Read The Mysterious Stranger by Mark Twain

You can read the whole novella online right here, or you can buy a printed or digital copy here.

The story is set in Eseldorf, Austria in the year of 1590.  Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 9 where Theodor, the narrarator, and Satan, his mysterious new friend, are party to the stoning and hanging of a woman condemned of being a witch.

One day when our people were in such awful distress because the witch commission were afraid to proceed against the astrologer and Father Peter’s household, or against any, indeed, but the poor and the friendless, they lost patience and took to witch-hunting on their own score, and began to chase a born lady who was known to have the habit of curing people by devilish arts, such as bathing them, washing them, and nourishing them instead of bleeding them and purging them through the ministrations of a barber-surgeon in the proper way. She came flying down, with the howling and cursing mob after her, and tried to take refuge in houses, but the doors were shut in her face. They chased her more than half an hour, we following to see it, and at last she was exhausted and fell, and they caught her. They dragged her to a tree and threw a rope over the limb, and began to make a noose in it, some holding her, meantime, and she crying and begging, and her young daughter looking on and weeping, but afraid to say or do anything.

They hanged the lady, and I threw a stone at her, although in my heart I was sorry for her; but all were throwing stones and each was watching his neighbor, and if I had not done as the others did it would have been noticed and spoken of. Satan burst out laughing.

So we walked away, and I was not at ease, but was saying to myself, “He told them he was laughing at them, but it was a lie–he was laughing at me.”

That made him laugh again, and he said, “Yes, I was laughing at you, because, in fear of what others might report about you, you stoned the woman when your heart revolted at the act–but I was laughing at the others, too.”

“Why?”

“Because their case was yours.”

“How is that?”

“Well, there were sixty-eight people there, and sixty-two of them had no more desire to throw a stone than you had.”

“Satan!”

“Oh, it’s true. I know your race. It is made up of sheep. It is governed by minorities, seldom or never by majorities. It suppresses its feelings and its beliefs and follows the handful that makes the most noise. Sometimes the noisy handful is right, sometimes wrong; but no matter, the crowd follows it. The vast majority of the race, whether savage or civilized, are secretly kind-hearted and shrink from inflicting pain, but in the presence of the aggressive and pitiless minority they don’t dare to assert themselves. Think of it! One kind-hearted creature spies upon another, and sees to it that he loyally helps in iniquities which revolt both of them. Speaking as an expert, I know that ninety-nine out of a hundred of your race were strongly against the killing of witches when that foolishness was first agitated by a handful of pious lunatics in the long ago. And I know that even to-day, after ages of transmitted prejudice and silly teaching, only one person in twenty puts any real heart into the harrying of a witch. And yet apparently everybody hates witches and wants them killed. Some day a handful will rise up on the other side and make the most noise–perhaps even a single daring man with a big voice and a determined front will do it–and in a week all the sheep will wheel and follow him, and witch-hunting will come to a sudden end.

“Monarchies, aristocracies, and religions are all based upon that large defect in your race–the individual’s distrust of his neighbor, and his desire, for safety’s or comfort’s sake, to stand well in his neighbor’s eye. These institutions will always remain, and always flourish, and always oppress you, affront you, and degrade you, because you will always be and remain slaves of minorities. There was never a country where the majority of the people were in their secret hearts loyal to any of these institutions.”

Rehab Killed Amy Winehouse

amy-winehouse-back-to-black

They tried to make me go to rehab but I said “no, no, no.”

She should have stuck with that, because when she said “yeah, yeah, yeah,” things didn’t go so well...

A source close to Amy’s family said: “Abstinence gave her body such a fright they thought it was eventually the cause of her death.”

The Rehab singer, found dead on Saturday aged 27, fell off the wagon three days earlier, sinking gin and Red Bull mixes at the iTunes festival at the Roundhouse in Camden, North London.

But in his eulogy at her funeral on Tuesday, her cabbie father Mitch dismissed reports she went on a 72-hour bender.

Hey Mr. Tangerine Man Tell some Lies to Me

Jon Stewart rips Boehner’s budget speech and exposes the hypocritical Weeper of the House as supporter of all the budget busting policies passed during Bush’s reign of error.

Obama’s Battle with the Boehner Tea Party enters the Fourth Quarter

Today John Boehner presented the Tea Party’s deficit reduction plan that – in spite of President Obama’s passionate call last Friday for a bill that asks for shared sacrifice from the poor, the middle class, and the rich – still consists only of cuts in government expenditures that will hurt only the middle and lower classes. 

Obama took the stage during prime time tonight to summarize the plans offered from both sides of the aisle, and again the president said all the right things.  Here he describes his balanced approach:

The first approach says, let’s live within our means by making serious, historic cuts in government spending.  Let’s cut domestic spending to the lowest level it’s been since Dwight Eisenhower was President.  Let’s cut defense spending at the Pentagon by hundreds of billions of dollars.  Let’s cut out waste and fraud in health care programs like Medicare — and at the same time, let’s make modest adjustments so that Medicare is still there for future generations.  Finally, let’s ask the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations to give up some of their breaks in the tax code and special deductions.

And then he places blame for this reasonable plan not gaining traction in congress squarely on the Tea Party caucus:

The only reason this balanced approach isn’t on its way to becoming law right now is because a significant number of Republicans in Congress are insisting on a different approach — a cuts-only approach -– an approach that doesn’t ask the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations to contribute anything at all.

…Most Americans, regardless of political party, don’t understand how we can ask a senior citizen to pay more for her Medicare before we ask a corporate jet owner or the oil companies to give up tax breaks that other companies don’t get.  How can we ask a student to pay more for college before we ask hedge fund managers to stop paying taxes at a lower rate than their secretaries?  How can we slash funding for education and clean energy before we ask people like me to give up tax breaks we don’t need and didn’t ask for? 

That’s not right.  It’s not fair.  We all want a government that lives within its means, but there are still things we need to pay for as a country -– things like new roads and bridges; weather satellites and food inspection; services to veterans and medical research.

Bravo Obama! Now how are you going to get your balanced approach to prevail?  Will the Democratically controlled Senate fight for you?  Tonight you said:

…The Senate has introduced a plan to avoid default, which makes a down payment on deficit reduction and ensures that we don’t have to go through this again in six months.

 I think that’s a much better approach, although serious deficit reduction would still require us to tackle the tough challenges of entitlement and tax reform.

Uh… that’s nice, but if you were waiting to hear the part about how the Senate was holding fast to its demand for increased revenue from profitable corporations and billionaires in exchange for painful cuts to the federal budget, you’ll have to keep waiting. 

 Joshua Green described Harry Reid’s latest sorry senate plan this way:

From the outset of the debt-ceiling fight, House Republicans have made two clear demands: any agreement to raise the debt limit must include offsetting cuts of at least $2.4 trillion and could not include any revenue increases. For a time, it appeared that some grand bargain to reform the tax code and entitlement programs might obviate these demands. But those talks fell apart. Democrats first pushed for a deal that would include roughly 3 to 1 spending cuts to revenue increases. Then 4 to 1. And then, last night, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid threw in the towel and announced he’ll introduce a bill with at least $2.7 trillion in cuts and no revenue increases at all. That’s a clear win for Republicans, although they’re certain to ask for more.

Yes, once again the Democrats have started by meeting Republicans midfield and then – instead of using favorable public opinion, an ethical game plan, a majority in one camp, and a skilled orator leading the team down the field to score some points for the average American – they  give ground, and give some more ground, and ultimately end up giving their greedy, government hating opponents more than they asked for in the first place.

Krugman nailed it with this early morning blog post:

The thing that strikes me is that this administration just keeps on making the same mistake. Again and again, policy is predicated on the notion that Republicans will act reasonably; again and again, they don’t. And yet Obama and company never seem to learn.

Is it too early to start drinking?

No, in these times it’s never too early to start drinking.  Drink away Paul, I am right there with you.

President Obama Fights John Boehner for a Fair Budget

After seemingly agreeing to an awful budget plan presented by the Gang of Six that caused major discontent among liberals (like me, see two posts down), an angry President Obama provided a glimmer of “Hope” in his press conference yesterday evening:

Now, if you do not have any revenues, as the most recent Republican plan that’s been put forward both in the House and the Senate proposed, if you have no revenues at all, what that means is more of a burden on seniors, more drastic cuts to education, more drastic cuts to research, a bigger burden on services that are going to middle-class families all across the country. And it essentially asks nothing of corporate jet owners, it asks nothing of oil and gas companies, it asks nothing from folks like me who’ve done extremely well and can afford to do a little bit more.

In other words, if you don’t have revenues, the entire thing ends up being tilted on the backs of the poor and middle-class families. And the majority of Americans don’t agree on that approach.

The difference was that we didn’t put all the burden on the people who are least able to protect themselves, who don’t have lobbyists in this town, who don’t have lawyers working on the tax code for them — working stiffs out there, ordinary folks who are struggling every day. And they know they’re getting a raw deal, and they’re mad at everybody about it. They’re mad at Democrats and they’re mad at Republicans, because they know somehow, no matter how hard they work, they don’t seem to be able to keep up. And what they’re looking for is somebody who’s willing to look out for them. That’s all they’re looking for.

And for us not to be keeping those folks in mind every single day when we’re up here, for us to be more worried about what some funder says, or some talk radio show host says, or what some columnist says, or what pledge we signed back when we were trying to run, or worrying about having a primary fight — for us to be thinking in those terms instead of thinking about those folks is inexcusable.

I mean, the American people are just desperate for folks who are willing to put aside politics just for a minute and try to get some stuff done.

Will he bow to the political pressure of the radical intransigent Right that John Boehner represents or will he stand up and fight for working people and “get some stuff done” on their behalf?

Obama Embraces the Gang of Six and Turns his Back on the Middle Class

Who are the “Gang of Six?” When the media says “gang” of six, do they mean a gang of punks, a gang of robbers, or a gang of thieves? After reading the outline of the budget proposal put forth by the Gang of Six, they appear to me to be a gang of thieves who wish, with government approval, to steal from the middle class and give to the super rich.

And what does Obama think of them? I’ll get to him soon, but first I want to talk about Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I recently read a biography of FDR titled Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He earned the title of traitor because, although he was born into a family of wealth and privilege, as president he sided with the common people and pushed through government programs that provided not only much needed jobs in a deeply depressed economy, but safety nets for working people and poor people so they could live with dignity in their retirement years.

Roosevelt recognized his pals in the top 1% didn’t need any more government handouts, they needed to start giving back what they had taken from the economy, so he sharply increased their taxes and funneled the money through new government programs back to  the people who actually created the wealth: the workers. And some of the taxes collected from the rich would pay for a long expensive war that was fought by regular working folks.

President Obama wasn’t born into wealth and privilege, but he is a wealthy man now, and I am beginning to think that his wealth has corrupted him.

As he took office the U.S. was facing huge deficits that were primarily the result of Bush’s wretched stewardship.  So early on in his presidency Obama created a bipartisan commission, now known as the Simpson-Bowles commission, to come up with a budget plan that would solve our long-term debt problem. One would think that this commission would find it wise to tap into the pockets of the extremely wealthy top one-percent earners who keep 24% of the income generated by our economy for themselves. But that’s not what the commission did. Instead it went with the maxim “broader base, lower rates.” Yes, their plan would reduce the number of tax tiers and lower the tax rate on the top tier by 9% thereby decreasing federal taxes paid by millionaires and billionaires, but somehow this plan would increase revenue. How could that be? That’s the “broader base” part.  You do the math. More revenue would come from the middle class by taking away their deductions and tax credits.

Obama should have dismissed the commission’s plan out of hand and told the American people he rejected it because the rich are doing better than ever – it’s the middle and lower classes that are hurting.

Then along comes the Gang of Six who resurrected many aspects of the Simpson-Bowles plan including their proposal for fewer tax tiers and a lower tax rate for the top tier.   Dean Baker explains:

The plan also calls for large cuts in tax rates including a targeted top rate of between 23-29 percent, which will be at least partially offset by elimination of tax deductions. For the highest-income people, this is likely to mean a very large reduction in taxes. For example, Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein, the CEOs of J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs, respectively, are both paid close to $20 million a year at present. If this pay is taxed as ordinary income, then they would be paying close to $7.5 million a year in taxes on it after 2012. However, if the top rate is set at 29 percent, they may save as much as $1.9 million a year on their tax bill. If the top tax rate is set at 23 percent then the Gang of Six plan may increase their after-tax income by more than $3 million a year.

Obama should have rejected this plan and explained to the American people that more tax cuts for the richest Americans is unconscionable.  He should have vowed to veto any legislation that includes: More tax cuts for the rich, substantial cuts in benefits for the middle class, and (after doing the math) higher taxes for the middle class.  Bernie Sanders explains:

While all of the details from the so-called Gang of Six proposals are not yet clear, what is apparent is that the plan would result in devastating cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and many other programs that are of vital importance to working families in this country. Meanwhile, tax rates would be lowered for the wealthiest people and the largest, most profitable corporations.

But Obama did not reject the Gang of Six plan.  He embraced the plan, and that is why he is a traitor to his class, effectively making him an anti-Rooseveltian Democrat.

At this point you may be thinking, “But Brad, you were a big supporter of Obama.  Aren’t you being a bit shrill?  Will it really be as bad as you are saying?”

Well congress has yet to work out all the details of the Gang’s murky outline for changes to the tax code, so we’ll have to wait to see it in its final form.  But I am betting that the end result will be a great loss of net income for the middle class, via increased taxes and reduced benefits, and a substantial increase in net income for the super-rich via tax cuts.  Oh excuse me… did I say “rich”?  I forgot we weren’t supposed to refer to the top 1% earners as “rich” anymore.  I meant to say “job creators.”  Reminds me of the old comic books I used to read as child, “Job Creatorie Job Creator Poor Little Job Creator Boy.” (a tip of the hat to The Daily Show.)

Well I’ve had it with our government’s pandering to the super “job creators.”  This country needs the Gang of Six plan about has much as it needs another unfunded trillion dollar war.  What our country really needs is another revolution to overthrow a government that has been bought by billionaires.

I am ready to join.

Seattle’s 78-Minute Summer

The weather in Seattle has been awful this year.  Not awful like what is going on in the midwest right now – stifling heat and humidity.  No quite the opposite – intolerably long stretches of cloud-covered skies and  much more rain than even soggy Seattleites are used to.

Today’s Seattle Times featured an article by Danny Westneat that  quantifies the length of Seattle’s summer – in minutes:

[Scott Sistek, KOMO meteorologist] decided to look back to June 1 to see how much of our summer has actually been summery. Using a minute by minute temperature station at the UW’s Atmospheric Sciences Department, he looked for “truly warm summer” moments — which he defined as any time the temperature reached at least 80 degrees.

It’s only happened twice, he found. First, on July 2, for all of 12 minutes. And then again on July 6, for 66 minutes.

That’s it, Seattle. We’ve had a grand total of 78 minutes of summer. As Sistek put it, if you went to a movie you could miss it.

Even using a lowered summer threshold of 75 degrees, Seattle still has had only 18 hours and 48 minutes of summer this year. About two-thirds of a day.

There’s an old joke around here that goes something like this:  What do you call a sunny day following three days of rain in Seattle?  Answer:  Monday. (Or if it’s the Labor Day weekend you went to Bumbershoot, the answer is Tuesday.)

That sums up last weekend, except this Monday wasn’t very nice either. The sun did make an appearance this afternoon, but not long enough to raise the temperature much above 70 degrees. This week our meteorologists are predicting decent weather – mid seventies! They will of course be proven wrong.

Ronald Reagan 21st Century Democrat

Who said:

“Congress consistently brings the government to the edge of default before facing its responsibility. This brinkmanship threatens the holders of government bonds and those who rely on Social Security and veterans benefits. Interest rates would skyrocket, instability would occur in financial markets, and the federal deficit would soar. The United States has a special responsibility to itself and the world to meet its obligations.”

A. Obama

B. Carter

C. Clinton

D. Reagan

If you picked D, you are a winner!   (Yes, I know the title of the post gave it away…)

And if you agree with the quote and are used to calling yourself a Republican, well I welcome you to the New Democratic Party.

If you read this blog then you know I tend to rant about how far our two major political parties have moved to the right.  Anyway, just to reiterate, the Republican Party has moved so far to the right that it’s left it’s hero Ronald Reagan standing on the roadside with President Obama looking on in disbelief as Tea Party destructionists march by.

Note: I got the quote from Dana Milbank’s column in the Washington Post.  Take some time to read it if you want to know how many times the debt limit was raised during Reagan’s term and how many times congress raised taxes while Reagan was president.

Cantor’s Budget Proposal will Result in a Plutocracy and Great Social Tension

“The more likely effect, it seems to me, of cutting taxes for the rich and social programs for the poor is to rekindle social tensions.” – Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.

That is the crux of the current debate about how to solve our long-term debt problem. Republicans think taxes are too high and that social programs are too generous, so they pledge on the Grover Norquist Bible to do everything they can to cut taxes and end social programs.  Their patron saint Ronald Reagan pushed through huge tax cuts, but when the deficit grew sharply, at least he had enough sense to correct the problem with tax increases. Today’s Republicans think that any change to the tax code that results in increased federal revenue is wrong.  This they think when federal revenue as a percentage of GDP is the lowest it has been in over fifty years.

On one side of today’s budget debate we have Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor demanding a 6.2 trillion dollar cut in government spending over ten years that will cripple social safety net programs that provide unemployment income, retirement income, health care, housing, and education for our citizens. Most of the cuts they are proposing will primarily affect those of little means.  But if they succeed in repealing healthcare reform, all but the very richest among us will be affected.

Eric Cantor is against fixing the tax code to make billionaire hedge-fund managers pay the top-tier tax rate.  At the same time, he also wants to change the timing of when student-loan interest kicks in from graduation date to immediately.  This is just one example of how he wants to shift the tax burden from those who can most afford it (the obscenely rich people who have seen their income skyrocket in the past 20 years) to those just coming out of college trying to find jobs in a depressed economy.   Republicans also believe that taxes on profitable corporations and the super richest Americans should not be increased.  They would actually like to lower the corporate tax rate and the top-tier personal income tax rate.

On the other side we have President Obama and sensible Democrats who are willing to cut some federal spending, including our bloated military budget, and raise tax revenues – not by raising tax rates – but by closing loopholes that would result in getting more revenue from profitable corporations and hedge-fund managers.  It’s a balanced approach that makes much more sense.  Polls show that the public has a far more favorable view of this plan.  Yet the Republicans in the House are stubbornly going against what the majority of people prefer to see happen.

And then there’s John Boehner.  I heard him on NPR last Friday morning reading from his Norquist script saying: “Our stand on the debt limit has been clear. There can be no tax hikes because tax hikes destroy jobs.”   What struck me about the broadcast was, and this is purely subjective based on my internal vocal-pattern-assessment meter, Boehner did not sound at all like he believed what he was saying (listen for yourself).  I think he knows increased tax revenue is essential to solving our long-term debt problem, but he won’t say it now (he was willing to do it the week before) because he is being pushed into a corner by radical extremists in his party.

Come on people.  We get the politicians we deserve.  In 2010 there were enough government hating, tax hating, greedy, stupid (maybe someday I’ll be a billionaire too!) Grover Norquist led Tea Party voters to elect these guys.  Now they are doing their damndest to cut taxes and shrink government down to a size “they can flush down the toilet.”  Is this really what we want?  Like I said earlier, polls consistently say the answer is no.

President Obama, the Democrats, and any sensible Republicans left in congress had better not cave into the demands of this extreme radical faction of the Republican party, because the future of our nation is at stake.  If the Norquist faction funded by the super rich prevails, we will become a second-rate banana republic led by a plutocratic government bought by billionaires, and social tension will rise to a level way beyond what Schlesinger foresaw.