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The Critical Mass

Andrew Breitbart and the party of family-friendly, neo-Nazis

A 64-year-old insurance salesman who organizes family-friendly, neo-Nazi events around Adolph Hitler’s birthday is running for a seat in Illinois’ 3rd Congressional district. Arthur Jones of Lyons, Ill., said last week that the “Holocaust never happened.”

“As far as I’m concerned, the Holocaust is nothing more than an international extortion racket by the Jews,” Jones said. “It’s the blackest lie in history. Millions of dollars are being made by Jews telling this tale of woe and misfortune in books, movies, plays and TV.”

I bought this prophetic book at the library discard sale.

I bought this prophetic book at the library discard sale.

“The more survivors, the more lies that are told.”

Now, why is it that I didn’t even have to tell you this: Arthur Jones is a Republican.

Also last week, Rush Limbaugh referred to a woman who he disagreed with as “a slut.” I probably do not have to remind you that Limbaugh is a Republican.

And again last week, Montana’s chief federal judge admitted that he forwarded to “six old buddies” an e-mail comparing African-Americans to dogs and implying that President Barack Obama’s mother had sex with animals. Judges aren’t supposed to display political affiliations. But it’s fair to point out here that Richard Cebull, who admits “I am not a fan of our president,” was appointed by George W. Bush, a Republican.

And finally last week, a story in Bloomburg News quoted a Wall Street 1 Percenter: “People who don’t have money don’t understand the stress. Could you imagine what it’s like to say I got three kids in private school, I have to think about pulling them out? How do you do that?”

I don’t have a smoking gun. But I’m 99 percent sure that guy is a Republican.

Perhaps a campaign season soiled by Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Perry and the final four apostles of anger – Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul and the horrifying Republican reptile that walks on two legs,  Newt Gingrich – make crazy seem like the new normal.

By the way, how is it that Rick Santorum, a college-educated man who lives in the 21st century, can say he believes in Satan, and yet he’s not laughed out of Ohio? What kind of reaction do you suppose there would be if he said he believed in Santa Claus?

Almost all of the crazy these days oozes from Republicans. If we were keeping standings on crazy, Republicans would be so far out in front that for the rest of the year they could play the B-team (TV evangelists captained by Pat Robertson and Franklin Graham) and still look like the 1927 Yankees. With Sarah Palin cheering from the sidelines (”I love that smell of the emissions!” she said while riding on the back of a motorcycle during a 2011 rally). Who’s the Democrats’ heavy hitter in this game? Anthony Weiner?

The craziness has bled into all aspects of life. Particularly the Republican-dominated media. You know the history there: Birtherism, Obamacare death panels, Muslim terrorist cells in your backyard. Crazy talk from individuals like Limbaugh (“The only way to reduce the number of nuclear weapons is to use them”) and Christine O’Donnell (“You know what, evolution is a myth. Why aren’t monkeys still evolving into humans?”). You have to laugh, except you know that six old buddies in Montana are erupting into knee-slapping guffaws when they hear this stuff.

Andrew Breitbart died last week. He was only 43. It’s a tragedy for his family. Here’s what Newt Gingrich Tweeted: “Andrew Breitbart was the most innovative pioneer in conservative activist social media in America. He had great courage and creativity.”

Creativity? Oh, yes. Breitbart was a liar. He slandered honest people with selectively edited tapes. His targets were big – Barack Obama. And small  –  the  Georgia State Director of Rural Development for the United States Department of Agriculture. Her name was Shirley Sherrod, and perhaps you remember how Breitbart posted a video that twisted one of her speeches into making it appear that Sherrod, an African-American woman, was guilty of discriminating against a white farmer. Further examination of the entire video – which Breitbart claimed he had never seen – demonstrated that Sherrod was making the exact opposite point. The farmer and his wife backed up Sherrod’s version of the events. She sued Breitbart for defamation, and that interesting lawsuit remains ongoing.

So we have a demonstrably proven liar heralded as a conservative journalistic lion. He was also, of course, a Republican.

You may file Breitbart’s unsteady body of work alongside other videotape masterworks such as Fox News using images of other rallies to make it appear that Tea Party gatherings were larger than they actually were (Fox was tripped up by the green trees of summer, when the trees should have been wearing their fall colors). And last year’s video allegedly proving that street violence was occurring at protests against anti-union legislation in Wisconsin (Madison does not have palm trees, which were clearly visible in the video).

In fact, a lot of this craziness is calculated. Republicans aren’t stupid. But they believe you are.

The Critical Mass

I read The Sunday New York Times, so you don’t have to: Oct. 30

1, Just in case you’ve forgotten this was still going on: “At least 13 American soldiers and four Afghans were killed when a Taliban suicide car bomber attacked an armored shuttle bus in Kabul on Saturday…. It was the single most deadly attack for American or other NATO troops in the capital since the war began, military officials said, and follows brazen Taliban assaults on the American Embassy and NATO headquarters in the capital last month.”

2, The Occupy movement is worldwide. In India, The Times reports, people in the streets “vented their outrage at India’s political status quo.” There, it’s not Wall Street that’s the target, but it’s really the same thing. Anger at the 1 percent.

3, For the second straight night, a judge dismissed arrest warrants against 26 Occupy Nashville citizens who had settled into Legislative Square, saying he could “find no authority anywhere for anyone to authorize a curfew.” However, “a different set of challenges to the movement began to emerge on Saturday, namely winter.”

4, Columnist Frank Bruni in the Sunday Review: “The disconnect between the seriousness of our angst and the silliness of our politics – between how big our problems are and how hopeless or just plain stuck the people who are supposed to address them seem – defies belief.”

5, “At a time when the Republican National Committee remains weighed down by debt,” The Times writes, “outside conservative groups, freed from contribution limits by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision last year, are playing an ever-larger role and operating in an increasing coordinated fashion.” In other words, the Republicans aren’t getting enough popular support, so the 1 percent is stepping in.  Now Republicans will be even further beholden to special-interest groups such as “the Karl Rove-funded American Crossroads, the Republican Governors Association, the American Action Network and Americans for Prosperity, which is backed by the billionaire Koch brothers.”

6, Why Occupy Wall Street matters is a relatively new phenomena. “It’s hard to believe today, but from the 1960s to about the 1980 workers in finance made little more than those in the private sector, on average,” The Times writes.  Then, deregulation of safeguards that protected us from those with their hands on the financial wheels led to gaming the system in their favor. “By 2006,” The Times notes, “bankers and insurers were making 70 percent more, on average, than workers in the private sector.” Now, ask yourself this: Is there any reason a banker makes more money than a teacher, or a fireman, besides the fact that the banker is closer to the money?

7, Bob Beaumont, first person to have ever produced an electric car, has died of emphysema at age 79 in Maryland. Beaumont was inspired by the battery-powered lunar rover and the country’s dependence on foreign oil. Beaumont sold his traditional car dealership and introduced the CitiCar in 1974: “eight feet long, 1,100 pounds and shaped like a cheese wedge on a golf cart chassis,” The Times writes. It could move at 4o mph. A little more than 2,000 were sold before the company went bankrupt after oil prices dropped to consumer-acceptable levels and questions arose about the safety of driving such a vehicle on American roads. A company that bought the design sold about 4,400 more of the vehicles, called Comuta-Car, before it shut down. “Mr. Beaumont often ran into resistance from the auto industry and its allies in government,” The Times writes that one friend said of the pioneering automaker. The friend, David Goldstein, noted: “In the end he was amused that after all these years Detroit had come around to his way of thinking…. I’m now driving a Volt, and I believe I owe that legacy to Bob.”

8, Was Steve Jobs smart? That’s the question offered by Water Isaacson, author of a book on the Apple computer creator. No, he says, not in the sense that Bill Gates is smart. Gates would read science books while on vacation and displayed a mind for problem solving through logic. Jobs, Isaacson writes in the Sunday Review section, was instead a genius, “whose success dramatizes an interesting distinction between intelligence and genius. His imaginative leaps were instinctive, unexpected, and at times magical. They were sparked by intuition, not analytic rigor. Trained in Zen Buddhism, Mr. Jobs came to value experimental wisdom over empirical analysis. He didn’t study data or crunch numbers but like a pathfinder, he could sniff the winds and sense what lay ahead.” Gates, Isaacson reminds us, made the Zune. Remember that? No? Jobs made the iPod.

9, Ezekiel J. Emanuel, an oncologist, academic and former White House adviser, points out that the United States spends 35 percent more per person on health care than the next-highest spending countries, Norway and Switzerland. Even when you adjust the numbers to account for the fact that medical personnel in this country earn more money, and that brand-name drugs cost more, we still spend 15 percent more than those countries, “and about a quarter more than countries with some of the best health care systems in the world, like Germany and France.” And, as Emanuel notes, “The truth is, the United States is not getting 20 or 30 percent better heath care or results than other countries.” In fact, we’re getting ripped off by by everyone eager to dip into the U.S. health-care trough, particularly the pharmaceutical and insurance companies.

10, Hasan M. Elahi, a professor at the University of Maryland, had an experience shared by many people living in this country who have exotic names or appearances: He’s been harassed by government agents, armed with incorrect information. Elahi cleared himself by revealing a trove of detail regarding his whereabouts from Sept. 12, 2001, and on. And he has continued to keep detailed records of his activities, a task we ask of few Americans. And Elahi makes this information public, loading it all on his web site. Elahi asks, is this the kind of information that’s needed to monitor our citizens in the search for terrorists?  “If 300 million people stated sending private information to federal agents, the government would need to hire as many as another 300 million people, possible more, to keep up with the information and we’d have to redesign our entire intelligence system.”

11, The numbers are numbing: The United States, with 5 percent of the world’s population, has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. That’s 2.3 million Americans behind bars, but “less than half the inmates are serving time for violent crimes,” The Times writes. “Far too often, prison has become a warehouse for people with drug or alcohol addiction. More than half the population has some form of mental illness.” Virginia’s Democratic Senator, Jim Webb, recently called for a panel to review our prison system. Webb’s National Criminal Justice Commission Act would have cost a mere $5 million. But Republicans blocked the plan, vaguely calling it a violation of “state’s rights.” So there will be no possibility of reform, and a $77 billion a year industry has been protected.

12, In the travel section, a story on Frank Lloyd Wright expresses surprise that his architecture is so visible in his home state of Wisconsin. “Avant-garde art movements generally take root in major cities,” The Times writes. “It help to have a dense population of young artists competing for greatness.”

13, One hundred curators spent four years trying to identify the 100 objects in the British Museum that tell the history of the world. Spoiler alert, although you’ll be disappointed after centuries of miracles: “The final object was a plastic, solar-powered light about the size of a coffee mug that came with a charger and cost about $45,” The Times reports. “It can illuminate an entire room, enough to change the lives of a family with no electricity.”

14, The much-awaited collaboration between Lou Reed and Metallica, Lulu, is released Tuesday. It’s the story of a woman who is killed by Jack the Ripper, told with unrelenting gruesomeness. The Times hints that this one might not be for everyone. But Reed and Metallica may have needed each other to shake up the art. As Iggy Pop notes in the story, “Success is like being embalmed.”

The Critical Mass

The dim bulbs of Congress

Republicans had a bright idea: Tuesday night, they orchestrated a vote in the House of Representatives calling for repeal of light-bulb efficiency standards that will take effect at the beginning of 2012. Their argument was that these regulations were an assault on liberties dating back to the Founding Fathers. Thomas Jefferson may have been ambivalent about the slavery issue, but we can say with a great deal of certainty that he never envisioned a future in which the government could tell you how to illuminate your home.

“This is about more than just energy consumption, it is about personal freedom,” said Rep. Joe Barton, the Texas yahoo who helped sponsor the bill. “Voters sent us a message in November that it is time for politicians and activists in Washington to stop interfering in their lives and manipulating the free market. The light bulb ban is the perfect symbol of that frustration. People don’t want congress dictating what light fixtures they can use.”

We have regulations for supermarket meat. We have regulations for jet airline engine maintenance, and how much explosive gas can be present where coal miners are working, or how many lead-paint chips their kids are allowed to eat. Cars have to be inspected, so that we know the guy barreling toward you in the opposite lane of a rain-slick highway isn’t riding on bald tires. We even have regulations for rating movies, so that the children living in Joe Barton’s district aren’t exposed to too much pornography, lest they get too many crazy ideas in their heads

It’s a regulated world. Societies have to make decisions about what’s right, otherwise chemical companies would still be dumping toxic waste in the most-convenient river.

And in a planet where energy consumption is literally draining the life from the earth, it’s irresponsible for the United States to not take steps to reduce its role as the consumer of one fourth of the world’s energy.

And according to Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, the new standards don’t even specifically ban incandescent bulbs, so Barton’s wrong there. The new rules are technology-neutral, and more-efficient incandescent bulbs have already been developed and are available today. It’s the same as telling the auto industry that it had to produce cars that get better gas mileage.

It’s estimated that the new standards would save the country billions of dollars per year, perhaps $6 billion by 2015 alone. The Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group, estimates that Americans’ energy costs would drop by an average of 7 percent, or about $85 per household every year. Nationwide savings would be more than $12.5 billion annually by 2020, when the new standards are fully in place.

Wiser heads prevailed, and the bill failed to pass. But the kooky ideas will be back. This wasn’t really about light it was about two things. It was about creating another fake issue, which Republicans prefer working on, rather than tackling tough issues like debt, jobs and wars. And it’s about trying to create an atmosphere favorable for de-regulation. Gotta protect those oil companies and banks from scrutiny.

Conservative political candidates are big into signing pledges these days. Anti-tax pledges. Anti-gay marriage pledges. They’re anti-pro choice. Anti-universal health care. Anti-clean energy.  It’s as if they’ve all signed pledges to not move into the 21st century.

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