Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Snowe's Trigger Fraud

How many more people have to die before Olympia Snowe stops playing trigger games?

Brian Beutler reports that the moderate Maine republican is trying to revive the idea of tying the public option in health care reform to a bad-outcome trigger.

This idea sort of came and went a few weeks ago, but some legislators just can't let it go. According to the Associated Press, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME)--a potentially key moderate on the Senate Finance Committee--hasn't forsworn signing on to a health reform bill that includes a public option. But she's holding out to see it affixed to a "trigger mechanism," which would, in theory, give insurance companies a years-long window to lower costs on their own and only "trigger" the public option if they failed to do so.

"If you establish a public option at the forefront that goes head-to-head and competes with the private health insurance market ... the public option will have significant price advantages," Snowe said. But this was her argument against making the public option available as soon as the bill becomes law.

Steve Benen comments:

It's a reminder of why this policy debate has been so frustrating -- a few too many of those involved believe we must avoid positive developments.

As you've probably heard, a public option would improve the system by lowering costs, expanding access, and using competition to improve efficiency. Those who like the idea of a "trigger" argue that if we pass a reform package and private insurers can lower costs, expand access, and improve efficiency on their own, we wouldn't need a public option. It's better, they say, to wait for the system to get really awful before utilizing a public option to make things better.

The problem should be obvious: if proponents of such an idea realize that a public option would necessarily improve the overall system -- and they must, otherwise there would be no need for the trigger to kick in when things got even worse -- then why deliberately delay implementation of the part of the policy that lawmakers already realize would help?

Or, put another way, if Snowe knows a public option is a good idea, there's no reason to push it off to some arbitrary date in the future, as the system deteriorates in the interim.

Which is worse, that Snowe and the other opponents of a public option have been bought off by the private insurers, or that they are so out of touch with real life in the HMO ghetto that they truly believe American health is not bad enough?

The Things We Leave Behind

So. U.S. troops met the supposedly impossible June 30 deadline to withdraw from Iraqi cities. Out-of-Iraq-now fanatic that I am, why aren't I celebrating? Because what we've left behind is far, far worse.

Anybody remember the death squads the U.S. trained in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala? The tens of thousands of natives they massacred? The nuns they raped and murdered? The democratic governments they destroyed? The civil societies they set back decades?

Yeah, they were such a huge success the U.S. military has transplanted them to Iraq, where they're already terrorizing the population.

The light is fading from the dusty Baghdad sky as Hassan Mahsan re-enacts what happened to his family last summer ...

He walks over to his three-foot-tall daughter and grabs her head like a melon. As she stands there, he gestures wildly behind her, pretending to tie up her hands, then pretending to point a rifle at her head. "They took the blindfold off me, pointed the gun at her head and cocked it, saying, 'Either you tell us where al-Zaydawi is, or we kill your daughter.'"


They accused him of being a commander in the local militia, the Mahdi Army, before they dragged him off, telling his wife he was "finished." But before they left, they identified themselves. "We are the Special Forces. The dirty brigade," Hassan recalls them saying.

The Iraq Special Operations Forces (ISOF) is probably the largest special forces outfit ever built by the United States, and it is free of many of the controls that most governments employ to rein in such lethal forces. The project started in the deserts of Jordan just after the Americans took Baghdad in April 2003. There, the US Army's Special Forces, or Green Berets, trained mostly 18-year-old Iraqis with no prior military experience. The resulting brigade was a Green Beret's dream come true: a deadly, elite, covert unit, fully fitted with American equipment, that would operate for years under US command and be unaccountable to Iraqi ministries and the normal political process.

When the US Special Forces began the slow transfer of the ISOF to Iraqi control in April 2007, they didn't put it under the command of the Defense Ministry or the Interior Ministry, bodies that normally control similar special forces the world over. Instead, the Americans pressured the Iraqi government to create a new minister-level office called the Counter-Terrorism Bureau. Established by a directive from Iraq's prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, the CTB answers directly to him and commands the ISOF independently of the police and army. According to Maliki's directive, the Iraqi Parliament has no influence over the ISOF and knows little about its mission.


Trombitas gets to the issue of human rights before I do. He assures me that US Special Forces take allegations of human rights abuses very seriously--two Iraqi men were let go for prisoner abuse since he took over in August last year, he says--but he won't comment on specific cases. I raise the issue of accountability and bring up one well-documented mission that caused waves in the Iraqi Parliament: in August the ISOF raided Diyala's provincial government compound, reportedly with the support of US Apache helicopters. They arrested a member of the Iraqi Islamic Party, Iraq's main Sunni Arab party. They also arrested the president of the university, also a Sunni, and killed a secretary and wounded four armed guards during the night.

I barely get the word "Diyala" out of my mouth before the American operatives standing around us start to grumble nervously and a translator jumps in. "For the reputation of the ISOF, please, let's cut that off," he says.

Read the whole thing.


You know you want it. And you know you want me to give it to you.

First, the quote, given of his own free will, on the record, out loud, to the Associated freakin' Press:

Sanford said Chapur is his soul mate but he's trying to fall back in love with his wife.

Yeah, nothing charms a wronged wife like announcing you're going to make the supreme sacrifice of struggling mightily to give a shit about her again.

It's the line about "never crossing the ultimate line with anyone but Chapur" that really intrigues me.

I mean, different people draw the "ultimate line" in different places. Is Sanford like abstinence-pledging teens, who keep their promise by indulging in oral sex? Or is he more like the legendary Greek girls who stay virgins until marriage by leaving the back door open? Or maybe he agress with one friend I had in college who fucked every guy on campus but claimed to be still a virgin because she'd never had an orgasm.

"Ultimate line." What a maroon.

But wait - there's more! Apparently South Carolina Lt. Governor Andre Brauer gave an interview in which he denies rumors that he is gay - without anyone asking about said supposed rumors.

OK, South Carolina, which do you want for governor? A pathetic whiner who has the sexual sophistication of a 12-year-old, or a "confirmed bachelor" so insecure about his sexuality he starts rumors about it so he can deny them?

One more thing:

Under South Carolina law, adultery is a crime, punishable by a $500 fine and a year in jail. SC law enforcement says they don't have time to fool with that shit, but fercryinoutloud, the perp confessed live on national TV! Why hasn't Mark Sanford been arrested?

And no, that fucker is NOT going to resign. The arrogance, the self-centeredness, the utter disregard for his children, the inability to grasp the irresponsibility of abandoning his duties as governor - no, they're going to have to drag him out of the governor's mansion screaming and kicking.

For comprehensive Sanford coverage, especially on the actual issue here, which is malfeasance in office, bookmark The State newspaper in South Carolina.

For the low-down on the dirty-dirty, of course it's Wonkette.

Quote of the Day

Wonkette commenter saralovesyou:

Sanford is destroying the sanctity of my gay marriage.

The Obvious Answer

Sometimes the solution is so blindingly obvious it blinds everyone to it. But Media Czech sees it clearly.

Tobacco is dying (along with it's smokers).

Coal is on the way out (unless we find the magic "clean" kind).

Mountaintop removal is destroying everything in its path.

"Adventure tourism" is.... well, it's fucking stupid.

And meth is destroying every young person caught in between who doesn't escape to some other part of the state/country.

Which begs the question: is there a solution to Kentucky's rural economy that can create jobs, while not ecologically destroying itself (and everyone else)?

The simple answer, is "yes". But it involves a certain stigma, and necessitates politicians who are willing to look past that and focus on what can save rural Kentucky. And it looks like Oregon's lawmakers have what it takes. But they need some additional federal help, or it's all for not.

The answer is industrial hemp.

Read the whole thing.

Personally, I think we should get a jump on California and just legalize marijuana - the highest THC concentration we can find - but I'll settle for hemp.

Health Insurance Monopolies Strangling States

Need more proof that health insurers are cowardly monopolies that wouldn't last ten minutes against real competition? Talking Points Memo has it.

This won't come as the slightest surprise to those versed in health care policies issues. But I fear it's only barely permeated the health care reform debate in the country, certainly in Washington. And that's this: the opposition to a so-called 'public option' comes almost entirely from insurance companies who have developed monopolies or near monopolies in particular geographic areas. And they don't want competition.

Note, I'm not saying more competition. I'm saying any competition at all. As Zack Roth explains in this new piece 94% of the health care insurance market is now under monopoly or near-monopoly conditions -- the official term of art is 'highly concentrated'. In other words, there's no mystery why insurance costs keep going up even as the suck quotient rises precipitously. Because in most areas there's little or no actual competition.

It's something everyone can understand that if you have only one widget maker, widgets will get really expensive, and probably decline in quality. And the widget makers will pour lots of money into Congress or whatever the law-making power is, to keep their monopoly in place because their monopoly ensures locked in profits. It's market theory 101 (or perhaps, rent-seeking 102, depending on your perspective.)

That's basically what this is all about. Read the piece, it will ... make clear why the opposition to a public option is about preventing competition.

Read the whole thing.

See the full report, with state-by-state breakdowns, here.

Kentucky does not have the worst monopolies, but it's far from a health care capitalist paradise.

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, a subsidiary of WellPoint Inc., is Kentucky’s biggest health insurer, with 51 percent of the state market. Together with Humana Inc., they hold 71 percent of the market.

Local markets are even more concentrated in Kentucky. In Elizabethtown, WellPoint and
Aetna Inc. together hold 92 percent of the market.

Health insurance premiums for Kentucky working families have skyrocketed, increasing
48 percent from 2000 to 2007.

For family health coverage in Kentucky during that time, the average annual combined
premium for employers and employees rose from $7,096 to $10,466.

When a firm has more than a 42 percent share of a single market, the U.S. Justice Department considers that market to be “highly concentrated.” This means that an insurer could raise premiums and/or reduce the variety of plans or quality of
services offered to customers with impunity.

Read the full Kentucky report here.

Monday, June 29, 2009

2010 Senate Update: Lt. Col. Andrew Horne Endorses Jack Conway

As Media Czech puts it:

Let's try to see (Dan Mongiardo campaign manager) Kim Geveden call him an elite effete pussy...

Many of my friends, supporters and colleagues have asked for my opinion regarding the Democratic primary for the 2010 United States Senate seat for Jim Bunning's seat.

This is a particularly tough question because currently we have two talented, well-liked Democrats running.

I am endorsing Jack Conway for three specific reasons:

First, I believe Jack gives us the best shot of winning in 2010 especially since it is unlikely that Jim Bunning will survive his Party's nominating process. Jack will proudly fight for our progressive ideals and we all now understand Democrats cannot win by simply being safe regional candidates. More importantly, we need a new brand of political leaders if Kentucky and our country is to make its way through the challenges of this century.

Second, as someone who proudly served in combat, in Iraq, it is clear to me that we need Senators who will ask the tough question and stand up to the powerful. Jack will be that kind of Senator. He is also the kind of man who will not let us forget the sacrifice our men and women made on the battlefield when they come home injured and in need of care. Accountability has taken a back seat to expediency in Washington over the past decade. Our new President gives us hope for a new day, but it is important to remember that Presidents serve relatively short terms and we have long-term challenges before us. As Attorney General and as a lawyer, Jack has proved he is willing to fight for the people and ask the tough questions.

Third, we need a Senator who will tackle a diverse set of issues. Kentucky has many challenges and while I admire Lt. Governor Mongiardo's effort on health care it is important that our next United States Senator have a broad background and intellectual curiosity. The question is not what is known today but what are the issues we will deal with in this changing world. Jack's experience in the governor's office, as a private lawyer, and as Attorney General will be beneficial to Kentucky.

Simply said, I believe Jack Conway has the tools to become a great United States Senator and has the ability to lead our Commonwealth for years into the future.

Please join me in supporting Jack Conway by signing up to volunteer or contribute at www.jackconway.org. By showing strong support for Jack now early in the game we are laying the ground work for the tough road ahead.

Semper Fidelis,

Andrew Horne

Horne, of course, is the retired Marine Lt. Colonel and Iraq veteran who stood up to challenge Mitch McConnell for Senate last year, only to be chased out of the race by national and state DINOs in favor of four-time loser and Democratic Traitor Bruce Lunsford.

Some of those same brain-dead DINOs are trying to promote Coal Industry Shill Mongiardo for Bunning's seat, and it's just too, too sweet that Horne is endorsing Conway. Especially after Gevedon's ham-handed and ridiculous promotion of Dr. Dan as a super-macho killer of defenseless small animals.

Not that Conway has exactly gotten his campaign off to a smooth start. Page One calls out Conway's campaign for a supremely lame online ad. After noting the illegal lack of a "paid for by" line, the broken link to donate, the pathetic ad design and a shitty, slow-loading website, it admonishes:

This is a Senate campaign, not a high school council race. Let’s act like it. Hire a professional development firm that has experience handling high-traffic and high-profile sites. Come on. Mongiardo’s website is currently blowing you out of the water.

We expect all candidates to take campaign finance law seriously. We also have the expectation, as does the general public, that you know what you’re doing. While this lack of a disclaimer is nothing compared to Mongiardo’s dozens of mistakes, there’s still no excuse for it.

UPDATE: Conway camp tells us the ad has been pulled. Good news for those of you who want candidates to adhere to campaign finance law. Apparently the ad did not have the approval of campaign officials before it went live.

Conway's gonna beat Mongiardo in May's Democratic primary, but it won't be the blowout it should be if Conway's campaign keeps taking its lead for granted.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

How Bipartisanship Will Kill Health Care Reform

The recent defection by eight House republicans on cap-and-trade notwithstanding, trying to get repug votes for anything this administration wants is still a mug's game.

The repugs play the dems on every bill. They did it to the stimulus, and they're doing it to energy policy and financial regulation. They demand substantial changes as the price of their support, then when the bill is watered down to utter impotence, they vote against it anyway.

This is the final, completely exposed stage of the game repugs have been playing for 30 years. They have no interest - none - in governing. Their goal while in the majority and/or holding the White House is to undo the New Deal, destroy the middle class and further enrich the corporate elite and obscenely wealthy. Their goal - their ONLY goal - while in the majority is to stop the Democratic majority/president from governing, and destroy its reputation with the public.

There is, in fact, no such thing as a republican party in terms of constitutional government. We have one political party capable of governing - the Democratic Party - and one insane adolescent bent on destroying everything if it can't get its way.

But on health care reform, playing that repug game will be catastrophic.

Democrats are willing to weaken their own bill in the hopes of winning support from a discredited minority that not only has an interest in seeing the reform effort fail, but which is almost certain to vote against the final bill, no matter what's in it.

This isn't an effective way to negotiate -- or to govern.

Indeed, most of the focus over the last couple of weeks has been about the public option, and the fact that Republicans consider it a deal-breaker. It is, we've been told, the one line the GOP minority cannot cross. But looking at the big picture, Republicans haven't said, "We can support the rest of the reform agenda, outside of a public plan." In fact, Republicans haven't actually endorsed anything in the reform agenda at all.


But thus far, for all the whining about the public plan, I'm not seeing the evidence that they're actually willing to embrace the rest of the health reform agenda, either. In which case, you may as well go forward with a robust public plan.

Late last week, Josh Marshall posted evidence that at least one Senate Blue Dog appears to get it:

On Thursday, (Sen. Rockefeller (D-WV)) admitted he expects little bipartisan support.

"There is a very small chance any Republicans will vote for this health-care plan. They were against Medicare and Medicaid [created in the 1960s]. They voted against children's health insurance.

"We have a moral choice. This is a classic case of the good guys versus the bad guys. I know it is not political for me to say that," Rockefeller added.

"But do you want to be non-partisan and get nothing? Or do you want to be partisan and end up with a good health- care plan? That is the choice."

Jay Rockefeller, of course, is the Senate DINO who hid and protected the Smirky/Darth administration criminals who tortured innocent detainees and the traitors who wiretapped innocent American citizens. My guess is he'll cave at Mitch McConnell's slightest frown.

Meanwhile, you know the public option is gaining support in Congress and the insurance corporations are running scared when Fake News attacks the most effective, popular and inexpensive single-payer health care system in the country: VA.

Anonymous Liberal gets the last word:

So the goal here should not be bipartisanship. The goal should be come up with the policy that is most likely to be effective and then browbeat every last Democrat in the Senate until they're on board. I don't say that about every issue, but on this one, there is no other sensible option.

Cross-posted at They Gave Us A Republic ....

Respect My Magical Invisible Monkeys

The science-religion accomodationists are at it again, insisting that the reality-based community respect fact-free beliefs in the tooth fairy, astrology and invisible sky wizards.

And they're using the strawman tactic so beloved of wingnut repugs: make up false accusations that are easy to knock down instead of addressing real issues.

The indefatigable PZ Myers exposes the dangerous illogic of appeaser John Wilkins:

It's an asymmetrical situation that will be maintained as long as we have people insisting that we grant religious ideas a specially protected status. I reject that — I'm going to insist that it is fair game to attack the obvious failings of religion. And it's not because I am unaware of the limitations of my knowledge, or because I believe I'm flawlessly rational.

It's because the invisible monkeys in my pants dart out every once in a while to whisper the truth in my ear, in the ancient language of omniscient primates. And that is a source of knowledge nobody can attack me on, by Wilkins' rules.

Read the whole thing.

Yet Another Herald Expose of Local Corruption

BlueGrass Airport. Kentucky League of Cities. And now KACo:

When the Kentucky Association of Counties sent six people to Washington, D.C., in March 2008 to attend a conference and lobby officials, the $31,700 trip included two dinners totaling $4,277 and a $10,000 cancellation fee for hotel rooms that weren't used.

That trip was one of the most expensive among dozens of jaunts taken by leaders of KACo, a non-profit group that lobbies for counties and provides them with insurance and financing services.

In all, the association's top five executives racked up nearly $600,000 in travel, entertainment and other expenses over the last two years. More than half was charged on the credit card of Executive Director Bob Arnold.

Read the whole thing.

It's too ironic that just when the U.S. newspaper industry is fading into an online-only shadow of its former self, Kentucky's best newspaper is regularly printing the kinds of stories that could have saved the business 20 years ago.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Coal Industry Pork Buys Chandler's Vote on Cap-and-Trade

Wonder why DINO extraordinaire and Blue Dog in good standing Ben Chandler voted for the "liberal" (EEEEEK!) Waxman-Markey climate change bill?

Maybe Media Czech's plea for voters to call Ben and demand he vote for the bill did the trick.

Maybe the Ghost of Climate Catastrophe Future visited Ben overnight.

Or maybe he voted yea because the coal-state Blue Dogs got billions in subsidies for mythical "clean coal" technology added to the bill.

Cap-and-trade was supposed to allow Congress to avoid picking winners and losers in the fight against climate change. Advocates claim that approach, which relies on the market to figure out the easiest way to reduce greenhouse emissions, is at the heart of the Waxman-Markey energy bill that the House is preparing to vote on Friday. But, among many, many other things, the 1,200-page bill would also devote $60 billion to making sure clean coal isn't a loser.

Given America's huge reliance on coal to produce electricity — and the breakneck deployment of dirty coal plants in China — proponents make a strong case that coal deserves special attention. The bill's cap-and-trade system won't produce a carbon price high enough to spur deployment of clean-coal technology for a very long time, they say. If clean-coal technology can be made more cost-effective, meanwhile, the know-how could be exported abroad. And, some admit, coal-state lawmakers wouldn't be comfortable with a cap-and-trade bill that didn't include a lot for coal.

Since cost-effective, large-scale clean-coal technology is still untested, the first thing the bill would do is allow a quasi-public corporation to tax electricity distributors $10 billion over 10 years to fund "demonstration projects." We can see the appeal of supporting basic research on how to make the black stuff greener, especially if it includes research on retrofitting plants.

But then comes the big-ticket stuff. The bill essentially guarantees that carbon capture and sequestration will play a large role in America's energy mix, at first by offering coal plants that capture and sequester most of their emissions 10 years of compensation that is many times the market value of the carbon emissions they avoid — on top of the savings they would accrue by not polluting under the cap-and-trade regime. After phase one, the Environmental Protection Agency would take more control. At that point, a complicated regulatory framework would aim to reduce the subsidy for new facilities so that it covered only capital and operating costs of carbon capture and storage for 10 years.

The editorial, published in the pathetic-rag-stupid-enough-to-fire-Dan-Froomkin, bases its criticism on an assumption that clean coal is a difficult and expensive, but nonetheless possible technology.

It's not. Clean coal is a myth. It doesn't exist, never has existed, never will exist. We'll see Mitch McConnell marry Barney Frank first.

These billions in "clean coal" subsidies are nothing but a monster give-away to the filthy, destructive, lethal industry that this blog will henceforth refer to as the magic buggy whip industry.

Why Kentucky Needs Health Care Reform

Page One actually reads the federal report on the status of healch care in this country and finds that Kentucky can't survive without major health care reform.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius released reports on the health care status quo today. What could be considered, uh, scary information on health care cost and quality in all fifty states is included.


So let’s take a look at Kentucky’s report…


Roughly 2.4 million people in Kentucky get health insurance on the job, where family premiums average $11,413, about the annual earning of a full-time minimum wage job.
Since 2000 alone, average family premiums have increased by 61 percent in Kentucky.
Household budgets are strained by high costs: 24 percent of middle-income Kentucky families spend more than 10 percent of their income on health care.

High costs block access to care: 17 percent of people in Kentucky report not visiting a doctor due to high costs.

Kentucky businesses and families shoulder a hidden health tax of roughly $1100 per year on premiums as a direct result of subsidizing the costs of the uninsured.

Read the whole thing.

And although the Obama administration's health care reform website does not say in so many words that only single-payer government insurance can save us from the approaching health care apocalypse, that is, in fact, the case.

In other words, if you oppose single-payer, why do you hate Medicare?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

New Study: Coal Deaths Exceed Coal Jobs


Not that it will come as a surprise to anyone with half a grain of sense and half an hour spent in the coal fields, but coal mining costs coalfield communities more in early deaths than it benefits in jobs.

Appalachia has some of the most impoverished communites in the United States. The entire region is economically depressed as compared to the national average. But coal communities in Appalachia are even worse off than the rest of the region, a fact that runs counter to the idea that coal jobs support local communities. A new study out of the Institute for Health Policy Research at West Virginia University and published in Public Health Reports looked at this discrepency and found that, even using conservative assumptions, the economic costs of coal mining in Appalachian communities far outweighed the benefits from having a coal mine in the community.

The study reached this conclusion by gathering publicly available data from various government databases and then calculating how much economic benefit coal mines produced in Appalachian communities vs. how much the coal mines cost in early deaths. As a result, the study had to prove that there were unusual deaths in coal communities, and they did so using statistical analyses designed to account for the effects of “smokin, race, poveryt, physician supply, education, and other variables.” And even after adjusting for all these variables and removing their effects on early mortality, the study found that there was nearly 3000 excess deaths in coal-heavy Appalachian counties as compared to the rest of the US.

Multiply the number of excess deaths caused by “chronic forms of heart, respiratory, and kidney disease, as well as lung cancer” by the official value of statistical life (VSL, the amount of money that each life is worth for cost-benefit analyses performed by the federal government) and you have a conservative estimate of the costs of coal mining. Similarly, use an old 1997 estimate of the economic benefits to Appalachian communites, adjust for yearly inflation, unemployment since the start of the study period, add tax income and subtract government subsidies, and you get a reasonable estimate for the value of coal in Appalachia.

The result: just over $8 billion in estimated benefits to Appalachian communities, but at cost of $51 billion in lost economic power due just to the early deaths of people living in coal communities.

Put another way, since 1997, Appalachian coal communities have lost $43 billion dollars that they would have kept in their communities had they thrown the coal companies out.

Read that again: $47 billion lost in just the last decade. How much lost since coal mining began in earnest 100 years ago?

And that's $47 billion in the last decade just in the cost of early deaths. That doesn't count the economic cost of roads destroyed by overweight coal trucks, house foundations shattered by blasting, forests of valuable hardwood bulldozed and burned, wells poisoned by mine leaching, irreplaceable sources of fresh water buried under mine waste.

No, no surprise and not rocket science. But yet more proof that anyone - especially a bought-off Lieutenant Governor seeking a Senate seat - who dares to mention coal as anything but an abomination to be eliminated at any cost is a liar who thinks you're stupid.

Read the whole thing.

UPDATE, 6:30 a.m A study by a Berea nonprofit finds that the coal industry "the coal industry takes $115 million more from Kentucky’s state government annually in services and programs than it contributes in taxes."

Quote of the Day

Reza Aslan, discussing the U.S. response to the Iranian election protests with Jon Stewart:

"All I can say is, thank God for President Barack Obama."

Pace invisible sky wizards, on behalf of American voters: "You're welcome, Reza."

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Rude One Counsels Patience

There's an old cartoon that was popular in government offices. It showed two vultures sitting on a tree branch watching an animal on the ground below dying slowly. One of the vultures says to the other:

"Patience, hell! I'm going out and kill something."

We've waited eight years to be rid of Smirky/Darth and all its horrid works, and every minute it takes is a minute too long.

But the Rude Pundit explains why we must continue to wait:

Disagree how you will with Barack Obama on some pretty serious issues (are we really debating whether or not to release a Gitmo detainee held because we mistook the video of him being tortured by al-Qaeda for him being trained as a suicide bomber?). Wonder who the fuck he's pleasing when it comes to some other issues (dude made some pretty explicit damn promises on the campaign trail when it came to Don't Ask, Don't Tell, among other shit). Accuse him of whatever you like, yell at him about whatever you like, call him a dirty smoker. But the man is trying to be a goddamned alchemist in transforming a vat of shit into a gold bathtub.

We're impatient, yes, yes, we are. The deluded who thought they were getting beautiful Barack to ride in on a giant stallion and slay the big, bad Bush machine are impatient. The realists who knew they were getting a really damn smart, slightly left of center guy in Obama and not an avenging liberal, they're impatient, too.


Or, in even otherer words, it's gonna take a fuck of a lot of work to get us back to zero, to the way things were before George W. Bush came in and pissed on our beds, raped our dogs, tied us up, set the house on fire, and left without calling 911. And then, once it's back to zero, we can talk about how it gets better. Doesn't make any of us less impatient and it doesn't excuse some of the shit Obama's doing (like continuing to argue the Bush administration side on cases left over from it), but we gotta recognize that the circumstances are: "We're fucked - can we be un-fucked?"

We're five months away from the worst presidency in our history, heading in the opposite direction, thank Christ, Allah, whoever, or no one. But objects in the mirror are closer than they appear, motherfuckers. This ain't apologia and it ain't deluded belief. Just like we can yell that Democrats who oppose Obama's policies are forgetting that people who voted for the man knew what they were getting, so can we say to the jittery on the left that, despite the fact that getting fucked over is a very real possibility, we need to remember that we who voted for him also did so on the basis of trusting his judgment.

Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Big Coal Buys Dr. Dan

When an apparently sentient, sane political candidate publicly promotes the destruction of strip-mining as "good for Eastern Kentucky," you can be pretty sure that candidate is in the pocket of Big Coal.

But you don't often see a smoking gun like an email from the industry bragging about its purchase of a potential U.S. Senator.

Page One catches it:

David Moss, Director of Government Affairs for the Kentucky Coal Association, a registered lobbyist agent with the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission, sent out an email blast begging for campaign contributions on behalf of Daniel Mongiardo to the entire Kentucky Coal Association:

From: David Moss <*****@kentuckycoal.com>
Sent: Mon Jun 22 17:39:20 2009
Subject: [KCA MEMBERSHIP] Fundraising Request

Lieutenant Governor Daniel Mongiardo is requesting all Coal Industry interests to support his campaign for the Democratic Nomination for the 2010 U.S. Senate Election against Attorney General Jack Conway. Lt Gov Mongiardo has continually fought to keep Kentucky a national leader in coal production regardless of the political retribution received from local papers and environmental extremist groups. He is and will remain a Friend of Coal. He desires to collect a large sum of cash before the 2nd quarter reporting period ends next week (June 30). Please send all checks to his campaign address listed below: Dr. Dan for U.S. Senate P.O. Box 4023 Frankfort, Kentucky 40604
Sent from my BlackBerry Wireless Handheld

Thought you’d like to see that message, dear readers. Especially because all of us “environmental extremists” and those working at local papers are obviously out for “retribution” - we’re not just out for a discussion of the facts in the U.S. Senate race or anything.

Should be noted that “he desires to collect a large sum of cash” is not sufficient as a campaign solicitation in a federal race. When sending emails like this, the FEC requires that there be ‘paid for by’ language and disclose contribution limits.

Media Czech adds:

There was already no question that Dan Mongiardo was in the pocket of King Coal because of his unequivocal support for the travesty that is mountaintop removal mining. Now, Jake brings home the evidence that King Coal is now actively fundraising for Lt. Dan so that he can help do the bidding of mountaintop removers in the US Senate.


This guy shouldn't even come near the Senate. And Kentucky Democrats and Independents of all stripes need to make sure that this doesn't happen.

Let's get behind the candidate that isn't a shill for King Coal and mountaintop removal, eh?

That would be this guy.

Press Conferences for Adults Only

Beltway Villager heads were exploding left and right as President Obama finally ran out of patience with the gooberheads pretending to be reporters.

TPM has the highlight reel:

Full press conference video:

Read the transcript of the full press conference here.

Lesson from Iran: There is No Such Thing as Religious Democracy

It is thrilling to see the Iranian protesters using Islam, particularly the repeated calls of "God is Great," to protect their people's revolution against theocratic dictators. That it also makes U.S. neocons choke on their own bile is a bonus.

But the larger lesson of Iran is that religion of any flavor is inimicable to freedom, liberty, democracy, and the universal values of free speech, free association and freedom from religion.

Americans should know this better than anyone else, having one of the oldest secular governments in the world. But even after eight years of a freakazoid Xian theocracy, we still need a reminder of why the only free government is secular government.

In Salon, Michael Lind explains how "the theocratic repression in Iran is a reminder that there can be no freedom without secular government."

Secular government is the basis of both liberty and democracy. It is important to emphasize this, because of the tendency to portray the struggle in Iran in terms of a global conflict between democracy and dictatorship. Set aside, for a moment, the fact that former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi was one of four candidates, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who were approved to run as presidential candidates last May by the clerics of Iran's Guardian Council. It does not take away from the heroism of Mousavi or his followers to point out that if Ahmadinejad stole the election he stole an election that was already rigged.

The larger issue is the question of what comes first: separation of church and state, or democracy. America's Founders had no doubts on that score. Democracy requires citizens who are free from "superstition" and "priestcraft," to use 18th-century language. Americans have usually believed that religion can play a constructive role in a democratic republic by encouraging moral behavior. But in the traditional American view, theocratic democracy is nothing more than majoritarian tyranny, whether the clerics have a formal role in the state or merely tell the voters how to vote. And even secular democracy is not a goal in itself. It is merely a means to an end: the protection of natural rights.

The idea of universal, basic natural human rights is incompatible with theocracy in any form. While Christians and adherents of other religions can believe in natural rights, the theory of natural rights itself, influenced by ancient Greek sophists and Epicureans, is inherently secular. Natural rights by definition are those that ordinary people, using only their reason, can agree upon -- things like life and liberty and property or happiness, meaning access to subsistence. The list of natural rights varies from thinker to thinker, but they all have one thing in common -- they are not revealed by a divine intelligence to a prophet or priests.

The natural rights tradition is radical in another way. Authority flows upward from the individual to the government, not downward from God to the individual via the government. The government is not God's viceroy on earth. It is nothing more than a territorial mutual protection society. In natural rights theory -- though needless to say not always in the practice of liberal regimes -- the governors are the employees and agents of the governed.


The one thing that we in liberal countries can do, while reformers in Iran fight and sometimes die for their principles, is to understand our own. And the most fundamental principle of all is that ordinary human beings are capable of governing themselves without the guidance of other ordinary human beings who pretend to speak on behalf of God.

Read the whole thing.

D.C. Repug Mucketymucks Ruin Kentucky Landmark

It's bad enough when native Kentuckians use their political power to destroy historic properties for no good reason. When rich D.C. repugs get in on the game, things have gone too far.

Cave Hill, the historic Lexington estate that once served as the state's temporary governor's mansion when John Y. Brown Jr. was in office, is in foreclosure and scheduled to be sold on July 27 at a Fayette County master commissioner sale.

Bruce Fein, a Washington D.C. constitutional lawyer, and his wife, Mattie Fein, own the property. They bought Cave Hill from Brown in July 2006, for $1.9 million.

The 17-acre estate, the site of elegant parties while Brown was governor, has a 7,500-square-foot residence — the original portion was built in 1821 — pool, tennis courts, a three-bedroom guesthouse, putting green and horse barn.

The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


In the past three years, the fortunes of the stately house and once immaculately groomed grounds have fallen on hard times. It is abandoned, neglected and a judge has ordered it be sold to pay the mortgage that the owners have defaulted on.

The historic mansion has been empty since it was purchased by the Feins, according to Mattie Fein. The couple put it back on the market in December 2006 for $2.45 million.

Glass in the back door has been broken out and trespassers jimmied the lock to get inside, said George, who has seen the mansion. Wood floors are warped from water damage. The recent ice storm left the lawn littered with broken limbs and downed trees, which have not been cleaned up.


Bruce Fein, an assistant attorney general under President Ronald Reagan, writes a weekly column for the Washington Times and Slate, an online political magazine. He and his wife own Lichfield Group, which produces political shows for television and does celebrity public relations.


The Browns entertained frequently, using Cave Hill to sell Kentucky, the former governor said. "It was part of our Kentucky presentation. It was a special place and people wanted to be invited to visit," he said.

The Browns threw elaborate post-Derby Day parties on the lawn. Guests included actor Gregory Peck, TV host Barbara Walters, singer Kenny Rogers, Miami Vice star Don Johnson, developer Donald Trump, artist Andy Warhol and boxing great Muhammad Ali. Bill and Hillary Clinton visited while he was governor of Arkansas.

The original section of Cave Hill was built in 1821, making it one of the oldest structures in the Bluegrass.

Read the whole thing.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Cap and Trade Lies Exposed

Here in Kentucky we haven't heard too much of the scare-mongering from the dirty power industry on cap-and-trade legislation. That's probably because the coal industry has this state's politicians so completely bought off and its residents so bamboozled it doesn't have to say anything.

The proposed bill, Waxman-Markey, doesn't come within a light-year of doing what it needs to do to create an energy industry that grows the economy and slows global warming. But it's a huge step forward, as opposed to the accelerating suicidal spiral into destruction the coal industry demands.

Kevin Drum finds the CBO report that explodes just one of the dirty energy industry myths:

Republicans have been screaming blue for months about the cost of the cap-and-trade provision of the Waxman-Markey climate change bill. It's going to cost us $1,600 each! No, that's wrong: it's going to cost us $3,100 each! Head for the hills!

So Rep. Dave Camp, the ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means committee, asked the Congressional Budget Office for a verdict. And guess what? The net cost turned out to be — at most — $175 per household by the year 2020. That's less than $70 per person:

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the net annual economywide cost of the cap-and-trade program in 2020 would be $22 billion — or about $175 per household. That figure [...] does not include the economic benefits and other benefits of the reduction in GHG emissions and the associated slowing of climate change....Overall net costs would average 0.2 percent of households’ after-tax income.

Low income households would fare even better.

Coal is the buggy whip of energy. The industry's insistence that until alternative energy is providing 100 percent of our energy we must mine more coal, burn more coal and build more coal-burning plants is like buggy-whip manufacturers in 1895 demanding that the federal government mandate monthly household purchases of buggy whips until "horseless carriages" make horses extinct.

Next time you hear somebody - like, say, a certain lying Lt. Governor - talk about "clean coal," just think "magic buggy whips."

Cross-posted at They Gave Us A Republic ....

Iran Protesters Lose the High Ground

They're still right, they're still fighting on the side of democracy and majority rule, but by responding to violence with violence, the anti-government protesters in Iran have lost the high ground.

I don't blame them. The hardest thing in the world, harder than enduring torture and far harder than hitting back at someone who hits you, is to stand still and not defend yourself against attack.

But that extreme difficulty is why it works. When a powerful government uses lethal weapons on unarmed protesters who refuse to fight back, the protesters win. But when the government gets to claim self-defense, the protesters lose credibility, sympathy and support.

I had high hopes that the Iranian protesters would emulate Gandhi and King's tactics and thus achieve Gandhi's and King's victories over repressive governments far more powerful than Tehran.

Those hopes died last night.

It's still possible for the protesters to prevail in the short term - their victory in the long term is assured. For while the long arc of history does, indeed, bend toward justice, its arc in Iran just got longer.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Before the Battle

Say what you will about Andrew Sullivan, and I could say plenty, his coverage of Iran this past week has been unbelievable. Others have done more original reporting, or in more detail, but no one - no one - has brought to the story the passion, persistence and hope of Andrew Sullivan.

Today, he posts yet another message from a protester in Tehran to bring you to tears.

“I will participate in the demonstrations tomorrow. Maybe they will turn violent. Maybe I will be one of the people who is going to get killed. I’m listening to all my favorite music. I even want to dance to a few songs. I always wanted to have very narrow eyebrows. Yes, maybe I will go to the salon before I go tomorrow! There are a few great movie scenes that I also have to see. I should drop by the library, too. It’s worth to read the poems of Forough and Shamloo again. All family pictures have to be reviewed, too. I have to call my friends as well to say goodbye. All I have are two bookshelves which I told my family who should receive them. I’m two units away from getting my bachelors degree but who cares about that. My mind is very chaotic. I wrote these random sentences for the next generation so they know we were not just emotional and under peer pressure. So they know that we did everything we could to create a better future for them. So they know that our ancestors surrendered to Arabs and Mongols but did not surrender to despotism. This note is dedicated to tomorrow’s children…” - an Iranian blogger, with more courage than most of us will ever know.

Netroots Nation Caves to the Freakazoids

In eight years, the liberal blogosphere grew from literally nothing to one of the most powerful political forces on the planet on the strength of one thing: passionate opposition to the warmongering theocracy of the Smirky/Darth administration.

Every time Bush used "god's will" to justify unprovoked war, torture, shredding the Constitution, shitting on treaties, burning the planet to a crisp, drowning New Orleans and sentencing anyone not filthy rich to disease, poverty and death, it spawned a million blog posts.

If not for fighting the good fight defending constitutional separation of church and state against theocratic totalitarianism, the liberal blogosphere would not exist.

Yet now, in the year of its greatest victory, the supposed "leaders" of the liberal blogosphere have decided to suck freakazoid cock.

Netroots Nation, the big lefty political/blogging meeting, is organizing sessions for their conference in August. Unfortunately, they seem have given up on the idea of a secular nation, because this one session on A New Progressive Vision for Church and State has a bizarre description.

The old liberal vision of a total separation of religion from politics has been discredited. Despite growing secularization, a secular progressive majority is still impossible, and a new two-part approach is needed--one that first admits that there is no political wall of separation. Voters must be allowed, without criticism, to propose policies based on religious belief. But, when government speaks and acts, messages must be universal. The burden is on religious believers, therefore, to explain public references like "under God" in universal terms. For example, the word "God" can refer to the ceaseless creativity of the universe and the objective validity of human rights. Promoting and accepting religious images as universal will help heal culture-war divisions and promote the formation of a broad-based progressive coalition.

That makes no sense at all. Separation of church and state certainly isn't discredited — if anything, the experience of the last few years makes it more important than ever. Voters can already propose policies based on religion, and they do, unfortunately…but whoever wrote this thinks there should be no criticism? That's insane. This is a progressive organization that is proposing that we shouldn't even criticize religious intrusion into government.

And then look what they do: they redefine "god" into a waffling, meaningless placeholder for anything anyone wants!

I'd like to know who came up with this garbage — it reeks of the Jim Wallis/Amy Sullivan camp of liberal theocrats, although neither is actually on the panel.

Oh, I can pretty much guarantee that the people who think compromising with the godwallopers is just the coolest idea ever are exactly the same people writing fiery posts about how stupid it is for the Senate Democrats to compromise with republicans on health care reform.

Get a clue, guys. You think repugs are dense obstructionists impervious to reason, facts, logic and reality? Compared to the godbots, James Inhofe is Russ Feingold.

Cross-posted at They Gave Us A Republic..

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Kentucky Unemployment Highest in 26 Years

You're not imagining things; the descent of Kentucky's economy into the sewer is accelerating.

Kentucky’s seasonally adjusted preliminary unemployment rate for May 2009 jumped to 10.6 percent from a revised 9.9 percent in April 2009, according to the Office of Employment and Training (OET), an agency of the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet.

May 2009’s jobless rate is 4.4 percentage points higher than the 6.2 percent rate recorded in May 2008 and it matches the 10.6 percent reported in October 1983.

The U.S. seasonally adjusted jobless rate rose from 8.9 percent in April 2009 to 9.4 percent in May 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Did you catch that? Kentucky's unemployment rate jumped almost three-quarters of a percent in one month. If it maintains that rate, by next May the unemployment rate will be 8.4 percentage points higher, or 19 percent.

That's unlikely, of course, but not entirely out of the realm of possibility, especially if our elected "leaders" keep gambling on casinos to save us.

“Kentucky’s unemployment rate today is 10.6 percent – the highest rate since 1983." Governor Steve Beshear said in a statement. "That sobering fact should dramatically underscore the need for all of us – in the Governor’s office and in the legislature – to find every way possible to save jobs and create new ones. We need to act -- and act now -- on the measures under consideration in this special session. We need to lead -- and lead now -- on these measures.

"Our economic incentives bill will create jobs and stimulate hundreds of millions in investment for our Commonwealth. Our budget proposal continues funding for education and key areas of health care and public safety. The bridges’ bill would help projects worth billions of dollars move forward. And the proposal before the legislature on limited gaming at racetracks would help save 100,000 jobs, $4 billion in investment, while investing in Kentucky’s future: our children. We have the information we need. We have the authority. The question is: do we have the will?"

Don't look at us, Steve, you're the one who's been bowing and scraping before the almighty Williams for a year and a half. The question is, do you have the balls?

WaPo Finally Admits: We're More Wingnut Stupid Than Fox

As suicidally incompetent as the repugs are proving themselves lately, in the one case of "media bias," the wingnut freakazoids are actually playing - and winning - a long game.

It started more than 40 years ago, when Nixon fought against objective and factual accounts of his campaign tactics by labeling all objective media "biased liberal."

Nonstop repetition of this lie wore objective outlets like the Post and the NYTimes down to the point they started believing it themselves, or at least thought they could relieve the weight of the accusation by becoming biased conservative.

The more they leaned wingnut while claiming an objectivity they lost sometime in the '80s, the easier it was for wingnut freakazoid Fox to claim the objectivity mantle for itself.

So the only genuinely objective dead-tree news source today is The Nation, which has proudly claimed the motto "that liberal media bias you can't find anywhere else."

Why do I say this now? Because today the Washington Post fired Dan Froomkin.

Glenn Greenwald:

One of the rarest commodities in the establishment media is someone who was a vehement critic of George Bush and who now, applying their principles consistently, has become a regular critic of Barack Obama -- i.e., someone who criticizes Obama from what is perceived as "the Left" rather than for being a Terrorist-Loving Socialist Muslim. It just got a lot rarer, as The Washington Post -- at least according to Politico's Michael Calderone -- just fired WashingtonPost.com columnist, long-time Bush critic and Obama watchdog (i.e., a real journalist) Dan Froomkin.

What makes this firing so bizarre and worthy of inquiry is that, as Calderone notes, Froomkin was easily one of the most linked-to and cited Post columnists. At a time when newspapers are relying more and more on online traffic, the Post just fired the person who, in 2007, wrote 2 out of the top 10 most-trafficked columns. In publishing that data, Media Bistro used this headline: "The Post's Most Popular Opinions (Read: Froomkin)." Isn't that an odd person to choose to get rid of?


All of this underscores a critical and oft-overlooked point: what one finds virtually nowhere in the establishment press are those who criticize Obama not in order to advance their tawdry right-wing agenda but because the principles that led them to criticize Bush compel similar criticism of Obama. Rachel Maddow is one of the few prominent media figures who will interview and criticize Democratic politicians "from the Left" (and it's hardly a coincidence that it MSNBC's decision to give Maddow her own show -- rather than the endless array of right-wing talking hosts plaguging the television for years -- which prompted a tidal wave of "concern" over whether cable news was becoming "too partisan"). In general, however, those who opine from the Maddow/Froomkin perspective are a very endangered species, and it just became more endangered as the Post fires one if its most popular, talented, principled and substantive columnists.

Read the whole thing.

As for the dead-but-don't-know-it-yet Post and the Times:

sic semper culum vertere

Cross-posted at They Gave Us A Republic ....

Non-Gratuitous Violence

Totalitarian repression may be keeping the television networks from covering the protests in Iran, but the revolution there is being videotaped, in all its gory, gut-wrenching horror.

If we had seen honest video of what was happening in Iraq in 2003, how quickly might we have withdrawn troops in response to public disgust? How many lives might we have saved?

Nico Pitney at his invaluable Iran liveblog:

12:10 AM ET -- YouTube gets it.

YouTube said it had relaxed its usual restrictions on violent videos to allow the images from Iran to reach the rest of the world.

"In general, we do not allow graphic or gratuitous violence on YouTube," the company said in a statement. "However, we make exceptions for videos that have educational, documentary, or scientific value. The limitations being placed on mainstream media reporting from within Iran make it even more important that citizens in Iran be able to use YouTube to capture their experiences for the world to see."

YouTube is one of the last broadcasters standing in Iran. The Iranian government knows it (the censors have been able to cut YouTube traffic in Iran by 90 percent) -- and so do the folks at YouTube. Just check out their Citizen Tube site, overseen by Steve Groves, which is chock full of Iran videos.

Watch them, forward them, talk about them.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Private Health Insurers Admit Depravity

For those of you who thought I was exaggerating about the utter depravity of private health insurers, yesterday the bastards stood before Congress and admitted they will continue to let people die rather than spend a dime to save them.

Kevin Drum explains:

Yesterday the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations decided to investigate the practice of recission. This is when you pay your premiums for years to a healthcare insurer, then get sick, and then have your insurance cancelled. The insurance industry executives at the hearing did not exactly cover themselves with glory:

A Texas nurse said she lost her coverage, after she was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer, for failing to disclose a visit to a dermatologist for acne.

The sister of an Illinois man who died of lymphoma said his policy was rescinded for the failure to report a possible aneurysm and gallstones that his physician noted in his chart but did not discuss with him.

....Late in the hearing, [Bart] Stupak, the committee chairman, put the executives on the spot. Stupak asked each of them whether he would at least commit his company to immediately stop rescissions except where they could show "intentional fraud."

The answer from all three executives: "No."

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) said that a public insurance plan should be a part of any overhaul because it would force private companies to treat consumers fairly or risk losing them. "This is precisely why we need a public option," Dingell said.

Even the Republicans on the committee couldn't defend the insurance company position. A few more hearings like this and getting a public option into healthcare reform is suddenly going to look like a real possibility. Nice going, guys.

So spread the word: private health insurers not only admit that they will never pay for life-saving medical procedures, but they bragged about it, and responded to concern from the people's representatives in Congress with a giant, group "FUCK YOU."

Fuck us? No, fuck YOU!

Tell Congress, tell the president: No public option, no "fair competition," no quarter. Outlaw the private insurers and seize their assets to pay for single-payer for everybody.

Books on Teen Sex - Eeeeeek!

Buy these books immediately. A bunch of bitter tight-asses in Wisconsin is suing for the right to burn the public library's copies of books on teen sexuality, so you need to run out and buy many copies of them right now.

There is a little dustup going on in the town of West Bend, Wisconsin. The local bluenoses noticed that there are books that discuss human sexuality in the library — and some of them are even written for teenagers! Teenagers, of course, never think about sex and have no interest in the subject unless some vile prurient publication stirs them up, so the crusaders for purity are stridently demanding that these books be removed from view.

One particular target of their fury is a book by Francesca Lia Block, Baby Be-Bop, which commits the sin of writing positively about young gay men and negatively about gay bashing. A group called the Christian Civil Liberties Union filed suit over the book, since it exists at the library, and they don't like it.

The plaintiffs, all of whom are elderly, say their mental and emotional well-being were damaged by the book at the Library, the claim states.

That must be one powerful book. It sits on a shelf balefully, emanating damaging gay-rays that permeate the whole town, and disrupting the sexual health of its inhabitants.


The prudes have created a blog, and it's clear that it isn't just gay sexuality that terrifies them, it's any sexuality. They link to a couple of pages from books that horrify them: they don't like sex ed with illustrations kids can understand, fiction that talks about high school kids' experiences with sex and drugs, or books about female sexuality.

It's pathetic and sad. I shouldn't laugh at Wisconsin too much, though, since this really is the work of a timid minority — the city had a referendum on whether the library should censor these books, and the majority said no. That has just inflamed them, though, and now the puritans are suing for the right to burn books.

It always gets down to that with the knuckle-draggers, doesn't it?

I offer them a compromise. They already have the right to burn books: all they have to do is buy a copy, take it home, and toss it into the fireplace. That's not at all illegal! Unfortunately, what they want is the right to burn other people's books, and I'm sorry, that would be uncivilized.

Max H comments:

“As good almost kill a man as kill a good book: who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God's image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself."

- John Milton

Read the comments for a great discussion on the purpose of public libraries.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Iranian Election: It's Not Over Yet

No tanks in the streets yet, but at least a dozen dead protesters later, the opposition rally still far outnumbered the pro-government rally. Foreign reporters confined indoors and virtually all communication shut down, but the stories and the pictures still get out, somehow. Claims that Iranian police and soldiers are holding back from attacking their countrymen appear to be true, as several Revolutionary Guard members have been arrested and foreign mercenaries seem to be doing most of the beating and killing.

This video, via huffpo's Iranian protest liveblog, sums up two days of protests.

At his liveblog, Andrew Sullivan has heart-rending and gut-wrenching video of protesters dying in the streets.

The NYT's The Lede has great ongoing coverage.

They all recommend Laura Secor's analysis in the New Yorker.

But it's Robert Farley at Lawyers, Guns and Money who nails it. I disagree that Iran 2009 is a replay of Tiananmen 1987, except in the sense of who is the truly dangerous character in the drama:

Tank Man was not the first person to stand up to the coercive power of the state. People defying other people holding guns has a long and distinguished history, from Napoleon forward. The survival of Tank Man and of every other such protester depends on a decision made by the state employee carrying the gun. What distinguishes the few moments near Tiananmen from the Odessa Steps, thus, is not the heroism of the protester, but rather the decision by the tank commander not to run Tank Man down, or to shoot him. The video has always been more compelling to me than the shot; the tank commander actively tries to carry out his job without running over tank man, and eventually decides to hold up an entire tank column while Tank Man clambers on to his vehicle.

I feel that I can understand why Tank Man risked his life to stand in front of the tank column. I have less of a sense of why the tank commander decided to stop. For all I know, Tank Man may have been Tank Commander's brother. Tank Commander may have been afraid that his superiors would have been pissed if he ran over a guy while cameras might be watching. He may not have wanted innocent blood on his hands, or on the treads of his tank. He may have sympathized with the demonstrators; perhaps his father or mother had been a victim of the Cultural Revolution. Or perhaps he identified the Tiananmen demonstrators with the Cultural Revolution, and sympathized with them. I really have no idea.

The thing is, Tank Commander is far more dangerous than Tank Man. Tank Man can simply be shot; most seem to believe that Tank Man was later executed, far out of sight of the international media. The regime survives if Tank Man dies, even if the death of Tank Man isn't the optimal outcome. The regime dies, however, if Tank Commander refuses to run over Tank Man. Eisenstein used the Odessa Steps to demonstrate the corruption of the Czarist regime, but the regime didn't die until the soldiers refused to shoot the demonstrators. The successor regime didn't die until Boris Yeltsin climbed on a tank in August 1991. While there's some mystery as to the fate of Tank Man, I don't doubt that the CCP found Tank Commander and put a bullet in the back of his head at the first opportunity.

Read the whole thing.

Cross-posted at They Gave Us A Republic ....

Kentucky Senate Race Weirdness

The Bad News: State Senate president David Williams, (R-obstructionist) will not run for Jim Bunning's U.S. Senate seat next year, thus depriving us of some entertaining repug primary fratricide.

The Good News: Williams spat in the face of both Bunning and presumptive repug primary front-runner Trey Grayson by semi-endorsing Louisville philanthropist Cathy Bailey.

Williams, R-Burkesville, said he thinks Republican incumbent Jim Bunning will stay in the race.

Asked if he will be endorsing anyone in next May’s GOP primary election, Williams said, “The most qualified challenger that has appeared at this particular juncture and someone I would be very excited about seeing in the United States Senate is Cathy Bailey.”

She is a former ambassador to Latvia and is a Louisville-based philanthropist, fund-raiser and charity organizer.

Williams said it would be interesting to have a qualified woman in the United States Senate from Kentucky, “someone who has the international experience that she has, and she presents herself very well.”

But Williams added that he was not endorsing any particular candidate.

“I’m not going to get too involved in primaries,” he said.

No, not too involved.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Manila 1986, Berlin 1989, Tehran 2009?

There is still an excellent chance that in a few hours, when the sun rises over Tehran, it will illuminate tanks in the street rather than green-scarf-waving protesters.

But for tonight, at least, I want to believe that the protests in Tehran won't be a repeat of Tiananmen Square, but rather the People Power that ousted Ferdinand Marcos and the wave of Democracy that brought down the Berlin Wall.

Since Saturday, the coverage of the Iranian election and the ensuing protests has veered, dizzingly, from disappointment to outrage to excitement to horror to hope.

The photos of hundreds of thousands - possibly as many as two million - Mousavi supporters defying a ban from the Ayatollah to fill the streets of Tehran in support of their probably cheated candidate are moving beyond words.

The Iranian "revolution" of 1978-79, which ousted the tyrant and American puppet Reza Pahlavi, had nothing to do with democratic elections and everything to do with ending 26 years of American imperalism in Persia.

The Green Protests in Tehran are entirely internal, without a single "America the Great Satan" or "Death to America" to be seen. And for once, we have a president who knows when to keep his mouth shut and his military as far away from events as possible.

It's 4 a.m. in Tehran, where it's quiet but probably few people are asleep. A Green Revolution or tanks rolling over the bodies of protesters? All we can do is wait.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Keep Talking, Freakazoids

Unless severely provoked, my default response to repugs, freakazoids and other deluded liars spouting hateful nonsense is to encourage them to keep talking. The more they say, the more they reveal their ignorance, deceit and stupidity.

Sometimes it takes a while, and waiting can get frustrating, especially when the victory of fact, reason and truth can be subtle.

But every once in a while, we get a clear win.

Regular readers here may be familiar with WhoIsYourCreator, a creationist who blows through here and The Panda's Thumb now and then to dump a load of creationist cut-and-paste in the comments. WhoIsYourCreator is actually Julie Haberle, a deranged creationist whose chief accomplishment to date has been to erect foolish billboards all over the place. To date — but now she can take credit for another accomplishment. Her billboards and organization prompted a Christian to dig deeper into this evolution stuff, and what he discovered was that Haberle and others in the creationist movement have been lying all along, which led him to this simple conclusion, which he shared with Ms. Haberle.

I'm simply writing to say 'Thank You' and let you know by sharing with you the information I've discovered, your organization more than any other entity has been the primary factor in the shedding my faith. Keep up the good work as there is no doubt countless others have and will continue to do the same based on your efforts.

Dishonesty has consequences, and creationists are fundamentally distorting the evidence to fit their desired conclusion. That hurts them when people take a moment to actually examine what they are claiming.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

One Nation, Indivisible, With Liberty And Justice for All

55 years ago today, a bunch of pissing-their-pants authoritarian submissives in Congress added the phrase "under god" to the pledge of allegiance.

Leaving aside for the moment the gross inappropriateness of pledging allegiance to the flag, as opposed to, say, the Constitution, let's remember the circumstances under which Congress added an unconstitutional religious reference to a secular pledge.

1954 was the depths of the Cold War. New Deal liberals were being hounded out of jobs for the crime of having, in the 1930s, supported a nation that that became our most valuable ally in World War II. By 1954, those liberals had learned enough about the horrors of the USSR under Stalin to have recoiled and recanted, but that was not enough for the witch hunters.

There were multiple ground on which to condemn the Soviet Union and China (which had embraced communism in 1949), stark differences with the U.S. by which to promote American values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Instead of highlighting Stalin's and Mao's dicatorial power in a totalitarian state, the purges of political opponents, the ethnic cleansing, the command economy that left millions to starve, Congress chose to focus on ... atheism.

America was better than communist nations not because of our dedication to the rule of law, not because of our Constitution that guaranteed civil rights (albeit not yet fully realized), not because of a balanced economy that encouraged small business while regulating capitalism's excesses, not because of our mixed but undeniable success in fulfilling the promise and embodying the values of the Founders.

No, Congress and President Eisenhower effectively declared that the most critical American value to hold up against communism was a value specifically kept out of the Constitution by its authors: superstitious worship.

For the full argument, see David Greenburg's 2002 piece in Slate, Why We're Not One Nation "Under God."

Cross-posted at They Gave Us A Republic ....

Friday, June 12, 2009

Obama Administration Chooses the Correct Side

Dammit, just when I'm getting a good hate on for the Obama administration for its caving on banking bailots and don't-ask-don't-tell and preventive detention and secrecy and single-payer and cap-and-trade, it goes and does something so profoundly liberal, so perfectly Democratic, so making a stand on the side of goodness and light, that I have to
give the fuckers actual props.

Vice President Joe Biden and other members of President Barack Obama's Cabinet have scrapped plans to attend a national mayors' conference in Rhode Island rather than cross a picket line of local firefighters.

I heard this on Rachel just now, and may have hurt myself punching the air and screaming "Yes! Yes! Yes!"

My grandparents were union factory workers, back during the Depression when joining a union meant taking your life in your hands. I've never belonged to a union myself, but I would take a knife in the belly before I'd cross a picket line.

Over the last 30 years, we've forgotten what it meant to make your stand on the side of workers. People blithely stride past strikers on a line, oblivious to the stand they have just taken on the side of management exploiting workers.

I am surprised, gratified and touched that the Obama administration gets it on unions, if not on much else.

Cross-posted on They Gave Us A Republic ....

The Expert Voice on Health Care Reform

If you want to know what's really going on with health care reform on the ground, among people who live it every day, you can't do better than our good friend Blue Girl.

Decades of working the trenches of emergency medicine in the military give her experience, perspective and insight almost unmatched in the blogosphere. So when Blue Girl says health care workers want single-payer, you better believe it.

There was a meeting yesterday of a House subcommittee where some important things were said by some front-line healthcare providers and medical educators, and although the important things they said were not well reported, I can sum up the testimony in five words...

Healthcare professionals want single payer.

That is because we have had a front-row seat to the horror show that is our current healthcare system and we have come to realize, some of us more quickly than others, that spiraling costs are the biggest problem we face, and the surest, fastest and most effective way to get those costs under control is to move to a single payer system. "Unless you can stop the insurance industry price gouging, we simply cannot make health care affordable, which means you either have price controls on the insurance industry or you take them out of the equation through single-payer reform," said Geri Jenkins, the co-president of the National Nurses Organizing Committee, which represents 86,000 registered nurses. "If we were to have a debate on containing costs, improving quality and universality, the single-payer advantage would be clear."

Walter Tsou, a University of Pennsylvania professor who is an adviser to Physicians for a National Health Program told the panel that for the last 50 years, government policy has protected insurance industry profits at the expense of taxpayers, doctors and hospitals. "Single-payer is the only reform that can control health care costs," he said bluntly. "Our most famous radical document begins with the words, 'We the People.' Not 'We the Insurers.' It is time for our own generation's revolution."

We all know that the single payer discussion is one that we ought to be having, but politicians on every side are scared to death of it, to the point that even though we have a popular Democratic president with strong majorities in both chambers, Democratic legislators took single payer off the table early in the first round of discussions. Unsurprisingly, they regret that decision now. Oops. Probably shouldn't have done that...


The bottom line is this: Reform is coming, whether the AMA wants to accept that fact or not, and enough people have realized that every single argument that is made against a public option fails to stand up to scrutiny, because every single negative scenario they point to, patients already have to deal with every time their doctor orders a test, writes a prescription or schedules a procedure - and enough people are independently arriving at this conclusion that 'critical mass' is imminent.

Read the whole thing, or else.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Unions? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Unions!

You already know that it is only thanks to unions that we have an 8-hour work day, a five-day work week, protections from dangerous work conditions, wages sufficient to support a family, benefits like health insurance, sick time and pensions.

But did you know that if Wackenhut had not been able to stall a union's demands for safety equipment, heroic security guard Stephen Johns might still be alive?

Stephen Johns, the 39-year old man who was murdered yesterday at the Holocaust Memorial Museum, wasn't just a Wackenhut-employed security officer. He was also a member of the Security, Police and Fire Professionals of America--a union.

That union approached Wackenhut about the dangers Holocaust Museum officers face, and asked them to provide their employees with bulletproof vests. You can imagine how that turned out.

[D]uring contract negotiations with Wackenhut two years ago, the union pressed for company-issued protective vests. Although Wackenhut seemed open to the idea, vests have not been issued, Faye said.

"I hammered this in our negotiations two years ago because of how sensitive that museum is," he said. "Our guards needed more protection." He said that one of the guards at the museum was "verbally assaulted by one guy walking by, saying anti-Semitic remarks. For that reason, I made that the center of the negotiation."

Authorities said Johns was not wearing a protective vest.

Yes, Virginia, unions are still fighting employers over basic issues of life and death. But the days when a John L. Lewis or Samuel Gompers would have shut down every monument and museum in the capitol before letting their members go to work unprotected against violent extremists are long gone.

Wackenhut is one of the world's biggest beneficiaries of the repugs turning over government functions to the private sector. Second only to KBR, Wackenhut sucks up American tax dollars in private security and corrections contracts around the world.

Wackenhut knows that the castrated NLRB won't punish it for stonewalling its union, but that shouldn't stop the rest of us from holding the giant corporation responsible through negligence for the death of its loyal, six-year employee Stephen Johns.

The ability to treat employees - living, breathing human beings - as cannon fodder is what drives the frantic opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act.

Which should be renamed the Stephen Johns Memorial Employee Rights Protection Act.

Cross-posted at They Gave Us A Republic ....

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Elves, fairies and repugs

Back in February, I posted a rant about people who hate taxes and what they should have to live without. I didn't know then about Steve M.'s brilliant analysis of the right wing's "elves and fairies" theory of government services.

I've summarized the right's main economic theory a number of times, but for those who've missed it, here it is again: All tax money is poured down a rathole. Then all government services -- law enforcement, firefighting, national defense, education, parks, disaster relief, road building, Social Security, Medicare, the lot -- are provided by elves and fairies, who work for free. Therefore, every tax cut is too small, every tax increase is unnecessary and unjustified, and government is always bad. Whatever we like that comes from government somehow emerged from the labors of those tireless (and completely selfless) elves and fairies.

This sounds like snark, but how else do you explain the words and deeds of right-wingers like Sarah Palin and Tom Golisano? Palin, in a recent interview with Sean Hannity bragged about her state's lack of an income and sales tax, and about the state's (decades-old) system of distributing a portion of oil revenues to households ... then, a few minutes later, decried "socialism" in D.C. ... then declared that that ability to tap into oil revenues could be a bad thing if it meant (ick! pthui!) a bigger government.


This is the right-wing mindset. This, right-wingers, is why your party didn't impose fiscal discipline in D.C. when it held power, something that you now seem to find baffling. Your guys simply don't really understand that there's a direct connection between income and outflow. You guys think taxes are collected are collected just for spite, and that spending just happens.

So they're not hypocrites; they're just waiting for their fairy friends.

The Purposes of Violence

Digby paints the bigger picture:

You've undoubtedly heard by now that a white supremacist tried to shoot up the Holocaust Museum today.

It's pretty clear that the right wing has lost whatever restraint it had and that the ongoing paroxysms of violent, extreme rhetoric are having their effect. The crocodile tears of the anti-abortion forces after the Tiller assassination notwithstanding, it's also pretty clear that they know this violence is effective. If you want to paralyze a society and force people to capitulate out of fear of random violence, nothing beats terrorism.

And once the right gets everybody looking over their shoulders, they'll misdirect the citizenry and run to the rescue with calls for "law and order." (Recall that the violence of the 60s didn't originate with the left --- it originated with racist cops unleashing hell on non-violent protesters.) It's working great with the deficit.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Belief vs. Facts, Round 12,649

It is to this nation's everlasting shame that a decade into the 21st century, law-abiding citizens have to defend lives lived on the basis of science and reason against attacks from superstitious followers of invisible sky wizards.

But PZ Myers indefatigably takes up the cudgels of rational thought against the latest anti-atheist fear-mongering.

There are no higher purposes discernible, but we happen to be here, so I think that looking for knowledge and value and even personal purpose in what is and what we are is far more sensible than asking a cold and mostly empty universe to whisper marching orders to us. Let's strip away imaginary cosmic dictators (who are always nothing but an Oz-like showpiece to empower little, petty, earthly dictators anyway) and search for meaning in how we live our lives and how we can better the world for our children.


I always like how these doctrinaire promoters of "Judeo-Christianity" primly declare that they have such moral authority, when their faith has such a poor track record of promoting morality. Christians have advocated slavery, have murdered people for the awful crime of miscegenation, have decreed that people who don't have the kind of sex they prefer are second-class citizens. Christians are thieves, murderers, rapists, and jay-walkers; it seems that having a belief in a transcendent authority actually doesn't equate to being necessarily law-abiding and ethical or even, shocking as that may be, immune from the temptations of their natures.


Why do these wackjobs always assume that reason and compassion are antagonistic? Reason tells me that it is a smart idea to be compassionate to the less privileged: maybe they have some ability that my society would find useful, to be pragmatic about it; there is no reason to assume that if someone is destitute, I must therefore do what I can to make their life more miserable; someone may be poorer or weaker than I am, but in turn, I'm poorer and weaker than someone else — does this warrant that I suffer? I also possess empathy, and when I see others harmed, I feel an echo of that pain myself. And, of course, perhaps someday I will have Alzheimer's, and I'd rather not encourage the growth of a culture that would someday discard me.

I also think there are a set of ideas that are entirely the product of reason: that we should build a whole culture that enables and sustains equal rights and equal opportunities for everyone, because that will maximize the happiness and productivity of our society. I really don't need a deity to tell me that, and it rarely seems to be a message promoted by religious hierarchies.


We do have intrinsic natures that have been necessary to our success as a species: empathy, and the tendency to respond in kind to the actions of others. These can be accentuated by culture. We don't need any gods to be good to others, just the opportunity and the examples of our upbringing.

Read the whole thing. It's simple, straightforward, well-reasoned and persuasive. Not that it'll make any impression on the Tooth Fairy believers.

Cross-posted at They Gave Us A Republic ....