeah, I know that crowds can be pretty stupid and they layman does not know as much about the scientists. Not that we'll be able to convince the layman of that.

Alas, the Newsweek site won't bring up this article so that I can link to it.

Monday, March 22, 2010

A dog's life

The health insurance reform bill (at least part 1) is on its way to Obama. It's opponents have let it slip that one source of their anger is racism. Twelve states (so far) have piled on to a challenge of the new law, saying it is unconstitutional because it forces citizens to buy a product. And several commentators are listing the top ten benefits of the reform that take effect now (many others don't happen until 2014).

Karen Oberthaler is a veterinarian who specializes in cancer. Last week she contributed the My Turn column in Newsweek. Yes, people spend money to treat cancer in their pets. She has some observations of how her business differs from health care for humans.

* Most people (about 85%) have health care insurance. Very few (about 3%) of pets do. Having to handle the cash makes a big difference in how much gets spent.

* In both businesses most of the money is spent on the old -- the last couple years of life.

* It is difficult for the rest of the family to come to terms with losing a beloved member of the family, whether human or animal. There is a desire to prolong the life. Even so, euthanasia for pets is seen as a mercy, but is seen as a moral violation when applied to humans.

* The family response to a dying human is to do every test, provide every treatment that offers the slimmest hope. Insurance companies heap on additional tests and treatments (despite discomfort) to ward off malpractice suits.

* The vet has the time and the desire to avoid running up her client's bills and so can say, "This treatment won't help much. The results of that test won't change the outcome."

Being treated like a dog may not be so bad.

It has gotten rather quiet

Here is a good explanation of the Town Hall Meeting process that voted on requests to repeal gay marriage in New Hampshire. The article also notes how quiet the anti-gay forces have become.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Not ashamed, not finished

Several months ago Lieutenant Dan Choi said he is gay. Proceedings to dismiss him from the military have begun, but not yet complete, though it is surprising it is taking so long. Choi spent time away from his unit, using that time to talk a lot publicly about the injustices done to gay people. Choi was recently back training with his unit for deployment this summer. This is background for this week's events, so I'm sorry I don't have links to it all.

Recently, the Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) policy that requires gays to be closeted while they serve in the military has been debated in Congress and mentioned by Obama, though many supporters in Congress say Obama wants the whole thing to disappear for the rest of the year -- when there are likely more GOP members of Congress and the policy would be harder to repeal.

Not only are many gays annoyed with Obama (that I have written about before), they are also annoyed that the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the top gay lobbying organization, would rather play nice with politicians than to actually do something of substance for gays.

All that came to a head on Thursday. HRC and celebrity Kathy Griffin held a rally in Washington in support of repealing DADT. Dan Choi, in uniform, crashed the rally and asked to speak to the crowd. He had enough of talk and it was time for action. He led the crowd (without HRC or Griffin) to the White House where he said he wasn't going to leave until DADT was repealed. He and another officer then chained themselves to the White House fence. Police and Secret Service let the demonstration continue for an hour before arresting Choi and the other officer.

A couple fine photos here.

The head of HRC was miffed that Choi stole his thunder. Poor baby.

Rather than posting bond and being released, both officers spent the night in jail. It seems that Choi was not even allowed to make a phone call. At the hearing the next day both requested a trial rather than simply paying a fine. When asked to give his plea Choi said, "I'm not ashamed. I'm not finished. Not guilty."

Choi's military career may indeed be over now with this civil disobedience. Fellow soldiers are reportedly annoyed that he took part in politics while in uniform. Even so, it looks like he has a promising career as an activist. This may also be the catalyst for another civil rights movement, this time on behalf of gays.

Also stirring the pot at the same time were several activists working for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) which prevents employers for firing someone simply for being gay. The act reportedly has enough votes to pass the House, yet Speaker Pelosi refuses to schedule the vote. A big reason is that House Dems have stuck their necks out for some controversial votes and the Senate refuses to take up the issues. To demand action these activists entered Pelosi's office and refused to leave until she scheduled a vote or they were arrested. Police eventually came.

Some gay activists were annoyed the ENDA protest was done this week since Pelosi is so busy getting the health insurance reform bill across the finish line. Even though some specific gay-friendly clauses were omitted, the whole thing will help gays as it will help millions of others.

On being released, Choi said, "There was no freer moment than being in that prison. It was freeing for me. I thought of all the other people that were still trapped, that were still handcuffed and fettered in their hearts."

The gay civil rights movement has a new hero and leader.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

So much for the wedge issue

I wrote recently about New Hampshire towns holding Town Meetings with many voting on a request that all citizens vote on the new gay marriage laws. Here's some more details.

The town of Plainfield voted 185-40 to scrap the original text and replace it with instructions to the town council to write a letter to thank the state legislators for passing the gay marriage laws, affirming marriage equality for all residents.

A summary of the votes. There are 234 cities and towns in NH. The 13 cities and 88 of the towns refused to take up the call to request a vote on gay marriage. Another 70 cities took the vote -- and voted it down. That leaves only 63 towns that approved it. That's only 27% of cities and towns. If the tally took population into account (those 13 cities), the percentage would have been a lot smaller. Gay marriage will stay in NH.

Some commentators speculate that the GOP, very much on the outside in NH, was using this exercise to get a wedge issue on the November ballot as a way to get out the vote. It failed.

Mainstream Media biased?

Someone who writes for the Proud Liberal blog took a recent story -- Eric Holder admitting Osama Bin Laden will probably never be captured -- and compared the headlines of the major news outlets. Most give an inflammatory headline, then contradict it in the first few sentences. Apparently fear sells. Sheesh.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Standing up to be counted

I got my census form in the mail today. I haven't opened it. If you're gay, here is a guide on options in filling it out. Make special note of what to enter if you are in a relationship. It is my understanding that if you consider yourselves married you may so designate on the census form even though no government anywhere has issued you a marriage license.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Racist, yeah. Homophobic? Well…

I -- and lots of other people -- have commented on the low-info and racist nature of the Tea Party movement. These are people focused on fiscal responsibility, though they didn't seem to mind how quickly the government spent money when a white guy was prez. There are now several commentators (including from the Christian Science Monitor and New York Times) noting the Tea Party people want nothing to do with the social conservatives who want to ban abortion and gay marriage. Too much of a distraction to the real issue at hand. That leads to the question, will the Tea Party people be good or bad for gays? Hard to tell when a movement defines itself by what it is against. We may have to wait until they endorse candidates.

Yes, indeedie, this question touched off a heated debate. How much of a distinction is there between Tea Party supporters and the Fundies who are happy to associate with them if it would get Obama and Dems out of power?

Looking over a pitiful lot

In my last batch of postings I mentioned that Alma Wheeler Smith, Dem candidate for Michigan Governor, stood up for gays in sponsoring a bill that other Dems seem not to want to touch. That prompted my friend and debate partner to tell me about Jack Lessenberry's column in this week's Metro Times in which Jack reviews the current crop of declared candidates. So I found a copy and read it.

Michigan's economic troubles started long before the current Great Recession started in 2008. I left the auto industry in early 2007 (wow, it's been 3 years!) and the round of cuts that encouraged my departure was far from the first. Jennifer Granholm's predecessor in the governor's chair was John Engler, who saw the economic troubles coming and did all he could to drain the state's economic rainy-day funds rather than fix any underlying problems, leaving Granholm no wiggle room. Of course, she would have drained those same funds within a couple years. That was only one of Engler's many disastrous policies.

Obviously, says Jack, we need someone strong, like G. Mennen Williams. Tiny problem -- he died in 1987.

The GOP offers these candidates:
AG Mike Cox -- firebreathing conservative looking for ways to boost his career.
Rep. Pete Hoeskstra -- out to protect everyone from terrorists. Jobs? Ehh.
Oakland sheriff Mike Bouchard -- spent millions to tell us how smart he is.
State Sen. Tom George -- who?

The Dem pool:
Dan Kildee -- he looked pretty good, but he jumped out as fast as he jumped in.
Lansing mayor Virgil Bernero -- appears to hold office only to campaign for another job.
Dem House Speaker Andy Dillon -- caves mighty quickly to GOP policy demands.
State Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith -- looks mighty good. Except nobody thinks she can win so nobody is contributing to her campaign. Considering how racist much of the state is that Smith is both a flaming liberal and black probably has everything to do with it.

Granholm is such the wimp that Jack predicts whoever wins the GOP primary will be elected governor. Hold on to your seats, Michigan is in for a wild ride downward.

Lessenberry will propose a way out of the mess next week.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Just ignore that Fundie hype

New Hampshire has a blend of direct and representative democracy. The statewide legislature is, of course, full of representatives. Only a month ago it soundly confirmed the gay marriage law enacted last year.

However, NH cities have regular Town Meetings in which citizens can vote directly on issues. I suspect this is in addition to an elected city council. Coming up to the March meetings, held a couple days ago, the Fundies got a whole slew of cities to put a "warrant" on the agenda, calling for the state legislature to let the citizens vote on the gay marriage law -- as in a constitution amendment banning it. A warrant is to advise the legislators, it can't force them to do anything. It is only an expression of voter sentiment. Many cities kept the warrant off the meeting agenda. A few of the cities revised their warrant to be meaningless, but most are the straight Fundie text.

Alas, a majority of the warrants passed, many by overwhelming margins. The fickle voter is still subject to the mob.

Fortunately, there are plenty of reasons to ignore the Fundie hype that they scored a victory with these votes.

* The Fundies are ignoring towns that didn't put the warrant on the agenda or that later voted it off the agenda. Which means these are the conservative small towns, not the more liberal cities.

* Those that show up at these meetings tend to be the ornery ones, the ones with a bone to pick with any level of government. The mild-mannered ones tend to stay home.

* Most of the votes came after several hours of dreary detail work -- should we renew the contract for the trash collection company? -- which meant the younger (and more pro-gay) folks who had kids and a job the next morning had left for bed.

* The warrant language asked for two constitution amendments, one approving gay marriage, the other banning it. With both on the ballot voters would supposedly be clear of which they wanted. Alas, the idea is confusing, easily exploited, and nobody explained it other than in cheery terms that voters should have a say.

* Nobody explained why this issue needed voter confirmation while everything else, like gun control, doesn't.

* There was little debate and in most places if anyone spoke at the meeting it was a Fundie.

* The NH constitution requires 2/3 approval of amendments. These votes fell short of that threshold.

Don't reveal your bigotry too soon

The Virginia governor and attorney general are both GOP and newly elected. Now safely in office both are spouting off against gays. The AG said state universities cannot include gays in their anti-discrimination policies. Jon Stewart has a reply.

Telling the candidates apart

Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm can't seek another term, which ends at the end of this year. A relief, since she is such a wimp. At last count there are 5 GOP and 4 Dem candidates. Most of them don't have much of a statewide name and those that do are a part of the gridlock in Lansing. So how to make sense of the candidates? None have started much of a campaign to introduce themselves (the primary is in early August), though the anti-campaigns have begun -- I got a robo-call to alert me to the hazards of voting for one of the Dems (I hung up as soon as I recognized the purpose).

Finally, a crack in the blank fa├žade. In response to a lesbian custody battle, Alma Wheeler Smith, a Dem candidate, has sponsored a bill to allow unmarried couples to adopt each other's children. It's important because gays can't marry in Michigan. The bill seems dead in the House (Dem controlled) because in an election year none of the lawmakers want to upset possibly conservative voters. So congratulations to Ms. Smith for having enough of a spine to stand up for at least one of our issues.

Pundit v. Analyst

News and analysis has been replaced by punditry and shouting. The link is to a lament that there doesn't seem to be much journalism, at least on TV. Experts, who aren't qualified to be such, spout off on things they haven't studied or witnessed, and nobody challenges them to get to the truth. Are we surprised by low-info voters?

Monday, March 8, 2010

One country at a time

By summer we may see gay marriage in several more countries: Portugal, Nepal, Luxembourg, Iceland, Argentina, Cyprus, and Slovenia all are considering a change in law. In the case of Argentina the courts have permitted two gay couples to marry, so there is a push to make the law match the courts.

Catholic Charities refuse to be nice to gays and have been refusing to take government money for their charity work. In some cases the agencies have closed. Secular agencies are happy to take up the slack. And the church gets another black eye.

Eww, that's disgusting!

Dahlia Lithwick, this time on Slate, reports on the Ick Factor as explored in a book by Martha Nussbaum titled From Disgust to Humanity. Nussbaum noted that a great deal of the Fundie attacks on gays are through language of disgust. They focus on what gays must do in bed to the point that gays are seen as a walking contagion, obsessed with sex, with a goal of polluting the rest of society.

Much like blacks were described under Jim Crow, which required separate drinking fountains and separate swimming pools.

One might debate whether the goal of marginalizing gays or the disgust of gays came first. Either way the tactic uses imagination to make gays seem to be less than human. Along with the disgust comes the drive to criminalize the contagion. The claim is the Ick Factor is a reliable guide to what must be made illegal. Surely God agrees. But, as we found with blacks, disgust is not equivalent to morality. Disgust does not bring us closer to justice.

Some of the change in the way both gays and blacks have been viewed has been because courts insist that citizens must treat the minority group as human.

It is imagination that fires up the disgust -- the straight guy thinks what if he were to do that to me? He imagines a personal assault. The solution? In the same way that ugly free speech is best countered with more free speech, the ugly result of imagination is only replaced by more imagination -- this time imagining the target to be just like me. Imagine how he is the same, not how he is different. Strange that we need imagination to see people as they really are.

Various commenters remind us that disgust is not the only driver in persecuting gays. Other reasons include:

* Gay sex is so much more pleasurable than straight sex that if we didn't put severe taboos on it everyone would try it, everyone would turn gay, and then where would our species be?

* Some people feel the need to have power over others. If the issue weren't gay sex it would be something else, like abortion.

* Exploiting the fear of others is a proven way to raise money for your cause.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Architect of inflammatory soundbites

I've heard of the scenario many times. About 8 years ago the GOP changed "estate taxes" to "death taxes" on the advice of a conservative think-tank and was able to rouse public opinion to reducing the estate tax. Never mind that 80% or more of the citizens -- and probably all of the rabble -- would never be affected. The peons were readily conscripted to agitate for the rich.

But it's discouraging to read about the guy who has the job. The March 1 issue of the Washington Spectator (alas no link) has a profile of Frank Luntz, a political consultant. What Luntz does is look over the GOP position on an issue. He then crafts phrases that would make useful soundbites. Those phrases go before focus groups to determine which are the most inflammatory. Luntz delivers his findings to GOP lawmakers as scripted talking points. And all GOP lawmakers know to follow the script. We all know that an honest description of the issue is irrelevant to Luntz and the GOP. One of his products was the phrase "architects of failure" who are now "designing the rescue." It was used to describe some part of the bank bailout legislation. Not real sure what it means, but it sure is inflammatory. And effective. Bank reform is currently watered down and may not pass.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A collection of noisemakers

I've now seen the bumper sticker "I'm a Constitution Voter" a couple times, including in my neighbor's driveway (though I don't think it's his car). It makes me wonder what the car owner means by that slogan. I have a strong guess what it does mean. One prominent anti-gay noisemaker says the homo agenda is incompatible with the constitution because our agenda conflicts with their freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

A GOP strategist says candidates should carefully hide their homophobia (and abortion views) until after they are safely elected. New Virginia governor did just that -- on both counts. At least they know homophobia won't win them votes from independents, which is a plus.

A prominent anti-gay speaker was invited, then disinvited to a Air Force prayer breakfast. He now accuses organizers of persecuting Christians by saying there is a trend where civil rights trumps religious freedom to oppose gays.

Let's see. New Orleans was hit by a hurricane and somehow the gays are at fault. Uganda is trying to get rid of all their gays and they have killer mudslides. What gives? Could it be that hurricanes and mudslides have nothing to do with your morality? What a concept!

Washington Wedding Bells

Foes of gay marriage in Washington DC asked Chief Justice John Roberts to prevent the city's law from taking effect. The complaint is the voters didn't get a chance to decide and their anti-gay views weren't sufficiently aired. Roberts declined to intervene (gosh! he did something right!) saying:

* Local courts rejected the anti-gay arguments (they said votes on human rights issues are not permitted).

* Congress could have stepped in to overturn the new law and didn't.

That means DC has started issuing marriage licenses to gays and the happy couples can start getting married there next week.

Related efforts: Bill Moyers interviews the lawyers in the marriage case in Calif. It includes a good debunking of the tyranny of the majority. If the public has the right to vote on anything and everything and majority rules there is no need for a constitution.

Here is the final plaintiff (pro-gay) filing in the Calif. gay marriage case, summarizing all of their testimony. It's close to 300 pages. I haven't read it.

In the clutches

Back in January, when the Supremes said that corporations may spend lavishly on election campaigns, I commented about what that would do to our country. At the time I pondered whether Vancouver or Melbourne would be the better place to flee to. Now that I've seen the Winter Olympics Vancouver looks pretty good. There were several aspects of the portrayal of the city and Canada that are appealing. Melbourne doesn't have mountains that close (or that big) and they are still struggling over gay marriage.

But I'm not about to flee just yet and a some things I've heard lately make me think it might not be necessary. The scenario I suggested back then was that corporations would throw a few bones to the Fundies -- allow persecution of gays -- in exchange for voting in corporate-friendly congresscritters. There may not be a need for that. Because it may already be too late -- Congress is already in the clutches of corporate America. One can hope Corporations don't want to persecute gays because we're so imaginative in product development and we're another wallet to sell to.

Evidence for my claim? I'm sure there is lots. I'll only mention what I encountered recently.

The first item is about a report from the House Ethics Committee just cleared seven of its members of wrongdoing. The charge was that they channeled projects to companies that donated to their campaign funds. A comparison was made to the disgraced Tom DeLay and how these cases were different. One ethicist isn't convinced, saying the nation is watching, these cases don't pass the smell test, and they are part of the problem of why average citizens are upset with Congress. Another ethicist says that the Ethics Committee couldn't rule differently than they did because the smelly practice is so widespread among the members. If these seven were censured, the committee would have a lot of work, including investigating its own members. Big Business already has a firm hold of Congress.

The second item is from the Hightower Lowdown. This is a monthly newsletter that comments on the nation from the populist viewpoint of Jim Hightower. Articles are online for those with a subscription. My dad subscribes (he gets the paper edition) and asked me to comment on the February issue. It's nice to have a father who values my opinions, though in this case I think he wants to get me fired up about the issue, or maybe knows I am already annoyed about it and is offering fuel for the fire.

The February issue starts off by wondering why Obama's health insurance overhaul started with the premise that insurance companies should be allowed to stay in place, especially when many Americans feel that the present insurance system offers very little in keeping Americans healthy and contributes a great deal to why health care costs so much. Why has financial reform stalled? Why are the foxes who ate the chickens still in charge of the henhouse? A comment during the Clinton presidency: "I don't mind losing when we lose, but I hate losing when we win."

Don't look to today's politicians. They're just the puppets. Look instead at who is pulling the strings. A pair of the biggest string-pullers are Charles and David Koch (rhymes with "coke"). They are tied for 19th on the Forbes list of the world's richest men. Not content to run a corporate empire (which you don't hear much about because it's all in private hands and thus doesn't need to file public shareholder reports) and be rich ($14 billion each), the Koch brothers are out to remake America in their image. In this case it doesn't appear to be an ideological crusade -- they don't appear to be Fundies -- merely a crusade to make national laws as friendly to their businesses as possible. Since their primary business is oil, there are a lot of laws and a lot of public opinion that get in the way.

They Koch brothers are also patient. Thirty years ago they started founding and funding conservative think-tanks, such as the Cato Institute and the Americans for Prosperity. Their collection of advocacy organizations is wide enough that many of them can seem to be a grass-roots political organization. This is where the term Astroturf can be applied -- a fake grass-roots movement. In addition to being well funded by the Koch Foundation, all these organizations are discreet about where that funding comes from and it takes digging to make the connections.

It is one thing to influence politicians. Quiet check-writing and a quiet army of lobbyists can take care of that. But it doesn't do much for public opinion. I've heard a lot lately about how this country is now politically center-right. I've wondered where that claim comes from and how true it actually is. If it is, it is because of the efforts of the Koch brothers, who get their fingers into everything -- including high school curricula. These organizations are rich, focused, well coordinated, dedicated, and patient. Their opponents (the progressive good guys) are underfunded, disconnected, without strategy, and jumping from cause to cause. The Koch brothers have no concern for anything beyond how much money is in their pocket -- apparently $14 billion isn't enough.

Americans for Prosperity is profiled in the Lowdown. It is run by Tim Phillips, who took lessons in nastiness alongside Karl Rove. I'll only mention two of his efforts. The first is funding and organizing the original Tea Party events. Quite a trick to get lots of people to rally against business-run Congress to make it easier for business to control Congress. Yeah, it sounds inside-out, but one Tea Party goal is limited government. And a Koch goal is government so small it can't regulate or tax them. The other big effort is to get insurance companies to publicly support health insurance reform while also blocking that reform through efforts at the state to declare the whole mess unconstitutional and therefore states don't have to follow it.

The comment about the Koch financing the start of the Tea Party reminds me of one of the first steps in the start of fascism. I’m puzzled about why fascism could be good for business. I get that the Koch brothers want a government that can't regulate them, but would a society based on working towards ethnic purity actually increase profits? Wouldn't such cultural strife work against them? Are they playing with a fire that might burn them? Couldn't their takeover of America remain bloodless? Vancouver is still looking good.